January 19, 2015 By Jenny Rowena

The Caste History of Ghar Wapasi


Today there are a lot of debates and analyses on Ghar Wapasi and Love Jihad in the media. It is to be noted in this context that these are social phenomena that can be traced back to the late 19th century. It was around this time that the Brahmins and savarnas, who had stood along with the British to exploit the subaltern sections for hundreds of years, suddenly turned against the colonial establishment. Because, it was at this time that a large section of the subalterns had started to get organized against caste hegemony through anti-caste organizations, conversions and also by using the possibilities brought about by the colonial administration itself. As pointed out by the studies of G Aloysius and J Reghu, it was at this historical juncture that the Brahmin communities started ventures of self-reform by floating organizations for the same, and turning against the colonial power.

The Arya Samaj, started by a Gujarati Brahmin named Dayand Saraswati, was such an early Brahminical movement. It was Arya Samaj that first started conducting ceremonies under the name ‘Shuddi’ to reconvert Christians and Muslims to the ‘Hindu religion. Alongside this, the Samaj also tried to ‘elevate’ avarna castes through shuddi ceremonies, in order to preclude their conversion. From allowing the lower castes and Muslim and Christian reconverts to wear the sacred thread, to converting them to vegetarianism and teaching them the vedas – the Arya Samaj reformers were actually converting the subalterns to a brahminical tradition and culture, which until then was alien and also forbidden to them. It was this same organization, which was also at the forefront of inciting deep-seated hatred against the Muslim community by spreading fabricated stories about Muslim boys enticing upper caste women and converting them to Islam (a scenario that reminds one of Love Jihad) through their pamphlets.

Most readings place Arya Samaj as a social movement that helped modernize the Hindu religion. However, seen from a Dalit-Bahujan perspective, the Arya Samaj was a movement that worked to successfully maintain caste hegemony by re-imagining Brahaminical traditions as the ‘Hindu’ religion. Through this they attempted to safeguard their caste hegemony by offering the lower castes a form of modernity based on this new religion, even as it placed the minorities, especially the Muslims, as the ‘other’ of this modernity, thereby evoking conflicts between these subaltern sections. The nation that was imagined from such a position was reserved for ‘Hindus’ alone and it was constructed in vehement opposition against Islam and Christianity.

Congress politics under Gandhi grew directly out of the caste Hindu nationalism that he imbibed from movements like the Arya Samaj. But a modern nation cannot be possibly built without including diverse communities. So Gandhi and the Congress did not demand ‘shuddi’ or purification of all communities into ‘Hindus’ like the Arya Samaj. Instead, Gandhi’sHindu nationalism (structured through modern secularism) invited the lower castes and minorities to become a part of a nation, which was built on the caste Hindu template provided by Brahmin organizations like the Arya Samaj. As the history of the past decades prove, such a secular-Hindu nation has only worked to maintain a shocking kind of domination over Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujans and Muslims.

It was only in the 90s and with the implementation of the Mandal Commission that a section of the lower castes found a tiny loophole to demand a share in this monopoly-nation. The fear that such a small change generated in the mindscape of the Brahminical establishment made it relapse into its overt Hindu nationalism, which led to the rise of political parties such as the BJP. As many studies from the Dalit-Bahujan perspective argue, it was the social forces unleashed by the implementation of the Mandal commission, which eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. (See for instance, the book, Hindutva and Dalits:Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis, edited by Anand Teltumbde and Ashok Yadav’s article, Babri Mosque Demolition: Why On December 6?” in countercurrents.org ). Through such a move, the Brahmin elites were able to welcome the very same communities that would have benefitted from the Mandal Commission – the OBCs – into a Hindu identity, which was of course set up against the minority Muslim community. And by pitting the lower castes against Muslims, they could preserve their Brahmin hegemony, which had now come under question. It is this very same strategy that is being carried out through programs like Ghar Wapasi and false campaigns like Love Jihad. It is important to trace this history, so that we can put away simplistic arguments like “rise of communalism” and “fear of conversion,” and think of things in a more complex perspective that looks at our modernity as an intersecting muddle of caste and religion, and of lower castes and minorities.



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