Depiction of Cultural Politics of Caste


This Paper is an attempt to look closely at the prose work of V.T. Rajshekar, Aggression on Indian Culture, to see how the writer mobilizes his languages and social analysis to locate the instances of upper caste supremacy in the form of untouchability and casteism respectively. Attempts are here made to find out how Rajshekar attacks both upper caste and caste-based discrimination in domains such as society, politics, cultural, religion, and law. Rajshekar, in these selected prose work, he tries to show that in the Indian context, caste is the common denominator or the base structure on which the super structures like politics, law, religion and social institution are built up.

Aggression on Indian Culture, published in 1988, is an investigation into the cultural identity of Dalits. It is a tightly written work in four chapters, composed as a thesis with a clear conclusion in the fourth chapter. The first three chapters deal with the ideas of Dalit culture and they also explain how Dalits are denied cultural identity in India. These chapters also raises the question – is there a pan Indian culture? Rajshekar also considers casteism as kind of cultural hegemony and thereby gives a cultural interpretation of caste. He also considers the class struggle in India in terms of the culture-war between dominant culture and subordinate culture.

Rajshekar tries to define culture by explaining that it is a complex dynamic phenomenon that deals with the past, present and future of a set of people. He gives a broad-based inclusive definition of culture:

If culture then is life itself, it evidently would have to be made up of the different individual components that human existence is made up of: food and clothing, language and other forms of expression, customs and traditions religion, morality and ethics – indeed life style itself. (1988:4)

Subsequently, he tries to explain how culture is a complex notion in a multicultural society like India. According to him, India has many cultures and many nationalities though it has projected a dominant cultural tradition. He criticizes this dominant cultural tradition by explaining that it does not represent the tribal and other social segments. He argues:

The dominance or otherwise is only dictated by the ruling class culture, which since the last 3,000 years or so happens to be the Aryan culture. The highly advanced pre-Dravidian and Dravidian cultures were driven into the hills and forests-the last surviving examples of them being the tribal of India. (1988:5)

Rajshekar is of the opinion that a vibrant cultural face of India can also be seen in the rural Dalit villages though it is not often represented in mass media and literature. He reminds the readers that there is a significant Dalit culture which is outside the national mainstream culture that does not get represented. He points out:

The mahua, the baul, the spirit worship, the cutting of tender chicken at Mariamma’s feet and countless such events – a veritable celebration of life – keep the real culture very much alive. But the problem is despite the fact that these original inhabitants are over 85% of India’s population, their “culture” is not noticed in the mass media. Because media does not belong to slaves who have no right to claim any culture which only the rulers can possess. (1988:5)

The first chapter of the book examines the cultural paradigms imbedded in Hinduism to show how Hinduism creates a false polarity of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ in Aesthetics and poetics. Rajshekar argues that the culture of India perpetuated by Hinduism is that of dominant culture. He indicates that those who control this dominant culture will not even make 15 % of the total population. He also cautions the readers about the hegemony of language in culture. For instance, he reminds that the people who know English in India are less than 2 % and over 50% of the populations are below the poverty line. He indicates that 50% of SC (Dalits) are agricultural labourers and many others work as rickshaw pullers, head load workers, construction labourers, and Bidi workers.

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Rajshekar is of the opinion that the life and the sensibility of these Dalits subjects are not reflected in the cultural texts produced in India. To illustrate this argument, he gives an analysis of the newspaper reading population in India. He indicates, with the help of statistics, that only 2.5 crore people read newspapers regularly in India. This indicates that the newspaper reading population is only 2.5 %. Subsequently, he argues that this 2.5% of population take over the cultural expressions of India and hence, they represent Indian culture only in terms of industrialists, journalists, professionals, bureaucrats, judiciary, films, entertainment and sports industries, traders, bankers, educationalists, religious and trade union leaders, scientist etc. This shows that life, art and customs of the Scheduled Castes and tribal and backward castes are rarely reflected in the dominant culture. Rajshekar feels that culture is often the essence of human life and by controlling culture. It is possible to preserve certain privileges of the upper caste. He comments:

Culture constitutes ideas, values, and ethics. This is the basis of every religion. Life and preservation of life constitute the essence of religion. So from this angle, we will examine the cultural and philosophical tradition of “Hinduism” or Brahmanism. (1988:9)

Rajshekar clearly states that Hinduism, as a religious practice, does not recognize the values of democracy. Its caste hierarchy has kept 70% of the population in illiteracy and poverty. Under these circumstances it is very difficult to imagine Dalits and the oppressed to have their culture. Rajshekar also gives evidence for the upper caste political conspiracy. He points out that Jagjivan Ram was denied Prime Minister ship because he was an untouchable. In a land where people are denied their Human Rights, the only culture that would be visible is that of aggression.

According to Rajshekar the only visible cultural expression in India is that of conflict. He argues that India is a land of religious war, linguistic war and caste war. He evokes the myth of Parashuram who had killed every and had thrown his axe into the Arabian Sea. He indicates, this story is the foundation of Brahmin-kshtriya conflict which never ended in independent India.

Subsequently, Rajshekar exposes the hegemony embedded within the polarity of the pure and impure. He indicates how the concept of time which is one of the tangible ways of understanding one’s experience, is divided into good time and bad time and how this Brahminical division of time is imposed upon God fearing masses:

Time is divided into pure and impure. A new Prime Minister is sworn in only after a Brahmin priest fixes an “auspicious” time .During the rahu kala nothing should be performed. India became independent at the stroke of midnight (Aug, 14, 1947) because the Brahmin priests found no other “auspicious time” for such a historic event. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran’s plane’s arrival (he was returning from a treatment in USA) in Madras was delayed (1987) by 15 minutes to avoid the Rahu kala. (1988:13-14).

Rajshekar points out similarly how the same Brahminical binaries divide space, objects and even people into two categories. For instances, the spatial dimension of the development of a city or town into pure areas and the cheri, the dirty slum where the Untouchables live, is a clear case of determining one’s living experience in terms of pure space and impure space. Similarly, he points out how food habits and even colours are divided into pure and impure in Indian culture to privilege the Brahmins. For Instance, he points out how vegetarianism is popularized as something pure and meat eating as something impure. He also reminds that this division is not just confined to things and time, but extends into a classification of human beings.

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Rajshekar indicates that Hinduism has taken over the control of cultural production in India and thus, in a way, has given Hinduism control over politics and economic too.

He explains the relationship between cultural production and power relations:

This division of things into “pure” and “impure” gives enormous power to those who divide. Who can divide things into pure and impure? Only the Brahmin So he becomes the most sacred and hence the most powerful. (1988:14)

He indicates that once culture sanctifies Brahmin as pure, the presence of Brahmin is legitimized in all cultural institutions like religion, marriage, birth ceremony and the rituals related to death. He also argues that dominant Hindu culture degrades Dalits so systematically that even a rich Dalit feels inferior before a poor Brahmin. According to the writer, the poverty of the Untouchables in India is a byproduct of the cultural hegemony. He says “If the Untouchables are poor, it is the by-product of their cultural degradation being classified as impure. As long as this purity and pollution notion is allowed to run riot how can there be human rights? “(1988:15). while analyzing the cultural context of India, he talks about how marriages and food habits in India are controlled by casteism.

Rajshekar also interprets gender relations in Indian society as a result of the conspiracy of the upper caste. He indicates that scriptures and myths sponsored by Hinduism have relegated women to an inferior status. He explains how cultural texts which are alive in society work against the interest of women: The law of Manu strictly says that the woman has no place in the Hindu society. Before marriage she is under the custody of parents, after marriage under husband and after becoming a widow under her children. (1988:18)

The major argument that Rajshekar puts forward in Aggression on Indian Culture, is that Hinduism and its dominant culture combine to form a cultural aggression. However, he points out that tribal have already started their cultural onslaught by initiating anti-Aryan movements. He also criticizes the press and other media that have become the custodian of dominant culture. He says:

The Aryan “dominant culture” is losing its battle. That is why it is taking a more and more violent turn and using the state itself to suppress the “sons of the soil”. The country’s “national press” is working as the watchdog of this “dominant culture”. So also its law courts, bureaucrats. The police and military are being increasingly used to destroy any individual or movement that will work against this “dominant culture. (1988:25)

Rajshekar goes on to attack the cultural policies of upper caste rightwing political parties of India. He argues that the concept of Hindu Rashtra propagated by such parties is extremely dangerous for the multilingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic fabric of Indian culture. He considers culture as a site wherein various native religious practices are manifested. He analyses, the History of Indian culture to show how the privileged Aryan notion of religion has wiped out other religious practices of Indian culture. He observes:

In the course of the last several centuries the Brahmins have heavily borrowed from the myriad indigenous religions, cultures, traditions. Even the different deities of the natives were absorbed and converted into Hindu gods. That is how the Hindus put the total number of their gods at 330 millions. Brahmins originally had only two gods-Brahma and Vishnu. Even Ishwara was a pre-Aryan god of the original inhabitants of India. (1988:27)

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Culture, according to V. T. Rajshekar, is a product of media. He argues that upper caste Hindus have created a kind of cultural Nazism by taking over the media completely.

He explains:

“Through the many newspapers and journals the upper castes own, they are able to malign the Muslims and Christians and tarnish their image so that the innocent natives are prejudiced against these two egalitarian religions.” (1988:31)

Language is also a significant element of culture. A dominant language exercises a cultural hegemony over other minor languages. He explores this theory of linguistic domination. He reminds readers that how Hindi and Devnagari script have obliterated many native languages. He explains this linguistic hegemony in Indian society:

Though UP, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh had several languages like Ardha-Magadi, khadiboli, Mundari, Hariyanvi, Brijbhasha, Rajasthani etc. all of them have been swallowed and the area was called “Hindi belt”. (1988:36)

Ethnicity is another aspect of culture. It is also a significant component of cultural identity of its community. Stuaurt Hall explains the concept of cultural identity in terms of the collective experiences of the past. He considers memory, desires and narratives as the agencies of cultural identity. This paradigm can be applied in the context of Aggression on Indian Rajshekar who speaks about the significance of history in the context of the identity of Dalits in India. He implores Dalits to reclaim their ethnic identity by revisiting history through memory and narratives. Rajshekar also exposes the cultural politics of Brahminism that has suppressed the ethnic identity of the tribals and lower castes Hindu.

History is not merely a record of the events of the past, new historicists like Stephen Greenblatt and Clifford Geertz considers history as a cultural material. They also look at history as a narrative and as a form of representation that privileges the interest of certain groups. Thus, in New Historicism, history marks a point of intersection between culture and politics. Rajshekar’s view on history is very compatible with the new historicist views. Rajshekar says that Indian historians have been favouring Aryan Brahminical cultural invasions of Dalits. Rajshekar’s main argument in this work is that Hinduism is not just a form of religious hegemony but also cultural overlordship that has crippled the language, literature, folk art, religion and history of Dalits.

In Aggression on Indian Culture examines closely various cultural institutions like religion, language and art which operate under Hinduism. This book also shows how Hinduism creates a kind of cultural hegemony that destroys the cultural identity of Dalits. In fact, all the three works studied in this paper are strongly political as they try to plead for the Dalit causes.

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Though. Rajshekar explains directly the efforts of casteism and the plight of Dalits in India, the known facts for Indian he also wants to bring the attention of international agencies such as U.N.O and International Human Rights Commission on the issues of Dalits. Rajshekar seems to bring discussion and debate on the atrocities committed against Dalits at an international level, trying to bring the issues of Dalits to the level of issues of the Blacks all over the world. His project also seems to be the one of bringing forth an international awareness and consciousness for the issues such as culture, religion and languages of Dalits.


Primary Sources:

Rajshekar V.T.  Aggression on Indian Culture. Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya Academy, 1988.

Secondary Sources:

Limbale,Sharankumar .Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations.Trans.Alok Mukherjee.New Delhi: Orient Blackswan,2007.

Dr.Ambedkar, B.R:.Annihilation of Caste.Nagpur, Samata Prakashan, 1944

Ambedkar, B.R.: Mr.Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables, Jalandhar, Bheem Patrika Publications,1943.

Keer Dhananjay, Ambedkar: Life And Mission.Mumbai:Popular Prakashan ,2002.

Ambedkar, B.R.: The Buddha and His Dhamma. Nagpur Buddha Bhumi Prakashan, 2011

Ambedkar, B.R.: Who were the Shudras? Nagpur Kaushalya Prakashan,edition 2003.

Ambedkar, B.R.:Caste in India . Mumbai Pratap Prakashan, 1996.

Author – Dr. Grishma Khobragade, Assistant Professor, Birla College, Kalyan (University of Mumbai)

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