From Comte de Gobineau to Romila Thapar to Ramdas Lamb
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
The ‘caste system’ is a construct set up by Western scholars for a variety of reasons, and this construct is repeated by some Indian historians like Romila Thapar and today by activists such as Ramdas Lamb who teaches Religion at the University of Hawaii. This construct must be interrogated and deconstructed by all Indians regardless of their religious affiliation because it has been used and is now currently used by anti-India forces to attack India and break the country into easily manipulated segments and thus control them. The professed aim of helping the Scheduled Castes is just that, a cover for another agenda altogether.
Many of these hostile forces have their own agendas. In the Evangelical component this is clearly with the aim of breaking Hinduism which it considers as being the main obstacle to its agenda of converting the entire subocontinent to Christianity. The modus operandi is to show the ‘caste system’ as a continuing source of oppression of the Scheduled Castes(formerly called Untouchables, Harijans by Gandhiji, Dalits by themselves, and Ramnamis etc.).
The basic presuppositions of these hostile attacks are two fold: 1. Untouchability and the Varna-Jati system are one and the same. The present writer has written about it and rejected this identification. So did Gandhiji who vigorously opposed Untouchability, but endorsed Varna and Jati as the source of India’s great achievements in the past, both in the area of economic productivity and India’s great contributions to the disciplines.
(See ‘Why did Gandhiji endorse Varna and Jatil?’on www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com)
(URL's for Dr. Vijaya Rajiva's articles on www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com are given below this article.)
2. That nothing has been done by the Government of India or NGOs or the private organizations like the Sangh Parivar to remove Untouchability. This is blatantly false and has been written about lately by individuals in the Hindu diaspora (Rakesh Bahadur has replied to Ramdas Lamb on this same blog site). GOI and the Parivar organizations have produced many reports of their own.
The agenda of these hostile forces is crystal clear. In the past, as Rajiv Malhotra has pointed out in his article in Huffington Post, the Aryan basis of the caste system was propounded by individuals like Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, French diplomat, philosopher and historian in his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. Adam was a white man, according to de Gobineau and a superior one created by God and the Aryan race was descended from Adam. In India, the Aryans when they came to India, created the caste system to keep the natives subjugated and in an inferior position. He approved of this. (Rajiv Malhotra, ‘European Misappropriation of Sanskrit led to the Aryan Race Theory’ Huffington Post, March 21,2011).
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ rajiv-malhotra/how-europeans- misappropri_b_837376.html
The present writer has looked at the work of contemporary historian Romila Thapar, who has a more nuanced view of this tradition of writing about India, but clearly follows this Conservative tradition. Her latest volume 'Early India' (2002) is a repeat of the views propounded by the earlier scholars in the Aryan Invasion theory tradition, such as A.L. Basham, the author of the book 'The Wonder That Was India'
(1954) and under whom she studied at the University of London. Her book pays no attention to the work of Indic scholars of the last few decades.
Ramdas Lamb, a professor of Religion, also perpetuates this tradition in his work on behalf of the Scheduled Castes and in his participation of the HAF Report, ‘Hinduism:
not cast in Caste'. He too does not question the Western construct of the ‘caste system’ and continues to see the situation of the Scheduled Castes through this lens. And while he may be genuinely interested in the condition of the Untouchables in places like Chattisgarah where he first worked when he came to India, he does not HIGHLIGHT the very substantial changes that have taken place in the Indian subcontinent vis a vis the Untouchables.
He agrees with the HAF Report that caste is not central to Hinduism as a spiritual practice or as a religion. Neverthless, neither he nor the Report can take that crucial step towards disentangling Untouchability from Varna and Jati, without which the work remains curiously detached from historical reality. It has also provoked controversy because its excessive mea culpaing has only played into the hands of the forces hostile to India. It is with good reason that one critic has bluntly asked why Nirja Deva, a Sri Lankan at the EU repeatedly speaks of ‘caste based’ discrimination in India using the same phraseology of the HAF Report. To reply: "Because there is caste based discrimination in India," is circular reasoning!
Why does Lamb refuse to take that important step? Why does he proclaim as he does to RISA(a U.S. based academic group) that critics of the Report are "high caste" Hindus who cannot tolerate any criticism of Hinduism or that they actually wish for the oppression of Untouchables to continue? This appeared in an e-mail which was widely circulated amongst Hindus in the diaspora.
Some critics have openly come out and asked Lamb why in 1969 when there was so much oppression of American blacks did he come specifically to India to ‘save’ the Untouchables? Why even today does he not ask white men and women to go and live in the ghettoes? Why is it that no one is financed to come to the U.S. and engage in such social reforms? Why is the money flow only going in the opposite direction, namely to India, to supposedly work for social reform there? What does trade have to do with the EU’s attempt to twist Indian arms? And so on. This criticism can be viewed at www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com.
These questions are valid, not necessarily because Ramdas Lamb is involved in a network of dubious status, but because there are many others who are being so financed. And, in many cases they are also busybodies operating in the EU and in UN bodies. A good example is Nirja Deva (from Sri Lanka). Then there are the evangelicals of every hue who simply want to convert India to their religion, no matter what means are used.
Readers are by now familiar with the infamous Pathmarajah Nagalingam, of Navya Shastra fame who reportedly called for the following, in an e-mail to his associates:
1. India is guilty of human rights abuses and should be politically pressured.
2. Internationally coerced.
3. Failing all this, there should be a military intervention.
In this context it is simply not good enough for Ramdas Lamb to casually dismiss criticism as the work of high caste Hindus. At the very least, as an academic, he should begin the serious task of investigating the problem of Untouchability and not conflate it with Varna and Caste, which not only high caste Hindus but also Gandhiji have endorsed as being the engine of growth in India’s past, and which may continue to be so in contemporaray India. That possibility cannot be ruled out (See the relevant work by S.Gurumurthy, especially his article ‘Is caste an economic development vehicle?’ The Hindu, Jan 19, 2009) See the following URL
Otherwise, it leaves the impression that he is either a naïve humanitarian or that his intentions are merely to beat Hinduism with a traditional stick, even while claiming to do work for the SCs. Praying to Lord Rama is indeed a good thing, but if it is not accompanied by a genuine effort to understand India’s social history it may seem to some observers a bit like the devil quoting scripture. And even worse, that he is allied to some of the dubious forces at work to destroy India.
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)