Is Gandhi a cunning Bania? -A comment

Radhakanta Barik

This above observation is given by Amit Shah some days back on Gandhi. Their misconception is about any Indian as carrying a caste on his or her sleeve which is not correct. One can be little autobiographical in locating caste and individual. We belonged to first generation learners.  My father as a kisan became motivated to educate us with an image of independent India when state went for implementation of agrarian reforms. With the implementation of the Zamindari system which gave security to kisans and they got motivated to send their children to schools. Although our village has a primary school of a hundred years old up to class three. Which my father got his schooling in the early 1930s. But there was a school upto class five two km away. As this is an island in the river Devi Nai. It gets flooded for six months in those days. But he got motivated to go there and studied in difficulties. After finishing his primary classes he desired to study further which he could not do because of my grandfather’s only child to look after land. Real inspiration came to his sons and daughters in 1950s to push them to schools. The villagers got motivated to start a middle school in a neighboring village. This is the phase of decade of Gandhian reconstruction which brought many schools in Odisha. In the year 1999 super cyclone this issue came up that who built such a large number of schools in Odisha in rural hinterland. The issue got discussed and reports are found that these villagers built these schools with their contribution of labour and materials. The state government, for the first time, invested some money in providing school infrastructure as a part of super cyclone reconstruction phase.

Rural Odisha had a phase of renaissance after Independence when schools got built in every locality. Children belonging to rich and poor came to the same schools. Moreover, there was no caste discrimination in those schools in those days. After competing middle school from our neighboring school I went to the High school which started in the year 1944 under an enlightened Head Master. This school is situated 15 KM away from our village. We had to cross the river and go there. That forces us to stay in the hostel. Those days, 500 students were staying in the hostel. In each room there were students from various castes but never felt the sense of discrimination. Our Head Master was a truly a liberal and dedicated teacher. Although he belonged to the Brahmin Caste never kept his thread and never practiced as a Brahmin. He used to not to eat any Prasad from any temple. His children did not get thread ceremony. They were our contemporaries studying in the same school. They have all settled in the city of Cuttack. They are in various professions. In everyday life they never refer to caste and their children do not know which caste they belong to. How will you tell that each has a caste but he or she cannot abandon caste group to which one belongs. This is the strange logic of the present BJP President Shah.

We studied in a school and then came to Ravenshaw College where nobody inquires of any body’s caste. The college is an open space and the city of Cuttack is known as a proverb tells that the city without caste whereas the city of Puri there is no night. This is a social proverb which is pregnant with meanings. Those who have been living in the city they do not bother of any caste. After almost a half century I went to the Ravenshaw College which has turned into a University as a Visiting Professor, Nobody talks in caste lines as both students and teachers.  One observes that they all fall in love and many of them get married. Many of them are not aware of their caste which Mr Shah is referring to. I taught there and felt impressed with social behavior of each student and teacher. They all carry cosmopolitan behavior.   

As a teacher in School of Planning and Architecture for last two decades one gets students from each region and each caste. As I am teaching social science to these students where caste and class get discussed. While teaching students on caste hierarchy I found a student from Bengal Shri Shah two years back who went to his mother and inquired of their caste. His mum told that she does not know. People in Calcutta and other parts of Bengal have undergone social transformation where they are oblivious of their caste identities. While teaching these undergraduate students I find encouraging social behavior that they either have changed or changing by coming to metropolis and to the best college of India. 

As a student I came to know caste as an important social category after coming to JNU for higher studies. This issue was getting debated on a theoretical plane in various courses and historically in an empirical sense in different parts of the country. Many of the political leaders of the national movement of India have not bothered of caste dimension in everyday lives. They confront the problem of caste as a system of social oppression in a society for which they searched for a political solution. Be it Nehru and Gandhi they have not identified with caste but they took the problem of untouchability as it was a major social problem of our society. Gandhi took help of Ambedkar and JagJivan Ram to understand the caste oppression and how to liberate them from such an oppressive system. The way Gandhi in the early 1930s in the context of entry of Dalits into the temples pleaded with the priestly class of Banaras, Gaya and Deogarh who attacked his car while he was going on the road. He experimented the temple entry movement in Vaikum of Kerala where his arguments helped in changing consciousness of the priestly group. But his arguments in the case of the Northern India got a stiff opposition from the priests.  He answered to them in a subtle and finer ways that they attacked him with sticks and stones but they did not kill him as they were on wrong side of the public morality. They were the great supporters of the constitutional democracy based on equality and justice. These leaders worked for liberation of human being because they felt that no human being got socially oppressed and his or her human right got violated. Because of the struggles against social oppression by various groups we have reached a stage of history that you cannot go back to use caste system to oppress them. This is where in Shaharanpur of UP, Amit Shah’s party is getting a strong opposition because of their backward and irrational approach to a social problem. Even the RSS chief says that caste needs to be mobilized for voting purposes. This is a backward and primitive outlook of these people who are the members of the RSS.

We have come out of caste system and we do not carry any caste. Nor our children born into any caste they are human beings who working for our society in whatever position. Human being if he or she can go for introspection and doing   of self-analysis which all top leaders of this country have done this self-cleansing from their caste prejudices. They do not carry any caste on their sleeves. As a teacher in the best institute of Delhi while teaching caste as a social problem students went to Bengal to let know their caste from their parents but their parents also are not aware of their caste. So many generations have forgotten their caste identity why are you reminding them that you are all cunning people having caste each.

It seems that instead of Indian constitution you want to follow the Gita as a social text where Krishna is telling that he as Lord has created  the caste system; then the obviously opinion of these people belonging to the RSS  will be so backward and primitive that Amit Shah, the BJP President  spoke of Gandhi as a cunning Bania. Your party has used caste in political terms in each election and recently going to Odisha Modi went to reinvent the high caste by giving them awards that their fore fathers played a role against the British rule in the early twentieth century.This is the paradox of their politics they talk of nation and nationalism and get bogged down to caste and use the caste and religion in a partisan and political manner.

Prof Radhakanta Barik is a Seniour ICSSR Fellow, IHD in Delhi

Apr 22, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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