Saturday, February 25, 2006

Who is kancha Ilaiah?

This is an excerpt from an earlier assignment of mine in a course of mine called 'Cultural Studies Critical Themes ' modernity, nationality in India.
For the people who want to read. it is 1000 words long so BEWARE.


According to his detailed self-description, Ilaiah was not only born in the backward Kuruma caste in a backward Telangana village, but of actually rearing sheep while he was young.

He describes at length how meticulously he learnt the intricacies of his caste-craft and its lingo; of the esoteric techniques to distinguish various sheep like the bolli gorre, the pulla gorre, the nalla gorre; of the diseases that attack the sheep; of the rustic herbal concoctions used to cure the diseases; of the hot-iron application in case the paltry medication fails; of the task of mid-wifing the birth of sheep-lings; tending to the young and grown-up sheep; above all, the expertise to shear wool from sheep without hurting it.
He acquired a doctorate in academic studies and became Associate Professor of Political Science at Osmania University.
In a critical review of the book M. V. R. Sastry says “A disturbing trend in the battle against this social evil is the emergence of a nexus of hate-filled Islamists, Christian missionaries, misguided and marginal/elitist ‘Dalit’ leaders, Marxists, Anglophile Indian elites (still bearing the white man’s burdens) and lately, western Indologists/South Asian Studies’ specialists. These disparate groups seem to have only one thing in common – a deep hatred for Hindus and Hinduism. Kancha Ilaiah’s book “Why I am not a Hindu” is a manifestation of this disturbing trend.”
Also “There is not the slightest hint that he did any impartial and methodical study, however sketchy, about the Brahmins. What all we know of his knowledge about Brahmins and Brahmanism is his so-called discussions with one or two of his colleagues. And these colleagues are, per his own admission, feminists well known for their pathological hatred for everything connected with Hindu tradition, notwithstanding their own Brahminical birth.”

I am not going to acknowledge Mr. Sastry, and debate over his review, but say that then according to him, a woman, feminist, educated and anglicized has no right to question and defy patriarchal norms.

As a woman, being aware of patriarchy, and as a Hindu, being aware of Brahmanism, I read this excerpt from “why I am not a Hindu”, expecting pleasure of some sort. Perhaps another ‘Annihilation of Caste”, I thought. Well! Like ‘Annihilation of Caste’ this piece to objectifies (for lack of a better way to express myself) Hinduism. It is as if, Hinduism, and thus Brahmanism is an absolute whole. He talks of ‘brahminical narratives’ and ‘brahminical paradigms’ as if they are almost tangible constant and all caste Hindus would understand what was being taught in the classroom. As a Hindu myself, I would want to say that Hindus too might find such narratives oppressive and exclusive of themselves. But my saying that will be the equivalent of a heterosexual male complaining of sexual-harassment at work place by women.

In a column in Indian Express by Sagarika Ghosh, Kancha Ilaiah says that just as the Vatican meets periodically to modernize Catholicism, the shankaracharyas should meet in conclave to modernize Hinduism. They should decree that everyone, every woman, every tribal, every Dalit, has the right to be priest of God and God is not the exclusive preserve of the Brahmin. The event will have tremendous symbolic value, provide a turbine charge to India’s quest for modernity and Ambedkar will at last be vindicated.

I wonder if that will make any difference to the average Dalit? Will that make any difference to the Hindu who freezes when a Dalit is nearby? Ilaiah here is trying to fight the Vedas. As he thinks that the average Hindu, Brahmin looks at his Vedas to perform his daily rites. Or even looks to the shankaracharyas to actually tell them what to believe or not. Hinduism is the way the Hindu lives, not only his religion. I feel that the only way to fight the puranic Hindu will be to consider him a minority. I might be idealistic her but, a man-to-man relationship is easier to establish and maintain than to fight a non-existent figure.

Historian Giri Deshinkar gives the example of the book on Mantrasastra, written by one of the shankaracharyas known for his zealotry, which justifies the sacred book by claiming that its conclusions are supported by modern science, as if that made the text more sacred, it also says that the author is a BA, LLB. These words modern science, BA, LLB are used so that Hinduism (or religion) gets sanctioned by modernity. ‘Caste system, in its earliest face had a scientific base’, this you will hear all Hindus mouth blindly. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say, but that it has been told again and again to Hindus so as that the average Hindu is able to defend himself, and his Hinduism on the grounds of modernity.
It seems like Ilaiah uses almost the same tactic to make Dalit bahujan acceptable (?) to his readers. He says, “It never struck them that the Dalit bahujan gods and goddesses are expressions of the productive cultures of the vast masses.” He then goes on to give examples of how the goddess Kattamaisamma, is the discoverer of tank system, a Pochamma is the discoverer of herbal medicines for all diseases. Tank system and medicines, are modern systems, and in attributing them to his gods, he is modernizing hid deity. This is unnecessary in my eyes. I try to dismiss religion, and this attempt to make it more acceptable on the grounds of modernity is, I feel, defeating the purpose. Like in Ambedkar, Ilaiah uses modernity to justify the injustice dished out to the dalits, since time immemorial. Humanity, a pre-modern concept, to could have been used here, to some effect, I feel.
Why this stance makes me uncomfortable, because, Ilaiah seems to suggest that Dalit gods were modern, the average Dalit man’s body is “like that of a person in a circus. It is ready to lean anything in any condition. But for this make-up of the Dalit-bahujan mind, it would have been impossible to acquire skills we have today...”, thus the injustice against the dalits is wrong. But anyway, any discrimination is wrong. Ilaiah, I feel, is giving too many explanations.
His using the Hanuman/Dalit character and relating it to modern day politics is yet another example of his ‘modernizing’. But in this case it seems more apt and interesting and having references in history.


L>T said...

It seems all religions are trying to put a cloak of modernism(?) or being 'scientific' while still trying to hold on to old traditions. We are having a controversy in the U.S. about Evolution theory vrs. 'Intellegent design' theory.
(Intellegent design theory is the Christians answer to the Origin of everything.) Of Course intellegent design means the Christian 'Bible' is the origin of everything. Exclusive of any other religion.

uglygirl said...

even ambedkar, said that the intolerance of the dalits were unjust because in many ways they were really modern.
isn't caste system itself unjust without any explanations?
he was a buddhist dalit.

L>T said...

I hesitate to comment on the caste system, because I am western in my thinking & don't know that much about it.

But, I would have to say in my mind, "yes it is unjust."

It is interesting, because it seems in any society, people are put into catagories like that. It is not blatantly spelled out like a caste system. could be argued to be the same thing, tho.

Sol said...

uglygirl ~ well, sexual harrasment does occur in the workplace..perpetrated by certain females against males.

not every guy wants it, or has to consider some woman attractive just because she wants him to.

that said, as a believer in freedom of expression i must say that Hinduism (as it is referred to in the modern era) provides and has always provided a buffer zone against the zealotry of monotheism.

despite centuries of British rule, despite modernization and the most valiant of proselytizing attempts by other faiths, Hinduism marches on.

it may be one of the last great faiths, alongside Buddhism and withstand the onslaught of religious homogeny.

for the sake of freedom, i hope it stands.

this does not mean i condone the caste system that exists where you live..far from it.