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Mainstream, VOL LII No 50, December 6, 2014

The Curse of Caste

Sunday 7 December 2014, by Kuldip Nayar


By any yardstick, the participation of US President Barrack Obama at the Republic Day parade in January is the recognition of India’s growing stature. His phone call to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, no doubt, an effort to make amends of sorts. But it does not hide the fact that Washington has chosen New Delhi as its partner to advance the policies and programmes it has in view in this part of the world.

Washington is for free enterprise and leads the capitalist world. Its policies are aimed at benefiting big enterprises and the rich. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is a tailor-made partner. Even the Right-of-Centre Obama looks liberal compared to Modi. Why the two have joined hands is not for economic reasons, although New Delhi will benefit because the American industry is bound to make way towards India.

The real reason is what is hawked about as the strategic partnership. America wants to sell weapons, an underpin of its industrial growth. India is famished of advanced military technology and hopes to get it from the America-led West.

Why New Delhi has bought the post-Bofors guns at an exorbitant price of some Rs 15,000 crores is because of its insistence that the suppliers put up the manufacturing plant in India. Since the country faces an attack on two fronts at the same time, as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has warned, it is frantic to have weapons from whatever source it can obtain. Fortunately, Russia is still India’s dependent supplier and does not mind the purchase from the West as it used to be the case in the past. And New Delhi has gained from this.

Obama, no doubt, likes democratic India, however disorderly. But his main purpose is to span the distance between India and Pakistan. He does not like the way in which the Taliban are proliferating in Afghanistan and to some extent in Pakistan. True, Islamabad is itself to blame for creating the Frankenstine but it never expected the Taliban to invade it first. With the outside Taliban, supported by the home grown crop, Pakistan has become in the eyes of world an ‘epicentre of terrorism’.

How would Washington feel if democratic India joins the fight against the Taliban? But rightly New Delhi does not want to commit its forces in that area knowing how America bled in Vietnam when it joined the war there. The fundamentalists in the area may find it a God-sent opportunity to launch a Jehad against the infidels.

There is no prospect of India and Pakistan normalising their relations till they shed the mistrust of each other. It has not happened since the partition of India some 70 years ago. It was sad to see how the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan avoided each other at the SAARC Summit at Kathmandu.

I recall the founder of Pakistan, Qaide-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, saying more than once before he won a ‘homeland for the Muslims’ that the two countries would live like the US and Canada. Although he had propagated the two-nation theory, he did not want religion to be mixed with politics after the partition. That was probably the reason he never wanted the migration of population after the creation of Pakistan.

To put the blame of enmity between the two countries on Pakistan alone would be unfair. The Congress accepted the partition formula even though Mahatma Gandhi had warned that the partition would be on his dead body.

Keeping that spirit alive, India went for a rule of the Constitution which knows no of parochialism and treats every person, belonging to any religion, an equal citizen with all the rights. No doubt, India is a secular state but lately it tends to be tilting towards Hindutva. This is a dangerous fallout of the Modi phenomenon as he is an old RSS pracharak (preacher).

True, the Hindus and the Muslims in India are equal before the law. Yet the contamination of civil services, particularly of the police, has taken a toll; the force sees to it that the Hindus have the last word.

Since I cannot put myself in the shoes of Muslims, however hard I may try, I do see that the phenomena of Modi has worked in favour of Hindutva. He is making it hard for the Muslims and liberals to accept him when he continues to seek the RSS leadership for advice.

This may well be the reason why RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has announced with pride that the Hindu Raj has returned after 800 years. He forgets that India is ruled by the Constitution even though the Hindus are in a majority. I wish the new generation of Hindus realises this and goes out of the way to reach the Muslims and other minorities. Sadly, this is not the case.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is brought in all the time in discussions. Things are different. That country has opted for Islam which is the state religion there. India, nurtured in the atmosphere of the national struggle led by Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, could not have accepted anything except the ethos of the independence movement, the pluralism. The Muslim League acted differently. It appealed in the name of Islam and mixed religion with politics. Unfortunately, Islamabad still does the same.

The Modi phenomenon reminds me of those days when every Muslim was expected to be a member of the Muslim League and a supporter of Pakistan. The BJP’s propaganda is similar. This is a betrayal of the national struggle and its ethos of secularism. Why does not Modi ever recall those days during his speeches to remind the nation of its diversity and still the sentiment of togetherness running all through.

Modi can at least suggest some reforms in Hinduism which continues to follow the archaic customs and inhuman traditions. The stigma of caste still besmears the face of the Hindu religion. I have never heard even a word against such a practice from the BJP leaders.

Only a few days ago, did a girl marry her boyfriend belonging to a different caste in a temple. She was strangled to death by the parents themselves. I do not know why such murders are called honour killings. They should be called ‘criminal killings’.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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