Tag Archives: guest

Anna Hazare and Casteism

7 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=20487

Translated by:  Siva-Houston


Is Anna Hazare Casteist?

In our Google group discussions one of the members raised the accusations some Leftists make about Anna Hazare – that there was a ban on eating meat for Dalits in Anna Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi village organization and Dalits who continued to eat meat were tied up and flogged. And secondly, there was no democracy, and not even Panchayat elections were allowed. He is therefore a Brahminical fundamentalist and a dictator. These accusations were made by a Leftist writer who wrote as if he had visited the place. Here is my reply…

The comments the critic made about Anna Hazare were lifted from Ramachandra Guha’s essay on Anna Hazare http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110827/jsp/opinion/story_14423092.jsp. A It is a completely broken and slanderous image that resulted from reading that essay alone, without being able to visualize the total picture. 

In his essay Guha quotes from an upcoming book on Anna Hazare by Mukul Sharma.

“The strengths and limitations of Anna Hazare are identified in Green and Saffron, a book by Mukul Sharma that shall appear later this year. Sharma is an admired environmental journalist, who did extensive fieldwork in Ralegan Siddhi. He was greatly impressed by much of what he saw. Careful management of water had improved crop yields, increased incomes, and reduced indebtedness. On the other hand, he found the approach of Anna Hazare “deeply brahminical”. Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalit families were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated these rules — or orders — were tied to a post and flogged.”

The smears by the Leftists were lifted from this paragraph. There is really no evidence to support it and therefore the critic lies about visiting the place. This is a very dangerous trick used in the area of general discussion. The critic had not said anything about Anna Hazare before Guha’s essay came out. If he had read Mukul Sharma’s essay http://kafila.org/2011/04/12/the-making-of-anna-hazare/, he could have found out a little bit of the truth. Mukul Sharma is an American researcher with a capitalist outlook. We can see how he will perceive Anna’s efforts in creating a self sufficient Gandhian organization. Nevertheless, what Mukul Sharma wrote is not the picture painted by the Leftists.

He writes how Anna Hazara eradicated untouchability and brought about caste equality in a very casteist and backward village.

“In Ralegan, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasizing the removal of approachability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans. The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms.”

That was the battle that Anna Hazare waged single-handedly against the mistreatment of lower castes in this village. He abolished untouchability and got equal rights for Dalits in village councils and helped them gain economic independence. Shouldn’t our Leftists accomplish this in villages around Madurai before accusing Anna Hazare? With Dalits cast aside and living separated by the village / cheri divide  in front of our eyes, ignored for fifty years by those talking politics, what rights have they to talk about Anna?

The upper castes used the eating of beef by Dalits as an excuse to shun them. Anna Hazare’s tactic to stop that was to make the Dalits resolve by themselves not to eat beef. Everyone among them had to abide by that caste restriction. It is slander to say that Anna punished them.

In reality, eating meat is not common in North India. A majority in Maharashtrian villages follow a vegetarian diet made up of chappati, yogurt, onion, sabji, dal and some rice. Dalits very rarely eat the meat of dead cattle, and even more rarely fish from ponds.

Even today, North Indian villages have different castes living separately (Isn’t it the same in villages here?) and there is no possibility of dialogue between the groups. The self-governing village organization that Anna Hazare tried to create was a single economic zone. Everyone had to live together in the same structure dependent on each other. The upper caste majority had hatred for the Dalits who lived in the bottom most economic strata.

Mukul Sharma himself writes that Anna Hazare used two approaches to integrate the Dalits. One was by pointing out the necessary services they perform and that the village cannot function without them. The second was by eliminating their consumption of beef. This caste restriction has been distorted as a ban imposed on eating meat.

Even when Mukul Sharma takes a critical tone against Anna Hazare, he writes that Anna’s doctrine was one of  ‘Village as God’. Anna found a way to bring Dalits into that organization as people with equal rights by giving Brahminical qualities to them.

Anna did not do that to suppress the Dalits. It was a clever technique he invented to bring about equality and economic independence. It is fraudulent to call him casteist for this.

Some would say that Anna was wrong in making the Dalits take a vow that they won’t eat beef. That is of course a strong and valid argument (It is similar to Subramanya Bharathi wanting Dalits to wear the Hindu sacred thread). It could have been necessary in the 1970’s. (That was not the situation in 1986 when I was there. In my personal experience fish from ponds were readily available for eating). I won’t accept what he did as well, but Anna Hazare had created equality and economic advancement for the Dalits in the village councils. That’s the reason he became their irrefutable leader, even to the extent of calling him their savior.

What Anna Hazare wanted to create was not an idealistic democratic community, but a practical village society. He could only undertake what can be achieved immediately. He is not someone who talks about lofty democratic ideals and does nothing. He tried to change Ralegaon Siddhi straightaway, from a village of illicit arrack into a self sufficient agricultural village.

To slander the achievement of Dalits getting equal rights in village councils, how honest is it to slander Anna by questioning his methods? From a society consumed by untouchability, in a society that would not even touch a statute of Ambedkar? One can acknowledge his goals and reject the methods he employed, but even his goals are being belittled here. Will they accept it if this was done to their leaders?

Anna Hazare made sure that political parties did not enter the village and there is a reason for that. That village was known for making ilicit arrack and he did not want that to make a come back along with the politics. There are severl model villages in Tamilnadu that do not allow politics even now. Anna Hazare did not create despotism, but rather, he brought back the old Panchayat system.

The Panchayat structures he created were fully democratic.  Along with the election of the leader,  all decisions were voted on. It is also the only Maharashtrian village organization with voting rights for Dalits.

Are Anna’s methods precedents? Could they be carried over to the national level? I too doubt it along with Ramachandra Guha.  I am even more doubtful about Gandhian Gram Swarajya (Village self-governance). Anna believes in it and tries to achieve that. I would consider such a society as best which possesses modern education, modern global communication and modern technology. I consider village society as a closed chapter.

Hence, I too will criticize Anna Hazare’s dream of gram swarajya (village self governance), but calling him a casteist and a dictator reveals a petty mind that scorns idealistic dreams.

Just the fact that they cannot criticize Anna Hazare without slander is proof as to what kind of person he is.