Religious fanaticism will not stop without addressing caste. The death of the Dalit of Hyderabad shows again


A A Hindu Dalit man was recently murdered in broad daylight for marrying a Muslim woman from the Sayyid Muslim caste. It is said that the man was even ready to convert to Islam, but the woman’s family did not accept him due to his Dalit status. The chilling incident reflects the depth of caste in the country, prevalent across all religions. But some people are only emphasizing the community angle of this incident, trying to give this episode a uniquely Hindu-Muslim angle.

Time and again, communalism has been used by the ruling classes as a way to protect and promote power and supremacy. These people preserve their seat of power at the cost of enormous loss of life and property of ordinary people, by inciting feelings in the name of religion, creating enmity among themselves and even sponsoring riots. India has already witnessed the most horrific result of the politics of bigotry – partition.

Despite all this, religion has always been the “beauty” of Indian society and not a problem, as some sections portray it. In no other country in the world do so many religions, sects and creeds coexist in an equally valid and accepted form. And there is freedom and space for the birth and development of new sects and beliefs. In a nutshell, Indian society has always been tolerant towards religion. Ordinary people have always respected even those forms of religion, faith, beliefs and sects that are contrary to their own faith, and they continue to do so even today. In general, it is common for a believer of one religion to visit the religious establishments of another, participate in their fasts and festivals, and take part in their marriage rituals.

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Casteism, however, is India’s fundamental problem. It has existed since time immemorial. The daily experiences around us and the frequent reports of discrimination are an indicator of this. A person can change his religion but the caste does not leave him. A Mehtar (cleaner/sanitary worker) might convert from Hinduism to Islam where they get a nicer nomenclature from Halalkhor (the one who wins fairly), but neither can they get rid of their caste-bound work – cleaning, carrying human excrement on their heads, rummaging – nor get respite from the tyranny of discrimination. Even in their new religion, they are treated as inferiors. They must build separate mosques to remember their Allah and even if they somehow manage to find a place in the main mosques, they are relegated to the back rows. Caste does not leave its shadow even in death as it faces discrimination in burials. Caste-based cemeteries are proof of this. Nor does a conversion to Sikhism or Christianity put an end to the misfortunes of those who belong to the lower castes. Their name might change to “Danish” or “David” or “Dasmesh” from “Dinesh”, but their exploitation continues. Some don’t even have the freedom to change their name and continue to live as ‘Jhameli’, ‘Fekan’ or ‘Ghurahu’.

Tariq Gujjar rightly recounted this ordeal:

Kitne Gautam Aaye

For Bhagat–Kabir kite.

Kitne Nanak Dekh liye,

At Kitne Miyan-Meer.

Kitne Kalimé padh liye,

Liye Kitne Majhab Badal,

Kaise-Kaise raqt se

Li apni jaati rangaa,

Charo Mausam Hamari Ghat Me,

Hamari Hi tohMen Har rut,

Hame Eisa ke ghar li panah

Tree bhi rahe kaput

Hum shudra, dalit, harijan

Hum Kevat, Valmiki, Bheel.

Yah Jag Tamasha Jhootha sa,

Hum sach samajhkar khele khel,

Hamara Ambar se bhai-patidari ka jhagda,

Hamri Hi Sautan Yaar Jameen,

Hum isi ke beech hain bhatakte

Hum kammi yaar kameen.

(Translated from the original Punjabi in Hindi by Muhammad Irfan Urfi)

After facing centuries of discrimination, victims have revolted against this social scourge. In this struggle, many thinkers and reformers have tried to break the back of “casteism”. Kabir, Nanak, Jyotiba Phule, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Asim Bihari are the main ones.

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The religious conversion of disadvantaged castes was part of the larger struggle against casteism. Leaving the religion of the tyrannical ruling class and building up its resistance, they continued their call for the “eradication of caste”. In this process, some changed their religion but brought their “civilization and culture” to the new faith, while others chose to fully adopt the civilization and culture of the new religion. However, the bitter truth is that despite the movement of adopting all kinds of religions, no religion has adopted them.

The goal of “eradicating caste” from Indian society has not been fully achieved. While some progress has been made by Hindu society, among Muslims, inertia is total. But the irony is that instead of talking about the total abolition of caste, people are entangled in pointing out that religion is the biggest problem.

If India is to get rid of “religious fanaticism” and preserve notions of social harmony, then establishing a system of social justice that eliminates “casteism” prevalent in all religions is the only way out. This is why it is important that the deprived and oppressed of all religions, who represent about 85% of the total population, make themselves available to fight and eliminate castes. They should also be prepared to oppose ill-fated attempts by the commons to distract from the real problem.

Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie is an author, translator, columnist, media panelist, social activist and doctor by profession. Views are personal.

Translated by Ram Lal Khanna from the original in Hindi and edited by Anurag Chaubey.


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