KBC is in Soup for its Question on Manusmriti Burning

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Ambedkar, the tall intellectual and the one who led anti-caste, anti-untouchability movement with full gusto, did not mince words while criticising Hinduism

Ram Puniyani | Clarion India

‘Kaun Banega Karodpati’ (KBC) is probably one of the most successful mega programmes on TV channels, with bumper prizes in toe. In its recent episode (Karmayog, November 2020) the host of the show, Amitabh Bachchan, following the script, asked a question as to which book was burned by Dr. Ambedkar. The correct answer was Manusmriti. The show also had Bezwada Wilson, the foremost anti-caste-anti-scavenging activist as the guest.

The reaction to this was very intense from a section of the audience. While a few appreciated the question for enlightening them about the ghastly nature of the caste system enunciated in this book, large sections were very angry. They took it as an insult to Hindu religion; it hurt their sentiments and saw it as an attempt to divide the Hindu society. It was best reflected in the tweet, “This is out of desperation to show BR Ambedkar as anti-Hindu which he was not. They want to divide Hindu community on the basis of caste…”

As a reaction, FIR has been filed against the programme host and other personnel behind the show for hurting Hindu sentiments. The dominant discourse revolving around Hindu nationalism wants to present Ambedkar as having ideas similar to that of theirs. There is a complex presentation of Ambedkar by them to, on the one hand, glorify him and, on the other, to totally undermine his ideology and struggles for equality of Dalits.

The celebrations of Ambedkar anniversaries are done with great gusto by RSS and company. In one such programme, Prime Minister Modi stated in 2016 that he is a great Ambedkar Bhakt and compared Ambedkar to Martin Luther King (Jr.). The same Narendra Modi had written a book (since withdrawn) Karmyog, which stated that manual scavenging work done by Valmikis is a spiritual experience. Incidentally, Bezwada Wilson who was a guest at the KBC show, has been working for decades against the dehumanising practice of manual scavenging.

Interestingly, a similar section of people who came out for ‘hurt sentiments’ against the real event of burning of Manusmriti had vociferously defended the freedom of expression in case of the cartoons derogatory to the prophet Mohammad, which tragically led to four deaths in France at the hands of fanatic elements, who were operating on the ground of ‘hurt sentiments’ due to the cartoons.

Ambedkar, the tall intellectual and the one who led an anti-caste, anti-untouchability movement with full gusto, did not mince words while criticising Hinduism. His understanding of Hinduism regarded it as the one which is Brahmanical theology. As such, he also regarded Kabir as his second Guru. What we understand from his life and writings is that while he upheld the values of love and amity of Bhakti tradition, he realised the dominant trend from within the multiple streams of Hinduism is Brahmanism so he stated ‘Hinduism is Brahmanical theology’.

In practice, he did see the concentrated expression of Brahmanical values is Manusmriti; so, in parallel to struggling for dalits’ access to public drinking water (Chavdar Talab) and entry to temples (Kalaram Mandir), he went on to oversee the burning of this book regarded as Holy by a section of the Hindu society.

Today, many people are asking as to who reads and follows Manusmriti?  There are two factors involved in it. While the Sanskrit text may not be being read by many, still its impact, its values, are part of large sections of Hindus. Akshay Mukul in his book on Gita Press does tell us the impact of Gita Press Gorakhpur in shaping the understanding of the large Hindu population.

If one visits the multiple book stalls of Gita Press at railway stations and at other places, one can see the low-priced books which enunciate these values at a very popular level. I was shocked to see one such book on ‘Duties of Hindu Women’. It was a total elaboration of Manusmriti in a very simple and popular language. What shocked me more was that the print run of this book–priced around five rupees–was running into lakhs.

While there is a claim that Ambedkar was not Anti-Hindu, Ambedkar’s own words are very revealing, “Hinduism is …nothing but a mass of superficial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, organised around caste…” and, famously, he had said: “I was born a Hindu but will not die as Hindu.

Similar were his ideas about Hindu Rashtra, the goal of the present ruling party, BJP. He points out in his book on Partition, ““if Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account, it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”

Despite such formulations, there is a strong move by the political manoeuvres of the Narendra Modi camp to glorify Ambedkar on one side and to ensure that his ideology and actions are combated at social level. There are regular voices from this ideological camp to replace the existing Indian Constitution. On the ground level, they have adopted a multi-pronged strategy to make inroads into Dalit communities.

While Ambedkar calls for ‘Annihilation of caste’, RSS has floated ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum), which propagates that the caste system is the strength of Hindu society and that all castes are equal. There is a great attempt of ‘social engineering’ to co-opt Dalits into the fold of the Hindutva ideology. Dalits are made to work as foot soldiers of Hindu nationalist politics through clever manoeuvres.

And, to cap it all, some Dalits leaders are tempted with power to come to this fold. Recently, it was expressed best by Chirag Paswan, when he said that “he is Modi’s Hanuman”.

On the lines of Ambedkar’s ideological and social battles, a section of Dalit leaders and social workers-activists have worked for social equality and dignity of Dalits. The major problem is that such leaders are few and far between and there is a fragmentation in their efforts, overcoming which will ensure the social justice and culmination of the dream of Babasaheb, which led him to burning this book.

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