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History book wars: BJP, RSS rewriting Dalit history to target Muslims, say experts

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) attempts at re-writing Dalit history has drawn sharp criticism from scholars and activists.

As part of its efforts to aggressively push the Hindu nationalist agenda and consolidate the Hindu vote, the RSS has sought to introduce communal overtones to the origins of caste in a never-before-heard-of take on Dalit history.

In three recently released books on the subject, top RSS leaders have held foreign invaders responsible for the emergence of certain castes. The books, authored by BJP spokesperson Vijay Sonkar Shastri, were released earlier this month by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. RSS leaders have written the preface for all three books.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, top RSS leader Bhaiyyaji Joshi states in the preface to one of the books, “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.”

 History book wars: BJP, RSS rewriting Dalit history to target Muslims, say experts

Representational image. AFP

Criticising the RSS for pushing a communal agenda with historically unsubstantiated claims, Dalit scholar associated with the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, Dilip G Diwakar, said “This is an unnecessary reactionary move by the RSS that is aimed to create antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. It is not merely a caste comment per se. This argument that is being made by the RSS is a very communal one.”

Having played a crucial role in the BJP’s stunning Lok Sabha performance, the RSS has been aggressively pushing its Hindu nationalist agenda. Recent headline-grabbing statements by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calling on Hindus to unite and pitching India as Hindu nation have been interpreted as attempts to further consolidate the Hindu vote.

Asked if he saw efforts to rewrite Dalit history as an attempt in that direction, Diwakar said, “Of course. As long as Dalits see themselves as separate from the upper caste, consolidation cannot happen. One, the RSS wants to consolidate the Hindus and two, they want to create antagonism between the lower-castes and the Muslim community, which will indirectly benefit the consolidation process.”

The move also drew strong reactions from Dalit activists.

Said Asha Kowtal of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, “This is another conspiracy by the Brahmanical forces operating in the garb of RSS. Our histories have been altered for centuries now and as a result of which caste-Hindu forces claim every space - in education, business, public life etc. This is clearly another way of breaking up the excluded communities - like Dalits, minorities and lower-caste groups.” Kowtal is general secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch.

The intent, said Kowtal, behind this “weird theory” that foreign invaders were responsible for the emergence of caste, was “clearly to push the Hindutva agenda and paint a picture that we Dalits are Hindus. This is linked with the statements being made earlier that all Indians are Hindus - living in Hindustan etc. This is clearly not the case.”

Asked whether activists would contest the Sangh’s claims, she said, "Our campaigns Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra (#dalitwomenfight) is one of the attempts to organise our communities to challenge this kind of disgusting notions and reclaim our identity and self-respect."

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Updated Date: Sep 23, 2014 08:06:22 IST