'Patriotic Hindu Brahmin women': On RSS' regressive obsession with purity, and its links to ancient Aryavarta

  • There are signs of change in the traditional order of things in society, compared to a generation or two ago.

  • This seems to be worrying the RSS, whose chief Mohan Bhagwat, in a public address, recently stated that cases of divorce have increased a lot of late, because people fight over trifles.

  • He added that women were not confined to their homes 2,000 years ago in the “golden age” of our society.

  • The true idea of the “golden age” for conservative Hindus is probably captured in ancient texts such as the Manu Smriti, which defined the extent of Aryavarta, the homeland of the Aryans.

Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire

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There is a picture of a matrimonial ad going around on social media. Perhaps you have seen it too. It is for a Brahmin man who wants a “very fair, beautiful, very loyal, very trustworthy, loving, caring, brave, powerful, rich, extremely patriotic to India with a keen desire to increase India’s military and sports capabilities, an extremist but compassionate, an expert in child-raising and an excellent cook, Indian Hindu Brahmin working girl from Jharkhand or Bihar”. However, mere possession of all these listed skills and qualities do not guarantee a successful marriage application. The prospective groom, an unemployed dental graduate from Bihar, has also specified that the horoscopes must match perfectly.

The unusual thing about this matrimonial ad is only in its requirement of extreme patriotism, because the rest of it is really quite commonplace. There is nothing exceptional about seeking a good looking, loyal, trustworthy, loving and caring partner, and most people tend to do so even if they do not explicitly advertise it. The Indian fetish for fair skin is well known and unexceptional. There is nothing very unusual about the man seeking “an expert in child-raising and an excellent cook”, because cooking and child-raising are still held to be main tasks of women in Indian society – although she would also have to be a “working girl”, and thus balance work and home. The girl has to be Brahmin from Jharkhand or Bihar, but seeking marriage alliances in the same caste and community is still the norm in India, even among highly educated people. Even the requirement to have matching horoscopes is unexceptional.
The truly remarkable thing about this ad is, therefore, its very ordinariness. It merely says openly what the bulk of Indian society, perhaps more discreetly, practices anyway.

 Patriotic Hindu Brahmin women: On RSS regressive obsession with purity, and its links to ancient Aryavarta

File Image of Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

Nonetheless, there are signs of change in the traditional order of things in society, compared to a generation or two ago. This seems to be worrying the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose chief Mohan Bhagwat, in a public address, recently stated that cases of divorce have increased a lot of late, because people fight over trifles. “The cases of divorce are more in educated and affluent families, because with education and affluence comes arrogance, as a result of which families fall apart,” he added. However, he added that women were not confined to their homes 2,000 years ago in the “golden age” of our society. His mention of this can perhaps be read as a sign of how much more liberal Hindu society was, and is, than, for instance, Muslim society. Education and affluence are suspect, but stepping out of the home, presumably for the ‘right’ reasons, is not.

Since the country is in the process of returning to its golden age, a good and easy way to understand the present is by looking back at the “golden age” of the pristine Hindu past. The period would, however, need to be a little more than 2,000 years ago because around that time or a little prior, there is evidence, in an inscription called the Hathigumpha inscription, of the presence of Greek Bactrian kings as far east as Rajgir in Bihar. Although the ancient Greeks were fair-skinned and un-Islamic, they were unfortunately not Hindus either, and were therefore classified as Mlecchas.

The true idea of the “golden age” for conservative Hindus is probably captured in ancient texts such as the Manu Smriti, which defined the extent of Aryavarta, the homeland of the Aryans. This territory was defined in the Dharma Shastras as “a fit habitation for those who practice the Vedic religion”. What made the place a “fit habitation for those who practice the Vedic religion”? It was the observance of the varna, or caste, hierarchy.

Manu had divided the territory of ancient Bharat into categories based on purity and centrality. The purest part of Aryavarta was the Madhya desa or central territory, which lay “east of Vinasana, west of Prayag”. The Vinasana was the name of the spot where the Saraswati river was said to disappear. Its location is not known, and may have been somewhere in Punjab, Sindh or Rajasthan. Prayag, of course, is the city in Uttar Pradesh. The northern and southern boundaries of Aryavarta were the Himalayas and the Vindhyas.

The centrality of these lands as the heartlands of Brahminical, Aryan, Hindu India has continued through the ages. It is probably not a coincidence that even today, it is in these lands that distinctions of caste are strongly observed, and Brahminical patriarchy continues to thrive. These are the heartlands of “Hindi Hindu Hindustan”.

The Brahminical civilising mission to convert and assimilate by a process of Sanskritisation – through the grudging allowing of lower castes and outcastes into temples and caste hierarchies, and the invention of Hindu genealogies for their kings – has still not ended. It is in evidence even now, in the ongoing efforts to invent Hindu nationalist histories for communities such as the Ahom, whose Shan ancestors migrated from around Yunnan in China in 1228 AD.

India south of the Vindhyas and east of Bihar was always outside Aryavarta, or at its peripheries. The territories of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south and Bengal, Orissa and Northeast India in the east still remain peripheral to Hindu India.

Lands outside Aryavarta were the lands of Mlecchas for the Vedic Indians. Even today, habits of food and the looser attitude towards caste, in some of these places, continues to set them apart from the conservative Brahminical core in the “Madhya Desa” of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Thousands of years on, they are still not pure enough by the lights of the Brahminical core of Aryavarta.

There is no doubt that Muslims are considered by such elements as an impurity in the body politic of pure India. Even Hindus from outside the “Madhya desa”, and those of low castes, are not quite pure enough. Women, too, are a problem. So long as they are beautiful, patriotic, loyal, rich cooks and nannies, they may be accepted by such men as only slightly inferior to themselves. However, the obsession with ritual and purity means that even those patriotic Hindu Brahmin women become impure when menstruating.

The Aryavarta Brahmin male is, by his own lights, entitled to be the highest form of life in our society. That is how it was in the Hindu golden age more than 2,000 years ago, towards which the country is “progressing”.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2020 09:47:48 IST


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