Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dalits and Buddhism



The key problems of the dalits are caused by the exploitativethought, speech and action structures common to the social lifeof communities in India. These structures are expressions of theexploitative social grammar embedded in the hindu scriptures. Thisgrammar looks logical and harmless if interpreted in its descriptivesense. But it has over time morphed into a prescriptive grammar,gained unprecedented legitimacy and drives social life of Indiancommunities hidden under the camouflage of an insiduous value system.This value system is based around the concept that the value of thelife of the tiniest animal to the universe is equal to the value ofthe life of the largest animal in the universe. Here again, thisseems consonant with modern views of the structure of the universeand seems logical and harmless, since it adequately describesreality. The problem again is that over time, this value systemmorphed into a prescriptive value system, whereby individual'ssocial mobility is limited and constrained by birth and death.Due to the above nature of the hindu scriptures, the dalits at thebottom of the structure continue to suffer and those above themmanage not to feel guilty about it. It is clearly in the interest ofthe non dalits to perpetuate the structure. There is little incentivefor them to support rebellion by dalits against the structure. Manyof them are unable to see the complete unfairness of the system atall times, since its not their problem. Non dalits do not have thelooted (by birth) destinies which typifies the dalits. Most have notseen the pain, hunger and powerlessness without recourse which is apermanent feature of dalit lives. Finally the structure has so muchlegitimacy now that most non dalits may never be able to ridthemselves of the unfairness of it all. And since they are not toounhappy with it, their efforts to modify it are aways going to betentative. The are unlikely to initiate a cleanup of their ownscriptures in a hurry.But liberation of the dalit community requires breaking free of thestranglehold of hindu scriptures. In fact it is mandatory. Burningcopies of these spiritures is only symbolic liberation. The rootcause of the problems of the dalits are the very core nature of theHindu religion. So liberation for dalits requires completeabandonment of that religion. It requires burning away all theimpurity in ones mind caused by these scriptures. But this is onlythe first step. The important next step is to inbibe something whichwill provide adequate structure for ones personal and social life.Dr. Ambedkar investigated many such alternatives and chose buddhism.Most people, who sincerely walk on the path that Dr. Ambedkar walkedin investigating alternatives to buddhism and choosing among them areunlikely to arrive at any other choice. Buddhism is a very goodalternative, esp. in the theravadin version, which retains the wordsof the buddha in their pristine purity. The message of the buddha issimple, clear and complete. Dalits are anyway moving towards it. Anyother choice will create problems for the dalits. But that part ofthe story of the relvance of buddhism to Dalits is well documentedand I will not repeat that history here.Till date, the dalit movement has been past focused and limited tosymbolic battles and victories, due to the very stage of thestruggle. But, with the erosion of state power (and reservations) inthe 90's, along with the increase in informedness and increasingpolitical awareness of the masses, the dalits are now ready for anacceleration in the dalit movement. In fact, if the movement does notaccelerate, then the dalit masses, which had started stirring alittle, may go back to sleep. And dalit elite, falling prey to thepropaganda of the hindutva brigade may betray the dalit movement. Therisk of failure may be high, but the risk of inaction is certainlyhigher. The opening provided by the current break from the onslaughtof the hindutva brigate must be capitalized on. We must initiatestrategies to prevent the hindutva brigade from gaining strength.The social, political and economic focus of the dalit movement willnever fully solve the problems of the dalits completely due toreasons discussed above. This is becoming more and more obvious dayby day. Dalits need to break from the past and create their selvesanew. Buddhism is the direct way of doing this. Building self-respectwithout building other-hatred and yet building a self-sufficient andindependent way-of-life is possible easily through full-fledgedadoption of the buddhist religion. I would exhort all dalits toconvert to buddhism if they already have'nt. If they have I wouldrequest them to rededicate themselves to becoming better buddhists inall aspects of their lives. One of the good ways of doing this wouldbe to do a 10 day course at various centres of the Vipassana ResearchInstitute (www.dhamma.org).As per Gail Omvedt's biography, Dr Ambedkar traveled to Burma andrequested the monks there to come and preach in India. They did notcome at that time. But the Vipassana Research Institute owes itsorigin to the monks of Burma. They came late. Perhaps they shouldhave come earlier. But that is less relevant. They are now here.Dalits should queue and benefit from the dhamma in its purest form.Dr. Ambedkar would have certainly wanted it to be that way. Afterallthe most direct resistance against the hindutva brigade is to moveaway from their core - i.e. the hindu religion.With love towards all and malice towards none.RegardsPratap TambayPS: My life will be my answer to the well meaning people who doubt myallegiance to the highest Ambedkarite principles.
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