A chill goes through the spine of the members of minority communities when the Majority Community claims “Minority Privileges” in five of the Northeastern states. These states were created precisely to enable the respective communities to safeguard their identity and their individual genius and make their own specific contribution to the national wellbeing, tapping the resources of their unique heritage. These are, further, infinitely small communities in national terms and are stepping into the highly competitive world of modern India with great caution. It is precisely these vulnerable ethnic groups that are being threatened by a Public Interest Litigation filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, a BJP leader from Delhi.
It is evidently a politically motivated initiative. Mr. Upadhyay is not a resident of any of the above mentioned states, nor of the other states where Hindus form a minority like in Punjab, Lakshadweep, Jammu and Kashmir. He does not suffer from any minority hardship. He lives in Delhi, where Hindutva’s saffronising strategy is being formulated: “ek jati, ek party, ek dharm.’ He evidently represents the Sangh Parivar’s mind that is restless until its homogenizing programme is fully realized in the South and the East.
He argues that in Punjab Hindu population is 38.4%, in Jammu-Kashmir 28.44%, Manipur 31.39%, Arunachal Pradesh 29%, Meghalaya 11.53%, Nagaland 8.75%, Mizoram 2.75% and Lakshadweep 2.5%. What he does not mention is that in spite of being in large numbers in India’s tiniest states, Christians constitute only 2.3% of the nation, and Sikhs a similar proportion. Does the whole matter point to a self-demeaning “inferiority complex” in the Great Society that constitutes 85% of the Population? In what manner does it feel threatened by a community that is one-fiftieth its number and is merely struggling for its existence... unless its aim is absolute domination and exclusive majoritarianism?
The framers of our Constitutions were fully aware of such possible attitudes, and were very eager to place within their provisions the needed safeguards to protect fragile communities and ensure them a future. In their mind, the majority community was defined at the national level, particularly since it constituted an overwhelmingly great proportion. Anxiety, if there was any, it was for the little minority communities. In the same way, the authorities that granted statehoods to the smaller communities of the Northeastern region had done so to protect their cultural assets as they had been shaped upto that period of history.
If the minority status is to be calculated at other levels, we do not know how far it can be forced to go from the national level, to the state level, to the district and sub-divisional levels. The Hindutva strategy seems to be to plant their personnel deliberately into the areas of weaker communities and underemine their identity and culture using the advantage they have in terms of money, power, and numerical strength at the national level. Even among minority communities there are individuals that can be bribed against the interests of their own people. That is what precisely is happening today. The buyable ones are being bought at the cheapest rates. It only goes to prove that even self-assertive people can be subjugated, when required with arms, on other occasions with cash.
Reputed historians like Romila Thapar have shown how the subuding and enslaving of indigenous races had been going on in India from the earliest times. The Aryan elite, as they moved eastwards, looked down on the natives whom they wanted to conquer. Their Brahmins considered the lands beyond the upper Gangetic plains impure (Thapar 138). Vedic texts make such prejudices clear. Tribal communities of the East and South were called Asuras (demons). For example, the powerful king of Guwahati (Pragjyotishpur) is remembered as Narakasura (Narak-Asura) in Brahminic tradition. In the same way in the Ramayana, Ravana is presented as a demon-king. Likwise, Mahabali of the South, though remembered in popular memory as a most noble and benevolent king, is in Brahminic tradition a demon.
In this context, the crushing of the demons repeatedly described in the Puranas bears witness to the aggressive expansion of the brahminized Aryans (an early version of the Hindutva hordes, senas, vigilantes) into the subcontinent and the on-going suppression of the tribal communities. Those killed are given the most ugly names: Dasyas, Asuras, Rakshasas, Kiratas (Mongoloid tribals), Mlecchas. The so called ‘Ghar Vapsi’ movement is the continuation of the same Brahminic aggression into tribal areas and absorption of weaker communities into the Hindutva order.
Caste-system itself developed in the context of the Eastward and Southward expansion of the conquering Aryan races under the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas, however, needed the Brahmins to validate their claim to royalty by the construction of mythologies and genealogies to link their ancestry with ancient deities and epic heroes (Thapar 293, 324). The Brahmins would, then, serve the kings as philosophers, guides and mentors. That is exactly what the RSS and the Sangh Parivar bosses wish to do for the BJP-led Government today. And the ruling classes would assiduously promote the Brahminic domination and their teaching, as it is happening in our days.
Upinder Singh in her ‘A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India’ studies at length the eastward and southward expansion of Aryan people and the integration of other races as subordinate classes. She also analyses the consequence of land grants made by rulers to Brahmins on a large scale and subsequent exploitation of the rural polulation. Matters reached such a stage as to enable the Brahminic elite to concentrate in their hands political, economic and religious power all at once. That is how Indian society was Brahminized, and the humbler communities were absorbed into it at lower levels. Singh describes it in this manner. “Some tribal groups were absorbed into the fold of caste society; others were given the status of outcastes or untouchables” (Singh 579).
R.S. Sharma holds similar views. “Penetration of the brahmanas into the tribal belts added enormously to the number of the sudras” (Sharma 243). He repeats, “The conquest of people living in the jungles and forests by brahmanised princes from agriculturally advanced areas added enormously to the number and variety of sudra castes” (Sharma 207). He says again, “Land grants in tribal areas led to the assimilation of the aborigines in varna society as sudras and made them agriculturalists” (Sharma 74). Further, “…many land grants appear in the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh, in Vidarbha in Maharashtra, in Andhra Pradesh and in Northern Tamilnadu. On this basis one could suggest that the social crisis involving a struggle between the upper and lower orders took place outside the Ganga zone in the areas which were less ‘varnised’(=which had not yet fully accepted the varna system)” (Sharma 66).
The above mentioned method has been the process by which entire tribes were sucked into the Brahminic fold. The same process possibly is going on in Northeast India in our own days among the Rajbansis, Koches, Hajongs, Bodos, Deb Barmas, Jamatias, Riangs, Pnars, Mishings, Dimasas, Rabhas, Tiwas and others in an inconspicuous manner... among other tribal groups in other parts of India as well.
This disproves the claim that the Hindutvawadis keep making that Hinduism is a non-converting religion. The Brahminic method of converting has always been the absorption of an entire society. In fact that was ‘conversion’ on a massive scale. This is how the ruling dynasties of Manipur, Tripura and Ahom states were Hinduized by the Brahmins. In similar fashion the rulers of Cooch Behar and Kachari Kingdom accepted Hinduism. In such cases, the royalty would become zealous guardians of the new order, uphold the privileges of the Brahmins, make them generous land grants (Thapar 233), keep them happy with the donation of cows, and prevent the inter-mixing of castes and communities (Thapar 207).
Of course, there was nothing like a personal choice or individual acceptance of religion in this process. There was no genuine personal conversion. That is why the Hindutvawadis cannot understand the meaning of ‘conversion’ in its true sense. They have never had that experience.
Perceptive people in the Northeast are growing aware of the new threatening developments. The manipulated political ascendency of the Hindutva brigade in the region is going ahead with land-grants to the Patanjalis and other corporates. Those in decision-making positions at the local level are seeking rather to please the Delhi Moguls than the local ‘aam admis’ and are getting used to reduced freedom of decision. Not a few are wondering whether the “Act East” policy will include land-grabbing and empowering the Majority Community to bypass the interests of the local majorities—that really represent micro-minority communities.
For the time being, Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has been asked to refer his petition to the National Commission for Minorities. We wait for the next manoeuvre of the Hindutva think-tank.
But in the meantime, our anxiety has been best expressed by Yashwant Singh. He lamented that the values on which India was founded are being threathened as never before. “It seems the mob has the job of giving justice...Fear rules the roost.” When the majority community asks for greater powers, what can minorities have but a sense fear?
Sharma, R.S., Early Medieval Indian Society, Orient Longman, Kolkata, 2001
Singh, Upinder, Pearson India Education Services, Noida, 2018
Thapar, Romila, Early India, Penguin Books, London, 2002
(Published on 05th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 06)