Amrita Tripathi, CNN-IBN, Monday , October 09, 2006
New Delhi: Kanshi Ram was the creator of modern Dalit politics. But it was B R Ambedkar who was the founder of the entire Dalit movement. And much of Ambedkar's work is centred on a critique of Hinduism, which looks down upon Dalits.
It began with the Rig Veda. In the the Purusa Sukta, or the hymn of man, there is a describtion of how exactly Brahma created people and the different castes of Hinduism.
The Brahmins were created from the head, the kshatriyas from the shoulders, the vaishyas from the thighs and the shudras from the feet.
Since the untouchables were not created from any part of the divine body, they are treated unborn and unequal from the start.
This becomes the basis for the Dalit critique of Hinduism.
“There is a struggle between hunger for equality and dignity in this country, a basic human instinct and all shastras want to suppress that,” says Sunil Sardar, Convenor of Truth Seekers Society International.
Dalit intellectuals say Hinduism is a form of spiritual fascism where those at the top of the hierarchy are content and unwilling to change.
They say, reformation of Hinduism is essential, but impossible, because if you take out the Vedas and all other references to caste, then what system are you left with?
"To reform, it needs to throw away existing spiritual texts. Which book do you read as a Hindu book without reference to caste? On average 1,500 people are converting to Christianity per day and about 10-50 people per day converting to Islam," says Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiah.
The Dalits are fed up with a system of that denies them a shot at equality even in the eyes of God.
It's not surprising then that they decide to convert into a system which gives them a hope, or at least a fair chance to get to the top of the pecking order.
Dalit critics also often bring up the status of women in Hinduism. They say women face equal discrimination.
If you look at the Kena Upanishad, there's a line about a mosquito which has a better chance of attaining moksha (salvation) by flying into a temple, than a woman who prays there. And that sure is one reason why the voices calling for reform of Hinduism are getting stronger.
(With Prachi Jatania in Hyderabad)