Baijirao Mastani

Baijirao Mastani is a thoroughly entertaining Bollywood movie. It is about a great Hindu Brahmin Peshwa (Prime Minster) to the Maratha Chahatrapati (Emperor.) He is credited with expanding the Maratha Empire to almost all of present day India. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, its producer, initially announced the film in 2003 but then shelved it. However, in 2014, he revived the project and I got to see it in December 2015.

Till November 2015, Amir Khan was a well loved Bollywood actor and social activist. His talk show Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) was a popular show with the masses and dealt with sensitive social issues. The show premiered on 6th May 2012, the second season aired from 2nd March, 2014 and the third season started from 5th October 2014. The last episode, called “When Masculinity harms Men,” aired on November 2014. On its premier telecast, according to the Television Audience Measurement (TAM), the show reached out to 8.96 million people in the age group of 4+. One hundred thousand people tried calling in from across the country to speak to Khan during the show out of which 10 or 11 people could eventually get through. The official site crashed due to the huge response. The show’s Facebook likes as of date are 6,682,224.

Amir has never shied away from tackling social topics. Some of the topics of Satyamev Jayate are: Female foeticide in India, Child sexual abuse, Dowry system in India, Love marriages and Honor killings in India, Domestic Violence, Casteism and Untouchability, Rape in India, LGBT community. There were no dearth of touchy social problems that he had not commented on from 2012 to November 2014. A poll by Hindustan Times showed that 88% of viewers liked his show. Then what happend in November 2015 that an innocuous statement by the Khan, expressing his feeling about what he felt was the growing intolerance in India, made him an overnight persona no grata?

“(Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet,” he said.

Khan was bashed in the news, by fellow Bollywood actors who asked him when he was leaving the country to go live in a muslim country, on Facebook & Twitter he was called unpatriotic by trolls who would often end their posts with a “Jai Hind” or “A Patriotic Indian.” It was ironic when the fundamentalist party Shiv Sena offered a one lakh reward to anyone who slapped the actor for calling India intolerant.

Another interesting thing happening in India is the recent facination with Hitler in India . A Sept 2014 post in The Jerusalem Post: Why is Hitler Popular in India (1) reports that it is hard to miss Mein Kampf on the shelves of India’s bookstores, often ironically placed next to Anne Frank’s diary. A July 2015 article in the Daily Beast: Hitler Ice Cream (2) reports of a “Hitler Ice Cream” being sold in India. According to a Daily Beast article: Mein Kampf a best seller in India, when asked to write down the historical figure they admired the most, 9 out of 25 students wrote Hitler (3). When asked why, one of the 10th-grade students replied: “He was a fantastic orator. He loved his country; he was a great patriot. He gave back to Germany a sense of pride they had lost after the Treaty of Versailles.” A clothing store named after Hitler in Ahmedabad, Gujarat was closed down after international pressure: Hitler Cloths Store (4). A December 2015 report in The Telegraph: [Mein Kampf popular with Business students] (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/5182107/Indian-business-students-snap-up-copies-of-Mein-Kampf.html) (5) reports that Indian business students snap up copies of Mein Kampf: it is considered a management guide in the mould of Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese” and that Sales of the book over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone.

The question that comes to mind is that: why was the Bollywood movie Baijirao Mastani that was shelved in 2003, finally made in 2014 and why are publishers like Jaico Publishing House and Mumbai-based Embassy books  reprinting Mein Kampf every quarter? The apparent answer does not involve any conspiracy theories. Its a simple economic supply and demand equation. Publishers publish books and movie producers make movies because the public demands it. Add to this equation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May 2014. A Prime Minister who belongs to a party that derives inspiration from Hitler, a Prime Minister who was in seat when the Gujarat killings took place and he like Nero, just watched. The same Prime Minister is topping the popularity polls with millions of supporters ready to pick up fights with scorners.

Baijirao Mastani panders to the seemingly newly found “Hindu” pride: a Hindu Brahmin Peshwa who promises to bring the Hindu Raj, the Ram Rajya to fruition. Here, I propose a correction. “Hindu Pride” should be substituted by “Three Upper Caste Pride”. The three upper castes being the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (warriors), the Vaishya (merchants.) These three castes are collectively called Traivarnika. The forth class, the shudras, and the Untouchables, who are casteless, are the ones who have always felt the brunt of patriotism. Patriotism in the upper castes, has been repression and intolerance for them. And, a Hindu Raj means that people of other faiths, like Amir Khan, would have a “slight adjustment problems”.

Dr. Baba Sahib Ambedkar, a contemporary of Gandhi, India’s first law minister, and the principal architect of the Constitution of India belonged to the “Untouchable” Mahar caste. He reports how his people, the Mahars were treated under the reign of the Peshwas, the dark side of the Hindu Raj of Baijirao. In his hand written manuscript “Manu and The Shudras,” he Ambedkar writes:

Under the rule of the Marathas and the Peshwas the Untouchables were not allowed within the gates of Poona city, the capital of the Peshwas between 3 p.m and 9 a. m. because, before nine and after three, their bodies cast too long a shadow and whenever their shadow fell upon a Brahmin it polluted him, so that he dare not taste food or water until he had bathed and washed the impurity away. So also no Untouchable was allowed to live in a walled town cattle and dogs could freely enter but not the Untouchables.

Under the rule of the Marathas and the Peshwas the Untouchables might not spit on the ground lest a Hindu should be polluted by touching it with his foot, but had to hang an earthen pot round his neck to hold his spittle. He was made to drag a thorny branch of a tree with him to brush out his footsteps and when a Brahman came by, had to lie at a distance on his face lest his shadow might fall on the Brahman

The Shiv Sena did raise objections to the movie: to the dance moves of the mighty hero.

Peshwa Bajirao is a revered icon and legendary warrior for all Maharashtrians. To show such a legendary figure dancing while vigorously moving his Shendi in the song Malhari is highly unacceptable. We don’t even dance like that during Ganpati celebrations.

Mohan Bhagwat is the current Sarsanghchalak (or, “chief”), of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India. RSS is the “intellectual” arm of the Bharatya Janta Party (BJP) the party that Modi belongs to, and is instrumental in bringing Modi to power. Its ideology is called Hindutava or “Hinduness,” which the BJP adopted as its official ideology in 1989. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Hindutva is an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life.

The sad reality of the politics of Hindutava is that there cannot be a Ram-Rajya without discrimination and disparity among the people. The caste structure is sanctioned by scripture. Reference may be made to Dr Ambedkar’s book, “Who were the Shudras (6) for a comprehensive study of the caste system. The sanction for the caste system comes from the ninetieth Hymn of the Tenth Mandala of the Rig Veda— a Hymn, which is known by the famous name of Purusha Sukta. The Purusha Sukta makes the Chaturvarnya a sacred institution, a divine ordination. Quoting Ambedkar from the book “Who were the Shudras”:

The scheme of the Purusha Sukta is unique, inasmuch as it fixes a permanent warrant of precedence among the different classes, which neither time nor circumstances can alter. The warrant of precedence is based on the principle of graded inequality among the four classes, whereby it recognises the Brahmin to be above all, the Kshatriya below the Brahmin but above the Vaishya and the Shudra, the Vaishya below the Kshatriya but above the Shudra and the Shudra below all. (6)

Out of the many gods in the Hindu mythology, Lord Ram has been chosen by the BJP as their preferred god. Ram-Rajya (the rule of Lord Ram) is the ideal, nostalgic period that the proponents of Hindutava seek to usher in. Mythology brings the words of scripture to the masses in story form. The story of the low caste Shambuka who dared to perform penances, which only the higher castes were allowed to do, and was beheaded by Lord Ram, to reinstate the caste system, is found in the Uttarakanda section of the Valmiki Ramayana.

“Bunch of Thoughts” is a book written by M. S. Golwalkar who was the second Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. RSS Leaders have said that this book was written to “clarify and understand the true purpose, the exact nature, the ambit and scope of the RSS work…and its activities.” In the chapter, “The Living God,” Golwalkar invokes the teachings of Swami Vivakananda who had said that the real worship was the worship of man. Drawing a strange conclusion to this teaching he says that since “… ‘man’, in the sense of the whole of humanity, is a very wide concept and as such, cannot be grasped easily as a single solid entity for us to see and feel, we should…take a view of the Almighty with certain limitations as it were, which one can understand, feel and serve”.

The Hindu People, they (our forefathers) said , is the Virat Purusha, the Almighty manifesting Himself…Brahmin is the head, King the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet… This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement, i.e, the Hindu People, is our God.

Prime Minister Modi wrote a book called Karamyogi in which he spritualized the work of the outcaste scavenger, saying that scavenging was an “experience in spirituality” for the ‘Valmikis’. This sub-caste among Dalits have been condemned to scavenging jobs for centuries.

“I do not believe that they are doing this job to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (the Balmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods and that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries.” (Karmayogi, by Narendra Modi)

Many years earlier, Dr. Baba Sahib Ambedkar had locked horns with the foremost Hindu of the time, Mahatma Gandhi on the issue of caste. The debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi can be found in Appendex 1 and Appendex II or Ambedkar’s book The Annihilation of Caste (8).

Gandhi, the champion of outcasts and of untouchability, says that a Hindu cannot remain a Hindu if he rejects the Varna system (the four fold system of caste) that the Shastras sanctify.

But it is pertinent to ask what the Mandal believes, if it rejects the Shastras. How can a Muslim remain one if he rejects the Quran, or a Christian remain Christian if he rejects the Bible? If Caste and Varna are convertible terms, and if Varna is an integral part of the Shastras which define Hinduism, I do not know how a person who rejects Caste, i.e. Varna, can call himself a Hindu.

in 1936, Gandhi wrote an essay called The Ideal Bhangi. A bhangi (scavenger) he says, should remain a scavenger all his life but he should be a perfect technician in the fine art of excreta.

He should know how a right kind of latrine is constructed and the correct way of cleaning it. He should know how to overcome and destroy the odour of excreta and the various disinfectants to render them innocuous. He should likewise know the process of converting urine and night soil into manure. But that is not all. My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned.”** (Harijan*, Nov 1936)

So, I agree with Amir Khan. India has become intolerant in recent times. If Hindutva succeeds, then India will be a very unequal country. It can’t be otherwise. A Ram Rajya, presupposes an unequal society. As Gandhi points out, you cannot be a Hindu if you reject the Shastras. And if you accept the Shastras, you have to accept the caste system. If you accept the caste system, Shudras, untouchables and people of other religions have to be subservient to the three Upper Castes, the Traivarnikas.

In “The Annihilation of Caste,” Ambedkar argues that social reforms must precede political reforms. Hence he wanted caste annihilated before political reforms are made. This is because caste, with its inherent and perpetual inequality is incompatible with the equality of all people that political reforms aims to legislate.

References:

  1. Why is Hitler Popular in India: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Why-is-Adolf-Hitler-popular-in-India-376622

  2. Hitler Ice Cream: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/12/hitler-ice-cream-is-not-exactly-what-you-think.html

  3. Mein Kampf a best seller in India: http://mic.com/articles/120411/how-hitler-s-mein-kampf-became-a-bestseller-in-india#.tA0Z9Z8UW

  4. Hitler Cloths Store: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9520035/Indian-Hitler-clothes-store-owners-back-down.html

  5. Mein Kampf popular with Business students:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/5182107/Indian-business-students-snap-up-copies-of-Mein-Kampf.html

  6. Ambedkar, Manu and the Shudras: http://www.ambedkar.org/ambcd/57.%20Manu%20and%20the%20Shudras.htm

  7. Karamyogi: http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=VE9JQS8yMDA3LzExLzI0I0FyMDA3MDA%3D

  8. The Annihilation of Caste http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/ambedkar/

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