Were things ever different?

In India, the majority is not a political majority. In India the majority is born; it is not made. That is the difference between a communal majority and a political majority. … A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed.

Babasaheb Ambedkar said this in 1955, well after helming the Constitution into being in an independent India. As if in a cruel bid to confirm his prescience, the nation has behaved like a de facto Hindu state for decades. The Constitution, espousing a half-hearted secularism, provides the prevailing disposition towards Hindu majoritarianism with a semblance of lawfulness. The demolition of the Babri Masjid on Ambedkar’s death anniversary, 6 December 1992, finally struck a body blow to that ‘other’ Ambedkarite current that runs through our founding document. With Narendra Modi’s accession to prime-ministership in 2014, the installation of the Ram temple in Ayodhya was all but a matter of time. India now is a de jure Hindu state where the judiciary and citizenry alike genuflect to the idea of the temple’s legitimacy.

There’s a desperation in the air. At such a time, we turn to Ambedkar’s Riddles in Hinduism. For Ambedkar, Rama was an ‘unsavoury character’. In his “The Riddle of Rama and Krishna”, he singles out his treatment of Sita, Vali and Sambuka to show how terrible this hero of the Hindus was as king, husband and administrator.

… Rama standing behind a tree shot Vali with his arrow and opened the way for Sugriva to be the king of Kishkindha. This murder of Vali is the greatest blot on the character of Rama. It was a crime which was thoroughly unprovoked, for Vali had no quarrel with Rama. It was most cowardly act for Vali was unarmed. It was a planned and premeditated murder.

On his treatment of Sita:

The first thing he should have done after disposing of Ravana was to have gone to Sita. He does not do so. He finds more interest in the coronation than in Sita … he had made up his mind to abandon Sita as the easiest way of saving himself from public calumny without waiting to consider whether the way was fair or foul. The life of Sita simply did not count. What counted was his own personal name and fame. … That means that Sita preferred to die rather than return to Rama, who had behaved no better than a brute. Such is the tragedy of Sita and the crime of Rama the god.

Rama as king of Ayodhya beheads the Shudra, Shambuka, for reciting the Veda in a southern corner of his kingdom. He does this in order to restore the order of caste. A Brahmin’s son drops dead since in some part of the kingdom because a Shudra somewhere is indulging in practices discordant with the lowly status assigned to his life. Ambedkar recounts how, on the counsel of his Brahmin advisors,

Rama mounted his aerial car and scoured the countryside for the culprit. … At last, in a wild region far away to the south he espied a man practising rigorous austerities of a certain kind. He approached the man, and with no more ado than to enquire of him and inform himself that he was a Shudra by the name Shambuka, who was practising tapasya with a view to going to heaven in his own earthly person, and without so much as a warning, expostulation or the like addressed to him, cut off his head. And lo and behold! That very moment the dead Brahman boy in distant Ayodhya began to breathe again.

When the offending Veda-spouting Shudra is prima facie executed without trial or inquiry, the Brahmin lad comes back to life, and the order of caste is restored.

Ambedkar spent all his life decrying the anti-social character of Hindu caste society. Inevitably he faced many threats and was deliberately sidelined from mainstream attention during his lifetime and beyond. We can take solace in his persistence against such odds. These words in his Who Were the Shudras? (1947), show us how the Hindu orthodoxy hasn’t moved an inch for over a century, and how despite this immemorial adamancy, we must keep speaking:

What the Orthodox Hindu will say … I can well imagine for I have been battling with him all these years. The only thing I did not know was how the meek and non-violent looking Hindu can be violent when anybody attacks his Sacred Books. I became aware of it as never before when last year I received a shower of letters from angry Hindus, who became quite unbalanced by my speech on the subject delivered in Madras. The letters were full of filthy abuse, unmentionable and unprintable, and full of dire threats to my life. [The are angry because I have] brought forth chapter and verse to show that what goes by the name of Sacred Books contains fabrications which are political in their motive, partisan in their composition and fraudulent in their purpose. … They are a base crew who, professing to defend their religion, have made religion a matter of trade. They are more selfish than any other set of beings in the world, and are prostituting their intelligence to support the vested interests of their class. It is a matter of no small surprise that when the mad dogs of orthodoxy are let loose against a person who has the courage to raise his voice against the so-called Sacred Books of the Hindus, eminent Hindus occupying lofty places, claiming themselves to be highly educated and who could be expected to have no interest and to have a free and open mind become partisans and join the outcry. Even Hindu Judges of High Courts and Hindu Prime Ministers of Indian States do not hesitate to join their kind. They go further. They not only lead the howl against him but even join in the hunt. What is outrageous is that they do so because they believe that their high stations in life would invest their words with an amount of terror which would be sufficient enough to cow down any and every opponent of orthodoxy. What I would like to tell these amiable gentlemen is that they will not be able to stop me by their imprecations. They do not seem to be aware of the profound and telling words of Dr. Johnson who when confronted with analogous situation said, ‘I am not going to be deterred from catching a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian.’

We close with a poem and a reading from Meena Kandasamy’s Ms Militancy:

Random access man

His voice-balloons always came out
Empty as hiccups—He was not a husband
who shared his secrets. He was not a husband
who shared his spoonful either—on
cold nights he played Gandhi
to her waiting wife’s body.

Denial aroused desire and
lust rolled on her breasts,
lust rode her hips.

Sure that he would never come
she sent her dickhead husband
on a wild-goose chase—Get me
the testicle of a golden deer,
she said, get me its musk
so we can rouse your manhood.

She picked herself a random man
for that first night of fervour.
This one was all hands and
all heads and he spoke only
in whispers. He taught her
her tongue. First he named
the word for her womb and
the word for her waters and
she devoured every word and
within her another woman
arose, hot and forever

By the time she left
this stranger’s lap
she had learnt
all about love.
First to last.