Dr. Narendra Kumar Arya
The semantic adulation frequently terminates in clichés. ‘Divyanga’ is a new divine revelation that has happened to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is not just coincidence that Narendra Modi is from Gujarat, resembling his Hindu predecessor Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi was a conservative sanatanist, a Hindu first and a political leader later. His notion of politics was intertwined with religion and he respected it more than anything else. Gandhi was a staunch supporter of Varnashram and caste system. Gandhi declared, after Vaikom temple entry in Travancore, that he was a sanatanist or orthodox Hindu.
When Gandhi entered politics for freedom of India, the movement was still in the incipient stage devoid of mass mobilisation. Gandhi, through his South African experience, knew that to succeed he needed to mobilize large numbers of people to make it a truly national movement. Gandhi’s connection with untouchability starts with the Vaikom temple event. During the Vaikom experience, while discussing with local untouchables, he realizes that they needed a better epitaph – sort of euphemism- for themselves. Being a Gujarati, he said he recalled Narasinh Mehta, the popular vaishnavite Gujarati poet, in whose works the word Harijan was first used. So he started using the word Harijan around 1932 and christened three journals or newspapers with the Harijan prefix- ‘Harijan’ in English (from 1933 to 1948), ‘Harijan Bandhu’ in Gujarati, and ‘Harijan Sevak’ in Hindi.
Gandhi did not believe in actual uplift of the untouchables – rather he was more concerned with lip-service to the cause of eradication of untouchability. The euphemistic bent of mind is also patronising. It unveils the condition of the psyche of the Hindu mind. The coinage of the word ‘divyanga’ shows that the colonial Hindu psyche still persists and has not changed even after a hundred years, divulging the deepening ailment of the Hindu mind, from Mahatma to Modi. If Gandhi was a sanatanist Hindu, Modi was pampered by Hindutva in RSS’s school of ideological fanaticism.
Christophe Jaffrelot (2002), in his ‘ India’s Silent Revolution’, has opined that “Gandhi continued to support the untouchable demands for access to temples but did so in a manner so as not to offend the high castes, above all, he refrained from intervening in other causes which were more social than spiritual and hence more sensitive. For him, equality before god mattered more than equality before men. This selective approach to untouchability reflected Gandhi’s attachment to a social structure which he considered to be politically harmonious.”
E. V. Ramasamy, one of the most ardent critics of the persecuting character of Hindu social system and religion, joined the Indian National Congress in 1919. But observing that in Tamil Nadu it was merely serving the interests of the Tamil Brahmins, he resigned in 1925. Periyar emerged as a prominent leader with Vaikom, but Gandhi’s ‘Young India’ does not mention the role played by Periyar and all credit is given to Congress and Gandhi, observes Eleanor Zelliot in an article entitled ‘Gandhi and Ambedkar, A Study in Leadership’. So history etched by the Congress outlook has knowingly ignored many facts, suppressed many others and elevated the trivial ones to seek power and justify it.
Under the pretext of the Harijanuddhar programme initiated by Gandhi’s favourite followers Jamna Lal Bajaj, Rameshwar Das Birla and Madan Mohan Malaviya, funds were sought to build separate temples and wells for Dalits which were aimed at further social division and alienation of Dalits and the rest. ” ……the Harijanauddhar programme was a political stunt, guided by concern to maintain the numbers of Hindus……the programme leaders were not responding to the harsh impossibility of reconciling the religious and cultural barriers between Hindu society and Dalits. By providing Dalits with their own wells and temples, they were offering a political solution to a cultural problem- a solution that they believed would be more acceptable to the Hindu majority.”(Rawat, Ramnarayan S, 2012,).
Further, Gandhi’s Harijanauddhar programme was a failure. One indication of it was the collection of donations for this programme: “having toured the entire country, he collected only eight hundred thousand rupees (800,000). By comparison, the appeals of Tilak’s Swaraj fund brought more than one million rupees, without any tour.” (Rawat, Ramnarayan. S, 2012). It is relevant to assert that Tilak was a Hindu Revivalist and his traditions were adopted and amplified by the Hindutva ideologues.
Gandhi ignored his radical contemporaries like Ambedkar, Periyar and Bhagat Singh etc., thanks to his growing clout because of his capacity to mobilise people with his mystical and spiritual persona ridden with politics and power. A country lacking education and rights revers a mahatma more than a radical intellectual; but, charisma decays soon reviving the radical. The word Harijan was never accepted by the Dalits but the casteist dwijas used it profusely. In their caste hatred-filled heads, it evolved into modern rhetorical abuse. Mentally they were still abused by their diseased mind, overtaken by the institution of casteism.
It became a stigmatic epithet because their psychological pathology has remained intact. But it never found easy acceptance among the untouchables. It was so despised and resisted that it had to be declared illegal by 1982 and by early 2010s, it has been made strictly illegal to use this word in official communications. The Gandhian invention to eradicate untouchability – a new category through a word-fabrication strategy – has been defeated by his own political heirs. They preferred to use words like scheduled caste and depressed or dalit that were expressive of the situation underlining Hindu culture persisting in the institution of dehumanisation and segregation of sections of its own people.
It is surprising that Gandhi was considered a liberal by hard core Hindus, contrary to the beliefs of anti-caste Indians. This breed later developed as the Hindutva fanatics. It is an amazing paradox that the credit for the rare and glorious act, according to Hindutva ideology, of murdering Gandhi, a sanatanist and orthodox Hindu, goes to another Hindutva killer, a saviour of Hindu Rastra and its Sanskriti espoused in the writings of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar (the term Hindutva was devised by Savarkar in 1923). People who never cared for the country and its people, except for participating passionately in spreading hatred among communities and religions, fabricating riots, compartmentalisation of Hindu identities, erecting the false narrative of the menace of religious destruction on the part of Semitic religions, strategically using Shudras and other marginalised people to wage war for safeguarding their brahministic traditions and values.
Narendra Modi belongs to the same breed of rejuvenated Hindutvaists. He falls in the same erroneous lineage of ideological decadence. He recently paid farcical avowal to the cause of the differently abled by designating a new term of ‘Divyang’ meaning – of divine organs. On December 27 in his ‘Man Ki Baat’ TV broadcast addressed to the nation, he has used it for the first time. Later, this was officially documented when the same was used by Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu in his rail budget speech 2016, replacing the more neutral sounding and widespread ‘persons with disabilities’ (PWD). After that, various central ministries have initiated the process of extending possibilities of its usage by involving and summoning suggestions from various stakeholders and activists in the various states and Union Territories to build a consensus on giving a legal basis to Divyang, instead of the present Hindi equivalent Viklang.
Constructing and throwing up of such patronising and regressive words demonstrates the repulsive condition of the Hindu mind. Offering to use such words tantamount to its persistence in anchoring everything on the principles of god, the divine, reincarnation, emancipation and deliverance. No, all PWD are not Hindus, even religious or theists. It is one of the ideological postulates of Hindutva ideology to purge karma- disgusted people and put them in moulds of Hinduism. This the impulsive spread of religious glossary to hypnotise the unconscious of the society and ready their easy induction into its ideological agenda of cultural pride woven with threads of religiosity. Neither Gandhi, the orthodox Hindu, was able to do any concrete deeds to eradicate untouchability, nor do his distant hardened Hindutvaists have any intention of doing so, when it comes to the issue of disabled people. Does the Hindu mind believe in carrying out a divine duty to serve people with disability, who being humans are spiritually the most evolved creatures, and honour the underlying equality and unity?
No, no more reverence and worship like instruments to enslave the people of your own creed – the women, the people of god (‘Harijan’) and now people with divine organs (‘Divyang’), please do not play divine games any more. It is easier to hack minds and inject feelings of empowerment and elevation than create conditions of materialistic benefits aimed at their dignified and egalitarian place in a society operating on healthy values. In the hands of the BJP government, the state has become an apparatus for furtherance of religious interests, castrating the values of secularism and rationality enshrined in our constitutional history and documents. The development of a cosmopolitan language and its desensitization from religious and anti-secular traditions is an essential condition and mark of development of socio-political systems. By using such regressive and degenerative words, instead of ones that are humane and more neutral, the state is becoming a prisoner of the psyche of the Hindu mind and unleashing its true consistencies built upon feelings of privileged and non-privileged lesser humans.
This categorisation once again is likely to create conditions of potent discriminations and segregation of already unequal citizens. Such rhetorical innovations are camouflaged strategical devices to clothe the repugnant poverty and marginalised circumstances they are living in. In fact, this categorical offering is a direct violation of persons with disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of rights and Full participation Act 1995 and a whole chapter in it dedicated non-discrimination). Such distinct divine categorisation is a potentially powerful semantic explosive to debilitate their social stature and human dignity and make them prey of social sarcasm. We have some 2.25 crore persons with disabilities, of these 75% reside in rural landscape and most of these survive on meagre societal and state assisted programmes. Poverty and malnourishment along with inability to meet basic needs, inadequate housing structures, unhygienic living conditions, lack of sanitation facilities; and absence of awareness in society of their rightful place are the things that Modi and his government should offer, and not churn out every day or other new pseudo-spiritual words and divine phraseology.
Dr. Narendra Kumar Arya is a former college teacher. His poems/articles appeared in more than 50 reputed literary and current affairs Hindi and English print and cyber magazines. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org