“Dr. Ambedkar didn’t talk about atheism, it’s because atheism is so easily absorbed by Brahminism in India. Atheists in India do not get rid of brahminical hierarchy and caste conditioning” ~ Prof. Gail Omvedt
I am often reminded of this quote while watching speeches of many popular atheists from Kerala. The rise of global right wing atheism can be observed here too, with many atheists just repeating whatever white conservative atheists spout in their podcasts. Their privilege has them blindly applying points of Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins without taking into consideration the local social reality. Just like how the white atheists disregard black struggle and their identity politics, many here have the same outlook towards anti-caste struggle and reservation. I would like to illustrate it with few examples.
In the video Jathi Oru Madham (Caste is Insanity), popular atheist Ravichandran C equates Savarkar with anti-caste social reformer Sahodaran Ayyapan. This equation is made because Sahodaran Ayappan had asked his followers to question and think about the caste location of people who are against reservation. The speaker while mocking the concept of reservation based on caste, makes the wrong interpretation that Sahodaran Ayappan was casteist. The speaker further mocks Sahodaran Ayappan’s logic behind this, assuming that people who are against reservation are actually trying to destroy caste. He postulates that caste based reservation is a big evil and says that the distance between Savarkar and Ayyapan is zero, one did Hindutvawaad while other did Jaatiwaad. The basic understanding that it is important to look at the caste location of people who are anti-reservation seems to be missing here. Since when did questioning caste location of casteists become equal to Savarkar’s bigotry.
He later whitewashes casteism prevalent in Kerala, saying that caste is only mentioned when it comes to Public Service Commission exams and marriages, and that always pointing it out would lead to further division. The freethinker says that one way of getting over caste is to not speak about it, and some people bring it up unnecessarily for their own vested interests. To think that someone like Ayappan, who stated, “No caste, no religion and no god; but ethics, ethics and ethics; most appropriately and accordingly”, pioneered inter-caste dining, confronted Madan Mohan Malaviya about Ram Rajya and popularised Ambedkar’s social democracy, will be called a casteist really exposes the Brahminical elements in Kerala’s new atheism. The video uploaded by esSENSE Global, the same organisation that is going to conduct what they call the “World’s Biggest Atheist Meet in God’s Own Country,” this coming October, raises concern considering such false statements were allowed and brought to the attention of so many other atheists.
(Kindly search Jathi Oru Madham (Caste is Insanity) in YouTube and skip to 1:38 hr. for the above mentioned content)
Ravichandran C has been making such uninformed statements for a long time. In a 2018 video titled Jaathipukal from the same channel with more than 141k views, he states that the Muslim community is the most powerful community in Kerala when it comes to wealth, land, influence, etc. He further adds that Muslims, in spite of all this, enjoy reservation. The comprehensive data from the Kerala Migration Survey (2014), a study of 15,000 families selected through random sampling from 63 taluks of Kerala, shows that in terms of average family wealth, the Muslim community is behind all Christians except CSI/Dalit Christians. Similarly, the Muslim community is financially far behind the non-reserved communities. He also stated that Genghis Khan’s conquests were mainly for the spread of Islam and later had to retract the statement as historians refuted it.
In another instance, the same speaker states that lorry drivers are most prone to being rapists and others don’t need any educational talk about it. How did he come to that conclusion? Isn’t it necessary for a ‘freethinker’ to substantiate his claim with data? How is this statement not casteist? Yet, very few among his atheist brotherhood have called this out.
There have been many such statements from very popular atheists in Kerala, and as a result, the increasing number of atheist youth are being misled into believing that being apolitical is the right way. These circles increasingly push a neoliberal agenda. An atheist organisation even had Milton Friedman’s Chicago boy, Thomas Sowell, and Christian conservative Jordan Peterson in its latest promotional posters. They can also be seen promoting pseudo-scientific ideas like the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). Even though these same atheists have given speeches against Hindutva and other general issues that liberals usually talk about, their attitude towards caste shows that their atheism is merely a cover and a privileged form of patting each other on the back.
Arjun C is an M.Phil student of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.