The Gita and OBCs

Gita’s position on caste is a major problem for all those who have suffered oppression

The Other Backward Classes are a historically oppressed majority in India. All debates on “Hindu nationalism” initiated by the Brahminic forces assume that the Other Backward Classes, who constitute the largest social group in India are part of Hinduism.

The dalits, Muslims and Christians keep on protesting, but the OBCs do not protest, not even when a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said recently that the Bhagavad Gita should be made India’s “national scripture”, replacing the Indian Constitution.

The OBCs voted for Narendra Modi, India’s first OBC Prime Minister, in substantial numbers. But they have not got anything substantial from his elevation.

Instead, the upper castes particularly Brahmins and Baniyas have got very visible positions in his ministry, and the Baniya industry is booming ever since Mr Modi and Amit Shah took over the state apparatus and the BJP.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s attempt to bring an Act to declare the Bhagavad Gita as India’s national scripture, that is, the conscious keeper of India’s government and its people, has far more serious implications than Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s obnoxious statement.

Ms Swaraj is a seasoned politician with a solid support from her caste, Brahmin, whose strength in the Union Cabinet and state governments is increasing.

Most recently, Maharashtra and Haryana have been handed over to Brahmin Chief Ministers.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad seem to be working with a conscious agenda to bring the brahmin-baniya control back again.

The Gita debate helps that agenda. Along with the minority communities, the OBCs too would be big losers. Perhaps even more, since, unlike, Muslims and Christians, the OBCs do not have international recognition or backing.

A careful reading of the Gita would show anyone that it fully supports the enslavement of Shudras and OBCs, a process initiated by the Rig Veda itself. Rig Veda formulated the caste structure in Purusha Suktha and the Gita upheld it.

If the claim of the VHP is accepted (though there is no historical authenticity for that claim) that the Gita is 5,151 years old, it means that the enslavement of Shudras is more than 5,000 years old.

No Shudra-OBC can be a priest either in a Rama temple, a Krishna temple, or a Vishnu or Shiva temple. But he can be the Prime Minister of this country. Today, when a Shudra-OBC is Prime Minister, it’s not because of the Gita, but because of B.R. Ambedkar’s Constitution.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna declares:
“Chaaturvarnyam mayaa srishtam gunakarma vibhaagashah”
(“I have created four Varnas based on guna-karma”; guna means quality, karma means work.)

There are references to Brahmins in the Gita as the most revered social force created by Krishna to conduct spiritual affairs. The emphasis in the Gita on performing each section’s duty as assigned by the theory of Varna Dharma of Rig Veda is consistent. Krishna consciousness then is clearly caste consciousness.
Krishna also says:
Krishigaurakshyavaanijyam vaishyakarma swabhaavajam;
Paricharyaatmakam karma shoodrasyaapi swabhaavajam.
(Agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade are the duties of the Vaishya based on their own karma and nature; and serving other is the duty of the Shudras based on their karma and nature.)

With this divine dictum Krishna sealed the fate of the Shudra-OBCs. Till today the fundamental social location of the Shudras has not changed in Hinduism.

The Brahminic interpreters of the Gita say that the Varna system created by Krishna does not operate by birth, but is based on aptitude and skill. But for the last 5,000 years nobody’s caste status has changed.

The Indian Constitution began to effect that change. The present design to replace the Constitution with the Gita is to stop that.

On certain issues Gita appears to have taken a universalist position. Krishna’s discourse on truth, renunciation, salvation, devotion, consciousness, existence and so on is universal in nature.

But if the experience of the Shudra-OBCs and dalits (who do not figure in the Gita because they are out of the Varna/caste system) ever since the Gita was composed is considered, then it’s clear that the Gita is a text meant for only for the upper castes.

In fact, though Arjuna asks transformative questions, Krishna’s answers remain confined to assignment of caste based duties.

All those who interpret Gita from the point of view of karma yog try to give a positivist understanding of work ethics. But nowhere in the Gita does Krishna talk about productive work positively.

His stress is more on fighting by Arjuna, not as an individual soldier, but as a member of the Kshatriya caste, as part of Varna dharma.

From Vivekananda to Mahatma Gandhi to B.P. Mandal (who quoted extensively from the Gita in the Mandal Commission Report), all of them mistook Krishna’s reference to Varna duties to individual duties.

But there is no scope of “spiritual individualism” in the Gita as there is in the Vinaya Pitaka, Bible or Quran or the Guru Granth Sahib. The Gita only talks about caste moksha, not individual moksha.

Gita’s position on caste is a major problem for all those who have suffered oppression. The discrimination here is not individual discrimination; it is a discrimination based on caste. Though untouchables (dalits) were not mentioned in the Gita, they are now part of caste system.

The Yadavs in north India, a powerful OBC community, consider Krishna as their community god. But they go by the story that he was brought up by a Yadav family and became the ruler of Yadu Rajya.

Theirs is mainly physical worship of Krishna’s body. I have not known any Yadav scholar of the Gita telling the world that it is a liberative text for the Yadavs, leave alone other Shudras-OBCs and Dalits.

Yadav leaders like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, Sharad Yadav and so on should not be swayed by their admiration for Krishna and the simplistic understanding of the Gita. They must join hands with

M. Karunanidhi, Mamata Banerjee and the Left parties to stop all attempts at a Brahminic resurgence as is being insidiously suggested by Ms Swaraj.

The writer is director,
Centre for the Study of
Social Exclusion and
Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

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