Deprivation of  Dalits By British Rulers – Robbing The Poorest

In November, 2009, a self proclaimed critic of  Hindu Dharma, Prof.  Kancha Ilaiah  of  Osmania University, brought the subject of discrimination against ‘Dalits’ in his controversial tome, ‘Post Hindu India’, though in an altogether different context.  Prof. Ilaiah claimed that Hindu Dharma is in the Death Row because of  the fast approaching internal war in the decadent caste-ridden society which will soon develop into a war of weapons between  the high caste Hindus and the Dalits.  He deliberately concealed the murky role played by the British rulers  (read Christians) in pushing today’s Dalits into the abyss of  gross poverty and backwardness !

The imaginary scenario of a bloody strife erupting between the scheduled castes and high caste Hindus, as painted by Kancha Ilaiah, is highly unlikely.  In any case, the imaginary civil strife cannot lead to the demise of Hindu Bharat. The terminal threat to Hindu Dharma, however, comes from radical Islam. The demographic decline of Hindus and relentless jihadi onslaught by Islamists supported by Pakistan, do pose an existential threat to the Hindu identity of Bharat.

While showering lavish praise on the Christians, the Muslims and the Buddhists for practicing equality, Prof. Ilaiah has roundly lambasted Hindu Dharma and Indic civilization for discriminating against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.  In doing so he has exhibited a singular lack of scholarship by not researching certain elementary truths about the perfidy of our former colonial masters, the Christian British, in heaping abominable insults on the huge mass of down trodden Hindus, presently known as  Adivasis and scheduled castes, whose cause Prof  Ilaiah claims to hold dear to his heart.

Criminal Branding of around 1/3 of Hindus (Dalits) by British

It is amazing that the Osmania University teacher totally forgot that in  the year 1871 the British rulers of  Bharat (who were practicing Christians) had passed an inhuman, derogatory and discriminatory  law, known as The Criminal Tribes Act, to brand hundreds of  castes and communities, steeped in grinding poverty, as ‘born criminals’!    The inhuman law was first notified and enforced in northern Bharat and subsequently extended to Bengal and other provinces. It notified 160 Hindu castes, who presently constitute the core of today’s ‘dalit samaj’ as “hereditary criminals” on the ground that as an organized community they were passing on the professions like theft, burglary, house-breaking, robbery, dacoity and counterfeiting of coins from one generation to the next.  The total headcount of  the so-called criminal tribes branded as ‘pariahs’ by our former Christian rulers  at that time was approximately six  crores (i.e., 60 millions) constituting nearly 30 percent of the Hindu population. Interestingly no Muslim group was included among the Scheduled Castes.

A still from documentary film Regai, in which Piramalai Kallar community members are forced to affix their thumb impression under the Criminal Tribes Act. Source:
A still from documentary film Regai, in which Piramalai Kallar community members are forced to affix their thumb impression under the Criminal Tribes Act. Source:

According to Census 1871 the total population of Bharat was 20,34,15000. Among them the Hindu headcount  was roughly estimated to be 17 crores or so. Since almost all members of the so-called ‘criminal tribes’ were Hindus, with a single stroke of the pen, the British rulers reduced nearly 25 to 30 percent of the Hindu population to the status of  hereditary criminals thereby condemning their unborn generations to work as hewers of  wood and drawers of water!. In the annals of world history there is no comparable example of  codified discrimination sanctioned by law heaped upon such a large body of  human beings.

Among the tribes declared as hereditary criminals were groups of  Bhils who had fought against the British oppression on the banks of  Narmada and in Khandesh. There were the Kanjars,  the Sansis, the Nats of Rajasthan, Chharas of Gujarat,  Satnamis of Chhatisgarh, the Konds and Sabors of Odisha (who fought battles against the British in Kandhamal region). Also included among the so-called criminal tribes were the Meenas of Rajasthan who had fought against the Muslim invaders shoulder to shoulder with Rajputs.  Similarly the Marias and Murias of Bastar and many tribes of Chhotanagpur belt like the Mundas and the Oraons were classified as criminal tribes.  In addition, tribes like Santhals and Ho and certain clans of Chamars were also included in the long list of  the 160 castes and tribes branded by the British as born criminals. Their movement was severely restricted by the diabolical law enforced rigorously and  they were required to report regularly at Police Stations due to which they could not move out of their villages to seek education and economic progress. The District Superintendents of  Police were directed to track their movements.

When the Criminal Tribes Bill was introduced in 1871 by the British jurist, James Fitzjames Stephen (who also authored the Indian Evidence Act), considerable emphasis was placed on the ethnological theory of hereditary caste system which defined their profession, upbringing and background.    The wonky logic advanced by  James Fitzjames Stephen to deprive the hapless poor  of  elementary human rights and permanently arrest their socio-economic development by restricting their mobility was that,   “……. people from times immemorial have been pursuing the caste system defined job-positions, weaving, carpentry and such were hereditary jobs. So there must have been hereditary criminals also who pursued their forefathers’ profession.”

The draconian law was thus based on an irrational assumption of Christian rulers and not on any empirical research or data.  On another occasion, while elucidating his illogical branding of several communities as criminals, he commented , When we speak of  professional criminals, we …… (mean) a tribe whose ancestors were criminals from time immemorial, who are themselves destined by the usage of caste to commit crime, and whose descendants will be offenders against the law, until the whole tribe is exterminated or accounts for in the manner of thugs”.  No attempt was made to investigate the causes which had compelled these hapless castes to take to crime for earning livelihood  –  a phenomenon which took shape overwhelmingly  in the long period of  enslavement of  Hindus by the Muslim rulers and even worse economic exploitation by East India Company, during which many parts of  Bharat were laid waste.

Mercifully, the British did not take recourse to the ‘final solution’ hinted at by James Fitzjames Stephen, namely extermination of these hapless tribes, as proposed by this cross-eyed follower of Anglican Church turned  lawmaker for Bharat.  Why Prof Kancha Ilaiah chose to omit this gross injustice meted out to an important segment of the so-called ‘natives’ (read Hindus) by  the Christian British rulers remains a mystery. The gross discrimination continued for 76 long years, i.e., for more than three generations. It was undone immediately after independence by rescinding the Criminal Tribes Act.

Prof. Kancha Ilaiah totally misses the point that during the long history of Hindu Dharma, these tribes and castes were never ever condemned, or branded, as hereditary criminals. They were branded by law as criminals only by the British who were Christians and continue to be adored by Kancha Ilaiah even after departure to distant shores!  It is difficult to fathom the reasons which prompted him to shower praise on the Christian rulers and applaud them for being more just and egalitarian, than the so-called ‘backward’ Hindus.  He conveniently glosses over the fact that it was the practicing Christians, the British, who  did that grave injustice to crores of  down trodden masses. Also ignored by him is the important fact that those  who  agitated for abolition of  untouchability and facilitated the passing of  The Untouchability Offences Act in the year 1955, were Hindus, mostly high caste Hindus, certainly not Christians, nor Muslims.  If the Christian Britishers were so solicitous about the condition of  the deprived members of the Scheduled Castes (now called Dalits), why did they not  enact a law to ban untouchability during their long rule ?   Nor did the Muslim rulers act in a benevolent manner towards the lower castes. Their effort was totally focused on converting them to Islam by force and imposition of jiziya. Similar instances of wanton caste-based discrimination by the Muslims and the Britishers can be found ad infinitum in the troubled history of  Bharat.

Hindu reformers against untouchability

The Osmania University teacher took no notice of the fact that due to inherent dynamics of Hindu Dharma many social reformers had relentlessly campaigned against the evil of untouchability.  Swami Dayanand, the founder of Arya Samaj condemned untouchability and worked for reforming the Hindu society by preaching equality of all castes.  Lokmanya Tilak once publicly declared that he would denounce even God  if  He accepted untouchability.  Veer Savarkar had personally led the so-called untouchables (read Dalits) into temples in order to eradicate the evil.  Mohandas Gandhi carried forward the campaign against untouchability started by Tilak and Savarkar, and wrote that freedom was unattainable without removal of the sin of untouchability.  Numerous Hindu saints and savants like Guru Ravidas, Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and founder of Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati tirelessly worked for eradication of untouchability.

The great saint Ramanuja of South Bharat (1017-1137) openly condemned untouchablity and adopted many so-called untouchables as his disciples. In Andhra Pradesh, Veera Brahmendra Swamy (10th century) campaigned against the evil, while Basavesvara, a Minister of  the erstwhile  Mysore State (1131-1167 A D) vigorously fought the evil.   Again in Andhra, a Minister Brahmananda Naidu of Paindu (14th century A D) had openly condemned the evil practice and even appointed an untouchable, named Chenna, as chief of his army.  The evil practice of caste discrimination  was stoutly opposed by Gopal Krishna Ranade (1842-1901) and Jyotirao Phule (1827-1890). These are just a few of the scores of examples of  Hindu social reformers taking up cudgels against untouchability. By ignoring these well documented facts  Kancha Ilaiah has  poured unmerited ridicule on Hindu religion and scriptures by recourse to inane rhetoric, including the use of undignified language, unbecoming any serious scholar worth his salt.

Revered Hindu Saints Belonging to ‘Lower Castes’

Prof. Ilaiah again forgets that since times imemorial the so-called low caste Hindus have been the torch bearers of  Hindu faith for which reason their iconic leaders are held in highest esteem, quite often ranking far above Brahmins.  For instance, Maharishi Valmiki, composer of Ramayana, was originally a fisherman and wayward robber who acquired the status of a ‘Maharishi’ by learning the scriptures.  Again Maharish Ved Vyas, composer of  Mahabharata was the son of a fisherwoman. Matsya Gandha, and Vidur who was the Chief Minister of Hastinapur was son of a dasi and an ardent devotee of  Sri Krishna.  Another low caste sage who rose to prominence was Maharishi Matanga, who was Guru of  Shabari, a Bhil woman whose berries were fondly relished by Sri Ram despite the so-called low caste devotee first tasting each berry to ensure that none of them was sour. It is believed that the famous Hindu king Chandragupta Maurya rose from the Muria tribe who were traditionally collectors of  Mor Pankhis (peacock feathers).  And it was a  high caste Brahmin, Acharya Chanakya, who helped in establishing the Maurya dynasty when Hindus were facing threats from Huns and Greeks. Let us not forget that Sant Raidas, Guru of  Meera Bai, was a Chamar (Cobbler), while Sant Namdev was a tailor (Darzi). Yet they were and continue to be held in greatest esteem by Brahmins, Kshatriyas and other high caste Hindus across Bharat.  A large chunk of  the storm-troopers of  Chhatrapati Shivaji included Kunbis and Mawalis who were members of  the castes subsequently declared as “criminal tribes” by the British. The widely revered Saint, Tuka Ram, was a Kunbi (the so-called Shudra).

Dalit Hindu Saints
Some revered Hindu Saints from “Lower Castes (Shudra)” – Maharish Valmiki, Sant Namdev, Sant Tukaram (From L to R)

Frankly, the divide between the Hindus on the basis of high and low caste was accentuated by Bharat’s erstwhile colonial rulers, first by the Muslims and then by the British.  Both followed the policy of divide and rule.

Indeed so deep is the commitment of  the members of Scheduled Castes to Hindu Dharma, the ancient faith of their forbears, that to avenge the tyranny of  Muslim invaders who had attacked Gujarat in 1299, sacked the Somnath temple and looted the opulent city of  Anhilwara, a retinue of  40,000  so-called Dalits, mostly  Barwari soldiers, surreptiously reached Delhi and sacked the main mosque at Siri and restarted the traditional pooja, after installing  idols of Hindus gods.  They re-converted to Hindu faith the ruling half-Muslim Sultan Nasiruddin Khusrau and for a short time Delhi was re-conquered from Muslim rulers by  the warriors of the Barwari caste who were included by the Britishers among criminal tribes  due to which now they are branded as ‘Dalits’.

Significant social progress since Independence

Kancha Ilaiah refuses to see the fast changing ground reality in post-independence years.  Today the younger generation is rapidly moving away from caste discrimination, especially in urban areas, including small towns and most villages. When one eats at a roadside dhaba or  sits down for a cup of tea during travel, where is the scope for  practicing caste discrimination?  Gone are the days when people ate food cooked only by Brahmins or  men belonging to their own caste. Similarly when one travels in a bus or train  does anyone bother about the caste of the person sitting next to him or her?   Again when a person goes to a hospital, does he or she ask for the caste of the doctor or the nurse ?  As pointed out by  the well known Dalit intellectual, Chandrabhan Prasad, in an insightful article, anonymity is the greatest weapon against untouchability.

And anonymity has increased with rapid urbanization. The modern day urbanism is infusing a new lifestyle in cities and towns. Who knows that in a beauty parlour the woman giving a massage is a Gauda or Kamma, and the lady customer a Madhiga?    Alluding to the much advertised reports in the press about some high caste Hindus students refusing to eat food cooked by Dalit cooks, Chandrabhan Prasad points out that  out of 1.81 lakh schools in the State of Uttar Pradesh, it was one thousand schools where the non-Dalit children refused to eat the food cooked by Dalits, which reflects the rapidly changing social equations at the ground level in the heartland State. [Source: Chandrabhan Prasad, ‘Caste revolution’, The Sunday Pioneer (Foray), p.V]  He calls it a splendid story of attitudinal changes highlighting “a great social revolution” and rightly faults the journalists for ignoring the important fact that “in majority of  UP schools non-Dalit children are now accepting food cooked by Dalit cooks”

Education, increased mobility and urbanization are three important social levelers for destroying caste discrimination.

The seamy side of the travails of the Dalit Samaj is that they were left behind largely due to the perfidy of  the British rulers who happened to be Christians!   Today the politicians of Bharat are the most caste obsessed people. They are keeping the caste cauldron on boil for  using certain castes as their vote bank.  The recent attempts of  the casteist political leaders trying to force a caste census reveals their divisive agenda for capturing political power. Otherwise the caste discrimination is now in terminal decline as far as Hindu society is concerned.  There might be a small caste conscious minority tucked away in villages. But they too must be eating at dhabas and  visting roadside tea stalls during their travels. And everyone knows  that the men and women employed at such dhabas, excepting very few, could  be  the so-called low-caste workers. Frankly, the day our self-seeking politicians abandon their caste promoting politics, caste discrimination will die a natural death.  Sooner they do it, better it will be for Bharat.

Over to Kancha Ilahia’s  mischievous prophesy that  soon there will be a civil war, a war of weapons,  between the high caste Hindus and the so-called Dalits  because of the simmering undercurrent of caste based hostility between the two constituents of the Hindu society.  He asserts that the self-destructing contradictions in the Hindu cultural system are creating tensions which will soon explode into a civil war which is likely to be a  “war of power, of  nerves and also of weapons”.   In making that grim forecast about the impending civil war between high caste Hindus and Dalits, Kancha Ilaiah conveniently forgot that there is no history of any  organized violent clashes or regular ‘war of weapons’ between the two segments of Hindu society.  On the contrary, there are innumerable examples where all Hindus, irrespective of their caste, had jointly fought against the Muslim invaders and the British imperialists – a fact which Kancha Iliah conveniently ignores.

A Post-Hindu Bharat?

But that does not mean that the idea of a post-Hindu Bharat is far removed from reality. The spectre of a post-Hindu Bharat looms large over Bharat, as surely as the threat of a post-Christian Europe frightens the besieged continent. There is indeed a strong possibility of  Bharat becoming a post-Hindu Bharat because of the demographic jihad of Islam, powerfully aided  by  the current Islamist campaign to overrun and subjugate Bharat.  The census 2001 data of the 6 years old cohorts clearly shows that in 31 States and Union Territories of  the Republic of Bharat, out of a total of 35, the Muslim population will grow at a faster clip than that of Hindus. In that sense the fate of  the Hindu civilization is already sealed.

There is a  1200 years long history of  violent wars and unremitting animosity between the Hindus and the Muslims. This important fact has been  totally ignored by Kancha Ilaiah in his inadequately researched tome. And now due to the ongoing demographic coup of  Islam and repetitive jihadi attacks on Hindus and their places of worship, a stage has certainly been set for  “a war of  power, or nerves and also of weapons” between the two religious groups.  The gory history of Bharat’s partition and promotion of  votebank centric grievance politics to garner Muslim votes by ‘secular’ politicians of Bharat have further accentuated the communal divide between the two communities.  It needs to be understood that due to historical reasons  the Hindus and the Muslims do not merely represent their religious beliefs but are also principal markers of their civilisational identities and political outlook. The concurrent demographic coup of  Islam and  the fast approaching clash of civilizations between the peace loving Hindus and militant Islamists has the potential to usher in a post Hindu Bharat.  The denouement might happen after going through a violent war of weapons for supremacy in the sub-continent. .         Hindu society should be grateful to Prof. Kancha Ilaiah for engaging the intellectuals and strategists for discussing the sensitive topic of a post Hindu Bharat.

Till now the manifest threat arising out of the demographic decline of Hindus and incessant illegal infiltration from Bangladesh had been discussed in hush-hush tones only in the drawing rooms of Guwahati and Kolkata.  Prof. Ilaiah has brought it to the centrestage, right here in New Delhi.  Time has come to throw open the politically incorrect subject for  public discourse across the country in the manner of Europeans  who are discussing the menace of Eurabia, or  emergence of  a  post Christian Europe,  openly and frankly in media and at every forum.

It is time to give a call to the somnolent Hindu leaders and the inadequately informed multitude of Hindus spread across the countryside to stand up and meet  the fast approaching threat of post Hindu Bharat.  A wake up call for unity of Hindu society is the need of the hour.  Hindus  now stand at the crossroads of history. They must stop  living in the past. This is their last opportunity to make a daring bid  to  break the siege. Alas, the Hindu society is totally bereft of  a dour and dynamic leadership for which reason it continues to be  discriminated against  and stands marginalized despite constituting  a powerful majority.

To borrow the idiom used by Kancha Ilaiah, one can say with certainty that unless the Hindu leaders bestir themselves boldly and assertively, the anticipated demise of  Hindu Dharma in the coming decades “would reposition the cultures of  the world in a major way”.   Anyone studying the demographic changes across Bharat and the high velocity population growth of  Muslims will understand  the foreboding dimensions of  the  looming threat.

About the Author

Ram Kumar Ohri
IPS ( Retd I.G./Arunachal Pradesh) Shri R.K.Ohri, is a retired IPS officer who was Inspector General of Police in Arunachal Pradesh. He has taught in Internal Security Academy of CRPF and in Bureau of Police Research and Development. He was also Secretary of Association of Retired IPS officers. He has authored several books including 'The Bell Tolls, Tomorrows Truncated India'.