On 23 March 2022, The Indian Express (TIE) came out with an article by Shamsul Islam, previously professor of political science at the University of Delhi. It was on ‘Savarkar and caste’.The professor alleged that Savarkar actually believed in birth-based varna and caste and that his reforms were more a strategy than an acts of conviction.
By Aravindan Neelakandan
Islam claimed to prove his case through the words of Savarkar himself.
Let us look into the claims and facts, in detail.
Dr. Islam’s claim 1:
Interestingly, Savarkar also advocated for the elevation of the status of the untouchables in Hindu society for a short period. … This was not due to an egalitarian outlook but mainly due to the fact that he was alarmed at the numerical loss that the Hindu community had been experiencing due to the steady conversion of Dalits to Islam and Christianity, which guaranteed them normative social equality.
Demonstrably false. What Savarkar actually said about caste discrimination in general and untouchability in particular goes exactly opposite to Prof. Islam’s claim. In fact, it was as if Savarkar somehow could look into the future and had already read the article in question and decided to answer it. He states:
When I refuse to touch someone because he was born in a particular community but play with cats and dogs, I am committing a most heinous crime against humanity. Untouchability should be eradicated not only because it is incumbent on us but because it is impossible to justify this inhuman custom when we consider any aspect of dharma. Hence this custom should be eradicated as a command of dharma. From the point of view of justice, dharma and humanism, fighting untouchability is a duty and we Hindus should completely eradicate it. In the present circumstances, how we will benefit by fighting it is a secondary consideration. This question of benefit is an aapaddharma (duty to be done in certain exceptional circumstances) and eradication of untouchability is the foremost and absolute dharma.
Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, vol.3, p.483, 1927
Prof. Islam’s Claim 2:
Savarkar’s defence of casteism was, in fact, a corollary to his racial approach to the understanding of the Hindu nation.
His proof is what Savarkar wrote in the ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ written in 1923. Here Savarkar says this:
All that the caste system has done is to regulate its noble blood on lines believed—and on the whole rightly believed—by our saintly and patriotic law-givers and kings to contribute most to fertilise and enrich all that was barren and poor, without famishing and debasing all that was flourishing and nobly endowed.
But what Prof. Islam hides reveals the opposite of the claim. Savarkar wrote in the very same book in 1923:
After all there is throughout this world so far as man is concerned but a single race—the human race kept alive by one common blood, the human blood. All other talk is at best provisional, a makeshift and only relatively true. Nature is constantly trying to overthrow the artificial barriers you raise between race and race. To try to prevent the commingling of blood is to build on sand. Sexual attraction has proved more powerful than all the commands of all the prophets put together. Even as it is, not even the aborigines of the Andamans are without some sprinkling of the so-called Aryan blood in their veins and vice versa. Truly speaking all that anyone of us can claim, all that history entitles one to claim, is that one has the blood of all mankind in one’s veins. The fundamental unity of man from pole to pole is true, all else only relatively so.
Even in 1940s, Eugenics was very much accepted by even the most liberal of the Western thinkers. ‘Race’ was for them a scientific fact. In such an intellectual condition, Savarkar not only rejected the notion of race but emphasised that the mixing of genes across all the artificial barriers erected by religious laws was inevitable.
So, his statement on ancient caste system should be seen in this light. He considered it as an experiment. He could have (of course, if so, erroneously in hindsight) thought that the experiment was on the whole right. But even here he had changed his view later.
By 1931, he states that the experiment had failed ‘due to its extreme practice or distortion’ and also that ‘failing in this great experiment of the caste system, our Hindu race enriched human experience.’
Closely associated with caste is the notion of heredity as the sole or the most important carrier of important traits like intelligence or valour. It is also the basic belief of those who uphold birth-based varna. But Savarkar forcefully and bluntly pointed out the stupidity and impossibility of such assumptions:
Heredity is not the sole determinant of merit; rather it is one of its many determinants. … And in those Hindu castes such as the Brahmins etc. too which have strict rules regarding inter-marriages, cross-breeding has been occurring for generations past as ordained by scriptures or secretly due to sexual attraction. This will undoubtedly continue in future too and hence even if inter-marriages are strictly prohibited, the very belief that the son of a Brahmin has the innate qualities of a Brahmin or that the son of a Kshatriya must be naturally imbued with the qualities of a Kshatriya needs to be discarded. This is because of the fact that due to cross-breeding between all our castes from time immemorial, no caste can claim monopoly over a specific merit.
Even today, for a traditionalist who loves to misquote the confused ramblings of Arjuna in the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita as the essence of Gita itself, such statements should be more horrifying than the Kalashnikov of a Jihadist.
Now let us look into the practical aspects of how Savarkar dealt with the caste problem in society.
Claim-3: Savarkar disowned the reforms and supported the orthodoxy with respect to reforms.
Dr. Islam selectively quotes from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Whirlwind Propaganda: Extracts from the President’s Diary of his Propagandist Tours Interviews from December 1937 to October 1941, which he characterises as an official guide for Hindu Mahasabha cadre. He quotes:
Savarkar assured Sanatani Hindus who were opposed to untouchables’ entry into Hindu temples in 1939 that the Hindu Mahasabha, “will not introduce or support compulsory Legislature [sic] regarding Temple Entry by the untouchables etc. in old temples beyond the limit to which the non-Hindus are allowed by custom as in force today”. On June 20, 1941, he once again pledged that he would not hurt the sentiments of Sanatani Hindus so far as the issue of entry of Untouchables in temples was concerned. This time, he even promised not to touch anti-women and anti-Dalit Hindu personal laws: “I guarantee that the Hindu Maha Sabha shall never force any legislations regarding the entry of untouchables in the ancient temples or compel by law any sacred ancient and moral usage or custom prevailing in those temples. In general, the Mahasabha will not back up any Legislation to thrust the reforming views on our Sanatani brothers so far as personal law is concerned…”
What Prof.Islam left out:
In the first quote of 1939, Dr. Islam has left out the subsequent passage which is quite important. Here Savarkar states this:
So far as the untouchables are concerned they shall have equal rights with other, to all Government institutions, Government public services, Government building, public roads, public conveyances, public courts, protection under public law, Government schools, and educational institutions. The guiding principle should be that in no case a Hindu who is customarily said to belong to the untouchable castes will be denied the rights and privileges in public life on ground of birth alone which a non-Hindu is allowed to exercise by the ‘touchable’ Hindus. On the other hand beyond this public and Government sphere our Sanatani brothers are free to observe their ancient customs without the least molestations in their personal life or their special collective institutions … They should grant the same liberty of action to the Reformists within similar limits.
Now let us take the 1941 passage he quotes. What he leaves out is significant:
… but the Sanatanis on the contrary should recognise that in public life all Hindus must be looked upon the basis of equality and should leave the reformation free to bring about their religious reforms etc. by means of persuasion and mental change. If in spite of this arrangement any question comes upon which the two cannot but differ then only on that question both of them should be free to act as they please.
If one leaves out the passages as Dr. Islam did then one can see that it makes Savarkar looks as if he was against the reforms.
At this juncture, let us also remember that it was Mahatma Gandhi and not Veer Savarkar who had considerable influence and clout of massive following in India. Compared to the public admiration and following that Gandhi commanded, Savarkar would not even come close. Yet, even Gandhiji, even after the Pune pact, always assured the orthodoxy that he would not force Harijan temple entry without their complete acceptance. At the same time, the Congress supported Harijan upliftment movement effected or agitated for temple entries.
Savarkar clearly wanted untouchability forcefully banished from all walks of public lives which in itself was a great blow to the inhumanly suicidal Hindu orthodoxy as they denied the Scheduled Community basic humanity.
With respect to religious institutions, he personally wanted untouchability to go as he had written repeatedly but as a party leader he, (as was Gandhi), would have a greater war in his hands. But even here, he had supported the Mahad Satyagraha. On the whole, to state that Savarkar believed in casteism is nothing but falsehood.
In the very same document that Dr. Islam has quoted there is abundance of evidence for the real intent and strategy of Savarkar in fighting the scourge of untouchability and the unscientific inhuman superstition of birth-based varna.
In 1938, the Hindu Mahasabha issued an official statement as to what they had done to eradicate untouchability when a Scheduled Community organisation asked them about it. This long statement is very much there in the same book. Somehow Dr. Islam did not see it fit to include it. Here is an excerpt from that statement of the Hindu Mahasabha:
Barrister Savarkar President of the Mahasabha even after he became the President addressed three or four hundred meetings throughout Hindustan and exhorted not less than one hundred thousand people to remove untouchability and as a piece of public demonstration to prove how he personally held all Hindus equal, made untouchable leaders in almost every meeting to offer him water or food and participated of it in the presence of all. … Even the intercaste marriages between touchables and untouchables received his public support for example in the case of the Kolhapur inter-caste marriage. … (Hindu Mahasabha) does not expect any thanks as whatever it has done it was dutybound to do.
emphasis added: Whirlwind Propaganda 28-06-1938 (pp.19-23)
For the same period, Gandhi was not very comfortable with intercaste marriage. He would come to terms with it slowly and accept it only later.
Even when he was sending a message to the heads of princely states, he brought up the topic of untouchability and asked the princes that they should put their foot on ‘the social curse called untouchability’ and prove ‘that the Hindu Princes can and do take the lead in patriotic progress and are capable of effecting far reaching reforms and know how to keep abreast of time.’
When the ruler of the princely state of Indore banished untouchability, Savarkar not only issued a statement favouring the move on behalf of Hindu Mahasabha but he went an extra mile and instructed the ruler to implement the law strenuously:
Nevertheless, I beg to draw your Highness’ attention to the fact that there is always a danger attending Government orders of such type to be nullified by the tacit opposition to them lurking amongst many an executive official therefore I hope that your Highness will be kind and vigilant enough to see that these orders are strictly executed as well in the spirit that they have been issued throughout your state in every detailed case.
The strategy of Savarkar was very similar. Because both Gandhi and Savarkar, thought strange it might appear, were united in preventing further fissures within Hindu society at at time when the nation was fighting for independence.
Savarkar had the additional responsibility, though in a much weaker capacity in terms of public support, to not thwart Hindu consolidation. So, he actually pressed for reforms. Wherever in princely States progressive legislations came up opening up temples and public places for the Scheduled Communities, he publicly welcomed it.
Compared to the Congress movement, it should be stated that the Hindu Mahasabha temple entry movements, as in the case of Bengal temple entry spearheaded by Swami Satyananda of Hindu Mahasabha, were spectacularly successful.
Claim: 4 Savarkar considered Manusmriti as the supreme Hindu and national scripture.
Let us also take the case of Savarkar seemingly appreciating Manusmriti. Again, this is a cunning deception from Prof. Islam. This is the passage Islam quotes from Savarkar’s article on Manusmriti and women:
Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshippable [sic] after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law. That is fundamental.
This is from a four-part article Savarkar wrote on Manusmriti in a progressive magazine called Kirloskar in 1933. But that was Savarkar showing the important place of Manu Smriti in the mind of Hindus.
What he left out:
But again what Dr. Islam did not quote from the article is this passage:
We may find many passages in Manusmriti which can provide valuable guidance to today’s problems but we should accept them because they are beneficial today, not because they were found in an ancient text and certainly not because Manu’s orders are not to be transgressed. Whatever we find in Manusmriti to be harmful or ridiculous today should not be followed, but that does not make Manusmriti harmful or ridiculous.
Savarkar and Ambedkar
Again in his letter to Veer Savarkar, Baba Saheb Ambedkar praised Savarkar and also criticised him for using the term ‘chaturvarna‘. Let us look at the context here.
In 1933, when Savarkar opened the pan-Hindu temple in Ratnagiri, he invited Dr. Ambedkar. As the latter could not come because of previous engagements, he took that ‘opportunity to convey to him his appreciation for the work Savarkar was doing in the field of social reform.’ He further stated that to make the Scheduled Communities part and parcel of Hindu society, the very jargon of Chaturvarna should be dropped and Savarkar was one of the very few leaders who understood this. Though Savarkar used the Chaturvarna which he ‘qualified by basing it on merit’ even that was ‘unfortunate’ and Ambedkar him to drop the term. Ambedkar ended his letter expressing his desire to meet Savarkar.
Ambedkar himself had said that the varna was based on worth initially and later it became rigid based on birth. In his The Triumph of Brahminism, he alleged that this worth-based system was intentionally made into a birth-based system by the conspiracy of Brahminism – ‘Brahminism changed Varna to Caste’. (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches: Vol.3, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India, 1987:2014, pp.287-8pp.287-8)
One may or may not agree with the views of Dr. Ambedkar, but the fact was that to Dr. Ambedkar varna was not as offensive as caste. In his dialogue with Mahatma Gandhi which Ambedkar included in his work Annihilation of Caste, he wrote:
While I reject the Vedic Varnavyavastha … I must admit that the Vedic theory of Varna as interpreted by Swami Dayanand and some others is a sensible and an inoffensive thing. It did not admit birth as a determining factor in fixing the place of an individual in society. It only recognized worth. … Varna and Caste are two very different concepts. Varna is based on the principle of each according to his worth, while Caste is based on the principle of each according to his birth. The two are as distinct as chalk is from cheese. In fact there is an antithesis between the two.
Savarkar too considers a similar idealistic varna system degenerating into birth-based system that is found in the present times. However, he did not blame it on the so-called Brahmins and Kshatriyas alone. In his 1930 article on caste system, Savarkar wrote:
… The Varnas represent the four human tendencies of learning, fighting, trading and serving. These four Varnas were determined by merit and actions and not by birth. … Both chaturvarna and caste divisions are but practices. They are not coterminous with Sanatana Dharma. The practice of caste division arose from a tectonic change in the practice of chaturvarna. As the Sanatana Dharma did not die due to this tectonic change, so too it will not die if the present-day distortion that is caste division is destroyed. … Caste division is not the conspiracy of a handful of Brahmins…it is not the joint conspiracy of the Brahmins and Kshatriyas. … No one should ever think that a certain Hindu caste is high or that another is low. The notion of high and low will be determined by overt merit of individuals. Every Hindu child has but one caste at birth- Hindu. Other than that, consider no other sub-caste. ‘Janmanaa jaayate Hinduhu’ (‘every one is a Hindu by birth’)! In truth, every man has but one caste at birth- human.
On Abolition of Caste, 1930 in Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, 440-479 (Trans. Savarkar.org)
Here we can see a striking parallel between Ambedkar and Savarkar. Both considered charturvarna to be have been worth based initially and later to have devolved into castes. It is quite interesting to note that Savarkar had tweaked the famous Smriti injunction that ‘all are born Shudras’—’janmanaa jaayate shudraha‘—into ‘all are born Hindus’ and just left out the change to the so-called twice born.
So actually, Savarkar had, at least three years before Dr. Ambedkar’s letter to him, repudiated the concept of varna as it was explained by the orthodoxy. Additionally, Savarkar also thought of the areas in which caste should be attacked so that it could be completely annihilated .
In 1937, he diagnosed ‘scripture-based caste division’ as a ‘mental illness.’
He identified ‘seven shackles’ which should be broken to liberate Hindu society from the stranglehold of caste. These seven shackles he identified were:
1. Prevention of Vedic chanting;
2. Prevention of entering into certain occupations;
4. Forbidding the crossing of sea;
5. Denial of reconversion or Shuddhi;
6. Absence of inter-dining and.
7. Prohibition of inter-caste marriages.
So, Prof. Islam’s article is yet another case of partial truths and complete falsehood – a characteristic feature of campaigns against Swatantra Veer Vinayaka Damodara Savarkar.
This article first appeared in www.swarajyamag.com and it belongs to them.