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Bharat, a Casteist and Patriarchal Name

The RSS-BJP’s idea to reframe Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma and India as Bharat are interlinked and damaging to India.
Bharat, a Casteist and Patriarchal Name

Image Courtesy: PTI

Under the leadership of a Prime Minister who claims a backward class identity, the central government is trying to unsettle the idea of calling this nation “India”. At the G20 Summit, his government showcased the name Bharat instead of India, the name most commonly used by ordinary people, governments, civil society, and writers and thinkers globally. It is by the name “India” that this modern democratic nation is known to the world.

In India, too, when universities build universally understandable knowledge, research centres work, or in the English media, whether print or visual, the name India has featured right from the days of the freedom struggle.

Bharat and Hindustan are used within India in language discourses and writings. Most Muslim leaders and scholars, and even Hindutva leaders and scholars, use the name Hindustan in their speeches and writings. But in every state, writers and speakers, especially in the South Indian languages, use Bharat or Bharata Desham.

Simultaneous to the Bharat idea, the BJP power structure has thrown up another discourse—obviously with the OBC Prime Minister’s approval—to use “Sanatana Dharma”, not “Hinduism” as much, to describe the religion.

Both ideas—Sanatana Dharma and Bharat—are interlinked. They originated in ancient Sanskrit literature—the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, up to Kautilya’s Arthasahstra and Manu’s Dharma Shastra. They reflect the cultural heritage of the ancient Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya communities. The ancient Shudras (today’s backward classes or OBCs), the Mlecchas (Dalits) and the Vanavasis or Adivasis were oppressed and exploited in that cultural domain. The Kshatriya kings, Brahmin saints, and priests treated the productive masses worse than animals.

Even when the name Bharat was adopted for India, a modern free country, it came from two sources—the Ramayana’s dynastic male king, Bharata, who was said to have ruled for the fourteen years when Rama was in vanavasa (dwelling in the forest). The second source is Dushyanta’s son Bharata in the Mahabharata. Does not an OBC Prime Minister know that during the Vedic era, the OBCs, then known as Shudras, had no rights? They could not read and write or even perform tapasya (religious penance).

Does the Prime Minister not know that women in those times had no rights in any sphere of human life? Leave alone the Shudra or Chandala women—even Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya women had no spiritual, social or economic rights.

After considerable debate in the Constituent Assembly, it was decided Article 1 would use the name “India, that is Bharat”, but the fundamental philosophical direction of the Constitution of India is in the Preamble. And the term used there is “We, the People of India”. The word Bharat does not feature in the Preamble. It does not say, We, the People of India, that is Bharat”.

Why did Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Kayastha and Khatri (Dwija) members of the Constituent Assembly accept “India” in the Preamble without Bharat? After all, Dr Rajendra Prasad, who belonged to the Kayastha community, was the chairman of the Constituent Assembly.

It is because the name India has its roots in the Indus civilisation—it did not emerge from a particular caste ruler’s name, male or female. Nor did it arise from any dynastic source. By contrast, the name Bharat is not only the name of a male ruler but a Kshatriya dynastic one.

The OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis must oppose the Prime Minister, his party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—their mother organisation—if they try taking India back to a classical Varna-dharmic and dynastic name. Those who follow Buddhism, Sikhism and all Dravidian sects must fight against it, too.

On the one hand, the BJP says it is against dynastic rule—how can it then promote the dynastic and patriarchal name of an ancient monarch for a modern nation?

The followers of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, the Lingayats, and Dravidians of all sects and faiths cannot accept the mono-name Bharat. Indian civilisation was shaped through achievements far advanced for its times. The ancient Harappan towns and cities throughout the Indus region are a testament to its achievements.

That civilisation was created with the collective efforts of our ancestors long before the institutions of caste, patriarchy, monarchies and dynasties evolved. It was built before religious books were written, and today’s religions arrived on the scene. That civilisation was not based on what was written in some books but on the agrarian, artisanal, animal and fish economy that people of those times built. If even Mesopotamia and Jericho could not match that civilisation, why don’t the RSS and BJP want us to own that civilisation? It is because India of the Indus civilisation had nothing to do with race or caste, as the name India makes clear. Those are the value-neutral roots of all Indians living here today and who will live here in the future—which the casteist, patriarchal and anti-production culture cannot accept or tolerate.

But that civilisation, the roots of the human tree on which the Shudras, Dalits, Adivasis Buddhists, Sikhs, and Dravidians have advanced, cannot allow the recapture of this nation by bulldozing the foundational name, India.

India stands for a plural, secular, productive and scientific origin. Why does the BJP want to erase a pre-Vedic civilisation—in which Shudras, Dalits, Adivasis, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Kayasthas, Khatris Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs all belong—and impose a name on the nation that mirrors the Brahmanical history of post-Vedic times?

How does an OBC Prime Minister, who is said to command all central structures, allow such an anti-OBC, anti-Dalit and anti-Adivasi agenda to take precedence over a civilisational identity that represents all Indians?

When the Prime Minister promised in 2013 that he would pursue Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas (run a government for all Indians), did he tell all Indians that the casteist, dynastic patriarchal name Bharat would come to represent all Indians?

This is not Sabka Saath. It is misleading the OBC, Dalit, and Adiavsi working masses—including those in his government and party.

The Narendra Modi government projected India as a vegetarian nation at the G-20 Summit. The RSS and BJP have every right to promote vegetarianism, but its bounds are within these organisations. The Prime Minister might be a vegetarian by training or choice, but India as a nation is not vegetarian. Lust for power has them draining this historical civilisation of its lifeblood in the guise of pursuing the non-violence of vegetarianism. Globally, no sensible human being accepts such partisan bulldozing of this nation’s civilisation and culture with one-sided projections.

The BJP rulers are not greater nationalists than those who fought the British and institutionalised democracy and constitutionalism in this country. They are slowly moving in the opposite direction than the vision unfolded before the nation during the campaign before the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The trajectory the RSS and BJP have put India on will cost the nation much more than can be visualised now.

The author is a political theorist, social activist and author of ‘The Shudras: Vision For New Path’ with Karthik Raja Kuruppusamy. His next book will be The Shudras: History From Field Memories. The views are personal.

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