Kancha Ilaiah is a prominent Indian political theorist, writer, and activist for Dalit rights. He refers to himself as Kancha Ilaiah the ‘shepherd’, which is a subtle nod to his comfortable and proud adherence to his sheep-grazing caste, which was imposed as a cultural norm by Brahmins. He prefers using this name as a tool to protest against “Brahmanical Hegemony” and for the upliftment of Dalits. Iliah has propagated the fluency of English among Dalits, deducing it would help them to involve and engage intellectually with the world without non-essential mediums speaking for them. Kancha Ilaiah’s book Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism is a rebel in itself as the name suggestively remarks. The book was published in January 2004, by SAMYA Prakashan in Bombay.
In his book, Ilaiah reverberates about the namely “modern” Hindu society, which has not shown meagre signs of modernity since it was formed. Solely and strongly based on inequalities and differences, Ilaiah points out how the Dalit-Bahujan are deprived of basic human rights - not taking their worth or efficiency in slightest consideration - like how buffalos are treated in India just because they have dark skin and are mentioned as the carrier of the death reaper in ancient scriptures. Despite how less productive the cows are, their fair skin and relations to divinity in the same scriptures make them next to the gods, pointing to the Brahmins as reference. Iliah also points out the spiritual fascism that is being conducted nationwide - in the name of religion, backed up by the scriptures - in which the upper caste leader-board fascists use the OBCs as muscle power to support and fight their resistances and battles.
In the very beginning, Ilaiah brings out the most sensitive and turbulent event in the millennial history of India, which forced the country to make its way through an eternal spiritual doom: the fall of the Ayoddha Babri Masjid and the unity of corrupted powers to build the Ram Mandir. The muscle power of Ayoddha Mandir was mobilized mainly from OBCs. The main accused, who led the destruction of the Babri Masjid were OBCs. The jail records hardly have any upper caste rioters, most of them were OBCs and Muslims. VHP rejected the principle of reservation for OBCs. OBCs and Muslims do not have many opportunities in the private sector or industries controlled by upper castes. The presence of employment and property ownership in OBC stock is none, thus proving that they are used as bait to attract all the hate and for upper castes to climb up higher. By keeping OBC youth uneducated and unemployed, this ample reserve army remains readily available for the Hindutva forces.
Ever since RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan gave a call for “epic war”, a lot of blood has flowed down the rivers of India. Institutions were bombed and the devout feared to go to their places of worship due to threats of blasts. RSS chief has triggered terrorism by his statements, but only few will be named in the course. Tense relations with the neighbouring countries promote the ministers to wage and rage war in their own land. Religions are passed down through faith, generations after generations. No outside agency can really change faith, like how Judaism was not extinct because of the arrival of Christianity. The problem with India as a country is the dormant internal immobility within spiritual and socio-political spaces that constantly leaves open avenues for others to operate with what appears to be a historical necessity, like how the sayings of Krishna about Chaturvarna in Gita leave ample scope for opportunists to assert dominance upon lower Varna. Even if educated Dalit-Bahujan read the Gita, they cannot change anything about the scriptures to adapt suitably to the new socio-political atmosphere, like the Old Testament’s transformation into the New Testament.
The real war should be waged between Hindutva nationalism and moribund Hindu Spiritualism - unlike what Sudarshan said - which will do nothing but reduce India to the standards of the Vietnam War. Then Ilaiah points out the relation between the Dalits, Muslims and OBCs and how differentiated threads of unity bears no fruit. Dalits and Adivasis have intimate ties with Christians but not with Muslims. OBCs have ties with Christians and Muslims. Muslim Intellectuals need to resolve their ties or Hindutva will continue to use the muscle power of SC, ST, and OBCs against them. Muslim intellectuals must learn from Christians and work among Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs so that trust is established. The best way to prevent another Gujarat riot is the unity of the oppressed. Modi was an OBC. He understood that the only weapon of violence - not sacrifice - can make him the hero, a greater one than L.K. Advani was ever considered for what he did in 1992. The social value of Dharma is assigned to the victorious, not the sufferer. The OBCs are still at their primitive level of consciousness, thus they do not pose much of a threat to the oppressors, but themselves. Bitterness between Dalits and Shudras/OBCs should not end up with Dalits joining hands with the oppressors themselves, because the OBCs are not a greater threat than the historical oppressors. that will be the end of Dalit ideology and the end of every minority in the nation as well.
Very drastic revelations came to Ilaiah when he visited America. Seeing a country from another country’s point of view reveals all the cracks and fissures in very plain words; that is not easy from a citizen’s viewpoint. Iliah found out that the Europeans and Afro-Americans were surprised to learn that things like untouchability existed. Islam, as it has solidified into a religious stance, does not allow any thinking or activity as legal or radical outside the Quran. So they do not have a very strong and stable economic structure; even when they have strong unity, their states go down the drains morally. The Europeans spoke of India in the UN Convention of having Dalits or Untouchables as almost half the population and a semi-terrorist organization known as RSS backed up by the governing party. Ilaiah, in a convention in America, figured out that Pakistan and China have the same or lower status to that of India in terms of economy or sociology; but India is almost invisible to the US media. It is because in its roots lie the underdevelopment and orthodox clichés that keep the nation’s impression so low. Since India’s ruling class does not value its own people, it becomes invisible to others as well. A one-month tour of America was sufficient for him to realize that what India is to America is what “India” (the majority of it with differences) is to “India” (ruling upper class). The Hindu upper class, or Hindutva Nation, has made religion a platform/cult that fetches money without work, thus killing the dignity of labour.
He visited Memphis, which is known as the birthplace of rock and roll music and the death place of Martin Luther King and Elvis Presley. The latter was white but he was ‘black’ at heart. He devoted himself to the black culture and music; the next thing we know is that the world got its first blockbuster rock star. The black communities of America imposed cultural influence on the whites and successfully established their place in the master race. Martin Luther King is a legend the whole world remembers, and he gave up all that he had to make the voice of the oppressed community be heard and get them civil rights. King and Presley came from two different backgrounds, but united into one and made America realize the worth of the oppressed, and no doubt things improved. The master race was able to side against its white supremacy and see the indifference, unlike in India. Ilaiah also states that the Dalits who migrated to London are slowly brought under the umbrella of casteism again. But the British Parliament is very strictly against this notion, and the author hopes that someday this blows its wind over to India soon.
According to Ilaiah, Ambedkar was his role model. Ambedkar throughout his entire life tried to improve and transform India and the world, to establish equality, as King did. Marx thought of economic, social, political liberation whereas Gandhi thought of social, political, and spiritual - but Ambedkar thought of all 4, and therein lies his greatness. According to him when the Ambedkarites – Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims unite against the Hindutva – the OBCs will have nowhere to run in the middle, which they must understand. Ambedkar fought for everyone who deserved to be included. Arun Shourie and the Shiv Shainiks have attacked Ambedkar’s side of Indian nationalism. The ruling party consisting of upper-class Hindus differentiates between the nationalism of Gandhi and that of Ambedkar, but Gandhi was shot by a fundamentalist Hindu not an Ambedkarite. Hindutva is the war-loving self. RSS justifies the owning of nuclear weapons like Krishna owned Sudarshan Chakra for the benevolence of his people. This dandaniti has always worked wonders for asserting dominance, irrespective of age. Ahimsa was never given a significant place in Santana Hinduism too. Ambedkar clearly states “Himsa, if necessary; should be used as energy, but not as creed.” in his booklet Buddha and Karl Marx. It was the Buddhist notion of peace and progress that converted several countries to Buddhism. The RSS and sanghs backed up by BJP have always believed in asserting dominance, be it within the country or outside (with Pakistan and China). They must understand non-violence before someone else teaches it. RSS has successfully united the so-called Hindus. The Sangh family, as an upper class, cannot get India a respectable global position because it has no agenda for equality within any miles closer to its future. Brahmanism has an anti-people policy within it which can never result in an advanced modern nation. In the poverty-ridden masses and Dalit Bahujan communities (especially women), the struggle is going on and freedom has not been attained even after so many years of independence, as their fights include both of the most strong and sensitive topics of India: fatal casteism and patriarchy. The Sangh Parivar has equated Hinduism with Hindutva. India can never impose Machiavellian policies of governing the state without any religious point, in the religious position India is in now. But the problem would be for the standing point of the OBCs as they have got no integrated space between the Chaturvarna Hindutva and the secularist polity. So they must choose wisely. For many specific reasons, women in the upper caste face more problems of toxic patriarchy than the lower caste, not demeaning the struggle lower caste women face but most of them have some means of earning. Ilaiah also provides many instances of lower caste men burnt alive for having or seeming to have affairs with upper-caste women, but not vice versa.
Talking about the place of minorities in a country, Ilaiah views it from a very global point of view. More than any nation in Asia, India provides the most fertile ground to reap the harvest of faith for Christianity. Hindutva asserted supremacy and dominance but never expansion and inclusion. The Prime Minister and his brigade have no right to tell the Christian clergy not to assimilate the SCs, STs, and OBCs into a universally recognizable religion. There is no question of leaving the pre-existing religion, as they were never really a part of it. Educated Dalits read about Hinduism in Indian history and Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism in world history and they are technically a part of none. The RSS just manipulates the Dalit-Bahujans, only including them in the religion to get mobs assimilated. Iliah says “In the modern period two people tried to reform Hinduism – Gandhi from above and Ambedkar from below. Both failed or weren’t quite much successful till the end. Nehru thought that this “modern” religious democracy will come eventually with the modernization of India, but he failed too. Now, what solution do BJP and RSS have for this fundamental problem? If they do not understand the current scenario, the Indian democracy will collapse more inevitably than that of Pakistan. Iliah knows that the ruling government loves to raise questions against the opposition as a defence mechanism for their own inabilities. The BJP and its allies, along with the Samajwadi Party and Telegu Desam enforced a huge anti-campaign on Congress by questioning Sonia Gandhi’s citizenship and even her nomination for the post of the Prime Minister. Their notions of Swadeshi equated with their notions of Hindutva. This for the first time enraged the anti-campaign against Christians as well. The debate should not be about whether Sonia Gandhi is Swadeshi or Videshi but rather how Swadeshi was Vajpayee’s government during the months of their “effective rule”.
Ilaiah talks more about the coloured nationalism, in how the currently ruling party of the country made the ban on slaughter of cow but not buffalo even though both are milch animals. In the Hindutva agenda so far, the buffalo has had no place, whereas cows got a respectable position in Hindu literature. The cow, by and large a white-skinned animal, became respectable, as the Aryans - white-skinned - became respectable and beautiful. The cow's flesh was favoured by Aryans as it had also become the most desired sacrificed animal. The main reason why cows are seen as ritually accepted animals, in the beginning for sacrifice and later for worship, is that suited the Aryans’ racist taste in terms of colour. The knowledge system tried to free humans from such belief system superstitions and reframed the human consciousness so that the human mind could raise rational questions in both material and spiritual realms. Hinduism as a religion never allowed that kind of transformative experiment within itself. As a result, ancient and medieval practices continue to exist in Hinduism. A ruling class that cannot reform a religion deep-rooted in cults and superstitions cannot reform any part of a civil society that suffers from all sorts of medieval practices.
Next Ilaiah points out that globalization is absolutely necessary, yet how it is tearing down the Dalit societies apart from its very biased and corrupted existence. Globalization in terms of economy hinders the livelihood of the poor section of India, but it provides an ample amount of opportunities to gain their cultural life a respectable position on the global platform. English education helped in the emancipation of the Dalit-Bahujan and made them upgraded and westernized. Western culture that came through English was a negation of Brahmin scholars’ inward-looking culture but the Dalit-Bahujans adopted it as there were many similarities between the two. It is only the Brahmanic patriarchal morality that is opposing cultural globalization. Though cultural globalization liberates the so-called lower castes in many spheres; the danger lies in economic globalization. The one dimensional, one track process of globalization has made the daily wage earners, weavers and farmers face dire consequences. In the process of their hand-to-mouth form of livelihood, it has brought about certain calamities that are leading this mass into the path of self-slaughter. There remains no way out for those poor drought-stricken, debt-ridden farmers and workers. The government is taking a stance and showing an inclination towards privatization and denationalization of several public sectors. Thus the poor have no source of generating money in a market where their products are dying. This is a deliberate, organized, and invisible tragedy. E-commerce might deliver imported gadgets and high profit to the multinational companies but it does not deliver rice to the poor and does not increase the efficiency of the public distribution system. Chandrababu Naidu, impressed by Clinton's visit to India, talked about making the IT industry in Hyderabad a reality, though he did not take any step to abolish casteism in the Indian economy; unlike the USA where a black woman was approved to be part of the President's foreign business delegation. The caste-class nexus has created a huge difference between the Brahmin and non-Brahmin communities, feels the author who wants the government to introduce reservations even in the private sector so that Indian capitalism won't be the hegemony of “Sangh_backed_Banias”.
In 2003, Ilaiah, on his way back from the international conference organized in Vancouver by the Dalit Diaspora, made a brief stay at San Diego. He visited “Logos II”, a ship set out in the mission to provide books to all parts of the world. Mesmerized by this he concluded India could've done the same instead of giving swords to the poor in the name of religion. In the States, capitalism works with positive ethics which helps spiritual democracy to thrive, whereas in India capitalism functions in an environment of spiritual fascism. The business tycoons in America are making money from world-class universities that impart the best education, unlike India where businessmen launder their money in religious sectors which in no way benefits the poor backward castes. The Americans have adopted a policy of uplifting the blacks within the bounds of capitalism that yields better production and benefits the socially deprived communities.
Whose is India? According to ancient scriptures, all the grand and vivid architecture belonged to the Brahmins, but all means of goods and crops were done by other lower castes which also hints about the country being theirs. The difference has prevailed quite well from the very beginning. Jesus and Mohammad preached a religion based on equality, but the toxically altered narratives of Hinduism symbolize the lower classes at the mercy of the upper classes, which does not show any signs of modernity. The situation of Dalits and Bahujans in India are like black buffaloes, giving more milk, providing more than the white-skinned cows, but being pushed to the bottom because of their caste. The worth of communities formed by the Chaturvarna is not regulated by labour or behaviour, but by the inherited stamp of religion. Just like the cow and buffalo differentiation, the coloured religion is still the most lethal weapon used by the upper castes and being turned into coloured nationalism for the upper caste to rule the country. The herdsmen will not grant secularity and freedom unless the buffaloes grunt at the top of their voices to diminish the cows’ voices.
What kind of reformation do we need? Organizations like RSS, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, backed up by BJP have been spreading fear and hatred simultaneously all over a “spiritual” and a “democratic” nation, making quite fine pieces of it. Casteism and racism are at their zeniths; and Iliah gives instances about why this anti-unity notion is a rise and from here it nourishes its power. For studying the caste system in India, plenty of materials can be found; but no anti-caste methodology. The total upper societal discourse does not want the caste to be annihilated as Ambedkar said, but they want Brahmanism to survive forever. Looking closely it can be seen that it is partly because the current ruling upper class is just too clever to utilize these unnurtured resources as their own. The BJP has very cleverly avoided getting the proper education to the lower caste youths, thus keeping them busy with false or trivial conflicts, and in their little bubble of delusion that they are included. Casteism is and was always a prevalent issue in society but the Brahmanism and dirty politics have prevented its annihilation, unlike what Ambedkar wanted. However, annihilation of caste is not possible and cannot be a countermeasure for the revival of Chaturvarna.
Case system cannot be ended in totality since it has been practiced for centuries and now is a part of the system. Very much like how patriarchy can’t be eradicated completely without substituting it with matriarchy since every system when in power will induce some kind of toxicity and complete eradication isn’t possible. Iliah, at every problem mentioned in his text, suggests a curative measure that is practical.
Ambedkar, Bhim Rao. Annihilation of Caste. New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd.,
---. Buddha and Karl Marx. Vol 3. 1979.
Ilaiah, Kancha. Buffalo Nationalism. Mumbai: SAMYA Publications Ltd., 2004.
“Kancha Ilaiah.” Wikipedia, 15 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kancha_Ilaiah. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.
Monalisa Rahaman studies English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata.