Monday, January 9, 2012

Social Justice, Equality and Reforms in Hindu Society

L K Advani

Why Hindu society needs reform

A subject of utmost importance for India’s all-round development and national resurgence is the reform and self-renewal of the Hindu society. Hinduism is the repository of the most exalted teachings about human evolution and realisation of God. Its philosophy is profound and the relevance of its principles is both universal and eternal. Its distinguishing feature is its lack of dogma, its readiness to accept truth in all its manifestations, without putting the seal of finality on any of them, and its emphasis on the need to climb higher on the ladder of human evolution through righteous living. The freedom of thought and expression that it provides in all intellectual, theological and philosophical matters is unmatched. So much so that even Charvaka, who denied the existence of God, was respected as a rishi (seer) because of his erudition. Since Hinduism teaches us to see the divine in every animate and inanimate creation of God, the concept of equality of human beings is in-built in its belief system. The Bhagavad Gita states emphatically that a man’s greatness is determined by his karma and not by his birth.

Nevertheless, due to many historical factors the Hindu society acquired certain negative, regressive and thoroughly indefensible features, which it has still not fully got rid of. The concept of high and low among castes and, in particular, the practice of treating certain castes as ‘untouchables’ is the most debilitating among these drawbacks. The injustice in many forms that is often meted to women is another. These cannot be tolerated or rationalised on any grounds. They violate the ideals enshrined in the Indian Constitution and run contrary to the spiritual principles that have guided the Hindu way of life for several millennia. Hindu society cannot regain its full vigour or progress to its full potential unless it fights the ills within.

‘Sab jaati mahaan, Sab jaati samaan’

Two points need to be emphasised here. Firstly, time and again the Hindu society has demonstrated both its willingness and capacity to reform itself by rediscovering its own foundational principles as well as by learning from other constituents of humanity. Secondly, considerable progress has indeed been achieved in the modern era, both during the freedom movement and the decades that followed. This is due to the effors of many modern-day saints and social reformers such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda, Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule, Narayan Guru and, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar. In this context, I would like to specially commend the work of the RSS and the various organisations inspired by it, all of which emphasise the message of social equality in their mission for Hindu unity and Hindu renaissance. Balasaheb Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, used to say: ‘If untouchability is not a sin, then nothing in the world is a sin.’

This progress towards social equality should be further accelerated. The policy of reservations, combined with the scope that electoral politics provides for representation in the power structure at all levels, has considerably enhanced the social, economic and political empowerment of the disadvantaged sections of our society. This is nothing short of a silent social revolution, brought about by our democratic system. This, too, needs to be strengthened. Since quality education has become a key of socio-economic advancement, India’s focus in the coming years should be more on educational and economic empowerment of SCs, STs, OBCs and other weaker sections. Castes may still remain as markers of social identity, but casteism must be rooted out of India of the future. In this context, the one slogan that needs to be popularised more and more in times to come is: ‘Sab jaati mahaan, Sab jaati samaan’ (All castes are great and all castes are equal).

Tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a great social revolutionary

Today is Ambedkar Jayanti. I feel a sense of dhanya (spiritually uplifted) by coming to the birthplace of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on his birth anniversary.

We have a long and hallowed tradition in India of viewing the place of birth or mahanirvaan of a great soul as a sacred place. India has three places that have been made holy by their association with the life of this Maha Maanav. The first is Mhow, which is Dr. Ambedkar’s Janmabhoomi. The second is Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur, where Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with tens of thousands of his followers. The third is Chaityabhoomi at Dadar Beach in Mumbai, where his Samadhi has been erected.

According to me, all the three places — Janmabhoomi, Deekshabhoomi and Chaityabhoomi — are worthy of being considered as pilgrimage centres.

Of these three, Mhow has somehow not received the kind of national and international visibility that the other two places have got. I therefore congratulate the Government of Madhya Pradesh and Chief Minister Shri Shivraj Singh Chauhan for having erected this impressive memorial to honour the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar at his birthplace.

Dr. Ambedkar is by far the best example in modern times that a man attains greatness through his karma (work) and not through his janma (birth). His personality was a combination of colossal scholarship and equally colossal social activism. Indeed, this is how the great social reformers of all time have been. If we study the lives of the great men and women of India who were born in different ages, we find that they belonged to different schools of thought. Nevertheless, what was common among them was their deep concern for humanity and their espousal of certain universal and eternal values. Each of them enlightened the path for the society in which they lived.

Dr. Ambedkar, too, did the same by spiritedly fighting for Equality, Dignity and Justice for all. Let me cite a seminal thought expressed by Dr. Ambedkar:

"A democratic form of Government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy."

Dr. Ambedkar had also rightly said that political freedom is incomplete without social and economic freedom. He thereby added the important dimension of social liberation of the depressed classes to India’s struggle for political independence from British rule.

Mahatma Gandhi, too, did the same from his own perspective. Those who pit Gandhiji against Dr. Ambedkar are doing disservice to the memories of both these great men. Their paths were different, but their goal was the same.

From a different perspective, the RSS also has been contributing to the same effort towards eradicating the evil of untouchability and caste discrimination in our society. The late Balasaheb Deoras once said, “If untouchability is not a sin, then nothing in the world is a sin.”

This mission for social equality and social justice is still incomplete. It must be continued with commitment and vigour until the goal is achieved. In doing so, we must not lose sight of the need for social harmony (samajik samarasata).

The Bhopal Declaration, which the previous Congress government in Madhya Pradesh had unveiled in 2002, was a document that sought to promote division and disharmony in society in the name of social justice. Indeed, this was an anti-Hindu document insofar as it openly propagated prejudice against Hinduism. As far as the BJP is concerned, we are equally committed to the three inter-related ideals — samata, samajik nyay and samajik samarasata.

Indeed, samata-yukt and shoshan-mukt samaj (a society based on equality and free from exploitation) is one of the five foundational principles of the BJP.

Friends, we should recognize that the struggle for achieving this noble goal requires sustained and multi-pronged efforts.

The Constitution of India, whose principal author was Dr. Ambedkar, has enshrined many important guiding principles and many liberative provisions. These must be scrupulously followed.

Therefore, all such measures of affirmative action aimed at social, economic and educational empowerment of those sections of society, which have remained backward for historical reasons, should be welcomed. This is the reason why the BJP has welcomed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on providing 27 % reservation for OBCs in central educational institutions.

Nevertheless, it is important to see that such measures are only a partial, albeit necessary, step forward towards the goal of an egalitarian and just society. A lot of sustained effort is required in the social, economic and primary education fields to liberate crores of marginalized people from the shackles of poverty, want and backwardness.

In the social field, we must unhesitatingly and untiringly struggle against every vestige of discrimination based on caste. The slogan we should popularize, and the slogan which we should follow in practice, in order to promote Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of Social Democracy is: Sab Jaati Samaan, Sab Jaati Mahaan (All castes are equal and all castes are great.)

In the economic field, we must vastly enhance opportunities for gainful employment, focus on rejuvenation of agriculture and other traditional vocations on which crores of SCs, STs and OBCs still depend, and simultaneously open up new avenues of prosperity linked to the thrust areas of India’s development.

Education is quite simply the key to unlock the doors of progress for all sections of society, but more especially for those who have lagged behind. Hence, the time has come to achieve a quantum increase in the opportunities for quality education at all levels — from primary to post-graduation level — and for all sections of society, with a preference for those who have lagged behind.

These objectives in the social, economic and educational fields cannot achieved without Good Governance and Good Politics.

After all, the Congress party has ruled India for more than five decades. Why hasn’t it brought about a significant change in the developmental profile of the SCs, STs and the poor in general?

If the leadership is not honest and upright, if the government does not adopt the right policies and programmes, if the machinery whose task it is implement those policies and programmes is corrupt and people-unfriendly, and if people are not motivated by a sense of participation in the working of the government, we cannot expect the lot of the poor and the downtrodden to change much.

Therefore, the time has come for the SCs, STs and the poor belonging to other sections of society to reject the Congress completely — both at the Centre and in states.

Today, on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, let me reiterate that the BJP has an integral vision of the development of Indian society. Indeed, ours is the only party that has an integral vision of development, which is rooted in our national values and progressive national traditions. I wish to state emphatically that our Party shall pursue this integral vision of development with devotion and determination by:
  • Reaching out to our brethren belonging to the SCs, STs and OBCs more than ever before;
  • Orienting, more than ever before, the policies, schemes and programmes of our state governments towards maximizing benefits for the SCs, STs and OBCs;
  • Caring, more than ever before, for the poor and needy among all the other sections of society, including the upper castes and religious minorities;
  • Focusing, more than ever before, on Good Governance and Good Politics, since these are critical for making a clean break from the Congress party’s sordid record of poor governance; slow and skewed development; and politics of corruption, opportunism and appeasement.”
— From the address by Shri L.K. Advani at a function in Mhow (Madhya Pradesh) on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti; 14 April 2008

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