Transformation of Caste/Religious Minorities into ‘Composite Majority’ to Counter Majoritarianism in India

minorities protest
“WAKE UP INDIA” a Protest Rally against the Violence & oppression on Minorities, Churches, Nun and Christians organize by Christian reform united people association along with Other Organizations, Churches and Institutions at Azad Maidan on Friday. Express photo by Prashant Nadkar, Mumbai, 27/03/2015

Nature of Majority

Though every nation in the world is multi-religious and multi-cultural, in every nation, at least, there is one majority community that is based on religion, language, ethnicity, race and language. However, in the long historical process, it does not remain as it is because the supposed cultural and religious singularity is a myth. In large geographical landscape, within the broader cultural and religious identities, dissimilarities forms out of region specific cultural variations. Certain sub-groups break away from the universal cultural identity and form a particular based on the regional and community cultural specificities as a reaction or a response to the domination of the supposedly dominant over the rest. Regional identity formations could be natural as well as political. Nonetheless, there also enough evidence to prove the custodians of the universal majority identity keep devising strategies to reconcile with the breakaway groups. The majority keeps redefining itself according to the changing context and objectives with the intention keeping the minority as weaker cultural and demographic social group.

In India, majority and minority, though primarily, demographic categories; demography alone would not decide who majority and minority are. Apart from it, history, culture, social and economic positions and political power are the supporting factors which would also play and determined role. For example, in India, Other Backward Castes (OBC), earlier known as Shudras, is demographically dominant caste majority but they are economically and politically weak. Brahmans on the other hand, though demographically minority but in terms of power and social positions they acquire the characters of majority and dominate the OBCs. When we examine what allows the minority Brahmans to dominate majority OBCs, we can come to the conclusion that it is the social position that built on the ‘high culture (history)’. Therefore, majority and minority are not rigid categories based on numerical strength. They keep getting redefined according to the changing context and the factors. However, when the idea of nations are imagined on the any of these existing varieties of majority, then the majority would bring both the Brahmins and Shudras into one single identity and these two, react naturally to necessity of coming together. It is here, the demography becomes deciding factor. Cultural specificities would either be kept aside or a temporary and voluntary compromise be worked out as essential to save supposedly threatened culture of majority or to achieve the ultimate goal. More than the alleged universal identity, what brings them together is the alleged attack on the culture of the majority in the past, present and future by the imagined enemy. The majority believe that the majority just as a population does not act as a force. It needed to be constantly administered with right amount of sentimental and emotional sedatives. It is here, it draws needed emotions and sentiments from religion, history, culture and social position.  The majority in India has a long and sufficient history, dominant cultural forms and social customs on which it could cultivate needed emotions and sentiments. Yet, it believes that is not enough because modern democratic societies possess inbuilt anti-majority progressive philosophies and ideologies. In the process of overcoming these ideologies, majority would have no option other than emerge as anti-majority or even anti-national force with its communal views and ideology. It tries maximum to camouflage its homogenous ideology by qualifying it to be national culture as if majority in a democratic society has natural to equate its culture with the national culture whenever it wishes to do so. When it realises that democracy imposes some limitations on its unjustifiable assertion, it take resort in negative emotional energies such sons of soil, victims of history, alleged socio-religious and cultural positives and so on. further it highlight the historical difference, to signify its history, to create ‘historical enemies’, to promotes its ahistorical heritage and culture as historical and dehistoricise or designify the history of the other even those who falls within its larger religious/cultural/social identity.  In a logical sequence, it divides the composite culture of the nation into national and anti-national. It equates its history and ahistory with national culture and places the history of the religious and caste minorities’ in the anti-national category and qualifies the later for destruction. Once, this process is on, the majority keep growing and keep expanding its constituency by excessively employing history and culture as motional/sentimental sedatives.

Today’s majoritarianism in India has roots in colonial times and colonialism has played a determined role in its genesis. Majoritarianism in India has been dominant since it took form in the first decade of twentieth century. In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries too, if not as defined force, but its well established dominant social position gave the leverage to dominate economy, politics and culture both in the Company and Queen Rule. It is against this domination, Sir Sayyad  Ahemad Khan was raising voice and providing essential ideological and constructive inputs for building a movement for equality for Muslims and Jyothi Rao Phule and Ambedkar were questioning the majority on behalf of Shudras and dalits. It was against such responses and challenges from the Muslims and lower castes, the majority organised itself as an unchallengeable force. Its defined organisational shape, structure and network and its inbuilt strength as a communal and caste majority allowed it to visualise the grand objectives such as Akanda Bharat as a larger geographical proposition and homogenous nation as single communal/race proposition simultaneously. However, there marked difference between the pre and post twentieth century majorities. While the earlier as social majority with, perhaps, no intentions of forming identity of the nation based on its religion but successfully employed its social as well as religious identity to dominate the others in politics, power, economy and knowledge, the latter essentially declares itself as indigenous social group that has the natural right to correct alleged ‘historical wrongs’. It highlights the similarities between dissimilar social/religious groups within in India and presents the possibility of reuniting together. It sees Jainism and Budhism are part of its internal frictions and could be accommodated easily by hook or crook.  It presents the compositeness culture of India as a serious blockade for unification. Therefore, it highlights cultural difference between the Hindus as the ‘native people’ and Muslims and Christians as outsiders. Invasion of Muslims and their attacks on Hindu culture and religion and Christians and the conversions they carried out in the history are historical wrongs. But ironically it intentionally blinds itself from self-retrospection because if that takes place it finds itself in guilty position for still being socially, culturally, politically and economically undemocratic force that failed to subject itself to reforms according to changing time and context or it developed visible and invisible anti-reform and anti-change social and cultural mechanisms as it believed that it is its socio-religious-cultural orthodoxy that would be much more powerful than their democratisation. Civilisation positivity comes from the scrutinisation of the pre-modern socio-religious-cultural orthodoxy is seen as conspiracy of the democratic forces. Therefore, it does not matter whether its re-vitalising the discarded and dismissed social-religious orthodoxy is making it anti-social, anti-democratic, anti-rational, anti-national but it still presents itself as aggressive fighter of the revival of the lost culture by depending upon on the strength of the constituency (the Hindu urban poor and rural masses) that unfortunately quite vulnerable to the religious/cultural emotional and sentimental rhetoric.  These people who are the foot soldiers of the majority (Shudras), ironically, have been the sufferers of the Hindu orthodoxy. In a tussle between the Hindu majority and caste/religious minorities the real violence, loss of life and destruction of property is caused to shudras from Hinduism and Muslims, Christians and dialits from the minorities. The people of above three varnas have always been the ideology providers, commanders and financiers of the majoritarianism the while the shudras have been the poisoned foot soldiers.

Leaders of like Nehru and Ambedkar understood the dangers of such thinking of the majority and altered the nation.  Nehru wrote that the spectacle of what is called religion or at any rate organised religion, India and elsewhere, has filled him with horror and he frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief, reaction, dogma, bigotry, superstition, exploitation and preservation of vested interests.[1] Similarly Ambedkar also wrote that if Hindu Raj become a fact, it will no doubt, a greatest calamity for this country no matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is menace to the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatibale with democracy Hindu raj must be prevented at any cost”.[2] Both leaders express concerns on the organised religion and troubles it could. But Ambedkar quite clear of the dangers of the idea called Hindu nation and the havoc it could cause that we are witnessing at present.

It is this variety of majority which they were afraid of and which has maintained low profile from 1947 to 1990 has gained full power in 2014. Back in colonial times, it borrowed ideology from the German and Italian fascist/racial philosophies/methods to build its ideological foundation and organisational structures. From 1920s, the armed training, cultivation of identity on the imagined history and promotion of religious and cultural sentimentalism have been its chief functions. In a democratic world, it builds the network that connects the local, national and global conscious Hindus and asks for the subscription to the majoritarian ideology. The spread of Hindus into various parts of the world have been contributing to the building of the organisational network of the international Hindu communal organisations like Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and International Society for the Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Bjaragan Dal, RSS and many other local organisations have been working in tandem to promote the Hindu racial and communal ideology as tool of capturing political power that eventually would help to realise the final goal. Minority groups also have their international, national solidarity networks. However, the network of the earlier is much more powerful than the latter. While the network of the earlier is to exert its power on the rest, the latter’s network is, mostly self-serving or right’s protecting networks.

The majority works on different stages to reach its goal. For this to happen, first, the majority problematises the compositeness of the nation and its culture. Second, simultaneously defines the national culture based on its culture. These two simultaneous processes were on from 20th century from All India Hindu Mahasabha came into existence in 1909. The third is the experimentation and imposition of its culture on the other in a congenial political environment. The fourth is the ‘final solution’. Except the fourth, the rest of the three processes have been in place simultaneously.  From 1990s, the third process has been dominating the nation. However, it is not to argue that the religious majority as a political and social force was not dormant before 1990s. It always uses its demographic strength to its advantage in various forms and means. In the pre-1990 India, though the religious majority appear to be less active, its inbuilt social position always helped it to maintain its power. With the emergence of the RSS, in 1925, as aggressive cultural organisation, it has become more aggressive towards Muslims and with the assassination of M.K. Gandhi, in 1948; it has become clear that it has entered into a new phase of achieving the impossible. Then the emergence of Janasangh, in 1984, as a political wing marked the beginning of the new era where a cultural right-wing with its cultural nationalism has now has political right-wing that has shouldered the responsibility of equating it’s cultural nationalism with Indian nationalism as means of creating congenial political environment (i.e. capturing power) to realise the final goal (creation of Hindu Rastra). The existing domination of the Hindu bureaucracy spread into various spheres of government establishments came in hand to pursue its goal. From 1920 to 1990, it has built needed constituency. Then the strength of its constituency, from 1990, allowed it to be aggressive in the congenial environment. So, there are pre and post 1990 varieties of majority which are different from each in very limited sense. while the earlier, though not unproblematic, limits itself to the natural domination in which it maintains within the limits of the law of the land as the minority is not posing serious threat to its domination, the latter is rather an aggressive majoritarian ideology which self allocate functions even if many Hindus would not sanction and subscribe to its ideology and agenda and presents itself as the custodian of national systems and culture and also as restorer and reviving force of the lost original ‘Hindu indigenous’ culture. Under the both the pre and post-1990, varieties of moajoritarianism, Dalits, Christians, Muslims, Backward Castes, Buddhists, Adivasai, secularists, rationalists, humanists and progressive people have been treated as enemies and have been victims of the aggressive cultural nationalism. Compare to the pre-1990s version of cultural nationalism, the post-1990s version is life threatening as it acts in a congenial political environment. It is an aggressive force which enters into the phase of experimentation and imposition of its singular culture that is equated to national culture. Anybody opposing the way it acts would be treated as enemies and would be eliminated. it is to face such a powerful force, caste/religious minorities should transform into ‘composite majority’.

What is ‘Composite Majority’?

‘Composite Majority’ is social, secular, progressive, humanist and political democratic social solidarity proposition. It forms out of the common concern for saving the lives of the religious and caste minorities from the attacks of the majoritarianism which is projecting them as enemies, fight for the rights and justice of the people, question the domination of the majority and eventually save the nation from losing its compositeness. It forms out of the religious minority (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs), caste minority (Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs), political minority (BCs and OBCs) and ideological minority (secularist, humanists, rationalists and atheists). The religious minority is being ‘foreigners’, as migrants and their religion and culture being dissimilar to the majority in many ways, qualifies them to be enemies. Caste minority, especially, conscious ones would maintain their consistent criticism of Hinduism for placing them in the lowest social position. Dalits as caste minority and also part of ideological minority would keep pointing the continuous existence of inadequacies and discriminative structures make them enemies of the majority. Political minority, politically conscious BCs and OBCs holds less political power and they would consider themselves as minority in politics and fight for justice. Their Shudra identity and they becoming tools in the hands of the castes above them would make them assertive to fight the political equality which automatically make them anti-majority or anti-hindutva. The ideological minority, as intellectual and progressive force their anti-religion and anti-superstitions position would automatically qualifies to be enemies of majority.

The composite majority could be a permanent proposition since it is natural for the majority to act as majority at any point in time. In fact, in countries like India religious/cultural majority always dominate the national politics, economy and culture. This inbuilt domination allows it to be disturbing force of the national social fabric. Therefore, composite majority can work as a controlling force as a positive national force. The composite majority would act as conscience keeper of the nation. Even the promotion of the composite culture as a national culture in which the culture of majority also forms part would not cause any concerns to a single soul. Social, political, cultural and economic equilibrium would not perhaps be possible if composite majority do not emerge as an alternative. It could be a perfect social justice league with its positive objective striving for the rights of the oppressed. Since it is being governed by positive philosophies like humanism, secularism and progressivism, it is natural that it posses the self correction ability as its internal constituents would develop self-correction mechanisms.

If the definition of majority is above the half, in a numerical sense, then is there a possibility for composite majority. Composite majority, that being proposed here is not numerical or demographic category. It is social justice category that could form itself as unified forces of justice. However, when we look at such a possibility, the percentage of the population of the composite majority would come around 44.75.  According to census 2011, in India, there are 14.23 % Muslims, 16.6% Scheduled Castes, 8.6 Scheduled Tribes, 2. 30% Christians, 1.72 % Sikhs, 0.70%, Budhists, 0. 37% of Jains, and 0.24 % Atheists. The composite majority is nowhere near to the Hindu majority which nearly 80%. However, if we minus SCs and STs who are part of the Hindu majority as most of the dalits and adivasis are Hindus, they form into 25%. It is quarter of the total population. Then in that case the Hindus would be around 55%. Apart from this if we minus secularists, rationalists, atheists and humanists, the numerical majority of those who subscribe to hinduvta would be further reduced. They don’t subscribe to the radical Hindu ideology.

Why it is Needed?

In the composite cultural society, the government works as an agency of protecting every citizen’s constitutional rights and civil society works as a conscience keeper of the nation. Civil society could also question and correct the government. When government and civil society are ignoring their responsibilities and fails to protect the rights of the caste/religious minorities, then the only option left for the minorities is to protect them by formation of composite social solidarity. More dangerously, when the majority in government equates its culture with the culture of the nation and use the power that is democratically bestowed on it to invoke the majority as a demographic political category, then it seeks the submission of the caste and religious minorities falls within and outside of its religion, culture and social identity. It expects similar or remotely similar to merge with its larger identity and also seeks the submission of the dissimilar (culturally/religiously/ideologically different). This merger and submission is executed in through problematisaion of composite culture, universalisation of ‘homogenous’ Hindu culture and invocation of majority as a demographic religious political category. The first process begins with the re-examining of the hitherto defined national culture and finds fault with the fabrication and composite nature of the national culture. The democratic nations, obligated by the principles of democracy, try their maximum to treat the culture of everybody equally, though in practicality it the culture of the majority which is much more dominant compare to the rest. Yet, this already existing cultural domination does not satisfy the radical right as such. A normal domination does not service any ideological purposes of the radical right. It believes the in the name of composite culture, the culture of the minority is getting the undue respect while the culture of majority does not appears to be commanding the expected respect. Therefore, the radical right problematises the compositeness through its political rhetoric. This highlights the foreignness of the religious minority, points out the alleged cultural disconnection between the between the national culture and culture of the majority. As a demographic majority, it believe that the essentiality of the culture has to determined by the demographic strength and weight of ‘history’, not by the principles of democracy and equality. For the radical right-wing, compositeness of the national culture is in unfair imposition of the culture of the minorities on the majority. Therefore, it tries to reverse it by designifying or devaluing the culture of the minority. The majority alleges that the value or the respect commanded by the culture of minority is a value or significance that is attributed or added by reducing the value of majority. For example, among all the architectural heritage of India if Taj Mahal, as an architectural beauty, part of Indian composite culture but part of Islamic style, has been commanding more respect than the rest of the culture. In actuality, the value and popularity of the Taj mahal is not resulted from robbing the value of the similar structures or traditions of architecture. Like Ajantha and Ellore archtecuture and arts form, the Taj Mahal too would command respect which is inbuilt in the form and style. The radical right would not want the Taj Mahal to command such respect, it wants some of the art forms belong to its culture occupy such a position. The recent attack, in the rhetoric form at the moment, on the Taj Mahal is an outcome of the anti-composite culture of India from right wing that would wanted replace the value with another which might not have the inbuilt value equal to that of Taj Mahal. Here the intention is not to replace Taj Mahal with another ‘equally’ significant from its culture alone but also to do with creating a debate around the supposedly undue national cultural significance attributed to the non-Hindu culture. The majority believes that the non-Hindu culture cannot be part of the national culture as they are foreign. Elimination of the compositeness of the national culture that represents the religious, social and cultural plurality of India becomes essential for the majority to create homogenous cultural identity. However, replacement or removals are not impossible. The elimination of compositeness would be taken seriously in a congenial political environment.  The demolition of Babri Masjid in the name of the site being the ‘birth place of Rama’ and Taj Mahal being attacked by alleging that once it was Shiva temple know as Tejo Mandir are the two examples how the majority would be embarked on the programme of removing compositeness. Second process is promotion of certain selective culture that has supposedly has less connection with religion and ‘remotely secular’ culture of the majority but has the high potential to offer required cultural pride to the majority. These cultural and social traditions, art forms and knowledge systems developed or allegedly developed by Hindus over long period of time would get qualified for promotion as representatives of the national culture. Some of these are having pan-India existence and some are popular in certain regions but connected to the larger identity of Hindus. Ayurvedha, Yoga, and Meditation are the pan-Indian cultural systems which get qualified to be national culture in a politically congenial environment. The recent the institutionalisation and internatiolisation of Yoga, as a ‘secular’ and common culture is a perfect example of this process.

The third is the aggressive invocation of the majority as a political category. Though it is nothing new, the congenial political environment allows it to be much more aggressive than earlier. Aggressiveness becomes essential as the majority would be intended to translate some of its ideological goals into reality. Therefore, to invoke the majority as political category, the provocation of the imaged enemy is the first step. As a result, minorities would be provoked to respond and response and reaction to the provocation would be projected as act/attack on nation or on majority. This is the pattern from Gujarat Riots 2002 to the attack on Republic Day celebrations of Mulisms in Kasganj, Uttara Pradesh, 2018. The attack on the minorities does not limit one aspect of one community. Attacks are sometimes on common cultural traditions of minorities and sometimes community specific.  For examples, 25th December and 6th December have become problematic days for dalits, Muslims and Christians.  For Christians, 25th December is Christmas day and it is a day of celebrations and worship.  But from 2014, the central government has been observing it as Good Governance Day to respect Atal Bihar Vajpai as it is his birthday. This move deprives the Christian of their culture and festivity. The selection of day for the Good Governance Day, beyond the doubt, is suspicious.  Similarly, 6th December has also become problematic day for Muslims and dalits. Till 1992, the 6th December has been day of paying homage and remembering Ambedkar for dalits as he died on the same day in 1956.  Dalits all around the world visit Chaityabhoomi and celebrate as the day of  Mahaparinirvana. Ashok Yadav, argued that selection of the day is not spontaneous it involed high level conspiracy. He further argued that “A countervailing ‘Hindu glory’ was being forged opposed to Dr. Ambedkar’s memory and legacy. By demolishing Babri mosque an attempt was being made to violate and pollute the great memory of Dr Ambedkar. A conspiracy was being enacted to erect a symbol of Hindutva pride, inherent in the demolition of Babri mosque, parallel to Dr Ambedkar’s memory, so that every year when on December 06 the dalit bahujan would assemble to commemorate Dr Ambedkar’s life and struggle, the anniversary of Babri mosque demolition would also be there as a parallel force to counter Dr Ambedkar’s legacy. The demolition of Babri mosque on the same date as the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar would never leave the commemoration of Dr Ambedkar’s death anniversary as uncontaminated. The demolition of Babri mosque on December 06 was an intense psychological war against the dalit-bahujan which was no less lethal or violent than the organised and frequent pogroms against dalits and Muslims. [3] With the selection of December 6th, the Hindu majority transformed the day of reverence and homage into a day of terror, fear, and scare. Above all this, day is being celebrated as Shaurya Diwas (a Day of Pride) by the right wing forces,  Muslims are observing it as a black day and secular and progressive forces are observing as anti-secular day . Dalits, after 1992, have never been able to pay homage to Ambedkar fear of being attacked. It has become a day where right-wing radicals celebrate attack on history of the Muslims and legacy of the dalits and these two communities live in psychological fear. Similarly, selection of beef to attack minorities by projecting it as anti-Hindu is also no less than a well thought out conspiracy. Beef is common for all these three communities and this attack was not limited to food culture and nutrition alone but it has served a blow on the economy of the dalits and Muslims. Moreover, what calls for the formation of composite majority is the audacity of the majority in involving in never seen before variety of crimes. Murders like Mahammad Aklaq, Phelu Khan, Una incident, Kasgaj riots, statements like why Muslims are still in India and we will eliminate Christianity by 2022, broad daylight attacks on Narendra Dabolkar, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Gouri Lankesh certainly necessitates the formation of the composite majority.

The signs of its formation seem to be visible since Rohit Vemula’s suicide. The Lal (communism) expressed solidarity to the problems of Neel (blue-dalit) in the fight for justice of Rohit, and then the Neel worked together with the Lal when Kanhaya Kumar and Umar Khaled and others were arrested. The progressive civil society (ideological minority) has already expressed its solidarity with its anti-intolerance movement against the never see before variety of crime is already part of the formation. Since Muslims, Christians and dalits have been the prime target, they naturally are in front to form composite majority. However, such a formation is not heckles free. More than being minorities and with minimal cultural commonality, what necessitates them to form into composite majority is threat to their.  All these communities have defined ideologies which might not allow them to easily compromise. Realising this, Jignesh Mevani called for ideological compromise. For putting the united fight Mevani called argued that like minded forces should not be stuck in the ideological purity, they have to co-travel.[4] Ajay Gudavarthy argued that minority social groups need to take responsibility not to merely protect their identities in an essentialised mode but need to strive to make positive claims as citizens. This includes not merely demanding equal share in resources but also equal responsibility in speaking for all other marginalised social groups.  He believed that such a responsibility is an expression of the ethic of compassion and solidarity with others beyond one’s own immediate identity by birth.[5] Therefore, for such objectives, ideological compromise is essential. It is should be ideologically flexible and structurally accommodative.  Composite majority commands the sympathy of the internal and external civil society as they believe that it is the genuine civil society of India. It would be formidable force which can challenge the anti-national undemocratic forces and could guarantee peace and freedom in the country.

[1]Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward Freedom of India: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru, 1936, Cornwall Press, Newyork, 1941,pp. 240-41.

[2] B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’,  Dr. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 8, p. 358

[3] Ashok Yadav, ‘Babri Mosque Demolition: Why on December 6?’, www., 21 February 2009.

[4] The Indian Express, January 30, 2018

[5] Ayaja Gudavarhty, India Needs to Rethink how it Looks at Secularism, The Wire, 1.2.2018

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri), Assistant Professor, Department of History Bharathidasan University.


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