The Savarkar rehabilitation project is taking newer forms. The latest attempt [‘How Savarkar fought for a casteless society’, The Indian Express, 28-02-2022] by the Savarkarites is to claim that “He had imagined a nation free of malevolent social evils such as caste cruelty, Untouchability, and injustice towards women. He advocated a casteless society based on notions of social justice coupled with social cohesion. He wanted to uproot the diversity of the caste system and build a nation based on Hindu unity, where Dalits could live with dignity and happiness.” It is also claimed that “He spoke out against scriptural injunctions that advocated caste, such as the Manusmriti. According to Savarkar, these scriptures are often the tools of those in power, used to control social structure and maintain their supremacy”.
Let us compare these claims with the writings and deeds of Savarkar as recorded in the Hindu Mahasabha archives. Savarkar as a prophet of Hindutva and author of the book with the same title in 1923 defended Casteism in Hindu society regarding it as a natural component essential for making a nation. While dealing with the subject under the title ‘Institutions in favour of Nationality’, he declared that the institution of Casteism was the peculiar mark of identifying a Hindu Nation.
“The system of four varnas which could not be wiped away even under the Buddhistic sway, grew in popularity to such an extent that kings and emperors felt it a distinction to be called one who established the system of four varnas…Reaction in favour of this institution grew so strong that our nationality was almost getting identified with it.”
Savarkar, while defending Casteism as an inalienable constituent of a Hindu Nation, went on to quote an authority (not identified by him) who said: “the land where the system of four Varnas does not exist should be known as the Mlechcha country: Aryawarta lies away from it.”
Savarkar’s defence of Casteism was in fact a corollary of his racial approach to the understanding of Hindu nation. While refuting the criticism that Casteism did check the free flow of blood in the Hindu society he presented an interesting logic by making these complementary to each other. He argued that it was, in fact, due to Casteism that purity of Hindu Race was maintained.
To quote him,
“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 fertilize and enrich all that was barren and poor, without famishing and debasing all that was flourishing and nobly endowed”.
Interestingly, Savarkar who stood steadfastly in defence of Casteism, also advocated the elevation of the status of the Untouchables in the Hindu society for a short period. He conducted programmes against Untouchability and entry of Untouchables into Hindu temples. This was not due to an egalitarian outlook but mainly due to the fact that he was alarmed at the numerical loss which the Hindu community had been experiencing due to the steady conversion of the Untouchables to Islam and Christianity which guaranteed them social equality normatively.
Savarkar admitted that due to treating them as outcastes, the then 7 crores [the then population of outcastes in India] strong, “Hindu people-power” did not stand in ‘Our’ (High caste Hindus) favour. Savarkar knew that Hindu nationalists would greatly need the physical power these Untouchables, as foot-soldiers for settling scores with Muslims and Christians. So while warning his cadres that if the Untouchables did not remain in their fold, they were going to prove a factor which would bring far more terrible crisis for high Caste Hindus, Savarkar lamented the fact that “they will not only cease to be beneficial for us but also become an easy means of dividing our house, thus proving to be responsible for our boundless loss.”
The most authentic record of Savarkar’s beliefs and actions on this issue is available in a compilation by secretary of Savarkar, A. S. Bhide titled as ‘Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Whirlwind Propaganda: Extracts from the President’s Diary of his Propagandist Tours Interviews from December 1937 to October 1941’. It is an official guide-book for Hindu Mahasabha cadres. According to it Savarkar soon declared that he was undertaking these reformative actions in his personal capacity “without involving the Hindu Mahasabha organization into social and religions [sic] activities not guaranteed by its constitutional limits…” [Bold as in the original text] Savarkar assured Sanatani Hindus who were opposed to Untouchables’ entry into Hindu temples in 1939 that 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 in the form of a personal assurance 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…”
Savarkar remained a great protagonist of Casteism and worshipper of Manusmriti throughout his life. The institutions of Casteism and Untouchability were, indeed, the outcome of Manu’s Codes which were greatly revered by Savarkar as we will see in the following statement of his:
“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”.
Sadly, Savarkarites bent upon establishing Savarkar’s anti-Untouchability credentials have no hesitation in playing mischief even with a letter Dr. Ambedkar wrote to Savarkar on February 18, 1933. They produce it as a testimonial to establish Savarkar as a crusader against Untouchability which according to the Savarkarites read:
“I wish to take this opportunity of conveying to you my appreciation of the work you are doing in the field of social reform. If the Untouchables are to be part of the Hindu society, then it is not enough to remove untouchability; for that matter you should destroy ‘Chaturvarna’. I am glad that you are one of the very few leaders who have realised this”
Unfortunately sentences have been picked up from Dr. Ambedkar’s letter deleting all critical comments on Savarkar’s agenda for Untouchables. The letter is produced in full so that the intellectual dishonesty of Savarkarites is known to readers. It read:
“Many thanks for your letter inviting me to Ratnagiri to open the Temple on the fort to the Untouchables. I am extremely sorry that owing to previous engagements, I am unable to accept your invitation. I, however, wish to take this opportunity of conveying to you my appreciation of the work you are doing in the field of social reforms. As I look what is called the problem of the untouchables, I feel it is intimately bound up with the question of reorganization of Hindu society. If the untouchables are to be a part and parcel of the Hindu society, then it is not enough to remove Untouchability, for that you must destroy Chaturvarnya. If they are not to be a part and parcel, if they are only to be appendix to Hindu society then Untouchability, so far as temple is concerned, may remain. I am glad to see that you are one of the very few who have realized it. That you still use the jargon of Chaturvarnya although you qualify it by basing it by basing it on merit is rather unfortunate. However, I hope that in course of time you will have courage enough to drop this needless and mischevious jargon.” [Emphasis added]
In fact, Dr. Ambedkar came to the conclusion in 1940 that
“If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country… [It] is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost”.
Shamsul Islam is a former teacher of Delhi University
It appeared in The Indian Express, Delhi titled ‘Truth about Savarkar and caste’ on 23-03-2022.