Preface of New Edition of Post-Hindu India by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Post Hindu India

This excerpt is being published from the Preface of the book “Post-Hindu India” written for the new edition by the author published here with permission from publishers. The launch of the book is already advertised by the Penguin India website. The copies of the book will be available for sale both online and offline from 30 November, 2023.     

Post-Hindu India was first published in 2009 by Sage. It was launched in a well-attended meeting in the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, by an Adivasi woman from the Northeast. . Within a short time, it became a bestseller. Perhaps this is the first book to systematically study strenuously gathered information in a field work done about the Adivasi knowledge system to Brahmin knowledge system  in known Indian history. It is a journey through a living civilization of castes and communities, basically foregrounding production and human relations and philosophical processes that governed Indian society.

We know that historically from the days of composition of the oldest book, Rig Veda, Indian society was divided into four human categories—Shudra, Vaisya, Kshatriya and Brahmin. The category Shudra at that time may have included in itself all the present Shudras/OBCs/Dalits and Adivasis. The name Shudra was used in ancient texts in a negative sense, something like unworthy people or slaves.  

Since then, while Vaisya (Bania), Kshatriya (Rajput in North India) and Brahmin categories have existed and survived with the same titles with a social and philosophical higher status, the classical Shudras got fragmented into three further broad groups—Shudra/OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis. The written texts, whether in Sanskrit or in most regional languages or in English even after establishing a constitutional democracy, did not examine the contribution of these sections to Indian knowledge, economy, philosophy and culture. Since the idea of production is seen as polluting work in the Brahminic spiritual thought, the producers’ life, work and contribution to the nation were not given textual status and philosophical respectability.

Since the days of the freedom struggle, more particularly after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) acquired hegemonic place in the Indian political system in the post-Mandal and post-Babri Masjid demolition years, brought the mobilization  and counter-mobilization of masses, the Indian civilization and culture are being projected based on the book knowledge (mainly of Sanskrit) in which the life, work and philosophy of the productive masses—Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis—did not get recognition.

This book, for the first time, foregrounds the knowledge, philosophy and ideology of the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis and encodes into a text and constructs an ideology of self-respect and national pride for them. Any nationalist project has to examine the life process, status and strengths and weaknesses of a vast number of the agrarian and the artisanal forces of this country, who are living in villages, forests, cities and so on. Though the leisure and the service castes of India are said to have contributed to the intellectual energy of the nation, their role in sustaining the nation is secondary. The backbone of the nation lies in the labour power and knowledge that emerged in the process of humans engaging in production. Mahatma Jotirao Phule in Gulamgiri also says that the Shudras and Ati-Shudra are the life and sinews of India.

The journey in this book starts from the Adivasi society—what I call Unpaid Teachers—and goes through various occupational caste communities, laboriously recording their knowledge and their socio-spiritual and philosophical systems. Two main occupational groups within the broad Dalit category, Subaltern Scientists (Chamar, Madiga, Matang and so on) and Productive Soldiers (Mahar, Jatav, Mala and so on), were studied as representative communities for their contribution mainly in leather technology and protection of villages and so on.

Thereafter the journey enters into the Shudra Samaj, the biggest social conglomerate which operated around agriculture and artisanal production in India and is still doing so. I went by the undivided Andhra Pradesh social division of the reserved castes into the Dalit and Shudra categories where the lowest Shudra communities, as per the reservation category called OBC, are Chakali (Dobhi or washer and so on) and Mangali (Nayee or barber) whom I called Subaltern Feminists and Social Doctors respectively.   

From there on the journey goes into Meat and Milk Economists (broadly cattle grazers and shepherds), Unknown Engineers (iron and gold smiths, pot makers, toddy tappers and so on) and Food Producers in which many historical agrarian castes like Kapu, Reddy, Maratha, Patidar, Jat and so on could be enlisted based on their historical location in the Shudra category and also their relationship to agrarian production in different states of India.

Among the Dwija (which constitute Bania, Kayastha, Khatri, Kshatriya and Brahmin) castes, I studied Banias and Brahmins with careful observation and discussions with various people inside and their caste cultures, economy and philosophy. Lot of unknown things about these castes are brought into the discourse. There is also a chapter on Intellectuals.

The book was reviewed and discussed with equal passion of agreements and disagreements by activists and academicians. More importantly the book was taken to the Supreme Court of India with a petition to ban at least sections of the book. 

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His latest book is The Clash of Cultures—Productive Masses Vs Hindutva—Mullah Conflicting Ethics.

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