Understand caste to bridge communal divide: Setalvad

Patna (Story By: Jose Kalapura): Caste-based atrocities and targeted communal violence have become common in Indian society. Both have some commonalities and distinct differences, said Teesta Setalvad, well known social activist and campaigner for communal harmony.

“Indian society and polity have lived comfortably with caste-based exclusions and atrocities over the centuries. It is in these, that the birth, establishment and growth of communalism needs to be located and understood,” asserted the Mumbai-based activist while delivering the 11th Arrupe Memorial Lecture on “Understanding Caste to Bridge the Communal Divide” on February 5 at the St. Xavier’s School Hall in Patna.

The lecture was organized by the Patna-based Xavier Institute of Social Research (XISR), a center for research and action. It was in honor of Pedro Arrupe, who led the Society of Jesus, largest Catholic religious congregation for men, for 18 years from 1965. He died in 1991 aged 83. He was involved in humanitarian works to refugees and liberation of the marginalized.

Setalvad noted that India has been a land of multiple religions and all religions have been respected in this great land. But the recent polarization of Indian society based on religious identities has become a threat to communal harmony and national integration, she added.

Christianity came to India in the first century and Islam, in the 8th century. Both have spread in India peacefully, because Indians have welcomed and respected all religions. Caste oppression of the lower castes and Dalits forced them to convert to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Sikhism, she said.

Even Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, principal architect of the Indian Constitution, advised his followers to convert to Buddhism protesting against upper caste oppression and denouncing Manusmriti the Hindu text which justified caste.

Setalvad, 54, regretted that it has been a bane of Hindu society that the upper castes exclude the Dalits from human rights and keep women subordinated.

Although many social reformers such as Mahatma Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, Pandita Ramabai tried to reform Hindu society, the oppression continues even today, she noted.

Today’s communal animosity being spread by the Hindutva forces will eventually disintegrate the unity and harmony of India, she warned.

It is an irony that the rightwing Hindu groups try to ‘bring home’ the converted Dalit Christians and Muslims through Ghar Wapasi program. When they come back what caste will they belong to? Will they continue to be oppressed? She asked.

The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a doctoral student of Hyderabad University, a few days ago should haunt the casteist society, she pointed out.

Presiding over the function, Gandhian scholar Rezi Ahmad, of Gandhi Sangrahalaya said religious freedom is an essential component of human rights. It should not be violated.

Among more than 150 participants were well known activists, scholars, representatives of minority institutions and NGOs, and concerned citizens.

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