Friday, 5 November 2010

Debrahminising history (a book by Braj Ranjan Mani)

I have a ocnfession to make. Having read this book ages ago - years ago, in fact! - I put it on my pile of things to do (i.e. with the intention of doing a short blog on it) but have been swamped with other priorities.

Well, here we are, finally!:

Mani is a social activist and independent researcher, and has put together a powerful demolition of whatever little I thought I knew about Hinduism and about Indian society.

Essentially a documentation and assertion of Buddhism Sufism/ Sikhism as "rational-liberating traditions" against the sort of Brahminical traditions that most Indians know.

It is not that I don't know of Buddhism, Sufism and Sikhism (quite the contrary) but Mani's denunciation of what I have regarded as "my" and "the mainstream" (Sanskritic/ Gandhian/ Nehruvian) tradition is quite a shock - at least to my system.

Holding up Phule and Ambedkar (as might be expected) as the real heroes for the majority of Indians, Mani also draws on the work of people such as Iyothee Thass, Narayana Guru and Periyar.

I do have some problems with Mani's book:

First, the book is unnecessarily repetitive and could have done with a strong editor.

Second, there are minor niggles, such as the reference to the Buddha as "the first major challenger to caste and Brahminism" (well, I guess it boils down to what one means by "major"!) or the reference to "the thousand years of (the) overwhelming influence" of Buddhism. True, Buddhism was influential over this perion. But "overwhelming"? And whether or not "overwhelming", there is the question of why that influence faded asn well as what factors internal to Buddhism enfeebled this "rational-liberating" paradigm? Those are questions that Mani does not attempt to answer.

Overall, however, this book is a must read for all Indians who wants to be aware of all facets of their country (and Brahminism is probably even now the most important facet of which one should become aware and self-critical). The book ends with typically bluntness: " Sita (forbidden from acquiring knowledge and power), Karna (treacherously deprived of life-saving device) and Eklavya (robbed of his thumb for his "illegitimate" prowess in archery) are still clamouring for their rightful place in society. The greatest sports award in India is still given in the honour of Arjuna, and not (in honour of) Karna or Eklavya, both of whom, according to legend, were greater archers. And the best coach award has been instituted in honour of Drnacharya, the perfidious guru who forced Eklavya to cut off his thumb as guru-dakshana in order to (leave) Arjuna the best archer of his time. How can a country whose moral foundations are based on bricks of (such) deceit and double standards excel in social democracy?". (Brackets mine)