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Demystifying Varanasi

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Varanasi is rising on the high voltage publicity after Hindutva’s mascot Narendra Modi decided to contest from this place. The supporters of the party and the caste based Indian middle classes all jumped with joy after hearing this decision. People are thinking as if Varanasi would now be converted into Rome or Athens which are historical and of immense religious value. Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the world actually visit Varanasi every year to the ‘beauty’ of Kashi.  The city remains one of the dirtiest in the country to say the least. The ghats and the gullies are enough to give you food poisoning like any other religious places of India, full of dirt and filth. The only good thing is ‘’invisible’ is the spirited people and their abundant faith on the ‘power’. Despite dirt and filth, they are ready to jump into the river to wash their sins.
 Varanasi is the den of the brahmanical elite in India and that is why it has been glamorized. The caste vampire of Brahmanical India is run through the famous Kashi Hindu Vishwidyalaya simply Banaras Hindu University, where the Dalit students still face discriminations at the hands of Dronacharyas in the university.  Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal and Mr Ajay Rai will only be able to know that and understand the real feeling of ‘neech jaat’ once they have time to visit those students and meet them.
The Ganga of Varanasi is brahmanical in nature. They have hijacked the whole concept of nature worshipping and converted it into a ritualistic money minting machine which is exclusive. It exploits people further particularly to those who have surrendered here meekly to the discriminatory brahmanical divinity. Varanasi typifies what caste mean. You need to see it, research it and must have intellectual honesty which is rarely available in India.  Just board the boat at the Ghats and ask who are the boatmen and you will find the Nishads and Mallahas doing the service. If you go to the Ghat and see who are the people burning the funeral pyre and you will see the Doms, the most untouchable among untouchable communities. If you roam around the streets of Varanasi, you will find hundreds of people from Mehtar or Valmiki community cleaning night-soil, entering into the manhole and cleaning the streets. Such is the power of caste system that the ghats, the pujaris, the temples are the den of Brahmins and Brahmins alone. They arrogate themselves knowing everything about you past, present and future. The ‘Mahaarati’ at the Ganges look very beautiful at night but reflect the dark reality of the caste system. It is an exclusive domain of the Brahmin Pandas and that too the Brahmin men only. You will not find a single woman leading it.
Brahmanical revivalism in India comes through different forms and the biggest it the cultural manifestations which look too good yet are very dangerous. This cultural revivalism in Varanasi happened despite the fact one of the holiest shrines of Buddhists is located in Sarnath, just five kilometer from the main city. None of our mainstream media and political pundits decided to inform the world that Varanasi is famous not just for the polluted Ganges but because Buddha’s historic shrine is located here. Buddha revolted against brahmanical rituals and dominance of a particular caste.
The caste dominance of the Brahmins was established long back. The idea of a particular community could obtain ‘knowledge’ and ‘guide’ the destiny of the community was challenged not just Buddha but thousands years later in the same land by great saints like Kabir and Ravidas. Both refused to accept the brahmanical wisdom and finality of the religious texts. Kabir also followed the Eklavya traits to get the ‘wisdom’ from Ramananda, who refused to be his teacher since he was not ‘twice born’. This was the ‘greatness’ of brahmanical Varanasi that people were discriminated on the basis of their castes and that still persists, education was out of bound for shudras and dalits.
Kabir challenged the supremacy of the Brahmins who had propagandized that anyone who died in Varanasi would go to ‘heaven’. Kabir went to die in Magahar, a place now developed as Sant Kabir Nagar by Ms Mayawati during her tenure. In fact, it is under her tenure that the Buddhists places and all those spaces were developed and revived which challenged the brahmanical supremacy. Unfortunately, Samajwadi party did not have anything to do with such cultural projects which could have challenged brahmanical revivalism.
The real threat to brahmanical supremacy came from Buddha and at later stage by Kabir, Nanaka, Ravidas and others. If you die at Magahar, the Brahmins ‘disclosed’, you will go to hell. Why such a thought was developed? Who are the people who want us to believe that dying in a dirty Ganga send you to ‘heaven’ and at Magahar to ‘hell’.  According to many Buddhist scholars, it was because both Kabir and Ravidas were actually saints of Buddhist traditions and revolted against brahmanical hierarchy and superstition that it brought. Moreover, Magahar was also a place attributed as a Buddhist one and biggest aim of the Brahmins that time was to denigrate Buddhism and all those places related to it.
It is deplorable how a superstition is being ‘commercialized’ and defended in the name of ‘culture’. ‘Maa’ ‘Ganga’ I apologise from you’, said Modi. Yes, Modi did not have a big heart to apologize to human beings who were killed in Gujarat in 2002. He has no word of apology for anything wrong that he speak but he apologize to Ganga for his ‘inability’ to ‘wash’ his ‘sins’. Obviously both Kejriwal and Ajai Rai too are the same people who will wash their ‘sins’ strengthening the same brahmanical tradition which was challenged by none other than revolutionary Saint Ravi Das who said ,’ Man Changa to Katauti me Ganga’ which means If your heart is pure, Ganga reside there, you do not need to take a dip to ‘cleanse’ yourself. You need purity of heart and mind Mr Modi. Maybe a few lines of Ravidas and Kabir will give them some knowledge about the importance of these places which are not just brahmanical status quiets but the biggest revolt against them also emerged from here.
That is why it is important to remember Kabir who rejected the advice of the Brahmin to remain in Varanasi to die. He decided to go to Magahar, a place about 150 kilometers away, where he ultimately died. Both Varanasi and Magahar have a huge number of ‘bunkar’ community people, the Ansaris. Unfortunately, with religious rituals dominated among them, Kabir became irrelevant for most of them since he challenged the religious orthodoxy and was equally vociferous against the bad practices among Muslims and caste practices among them. He revolted both against the Mullahs and Brahmins and believed in humanist values of equality and fraternity. That is why a person like Kabir is not wanted to Muslims and Hindus both because he had the courage to speak against their wrong practices. In the Sarva dhrama business of Gandhi, we all have become habitual of ‘great’ religious and ‘cultural’ practices, the ‘Ganga- Jamuni tehjeeb’. Yes, the same Ganga Jamuni Tehjib that unites Hindus and Muslims, actually make them arrogant followers of their caste identities and practice hierarchical system in their societies.
It is so sad that when we are invoking the spirit of Varanasi, it is the spirit of division based on your birth that we are portraying. We are portraying superstition as culture in the name of tradition linking to Varanasi. Shockingly, Indian elite class will go to Hindu Mahant, Babas to talk about unity and equality. Whether they oppose Modi or not, a Shankarcharya will never agree to sit with a Dalit or accept a Dalit or Shudra woman equal to him.  It is not amusing therefore that the legacy of Buddha, Kabir and Nanaka has been fraudulently ignored by the brahmanical media.
Narendra Modi has been emphasizing a lot on being a chaiwallah, a tea seller. Indian media jumped on his rhetoric terming them ‘great’ speeches. Now, he is addressing ‘Ganga ma’ purely to ‘targeted’ audiences to polarize the voters. He is claiming to be a ‘neech’ ‘jaati’ who has been wronged. It is not unusual for Modi to make such speeches which after some days, if we analyse, will find shockingly distasteful. When he was invited to speak at a programme organized by the Balmikis in Gujarat, Modi wanted to show how closely he is associated with Balmikis and he wrote a book and said, ‘the manual scavenging work gives a lot of spiritual feeling’. I do not know why he need to come to Varanasi to get that spiritual feeling by dipping in Ganga, better do an ‘spiritual experience’ in Ahmedabad itself.
Finally, let us be clear that no tea seller in India belong to a ‘neech’ ‘jaati’ or lower caste. Most of them are upper backward communities who were never treated as untouchables. I would just like him to show us a single tea shop or a dhaba, run by a Balmiki or Mehtar both in Gujarat and his new constituency of spiritualism named as Varanasi. It is not possible in the model of Varanasi and Gujarat which are being projected to us by the media as well as those devotees of ‘Modi’ as well as ‘secularism’. Question is such great places with purely caste hierarchical system operating wonderfully, even if you get a dhaba being operated by a Dalit, you will not find customers for them. It is not without reason that most of the Dhabas in Varanasi do offer you ‘chai’ in ‘kulhars’ or plastic cups so that the dhaba owners is saved from washing the cups of ‘every one’ including ‘neech-jaat’ people too. Brahmanical Varanasi is growing because of ‘democracy’ of the dominants that  romanticize the religious rituals which were challenged by great revolutionaries like Kabir and Ravidas, whose ideas are the biggest obstacles along with one Rahul Sankrityayan from Azamgarh, for the Hindutva’s unfinished agenda of Hindu Rastra based on caste hierarchy. It is this tradition of revolt against the ‘varnashram dharma’ that we need to provoke and invoke for a strong democratic secular India.

About the author

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, writer is Human right & Ambedkarite activist. He is our respected columnist.

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