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‘Every person who professes to be a Hindu must be eligible for being a priest’: A nitpicking

Deekshabhoomi_Nagpur
Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur (Photo courtesy: Ojas Suryawanshi)

Section 24 of Annihilation of Caste (AoC) has come into discussion with the recent appointment of trained aspirants from various castes as temple priests in Tamil Nadu. The appointment of a priest who holds a sanad with a state-prescribed training, irrespective of his caste, is one of the cardinal reforms that Dr B R Ambedkar suggested for Hinduism in his historic, undelivered speech of 1936. He says:

“The following, in my opinion, should be the cardinal items in this reform:

  1. There should be one and only one standard book of Hindu Religion, acceptable to all Hindus and recognized by all Hindus. This of course means that all other books of Hindu religion such as Vedas, Shastras, and Puranas, which are treated as sacred and authoritative, must by law cease to be so, and the preaching of any doctrine, religious or social, contained in these books should be penalized.
  2. It would be better if priesthood among Hindus were abolished. But as this seems to be impossible, the priesthood must at least cease to be hereditary. Every person who professes to be a Hindu must be eligible for being a priest. It should be provided by law that no Hindu shall be entitled to be a priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the State, and holds a sanad from the State permitting him to practise.
  3. No ceremony performed by a priest who does not hold a sanad shall be deemed to be valid in law, and it should be made penal for a person who has no sanad to officiate as a priest.
  4. A priest should be the servant of the State, and should be subject to the disciplinary action of the State in the matter of his morals, beliefs, and worship, in addition to his being subject along with other citizens to the ordinary law of the land.
  5. The number of priests should be limited by law according to the requirements of the State, as is done in the case of the I.C.S.” (BAWS Vol 1, p 76)

Reform No (2) stated above is what is being discussed currently, calling it a revolutionary step in Hinduism. It is also being stated that the solution given to Hindus by Dr Ambedkar is getting implemented and following these cardinal items in this set of reforms will change and annihilate the caste system. One cannot be further from truth in saying this. In fact, saying this shows how uninformed a person really is. I believe this due to three reasons. 

First, these reforms are in a systematic sequence. Without implementing the first  reform, that is,  only one standard book acceptable to all Hindus, the latter reforms are null and void. If the situation continues as it is now, the person appointed will teach the same religious rules that are the reasons for the sickness of Hindus. 

Second, Dr Ambedkar did not believe any reform in the Hindu religion was possible. He describes his position very clearly in the 22nd section of AoC where he states, “Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the armour of a reformer” (BAWS Vol 1, p 74). Hindus are deprived of them both. 

Finally, but, most importantly, he believes the solution to the people with the degraded situation in a religion of rules, does not lie in the religion itself and concludes that conversion is the only solution. Buddhism is the true path shown by Dr Ambedkar and no amount of reforms in Hinduism would be a substitute for Buddhism—the religion of principles.

Further, the question arises: if the reforms are well-nigh impossible, why did Dr Ambedkar even mention them? There are two very strong points which Dr Ambedkar mentions in the same section. 

First, Dr Ambedakr did not want to be misunderstood that in his opinion there was no need for religion. In the AoC, he does not even consider Hinduism as a true religion. We can get this idea from the following line: 

“Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.” (BAWS Vol 1, p 75). 

Dr Ambedkar suggests this reform to at least for him to consider Hinduism as a religion. Second, he wanted to indicate to the Hindus that “Brahmanism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism” (BAWS Vol 1, p 77), and with this systematically ordered reform, you can start to make a breach.

To conclude, I would quote another para from the book where Dr Ambedkar gives the example of Irish Home Rule.

“Mr. Redmond, the representative of Southern Ireland, in order to bring Ulster into a Home Rule Constitution common to the whole of Ireland, said to the representatives of Ulster: ‘Ask any political safeguards you like and you shall have them.’ What was the reply that Ulstermen gave? Their reply was, ‘Damn your safeguards, we don’t want to be ruled by you on any terms’.” (BAWS Vol 1, p 42) 

A similar reply could be used by any self-respecting independent-minded person who is made to fall into the trap that safeguards and reforms will alter their life in an environment with no trace of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The path of conversion is the sole solution accepted, told, and practised by Dr Ambedkar and thus to be understood so. The only way forward is Buddhism.

Ojas Suryawanshi is a mechanical engineering graduate and he tweets at @OjasSuryawanshi.

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