|The Non-Resident Indians of North America have
been trying to convince the White House that they should recognise the
Deepavali festival as American national festival by celebrating it in White
House. They made such efforts during the Bill Clinton period but failed. Then
they tried very hard during the George W Bush term and again failed.
However, they succeeded during this time in convincing the Obama
administration that it should celebrate the Deepavali festival in the White
House. On the Deepavali day, Obama attended a celebration organised by
Indians in the White House and lit a lamp. The main representative of India
on the dais, along with Obama was an Indian Brahmin priest with a shaven head
and semi-naked body covered with a Pattu Vastram and a dhoti. He also sported
big three fold Vaishnava ‘namam’.
Assuming that the NRIs were not willing to present a homogeneous Hinduism by
keeping a Shaivaite priest also, the basic question that does bother is: does
that priest represent Indian Dalits-Bahujans who hardly have any space in the
Hindu religious temple structures?
The NRIs living in America used Obama’s black background to convince him to
attend the celebration and give a respectability to Indian-Hindu culture.
What they have ‘hidden’ from Obama and his administrative staff was that in
India still the Hindu priestly caste does not allow millions of Dalits to
enter Hindu temples and they treat them as untouchables.
We were all a witness to Obama’s oath taking ceremony where the black pastors
played a key role, though there were white pastors side by side. In spite of
an attempt to raise a controversy around his own pastor Jeremiah Wright,
Obama refused to disown him.
Since Hinduism does not even give such a scope to Dalits and other backward
castes, they are forced to remain unequal and outside its ritual
celebrations. No Dalit-Bahujan is allowed to become a priest in any
mainstream Hindu temple.
For a long time the American blacks faced a similar denial of spiritual
rights (though there was no untouchability) within the white church. The
blacks fought for decades to fight such spiritual racism and over a period of
time they gained the right to go to the white church. But the blacks were not
allowed to ordain as pastors and lead the church system. To counter such
discrimination the blacks started their own churches, which have become a
whole religious system in themselves. All great black leaders emerged from
that black church.
Whether it were the first major black leader, Frederick Doglas of Abraham Lincoln’s
times, or Martin Luther King who emerged as the greatest leader of the civil
rights movement and won a Nobel Peace prize at the age of 38, all were black
pastors in black churches. Even Obama emerged as a political leader, while
working in the black community church.
When the Indian casteist forces celebrated the Deepavali in the White House,
the Indian community would have realised that it would have destroyed his
race neutral administrative apparatus if they did not take a Dalit priest to
the White House. They should have done that, at least, to tell the world that
the NRIs do not believe in caste discrimination and untouchability.
Some of these NRIs were raising objections as to why the Congress House
Committee of Human Rights (called the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human
Rights and International Operations in the United States House of
Representatives) heard the Indian delegation in 2005 about the existence of
discrimination based on caste and untouchability in India.
Back in India Sri Sri Ravishankar, Ramachandra Guha and others accused us
(myself, Joseph D’Souza, Udit Raj and Indira Atwale were the main deposers)
as people who were indulging in internationalising the internal problems. How
do these so called reform seers and intellectuals respond to celebration of
Deepavali in White House and that too with a Brahmin representing Indian
culture? Suppose the Kerala NRIs ask for celebration of Onam in the White
House, who will represent that festival? Would a Bali’s heritage Shudra
represent it or a Brahmin from Vaishnava tradition?
Do not these intellectuals, so called seers and NRIs understand that
Deepavali as it is being celebrated today is an anti-Dalit-Bahujan festival
as Narakasura, who was killed was a Shudra himself? How could a festival that
celebrates the death of an Indian Shudra be considered as a secular festival?
Secondly, how does Deepavali represent India as a cultural festival when
India is a country of multi-religious people?
The only festival that can represent all Indians is Independence Day (August
15) celebration. Let the NRIs not work for creating religious frictions by
presenting one section’s festival as Indian festival. Let the NRIs stop
globalising communalism and casteism also in this from. Let Obama’s
administration realise that there are 200 million Dalits who cannot celebrate
Deepavali as a festival in India.
This is the reason why the Obama administration should have asked for the
presence of a Dalit priest on the occasion of celebration of the Deepavali in
the White House.