The conundrum of Hanuman’s caste

After the name-changing spree, caste division is on rage


December 7, 2018

/ By / New Delhi

Statue of Hanuman, a Hindu god, at the Ramayana Cave - Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Statue of Hanuman, a Hindu god at the Ramayana Cave in Malaysia

Lord Hanuman, the revered disciple of Lord Ram is worshipped across Asia and world for his loyalty and dedication to the lord. The mighty Hanuman is now being dissected under saffron storm to find out his caste. 

Caste is an indispensable part of Indian culture, psyche and life and it detects every aspect of an individual in this country. With the rise of nationalism around the world, identity politics is at its zenith again. Speaking at an election campaign in Alwar district of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said Lord Hanuman was a dalit (member of the lowest caste in the Indian traditional caste system). His comments have triggered a political row prompting the Congress to blame the BJP for its “dual face”.

The reason behind calling him dalit

Apart from obvious attempt to gain dalit patronage what is striking about that whole slugfest was ascribing caste identities to the Gods. The saffron-clad leader is trying to woo dalits, which is indicative of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) changing political strategy for the elections. BJP, the Hindu nationalist party’s traditional vote back consists of pre-dominantly upper caste Hindus. According to the Hindu caste-system, dalits are the lowest of section of people whose job is to serve upper-caste masters and do unwanted and perilous tasks such as manual scavenging, cremating corpse and skinning dead cows. While executing the last job, dalits were attacked and thrashed by right-wing cow vigilantes again and again. Last year, the video of four dalit men getting beaten surfaced online and it sparked a massive outrage and organised protest in the city of Una in Gujarat, led by dalit activist Jignesh Mevani. Because of these assaults, a sense of anxiety and distrust runs within the dalits despite having a Prime minster who projects his OBC identity every now and then, and a President who is the first dalit President of India. These instances of tokenism have failed to secure a solid support-base among dalits and other downtrodden classes. Many recurring attempts of salvaging a rapport with the dalits have gone in vain. Even this attempt of Yogi has backfired as Devashish Jharaira, a dalit Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh, has demanded that the UP chief minister appoints dalits as priests in Hanuman temples.

Who was Lord Hanuman?

Pavan, the Hindu wind god was Hanuman’s father. He was born near Anjani Cave in southern Gujarat. There are multiple speculations regarding his caste. Some say, he is ‘Vanara Shreshtha’ or the greatest among the monkeys. He is not a human entity. Therefore, the caste-system doesn’t apply to him. Several leaders from Sangh Parivar (family of Hindu nationalist organisations) have made it clear, Hanuman Chalisha (popular text available on Lord Hanuman) clearly mentions, he is a Brahmin because he carries a Janeu or a scared thread. In India, Brahmins carry a sacred thread as a symbol of their purity.

In the recent divisive milieu, there has been a tendency to identify divine personas into specific caste identities. Caste strife in India has a thousand years of gruesome history. As society is slowly shedding antiquated ideas of caste, there are more attempts to reinforce those identities from the religious hardliners. Yogi’s recent skit was an epitome of it.

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