Views of an Orthodox Acharya

by Majordasan
excerpted from KUMUDAM-A Tamil magazine
translated by Vanbakkam C. Vijayaraghavan

We asked Maha Mahopadhyaya Si Agnihotra Ramanuja Thathacari (aged 96), who as the author of many books on Vedas is known as a Vedic authority, on issues of law banning religious conversions, its political opposition, support from many spiritual persons, Karunanidhi's 'Hindu is a thief' comment. That genius began to talk like an open flood.

From that:

"Anti-conversion ordinance is very wrong, law enables a man to live as per his religion, that is an individual right. This ordinance indirectly violates that right. If a man changes his religion, it punishes those helping him/her.

If the idea is to strenghthen the religious belief of a person, it must punish one who converts; instead of that, punishing someone helping him is unfair. Only if you say that the change of religion is a crime, then helping him doing so is a crime. This prevents a man's rights.

It is difficult to make out the reason for rushing this hasty ordinance. It is clear it is politically motivated. It is politically advantageous to suddenly spring this ordinance and quickly pass it. If you look at it from the point of view of religion and society, if the social rule is to punish those who want to change religion, then you must also punish those who have those religious and sectarian ideas.

In a democracy people's opinion are most important. In such a situation only one religion must hold sway. But under the Indian conditions, you cannot have a principle like that. The basic intention of this ordinance is to prevent Harijans from going over to another religion.

This is a recent negative developement. Where were the the Harijans who want to change their religion so far, what conditions they were/are in; that is what we must consider. To discard religious strictures does not equate to change of religion.

In India, the jati discipline, which has religious sanction, kept a good section of the society as Untouchables. For thousands of years, those communities were ostracised. Jati rules do maintain that Harijans are Untouchables. How does a man become untouchable to another man?

It is believed that the rules made by Brahmins were in vogue till recently. Politics also gave a place to that. In those bygone days, if a society said some were to be ostracised, there was nothing with that.

Brahminism still stands on jati-based rules. So, the Brahmin still hankers after no change of religion by anyone. That is why a lot of Harijans live under Brahminical discipline. The political Constitution abolished untouchability; but Brahminism has not come to terms with that. That is why the Untouchables have realised they are not getting justice under Brahminism, have broken those rules and started a new era. To prevent it is a sinful act. It simply means the the status of Untouchables should continue as it as. That is against basic people's rights.

One can further say that such an anti-conversion ordinance is cruel and fraught with terror. It simple tries to prevent those who have been kept on the sidelines for thousands of years and want to better their lives. If they (government) are bold enough, they can even bring a law saying "Harijans should live as they do now, any change will be punished".

In a democracy, everyone has a right to live as he/she pleases. The constitution provides freedom of action. But your action should not oppose the general society. Mahatma Gandhi fought against the Untouchability which has support of the Brahminical jati rules. Before him Ramanuja did the same. But nobody listened to them. Even the (low) births of ThiruppaN Azhwar and Nathanar were not respected by the people.

Till India got freedom, Brahminical rules were in practice. But in a democratic constitution, they were rejected. For 50 years, Harijans have progressed on their own. But because of brahminical influence, they could not progress fully. They were unable to approach Brahminical establishment or a temple. They were waiting for 50 years. But Brahminism has not accepted their demands. That is why they want to go away from (Hindu) society and join religions which offer them equality. It will be good if Brahmins acknowledge and accept their uprising.

But Brahmins are not willing to accept it, Brahminism is not ready for it. They insist that Harijans stay where they are. Books such as Manu Shastra which underpin Brahminism were the law till yesterday, kept the Harijans away and ostracised them and their descendents. Over the course of time, if Brahminism also does not undergo a change where will the Harijans go? That is why they get ideas of changing religion. Harijans don't want to remain Untouchables, that is why they think of changing their religion. But this (anti-conversion) law in practice insists that they remain Untouchables. It amounts to insisting that those who want to come out of untouchability should be punsihed.

As per this law, it is a crime to propagate religions. But it is also unfair that religion which reinforce differences should also be propagated. The religious mutt heads who spoke in the public meeting in the beach are preventing individual rights. They must be prosecuted first under the new law.

His open letter to Jayendra Saraswati

Request in the Presence of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam Jagadguru Jayendra Saraswati Swami

On seeing Karunanidhi's, the Tamil leader, answer in a Tamil daily, I thought I should not look the other way and write this letter. I am not in a position to come to you and make the request. (Late) Paramacharya got a place in world history and everyone's applause. The South Indian Mutt heads association was started by him and guided by him. I was a representative of that for a long time and myself and Musiri advocate Krishna Rao were its secrataries. Before that, we worked along with late Dharma Rakshamani Balasubramaniam and got safegaurds for mutts and other religious establishments in the Constitiution. Paramacharya made history. In that connection, myself and the District Judge N.S.Parthasarathy Aiyer went to Sringeri, had a darshan of that Acharya and gave him the opinions of Kanchi Acharya.

We told him "Varnasrama must live. We must also make sure that religious organizations for the propagation of the same (varnasrama) are supported." In those days, Congress was the only political force in the Independence Movement. That was in the hands of Brahmins and those who supported varnasrama. So, those in favour of abolishing varnasrama made reform movements and propagated that Untouchaility based on jati and varnasrama be abolished.

Varnasramis calling themselves sanatanis opposed that (reformists). They said "Jati system is superior, only that is changeless and Brahmins must lead it" and opposed Gandhi also. since the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam was based in Kumbakonam in those days, to support him (Paramacharya) a faction was formed in Kumbakonam and propagted Sanatanis ideas. Then we occasionally met Gandhi and conveyed to him our Sanatani's opposition.

Mahatma said "If you want a new society, forget varnasrama; those books say if you see an Untouchable keep away from him and don't give him a place to stay in the village. This varnasrama way of life is cruel" and also told us, "Are you not ashamed to speak like this?"

That is why in the Constitution a provision was made to abolish Untouchability. Then we were of the opinion that varnasrama should rule and nothing (no law) should be made against it. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said "In free India, there is no place for varnasrama, to abolish that we have added anti-Untouchability provisions."

At that time Dr. Ambedkar was writing the Constitution, we had to convey to him to give assurances for holding religious beliefs and religious organizations. Late Allladi Krishnaswami Aiyer asked me to personally convey to Ambedkar my ideas (about religious safegaurds).

As Secratary of All India Mutt Association, I along with late Madras advocate Champakesa Iyengar met him. I was surprised by Ambedkar's words. This is what he said, "I am also a religious man, believer in god. But jati Hindus like you have not accepted that". This brought tears to my eyes.

Even though the Constitution has prohibited Untouchability, since varnasrama is deeply rooted among the people, people did not listen to him. That is why he joined Buddhism. He was born in a poor, Untouchable family. From his time untouchability has gone up by ten times. When jati Hindus ostracised him on varnasrama grounds, no one can forget Christian missionaries going to his support.

Even though it was prohibited by law, no religious leader came forward to them and gave a lifting hand. Today's situation is that both politicians and religious people demean them and ostracise them. Varnasramis still want to keep them out of temples. In the time of Kamaraj, it was (in)famous when he asked his cabinet member , Harijan leader Kakkan, not to enter temples.

Now Jayalalitha is bringing a law to ban conversion. It punishes only the man trying to convert another man, it does not punish convertee himself. That is what Karunanidhi condemned. Since you are taking a political position, you are condemning Karunanidhi. I can't understand whether you mean Untouchables should remain so all the time without any conversion.

If this is ordinary political issue, nobody will bother. But since this (untouchability) is based on varnasrama, unless we can proclaim that we have given up varnasrama, it won't help Untouchables. Unless we have a meeting in (Madras) Beach (famous for big meetings) and proclaim, "We have abolished varnasrama", this matter won't rest.

Ramanuja Thathachari