Should Hindus be ashamed of caste discrimination

The washing of the feet

Nowhere in the world - with the exception of Switzerland - votes are taken as often as in India. A robust electoral commission ensures that politicians do not use their state institutions for their party's election campaigns. During the official election campaign, they are also not allowed to announce new programs that can be understood as vote bait.

Election promise

What does this mean in the times of Narendra Modi? He only lets the election advertise at the last moment, leaving only one month for the actual election campaign. The Code of Conduct with its numerous restrictions came into force on Sunday, and the first urns will open on April 12th.

Before that, it was business as usual and it rained election promises. Not a day went by without a bridge being inaugurated, a new law for maternity leave announced, the farmers promised that they would receive fertilizer discounts, the businessmen that they could make cheap write-offs, the teachers that they could expect wage increases, became harbors opened, parcel centers, train stations, bridges, subways, school laboratories.

According to NDTV, the prime minister attended 186 openings in the past two months. A new national film archive? The PM has inaugurated it! A new rail terminal in Bombay? The PM's smiling face is emblazoned above the announcement. A new ammunition factory - the PM lays the foundation stone. There was a political event at least once a day, and the bastard NaMo made sure its invectives land on the front page.

Unpopular BJP

The February 14 terrorist attack in Kashmir came just in time. Why do Pakistan and the terrorist groups succeed in such attacks? Because the opposition slept, because their criticism of parliament undermines the will to defend themselves, because they dance at all weddings with politicians from the neighboring country.

Is there even a party called the BJP, are there any specialist ministers, are there party bosses? Only when the need calls for it, for example when someone has to step in when Modi's flying office didn't make it through the last event of the day.

The explanation is simple: local elections, which took place recently, and opinion polls show that the BJP is unpopular, in contrast to its draft horse, whose national popularity remains high. Only the hasty panting about from one camera appointment to the next is suspicious - at the end of the day, does Modi no longer trust his own popularity?

The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad

Thanks to divine providence, the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad also fell during the pre-election period this time. The more than sixty million visitors from all regions of India were able to return to their villages with memories and images that would benefit the Hindu party.

The provincial government had ensured in good time that the Muslim name of the city disappeared next to the confluence of the Ganges, Jamuna and the mythical Saraswati: Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj. Accommodation, waste disposal, transport and security were planned so well this time that foreign visitors almost missed the usual mixture of dirt, chaos and religious fervor.

It goes without saying that the Prime Minister did not miss out on this campaign gift. The countless pilgrims only formed the color-intensive background for a media staging that would have its full effect on the millions of picture surfaces - cell phones, TV, billboards.

Pious Premier

The first video showed the Prime Minister praying the Arati in the evening. He swung the burning candlestick at the sound of shell horns and bells. The following morning, a prime minister flickered through social media, fully clothed, plunging into the murky water and clasping his hands in prayer. "Had the good fortune of taking a holy dip at the #Kumbh", it said under his video tweet. "Prayed for the well-being of 1300 Million Indians".

Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister of India to perform such a religiously and symbolically charged ceremony with all the authority of his office. He no longer sees himself as a representative of a secular country that avoids any religious gestures in order not to frighten off citizens of other faiths. This land - its rivers, temples, cities, mountains, and plains - is Punyabhumi, consecrated earth.

The washing of the feet

Modi had a third video broadcast. This staged gesture was also designed as a cheap way to catch votes - or could be read as such. But it was so new and daring at the same time that it could also be called revolutionary.

The short clip shows the Prime Minister in a brightly lit empty room. He is sitting on a stool, in a circle around him five poorly dressed people, all barefoot, a bowl under their feet. The scene takes place in complete silence.

Modi picks up a metal jug and pours water over the feet of the first man. He washes them with his right hand. He does the same with the other four. Then he puts the kettle away and rubs everyone's feet dry with a towel.

For Christians it is a well-known gesture of humility, it evokes the washing of Jesus' feet at the Last Supper. Catholics think of Maundy Thursday custom when a dignitary - or the Pope himself - kneels before ordinary people, as Francis did before prisoners last year.

The box taboo

As impressive as this gesture may be for Christians, it hardly suggests that the video almost left most Hindus speechless. Because what her country father did here was much more than just a gesture of humility.

It was a grave violation of a caste taboo almost as old as Indian civilization, a prohibition that cemented its social cosmos. Failure to do so was an attack on the foundations of caste thinking based on the inclusion or exclusion of social groups according to their purity or ritual pollution.

The most “tainted” are those groups that dispose of the waste from the human body. They are not just Dalits, but the lowest caste among the Dalits (they too often practice (sub) caste discrimination).

Strictly speaking, they don't even have a name, so they are socially non-existent and are classified as "invisible". The architecture of Indian houses is designed so that the paths between them and caste Hindus do not cross.

To this day toilets have two doors, even in small Indian apartments, with a separate entrance for "these people". Classical treatises prescribe how one must ritually cleanse oneself again when there has been an exchange of eyes, shadows or even contact.


Even the constitution's outlawing of this practice has done little to remove this stigma. And now comes India's most powerful man, a representative of precisely these traditional values. He sits on a lower chair than these "Sanitation Workers" and touches the dirtiest part of their anatomy (because the feet come into contact with all dirt).

As if to intensify this self-humiliation, Modi washes the feet of a group of five - two of them are women. No Indian man touches a woman's feet unless (according to the political scientist Peter d’Souza in an analysis of this scene in the news portal it is a question of a person of religious respect or an elderly family member.

A taboo lives from the fact that it applies without exception. Once broken, it loses the nimbus of its insurmountability. The same applies to the motive: Modi may only have thought of the votes of the Dalits when he decided to take this step. But once done and disseminated by a news agency, it can no longer be undone.

More than a mere election calculation

I doubt Modi went that far just for election reasons. Box taboos have become so deeply flesh and blood in Hindus that the gesture must have cost Modi physical conquest. He had to expect that this display of self-humiliation would physically affect millions of his followers as well.

Modi, the savior of Hindu culture - suddenly its gravedigger? I do not think so. Many Hindus, especially Brahmins, for whom such box taboos have literally become flesh and blood, are ashamed of them today. They would like to see a change in this inhuman - in the end racist - attitude, even if they are unable to jump over this shadow themselves.

So it could well happen that Modi will win many Dalit votes with his extraordinary gesture of humility. Perhaps he can also count on the gratitude of many Hindus for giving them the courage to finally burn out this Lady Macbeth stain of the Indian caste society.