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  Politics of Sanskritization  
 

 

By: Tara Dhakal
March 19, 2007
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iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.

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Many of my indigenous colleagues complain that their identity and culture was lost due to the forceful imposition of alien culture which they call it Sanskritization (the imposition of Hindu culture). Sanskritization is an ethnophaulic term that is understood in negative terms. We were having a discussion on eating habits of being a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. One of my indigenous colleague said that her parents and ancestors never ate meat and put a chandan (paste from sandalwood usually put by Hindus) on their forehead and prayed every morning. She explained that her parents and ancestors were sanskritized. What it means is that in general, many indigenous people eat meat and drink very often and this habit justified by common Nepali saying “Jaat ley paako” (Accepted due to the caste/community norms). However, she mentioned that she personally avoids meat most of the times and younger generations like hers have realized that they have to do away and have done away with sanskritization to preserve their indigenous culture and identity. Thus newer generations are indulged in eating meat of all kinds, drink liquor by confining to the cultural indigenous norms that such things are accepted in their culture. My question is “if sanskritization prescribes not to eat meat and drink liquor, and to pray in the morning (to ensure discipline and spiritual satisfaction), then is this negative prescription? Isn’t this term a dichotomy here? While doing away with sanskritization younger generations that my colleague was mentioning are moving towards another……zation called the westernization so is that a safe haven that is better than sanskritization?

Upper caste Hindus are supposedly restricted (not always) to eat meat or eat pork, beef which animist believers like indigenous people are not restricted (Jaat ley paako) in which such restrictions are based on distinct norms based on caste, community or belief systems. A case in Sikkim and may be somewhere else, where the newer generations and some older generations who are upper caste Hindus (with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues as indigenous people) have broken this restriction of not being allowed to eat meat and drink liquor (Jaat ley napaako (restricted due to cultural norms) have started its consumption and have been habituated in consuming such restricted things. In case of indigenous people who do not have such cultural consumption restrictions (with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues as Hindus) are in the process of restricting themselves on such consumption habits today. If it is true that for indigenous people this is explained due to sanskritization then how do you explain if it is about Hindus?

Let’s also take another reverse situation and think backwards. In many cases, indigenous people have animist belief systems and majority of dhaami jhaankri (shamans) are mostly from indigenous communities. Shamans come from animist belief. However, many Hindu believers who live closely with such animist believers have acculturated to this animist belief and have accepted the use of shamans in case of sickness etc. There are many incidents of death of persons who have solely relied in Shamans to cure their sicknesses. My question now is, if indigenous people can call intrusion in their belief system sanskritization then what should majority Hindus call this intrusion of indigenous belief systems on them?

What has to be understood in these cases is whether such belief system is forcefully imposed or willingly accepted. In addition, whether such belief system brings harm or benefits. It should be based on logic and understood through knowledge and not always understood through the politics of sanskritization. It is very difficult to assess the forceful imposition or willingly acceptance because it lies in an individual perspective which is however shaped by the environment in which one lives. For example, many younger generations (both Hindus and indigenous) are so much negatively influenced by western culture that they are loosing their cultural values and identity that their ancestors had preserved. Thus, where do we place this western imperialism and very often we see loss of indigenous culture in vacuum and in not in relation with politics of sanskritization. What is the ….zation if indigenous beliefs are imposed on Sanskrit Hindu people?


Tara Dhakal

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