Once upon a Sunday of 2014 at Lord’s, Ravindrasinh Anirudhsinh Jadeja marked his maiden test fifty against England with a celebration the London cricket ground had never witnessed before, of wielding his bat like a swordsman would wield his sword. The rivalry between Jimmy Anderson and Jadeja had hijacked the series and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had unlike himself taken an official stand for his player.
Smack came a boundary off a sledging Anderson’s bowling and the Indian crowd went insane. Chants filled the stadium with ‘Oh Ravi Jadeja’. I remember as I too sang along my television. Finally, the moment came when Anderson came out to the crease. Sir Jadeja, who gave India a winning lead that day, ended the match by running him out and had his revenge.
On April 12 2020, Jadeja was cheered again for his swordsmanship by his fans, this time swinging the sword itself in a video on Twitter. A sword may lose its shine, he said, but would never disobey its master. He added a hashtag: Rajputboy. But knowing Twitter, it was routine for people to troll him and by extension, the entire Rajput community. What are you proud of? You lost relevant wars! Privileged flaunting his caste and sword. It’s bigotry. Wearing your caste on your sleeve.
An article by The Print came next with the following:
“Ravindra Jadeja’s hashtag ‘Rajput boy’ is offensive and hurts the sentiments of every Indian who is working to improve the lives of those discriminated against on the basis of caste and end this culture,” wrote the journalist.
Weapon worship or Shastra Pujan on Dussehra is one of the oldest traditions followed by the Rajput community in India. It is a part of Indian culture. Kshatriyas, the warriors, consider it their Dharma to fight and defend their motherland. Moreover, during Shraadh rituals, Hindus pay homage and gratitude to their ancestors.
The journalist suggested that the entire caste shouldn’t feel proud of the past “individual” brave actions of the kings. But why did they commit those individual acts? Was it not because they were performing their Kshatriya Dharma, trained to fulfil warrior duties for the society of the time? If associating with that culture is problematic, should Hindus stop revering their ancestors during Shraadhs as well?
The tradition of swordsmanship is exercised by men and women alike among the community. It is a familiar sight across cultural events in India, like any other Indian martial arts. Jadeja even brandished the sword at his Sangeet ceremony. The argument that he can’t display his sword skills because he associates it with his caste, appears fragile. Jadeja associates with a remarkable heritage. Why must he give up a skill merely because it is an upper-caste tradition? Is keeping up with harmless traditions and culture of one’s caste, casteism?
Stranger are the parallels drawn. The barbarous, inhuman Mughals, who displayed no respect to laws of warfare, are compared to fearless and honourable Rajput kings who pardoned their enemies with second lives when so pleaded (censured today) and kept their word once delivered. All to defend their people from genocide. Adharmic and rapist Ravana, the abductor of Mata Sita, is compared to Kshatriya Dharma, which unlike Mughal leadership, never forced women to harems after winning battles.
Equating Kshatriya varna with such historical villains betrays an incomplete understanding of varna and jati in India. The discrimination that befell the social order is undeniable. However, it is casteism, not caste itself or caste-based discrimination and not mere identification to a caste, which is condemnable.
Jadeja’s acknowledgement of his caste demeans the sports culture, informs the journalist, granting him the little credit of awareness that honour for players is owed to skill and not castes. Yet in the past, when Indian player Parvez Rasool hid a liquor brand sponsor’s logo on his jersey citing it against his religion, was he being discriminatory? He isn’t the only one either; South Africa’s Hashim Amla had once refused to play till a beer company’s logo was removed from his jersey.
Who would have imagined it wouldn’t be general knowledge that the board is not interested in how well Jadeja swings the sword but how well he spins the ball and smacks it away to boundaries. Jadeja’s video outside the world of cricket was not an audition for the selection committee.
Should Sachin Tendulkar, a Brahmin, wield his bat like Lord Parshurama who wiped out Kshatriyas, demands the journalist. However, it’s also true that Lord Parshurama himself directed Lord Rama–a Kshatriya–to destroy all the merits gained from his Tapasya. Further, when Sachin Tendulkar played his last test match, as the entire country watched, he bowed down to touch the 22 yards with gratitude. He regards the pitch as a temple that gave him everything.
The Print article did raise an essential point that celebrities shouldn’t encourage casteist sentiments abusing their influence. They should indeed refrain from validating casteism. To keep that in check, we even have an SC/ST Protection Act in place which holds caste-based discrimination a punishable offence. Jadeja’s Twitter post is neither illegal nor discriminatory unless we have reached a point of intolerance where he can’t even sport a tilak on his forehead as that’s something Rajput kings would wear before leaving for war and is bound to offend sentiments and sanction casteism. Every caste has a culture. What is next? Should Punjabis stop discussing sarson da saag and makke di roti? Should Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj never be invoked by Maharashtrians?
Jadeja simply demonstrated a skill he’s attached to for which his Kshatriya ancestors are fondly remembered. But the journalist equates him to “good-for-nothing” people enjoying credit for someone else’s work owing to a common caste. She questions his contribution to Rajputana valour. Jadeja fields like a soldier on the ground and is an asset to his team, but should he run with his sword to the LOC whenever Pakistan violates the ceasefire? What similarity in contributions to “Rajputana valour” of the past is the journalist expecting of him today? Why should respecting democracy imply for him a rejection of his lineage?
The allrounder was not born with a silver spoon. He lived with his parents and two sisters in a one-room employee flat given to his nurse mother while his father worked as a security guard. When he was only eight-years-old, Jadeja chose the Cricket Bungalow instead of a boarding army school.
His caste didn’t get him where he is today, and no one knows that better than Jadeja himself. No “privilege” of being upper-caste was the grounds for his selection. The struggling man, who would go for practice with Rs 10 in his pocket, is every inch self-made. To call him “good for nothing” is insulting.
As for the comments on his “eccentricities” or “oddities” as “revealed” by Virat Kohli on a comedy show years ago, one finds no caste angle in the narration. We have also seen the skipper esteem Jadeja’s ability on the field, what Kohli thinks regarding Jadeja’s fielding or his bowling and his value to the Indian side. That–not Jadeja’s personal beliefs about shifting buildings, horoscopes or superstitions or even his personality traits like bragging–matter.
Jadeja, who the journalist indicates as a “habitual offender” is apparently found boasting of his caste. Yet none of it is an obstacle in his performance on the field, for which spectators and experts of the sport continue to applaud him. BCCI has enough issues without creating where none exist by taking disciplinary actions against Jadeja based on unqualified opinions.
Another comparison is drawn between the caste system and racism in the article. However, Sanatan Dharma had occupational varnas, not castes based on birth. There was no hierarchy in the varna system, only a division of labour. Before the ‘Colonial Conception’ of caste, as Raj Vedam states, was forced on the Indic jati-varna system it used to be fluid. It turned inflexible and hierarchical only after contributions from contemporary Indian policies and media narratives, as people began dissociating from caste identities to appear progressive. “Ironically it was this identity that helped them survive centuries of persecution,” Vedam remarks. But this persecution, to begin with, is still not acknowledged.
This misunderstood caste system, scholars argue, is courtesy of a misinterpretation of literature. Similar analyses against Ambedkar’s view on a casteless society are not uncommon in the discourse either. Nevertheless, as Dr Koenraad Elst simplifies what Sri Aurobindo stressed; while it may have been precise for the past, the current Hindu society should adjust with the modern age. And this as per Elst also finds resonance in the Hindutva discourse. Yet the distorted version of caste is unendingly used to attack Hindus.
Ad hominem attacks on the cricketer have unveiled how not demonstrating swordsmanship like Rajputs, but his identifying with gallant warriors who defended Bharat from Mughal invaders is a point of dispute. The hidden objection is that he supported BJP in 2019 and that Ravindrasinh Jadeja remains rooted in Indian culture while asserting his religious identity. How dare he be an unapologetic Hindu?
The headline of The Print article provides unsolicited advice that Ravindra Jadeja should stop being a Rajput boy and grow up to be a cricketer. Anyone with a slight knowledge of cricket would laugh it off. Instead of giving stats for the man Shane Warne called a rockstar, I conclude with the following quote by the great Sir Jadeja himself from July 3, 2019, addressing Sanjay Manjrekar:
“Still I have played twice the number of matches you have played, and I’m still playing. Learn to respect people who have achieved. I have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea.”