Annihilation of Caste
Author: Dr. B. R. AmbedkarBook Link: Amazon
Table of Contents
- Political Reform vs Social Reform
- Social consolidation as a precursor to political consolidation
- Eugenic and Biological Reasons
- Hindus as a society
- Anti-social nature of caste
- Missionary Hinduism
- Unity in Hindus
- Caste hinders Reform
- Effect of Caste on Ethics
- Alternatives to Caste
- Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (concepts)
- Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (administration)
- Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (inter-class relations)
- Other Objections
- To neutral parties in the caste debate
- How to annihilate the caste
- Chances of success
- Using Reason against Caste
- Destruction of Religion
- Proposed Reforms for Hinduism
- Rethinking Hinduism
Political Reform vs Social Reform
- The Indian independence movement started with a movement for Political Reform and for social reform. The social reform was eventually pushed back as it was felt that the social backwardness should not be used by the British to deny the political power to Indians. Ambedkar gives multiple examples of caste oppression asks and if one country is not supposed to rule the other, what justifies a class oppressing the other class. In such a prevailing situation how justified is an upper caste Hindu in asking for independence based the principle of dignity and liberty when he does not afford the same to the untouchables.
Social consolidation as a precursor to political consolidation
- Next, he gives multiple examples from around the world, of Irish Home rule (Ulster vs North) and the Rome (Plebeians and the Patricians). He also highlights the role played by Mohammad, Buddha and Nanak in unifying society before people could be united politically to emphasize the importance of social solidarity. Underlying social realities cannot be wished away.
- He states that the socialists believe that reforms mean equal distribution of property since economic power is the only manifestation of power but instead as numerous examples would point that a penniless fakir often commands greater power than a rich merchant because of his higher social status, thereby underscoring the importance of social power.
- He gives the example of plebeians and patricians where even though plebeians had right to a representative, the appointment was subject to approval of the oracle whose wishes were communicated by priests who were patricians and therefore a plebeian leader who would work for plebeians was never elected because of their faith in the system.
- The economic argument works in (then) present day Europe because money is the source of power but the same is not true in India or (then) past Europe where religion and society was the currency of power.
- Therefore, whatever is the currency of power at a given time and society, should be open to reform.
- He argues that the socialist dream is incomplete without a social reform because equality amongst classes or even fraternity among the poor will not exist unless the creases of caste are removed. Even if by a stroke of luck, socialists are able to bring their revolution of class equality, to sustain the equality that they dream of they will have to fight the caste after their revolution. Therefore, there is no scenario wherein the fight against caste can be ignored.
- To defenders of caste system who argue that it is a division of labor, he argues that the problem is not the division but the hierarchy of the labor where a man's labor determines his social position.
- Moreover, since caste structures are rigid, they inhibit the free movement of labor which in turn dampens out efficiency as an economy. Also, caste system makes division of labor or choice of career predestined as opposed to a personal decision, leading to suffering.
Eugenic and Biological Reasons
- Sometimes eugenic argument is given for caste as preserving the purity of bloodlines and races but no group on earth is pure. The caste does not unite or provide an evidence of affinity between a brahmin of Bengal and a Brahmin of Punjab, instead it divides a Brahmin of Punjab and a chamar of Punjab. And even if caste preserved racial purity, what use it is? Humans after all are one species and racial purity in by no means is an advantage from a biological or evolutionary point of view.
- If one were to still accept the eugenic argument as a basis for creation of caste to segregate races, what could be the cause for creation of sub-castes? What racial segregation is attempted there? When different members of a caste are prevented from dining together, what purpose is achieved from a eugenic point of view?
- "A tree should be judges by the fruits it yields." Therefore, if the current stock of Indian population is not the best in the world, what is the benefit of such a system.
Hindus as a society
- Caste has not conferred any benefit on Hindus in any sense, al it has done is to divide Hindus. What this has meant that different caste groups in India live in proximity to each other but there is no cohesion among them. Their clothes and food vary. Even if they are similarities that does not imply anything. A society is when people mingle, when they communicate, but that is not true of Hindus.
- In fact, Hindus historically have not even seen themselves as one religion or community. The name was given by Arabs who wished to distinguish themselves from the native and the Hindus themselves were happy living their own segregated lives.
Anti-social nature of caste
- Caste instills a sense of animosity. A person does not look for welfare of his caste or his sub-caste, but rather the dominant aim is to protect and segregate what he has got from others who are not like him. Hindus thus are not an assortment of castes, but a collection of warring groups.
- Another outcome is the reliving of past. Caste does not let a person forget what happened to his forefathers and who did it. He still holds a grudge against the descendants of those who hurt his forefathers. This is not seen in other parts of the world.
- Thanks to caste system Hindus have never tried to "civilize" savages that live all over the country because this would involve loving and caring from them, welcoming them into your fold. A casteist Hindu's only aim is to preserve his caste and not the broader welfare and as such when such savages are civilized by other faiths who are considered enemies of Hindus, the Hindus know who to be blamed.
- Hinduism is not missionary in the present, but it is very difficult to refute that it was missionary at some point in time given that it spread all over the subcontinent. The cause for the halt of missionary activities might be caste system as no one knows where the new converts must be placed. Moreover, since castes are autonomous in nature no caste can be forced to accept new converts into its fold.
- As long as caste remains, Hinduism cannot be made missionary.
Unity in Hindus
- Unlike Muslims or Sikhs, Hindus are seen as cowards. The so-called tolerance of others, or the lack of fundamentalism in Hindus is also due to the fact that Hindus have no sense of sangathan because of the caste. A Sikh or a Muslim can rely on his brethren to rescue him no matter the situation, but Hindus are so divided because of the caste that will not come to each other's rescue resulting in no unity.
Caste hinders Reform
- "The assertion by the individual of his own opinions and beliefs, his own independence and interest – over and against group standards, authority ad interests – is the beginning of all reform."
- But since caste has the power to excommunicate a person, the reform will never be there as man has a need for social acceptance. Moreover, even if a man is courageous enough to express his opinion the reforms are contingent on the fact that the group does not harass him. Since caste is not interfered by the law, the castes function autonomously and therefore suppresses the reform autonomously.
Effect of Caste on Ethics
- Since caste boxes everyone and limits them, there is public spirit or public charity. A man is judged not just on his merits and ethics, but on his caste. Therefore, a Kayasta will prefer a Kayasta over a more ethical Brahmin and so on. This hinders the development of leaders and hurts public ethics, rendering Hindu society as corrupt and bankrupt over time.
Alternatives to Caste
- A world devoid of caste should be based on the principles of fraternity, liberty and equality.
- Fraternity refers to mutual respect and tolerance of others' views. This helps in spreading good progressive ideas and speed up the development of humankind.
- Liberty refers to the various freedoms enjoyed by humans. The caste by imposing various social as well as professional restrictions impinges on the liberty of individuals.
- Equality means that everyone should be treated equally. Ambedkar concedes that men are not equal in all respects and unequal efforts should be rewarded unequally. But he draws the distinction between unequal result due to unequal efforts and unequal results due to the gift of privilege to some.
- To have an equality in the purest sense we need equality in terms of fraternity and liberty first.
Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (concepts)
- Arya Samajis proposed a chaturvarna system based on worth that has four classes instead of thousands of castes and labelled them as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. But Ambedkar raises the objection to continuation of the caste names since it carries with itself the notion of caste.
- Moreover, he asks why do Hindus even need these labels? Is a European professor a lesser intellectual just because he does not have a permanent label? He disputes the idea of labeling people.
Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (administration)
- The Chaturvarna system is impractical to implement. The first problem is that since chaturvarna system is based on worth, how will a person who acquires a varna through birth be vacated of it? This requires the existing caste system to be decimated completely before a chaturvarna system is put into place.
- Secondly, the idea to box men into sharp boxes is deeply problematic. Plato gave the idea of dividing men into workers, thinkers and warriors based on their motivations, but no such system has ever been able to classify men along such sharp lines. Such a project reveals a very superficial understanding of humans.
- Third, how will the system be enforced. Will there be laws to enforce it and if a person transgresses, what will be the punishment. He gives the example of Ramayan where a man is beheaded by Rama because he wishes to elevate his status from a Shudra to a Brahmin by meditation and austerity, but as maryada murshotam Ram cannot allow someone to disobey the system.
- Finally, what is to happen to women in a chaturvarna system? Are they to adopt the varna assigned to them due to their husbands (and thus their worth does not matter)? If they are assigned varna according to their worth, how will the society reconcile the difference between the varna of a husband wife. If they are to be assigned varnas according to their husbands, then will the Hindu society accept women as priests and warriors?
Faults in Chaturvarna system of Arya Samajis (inter-class relations)
- The caste system and consequently the chaturvarna system is based on the demarcation of duties of the varnas. The Brahmin is to be concerned with knowledge, the Kshatriyas with arms and the Vaishya with wealth. The three varnas are dependent on each other and even though they may have counter interests, they operate in a system of compromise because each one wants something that others possess.
- But in this arrangement the Shudra has no bargaining power. He is to serve the other varnas and is promised to be supported by other varnas. But what if he is not supported by other varnas. What bargaining power does he have? He is thus disarmed, uneducated and without any material wealth or means to acquire it.
- This is one of the reasons why social revolutions and rebellions in India have been few. While in Europe they might have had periods of violence and social churning, the Hindu society is highly stable because it crushes any prospects of a rebellion. But this has led to amplification of suffering and a decay in the Hindu society and India as a nation.
- The one noticeable period in India's history full of freedom, greatness and glory is the Maurya Period and a significant marker of it is that it was a period when caste was totally annihilated, and people freed from the shackles that bound them.
- Chaturvarna is not new, it is as old as Vedas. The scriptures are filled with stories of animosity between Brahmin and Kshatriyas, one annihilating the other. A number of times the Kshatriyas became arrogant and tyrannical harassing every other varna. Even Krishna has an avatar whose sacred purpose was to annihilate Kshatriyas. Therefore, to bring back or support such a system exposes a lack of understanding of history.
To neutral parties in the caste debate
- Some intellectuals are silent in the caste debate choosing to stay silent and seek solace either in the fact that Hindus have survived with their way of life over millennia or by thinking that castes exist in other religious communities in India as well.
- To the latter he argues that the castes while present in other religions does not disintegrate the society. A Sikh or a Muslim identifies primarily as a believer of his religion to the external party and the castes are an internal identification that one can do without. But a Hindus social identity is incomplete without his caste. You cannot understand a Hindus views or beliefs without knowing his caste, but the same is not necessary for others. Moreover, other religious groups do not outcaste members for discarding or ignoring caste and caste related customs but in Hindus it is the central tenet of social being.
- To the former argument he asks if survival is the only metric to judge a society. Survival can be healthy filled with pride as well as glory, or it can be undignified as a surrender. Hindus have survived but the conditions which prevail in our society would put any right-minded Hindu to shame. Hindus should aspire not only to survive but to prosper, and the prosperity should be throughout the society propagated by fraternity not by exploitation.
How to annihilate the caste
- Once you have identified the caste as the problem plaguing the Hindu society the next obvious question is – How do we eliminate the caste? One proposed solution has been to abolish the sub-caste first and the abolish the castes. But this is a long process and we do not know if we will proceed with abolishing caste once sub castes have been abolished.
- Moreover, when we look at India as a whole, castes are not consistent. Brahmins of north and south do not hold the same social credit and neither are their lives similar. There are differences in food as well as thought. Same is for other castes.
- Another solution is to promote inter-dining and mingling but to force people with or without coercion is not the same as forcing change. A more potent solution is inter-caste marriage. It helps break the barriers and marriages bring people together and the resulting destruction of caste boundaries will thus be part of a positive change in people's lives.
- But one must ask, what really causes the caste to be part of a Hindu's life? Hindus are not casteist because they are fundamentally bad or illogical. They do not hate their fellow Hindu. However, it is the shastras that introduced these notions of caste divisions and made the hatred and division part of religious duty of a Hindu. As such you cannot ask a Hindu to disregard caste and forget about it, unless you take away the authority of shastras that preach such divisiveness. These shastras are what guide the behavior of Hindus and if one wishes to reform Hindus, such shastras need to be identified and discredited.
- "It is no use telling people that shastras do not say what they are believed to say, if they are grammatically read or logically interpreted." Reformers need to follow the path of Nanak and Buddha who exposed and discredited shastras which had been corrupted in public memory, who disregarded the authority of such texts.
Chances of success
- Social reforms are of various types. There are secular reforms and then there are reforms related to religion. The latter can be further divided into two type – the reform that asks society to go back to what the scriptures state and the reform that asks society to defy the scriptures. The first two types are relatively easy to undertake, but the reform asking people to defy their religion has very little chances of success as there would be significant backlash.
- Secondly, the reform would need intellectual leadership as well as support of Brahmins who enjoy the highest privileges under the current system. But the chances of Brahmin defying and giving up his own powers are miniscule. A secular Brahmin may decide to take up the mantle of reform, but his priestly kin may not support and the reformer Brahmin, it may be argued by some is not a Brahmin and may thus be shunned. "a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope, and that the man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist." An evidence of this is in the fact that while Brahmins have led the movements for political and economic reform in the country, their participation in social reform has been negligible.
- Even if we ignore Brahmin and proceed with the task of abolishing caste, there are thousands of castes in India with a detailed hierarchy defined. While any caste can celebrate the abolition of caste thereby giving it higher power and privileges than it enjoys currently, it will also have to in turn share its current power and privileges with those below it. This makes every level of this hierarchy resist the reform. Karl Marx asked workers to rise because they had "nothing to lose but chains", but the same is not true of caste Hindus.
Using Reason against Caste
- One would think that appealing to reason of Hindus could be a way, but Ambedkar gives examples of multiple texts where Hindus are asked to give preference to various shastras over reason. In case of conflicting ideas by texts, the Hindus are not directed to reason which one is correct, instead both are to be assumed as words of the wise. The exact translations that Ambedkar has used seem to be on shaky ground when compared with multiple sources, but the general essence is similar to what he has described.
- Hindus forget about caste distinctions when travelling as they have to share railway coaches and sea ships with people of other castes, and this could have been a window to get Hindus to reason out caste. But in this case, the caste system gives a free pass to Hindus and asks them to instead go for a shuddhi afterwards. This mischief ensures that a Hindu never has to think too deeply about violating caste.
- By depriving a reformer his two main weapons – reason and morality – the texts promoting caste system ensure that a reformer can never succeed in rooting out caste.
Destruction of Religion
- This might be the most controversial part of the speech and thus needs a careful examination. Ambedkar first distinguishes between Principles and Rules as the former being abstract thoughts and ideas that guide the behaviour of an individual giving him the ability to reason and take action, whereas the latter prescribes strict remedies and course of action. Actions arising out of Principles are conscious and thoughtful while those arising out of Rules are thoughtless and mechanical.
- Ambedkar advocates the destruction of religions if it is simply an amalgamation of rules devoid of any principles. He describes the Hindu dharma (as evident to him at that time) to be rigid scheme of rules devoid of any principles that would lead to thoughtful action and thus seeks an end to it. Since principles are abstract and open to interpretation and reinterpretation, they can be reasoned with, reformed, but Rules as prescribed by Manusmriti are said to continue since forever till forever and thus one has no option but to give up hope on such a rigid system. What is particularly bad for these rules is that they are not the same for all the classes and thus "there is no loyalty to ideals; there is only conformity to commands."
- Towards the end of this section, he emphasizes the point that what he wishes to destroy is the system of laws that has been promoted as a religion. Once its status as religion is revoked back to a system of laws, the society will then be in a position to amend or abolish it. Religions are not associated with change, laws are and that is what needs to be made of existing systems.
Proposed Reforms for Hinduism
- Ambedkar gives some pointers as to what, according to him, reformed Hinduism looks like:
- There should be only one book of Hindus that is acceptable to all. All other books and doctrines should cease to exist by law and be penalized.
- Priesthood should be abolished and if that is not possible it should at least not be hereditary. There should be an examination to be cleared to become a priest.
- A priest who does not hold a sanad (a certificate or diploma) cannot officiate a ceremony and someone breaking the rule should be penalized.
- A priest should be a servant of state and subject to disciplinary action of the state in the matter of his morals, beliefs, and worship, in addition to being a normal citizen.
- Number of priests should be limited by law just like IAS officers are.
- The idea that Ambedkar wants to plant here is that priesthood is a profession, just like any other profession and should be regulated just like any other profession. He also argues that currently a priest gets a privilege to officiate ceremonies just by the virtue of hereditary and his competence is not even considered. This lends priests outside the moral and legal framework.
- Ambedkar wishes to democratize Hindu religion by attacking Brahminism which perpetuates caste to continue exploitation. He wished to get rid of Brahminism to save Hinduism. He suggests using Upanishads that uphold the values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
- Ambedkar asks Hindus to ponder if it is appropriate for them to not revisit their beliefs, habits and morals and if the mere survival from the past is enough to validate what is persistent. There maybe certain aspects of Hinduism that they like, but if these aspects are causing pain to others, threatening survival of Hinduism, shouldn't it force them to rethink it.
- Secondly, Hindus need to think if they really need to everything from the past or present to the future. Not everything is meant to be conserved, and if a society does not change over time in hopes of conservation, the resistance to change will become the cause of extinction.
- Thirdly, Hindus should stop looking at past for everything. An individual lives in present and a baneful worship of the past forces the individuals to be deluded into thinking that they're living in the past and they might try to mold present as a more or less futile imitation of the past.
- Finally, Hindus should consider that change is constant and there is nothing sanatan. In a changing society, there should be a constant revolution of old ideas and revision of existing standards.
These notes are based on my reading of the book and were originally for meant for my personal use only. As such there may inadvertently contain any biases or errors. I'd be grateful if you point out errors (if any) as well as discuss any point that you may not agree with.
Just to be absolutely sure, please note that I have not proof-read these notes, but simply copied them verbatim from my notes app to cut down the time taken. At the time of writing these notes were purely for personal consumption and/or further enquiry. So if you find any sentence/reference/comment to be offensive, please contact me first before "calling me out". I'll remove it if I agree with you or at the very least will try to make my case