Ambedkar’s Strategy for a Casteless Society
“A just society is that society in which ascending sense of reverence and descending sense of contempt is dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society”
-Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Caste has perennially been a crucial part of organizing Hindu society. These are groups of people organised together by subtle distinctions of birth, occupation and intermarriage. Its practices have been debated intensely during all the years of modern India as this system of castes has resulted in an elaborate social gradation phenomenon involving discrimination and atrocities towards the Shudras and Ati Shudras – the lowest caste groups. Their communities’ struggles had a champion named Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who was also one of the most formidable intellectual personalities of the time. He strongly opposed the institution of caste and has given innumerable arguments questioning the logic behind it on one hand and a practical as well as an essential strategy to torpefy it on the other.
The Question on Caste
Ambedkar wrote a speech-turned-essay known as The Annihilation of Caste which is widely considered as his magnum opus. It questions the logic behind the organization of caste and calls for its erasure from Indian society. He rejected all the arguments which defend caste as purportedly being a mere division of labour or for eugenic reasons. Ambedkar expresses the notion of caste as division of labourers arbitrary as there is no consideration of an individual’s natural aptitude or dexterity. Also, he has dismissed the rationale for securing a ‘pure race’ because of two reasons – firstly, according to various researches and evidence, especially the one by Mr. D. R. Bhandarkar’s paper "Foreign Elements in the Hindu Population", there is no caste in India to be devoid of a foreign strain in it, and secondly, that a eugenic defence for caste has no logic of any discrimination other than inter-marriage. Babasaheb Ambedkar has given a multitude of illustrations of caste-based discriminations and atrocities which could not draw any defence from the advocates of caste.
A Casteless Society
Babasaheb believed that caste is one of the biggest obstacles impeding Hindus from excelling as a whole society. His vision was of a nation that is politically as well as socially democratic, and envisioning a casteless society was his cardinal strategy for the same. With the deep entrenchment of caste in the society, there can be no mobilization of the people and any reforms or new structure based on it shall be predestined to crack. He further expressed contempt for the concept of chaturvarnya accepted by Arya Samaj and even Mahatma Gandhi, which divided Hindu society into four varna – Brahmin (cultivating knowledge), Kshatriya (Bearing arms and ruling), Vaishya (Traders) and Shudras (Serving). This system was neither foolproof nor knave-proof and could lead to the perpetual suffering of the depressed classes.
Three Weapons of Emancipation
As a member of an untouchable community himself, Ambedkar faced many caste-based discriminations. He compared the caste system with water-tight compartments, where each a person has been given a set place but cannot escape it; here the Shudras are assigned a perdurable life of service and oppression. Such social classification was also present in other countries but the lower classes in Hindu society have been disabled to the hilt. Being deprived of any opportunity ensures that the idea of the relation of the upper three varnas or the tryavarnikas as the guardian of the Shudras is claimed to be natural, but under rational scrutiny is antithetical to reality.
In European society, the lowermost class came together to perform revolutions for their emancipation. This was because the European lower class, despite their harsh condition, had three weapons that empowered them – physical weapons, dealing with hard power or being with the state’s army, political power, and education as a moral function. Blocking all three ways for the depressed classes has resulted in their debilitated state leading them to accept lifelong servitude. Ambedkar believed in providing all these to the lower castes. He advocated the policy of reservation for the lower castes in the legislature, cabinet and government services. He exclaimed the mantra for the struggle of the depressed classes for the reclamation of their human personality by saying “Educate, agitate and organise!”.
Inter-Marriage and Inter-Dining as Annihilators of Caste
Caste’s notion of dividing the society into groups have required them not to violate their own caste by inter-marriages and inter-dining. Ambedkar felt that although inter-dining can be used to fade away the caste-identity, its efficacy shall always be negligible. However, when it comes to the process of inter-marriage, Babasaheb made a sanguine statement of it being another “real remedy” for the annihilation of caste. The effect of inter-caste marriage seeds the feeling of association among people from different caste groups. The blood-fusion initializes a series of processes of the progeny stemming from which the separatist feelings shall vanish. Inter-dining can play an important role too, in encouraging the exchange of different thought processes.
Questioning the Divine Origin
Another important aspect that Ambedkar realised in the functioning of this fiendish caste structure was that it was given a legitimising sanction of divine origin owing to its presence in the various Dharmashastras. He explained that it was pronounced in those shastras that its provisions are above the ambit of being questioned and examined on grounds of rationality. Any attempt at reasoning is considered a parlous crime equivalent to atheism. Crucially, caste has existed as a notion in the minds of the people and is not tangible. Hence, Ambedkar theorized that “The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras… Make every man and woman free from the thraldom of the Shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.”
He has written and endeavoured extensively against such texts which promote or provide the mandate to divide the people into castes and enable the humans’ inhumanity towards humans. A reform has two ammunitions – reason and morality, and the divine origin of the caste denies both. It is therefore realised that destroying caste must go hand in hand with striking at the root of its very purity.
Ambedkar’s Interpretation of Hindu Religion as a Legal System
Babasaheb mentioned how religion should differentiate between principles and rules and confine itself only to the principles. While Hinduism has enlarged its scope to embrace a multitude of rules and regulations, which ultimately takes the position of law, Ambedkar opposed the taking over of the legal system by the Hindu shashtras as according to him, they can’t, as described earlier, be questioned nor are they backed by rationality nor morality. He opines on Hinduism in his Annihilation of Caste:
“The first evil of such a code of ordinances, misrepresented to the people as Religion, is that it tends to deprive moral life of freedom and spontaneity, and to reduce it (for the conscientious, at any rate) to a more or less anxious and servile conformity to externally imposed rules. Under it, there is no loyalty to ideals; there is only conformity to commands. But the worst evil of this code of ordinances is that the laws it contains must be the same yesterday, today, and forever. They are iniquitous in that they are not the same for one class as for another. But this iniquity is made perpetual in that they are prescribed to be the same for all generations. The objectionable part of such a scheme is not that they are made by certain persons called Prophets or Law-givers. The objectionable part is that this code has been invested with the character of finality and fixity. Happiness notoriously varies with the conditions and circumstances of a person, as well as with the conditions of different people and epochs.”
Ambedkar has actively mentioned in his writings that the Hindu religion is incorrectly named as a religion as its elaborate definitions, protocols, rules and commands make it eligible to be called a Law. The idea of Law must be associated with change and therefore alterations in the practices won’t mean changes to the religion. His views on religion have been classified as controversial but he continued expressing them with all the spirit. He advocated that the priesthood be abolished in Hinduism. If that cannot be agreed upon then it should be a post based on qualification and not on the basis of inheritance. This is in alignment with the concept of the Vedas, Shastras and Puranas as legal texts and their interpreters and preachers must pass an eligibility test.
Babasaheb Ambedkar has been seen as the chief visionary of the anti-caste movement in India. His intellectual ability along with the Herculean spirit for the cause is acknowledged and respected by all. His views have been debatable and controversial due to their absolute starkness. In the Annihilation of Caste, he underlined the extreme difficulties the cause shall face, as the struggle for it is against the nation, despite it being a national cause. His ferocious exclamations, backed by reason, practicalities and facts led to the conclusion that destroying caste is extremely exigent as the most influential and intellectual class – Brahmins - are hostile towards the movement. He quotes Prof. Dicey on this - “The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist”.
Ambedkar concludes that annihilation of caste is “well-nigh impossible” and that the untouchables must find their own way of salvation. He led the path by declaring his conversion to Buddhism, a religion that promulgates Pragya (wisdom), Karuna (compassion) & Samta (equity). His concluding lines in The Annihilation of Caste are self-explanatory of his views :
“…I refuse to join with them in performing the miracle—I will not say trick—of liberating the oppressed with the gold of the tyrant, and raising the poor with the cash of the rich…”
By Avanindra Yadav