Practice Question – What are the main features of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s views on annihilation of caste? [UPSC 2013]
Approach – Introduction, Write about the political writing of Ambedkar – ‘Annihilation of Caste’, What are the features of his view on caste and his ideas for removal of caste system?, Conclusion.
Born a Dalit, formerly classified as ‘untouchable’ and placed at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste stratification, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar suffered discrimination throughout his life. After returning to India in 1936, the civil rights leader, often recognised as the architect of the Indian Constitution, in his most scholarly yet neglected political writing Annihilation of Caste denounced Hinduism and its caste system. Originally conceived as a speech for Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal, an organisation of caste Hindu social reformers, it was later published by Ambedkar himself, for the organisation refused to allow him to give his speech in the original form.
ANNIHILATION OF CASTE
Annihilation of Caste is an account of the belief that social reform has to take precedence over political and religious reform, providing instances of the tyranny practised by upper-caste Hindus on the untouchable community of India. Talking about social reform, Ambedkar highlights the need to reconstruct the Hindu society, break the caste system, and urges Hindus to admit that one caste is not fit to rule another caste. In this influential address, Ambedkar calls out the fallacy of socialists. He doesn’t reject socialism, but believes that the proletariat of India can never unite to bring about a socialist revolution and welcome economic reform. On no front will they unite as the feeling of equality, fraternity and justice can never be achieved till the time caste system prevails.
Speaking about freedom, he says the division of labour is not a division based on choice, and by not permitting the readjustment of occupations, caste becomes a monster, causing unemployment. The talk of equality stands as a fiction in Hindu society where there is no morality and rationality and excommunication is the punishment for dissent. The book argues that Hindus do not possess consciousness of kind, rather they only possess consciousness of caste and hence the history of Hinduism has been the history of defeat and darkness. No amount of sense of duty has enabled a Hindu to overcome his duty of preserving caste, which has resulted into justification of the savage state of aborigines.
Calling Chaturvarna absurd, Ambedkar says that Varna system, which has been made to safeguard people, curbs the paramount requirements of self-preservation by denying a shudra physical (freedom of military), political (against suffering) and moral (education) rights. The shudras are ill-treated by tryavarnas (brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas). The Hindus who defend the caste system saying it exists in all religions, need to know that in Hinduism, each caste has a religious sanction rather than just be a social construct.
What did Ambedkar offer as solutions to abolish the caste system?
He offered two:
- 1) Inter-caste marriages
- 2) Destruction of religious scriptures.
UNTOUCHABLES AS SONS OF SOIL
Ambedkar tried to endow the lower castes with a glorious history of sons of the soil to help them acquire an alternative – not-caste based – identity, to regain their self respect and overcome their divisions. In The Untouchables, who were they and why they became Untouchables? (1948), Ambedkar refutes Western authors explaining caste hierarchy by resorting to racial factors. If they recognised themselves as sons of the soils and Buddhists, the Untouchables could better surmount their divisions into so many jatis and take a stand together as an ethnic group against the system in its entirety. Omvedt underlines that by the end of his life Ambedkar was working on a grand theory of the origin of the Untouchables and the conflict between their civilisation and Hinduism. The notion of autochthony played a key role in this theory. Ambedkar argued that if Hindu India had been invaded by Muslims, Buddhist India had been subjugated by Brahmins outsiders much before. Omvedt considers that there was ‘a racial ethnic element in all of this, in which Ambedkar identifies his heroes to some extent with non-Aryans, for instance, arguing that the Mauryan empire was that of the Nagas.
HOW CAN UNTOUCHABILITY BE REMOVED?
Untouchability is the indication of slavery of the entire Hindu society. If the untouchables find themselves chained by the caste Hindus. the caste Hindus themselves live under the slavery of religious scriptures. Therefore, emancipation of the untouchables automatically involved emancipation of the Hindu society as a whole. Ambedkar warns that nothing
worthwhile can be created on the basis of caste. We can build neither a nation nor morality on this basis.
Under the influence of tradition the untouchables had completely surrendered to the domination of the upper castes. They had lost all spirit to fight and assert themselves. The myth of inherent pollution also considerably influenced the minds of untouchables. Therefore, it was necessary to arouse their self-respect. Untouchables should realize that they are the equals of caste Hindus. They must throw away their bondage.
Ambedkar believed that education would greatly contribute to the improvement of the untouchables. He always exhorted his followers to reach excellence in the field of knowledge. Knowledge is a liberating force. Education makes man enlightened, makes him aware of this self-respect and also helps him to lead a better life materially. One of the causes of the degradation of the untouchables was that they were denied the right to education. Ambedkar criticized the British policy on education for not adequately encouraging education among the lower castes.
Another very important remedy which Ambedkar upheld was that the untouchables should free themselves of the village community and its economic bondage. In the traditional set up, the untouchables were bound to specific occupations. They were dependent upon the caste Hindus for their. sustenance. Even for meagre returns they had to submit themselves to the
domination of caste Hindus. Ambedkar was aware of the economic dimension of their servitude. Therefore, he always insisted that the untouchables. should stop doing their traditional work. Instead, they should acquire new skills and start new professions. Education would enable them to get employment. There was no point in remaining dependent upon the village economy. With growing industrialization, there were greater opportunities in the cities.
Throughout his life Ambedkar made efforts to reform the philosophical basis of Hinduism. But he was convinced that Hinduism will not modify its disposition towards the untouchables. So, he searched for an alternative to Hinduism. After careful consideration, he adopted Buddhism and asked his followers to do the same. His conversion to Buddhism meant reassertion of his faith in a religion based on humanism. Ambedkar argued that Buddhism was the least obscurantist religion.
As a step in this direction, Ambedkar attaches much importance to political participation of the oppressed classes. He repeatedly emphasized that in the context of colonialism, it had become imperative that the untouchables gain political rights by organizing themselves politically. He claimed that by attaining political power, untouchables would be able to protect safeguards and a sizeable share in power, so that they can force certain policies on the legislature.
Marginalisation is a man-made and socio-culturally constructed process. It is legitimated and continuously reproduced through unequal structure of hierarchy and domination through the organised and institutionalised structure of class, gender caste and race. Marginality gets legitimized and reproduced through the strong institutional and normative arrangements of society to sustain the hegemony of the dominant group, to provide legitimacy to exploitation and inequality, social segregation, inequality and disempowerment.
B.R Ambedkar had a brilliant and insightful mind and diagnostic ability that always gave him great strength to search for inclusiveness for common people. His prominent political and social ideas addressed socio-cultural problems such as caste system, the pernicious practice of untouchability, gender discrimination and the emancipation of the marginalised people and open up new possibilities . He was a dynamic political theorist who devoted his whole life to the de-construction of different forms of marginalization.
His inclusiveness reinforces public and private upliftment, human dignity, honesty, equality, and liberty, rights and civic facilities for the marginalised groups in India.
In Ambedkar’s interpretation any form of marginalisation is embedded in institutional structure. He tried to rebuild Indian society by eliminating discriminative social structures. He highlights the structural and institutional actions that delimit the lives of the Dalits. He also gives prominence to their cultural oppression which means how the dominant meanings of our society stereotype marginal groups. Ambedkar’s concept of ‘Social Justice’ is a good example for his idea of ‘total inclusion’ for the marginalised people. According to him social justice stands for the liberty, equality and fraternity of all human beings. His idea of ‘Social Justice’ was progressive because it encourages rationalist and humanist feelings. He did not support any type of hypocrisy, injustice and exploitation. He wanted to establish a system based on right relations between man and man in all dimensions of his life. He believed in a social system in which man’s status is based on his merit and achievements and where no one is noble or untouchable because of his/her birth. Dr B.R. Ambedkar did not believe in violence and he considered the mass media to be a powerful tool for social changes for justice and freedom. Ambedkar was strongly concerned about the inclusive development of the
marginalised sections of Indian society.
Dr Ambedkar has tried all kind of strategies during his life for eradicating caste and, more especially, for emancipating the Dalit from this oppressive social systems. In the political domain, he promoted separate electorate, party building and public policies like reservations – and did not hesitate to collaborate with the ruler of the time – be it the British or the Congress for having things done. In the social domain, he militated in favour of reforms at the grass root level – education being his first goal – and reforms by the state – as evident
from the Hindu code bill. More than sixty years later, his contribution to the making of modern India is possibly more substantial than that of any other leader of his generation. He has not only prepared the ground for a silent revolution, but has also played a key role in the drafting of the Constitution of India which has set the terms for the development of the
world largest democracy.