Locating Dalits in the “Annihilation of Caste”
The point raised by him left me in deep thinking about what should be the primary aims and programme of Dalit movement if not the annihilation of caste. Will merely grabbing the political power solve all our problems? Does Dalit as a word means liberating people from the shackles of caste or strengthening it more in their minds and actions? If it is the latter then someone must tell me strengthening which caste as there are hundreds of sub-castes among the lower strata of caste system and strengthening it for what?
“Dalit” is itself an intentionally positive term. Dalit identity is not a caste identity. Dalit is a symbol for change and revolution. It is an all-encompassing term which carries the aspirations of wider deprived and oppressed sections of society. Dalits believe in humanism and are best capable to achieve a combination of "naturalism of man and humanism of nature", to use an expression of Marx, enabling therefore to become complete in themselves.
In Prof Gopal Guru’s words, “Dalit identity not merely expresses who Dalits are, but also conveys their aspirations and struggles for change and revolution”. This would not come by merely asserting caste consciousness as revolution demands a comprehensive programme for greater good of society, which can only be achieved through the collective assertion of Dalits as a class – consisting of women, minorities, peasantry, landless and agricultural laborers, backwards, tribals, and all the castes and sub castes from the lower stratum of the varnavyavasta. Dalit Identity must be connected to the unity of larger mass struggle cutting across religious and linguistic boundaries. To make it more clear, ‘Dalit’ is secular in nature and not confined to any caste or religious community.
With reference to “Annihilation of Caste”, I find no mention of what my friend has argued with me. On the contrary, I came to realize, in a very simplistic way, that annihilating the caste is rather OUR aim and its break up will not percolate downwards from the upper strata of caste hierarchy.
Why would the Brahmins go against the caste system? They will NEVER do this, because by doing so, they will lose their social privileges and domination. To quote Ambedkar here, “…how many Brahmins who break caste every day will preach against Caste and against Shastras? For one honest Brahmin preaching against Caste and shastras because his practical instinct and moral conscience cannot support a conviction in them, there are hundreds who break castes and trample upon the Shastras every day but who are the most fanatic upholders of the theory of caste and the sanctity of the Shastras? Why this duplicity? Because they feel that if the masses are emancipated from the yoke of caste, they would be a menace to the power and prestige of the Brahmins as a class”.
One does not need the intellect of a rocket scientist to understand the persisting caste and class phenomena of Indian society, where Brahmins act as a class. This class always strives to preserve their religious, social and propertied interests as opposed to the Dalits who are still divided into hundreds of sub-castes. Brahmins WOULD NOT mind in preserving the interests of vaishyas and kshatriyas (other upper castes) vis-à-vis the interests of Dalits, as this “alliance” between upper castes helps in the perpetuation of the domination of Brahmins as a class. It can be seen in society that there definitely exists such a “United Front” of upper castes acting against the Dalits. Thus, there occurs a situation where a Dwivedi marries a Chaturvedi, who are basically different in their caste origins but similar in their class identity. The same can be said of the Tripathis, Pathaks, Sharmas, Mishras, Tiwaris and among the caste kshatriyas and vaishyas without invalidating the so called rule of “inter caste marriages”. But such cases are still to be found among Dalits (leaving out few examples generally found in educated castes among Dalits), where Dhobis don’t marry their daughters to Pasis, Valmikis to Jatavs and so on. Lower castes have still to materialize the process of inter-caste marriages in their real spirit.
In such a situation, can we expect from the Brahmins to break down the caste barricades? My answer is an emphatic “No”. Brahmins will never do this, since they are going to be the most adversely affected by the break up of the Caste system. Since only they are the economic and social beneficiaries of the caste system, the revolt against the caste system has to come from below. We have to infuse among the lower sections of society the feeling of oneness, which upper castes already have, i.e. the formation of a class. In Ambedkar’s words, we have to unite all the untouchables and other deprived sections of society with the feeling of fraternity, which can only be achieved after the break up of the caste system. Therefore we have to mobilize all the deprived castes and sub-castes under Dalits as a class; only then will we able to fight the evils of caste system and aspire for a socio-economic-politically changed society. Dr. Ambedkar was not against revolution; rather he advocated it to be possible with the rider of the necessity of “annihilation of caste”. He proposed that without annihilating caste, one cannot achieve revolution in this country. For him, you have to build a “United Front” for revolution. For building such a “United Front”, one has to first break the shackles of caste first. To quote him, “… men will not join in a revolution for the equalization of property, unless, they know after the revolution is achieved, they will be treated equally and that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed”.
Also, while interpreting caste as a harmful institution, Ambedkar has explained to us that having a consciousness of caste, will ultimately lead to a lack of consciousness of “kind”, i.e. of the own being – the self, what many Hindus lack till date, as they only have the consciousness of caste: “There is no Hindu consciousness of kind. In every Hindu, the consciousness that exists is the consciousness of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be said to form a society or a nation.” In the light of this, it can be stated or said that caste consciousness is anti-nation in its essence and thereby hinders the growth of society based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Now coming back again to the points made by my friend; where do such unilateral statements stand? Are not such statements indicative of the retrogression of the “new” Dalit thinking? Where will we move with such a sectarian agenda of not abolishing, annihilating the caste but by strengthening it? Is the caste consciousness the solution of all and every problem of Dalits? One can give answer to this question in the affirmative, but to its own peril. His misconception cannot be undertaken for the misdirection of larger society. For such misconceptions would again leave us out of the national discourse. I must say here that Dalit discourse is not regarding the Dalits neither it is of the non-Dalits; rather it is the discourse of the larger Indian society. Problems of and atrocities committed on Dalits are of national concern. It is a National Problem. It is hence a National Discourse.
By establishing that annihilation of caste is not “our” goal, such people are refuting none other but Ambedkar’s point that Shastras divine authority be discarded in order to destroy the caste system. By doing so they are maligning the whole Dalit movement by bringing it to square one.
One must ask some questions to those people within the Dalit movement, who favor caste-consciousness that – what is an ideal society for them and what possible role of caste will they attach in such a society? That by ghettoizing Dalits into a particular caste, are not they restricting a pan-Dalit class movement in order to construct a larger egalitarian society? It is very painful, when someone suddenly questions the whole philosophy of Ambedkar by vindicating Caste. It is the contempt of the whole Dalit movement started right from Jyotiba Phule, who himself has given the name “Shudraatishudra” for the formation of larger untouchable group to fight against Brahmanism and casteism perpetuated by them. I must say that meaning of Dalit does not lie in the caste organizations, but its real meaning comes from the comprehensive and captive role of Dalits who today define every political, social and economic activity. Dalit has its own analytical view of judging the matters with a pro-poor consideration. Dalit by itself means an inclusive and dynamic ideology giving space to every pro-people and also to every pro-women approach.
Some people would, after reading this article, conclude by saying that I am influenced by the Marxist interpretation of Ambedkar. To those who would share this thinking, I would say that I am rather influenced by the Ambedkarite interpretation of Marx in the Indian context. I would also appeal to them to go through Ambedkar’s writings once more. Ambedkar has always referred to Brahmins as a class, against whom he wanted to frame Dalits as a class, which could only be attained by annihilating the caste. Dalit, as a class, can only be realized when they will act in same tandem in opposition to Brahmins as a class do. When Valmikis (scavengers) and Jatavs act in solidarity, when Pasis would vouch for Dhobis; Khatiks act in tandem with Mushars; peasantry would fight for the rights of tribals; minorities would take care of other backward castes and when there will be a real upsurge of subalterns and so on; only then an effective weapon against the class of Brahminical forces and an effective tool for annihilation of castes would be achieved. Simply put, Dalits would have to assimilate their divisions into a unified class.
The panacea for Dalit misery and pathetic lives will not come through the persisting caste politics of our time, which is day by day ghettoizing “a particular caste” for the sustaining of particular class interests. The solution lies in a democratic revolution which will change the whole gamut of the oppressive and discriminatory instruments of change, which precisely originates from India’s semi-feudal society. At the same time, it is also true that any such type of democratic revolution can only be possible through the revolutionary upsurge of Dalits. In other words, this revolution ought to arise from Dalits.
[Moggallan Bharti is pursuing his MA in the Centre for Political Studies, JNU]