Goldy M George
Published in Issue – I, June 2013
Atrocities against ex-untouchables have been on the rise in India in recent times. There is no state where some forms of caste atrocity, untouchablity practices, discrimination and social exclusion is not a daily happening. The recent incidents in Dharmapuri, Villupuram, Virudhnagar, Theni of Tamilnadu is only the tip of the iceberg; yet it narrates volumes on its functional mechanism in the present phase. The vigour, violence and vibrancy of caste – with essential modifications from its original format – is quite active even today. In this paper I attempt to look at the various challenges that the anti-caste movement may have to bravely face at present and also be prepared for further.
Caste in Theory and Practice
The social system of India as a nation is based on caste. It is an open truth that Dalits, one of the most oppressed and repressed strata anywhere in the history of world, still reel under the nefarious chains of casteism. It is essential to understand the context under which the people at the grassroots are resisting the challenge. Also it will give us a wider picture of the nation as a whole and its complexes from the abyss. While discussing it, one should not get an assumption that we were not in any sort of crisis earlier, but today the crisis has expanded to unpredictable magnitude with severe implication and utter insinuation. As a community we are in crisis – the crisis of life; the crisis of disharmony; the crisis of livelihood; the crisis of sustainability and so on. The state is helpless (George, 2004A).
Caste as a system runs as the lifeline of India’s reality. Since caste still operates as a definite pre-condition in establishing marriages, social relations and access to employment – millions of Dalits and other low-caste people remain behind in education, employment and access to wealth. Although untouchability and casteism is banned in India, discrimination is widely practiced, and statistics draws the logical conclusion that there is a broad correlation between one’s economic state and one’s position within the caste hierarchy (George 2013: 2).
Caste as a system could be understood in two parts viz. the material and the ideological-cultural-spiritual. The material base of caste operation systematically took away the control over property (the entire resource base), operationalised division of labour, income distribution and surplus appropriation. In the second part, the geo-centric culture, history, ideology and spirituality was replaced with an alien culture built on slavery and subjugation. The shastras referred the indigenous people of impure origin, which in turn groomed a psychological feel that the latter’s culture was substandard. Because of the substandard culture – determined by ones’ birth– the communities were subjected to inhuman suppression. Everything was centered on ‘birth’. They were culturally, ideologically and spiritually forced to apply all energies on the revival of their ‘status’ in the next birth from the present lower caste background to a higher ladder. This elevation as per the ‘shastras’ was only possible through tireless service of the upper caste lords in the present birth thereby avoiding the traumas in the next birth (George, 2011: 1).
This traditional order was an ideological construct along with an economic and political structure. It articulated and encapsulated an entire system of production that existed over centuries with only minor alterations within its confines. The economical and political realities of inequalities were justified, defined and glorified through religious pronouncements based on the purity-pollution divide (George, 2011: 2).
Caste, Feudalism and Capitalism
Caste system is perhaps the oldest feudal system in the world. Traditionally, ritualistic compulsion and coercive oppression ensured their compliance in providing virtually free labour for the upper caste landowners. The fact that they had been denied right over land or territory only compounded the matter by making them completely dependent upon the owners and controllers of the means of production and livelihood (George, 2011: 2).
The downfall of feudalism in Europe was also the beginning of modern capitalism. With the growth of capitalism as a world economic system, it aligned with dominant social systems. In India capitalism began to exploit its roots during the colonial British regime. The programme of capitalism had its earlier collaboration with Indian mercantile capital and British capital. Unlike Europe, it did not have to battle against feudalism; rather it was implanted on the trunk of the latter in India. As a result, even in the capitalist institutions in the cities, caste discrimination simultaneously existed. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was quite aware of the exploitative potential of capital and hence he had declared capitalism and Brahmanism as the twin enemy of his movement. Capitalism was in an infantile stage then but Brahmanism encompassed the phases of slavery, feudalism and extended its tentacles as we see to the phase of imperialism (Teltumbde 1997: 40).
In recent times capitalism has surfaced back in new form in the name of globalisation. Principally globalisation aggravates social divide between the have and have not. Globalisation emerged as the cannon folder of capitalism in the mid-eighties and early nineties. Practically globalisation is nothing new, it is the establishment of the territory of the mighty across the globe through dictums of political and economic power centres and its controlling points.
The fundamental attribute of globalisation, then and now, is the increasing degree of openness in most countries. The openness is not simply confined to trade flows, investment flows and financial flows; it also extends to flows of services, technology, information, ideas and persons across national boundaries. There can be no doubt, however, that trade, investment and finance constitute the cutting edge of globalisation. The pasts two decades have witnessed an explosive growth in international finance, so much so that, in terms of magnitude, trade and investment and now dwarfed by finance (Singh 1998: 5). The political stability or instability has a direct bearing on the process, pace and intensity of the globalisation and reforms, which admittedly have been slow and inadequate (Tripathi:1)
The Current Challenges
Undoubtedly we live in a caste and fascist society married with imperialist capitalist state in its neoliberal form of globalisation. Fascism is a terrible political domination capable of infringing people’s life to unpredictable magnitude. Caste in India remains as the oldest form of fascist regime. History has witnessed various forms of fascism that turned inertly against the already broken people. Fascism remains among the Indian masses in the form of casteism and communalism without letting any opportunity for response to such a brutish system. Again globalisation is not just confined to India, it had become a global fact and its direct impact is visible all across the world. In India it is closely associated with the process of caste and communal fascism (George: 2004A).
This intricate mix of tradition social system and modern formats of exploitation makes it difficult to decipher, almost impossible to construct one overarching formula to come off the clutches. That is perhaps the reason that the Dalit movement has failed to place itself on a broader plank of justice in order to fulfill Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream to annihilate caste. The movement has further failed to establish democracy as a social system across the various societal cross-sections too.
Placing Justice as the centrality of anti-caste movement
Justice of the commons is not the edifice on which the anti-caste movement stands today. Unless justice becomes its central focus, persistence of caste is inevitable. What is needed is the go back to the origin of anti-caste movement, which clearly addressed the different formats of injustice. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had strongly voiced against this. He said, “if consciousness and reason can be insinuated into the resulting struggles they can only qualify, never abolish the injustice. If injustice is to be abolished it must be resisted and when injustice proceeds from collective power, whether in the form of imperialism or class domination, it must be challenged by power. A class entrenched behind its established power can never be dislodged unless power is raised against it. That is the only way of stopping exploitation of the weak by strong.”
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar categorically narrates what he means by Justice. There are two aspects he had often referred to; one is justice for all and the other is justice to the untouchables. He remarked, “Justice has always evoked ideas of equality, of proportion of compensation. Equity signifies equality. Rules and regulations, right and righteousness are concerned with equality in value. If all men are equal, then all men are of the same essence, and the common essence entitles them of the same fundamental rights and equal liberty… In short justice is another name of liberty, equality and fraternity.”
Justice is a concept of moral righteousness based on ethics, rationality, relationship with nature, balance of culture, equity, fairness and natural law along with law, administration based on law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil right, without any discrimination on the basis of race, class, caste, origin, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, colour, religion, disability, age or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice. The vantage point of the anti-caste movement has to be justice; otherwise any process could have a natural death.
Annihilation of Caste – The final blow
Annihilation of Caste is the least spoken topic these days among all circles, whether it is activists, politician, bureaucrats, academician, scholars, students, or any other groups. The Clarion call of Babasaheb to “Educate, Agitate and Organise” and his most important project was the annihilation of caste has been almost forgotten today. People are scared of discussing annihilating caste and rarely speak on it. All efforts at various levels are aimed at strengthening caste, opposite to annihilation.
Let us not forget that caste forms the mainstay of India’s society and mode of production. The highest number of labourers, agricultural labours, casual workers, migrant labourers and others hail from the Dalit communities. The common masses are not in position to discern the truth through a complex context in which certain things were said or done by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. For instance, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had said that Brahmanism and Capitalism were two enemies of Dalits and elaborated that he was not against the Brahmans but their attitude, their creed. He went further and said provocatively that Brahmanism could well be found even among untouchables (Teltumbde 2011).
In order to annihilate castes, it is primary to understand its core characteristics along with the existential form, the ways and means it has survived in history and the sources of their sustenance. It has mainly survived due to its characteristics of holding multiple institutions as well as intruding in all areas of life in a hierarchical manner. Had it been only one sphere of life then caste would have had a natural death long ago. Justice would have not required this length to remain undelivered.
Hence annihilation of caste draws the background sketch of anti-discrimination struggle. This means annihilation of caste is not one-dimensional; it’s multidimensional. The dimensions include various nitty-gritties of injustice in the society needing urgent engagement. It encompasses of battles against caste institution, anti-class process, the complexities of patriarchy, and the questions of minorities, along with the issues of backwardness, poverty and disharmony. This is perhaps where the cycle gets complete.
- B.R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (1987), Vol. 2, Education Department, Govt. of Maharastra, Mumbai.
- B.R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (1990), Vol. 7, Education Department, Govt. of Maharastra, Mumbai.
- George, Goldy M. (2004A) “The Dalit World of Injustice and Peacelessness”, Paper presented at the International conference of Centre for Justpeace in Asia (CJPC) in Kandy, Sri Lanka between 2-7 August 2004
- George, Goldy M. (2011) “Caste Discrimination and Dalit Rights over Natural Resources” Theme Paper of the National Convention on Caste Discrimination on Dalit Rights over Natural Resources, held on 17-18 September 2011, at Raipur.
- George, Goldy M. (2013) “Human Rights, Dalits and the Politics of Exclusion” Afro Asian Journal of Social Sciences Volume 4, No. 4.1 Quarter I 2013 ISSN: 2229 – 5313
- Teltumbde, Anand (2011) “Some Fundamental issues in Anti-Caste Struggle” accessed from http://www.countercurrents.org/teltumbde130611.htm on March 20, 2013.
- Teltumbde, Anand (1997), “Ambedkar in and for the Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movement”, A paper presented in a seminar on the Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movement organised by the Department of Political Science, University of Pune on 27-29 March, 1997, Sugawa Prakashan, Pune.
- Singh, Kavaljit (1988), “A citizen’s Guide to the Globalisation of Finance”, Madhyam Books, Delhi & Documentation for Action Groups in Asia, Hong Kong
- Tripathi, P.M. (2009), “Impact of Globalisation on Regional Development in Asia”, AVARD http://www.angoc.ngo.ph/pdffiles/Impact-of-Globalisation-on- Regional-Development-in-Asia.pdf accessed on December1, 2009