Caste System – Ambedkar and Annihilation of Caste

Over the last couple of days I have been looking to see if there are/were any social movements to abolish the caste system. I started surfing the net and came accross a very interesting document and that is Ambedkar’s Annihilation Of Caste (AOC). This was a speech that Ambedkar had prepared when asked to preside over the Jat Pat Todak Mandal conference. Even though the conference was cancelled, for reasons he has mentioned in the preface, Ambedkar published the speech.

Any person willing to learn about the evils of caste system in India should read the AOC. After reading it I was amazed at how profound Ambedkar’s understanding of the subject was. I don’t think anybody understood the subject better than him. One has to really read it carefully to understand his views. My observations after reading the AOC are

  • Ambedkar has the deepest and in my view the most correct understanding of the subject and he has presented the evils of the caste system very well.
  • He has correctly diagnosed the problem that the hindu society faces because of the caste system.
  • His solution to the problem i.e. Annhilation of the Caste can not be more correct. He understands that no matter how many programmes you run for the upliftment of the backward caste, true equality will not be achieved as long as the caste system lives. A contention that I cannot agree more with.
  • However I tend to agree less with the manner in which he has presented the solution. Even though he has explained in detail what he means by the different terms e.g. “destruction of religion”, these are so powerful words that can cause most logical men to close their eyes to reasoning. Choosing a language as strong as this he gave an easy tool to the detractors to put his entire speech in bad light and that is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi did when he reviewed the speech in his periodical, “Harijan”. Because of this it was easy for the Mahatma to overlook the entire content of the speech and focus on this aspect that asked for the destruction of religion. Even though Ambedkar wrote a reply to Mahatma but till that point it had become just a play of words.

While both Gandhi and Ambedkar had the interest of the BC in mind their approach to the problem and solution was different.

Gandhi’s ViewPoint

  1. Abolish Untouchability
  2. Maintain Varna vyavastha which he argued was different than caste system. A difference so subtle and difficult to comprehend.
  3. He believed that the hearts of the upper castes could be changed to treat the lower castes equally and his entire struggle was directed towards bringing that change of heart.

Ambedkar’s ViewPoint

  1. Abolish the Caste System.
  2. Ambedkar believed that the caste system derived its strength from the Vedas and Shashtras and hence asked for the destruction of the shashtras. A proposition so strong and it provided the ammunition to the detractors.
  3. He wanted a strict legislation in place to make sure that caste could not be misused again.

In my view Gandhi’s methodology was incorrect. Assuming that he did somehow achieve what he wanted to what would he have really achieved? He would have just gone back to the beginning of Varna Vyavastha where the division was based on labour and everybody respected each other. Haven’ we already been there? Haven’t we already seen that degenerate into the ugly caste system? What guarantee is that after Gandhi’s goal was achieved it would never degenerate to its present levels? His belief in the eternal goodness of the upper caste is flawed.

What Ambedkar sought was a legal remedy to a social problem. In his proposal to seek the remedy he went too far in asking for the destruction of the hindu relegion, which sounds strong but in essence what he wanted was to change the laws that governed the hindu society for ages. He wanted to take out the religious sanctity to the caste system by rejecting the shashtras. I think what he meant was to change the shashtras to remove the support for the caste system that it provides. In essence he wanted a religious reform as well.

I agree with Ambedkar in the sense that the legal remedy is very much needed and what is needed after that is active campaigning has I have mentioned in me previous blogs.

I think Ambedkar’s understanding of the system was ver profound and in his zeal to make others understand the depth of his solution i.e. Annihilation of Caste, he went too far in explaining the consequences which in my view was unnecessary and he extrapolated too much. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe the times in which he was living such a change would have caused exactly what he feared.

Had the Mahatma agreed to the abolishing of caste system then, we would have seen the end of it by now. I respect Mahatma Gandhi a lot and he has done a lot of great things but also like humans he has committed some mistakes and in my view this was one of the more serious ones.

Today I think the social condition is different if not much better. There are a lot more educated elite that I believe would agree to abolish the caste system rather than maintain it in some other form. The reasons for this agreement maybe different. Whatever their reasons but I strongly feel it is time to start a social movement against caste system that aims for nothing less than the complete “Annihilation Of Castes”.

July 20, 2006 В· Ajit В· 17 Comments
Posted in: Caste, Caste System, India

17 Responses

  1. realitycheck - July 26, 2006

    Hi,

    It is really important to understand the question itself. What does one mean by “abolish the caste system” ?

    HOw can we abolish something as slimy and nebulous as the caste system ? It is mostly in the hearts of people, how can we seek to ban such thoughts ? Can we seek legal action against someone who “thinks” casteist ? Should we perhaps seek to ban same-caste marriages ?

    We can only take legal action against action, not against thoughts. So what do we do ?

    The first step is to make it irrelevant. Something that is irrelevant for a long time will cease to be a dividing factor among the people automatically. The lines will continue to blur and over a period of time will cease to matter.

    Once major concern is that if caste is to be made irrelevant, how can we be sure that some castes will not try to dominate others ? Maybe caste will be irrelevant only on paper, but still be very much a factor in reality. What about the really backward classes ? How can caste be irrelevant to them, try telling them that ?

    So it all comes down this.

    How caste can be made irrelevant, at the same time be used to provide relief for the segments who continue to suffer as a result of their caste ?

    The problem itself seems to be vexing, but it is actually not so.

    The solution lies in making caste irrelevant for the vast majority of Indians at the same time identifying truly backward among us and providing some relief for them. Now this relief is in the form of a quota. special training or anything else is a separate matter.

    The key therefore is identification or selection of “groups” which would be eligible for this special relief. There lies the grand failure of the Indian state !

    I will write on this topic soon.

  2. Polite Indian - July 26, 2006

    Hi realitycheck,

    I had raised the same question in one of my previuos blogs i.e. Caste System – Can we really abolish it? and what I have said really means to remove the relevance of caste.

    The first question is..is it the right thing to think that the caste system should be abolished?
    If the answer is yes then comes the second question how? And as you also agree it should be made irrelevant. I had made two suggestions in my previous post to see how it can be made irrelevant but what is happening today in the forms of reservations can NEVER make it irrelevant.

    As long as there is a need to classify or “group” people based on caste for providing statutory benefits it cannot be made irrelevant.

    What do you mean by truly backwards? I am guessing that you mean economically backwards. But then there is the question of socially backwards which has its origin in the caste system. We cannot ignore the social backwardness and focus only on economic backwardness. The current or even future reservation policies can only attempt to remove the economic backwardness but the theory that it will remove social backwardness is flawed.

    Also, if you really want to know the reality, go ask the really backwards especially the SC/STs, they want the caste system to be abolished. They do not want to be labelled as SCs because the way the current society is, they are looked down upon when someone gets classified as a SC/ST no matter what the economic status of that person. Things are changing in this regard but at snails pace.

    I can also tell you that people from SC/ST background who have made considerable economic progress still harbor thoughts such as whether they are looked down upon by other people just because they are SC/ST. Where is the social justice in that? The fact is, even at work places people talk, even though in hush hush “What do you expect, he is from the quota system”. Where is the social justice in that?

    So I suggest tackle the two things differently.
    *Social Backwardness – By abolishing (making it irrelevant over a period of time) caste system.

    *Economic backwardness – By identifying economically backward groups and extending benefits to those.

    This will help us move from Caste struggle to class struggle, which most countries have faced previously and there are a lot of ways to deal with it.

    So once again, I think abolishing the caste system is the right way to approach the social evil of caste system. There is no way by which a caste could be used to provide relief to the segments of society and made irrelevant at the same time.

    Questions to ask is,
    Why do you want the caste to be basis for providing the benefits to an economically backward section?
    What is the point in making everyone remember their caste all the time? Only for these statutory benefits?

  3. Gandhigiri…What a way to remember the old man!!! « Polite Indian - October 1, 2006

    […] Lot of people may not agree with Gandhi on some of the issues. Some people agressively talk against him i.e. his personality and indulge in what I call Gandhi bashing. As I have noted in one of my earlier post, Gandhi too was a human and as such, prone to errors. But the issues that he made errors on cannot negate the positve impact that he has had on Indian society and polity. He laid down some important principles in life and following them is not always easy. That is why most people dismiss his principles as impractical and take the easy road. […]

  4. Visakha Kawasaki - October 21, 2006

    Dr. Ambedkar was the towering figure of the times. He was the genuine article; adhering to the principle of non-violence (a Buddhist, not a Hindu, concept!) Gandhi was full of absurdities and contradictions — threatening violence under the guise of ahimsa (if he had died from a fast to the death, how many would have been killed!) and clinging to the bloody pages of the Gita. How silly!

  5. Polite Indian - October 21, 2006

    Visakha,
    I respect both Gandhi and Ambedkar. Both had their own strength and weaknesses. Ambedkar was a scholar and his biggest weakness was political skills. Gandhi on the other hand was a very shrewd politician.

    In this particular issue I think Ambedkar was right. Only if their views matched, together they could have done wonders. Ambedkar with his scholarly aptitude could have taken a ripped apart any argument and Gandhi with his political and organizational skills could have achieved what we desire today. Unfortunately it was not to be and both fought throughout their life with each other on this issue.

    There is a reason why Gandhi’s life has some contradictions. It is because the guy was continuously experimenting and was not afraid to change his views as and when he learnt something new. In fact his views regarding caste were not the same throughtout his life. They changed but unfortunately pretty late in his life he reached the conclusion that the Caste needs to go. For him it was pretty late by then.

  6. Ganesh - October 31, 2006

    ‘Ambedkar believed that the caste system derived its strength from the Vedas and Shashtras and hence asked for the destruction of the shashtras. A proposition so strong and it provided the ammunition to the detractors.’
    I disagree with the above statement stated above about that Veda support caste discrimination,
    The reason why there was a strong retribution to this is that it did not constitute any truth but provided a feeling that those who pronounced this had some hearsay knowledge of Veda and not in a position to steer the masses
    I have delved profoundly in this subject and did some thorough investigation by reading commentaries on the Veda and Bagavad Gita,
    I do not support the caste system and do not care about the dogmas surrounding the system, but I do care about the veracity of the origin of this system in the Hindu culture (mind you Hindu culture and not Hindu religion)
    To cut short, I propose you guys to read the commentary of Bagavad Gita by Chinmayananada (one of the best scientific analysis) or just visit this website,
    http://www.kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part20/chap2.htmt

    Satyameve Jayate (Truth alone Triumphs )

  7. Polite Indian - October 31, 2006

    Ganesh,

    You think Ambedkar came to that conclusion on hearsay?

    Try reading only a few books by Ambedkar to guage the depth of his scholarship.
    The two books that I would suggest is
    1. Annihilation of caste.
    2. Who were the shudras.

    Read them first and you might change your view.

  8. Ganesh - October 31, 2006

    PI

    Thanks for the links, I’ll read them as my time permit,

    Further I want stress the point that Veda which is the bedrock of Hindu Religion doesn’t promte caste discrimination or caste system, its profund teachings rest on the premise that every living and non-living thing is the manifestation of one called Brahaman, this is anti thesis to the view of different caste previling among hindus,

    My whole research relates how the so called Hindu culture propagated the different hierarchy among its own population and started the discrimination, (Human Fallacy)

    Cheers
    Ganesh

  9. Polite Indian - October 31, 2006

    Ganesh,

    You are right in saying that the vedas do not promote discrimination based on caste and I don’t think Ambedkar said anything different. What we see today is the degeneration of an idea that was originally coined to specify division of labour. That idea later on become distorted and the dharma shastras ratified it. Thereafter emerged most of the evils of caste system.

    What Ambedkar says is that the idea of caste, at least the 4 varnas, exist in the vedas. You would see the mention of the 4 varnas in the Purusha sukta. Now this can be interpreted in different ways, good or bad but one thing that cannot be taken away is that the concept existed in Rig Veda.

    And since the idea is considered embodied in the rig veda, any amount of effort to change it, is tantamount to religious reforms. I definitely agree on the human fallacy argument of yours but I also agree with Ambedkar when it comes to dismantling the caste system.

    Ambedkar talked about rejecting the Shastras. To many people that could very well mean rejecting the hindu religion as well but to me it doesn’t mean that. To me it would amount to a reform in the religion.

  10. Roy T James - November 1, 2006

    The problem of caste is not at all being confronted rationally. Those lower in castes, today, are in that state, ie a state of lower intellectual ability, due to them being prevented from competing with the high caste. We are perpetuating this state, ie of still preventing any sort of competition, by reserving for them what they would have got by competing, without competition.
    To put briefly, no caste is cent percent forward or backward. Forward caste can be considered as the one with more than 99 percent of population possessing above average abilities and backward as the one with more than 99 percent having below average abilities. Reservation, by affording greater competition, elevates those below average, among upper caste, to above average level, while, relegating even those few who does not happen to be below average to below average status by removing all competition.

  11. Raje - March 23, 2007

    Caste System is like cancer to India in general and Hindu Society in particular. Varnashram is the base of Caste System.
    Recently I went to participate in a Pooja in Temple where Brahman Priest recited “Dhor, Gawar , Shudra , Pashu , Nari , Ye sab Taadan ke adhikari” .This is biggest insult to Democracy and human values as well.
    India will never develop till caste system exists.We have to completely abolish caste system , varnashram and caste based structure of society. we have to impose a ban on all caste based organisations like Brahmin Sabha ,Shakdipi sangh, Vipra Sabha, Kshatriya Mahasabha ,etc. We have to boycott casteist leaders.We have to ban caste based matrimonials.We have to allow people of every caste to become Shankaracharya , Mahamandelaeshwar , Pandit , Pujaari , Achrakas ,etc.That is everybody should be allowed to worship God in any temple.There should be strong legislation to prevent discrimination and abuse on basis of caste.
    We have to reform Hindu Religion and if needed Hindu Shastras as well.
    We all are equal in eyes of God .

  12. Revathi - March 25, 2007

    Actually, Mr, Raje, you can do it easily. You can organise your own temple and do your own pooja and do whatever you feel is right. This is indeed the essense of hindu relegion. Everyone must find their own way. Today, no one is under any obligation to follow any particular path. Take the example of Ma Amrutanandamayi who decided on her own spiritual path. What stops you from hiring a dalit or a tribe from being a priest in your house?

  13. sarvani - November 25, 2008

    annihilation of caste expresses ambedkar’s profoud rejection of caste system.to assert his views he gives many examples from many parts of the country.he takes the help of verses from vedas to show that caste system is present in the religion itself.so he asks to reject hinduism as a whole and accept buddhism

  14. BlackStar - November 27, 2008

    name me a country without caste system?

  15. Koushik - March 31, 2009

    If you have a car which is not working properly will you repair or junk it and decide hereafter to go only by walk ?

    Ambedkar thought we should junk the car and walk, Gandhi thought we should fix the car.

    Those interested in another interpretation should read Alain Danielou’s book. Virtue Success Pleasure Liberation.

    http://www.flipkart.com/virtue-success-pleasure-liberation-alain/0892812184-q9w3fn6jyb

    The most important question to address is which system provides a better platform for the weakest in society to survive well.- the ancient caste system before it developed flaws or the current secular democratic republic fashioned along western lines with reservation added to it.

  16. Ajit - March 31, 2009

    Kaushik,

    About the car – It depends. If fixing the car is way too costly compared to junking it and getting a new one, I would junk the car than fix. Also sometimes the car is so messed up that you cannot repair it.

    As for which system works better – I know the ancient system hasn’t worked in centuries. In fact it is the evils of the ancient system that we are reaping today and have to come up with alternatives to fix it.

  17. akanksha srivastava - May 18, 2010

    hi i believe that in order to get rid any evil the two points to concentrate on are the extreme groups.. i.e.- the upper caste and the lower ones… as these r the ones which live under the illusion of superiority and inferiority respectively.
    As Aristotle said ‘the mean is the best’.. the middle stratas are easier to handle unlike the others.. As for Ambedkar and Gandhi.. honestly it was easy for them to make those big speeches but neither of them gave practicle solutions to the promblems that they managed to highlight.
    i wil search more and write soon.

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