Monday, June 30, 2014

Annihilation of Caste - B.R. Ambedkar

In 1936 Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, India's first Law Minister, champion of the backward classes (the Untouchables), the man considered the principal architect of the Indian Constitution, was invited by the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, a progressive organisation that wanted to break barriers of caste, in Lahore to deliver its Presidential lecture. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar sent an advance copy of his speech 'Annihilation of Caste'. The Mandal found objection to certain parts of the speech and requested Dr. Ambedkar to delete the same. He refused. The event was cancelled.
Dr. Ambedkar published the text on his own.

(I have attempted to write its gist, quoted extensively from it because I was so impressed with the quality of writing and clarity of thought, of putting an argument forward and have in the process put together the lengthiest blog I have ever put together.)

'Annihilation of Caste' is considered among his best works, one that defines him and one that puts forth the argument of the Untouchables. The Untouchables are a low-born class in Indian Hindu society apparently prescribed by the sacred texts and were considered so polluted that a mere touch of an Untouchable caused severe repercussions for the caste Hindus (again prescribed by the sacred texts). Untouchables therefore were kept far away, were refused water because their touch could pollute water (only a high caste person could draw water from the well or tank and give it to the Untouchable and they had to wait until someone agreed to do the same) and were denied much of social contact with the rest of the upper castes. Their jobs, again prescribed by the texts, were to scavenge, clean and do the vilest jobs that society bestowed upon them. These jobs were considered their divinely ordained duties and they had no escape from it.

Dr. Ambedkar's 'Annihilation of Caste' is a plain-speaking document that explains why he, an Untouchable himself, who experienced the worst that the Caste system had to offer, feels that the inequitable Caste system is detrimental to progress in Hindu society and why it should be annihilated.

While on this path Dr. Ambedkar earned himself a formidable adversary.

Mahatma Gandhi, someone who opposed any opposition to the varna system which he believed constituted the key to the Hindu society and its stability, responded to the text of this speech which straightaway asked for annihilation of the caste system and bring in its place a society bound by laws that supported equality, liberty and fraternity. Instead of relying on the vedas and other texts for guidance, bring the varna system under law that was equitable to all, proposed Dr. Ambedkar.

It may seem a reasonable request or opinion, but coming from an Untouchable with claims to intelligence, vision, logic and reason, it was not easily digestible. How can anyone question tradition and ancient custom? The shastras?

Gandhiji considered Hinduism in its simplistic sense - as the pursuit of Truth and Ahimsa. Though laudable, he somehow ignored the plight of the Untouchables and left it to the good sense of caste Hindus to set things right by penance. The Untouchables he felt, must resort to sweet persuasion while continuing with their duties. He also considered the varnashram system essential to the survival of Hinduism and questioned how anyone can find fault with the scriptures - the vedas. Gandhiji softened his tone over his views on the varnashram in his later years but he disagreed with Ambedkar's views on social, political and economic reform for the Untouchables. He seemed to have felt felt that this lot cannot think or do for themselves any good because they do not have the capacity for it, and needed to be taken care of - something that the higher castes could do for them. The very thing that Dr. Ambedkar was against. If an Untouchable like Dr. Ambedkar could by training and exposure, support and opportunity, become a scholar with unmistakable vision, intelligence and maturity, there was no reason why given a fair opportunity other Untouchables could too. But Gandhiji instead of treating them like any other intelligent people who can develop through exposure, education and opportunity, named them 'Harijans' and said they were 'Children of God'. Poor, naive, children who must be taken care of because they did not know what is good for themselves. This was an argument that the well-educated Dr. Ambedkar could not buy. Give us rights, treat us equally, was all he said and gave forth his views and why and how in a most logical and systematic manner. In retrospect, one must think that however well-meaning Gandhiji was in highlighting the plight of the Untouchables, he somehow seemed to have missed the point that all castes are 'Children of God' - not just these special children.

Ambedkar wrote his rejoinder to Gandhiji's response to his speech 'Annihiation of Caste'.

Ambedkar and Gandhi had different views on how to uplift the Untouchables. While Ambedkar, who belonged to an untouchable caste himself and suffered all the humiliation and alienation despite his training and intellect, argued that there can be no other means but to give the Untouchables political and social equality, Gandhi, who was among the privileged castes, felt that though untouchability must be rejected, it must happen under the inner change brought about among the higher castes - the lower castes were too naive to take care of themselves.

The arguments raged on. The time of independence was when major changes in Indian society could have been made. Minorities sought their own electorates based on their Minority status - they will pick their leaders themselves and take care of their interests. A big chunk of Indian society, the Untouchables were also, through their leaders including Dr. Ambedkar, hoping to throw off the centuries old shackles of scavenging, of being constantly treated in the most degrading manner in the society and live as equals.

An opportunity was given at the Round Table Conferences that the British Government conducted while considering India's move towards Self-Rule. Here, in these conferences, lay one of the greatest theories and victories that Ambedkar won for the Untouchables. He won the Communal Award for them from the British Government at the Round Table Conference under the proposed Self-Rule. He put forth the case for bringing Untouchables into the mainstream by giving them the right to vote in separate electorates for untouchables, as also in the general constituency. Only with separate electorates can the Untouchables get political clout with which they can uplift themselves by picking the ablest among them to represent their cause. The separate electorate system gave the Untouchables two votes - one to vote for an Untouchable representative from amongst themselves and another one in the general constituency. His argument - without political reform there can be no social reform. He won the vote for a period of ten years and perhaps that was the most visionary thing that would have benefited the oppressed class because then the other classes would take their needs and votes seriously.

But Ambedkar's victory was short lived. Gandhiji opposed this separate electorate for untouchables theory that was awarded by the British Government (for a period of not ten, but twenty years) and went on a fast unto death if that was not revoked. In fact this Communal Award was passed unanimously by the Committee. Why anyone who was so concerned about the upliftment of the Untouchables would do what Gandhiji in his wisdom did at that point of time, one does not know. But under immense pressure of Gandhiji's fast unto death, Ambedkar signed the Poona Pact agreeing to withdraw the separate electorate clause which he had won with great difficulty. The Untouchables perceived that were the Mahatma to die for this cause of the Untouchables, the Untouchables would face genocide and would never ever have a case to come up the social ladder for that crime.

In the new Poona pact, the Untouchables were given reserved constituencies. This new scheme completely gave a new dimension because the general population, that constituted the majority, those belonging to higher castes than the Untouchables, could vote and pick their candidate amongst the Untouchables. Ambedkar said that such an electorate would only choose the most pliable untouchable candidate who would toe the line of the majority and not the strongest of the Untouchables who could represent the untouchables. This general reservations was a travesty of justice. It undid his visionary logic.

Ambedkar's worst fears came true. In the years that followed, the other classes who could vote in these reserved constituencies, voted the most pliable and weakest candidate in the Untouchables into power and kept the depressed classes depressed. Reservations were increased to cater to the vote bank and the bar was consistently lowered, aspirations lowered. Among the access to arms, wealth and education, these classes did gain somewhat but in a devious way, they were kept out of the decision making loop with low bars, freebies and plastic displays of propping ineffectual leaders as backward class representatives. Caught in this political and social maze, the depressed classes are still thrown about rudderlessly, still have no real power to talk about and still bear many atrocities committed by higher caste Hindus on them. To gather this disorganised, disillusioned and scared mass into a whole and to get them acceptance into the Hindu fold would be much tougher than what Ambedkar envisaged. His solution - annihilate the inhuman caste system which has no basis in our modern world. Impractical as it is, it is the only way he argued.

For the uninitiated the varnas are four - Brahmins (intellectual or priestly), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (business) and Shudras (servants). The first three are considered the dwija or twice born castes and they come with certain privileges apparently conferred by the sacred texts. The last class has no privileges and only duties. (In Ambedkar's words the Hindu society is an upward scale of reverence and a downward scale of contempt.) There is a small debate about varnas being by birth (which Ambedkar differentiates as the caste system) or by worth (the varna system). Ambedkar's main grouse is that Hinduism is based on knowledge that only a few have access to (a ridiculously small amount of Hindus can claim to know the texts on which these customs are practiced), a sacred knowledge that cannot be questioned and is so prescriptive that there is no leeway for interpretation. The texts themselves prescribe that one cannot question the logic or reason why Untouchables should be treated in a particular way, however inhuman the practices may be. If you argue, you are excommunicated. A religion cannot be based on rules and laws he argues, it can only be made of principles that people can follow. Since Hinduism is, according to him a law, he says the laws can be changed with circumstance and period.

To have people called Untouchables, Unseeables and Unapproachables is one thing. To have them wear pots tied to their necks so they cannot spit and pollute the roads and carry brooms tied to their waists is another thing. The Untouchables were considered the most polluted while the Brahmins were the purest. All access to knowledge was only to the Brahmins according to the beliefs that were passed down. If any Untouchable consciously heard a Veda being told, his ears would be filled with molten lac as per the prescriptions. Such were the scriptures, he argues and so inhuman was the treatment of Untouchables that they could not drink water, eat food, go to temples, use the same roads, wear good clothes, ride horses, celebrate  festivals or do anything that could offend the higher castes. If they did, they would be beaten, lynched, raped, ex-communicated. They still are. Even today we hear the same stories that were prevalent in those days.

Of the four thousand or so castes in India, the varna system aimed to make four as mentioned above. The lower ones were used to do the lowest of the low jobs and were kept out of the system for almost three thousand years - the system of Untouchability seems to have come into practice around 100-200 BCE. Sitting at a distance so they do not pollute others, not being provided water because their touch would pollute water, not able to raise their eyes, not able to buy, to own land, the Untouchables were practically the property of the higher castes. In the background of their past the Untouchables found no escape in Hinduism because they were doomed to live in their compartment forever. (Ambedkar compares Hindu society to a  multi storeyed building with no stairs and entrances, where each caste lived and died in its own floor.) Several Untouchables took other options and converted to Islam, Christianity or Sikhism. Ambedkar himself became a Buddhist and urged other low caste Hindus to convert into Buddhists too. Hinduism did not offer them an escape to an equal life without always referring to the labels they carried.

Ambedkar felt that unless caste was annihilated Hinduism was going nowhere.

Caste is discussed in India in terms of privileges and rights, superiority and greatness. It is never discussed in entirety  - no one discusses the dark secrets of Hinduism such as Untouchability and its practices. No one, including the Untouchables, relive the horror that the religion has perpetrated on a significant chunk of its own society under the very name of religion. To say one lot has to serve, to scavenge, to be denied knowledge, and education, right to arms and economic activity, to be treated as Untouchables, Unseeables and Unapproachables with specific inhuman tortures including lynching, rape and murder for accidental transgression also, must be a repelling thought for any one to discuss. However it is something that is true and must be owned up. We as a society that takes pride in our culture and tradition, wisdom and maturity, must also own up the dark secrets in our belly - what we did to one part of our brothers and sisters and how we denied them and still continue to deny them. In many ways we are the most divisive and vengeful, with even the lower castes practicing a caste system among themselves and one feeling higher than the other.

Dr. Ambedkar did not merely want an adjusted justice for the Untouchables which can only be cosmetic. He wanted social and political reform that can make an equal society. That makes him a bigger dreamer than Gandhiji despite his hard nosed logic and means and ways. Hinduism will find it difficult to shake off the shackles of caste. It is something that is too big to swallow or spit, one that cannot be ignored fully because the reality is too big in the form of electorates, numbers and greater awareness. As it grows bigger, the only thing that will happen is that this increasing discomfort will choke the fundamentals and require society to lay it bare and discuss it in the terms Dr. Ambedkar did.

Arundhati Roy in her essay on the 'Annihilation of Caste' calls Dr. Ambedkar's speech a breach of peace. It is. It breaches an uneasy peace that lies in our society that hypocritically hides all the crimes it perpetuated against certain classes, women, and continues to do so. It asks questions that are relevant even today, 80 years after it was written, almost seven decades of independence. It will disturb. But it must be asked and read. Not just by Untouchables by by all women, all those who have felt this injustice.

For one thing, to marvel at Dr. Ambedkar's courage, intelligence and clarity of thought. There is no name-calling, he proves his points, brings arguments to the table, comes with extraordinary vision as in the case of the separate electorates and other programs and schemes. He does not back off, euphemise, see things as greater than they are and puts his views across. His writing reflects his clarity of thought, the fact that he wrote this speech to be delivered to an elite lot of caste Hindus shows his courage just as his response to Gandhiji's reaction does. Mostly, it puts a perspective that many Hindus can benefit from knowing.

The first Untouchable to become a graduate, Dr. Ambedkar studied political science and economics, did his PhD. from Columbia University. His thesis was Ancient Indian Commerce and he followed it up with another thesis - National Dividend of India - A Historic and Analytical Study. He presented a paper on Castes in India - Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. He studied in the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn.

As Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, he envisioned constitutional rights and civil liberties for all individuals, abolition of Untouchability and all forms of discrimination, extensive economic and social rights for women, a system of reservations for the backward classes. Ironically he resigned from the Parliament following the stalling of a Bill he proposed regarding gender equality in laws of inheritance and marriage - something our society is still struggling with even today.

Another case in point for his vision and clarity is his views on Article 370. He was against the controversial Article 370 which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir. ' would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as Law Minister of India, will never do it.' It makes interesting reading as to how this Article got passed.

Upon reading the document one does understand why Ambedkar's intellect, clarity and vision were considered so highly by economists, anthropologists, politicians and even spiritual leaders. Worth a read, as recommended by a person no less than Gandhiji himself, but it comes with a warning - that it will breach the peace. It is also worth a look at the emotions that surface as one reads, the deeply entrenched class and caste discriminations we carry within us. He is not an easy man to accept. He does not fit the popular story. He is not 'cool'. Who is he to challenge and who are these people now breaching the peace?

The essence of the speech as I understood it.
(I could not leave this half done and have tried to quote and paraphrase from the book not only Ambedkar's speech but Gandhiji's responses and Arundhati Roy's essay too to add to my understanding and to provide perspective.)

Ambedkar begins his speech by saying that the Mandal has been brave in inviting him to speak. Can they defy the Shastras which say that Brahmins must alone be the gurus for the three varnas? Not someone who is well learned, but only a Brahmin can be the guru. (The upper castes, Brahmins, Kshatriayas and Vaishyas were known as the savarnas, and the fourth varna, the Shudras and those below, were the avarnas). He however will present his case on social reform which the Mandal has taken up.

Ambedkar mentions how there was a time when there was a balance between political reform and another for social reform. But over time, social reform faded, and only political reformists remained.

To put social reform in context, Ambedkar throws light on the Untouchables and how Hindu society discriminated against this section. He spoke of how during the Peshwa reign the Untouchables were not allowed to use public streets if a Hindu was coming along, lest he pollute the Hindu by his shadow. The Untouchable was to wear a black thread around his wrist or neck to prevent Hindus from touching him accidentally and  getting polluted. The Untouchable was to carry a broom strung to his waist to sweep away the dust he trod on lest a caste Hindu be polluted by it, and an earthen pot around his neck for holding his spit lest his spit pollute a Hindu who might accidentally trod on it.

He states the case of the Balais, an Untouchable community in Central India who were told by the other communities in 1928 that they must do as the others tell them (not wear fine clothes, jewellery, render services free etc). If they did not, they were to clear out from the village. The Balais did not agree. The other communities prohibited them from drawing water, letting their cattle graze, from passing through their fields. The Balais had no option but to leave their villages. He cites the case of incidents at Kavitha where Untouchables were told not to send their children to school, another where Untouchables were assaulted for carrying water in metal pots (how dare they?)

Having stated his cause he asks how the Hindu society can consider itself fit for political power when a large part of the community is not allowed to go to school, not allowed to draw water from public wells, walk in streets, wear apparel they like, eat food they like? Ambedkar states that social reform must make the distinction between reform in the Hindu family (widow remarriage, child marriage,) and Hindu society (caste system). He states that all social reform has been for reform of high caste Hindu families and not of abolition of the caste system. They reformed evils that affected them.

Ambedkar rejects the socialists claim that property is the only source of power. He says religion is the only source of power in India - the thousands who go to Benares and Mecca are cases in point he says.
An interesting story he cites is that of the plebians of Rome who wanted a share of the executive in Roman Republic. They had secured  a consul out of separate electorates for themselves but could not get a plebian consul that could act independent of the patrician consul - mainly because no official could enter the office unless the Oracle of Delphi declared that he was acceptable to the goddess. Guess who were the priests in charge of the temple of the goddess? Patricians of course. Naturally the Oracle always declared the plebian official was not acceptable. He points out that the plebians gave up their hard earned gain for their religion.

He says that men will not join a revolution for equalisation of property unless they know that after heir revolution, they will be treated equally.

He argues against the case that caste system is a division of labour. He says that the caste system is also a division of labourers. A division of labour not based on natural aptitudes - it appoints task to individuals in advance. Also he says the caste system does not divide by choice but by a dogma of predestination. He says that upholding caste to preserve purity of caste has no argument because races are not pure. On the subject of eugenics he says that Hindus are C3 people - not a great case for racial superiority.

Having proved that caste does not result in economic efficiency and cannot improve race, he says the only thing it has done is demoralise and disorganise the Hindus. Having started on the Hindus he says that Hindu society is a myth - Hindu is a name given by Mohammedans to the natives across the Indus for the purpose of distinguishing them. Prior to that there was no common name for this community because Hindu society as such does not exist. It is a collection of castes - each caste being aware of its survival, dines among itself and marries among itself. There is no consciousness of kind.

The Brahmins primary concern is to protect his interest against those of the non-brahmins; and the non-brahmins primary concern is to protect their interest against those of Brahmins. The Hindus therefore are not merely an assortment of castes, he says, but are so many warring groups each living for itself and for its selfish ideal.

Ambedkar says that thirteen million Hindus live as aborigines mainly because one cannot love them - with caste coming in between. He argues that higher caste Hindus have deliberately prevented lower castes like Sonars and Pathare Prabhus from rising to the cultural level of the higher castes. The Sonars were prevented from adopting the ways of the Brahmins (wearing a dhoti and doing a namaskar) and the Pathare Prabhus who practiced widow remarriage were stalled too.

While on whether Hinduism was or not a missionary religion as perhaps the other religions such as Christianity and Islam have been, he argues that those religions propagated what they felt was the path to salvation while the Hindus did not share their knowledge. He says - "I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mohamedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty."

He questions - "Whether it was a missionary religion or not is not important. the real question is why it has ceased to be one." It ceased because of the caste system. Where would Hindus place the converts? In what caste? Since each caste is a closed corporation, where would the convert go?

Ambedkar also argues that a Mohamedan or a Sikh derives courage not from strength but from the support of his brotherhood. The Hindus can derive no such strength (except in a Hindu-Muslim riot) because he knows not whether any fellow Hindus will come to his aid. So long as caste remains, there will be no sanghatan he says. And so long as ther is no sanghatan, Hindus will remain weak and meek.

He says that Hindus are not tolerant. They are tolerant only when they are too weak to oppose or too indifferent to oppose. This indifference has become so much part of a Hindu that he will meekly tolerate an insult as well as a wrong. He feels that this indifference is because of the caste system which has made sanghatan even for a good cause impossible.

Reform can happen when there is an assertion by an individual. but when such assertions are punished by excommunication, reform can never happen.

Ambedkar says that caste has killed public spirit, destroyed a sense of public charity. Responsibility and loyalty are restricted only to caste. Everything, sympathy, charity etc begins with and ends with caste. There is appreciation for virtue only if the man is a caste man. He questions whether the Hindus have committed treason against their country in the interests of their castes.

As a solution Ambedkar shows his ideal society based on liberty, equality and fraternity.He says equality may be a fiction but one must accept it as a governing principle. A man's power he says is dependent upon his physical heredity, social inheritance and his own efforts.In all three he is unequal. But should we treat then as unequal is the question.

If it is good for the social body to get the most out of its members, it can get the most of them only by making them equal as far as possible at the start of the race.

He also dispels the chaturvarnya - not based on birth but by worth theory. Why should there be labels at all as Brahmin or Kshatriya or Vaishya or Shudra he says? As long as these labels continue Hindus will think of the divisions and the hierarchies. To bring new notions, give new names he says. He argues that the principle underlying caste and the principle underlying chaturvarnya (based on worth) are opposed. How can one compel the other to step down based on worth or someone else to be accepted based on worth? How can four thousand castes be reduced to four varnas  based on worth?

He says Plato's Republic which categorised men into three classes is a very superficial view of man and his powers. It does not consider the uniqueness of the individual. This superficial lumping together is not worth serious consideration he says. He points our that chaturvarnya cannot be maintained, unless it is by law.

He cites the case of who Rama killed Shambuka in the Ramayana. He defends Rama who was bound to follow the chaturvarnya upon which Ram Rajya was founded. Shambuka as a shudra had transgressed his class and wanted to be a Brahmin. Not only penal action is neccessary but penal action by death is necessary. Only the will there be no transgressors (he recalls the sanctions in Manusmriti that shudras who recite or hear the vedas would have their tongues cut off or molten lead poured into their ears.)

And what about women? Their worth? Their classification? Will they take the worth of their husbands or their own? If it is not nominal will women get equal oppottunity in this chaturvarnya? As priests and soldiers?

Even otherwise he feels it is a vicious system. That some should have knowledge, some should bear arms, some trade and some should serve. The Shudra need not learn for himself because someone else is doing it and so on. He will be seen as a ward and the three higher castes his guardians. He will never grow up.

What happens to the Shudra if the others do not treat him fairly or protect him or worse even take advantage of him? Why should one be made to depend on another for vital needs like education? The three higher castes bore down on the Shudra - he was not allowed to amass wealth, bear arms or acquire knowledge. He says - there  is no code of laws more infamous regarding social rights than the laws of Manu.

Why have the Untouchables not rebelled? Because they have been disabled for direct action because of the caste system. No arms, education or wealth. Ambedkar says that there is only one period in Indian history that is of freedom, greatness and glory - the Maurya empire when the caste system was annihilated and the Shudras who constituted the mass of the people, became rulers of the country.    

Ambedkar cites the absence of organic filaments that bind Hindus and the disintegration caused by caste. He says that though there are castes in other religions they refer to the religion and not their caste, while a Hindu may feel the need to refer or know his caste first.Nor is there the case of ex-communication in other religions if anyone broke caste. Excommunication he says is like death. Religion compels Hindus to treat isolation and segregation of castes as a virtue. He says that Hindus cannot take comfort by merely saying that other religions have castes too - it is essential to know what place caste has and whether there are organic filaments which subordinate the caste of community.

Ambedkar quotes Prof. S. Radhakrishnan and his views in the Hindu View of Life where he says that Hinduism has been able to maintain its supremacy and it is not necessary to dissect Hinduism. Ambedkar says that the question must be on what plane is it existing? A Hindu's life has been a life of continuous defeat.

He says that nothing can be built on the foundations of caste. How then does one abolish caste? He talks of inter dining as an inadequate remedy. Inter marriage is one way he says.

Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny.

Hindus observe caste because they are deeply religious and not for any other reason. You cannot change social order if the Shastras rule, have the authority. The acts of the people are a result of their beliefs. People will not change their minds unless they cease to believe in the sanctity of the Shastras. '

It is no use telling people that the Shastras do not say what they are believed to say, if they are grammatically read or logically interpreted. What matters is how the Shastras have been understood by the people. You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand that Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Nanak and Buddha. You must have courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion - the religion which has produced in them this notion of sacredness of caste. Will you show that courage?

Caste has a divine basis. Hence you must destroy the authority of the Shastras and Vedas. Ambedkar says that this cannot happen because the Brahmins will not allow it. They are leading in political reform, social reform and even economic reform but are found wanting in breaking down caste barriers. He says that breaking down the caste system adversely affects the Brahmins. It is they who can take the initiative as the lead as the intellectual class - and only then will others follow. In fact he says the destiny of a country depends on its intellectual class. In this case the Brahmins.

Hindus are taught that Brahmins are bhudevas and they alone can be teachers. If they do not take lead nothing can happen. Secondly he says that just as we are divided into communities, they are placed one over another in social strata. The castes are given this gradation of social and religious rights in that order - higher castes have more rights. He says Hindus cannot even reason because Manu has laid down that there is no need for any reasoning. Hindus must follow Veda, smriti or sadachar and nothing else. Manu says that rationalism as a way of interpreting the Vedas and Smritis is condemned and punishment prescribed for such acts is excommunication. Even when there is conflict between two shrutis both are to be regarded as equal. Hence caste and varna which are dealt with by the Vedas and Smritis, cannot appeal to reason.

Not only can one reason but the foundations of caste and varna cannot be examined. He finds it amusing that Hindus break caste each time they travel on rail or go on foreign travel, yet they struggle hard to maintain caste all their lives.

Manu has given sadachar a higher place than shastras. But sadachar which must be followed is not about good and righteous acts as one may mistakenly think - it is ancient custom, good or bad. The smritis command Hindus in clear terms not to follow even gods in their good deeds, if they are contrary to shruti, smriti an sadachar. Without reason and morality being available, caste cannot be broken down or questioned.

He says one must distinguish between rules and principles. Rules are practical and prescriptive. Principles are intellectual and useful to judge things. Principles do not prescribe a specific course of action. A religious act may not be a correct act but it must at least be a responsible act. To permit this responsibility, religion must be a matter of principle only and not rules. The Hindu religion is a set of rules. It is law, or legalised class-ethics. These laws are forever. The iniquities are forever.

Such a religion must be destroyed. Tear off the mask to remove the misrepresentation caused by misnaming this law as religion. So long as people look at Hinduism as religion they will not change. But if they look at it as law they will be open to change.

But religion must exist and when the old laws are done away with, a religion of principles must take their place. The priestly class must be brought under control by a legislation that is democratic and thrown open to everyone. It will help kill Brahminism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you kill Brahminism.

The religion must be on basis of equality, liberty and fraternity.

It is only when Hindu society becomes  a casteless society that it can hope to have the strength to defend itself.

Gandhi in response to Ambedkar's published speech in 'Harijan' - Excerpts
No reformer can ignore the address.  It has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr. Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism. Brought up by a Hindu, educated by a Hindu potentate, he has become so disgusted with the so-called savarna Hindus or the treatment that he and his people have received at their hands that he proposes to leave not only them but the very religion that is his and their common heritage.

No Hindu who prizes his faith above life itself can afford to underrate the importance of this indictment.

Gandhi says - Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is custom whose origins I do not know. Varna and ashrama have nothing to do with castes.

In my opinion the profound mistake that Dr. Ambedkar makes in his address is to pick out the texts of doubtful authenticity and value, and the state of degraded Hindus who are no fit specimens of the faith they woefully represent. Judged by the standard applied by Dr. Ambedkar, every known living faith will probably fail.

Ambedkar in response to Gandhi
The Mahatma has entirely missed the issues raised by me, and the issues he has raised are not the issues that arise out of what he is pleased to call my indictment of the Hindus. The principal points which I have made are
1) Caste has ruined Hindus
2) Reorganisation of Hindus based on varnas is impossible unless there is legal sanction for those who transgress
3) It would be harmful because it would deny some people knowledge and right to be armed
4) Reorganisation should be on principles of liberty, equality and fraternity
5)The sense of religious sanctity behind caste and varna must be destroyed and this sanctity can be destroyed only by discarding the divine authority of the shastras.

The texts are taken from the writing of Mr. Tilak, a recognised authority on Sanskrit and Hindu Shastras. Gandhiji says that Shastras do not support caste and untouchability. The masses do not know what the texts are. They believed what they have been told. The saints have never carried on a campaign against caste and untouchability. They did not preach that all men were equal. They preached that all men were equal in the eyes of god.

The pious life led by one good samaritan may be very elevating to himself, but in India, with the attitude the common man has to saints and to mahatmas - to honour but not to follow - one cannot make much of it.

If religion should be judged not by its worst specimens but by its best, the question is, why the worst number so any and the best so few.

Does the Mahatma, a bania by birth who practiced Ministership, practice what he preaches?  He has never touched trading which is his ancestral calling.

There was a time when the Mahatma was a full blooded sanatani Hindu. He believed in caste and defended it with the vigour and orthodox. He has later admitted that caste is harmful both to spiritual and national growth. But what is the nature of the varna for which the Mahatma stands.

As defined by the Mahatma varna becomes merely a different name for caste. I admit that the Vedic theory as interpreted by Swami Dayanand and some others is a sensible and inoffensive thing. It did not admit birth as a determining factor. It recognised only worth.

Varna and caste are two very different concepts. If the Mahatma believes in everyone following his or her ancestral calling, then he is advocating the caste system.

Mahatma says - the essence of Hinduism is contained in its enunciation of one and only God as truth and its bold acceptance of ahimsa as the law of human family.

On another occasion he says - I do not know how a person who rejects caste i.e.e varna can call himself  a Hindu.

Ambedkar says the confusion is because the Mahatma has this child-like simplicity where he believes in whatever he wants to believe or because of the double role he is playing as the Mahatma and the politician.

Arundhati Roy in her Introduction (Excerpts)
Annihilation is a breach of peace.

"To the Untouchables Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors."- Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

When apartheid, racism, sexism, economic imperialism and religious fundamentalism have been challenged why has not the practice of caste - one of the most brutal modes of hierarchical social organisation that human society has ever know - managed to escape.

On 15th January, 2014 African Americans signed the Declaration of empathy which called for an end to the oppression of Dalits (Marathi word for 'broken people') in India.

The top of the caste pyramid is considered pure and has plenty of entitlements. The bottom is considered polluted and has no entitlements and plenty of duties.

'An ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt.' - Dr. B.R.Ambedkar.

What we call as the caste system is known in Hinduism's founding texts as chaturvarna, or the four varnas. Priests, Soldiers, Traders and Servants. Outside of these varnas are the Ati-shudras, subhumans arranged in hierarchies of their own - The Untouchables, the Unseeables and the Unapproachables whose touch, sight and shadow is considered to be polluting by privileged caste Hindus.

Untouchables were not allowed to use public roads that privileged castes used, not allowed to drink water from common wells, not allowed into Hindu temples, into privileged caste schools, not permitted to cover their upper bodies, only allowed to wear certain kids of clothes and jewellery. Castes like Mahars to which Ambedkar belonged, had to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints, hang spittoons around their necks to collect their polluted saliva. men of privileged castes had undisputed rights over the bodies of Untouchable women. Much of this continues to this day.

Gandhi believed that all castes should be considered equal and the avarna castes should be brought into the varna system. Ambedkar felt that there will be outcastes as long as there are castes.

Today India's one hundred richest people own assets equivalent to one fourth its GDP. In a nation of 1.2 billion, more than 800 million live on less than Rs. 20 a day.

The Manusmriti (circa 150 CE) suggests a sliding scale of interest rates - 2% for Brahmins, 3 % for Kshatriyas, 4 % for Vaishyas and 5% for Shudras. If they cannot pay in cash they pay in bodily interest. According to the Manusmriti no one can be forced into the service of lower castes.

Reservations were created in Universities and for State run bodies for those who belong to the SC and the ST. But to be eligible they must complete high school - 71.3 % drop out before they matriculate which means that even for low end government jobs, the reservation policy applies to one in four dalits.

'Merit' is the weapon of choice for an Indian elite that has dominated a system by allegedly divine authorisation, and denied knowledge - of certain kinds - to the subordinated castes for thousands of years. Now that it is being challenged, there have been passionate privileged-caste protests against the policy of reservation in government jobs and student quotas in universities. The presumption is that 'merit' exists in an ahistorical social vacuum and that the advantages that come from privileged-caste social networking and the establishment's entrenched hostility towards the subordinated castes are not factors that deserve consideration. In truth, Merit has become an euphemism for nepotism.

There is one government department in which Dalits are over-represented by a factor of six. Almost 90% of those designated as sweepers - who clean streets, who go down manholes and service sewage systems, who clean toilets and do menial jobs - and employed by the Government of India are Dalits.There are officially 1.3 million people, mostly women who continue to earn their living carrying buckets of human shit on their heads as they clean out traditional style toilets that use no water.

The practice of caste which is believed to have its genesis in the Purusha Sukta hymn of the Rig veda (1200-900 BCE) faced is first challenge only a thousand years later, when the Buddhists broke with caste by creating sanghas that admitted everybody.

The Ambedkar statue is a radical and animate object.

Ambedkar believed the caste system advances itself by controlling women and one of his major concerns was to make Hindu personal law more equitable for women. The Constituent Assembly blocked it. The President Rajendra Prasad threatened to stall the Bill's passage into law.

More than anything else, what Ambedkar bought to a complicated, multifaceted political struggle, with more than its fair share of sectarianism, obscurantism and skulduggery, was intelligence.

Ambedkar wasn't enamored of the Gita. He called it a book that 'offers unheard of defence of murder.'

In 1931, the Second Round Table Conference Gandhi claimed that he represented all of India. I claim myself in my own person to represent the vast mass of Untouchables.

Born on April 4, 41891, Ambedkar went to a government school in Satara. Thanks to a British legislation he was allowed to go to a Touchable school, but he was made to sit apart from his schoolmates, on a scrap of gunny sack, so that he would not pollute the classroom floor. He remained thirsty all day because he was not allowed to drink from the Touchables tap.  Barbers would not cut his hair.

When Ambedkar matriculated from Elphinstone college in 1907 he was the only Untouchable in the college. With a scholarship from the Maharaja of Baroda Sayajirao Gaekwad, he completed his graduation. Further, with help from the same Maharaja, he went to Columbia University in New York and wrote a paper on 'Castes in India: Their mechanism, Genesis and Development.' He was twenty five years old then. Then he went to London School of Economics.

In 1920s, Ambedkar studied Sanskrit and in the 1940s studied Pali and became familiar with Brahminical texts. In 1920s came direct action by Untouchables - right to use wells, schools courts, offices and public transport. The Mahad satyagraha of 1927, was attended by three thousand untouchables and a few progressive members of the privileged castes. On its second day the people marched to the Chavadar tank, and drank water. There was a counter attack.Ambedkar urged the Untouchables not to strike back.

A second Mahad conference was held in the same year where ten thousand Untouchables attended. Ambedkar burned a copy of the Manusmriti.

Gandhi urged Untouchables to fight for their rights by "sweet persuasion and not satyagraha which becomes duragraha when it is intended to give rude shock to the deep-rooted prejudices of people.'

In 1938 Ambedkar founded his own party - the Independent Labour Party. It did well.

The Dalit Panthers of Maharashtra gave the word dalit (broken people) an expanded it from Untouchables to include - the working people the landless and poor peasants, women and all those who are being exploited politically and economically and in the name of religion.

At the second Round Table Conference, in the Minority committee, Ambedkar presented his memorandum - A scheme of Political Safeguards for the Protection of the Depressed Classes in the Future Constitution of a Self-governing India. It delineated fundamental rights. It gave Untouchables access to all public places. It dwelt on social boycotts and suggested they be declared a criminal offence. He asked for a Public Service Commission to ensure Untouchables adequate representation in the services which is what evolved into the reservation system.

The most visionary part of the memorandum was his request for positive discrimination or creation of separate electorates for the Untouchables. This would enable them to develop into a political constituency with a leadership of their own. He suggested they retain their connection with the mainstream by being given a vote in general candidates too. This was to last for a period of ten years.  All delegates agreed that Untouchables, like other minorities, have a separate electorate. The British Government granted the Untouchables a separate electorate for a period of twenty years.

Gandhi announced that if the communal award granting untouchables separate electorates was not withdrawn, he would fast unto death.

The British said that they would revoke it if the Untouchables agreed. Ambedkar became the villain, the traitor who wanted to dissever India, who was trying to kill Gandhi. Ambedkar signed the pact after four days of intense pressure."There was nothing noble in the fast. It was a foul and filthy act... It was a vile and wicked act...' he said later. According to the new Pact the Untouchables, instead of separate electorates, would have reserved seats in general constituencies. The reserved seats increased in number from 78 to 148. But this made the candidates lose their teeth because the majority of the constituency would be the very castes that dominated the lower castes. The leadership remained in the hands of privileged castes finally.

After the Poona Pact Gandhi named the Untouchables Harijans - Children of God and in one stroke brought them all under the fold of Hinduism. Children, they became, naive and innocent. Ambedkar saw Gandhi's acts towards Untouchables as the Congress plan to kill Untouchables by kindness,

A temple entry bill was tabled in 1933. Gandhi backed it. But when the privileged castes opposed it, they backed out.

Ambedkar lost the 1946 Provincial elections which meant he lost his place on the executive Council. But he wanted to be a part of the Committee that would draft the Indian Constitution and published a document called States and Minorities The Congress appointed Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly and in 1947 the first Law Minister and Chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Constitution.

Ambedkar did not have enough money to print his major work on Buddhism, The Buddha and his Dhamma, before he died. He wore suits. But he died in debt.



Pooja Amuri said...

Very good Hari, took me an hr to read but thanks for a succinct essay. To think that the social order in 200 BC can still affect us so intimately is mind boggling. No escaping he grip of cold icy hands of history!!

Rajendra said...

whew! a really detailed review. The Nagpur monument has some inscription about Ambedkar's views of Hinduism..makes more sense now.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Pooja. The book put certain things in perspective - stuff we don't know and don't dare ask or disturb, so I thought it was the least I could do - a detailed write. Very little of what really is Hinduism and more specifically the varna system, is discussed or shared. It is swept under the carpet while other safe parts are highlighted. Dr. Ambedkar questioned untouchability and Hinduism's role in it unequivocally eight decades ago when things were so different - I am surprised no sane arguments or debates about the same happen these days. As Ms. Roy says, this book is a breach of peace.

Harimohan said...

Raja, It was in Nagpur that he converted to Buddhism along with several of his followers including his second wife.