It is necessary to understand the structure of caste system to get sensitised to the Dalit issues. Caste has always been a significant factor in Indian society. It can be considered as a part of the global feature of class dialectics. Human history has been marked by frequent struggles between the two contrasting forces; between the ruler in the form of exploiters and the subjects in the form of the exploited, making the polarities of the strong and the weak, the dominant and the weak, the oppressor and the oppressed.
Exploitation of the weaker by the powerful is as old as the history of mankind itself. It is also an unavoidable part of the power dynamics functioning in any human situation. Exploitation is a process by which a strong group attempts to manage and exploit the weaker group by using its all resources in order to further and protect its own interests. In this struggle for supremacy, the strong group uses its power and all means of domination, exploitation and humiliation. The class of oppressors does not favour the independence of the exploited. Therefore, it always attempts to install a sense of inferiority among the exploited citing the legacy of their inferior culture. The constant conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the Black and the White, the low caste and the high caste is the unique feature of the modern world history.
Caste system can be thus considered as a product of this class dynamics. Since the formation of the Varna or the caste system, Dalits have been segregated from the rest of the community through the inhumane and illogical practice of untouchability. Thus, one can consider untouchability as the primary tool of the caste system. Dalits have also been called as Shudras and thus labelling and language too has been agencies of oppression and discrimination.
Merit, My Foot (1987) is significant prose work of Rajshekar through which he attacks not only casteism but also the deterministic idea that merit and efficiency are genetically conditioned. This work also opens an attack on Brahminism and it proposes the idea that each caste in India represents one nation.
Merit, My Foot considers casteism as a form of discrimination based on skin colour and the advances the fundamental anti-racist argument that intelligence is determined by environment and not by the birth. Rajshekar argues that genetic factors like caste and skin- colour are not the critical factors which decide personality and performance of an individual. According to Rajsekhar, the notions of efficiency and merit are the myths created by the upper caste Hindus to keep away the Dalit from certain significant jobs. He also observes that such myths about race and caste are concocted by the upper caste rulers to enslave the vast majority of the Indian population.
Rajshekar also expresses his concern for the bias seen in the administration of educational institutions. In this foreword, he explains how caste war takes place in government offices and educational institutions between the employee belonging to the reserved castes and the employers from the open category. He considers this discrimination at the workplace as ‘Government Brahmanism,’ a practice through which the upper caste officers convert reservation issues into a national crisis, by pointing out that the employee appointed under the reservation lacks merit and efficiency. Rajshekar points out how the rhetoric of merit and efficiency is pointless in the social context:
However, we want to warn our people (SC/ST/BCs and minority) accused of meritlessness and inefficiency that the upper caste merit-mongers are not going to be convinced by learned arguments and scientific reasoning. (MMF: 2)
Rajshekar is also of the opinion that the anti-reservation agitation is an aggression against the oppressed people. Further, he believes that the caste war is a manifestation of the war between nations. He explains:
Anti-reservation agitation, therefore, shows the upper caste aggression against Dalits. That means it is a caste war between the upper caste (Aryans) haves and SC/ST/BCs and minority (non-Aryans) have-nots. We welcome this war. Because it is only through caste war, caste can be destroyed. (MMF: 3)
The second foreword of the book considers the political crisis of India as an outcome of Brahminism in politics. Rajshekar points that the major political parties in India have been supported by the casteist ideology. He explains:
Many top leaders of the country’s two brahminical parties, -the Congress, India’s original Brahminical party and the Bhartiya Janata Party of Hindu Nazis –are facing serious corruption charges and the country’s Supreme Court is bent upon sending them to jail. (MMF: 4)
According to Rajshekar, India’s international relation too is dictated by the upper caste Hindu ideology. He considers the Muslim hatred of certain Hindu leaders as the manifestation of the intolerance of Hindu dictators. According to Rajshekar, India’s conflict with Pakistan is a needless enterprise to distract the attention of the Dalit and the oppressed to an international issue.
The second foreword also mentions the basic thesis of the work that merit and efficiency are two myths created by corrupt Hindu politicians. Rajshekar also makes a prophecy that twenty-first century India will be based on Dr Ambedkar’s vision, if robbers of the nations are identified and isolated. He observes:
If we don’t complete this job of booking the robbers in the next four years and simultaneously prepare our people by “educating” them and then helping them to graduate to “agitate” and then “organise”, we cannot usher in the “Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Era” which has to begin with the 21st century –only four years away. (MMF: 5)
Merit, My Foot holds one of the basic theories of Rajshekar that casteism is a form of racism. He points out that the dominant culture in India is racist as it privileges the fair skinned rather than the dark skinned Indians. Rajshekar explains, how merit theory and racism rule the dominant culture:
Through the media they own ,the books they write, the films they produce, the religion they preach schools and colleges they run, the upper castes (Hindus) have injected so much poison of ‘merit theory’ into the blood of each and every Indian that the very victims of this theory have come to accept it as true.(MMF:6)
Rajshekar’s views on race and values are similar to that of Kancha Ilaiah.In his noteworthy work, Post-Hindu India, Ilaiah defends the variety in races and emphasising that each race has its own value system and intelligence Ilaiah opines:
Like animals and birds, each human race developed its own instincts. Work ethics, notions of morality and immorality, beauty and ugliness differ from race to race. (Ilaiah: 2009:205)
Ilaiah also explains casteism in terms of the Brahmin psychology which promotes the fear and hatred for the ‘other’:
Brahman instincts have a strong tendency towards self-love and hate for others. That instinct was formed as a consequence of the Brahminical culture of negating production food, and they acquired the characteristic of parasites. The Brahman community constantly looks at its own self with an innate fear that was formed out of its parasitism. All parasites suffer from a constant fear of individualism.Parasitism and individualism are antithetical to each other. (Ilaiah: 2009:206)
Rajshekar too upholds Ilaiah’s view that Brahminism and Aryanism have created a spiritual and cultural fascism in India. He considers Hinduism as a system of Gods who propagate timidity and insecurity among Brahmins themselves. Rajshekar also takes up the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate in this book. In the making of intelligence, he argues that heredity may be a significant factor but environment is more important. He also believes that both Hinduism and Aryanism ignore the latter factor. Rajshekar takes a Darwinian view of Casteism and explains that denial of nutrition has been a major reason for the inferiority of the untouchables of India. He explains how deprivation and exploitation lead to enslavement of a caste or race:
The Untouchables and Tribals are denied protein which is a must for the growth of brain. They are denied human rights. With such enslavement of mind and body, how can they possess ‘merit and efficiency’? The society denies them environment so that they will continue to be slaves. (MMF: 14)
Intellectual fascism which Rajshekar points out is reflected effectively in Kancha Ilaiah’s work too. Ilaiah explains how a Brahmin as guardian of knowledge society exercises intellectual fascism:
More significantly, the goondas operate by silencing the victim with a fear of life, safety and modesty. This process of silencing the victims is a carefully crafted act. Since the purpose of the goonda is to extract wealth for his livelihood and luxury, he consciously crafts the method of circulating and withholding information in a selective manner. First ,a goonda spreads several rumours about his power-physical, mental, as well as organisational.Second, in formation regarding his weaknesses, like how many times he was beaten or defeated by the rival or neighboring goonda, or what kind of weaknesses and diseases he suffers from ,are systematically hidden from the people.(Ilaiah:2009:211)
Rajshekar rules out the scientific the scientific basis of such an intellectual prejudice. He indicates that all arguments based on racial purity are unscientific. He says:
No race is pure. Racial pride is the result of pure prejudice. And prejudice comes out of hatred. All ruling classes build a theory suited to their needs and try to give a ‘scientific’ backing to it. Merit and efficiency is a pure Aryan invention, aimed at maintaining their monopoly hold on the non-Aryan original inhabitants of India-Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Castes and Muslims, Christians, Sikhs.(MMF:15)
Like Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, who had pointed out that intellectual penury as a sign of neo-colonial deterioration, Rajshekar argues that India after Independence has been suffering an intellectual bankruptcy. He explains this intellectual backwardness of the nation:
A ‘nation’ gets stronger when it values its intellectuals and honours them. The community that does not permit flowering of a genius will be naturally backward. What is the use of acquiring a mountain of knowledge by one or a few? It is the acquisition of knowledge by a majority of the community that will be of real and lasting value. That is why knowledge is not assimilated by the people of India on a large scale. And that is why India has become famous as a beggar nation. (MMF: 18)
This kind of intellectual hegemony practiced by the ruling class, Rajshekar reminds, aims to eliminate opposite ideas. Kancha Ilaiah reflects a similar view, while talking about the intellectual fascism practiced in India:
One of the main functions of intellectual goondaism has been to eliminate the opposite idea that comes into existence, particularly in a written form. Elimination of radical or rational thinkers at each stage of a given society took place in many societies and in all religions. But the intellectual goondas in India, with the help of spiritual fascism, Eliminated the opposite idea of the opponent, even if it was /is the most socially relevant and universally valid idea, became the primary function of intellectual goondaism. (Ilaiah: 2009:213)
Rajshekar too explains how such intellectual goondaism is propagated through Brahminical education system which brainwashes young minds to grow into lifeless morons. He also exposes the knowledge industry that reduces learning into appearing for examinations. Monopoly of knowledge by one community is a kind of discrimination because it hides from the majority the knowledge about various diseases, hygiene and medicines. Rajshekar says that the so-called merit-mongers of the nation do very little to battle the contagious diseases like malaria and chickenpox.
Rajshekar exposes the merit-efficiency theory even further and argues that all theories of racial purity and racial superiority are the results of a biased view of science. He draws a parallel from the white-black race relation to illustrate the Aryan-Natives relationship and tries to establish the point that such differences can only lead to hatred and violence. He explains:
Upper caste writers and journalists, even religious leaders, have flooded the country with such poisonous literature on their racial purity, racial superiority. To maintain this purity, they enforced segregation, segregation from contact with so-called inferior races, sowing seeds of racial hatred, conflict, inflicting inhuman violence on the non –Aryan peoples of India.(MMF:25)
Rajshekar also examines caste-relations in terms of production and consumption. He argues that the Dalits and Bahujan constitute the major workforce of the nation though the trade is monopolised by the higher castes. He discusses this pattern in detail to illustrate the point that casteism is also a form of economic exploitation:
Our people –SC/ST/BCs and minorities-are the producers and upper castes are the consumers. This jealousy, this heart-burning against reservations will have to stop. If it does not stop, we will get it stopped. This mindless monopoly of goods and services can be stopped only through reservations which are our human rights. (MMF: 30)
Finally, in his Merit, My Foot, Rajshekar tries to establish an argument that the Dalits in India should reject the Chaturvarna system of Hinduism because they are not really Shudras. Rajshekar explains the problems with the term Shudras and the reason why it should be discarded:
The moment we say we are Shudras (meaning illegal children from the concubines of Brahmins-in other words bastards), we become part of the BSO (Hindu).We are not bastards.SC/ST/BCs know their parents. How then can we be Shudras? We are neither Shudras nor Hindus. (MMF: 38)
Rajshekar also defends reservation and maintains the views that anti-reservation propaganda is a Brahmin conspiracy. So he believes that reservation is an agency to gain fundamental rights. He explains the real meaning of ‘reservation’ and how it would empower Dalit-Bahujan subjects:
The untouchables have never complained that they are suffering from poverty.Their complaint is that their human rights are denied. Reservations are expected to fill the gap.So, through reservations, they are fighting only for their human rights. Once we regain our human rights through reservations, we automatically become rich. (MMF: 39)
What Rajshekar tries to establish in Merit, My Foot, is to substantiate an argument that science and knowledge system in India circulate the myth of upper caste intellectual superiority. This myth, Rajshekar argues, is then driven into the minds of Dalit-Bahujans to create an intellectual apartheid.This view is very similar to that of K.Balagopal who has reflected on Brahminical monopoly. What Balgopal says of merit is precisely what Rajshekar reflects. One can observe the similarity of these two writers:
Thus the Brahminical theory of knowledge continues to shape the curriculum of our schools and colleges, and it is proficiency in this knowledge defined as book learning that is being called ‘merit’.(K.Balagopal:2010:29)
Rajshekar, thus in Merit, My Foot urges the reader to recognise the ridicules snobbery of the whole debate about merit. According to him, the myth of merit is a product of the undemocratic educational culture that has the dubious legacy of Chaturvarna system. He also establishes the point that the cultural life in India is still caste-determined and hence it is the political duty of Dalit Bahujan to use their caste identity in the struggle for their socio-cultural liberation.
Though Rajshekar exposes the hegemony and discrimination inherent in Brahminism, one will have to keep in mind that what Rajshekar attacks is a particular mind set rather than any particular caste. Hence, one can say that Rajshekar has tried to expose the anti-human practices in Brahminism rather than trying to create a false polarisation between Brahmins and lower caste Hindu. Iqbal Ahmed Shariff point out Rajshekar’s approach is more ideological and less caste-specific:
Wherever the word Brahmin or Brahminism is used in the book is not directed against any particular caste or a member of the caste. But is used in the context of a mindset which discriminates humanity based upon colour or birth.These words transcend caste and religion and hence ought to be understood in the said context. (Sheriff, Ahmed Iqbal: 2009:117).
Rajshekar’s commitment to the powerful positive ideology of Ambedkarism which he proposes as an antidote for Brahminism and all negative, repressive and regressive ideologies. In a way, he touches upon this binding ideology of Ambedkarism as Rajshekar uses Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s views as a touchstone for religious philosophy, spirituality, political, economic and intellectual traditions and nationalism.
Rajshekar V.T. Merit, My Foot. Bangalore: DSA, 1987.
(The quotes from text has been indicated with page number/s in the brackets in their respective places and they have been acronym as, M.M.F)
Ambedkar, Babasaheb. Writing and Speeches Vol.I. Mumbai: Maharashtra Govt.Publication, 1979.
Ambedkar, Babasaheb. Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah, Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publication, 1978.
Ambedkar, Babasaheb. Writing and Speeches Vol.III, Mumbai: Maharashtra Govt. Publication, 1987.
Bhattacharjee, Hindu: Feb 17 1999:7
Eleanor, Zelliot. From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on Ambedkar Movement. New Delhi: Manohar Publication, 1992.
Illiah, Kancha. Post-Hindu India. New Delhi: Sage, 2009.
Khaire, Harish. The Times of India: Jan 21, 1988.
Balagopal, K. Reservations A Socio-Legal Perspective. New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2010.
Omvedt, Gail. Dalit Visions: New Delhi: Orient Longman. 2006.
Sheriff, Ahmed Iqbal. VTR: Friend Philosopher and Guide: Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya Academy, 2009.
Author – Dr.Grishma Manikrao Khobragade, Assist Prof, Department of English, Birla College, Kalyan (Maharashtra)