Caste system may be anti-democratic and casteism may be racism but not the ethnic identities of the Indian tribes which are mistakenly described as caste. Caste hegemony and caste apartheid could be tackled only in a socio-political way. In a democracy, political power, the control of institutions, is the basic need to make social changes. A political power is a solution for the backward castes by suggesting how electoral reforms and the presence in a social institution can help Dalits.
Once the Backward Castes become caste conscious, they will identify their real enemies and join hands with Dalits to grab political power.
A Bahujan Samaj will then be formed. Backward Castes may get political power. That may not be difficult. But until they take over the bureaucracy, banking, media and educational institutions, mere political power is of no use.
We also attack the anti-caste campaign which is very popular in India. We argue that caste has been all-time reality and one cannot get rid of casteism merely with the help of rhetoric of the anti-caste campaign. Caste has survived in spite of more than 50 years of the anti-caste campaign. In fact, it is going strong. Some Upper castes led by Brahmins are vociferous advocates of a ‘casteless society’ and also bitter critics of the caste system. But they do not say how to abolish the caste system. They are convinced that the caste system is another word for their Hindu religion, and the abolition of the caste system will result in the destruction of Hinduism, for which they are not prepared.
An understanding of a nation without the understanding of its castes and sub-castes is basically incomplete.
People do not even understand that Indian society is not homogeneous society but a collection of castes and communities. Hence, one will have to know that India has near about 2800 castes including 450 scheduled castes, 461 scheduled tribes and 766 backward castes. This figure indicates that the caste continues to be the foundation of Indian society though it is rarely represented in national discourses.
The caste system is the brain child of upper caste hegemony which had generated rigid social classification which eventually generated a structure that could give rise to conflicts. We look at caste system primarily as a class conflict. We now come to the question of ‘caste annihilation’. If the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Castes, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others who together are now popularly known as Bahujans, are the oppressed slave-castes and the Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs, etc., are the Hindus – the oppressors and the ruling castes – there is bound to be a conflict of interests between the rulers and the ruled. We remember Dr Ambedkar on this point.
According to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, it is mainly the custom of endogamy that has preserved the castes and prevented one caste from fusing into another. Almost all the writers and scholars conform to this view of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Dr. Ambedkar had clearly identified casteism as a Brahmin conspiracy and a result of rigid endogamy. It is worth quoting Dr. Ambedkar here to illustrate the similarity. The thing that is most imitated is the most superior one of those that are nearest…The Brahmin is a semi-god and very nearly a demi-god. He sets up a mode and moulds the rest. His prestige is unquestionable and is the fountainhead of bliss and good … He is believed to be the very end of creation. Such a creature is worthy of more than mere imitation, but at least of imitation and if he lives in an endogamous enclosure, should not the rest follow his example?
Like Dr. Ambedkar, we argue that caste cannot be annihilated unless the social institutions are restructured. We argue that the Hindu propaganda for anti-caste movement is a farce because the so called ‘Socialist Brahmins’ do not really want to end racism and endogamy. Our problem is with the dishonest vaisdiks who describe themselves as Gandhians, socialists, communists, nationalists, Naxalites, etc. It is these ‘Socialist Brahmins’ who talk about ‘caste annihilation’. When they propagate ‘caste annihilation’, do they also want the destruction of the characteristics of the caste system such as racism, endogamy, touch-me-notism, the concept of pollution and the superiority feeling among the upper castes that comes through their religious scriptures?
The caste system is also a stratified power structure in which all social changes are very cosmetic because these social movements do not really alter the positions of the powerful/dominant castes. Hence, we maintain that socialism in India has only made external changes in the caste system without truly changing the social order: These ‘Socialist Brahmins’ want to destroy only the external characteristics of the caste system without affecting it materially. They want to change the form without changing the content. They want to ‘embrace’ the Bahujan as equals without offering to share their monopoly over the power and privileges of the Brahminical Social Order. They want to take Harijans (Untouchables) to Hindu temples, but will not tolerate Harijans demanding priesthood.
We can analysis of the relationship between caste and power that is similar to what Dr. Ambedkar who had identified Hinduism as a Brahminical religion with its own clear power politics. Dr. Ambedkar had observed that the root of untouchability is the caste system; the root of the caste system is religion attached to varnashram, and the root of varnashram is the Brahminical religion, and the root of the Brahminical religion is authoritarianism or political power.
The Bahujans have been enlightened by Dr. Ambedkar and that they believe that they need political power to counter the adverse power of casteism. Dr. Ambedkar had pointed out that the untouchability should be taken as a site of resistance by Dalits to acquire political power. It must not be forgotten that there is a real conflict of interests between the Hindus and the Untouchables and that while reason may mitigate the conflict it can never obviate the necessity of such a conflict. What makes one’s interest dominant over another is power. That being said, Bahujan political power is needed to destroy brahminical power structure.
Author – Dr. Grishma Khobragade, Human Rights Activist and member of Bahujan Samaj Party