Caste has only been changing its form in Indian society. No process for becoming a casteless society is visible anywhere. One can be modern or postmodern but not casteless! This is a tragedy of momentous proportions. What can be the project for freedom from caste? How should a writer or a social activist fight against caste? This is the focus of a FORWARD Press series titled Project for deliverance from the stigma of caste. Read the first article of the series by Chanchal Chauhan. – Editor
The caste system is so well entrenched in Bharat Bhoomi that despite all the sermons and movements of sants, sufis, social reformers, poets and writers, its roots have only grown deeper.Human socety turned unequal and economic divisions and classes arose from the moment the right to private property was given recognition. And then, to maintain that inequality, the prosperous classes invented all sorts of philosophical and religious dogma. I bunch all of them under the common title “classical ideology”. We can see it in the slavery system that prevailed during the Greek Civilization. We can see it in its various shades in other civilizations as well. All these ideologies insist that inequality is acceptable and valid and most describe it as a divine creation. The caste system is the Indian version of that “classical ideology”. In the Gita, Vyas has made Krishna say that the caste system is a creation of God – ‘chaturyavrna maya shrishtam’ (four varnas are my creation). Now, how can a deeply religious, exploited society challenge a divine law? No wonder, this system was strengthened over the course of time and slowly turned into a powerful force, overcoming what human conscience dictated. People started feeling safe living among the members of their caste or tribe and this continues to date.
What is this classical ideology? In the era of slavery in ancient Greece, the ruling class developed a philosophy defining which English poet T.E. Hulme wrote that it was based on the premise that “no man can transcend his boundaries”. He cannot get away from what fate has ordained for him and any attempt to alter one’s fate can only result in tragedy. If we study Greek philosophy and literature, we find that every hero who tried to change his fate scripted by the almighty, ended up in a tragic state. This was how the slave community was kept in thrall. In Greek mythology, whether it is Oedipus or Icaras or Prometheus – all get punished for trying to transcend their limits. They have to undergo what god has ordained for them. Evoking fear was an essential feature of Greek tragic plays. Aristotle’s Poetics is a classic example of this. The classical ideology is part and parcel of our puranas and epics. Ravan had to die at the hands of Ram and he did. Kansa had to be killed by Krishna and despite playing all sorts of tricks, he was. You cannot get away from your fate. This theory of fatalism was adopted lock, stock and barrel by the flag-bearers of Brahmanism so that the masters could tell the slaves that they should accept their fate quietly and lead their lives in accordance with God’s wish. Even today, we routinely mouth statements such as “hoyee hai soyee jo Ram rachi rakha, ko karai tark, badhawahi sakha” and “hota hai wahi jo manzoore Khuda hota hai”.
In the West, the slavery system was replaced by feudalism and a new ideology to sustain it came in the form of Christianity. It was also a new face of classical ideology, which we can hardly miss in plays on Dr Faustus, Milton’s epic Paradise Lost and Alexander Pope’s long poem An Essay on Man. At the beginning of the Bible, Adam and Eve breach their limits and face curse and torture. The same ideology reappeared in Christianity in the form of Chain of Being, which proclaimed that stones, trees, humans, angels, god – everyone – had its designated place and none could transcend it. Quran adopted the Biblical tale as it is. In the West, the newly arrived capitalism, with its spirit of scientific enquiry, challenged this theory and so did Rousseau and poets of the romantic school on the one hand and Darwin’s epochal work The Origin of Species on the other. All of them tore to pieces the theories of creation peddled by different religions. But it was Marx and his lifelong associate Engels who gave the world a scientific philosophy for ending exploitation and inequality. Lenin enriched this theory and the Soviet Revolution under his leadership sent a strong message to humanity that only a social revolution led by the proletariat and inspired by Marx’s scientific philosophy can end the exploitation of man by man. The Soviet Revolution inspired revolutions in many parts of the world, including in China. These were the countries where either global capitalism had not struck roots or was in its infancy. Nepal can witness another such revolution provided all communists committed to the proletariat join hands. The monarchy based on classical ideology and the stinking “Hindu Rashtra” of Nepal has already been consigned to the dustbin of history. Nepal is on the way to becoming a modern nation-state although like China, it would also have to take the aid of capitalism to develop, as only capitalism still has the power to unleash the forces of production. Thus Nepal cannot become a socialist state straightaway. The people would have to first establish their rule in the country.
In our country, the exploiters have added a new dimension to the centuries-old classical ideology and that is theories of rebirth and incarnation. The theories have been packaged in attractive myths, tales and stories to lend strength to the belief that what you go through in your life is dependent on what did in your last birth. Pandits, saints and religious scholars of all descriptions incessantly feed these sermons to the people. This sermonizing has assumed massive proportions today. There are innumerable TV channels through which preachers of all religions keep on conditioning the people to the elements of classical ideology. As assortment of sadhus, sadhvis and bapus is busy doing this day and night. Huge corporate and foreign capital is invested in this industry. There are TV channels solely devoted to spreading superstitions, ignorance and fatalism. The preachers have even purchased time slots on news TV channels and are using them to spread their retrograde thoughts. Even as I was writing this article, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper by government’s TV channel Doordarshan, inviting bids for time slots. It can be said without doubt that these slots will be purchased by some moneybag to be used for peddling superstitions and classical ideology. The prime minister, many ministers and MPs belonging to the RSS-BJP parivar are part of this project because it strengthens the fascist mission of Hindutva.
These kinds of thoughts and beliefs are playing a key role in making the status quo acceptable. No popular newspaper or TV channel is raising its voice against this web of ignorance. Those who worked, either individually or through an organization, against the classical ideology of superstitions and Brahmanism were killed in cold blood. They will continue to be killed. Thus the classical ideology had become a powerful force that had the capacity to vanquish every reform movement or intellectual struggle aimed at annihilation of caste.
The exploiter class initially tries to keep the exploited class enslaved through an ideology or thought but when ideological weapons fail, it unleashes oppression through army, police, judiciary etc or it launches on its own a violent assault on the slaves. In India, both the stratagems are being used in parallel. Presently, the exploiter class is investing more in ideology. What is surprising is that that the followers of saints and social reformers, who launched powerful movements against the caste system, untouchability and other inequalities or founded religions that had no faith in casteism, allow themselves to fall into the brahmanical trap and forget the path shown by their gurus. Whether it is Kabir or Guru Nanak or other Nirgun or sufi saints, or social reformers and politicians of modern era like Jotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram – the followers of all of them have all but forgotten their objective, that is, the annihilation of caste, and instead have confined themselves to extracting concessions for their respective castes. They probably do not even remember their broader and bigger objective.
Should we then concede that the caste system is indestructible? But do we humans have to sit quietly and endure an evil just because it is supposed to be a divine doing? It is true that the project for annihilation of caste is a difficult and challenging one but we will have to execute it sooner or later using scientific and logical processes. To begin with, all truth-seekers and scholars should get down to studying the present Indian society. This research would clearly identify the hurdles in the path to annihilation of caste. It is clear that in any society divided along class lines, all such ideologies that divide the exploited and oppressed sections aid the exploiters. The British used exactly this tactic to perpetuate their rule on India. Our new rulers are following in their footsteps. Our society is like a honeycomb, divided vertically and horizontally into innumerable castes and classes. First, there is the hierarchy of varnas. Then, within the varnas – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishayas and Shudras – there is the hierarchy of castes. Then there are sub-castes, gotras and so on. And this disease of divisions within divisions afflicts the Dalits as much as it does the savarnas. Even uniting the Dalits is impossible because of the notions of high and low prevalent among them. The ruling classes have played this game of dividing society since time immemorial and the present ruling class is no different. It knows where its interests lie.
Who or what is this ruling class? Earlier, kings, emperors and nawabs were considered rulers. Now this or that person or party is considered the ruler. You ask anyone and he or she will say that Gandhiji won us independence, then Nehru and his family members or other leaders of his party became the country’s rulers and now the BJP and Narendra Modi are ruling the country. But this impression is the creation of the classes that have formed these parties to perpetuate their rule. The real ruler is the exploiter class but the people only see the politicians, which are, in fact, only fronts, puppets – not the real rulers. The real rulers are the capitalists, the feudals and the imperialists. The democratic system is under their thumb and they persuade us to vote only those parties to power that will allow them to continue exploiting the masses. They spend money like water to bring them to power. When the people get tired of a person or a party, the exploiter classes prop up another leader or another party. And their game continues. Bereft of class consciousness, the exploited classes keep on electing this or that party not knowing that they all will serve the interest of the moneybags. Annihilation of caste is not possible unless we first annihilate this system based on exploitation and inequality. Without doing that, our society will never reach the next stage of development and the exploitation of man by man will never end.
At what stage of development is our society at present and what should be our next target and how should we all Indians struggle unitedly to achieve it? To answer this question, the first thing we need to do is to identify the exploiter classes – just as in colonial India we had realized that British imperialism was our biggest enemy and we had to free ourselves from it. After Independence, the top capitalists of India created parties and organizations – including the Congress – to achieve their ends. They were the rulers and continue to be so. Drawing appropriate lessons from the British imperialists, they forged strategic alliances with feudals and big landowners and also with capitalists of other countries that helped them finance their projects. A close observation will reveal that that this alliance is still in place and is ruling the roost. We should realize that this class is responsible for sustaining the exploitative system based on inequality. The capitalists and landowners are the prime villains of the piece and they are aided by international capital, which is exploiting all the developing economies through the IMF and the World Bank. Their stranglehold is getting stronger by the day. Is it a mere coincidence that all economic advisers to the government of India – be it Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia or Raghuram Rajan under the Congress rule and (again) Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian and Arvind Panagariya under BJP rule – were formerly either at the IMF or the World Bank? And their brethren will follow. The political parties of exploiter classes are handmaidens of international finance capital. That is why strengthening the exploitative system and inequality that serves the interests of global capital is the prime objective of all our governments.
Without freedom from this clique of exploiters, no project to bring about equality in society can succeed. A poisonous tree cannot be destroyed by axing its branches. It has to be struck at the roots. Our saints, poets, philosophers, social reformers, Dalit thinkers and politicians have come out with suggestions from time to time on how to destroy this poisonous tree of casteism. But while they kept on plucking the leaves of the tree, its roots continued to grow deeper and sturdier. That is why divorcing the project of annihilation of caste from the project to end inequalities in society won’t work.
Now the question is which section of society should bear the responsibility of taking it to the next stage of development. This section has been changing with time. Society is not under the control of any individual or party. It is the exploiter classes that are ruling the country by proxy. They operate their exploitative machinery and ensure that inequality in society does not end. So naturally, it is the people who would have to lead the struggle against these forces and not any individual or politician.
Humanity has put this responsibility on the shoulders of the proletariat, as only they know the intricacies of the exploitative system. They can take the society forward through class struggle. They also have the ideology of scientific socialism and can play the historic role of taking on global capitalism. Equipped with modern knowledge, they can declare war on the centuries-old brahmanical classical ideology. Other classes, which are also facing the brunt of exploitation and inequality, can aid them. It is clear that what we need today to build a new republic is a broad people’s front that brings together the Left front, which leads the proletariat, and all sections of society which want to free our society from the capitalists, big landowners and international capital. As long as there is economic slavery, caste can never be annihilated.