Bahujan-led India’s indigenous socialist tradition

This is Kanwal Bharti’s preface to his first book in English to be published by Forward Press shortly. In the book, Bharti focuses on North India and provides glimpses of the long struggle against brahmanical casteism – the struggle that is a legacy of Buddha, Kabir, Raidas, Phule, Guru Ghasidas, Bodhanand, Swami Achootanand, Periyar, Ambedkar and other Bahujan heroes

Primitive tribes were the harbingers of socialist thinking in India and the Bahujans took it forward. Bahujans are the castes that were branded as Shudras and Ati-Shudras by the brahmanical system. Primitive society was matriarchal and gender equality informed life. Not only Vedic literature and Manusmriti but also texts written before and after them amply testify to this feature of primitive society. The Rigveda (7-6-3) describes the ancient socialist thinkers of India as “the foolish, faithless, rude niggards, without belief or sacrifice or worship”. In Brahmasutra (1-1-1), they have been described as “prakrat janah [uncivilized people]”. The Shantiparva of the Mahabharata talks of a socialist thinker called Charvak being burnt alive after branding him as an Asur. The Bhagvad Gita (15-7-8) says that the Asurs are those who believe that “The world is without … any basis, and without a God. It is created from the combination of the two sexes.” This means that the Asurs had a scientific explanation for the origin of the world. Almost all Upnishadasand Puranas associate egalitarian and materialist thought with the Asurs. It was the Aajivak (Shramik) and Lokayat (Lokmat) philosophy, which, through Buddha, reached the subaltern poets of the medieval era. The Buddhist philosophy, through its principle of pratityasamutpada (cause-effect principle), described individualism as the “greatest knowledge” and negated the Varna system that was based on inequality. Later, Kabir said that those who do not have love in their hearts are of no use to this world.[i] Raidas elaborated on the concept of socialism in Begumpur.[ii]

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