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Theoretical underpinning of the Bahujan identity

Mahipal writes how Bahujan saints lived in and talked about the real world. They set an example for their followers by earning a livelihood and being materially productive. They fought the caste system and preached equality, liberty and fraternity

Buddha used the term “Bahujan” long ago when he pronounced “Bahujan Hitaya, Bahujan Sukhaya” as the basis of religion. Only when actions are taken for the welfare of a majority of people, society will be truly happy. Kanshi Ram put this concept of Bahujan into practice politically through the formation of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP). He was convinced that political power is the master key that unlocks holistic development to the masses. It worked well as along as he was alive. But after he died, the party lost its sense of purpose.

Who are the Bahujan?

The “Bahujan” constitute broadly people who have traditionally been farmers/artisans, labourers and forest-dwellers. In legalese, the “Bahujan” includes Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The farmers/artisans and labourers are interdependent. Despite having their own sociocultural heritage, STs have begun to see themselves as Bahujan due to similarities and linkages in aspects of religion and livelihood. There are OBCs whose culture is closer to that of the Tribals than to that of the other Bahujan – the Gurjars, for example.

On what basis Bahujan may be called a single identity? What are the commonalities among different sections of the Bahujan? They may be spiritual, cultural or customary:

1. Progressive and Regressive

The approach of Brahmanism has been regressive or unscientific whereas that of the Bahujan has been progressive. Premkumar Mani has rightly observed how Brahmanism says once upon a time there was “Satyug” and the present age is “Kalyug”. Brahmanism believes in motion from good to bad. In other words, it is based on regression rather than progression. In olden times, everything was good and now everything is bad. Premkumar Mani writes, “Earlier, ‘Devbhasha’ Sanskrit ruled the roots; later came people’s languages; earlier, it was the age of the gods; now it is age of the lesser human beings. Science says that the world has moved from being simple to being complex – from among unicellular organisms emerged multicellular ones. The people’s languages came first; the elite refined them to build their own language. Earlier times were worse; the present times are better. This is progress.

Hence, it is clear that the Bahujan approach for the upliftment of mankind has been progressive; the Hindu approach is regressive.

2. Spiritual basis

The spiritual basis of Bahujan is equality, liberty and fraternity rather than visiting temples and other places of worship. In fact, for them work is worship. Love and service are the basis of their religion. Saints like Namdev, Gora, Sanwata, Narhari, Sena and Raka, Trilochan, Akha, Sadan, Charandas, Paltu Sahib, Bula Sahib, Dharamdas, Singaji, Sunder Das, Jagannath were all Bahujan. Rajendra Prasad Singh has observed that the main objective of the Bahujan sects has been the establishment of a casteless society whereas the brahmanical sects have been secretly guarding the caste system.

A painting of Raidas

According to Ambedkar, the concept of caste is the breath of Hindus, for Brahmanism is the negation of equality, liberty and fraternity. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the advocate of nonviolent resistance who is revered as a saint (Mahatma) and the father of the nation, wrote about the varna and caste system in a Gujarati journal in 1921:

“I believe that if Hindu Society has been able to stand, it is because it is founded on the caste system…To destroy the caste system and adopt the Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be chaos if every day a Brahmin is changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin.”

This reeks of double standards. Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s response to Gandhi’s philosophy was:

“Does the Mahatma practice what he preaches? I ask how far has the Mahatma attempted to realize his ideal in his own case? The Mahatma is a Bania trader by birth. His ancestors had abandoned trading in favour of ministership, which is a calling of the Brahmins. In his own life, before he became a Mahatma, when the occasion came for him to choose his career he preferred law to scales. On abandoning law, he became half-saint and half-politician. He has never touched trading, which is his ancestral calling. His youngest son… was born a Vaishya, has married a Brahmin’s daughter, has chosen to serve a newspaper magnate.”

A painting of Kabir

3. Organic spirituality

Bahujan saints were “organic”, meaning they were rooted in reality. They were not merely engaged in lecturing and sermonizing. Instead while striving for the spiritual upliftment of people they used to earn a livelihood, along with their followers, and keep themselves materially productive. In this way, they would urge their disciples to develop physically, mentally and spiritually to be truly free. African American author Booker T. Washington said holistic development involves triple Hs – hands, heads and hearts. Bahujan saints, too, used hands to signify dignity of labour, heads to promote education and hearts to promote love, brotherhood, inclusiveness, sharing and caring, and service. Apart from giving spiritual education, Bahujan saints would emphasize the need for physical work. They were weaving cloth, stitching shoes and farming. This is a big difference between Bahujan saints and others who have been given the ‘saint’ title.

4. ‘Peace’ and Breach

Here, “peace” denotes status quo in the context of the caste system. On the other hand, breach denotes the annihilation of caste. Brahmanism is always for keeping the caste system intact whereas Bahujan saints fought to demolish the caste system and unite the Bahujan.

To sum up, the Bahujan concept is built on the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. Bahujan saints lived and helped others live in the real world. The Bahujan’s approach was progressive, not regressive. They believe in convergence, cooperation and coordination and finally assimilation, all geared towards collective action in developing scientific temper among the masses.

Copy-editing: Anil




  1. Ambedkar B.R. (1936), The Annihilation of Caste
  2. Ilaiah Kancha (2009), Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution, Sage.
  3. Arundhati Roy (2014), ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ – an introduction to The Annihilation of Caste, Navayana
  4. Rajendra Prasad Singh (2016), ‘The Idea of OBC Literature’ in (ed) Ivan Kostka and Pramod Ranjan, The Case for Bahujan Literature, The Marginalized, New Delhi
  5. Premkumar Mani (2016), The Decline of Hindi Criticism in (ed) Ivan Kostka and Pramod Ranjan, The Case for Bahujan Literature, The Marginalized, New Delhi
  6. Mahipal, ‘Role of Spiritual Capital in Ensuring Cleanliness in India’, Mainstream, October 2017

About The Author

Mahi Pal

Dr Mahi Pal is a former officer of the Indian Economic Service. He retired as a director in the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. He has authored, co-authored and edited several books in English and Hindi, including 'Panchayat Raj in India' (Publications Division, Government of India, 2018), 'Decentralised Planning and Development in India' (edited, Mittal Publications, 2008), 'Capital Formation and Employment Generation in Rural India' (Mittal Publications, 1999), 'Land Productivity and Employment in Indian Agriculture' (Mittal Publications, 1992) and 'Gram Niyojan' (National Book Trust, 2012). He has contributed a number of articles to the journal 'Economic & Political Weekly'.

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