Caste and Race are a notion, attitude, and a false reality. They are constructed on false socio-cultural grounds that become a syndrome of superiority or inferiority; and are unhealthy to create a healthy society. Human history has witnessed that the notion of “me” as an upper caste or as of belonging to a superior race is responsible for major oppression and resultant exploitation. The ideas of race and caste gave a push to already entrenched hierarchies within an inequitable society and made the structure more defiant and exploitative. The consequences ensured the wealthy strata continue to reap benefits and the bottom-most struggle to make basic ends meet. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has also exposed this brutal reality.
There is an invisible and implicit thought that breathes the notion of caste each moment in all Indian minds. On a similar terrain, India breaths caste, and the West breathes race. The former structure is responsible for direct and indirect forms of oppression for those who remain at the end in the caste hierarchy. In the caste system, the accident of birth remains central towards operation for oppression regardless of the economic strata one might belong to.
Caste is the pivotal point due to which no unity and harmony can exist. It is the structural design for human hierarchy based on a system of graded inequality. This inevitably results in a scenario where ‘human lives as a whole don’t matter but I matters more’ in terms of hierarchy. This is the foremost step towards the production of an ‘other’ and its further oppression. The venom of inequality based on caste, race, and gender and other forms of privileges might not go away but the same has been able to gain a stronghold in the annals of history and will only continue to spread and mutate to build a system based on marginalization and subordination.
The Hindu caste system is an artificial construction; a fixed and embedded ranking of human values that set the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and thus eternally empowers the privileged and also eternally paralyses the lowest underprivileged in the pyramid of hierarchy.
The roots of an unjust, unequal, and oppressive society
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wrote extensively about the roots of this unjust, unequal, and oppressive society, based on many kinds of prejudices and systems of hierarchy. India is a Hindu caste-based society with other religious minorities and a long distorted history of subjugation and appropriation. Caste-system still remains one of the dominant reasons for creating an oppressive, violent, and unjust society. Caste is a chronic disease that the mind of India has been cultivating for thousands of years in the garb of religiosity. The Veranā-āshrama (vernā-system) is a complex socio-religious model that is evolving with very little reforms in it – and as an ideological weapon to claim nation, and therefore define Nationalism as a ruling class tool. India in spite of its political unity remains segregated and ghettoised in several castes and sub-castes.
Ambedkar, in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, warned:
“I am of the opinion that in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place, because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealously and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. Without fraternity, equality, and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.”
Dr. Ambedkar saw clearly that one cannot build anything on the basis of Caste; no nation, no community, and no culture which would give peace to the mind of citizens. He realized the roots of caste lay in the mind itself. We will see in the latter part of the paper that this notion was integrally embedded in the whole Hindu religious mindset entwined with its powerful divine origin theory and religious beliefs in a social destiny ordained by the gods. Caste thus leaves no scope for an egalitarian society. There is no rendering of space for impartial justice to all sections of the society if it is based on the prejudices of caste and religion. This condition would prohibit a society in establishing equality, therefore no harmony and unity would prevail in a caste society
The question still remains a pertinent one of our time, how to bring about a nation that breathes justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity?
What occurs when caste is supported by religion?
If a nation has to breathe harmoniously it has to be equally represented by all sections of the society. Such is only possible when citizens are economically, socially, and religiously free. It is also important that there should be liberty in terms of what religion and faith they want to follow unless they do not harm others. Among citizens, there must not be any psychological fear of what faith and occupation they want to follow. There must not be oppression for anyone under the name of class or caste. Undoubtedly, Dr. Ambedkar had a profound vision for the liberation of oppressed masses of the country which compelled him to go against the graded unequal society based on caste hierarchy. India’s Hindu caste-system is the curse to its own culture and democratic tradition which has resulted in the creation of a vertical structure in the society. The Caste-system above all is not just a social unequal hierarchical order but also has deep ties with the Hindu religion. It is essentially a religious practice and is not just a socio-political ritual that manifests at every level in Indian life.
It is well argued in Dr. Ambedkar’s celebrated essay, Annihilation of Caste– “that caste has its roots not in social or in political practices but essentially in religion with divine sanctity.” What occurs when caste is supported by religion? Once the caste system is approved by divine origin and is authorized by the sacred texts (Shāshtrās), who can challenge or change it? In other words, who are humans to question it? It is not in their power to change or challenge but accept it. Thus the sufferers of this system would remain eternally helpless without the possibilities of liberation from it. They would be the subject to follow the jati-dharma (caste-duties) from such an arrangement. If caste compels humanity to suffer and allows oppressed to go through heinous inhuman practices under the name of divinity, then it would be nothing but cosmic corruption by religion. Religion therefore would be solely responsible for descending disrespect at the scale of caste hierarchy. As a result, beliefs in such religion cannot repair the entire structure.
Freedom of a nation and its people should go hand in hand
Instead, based on an egalitarian understanding, religion should be the force that deepens the solidarity of human relationships and brings the citizens together for social unity. In order to bring about a sense of social fraternity and solidarity, Dr. Ambedkar accentuated on the spiritual unity of the people on the basis of fraternity and humanity (Mānusaki – the passionate word he used in Marathi). No reforms or alterations within Hinduism would help to create an egalitarian society, as long as it believes in caste. Hinduism, therefore, could be based on the default of inequality among different castes. It teaches inequality between men and men, and men and women, and so on. Caste, in fact, promotes and justifies inequality by leveraging religion. Thus, Hinduism breaths caste and perpetuates a hierarchical society.
Dr. Ambedkar equally criticized Gandhi and the Indian National Congress for not taking any steps towards the eradication of caste-based oppression. He held them accountable by asserting Congress has done nothing besides acknowledging the problem. In a way, mainstream nationalist forces failed to see the vision of Dr. Ambedkar for a truly independent India. They did not understand that freedom from colonial rule was not significant and effective unless there is freedom from internal forms of slavery. As mentioned previously, Dr. Ambedkar never made any difference between freedom of the country and freedom of its people; as both must go hand in hand. The mainstream Hindu nationalist forces in pre-independent India laid excessive emphasis on political freedom and ignored the very fundamental freedom of people of the country. In the absence of internal freedom, nationalism became a tool for the privileged and governing classes and their private interests. This perpetuated the internal divides which resulted in nothing but disharmony by increasing the disparity among castes and communities.
Dr. Ambedkar’s stated in Annihilation of Caste that Caste is a notion, a state of mind. This notion was intrinsically implanted in religious beliefs and interweaved with supernatural powers that decided the social fortune of the people. Nevertheless, his insight also suggested the solution; wherein he states further: What mind do, mind can undo. His quest for liberation through religion taught by the Buddha had definite criteria. The new ways were enshrined by him in the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, utterly rejecting caste discrimination in all its forms. The underlying meaning of these principles was also understood to be compatible with reason and science, and not enjoining blind belief in supernatural agencies.
(Dr. Santosh Raut is an Ambedkarite-Buddhist ideologue; an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aesthetic and Philosophy, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, He is the Director (Hon), Nagarjuna Institute Nagaloka, Nagpur. He is Founder-Member of Buddha Festival, Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, and an Expert Member, Buddhavanam Project, Hyderabad, Government of Telangana. He holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Aesthetics from JNU, New Delhi)
Courtesy The Stand Point