Whither Annihilation of Caste ?

Ram Puniyani

When on this (14th April 2013) anniversary of Dr. Bhimrao Babasaheb Ambedkar, we pay tribute to his yeomen services towards the cause of social justice and bringing to fore the values of democracy; we also need to think as to how his dream and vision of annihilation of caste can be taken further. Where do we stand in this direction six decades after the Independence and after the formal implementation of Constitution of India, which gives us the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity?

Caste has been the major marker of Indian, particularly Hindu, society. While world over the serfs were under the bondage of feudal lords, we had religiously ordained system of Varna-Jati (Caste). Many theories of caste prevail, the racial theory, superior Aryans versus the natives, now stands debunked. The hypothesis of Morton Klass argues that it was a way of adjusting of tribal to the system of production, which generated surplus. This understanding indicates towards the understanding that caste evolved with the particular system of production in India. Kosambi looks at origin of caste as being due to the continuous process of fusing of tribal into general society. The major contribution to the understanding of genesis of caste comes from Ambedkar as per whom caste-varna came into being due to ideological-religious factors. According to him caste system came into being as the result of ideologies of Dharmshatras, which was part of Brahmanism.

In Indian society the interesting point is that caste is prevalent not only amongst Hindus, it also prevails in other religious communities. The difference being that amongst Hindus, the caste is prescribed in the holy books, while in other religious communities; it is a social phenomenon, like Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal amongst Muslims and different denominations amongst Christians and Sikhs. The first challenge to caste system came from Lord Gautam Buddha, who talked of Samta, equality. This concept of Samta, equality became very popular and was accepted by large number of people till Buddhism was attacked and wiped out from India in eighth century by those who wanted to restore the varna-caste. During medieval period the Bhakti saints in particular talked against and questioned the system of graded inequality, but their voice though a powerful articulation of the plight of the low caste, remained just an expression of pain and sorrow of the poor, and was strongly opposed by Brahmin clergy.

The rule of Muslim Kings and British did not change the social structure of the subcontinent, though during British rule due to the industrialization and introduction of modern education, the caste system started being questioned, opposed and socially challenged. The edifice of caste started loosening up. During the rule of Muslim kings the social structure remained intact. With the British rule the half way process of industrialization and modern education came in. At the same time the caste-varna also continued on the side, though its legitimacy started being questioned in a more serious way. In the changed situation starting form Jotirao Phule the movements for caste abolition found grounding in society, though they were not able to uproot the phenomenon of caste in the full measures as the feudal production system ran side by side with the process of modernization. The process of secularization, abolition of the hold of landlord and clergy, remained incomplete and so the process of caste transformation remained half way through.

All the struggles started by Ambedkar aimed for social justice, social equality and democratic values. He led the movements like Chavdar Talab, for right to have access to public drinking water, Kalaram Mandir, right to enter temples and also the burning of Manusmriti, as symbolic of the rejection of religiously ordained caste hierarchy. The resistance to these led to his conclusion that he had to leave the Hindu fold, which is dominated by Brahmanical values of Varna. The social political base to his movements was provided by the national movement, which was aspiring for throwing away the British colonial power and also struggling for democratic values. Here Ambedkar rook off from this movement, but the national movement was not adequate to give him total social justice as this movement also had upper castes in good measure. So here we see the dilemma of Mahatma Gandhi versus Ambedkar. Gandhi was not able to go beyond the limits posed by the participation of all castes in freedom movement. He kept talking of varna system in a more refined form while taking up cudgels against untouchability.

Gandhi also opposed the separate electorate, provided by communal award of MacDonald in 1932. The Poona pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar led to the reserved Constituency and the provisions of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Ambedkar’s vision was that reservations and inter-caste marriages will be steps towards annihilation of caste. Today both these face serious obstacles on social ground. The rigidity of caste is increasing and inter-caste marriage is facing serious obstacles from conservative forces. While freedom movement led by Gandhi was half way conceding to the needs of dalits, the other ideology, the one of religious nationalism was waiting in the wings with the concept of Hindu Rashtra, Hindu nation. Ambedkar did realize that acceptance of religious nationalism, formation of Pakistan on that ground will be a disaster for dalits as it will pave the way for Hindu Rashtra, the slavery of dalits. Today while most of the commentators are attacking Gandhi, they need to focus more attention to the impact of the politics and ideology of Hindu religious nationalism, which is a major obstacle to caste abolition today.

The reservations for dalits led to newer caste equations. On one hand the section of rising middle class stood to oppose these reservations, tooth and nail. The anti reservation violence has been witnessed in the Gujarat in particular in 1980s. Also since the overall development process is not accommodative of all, the inner competition for reservation has led to a strange situation where different communities are vying for status as a particular reserved category. The overall future for the youth is dismal and it gets reflected in the form of movements for particular castes getting recognized in this or that category. The other major obstacle to caste transformation is the politics of Hindutva. On one hand it talks of Samajik Samrasta (social Harmony), that all castes should have harmony amongst them. The Hindutva’s concept of ‘Integral Humanism’ emphasizes on different castes continuing their professions for smooth social functioning. The social engineering by religious political forces is co-opting the low caste through various mechanisms, to the extent of using them as foot soldiers of their anti minority violence. A section of dalits also is influenced by the process of Sanskritization, aping at upper caste and imitating them for their future trajectory. As a logical corollary; the cultural mechanisms, the TV serials, the preaching’s of hoards of God men are promoting the values of Manusmiriti in a more sophisticated form.

At the same time a serious layer of progressive and dalit intellectuals are trying to restore the core values and principles of struggles against caste-varna. The situation today is very complex and caste as a social phenomenon is far from extinct. Today’s political scenario is a conflict between the values of democracy on one hand, and the values of religious nationalism; the politics representing the defense of caste and gender hierarchy; on the other. The process of social equality; caste annihilation and values of democracy need to be brought in through a fresh series of multilayered struggles for a truly democratic society. That alone will be a tribute to the life and work of the legend of this great visionary, Bhimrao Babsaheb Ambedkar.

courtesy : 'Issues in Secular Politics' : www.pluralindia.com

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Dear Madams of FICCI,

From reports in media we have understood that our Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi has impressed you all with his hard-hitting eloquence. On reading and hearing report of the speech, we, the women of Gujarat were wonder-struck ! Was he speaking of women in Gujarat? Was he revealing the whole truth? Certainly not. So we thought that we could enlighten you all about the reality in Gujarat.

In Gujarat's population the number of women has gone down. In 2001 there were 921 women against 1000 men. In 2011, three more were lost per a thousand, 918 were counted in the census. This is the ten year period during which nine other States recorded increase in the number of women, from 45 in Delhi to 4 in Rajastan. Gujarat kept losing.

Mr. Modi was speaking of female foeticide, an old 18th century practice. In Gujarat the sex ratio in the age group of 0 to 6 years in 2001, was 886 girls as against 1000 boys. In 2011 it was 883 girls as against 1000 boys. Difference of only 3 gained over ten years! It was only in late 2011 that the news of the government having closed 101 sonography clinics was heard; thereafter a few were reported closed in 2012. In 2013, so far, no penal action under PCPNDT Act is reported. That is the Governance in Gujarat! Does the Government care?

Latest surveys (2006) concerning married women's health note that 55.5% women were anaemic in the age group of 15 to 49 years of age. In the same age group 60.8% pregnant women were malnourished and anaemic. In 1998-99, 74.5% of dalit and tribal children in the age group of 6 months to 35 months were reported as malnourished. In 2005-2006 the number of such children increased to 79.8%. 49.2% children have not developed to normal height, 41% do not have the weight normally children of their age group could have. During the last election this issue was taken up and the minister in charge had rushed to find out where the fortified food packets had gone! That is Governance in Gujarat! Maternal mortality rate and Infant mortality rate do not come down; mothers and children keep dying in Gujarat or continue to survive as weaklings.

To refer to women as mothers all the time is pretentious. We have noted how young mothers die of malnourishment. Lack of treatment (because no government dispensary, block or district hospital has a gynecologist appointed, large city hospitals provide such facility) is one more obvious reason.. No wonder that many women deliver babies in the ambulance like buses known as 108 service. Governance of Gujarat's government does not seem to follow any policy for saving young women's lives. Even young men's lives. Very recently, a resident doctor died of Dengue fever in Ahmedabad's large Civil Hospital and many more are now dying of Swine flu in Gujarat. The deaths seem to argue absence of good governance.

Education for girls was free. In last couple of years the government has stopped encouraging continuation of such schools and colleges. Now girls have to pay hefty fees if they choose to get 'good' education. That is the Governance in Gujarat.

Mr. Modi spoke of the Bill for 50% women members in Local-Self Government which, the Governor of Gujarat, Dr. Shrimati Kamalaji, despite being a woman herself did not sign. The Governor of Gujarat did not sign it because the provisions in the Bill were mixed up with another issue, that of compulsory voting. The Bill was returned by the Governor asking the Government to separate the issues, get the Bill for 50% reservation for women passed again and then she would be prepared to sign it. The Governor is found fault with which is emphasised by adding 'despite being a women herself'. This is Modistyle. The details of why she did not sign it are not spoken of, so the listeners are led to believe that the Governor of Gujarat is insensitive towards women's rights despite being a woman herself. Half-truth is the hall-mark of Modyism.

Mr Modi had to belittle the Governor of Gujarat because she took steps to appoint the Lokayukta in Gujarat which he did not approve of. So a long drawn battle is being fought in the Supreme Court. If Mr. Modi had only wanted to speak about his contribution for women he could have spoken of village panchayats formed fully by women members. In May, 2012, 422 panchayats were organised through consensus wherein all members were women. Such organising denies democratic election and it is implied that only those who command village level polity can have their say. One of the women attending the State function held to congratulate their becoming important office bearers in their villages, had told a reporter that her husband asked her a few days earlier to be Sarpanch in his place and he asked her to attend the function, so she had come up to Gandhinagar, Gujarat's capital, Mr. Modi could have proudly spoken of women-headed Panchayats but, unmindful of her status, self-respect or sense of decorum he preferred to take a venomous dig at the woman who holds a high constitutional office in Gujarat. A rabble could greet such comments with claps and laughter, but I believe, that you, Madams of FICCI, did not appreciate such remarks. All said and done Dr. Srimati Kamalaji is an octogenerian who commands such respect that she could be rightfully addressed as 'Ma', the mother. But this is how the people are won in Gujarat, by using half-truths and by debunking known persons without caring for their status in public life or without spending a thought on his own personal dignity. As long as the crowds go home laughing he is assured of votes, so why should he care about such silly issues like dignity of the speaker himself. That is how Gujarat is gained. And it is governed to gain accolades for him who got the votes. As long as that is gained, governance in Gujarat does not seem to matter.

Increase in crimes in Gujarat is phenomenal during last decade. Robberies and murders of old people, including women are reported every other day. 235 rapes were registered in 2001, in 2011 the number is 413. Kidnappings have increased from 731 in 2001 to 1329 in 2011. All other crimes appear to have gone down. The police stations do not want to register crimes because they are reprimanded if the number of crimes increases. Gujarat has to be shown as Crime Free State so less registration is better from governance point of view. We are aware of circulars that ask the policemen down the line not to register women's complaints in the first instance, they take 'applications'. Reduced crime rate could vouch for good governance in Gujarat. It is followed by possibilities of less punishment / justice and freedom to commit crimes.

Business is in the blood of Gujarat's people. Many women run their own business, not only in food items but also as designers, boutique owners etc and are doing very well. Many women are employed as retailers in various markets. But 'Lijjat' papads are not produced by tribal women. That is misinformation. Business by women has flourished for a long time in Gujarat, despite Mr. Modi.

Yours sincerely,

Ila Pathak

(Dr. Ila Pathak is a founder President of Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG). After seeing media reports and speech of Mr. Narendra Modi CM of Gujarat, as he was addressing 29th session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies’ organisation, FICCI, New Delhi. Dr. Pathak had written a letter to Madams of FICCI.)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED