CASTE IN INDIA

CASTE IN INDIA

  1. I do not care for the credit which every progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realize that they are the sick men of India and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.
  2. As a rule, I do not like to take any part in a movement which is carried on by the Caste Hindus.
  3. “As long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders; and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.”
  4. Castes in India: To proceed with the subject. According to well-known ethnologists, the population of India is a mixture of Aryans, Dravidians, Mongolians and Scythians. All these stocks of people came into India from various directions and with various cultures centuries ago, when they were in a tribal state. They all in turn elbowed their entry into the country by fighting with their predecessors, and after a stomachful of it settled down as peaceful neighbours.
  5. We may therefore conclude that the “idea of pollution’ is a characteristic of Caste only in so far as Caste has a religious flavor.
  6. In my opinion there have been several mistakes committed by the students of Castes, which have misled them in their investigations. European students of Caste have unduly emphasized the role of colour in the Caste system. Themselves impregnated by colour prejudices, they very readily imagined it to the chief factor in the Caste problem. But nothing can be farther from the truth, and Dr.Ketkar is correct when he insists that “All the princes whether they belonged to the so-called Aryan race, or the so-called Dravidian race, were Aryan or Dravidian was a question which never troubled the people of India, until foreign scholars came in and began to draw the line. The colour of the skin had long ceased to be a matter of importance. “Again, they have mistaken mere descriptions for explanation and fought over them as though they were theories of origin. There is occupational, religious etc., castes, it is true, but it is by no means an explanation of the origin of Caste. We have yet to find out why occupational groups are castes; but this question has never even been raised. Lastly they have taken Caste very lightly as though a breath had made it. On the contrary, Caste, as I have explained it, is almost impossible to be sustained; for the difficulties that it involves are tremendous. It is true that Caste rests on belief, but before belief comes to be the foundation of an institution, the institution itself needs to be perpetuated and fortified. My study of the Caste problem involves four main points:
  7. That in spite of the composite make-up of the Hindu population, there is a deep cultural unity;
  8. That caste is a parceling into bits of a larger cultural unit;
  9. That there was one caste to start with and
  10. That classes have become castes through imitation and excommunication.
  11. Congress president Mr.S.N.Bonnerji said; “I for one have no patience with those who say we shall not be fit for political reform until we reform our social system. I fail to see any connection between the two…Are we not fit (for political reform) because our widows remain unmarried and our girls are given in marriage earlier than in other countries? Because our wives and daughters do not drive about with us visiting our friends? Because we do not sent our daughters to Oxford and Cambridge?
  12. Having stated the facts let me now state the case for social reform. In doing this, I will follow Mr.Bonerji, as nearly as I can and ask the Political-minded Hindus “Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a large class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use public school? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them use public wells? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow use public streets? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them to wear that apparel or ornaments they like?  Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food they like?  Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food they like?   I can ask a string of such questions. But this will suffice. I wonder what would have been the reply of Mr.Bonnerni. I am sure no sensible man will have the courage to give an affirmative answer. Every Congressman who repeats the dogma of Mill that one cone country is not fit to rule another country must admit that one class is not fit to rule another class.
  13. What is the cause of this shameful state of affairs? Why has no attempt been made to civilize these aborigines and to lead them to take to a more honorable way of making a living? The Hindus will probably seek to account for this savage state of the aborigines by attributing to them congenital stupidity. They will probably not admit that the aborigines have remained savages because they had made no effort to civilize them, to give them medical aid, to reform them, to make them good citizens. But supposing a Hindus wished to do what a Christian missionary is doing for these aborigines, could be have done it? I submit not. Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as your own, living in their midst, and cultivating fellow-felling, in short loving them. How it is possible for a Hindus to do this? His whole life is one anxious effort to preserve his caste. Caste is his precious possession which he must save at any cost. He cannot consent to lose it by establishing contact with the aborigines the remnants of the hateful Anaryas of the Vedic days. Not that a Hindu could not be taught the sense of duty to fallen humanity, but the trouble is that no amount of sense of duty can enable him to overcome his duty to preserve his caste. Caste is, therefore, the real explanation as to why the Hindu has let the salvage remain a savage in the midst of his civilization without blushing or without feeling any sense of remorse or repentance. The Hindu has not realized that these aborigines are a source of potential danger. If these savages remain they may not do any harm to the Hindus. But if they are reclaimed by non-Hindus and converted to their faiths they will swell the ranks of the enemies of the Hindus. If this happens the Hindu will have to thank himself and his Caste system.
  14. The Hindus criticize the Mohammedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the inquisition. But really speaking who is better and more worthy of our respect-the Mohammedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make up? I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and meanness is worse than cruelty.
  15. The Hindus claim to be a very tolerant people. In my opinion this is a mistake. On many occasions they can be intolerant and if on some occasions they are tolerant that is because they are too weak to oppose or too indifferent to oppose. This indifference of the Hindus has become so much a part of their nature that a Hindus will quite meekly tolerate an insult as well as wrong.
  16. Would Hindus acknowledge and follow the leadership of a great and good man? The case of a Mahatma apart, the answer must be that he will follow a leader if he is a man of his caste. A Brahmin will follow a leader only if he is a Brahmin, Kayastha if he is Kayastha and so on. The capacity to appreciate merits in a man apart from his caste does not exist in a Hindu. There is appreciation of virtue but only when the man is a fellow caste-man. The whole morality is an bad as tribal morality. My Caste-man, right or wrong; my caste-man, good or bad. It is not a case of standing by virtue and not standing by vice. It is a case of standing or not standing by the caste. Have not Hindus committed treason against their country in the interests of their caste?
  17. What is your ideal society if you do not want caste is a question that is bound to be asked of you? If you ask me, my ideal would be a society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. And why not? What objection can there be to Fraternity? I cannot imagine any. An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels of conveying a change taking place in one part to there parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen. Any objection to Liberty? Few object to liberty in the sense of right to free movement, in the sense of a right to life and limb. There is no objection to liberty in the sense of a right to property, tools and materials as being necessary for earning a living to keep the body in due state of health. Why not allow liberty to benefit by an effective and competent use of a person’s powers? The supporters of caste who would allow liberty in the sense of a right to life, limb and property, would not readily consent to liberty in this sense, inasmuch as it involves liberty to choose one’s profession. But to object to this kind of liberty is to perpetuate slavery. For slavery does not merely mean a legalized form of subjection. It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from other the purposes which control their conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in the Caste System, some persons are compelled to carry on certain prescribed calling which are not of their choice.
  18. That notion is that of a hierarchy based on birth. So long as these names continue, Hindus will continue to think of the Brahmin, Kshariya, Vaishya and Shudra as hierarchical divisions of high and low, based on birth and act accordingly.
  19. Modern science has shown that lumping together of individuals into a few sharply marked-off classes is a superficial view of man not worthy of serious consideration. Consequently, the utilization of the qualities of individuals is incompatible with their stratification by classes, since the qualities of individuals are so variables.
  20. The story in the Ramayana of Rama killing Shambuka. Some people seem to blame Rama because he wants only and without reason killed Shambuka. But to blame Rama for killing Shambuka is to misunderstand the whole situation. Ram Raj was a Raj based on Chaturvarnya. As a king, Rama was bound to maintain Chaturvarnya. It was his duty therefore to kill Shambuka, the Shudra, who has transgressed his class and wanted to be a Brahmin. This is the reason why Rama killed Shambuka.
  21. It seems to me that the question is not whether a community lives or dies; the question on what plane does it live. There are different modes of survival. But all are not equally honourable. For an individual as well as for a society, there is a gulf between merely living and living worthily. To fight in a battle and to live in glory is one mode. To beat a retreat, to surrender and to live the life of a captive is also a mode of survival. It is useless for Hindu to take comfort in the fact that he and his people have survived. What he must consider is what is the quality of their survival? If he does that, I am sure he will cease to take pride in the mere fact of survival. A Hindu’s life has been a life of continuous defeat and what appears to him to be life everlasting is not living everlastingly but is really a life which is perishing everlastingly. It is a mode of survival of which every right-minded Hindu, who is not afraid to own up the truth, will feel ashamed.
  22. Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer, who defies, society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies Government.
  23. Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion; it is a state of the mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a national change. Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same it must be recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They observed caste because they are deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy, you must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the Shastras which teach them this religion of Caste.
  24. It is no use seeking refuge in quibbles. It is no use telling people that the Shastras do not say what they are believe to say, grammatically read or logically interpreted. What matters is how the Shastras have been understood by the people. You must take the stand the Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Budda and Nanak. You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion-the religion which had produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste. Will you show that courage?
  25. Whether you accept the theory of the great man as the maker of history or whether you do not , this much you will have to concede that in every country the intellectual class is the most influential class, if not the governing class. The intellectual class is the class which can foresee, is the class which can advise and give lead. In no country does the mass of the people live the life of intelligent thought and action. It is largely imitative and follows the intellectual class. There is no exaggeration in saying that the entire destiny of a country depends upon its intellectual class. If the intellectual class is honest, independent and disinterested it can be trusted to take the initiative and give a proper lead when a crisis arises. It is true that intellect by itself is no virtue. It is only a means and the use of means depends upon the ends which an intellectual person pursues. An intellectual man can be a good man but he can easily be a rogue. Similarly an intellectual class may be a band of high-sounded persons, ready to help, ready to emancipate erring humanity or it may easily be a gang of crooks or a body of advocates of narrow clique from which it draws its support. You may think it a pity that the Intellectual class in India is simply another name for the Brahmin caste. You may regret that the two are one; that the existence of the intellectual class should be bound with one single caste, that this intellectual class should share the interest and the aspirations of that Brahmin caste, which had regarded itself the custodian of the interest of that caste, rather than of the interests of the country. All this may be very regrettable.
  26. But the fact remains, that the Brahmins form the intellectual class of the Hindus. It is not only an intellectual class but it is a class which is held in great reverence by the rest of the Hindus.

When such an intellectual class, which holds the rest of the community in its grip, is opposed to the reform of Caste, the chances of success in a movement of the break-up of the Caste system appear to me very, very remote.

  1. You must destroy the religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis. Nothing else will avail. This is my considered view of the matter.
  2. What is this Hindu Religion? Is it a set of principles or is it a code of rules? Now the Hindu Religion, as contained in the Vedas and Smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up. What is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but multitude of commands and prohibitions. Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them, and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu’s life.
  3. I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that as caused by misnaming this Law as Religion.
  4. There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion only when the Hindu Society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.
  5. A people and their Religion must be judged by social standards based on social ethics. No other standard would have any meaning if religion is held to be a necessary good for the well-being of the people.
  6. To my mind there is no doubt that this Gandhi age is the dark age of India. It is an age in which people instead of looking for their ideals in the future are returning to antiquity. It is an age in which people have ceased to think they have ceased to read and examine the facts of their lives. The fate of an ignorant democracy which refuses to follow the way shown by learning and experience and chooses to grope in the dark paths of the mystics and the megalomaniacs is a sad thing to contemplate. Such an age I thought needed something more than a mere descriptive sketch of the Federal Scheme. It needed a treatment which was complete though not exhaustive and pointed without being dogmatic in order to make it alive to dangers arising from the inauguration of the Federal Scheme. This is the task I had set before myself in preparing this address. Whether I have failed or succeeded, it is for you to say.
  7. You cannot have political reform; you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster (Caste).
  8. The Caste System will not allow Hindus to take to occupations where they are wanted if they do not belong to them by heredity.
  9. What efficiency can there be in a system under which neither men’s hearts nor their minds are in their work?
  10. Castes has no scientific origin and that those who are attempting to give it an eugenic basis are trying to support by science what is grossly unscientific.
  11. Caste does not result in economic efficiency. Caste cannot and has not improved the race. Caste has however done one thing. It has completely disorganized and demoralized the Hindus.
  12. Indeed the ideal Hindu must be like a rat living on his own hole refusing to have any contact with others.
  13. How are you going to compel people who have acquired a higher status based on birth without reference to their worth to vacate that status? How are you going to compel people to recognize the status due to a man in accordance with his worth, who is occupying a lower status based on his birth?
  14. In my judgment, it is useless to make a distinction between the secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins. Both are kith and kin.
  15. To a slave his master may be better or worse. But their cannot be a good master.
  16. It cannot be good to a low caste man to be conscious that there is a high caste man above him.
  17. Politicians are men with very short memories.
  18. Depressed classes are burdened with disabilities from which Mohammedans are absolutely free.
  19. Depressed classes have not merely to bear the brunt of the orthodox Hindu force. It has also to count against the Mohammedans. It is ordinarily supposed that the Mohammedan is free from social prejudices of the Hindus against the depressed classes. Nothing can be greater error than this. Leaving aside the urban areas.
  20. We do not accuse the British of indifference or want of sympathy. What we do find is that they are quite incompetent to tackle our problems. If the case was one of indifference only it would have been a matter of small moment, and it would not have made such a profound change in our attitude. But what we have come to realize on a deeper analysis of the situation is that it is not merely a case of indifference, rather it is a case of sheer incompetence to undertake the task.
  21. I have no idea what my Honorable friend means by the abolition of Untouchability. What is untouchability? Untouchability so far as I understand it, is a kind of disease of the Hindus. It is not a mental disease from which I am suffering, or any tumour which I have got nor is a rheumatic pain or any kind of the disabilities which can be removed but it a mental twist. Every Hindu believes that to observe untouchability is the right thing. I do not know how my friend is going to untwist the twist which the Hindus have got for thousands of years unless they are all sent to some kind of hospital. It is very difficult to cure them and I do not want them to be sent there. Therefore let us understand what we talk and what we are doing. Besides all must realize that untouchables should live outside the village. They shall have only earthen pots; they shall not have clean clothes; that they shall beg for food and so on and I cannot see how you blame the Hindus. For thousands of years by the teaching of this dirty law they have got inculcated in their mind the doctrine that untouchability is a most sacred thing.
  22. “You people do not know what is troubling me and what makes me so sad. The first worry to my mind is that I have not been able to fulfill my life’s mission. I wanted to see my people as a governing class sharing the political power in terms of equality with other communities. I am now almost crippled and prostrate with illness. Whatever I have been able to achieve, is being enjoyed by the educated few, who with their deceitful performance, have proved to be worthless loot, with no sympathies for their downtrodden brethren. They have surpassed my imagination; they live for themselves and their personal gains. Not one of them is prepared to do social work. They are treading the path of their ruination. I now wanted to divert my attention towards the vast illiterate masses in the villages who continue to suffer and remain almost unchanged economically….” I also wanted someone from among the Depressed Classes to come forward in my life-time and take the heavy responsibility of running the movement after me. There, however, seems none who would rise to the occasion. My lieutenants, in whom I had full faith and confidence to run the movement are fighting among themselves for leadership and power, unmindful to heavy responsibility that is going to fall upon them…I also wanted still to serve this country and its people. It is sin to take birth in a country whose people are so caste-ridden and prejudiced. In the existing set up, it is very difficult to maintain one’s interest in the affairs of this country as people are not prepared to listen to any other view which does not concur with that of the Prime Minister. To what extent the country is sinking! He exclaimed with a sigh.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Vol-1, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar writings & speeches.

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