Indian state is part of Indian society and Indian society is built on caste based social order. That way state or the government can do very little to destroy the caste system because as the state is built on the caste and the caste society is controlled by the top castes – the state cannot go against the system even if some among the state runners decide to do so.
So, can such a state annihilate caste whichever political party comes to the power? Alternatively, can anti-caste people become rulers? This has not happened so far since independence.
Caste and the Constitution:
Dr. Ambedkar has written a book a paper ‘Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables in 1942 to be presented in the conference at Quebec, Canada, by the Institute of Pacific Relations. In that paper is a chapter on ‘Caste and Constitution’. This paper was published in a book form in 1943. In the chapter named above Dr. Ambedkar says, “In framing a constitution the social structure must always be kept in mind. The political structure must be related to the social structure. The operation of the social forces is not confined to the social field. They pervade the political field also” (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and speeches, vol. 9, p.423, Education department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1991)
His emphasis is on political system being according to the social system. In the same paper he demands political rights for the untouchables. Says he, the only safety against such peoples to have political rights, which the untouchables claim as safeguards against the tyranny of the Hindu Majority defined in the constitution. ” (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and speeches, vol. 9, p.425, Education department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1991)
Thus Dr. Ambedkar himself has asked for the safeguard for the Dalits in the constitution. He himself was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India, which came in to operation in 1950, after his above thoughts in the year 1942.
The Constitution is meant to run the state or guide the rulers in different branches of the state machinery- administration, judiciary and legislative bodies.
The Indian constitution as it has been drafted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the most vociferous proponent of annihilation of caste one can expect that it contains guide lines to state to annihilate the caste. The constitution in its pre-amble states – “to secure to all its citizens –
JUSTICE, social, economic and political
EQULITY of status and opportunity and to promote among them all FRATERNITY, assuring the dignity of the individual.
The preamble is the resolve and it is not the article of fundamental rights. These Resolves under preamble have not been achieved by the state since the time the constitution has come into force
The Articles on the Right to Equality:
The articles 14 to 17 are given under the Right to Equality in the Indian constitution. It includes – equality before law (article – 14), Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. (article – 15), equality of opportunity in matters of public employment (which includes reservation for backward classes (article – 16), abolition of untouchability) article – 17)
What has been the impact of these articles on the social system? Has untouchability been abolished? Untouchability is very much in vogue today, in the Indian society in urban as well as in rural India. In the constitution there is a clear mention that state shall abolish the untouchability. Dr. Ambedkar was also of the view that unless caste system is annihilated untouchability will not go. Therefore, article on abolition of untouchability has no meaning as far as abolishing of untouchability is concerned.
Article – 14 states that state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”.
This article does not mention about equality of castes before law. i.e. society maintains inequality of the castes and the constitution provides equality before law at personal level and not on caste level. Thus, it undermines the inequality in the name of castes.
Article 15(1), states, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them. Section 2 states ‘no citizen shall on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to –
(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
(b) The use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places or public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the public.
Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
[Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.]
This article aims at treating people equally at public places.
This article, section 2 prohibits people from discriminatory behavior and it aims at preventing people from practicing untouchability. This article is reinforced by article 17 – Abolition of untouchability. Only additional provision is observing untouchability is punishable offence.
Thus, under fundamental rights articles the section on right to equality relates mostly to untouchability. The articles do not say that untouchables are equal to other castes.
Article 16 – equality of opportunity in matters of public employment states that state shall not discriminate in employment based on caste, race, religion etc…
Section 3 of this article proposes law for reservation for backward classes. The word used is backward class of citizens. That means the constitution does not pin point the existence of caste hierarchy. Because of this lacuna backward class and backward caste relationship had to be got cleared by the courts and by the commissions. Kalelkar Commission and Mandal Commission had given the criteria namely social and economic and then the backward castes have been identified.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been identified for reservation in article 15(4).
Failure to abolish Untouchability
However, the constitution has included in fundamental rights – right to equality, it has failed to establish those rights. The state has failed to abolish untouchability.
The untouchability, with a slight change, is in practice in Indian society, both in urban as well as in rural areas. The state, although proclaims abolition of untouchability by law it has failed to infuse that culture in the social behavior.
Who runs the state?
The question then arises why the constitution has not been implemented in words, deeds and spirit?
It can be said; as there was need to introduce articles on rights to equality the inbuilt inequality in society was recognised. The class, which is running the Indian state according to the constitution, is not doing so as per the spirit of the constitution. The ruling class is synonymous with upper castes.
Is the Indian state identified with upper caste in the constitution?
The provisions in the fundamental rights and in directive principles state is giving concessions to the lower castes, S.Cs and S.Ts.
The independence won was not by the castes lower in hierarchy but by and under the leadership of Brahmanic castes. Thus, the state came into being to be run by upper castes. Therefore, the constitution framed was for the state under upper castes. Hence, the constitution was and is the instrument in the hands, mostly, of the upper castes or Brahmanic people. The provisions in the constitution for reservation and resolve to abolish untouchability mean corrective measures adopted by the upper caste rulers. The language would have been different had it been on behalf of the untouchables or backward castes. Had the governing class been SCs, STs or backward castes the constitution would have been different, would have been entirely what Dr. Ambedkar wanted it to be or Dalits, lower castes wanted it to be.
The upper castes are fooling the Dalits today by saying that constitution is what Dr. Ambedkar wanted. But, he was not the happy man over the constitution. He was not satisfied over mere phrasing of right to equality. He wanted social equality, which is a long awaited dream to become reality. Some Dalits are taking pride in depicting Dr. Ambedkar as architect of the constitution.
But, they are not as keen as Dr. Ambedkar was for annihilation of the caste system and untouchability. Hence, there is little use of the constitution for changing the governing class. The constitution is not the means for systemic change.
There is sprinkling of persons from the Dalits, tribals, other backward classes, Muslims etc in the governing class. This sprinkling of personalities does not constitute the governing class. These personalities are for personal gains and not for the social gains. They cannot go against the dictum of the governing class. The constitution having provisions for reservation for socially and educationally backward classes means it presupposes- admits it is the governing class, which is giving the concessions to the lower strata. Thus, constitution admits that the governing class in India is other than the SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. Had these castes been the governing class there would not have been arisen the need to demand reservation. The governing class does not demand. It gives. Hence, the governing class in India is giving reservations and filling the quota as it suits that class. Never ever the governing class will fully implement the quota. That class, through, the Supreme Court, has already limited quota to 50 per cent for 85 percent population but actually representation of reserved category castes is below 10 per cent in the top echelons of the bureaucracy. That shows how the ruling class is using the constitution for its dominance. Even the 50 per cent reservation is a mockery, as that percentage has not been fulfilled, keeping for itself above 90 percent services. Thus, in administration it is the governing class, which has 90 per cent share. Thus, Indian state administration is upper caste administration. Proportionate share or reservation has not altered the upper caste nature of the Indian state. Until today reservation has done little or no damage to the Brahman hold of the Indian state. That shows how Indian state has remained the Hindu state under the Hindu Nation; that is in the grip of upholders of the caste system.
Anti-Caste Measures and the State:
What are the anti-caste measures? The measures that can bridge the gap between upper and lower castes are to be taken. These measures are enumerated by the anti-caste ideologies in the Indian history.
Buddha was the first guiding force behind these measures. He was against Varna system and the focus of his ideology was to look to the problems of masses. He professed peoples’ language as medium of education and not the Sanskrit language. He curtailed the authority of Brahmins. Brahmins or Brahmanism was not the ideology that was followed by Ashoka to Brihadratha. Mass education was adopted by these Mourya rulers.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar says, “… The Mourya period was a period when Chaturvarnya was completely annihilated, when the Shudras, who constituted the mass of the people, came into their own and become the rulers of the country. The period of defeat and darkness is the period when Chaturvarnya flourished to the damnation of the greater part of the people of the country.” (Annihilation of Caste, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, P. 63, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Writings & Speeches, Vol. I (1979), Publisher: The Education Department. Govt. of Maharashtra, Bombay)
The state became divided entity after the Mourya rules. That connotes that when the rulers are guided by anti-caste ideology then only the state can be an instrument for breaking caste-Varna hierarchy.
After the Buddhist state, Indian society became caste and untouchability ridden.
During Islam and British rule again the Brahmin power over the rulers was not a binding force. Those rulers had their own set of rules. But these rulers were not consciously anti-caste. They themselves did not follow caste hierarchy but they were to rule on the foundation of the caste society. More than Muslim rulers British were harmful to the Brahmanic traditions. British brought equality before law and made such laws that were against the caste laws. The measures adopted by the British curtailed the Brahmanic hold. But, the British, as such, were not against the caste system.
State Intervention in Religion
Dr. Ambedkar in his thesis, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ suggested-
1) There should be only one standard book of Hindu Religion, acceptable to all Hindus and recognized by all Hindus. This of course means that all other books of Hindu religion such as Vedas, Shastras and Puranas, which are treated as sacred and authoritative, must be by law cease to be so and the preaching of any doctrine, religious or social contained in these books should be penalized.2) ….. It should be provided by law that no Hindu shall be entitled to be a priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the state and hold a sanad from the state permitting him to practice.3) No ceremony performed by a priest who does not hold a sanad shall be deemed to be valid in law and it should be made penal for a person who has no sanad to officiate as a priest.4) A priest should be the servant of state and should be subject to the disciplinary action by the state in the matter of his morals, belief and worship, in addition to his being subject along with other citizens to the ordinary law of the land’’. He further said concerning the issue of annihilating caste, ‘The whole thing is abominable and is due to the fact that the priestly class among Hindus is subject neither to law nor to morality. …It is a pest which divinity seems to have let loose on the masses for their mental and moral degradation. The priestly class must be brought under control by some such legislation… It will democratize it by throwing it open to everyone it will certainly help to kill the Brahmanism and will also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahmanism incarnate. (Annihilation of caste, Dr. B.A.W.S. Vol.1, p.77, 1979, Government of Maharashtra, Education Department, Bombay)
Reservation measure was brought for the first time by the British rulers. Only during British period the personalities like Jotirao Phule, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and Periyar Ramasami arose and came to the lime light. This was possible because Brahmins had no power to stop the British from imparting education to backward castes and untouchables. That liberal stand, compared to Brahmin rule, in which Shudras, untouchables had no access to education gave an opportunity to non-Brahmins. That measure of British was a cause for rise of personalities like Phule-Ambedkar-Shahu Maharaj who took the cudgels to oppose caste – Varna system.
All these personalities who were anti- caste and for social equality demanded education and reservation for non-Brahmins. Bureaucracy, as we see today, is the creation of British rule and in British period bureaucracy was dominated by Brahmins. So, Brahmins were the ruling clique for the masses and the state was dependent on Brahmins and by corollary the subjects were directly mostly under the Brahmin administration. So, in the British rule, to curtail the hold of Brahmins, demand for education and quota in services was a demand in right direction. All anti-Caste revolutionaries demanded reservations.
These personalities professed anti-Brahman philosophy. For, example Phule opposed Brahmanic philosophy, their scriptures, the gods and values. He had sown the seeds of Cultural Revolution.
So was the case of E.V. Ramasami of Madras – south India. Prince of Kolhapur State – Shahu, too, was a staunch anti-Brahmin ruler. As a step to empower the non-Brahmins, he started mass education and brought in a measure of reservation – giving 50% seats to non-Brahmins, including Muslims.
British rule started reservation for depressed castes and backward castes. That means this anti-caste measure is the outcome of the efforts of social revolutionaries like – Phule, Shahu, Periyar and Ambedkar. Of course, some British officials were aware of the overwhelming percentage of Brahmins in administration and they, too, were in favour of reservation. The report of the Backward Classes Commission Report (generally known as Mandal Commission Report), second part, Vol.VII, P.147, 1980) says, “ As far back as 1851, the Madras Revenue Board had entrusted the District Collectors to restrict the number of the Brahmin entrants in to the services.
What State can do to Annihilate Caste?
At the present time the Indian state is in the grip of upper caste as governing class. The governing class is not same as the ruling class. In India ruling people are from the different castes. They represent different castes, both upper and backward including Dalits and untouchables. But these people do not make a class with uniform ruling ideology. Overall ruling ideology is Brahmanic. Dr. Ambedkar purposely used the word governing class in his book ‘What Gandhi and Congress have done to the untouchables’. He said governing class is the class which controls the sentiments of the people and which controls the administration. Thereby he meant cultural control and bureaucratic control or administrative control. He said governing class in India are Brahmins. Second place he gives to Banias.
Can the state or the government change the Brahmin culture, which controls the minds of the people? The state follows the established culture. Whichever political party comes to power it cannot bring about the cultural change. If the state is captured by the political force which is against the Brahmanic culture can do that. So far this has not happened in India.
State can change the bureaucratic set up and make it non-Brahmanic. But this too, has not been attempted fully in India. The ruling party or parties who tried to curtail the hold of upper castes by implementing reservation for lower castes have been dethroned by the governing class. Example is of V P Singh government in 1990. The measure was not for complete change in the bureaucracy it was only a measure which sought 27 per cent jobs for the backward classes. That was not sufficient to alter the entire administrative control of the Brahmins or upper castes. But that was opposed furiously and whole country witnessed an unparallel holocaust in the independent history of India.
The ruling political parties are bound by the established upper caste culture and the state politics is run according to the Brahmanic cultural control. It maintains, thus, the social structure. What anti-caste or non-caste state means is state run according to egalitarian culture? The state constitution includes Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism in Hindu law. Islam and Christianity do not subscribe to Varna Caste hierarchy. Here also it is clear that state regards Hindu law as binding to non-caste religions. This situation means the constitution recognize Hinduism as state policy. It has undermined the spirit of other beliefs, which are antagonistic to Hinduism.
The social structure can be demolished only when the state control goes in the hands of those who do not subscribe to Hinduism as the ruling ideology. That means separate identity of real Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism has been diminished to non-entity.
Nagesh Chaudhari is a social activist