Introduction: The Process of Exploitation:
Dr. Bharat Patankar is a leading activist of the left wing Shramik Mukti Dal and of the peasant movement (especially the dam-oustees and drought affected) in South Maharashtra. Bharat Patankar is an activist intellectual who has worked for almost 30 years in movements of workers, farmers, agricultural labourers, and radical anti-caste cultural movements. He is also one of the architects of equitable water distribution movement in Maharashtra.
Exploitation arising from the caste hierarchy is a particular feature of the South Asian subcontinent. There was no such exploitative system in other continents or in countries outside of South Asia. But since caste exploitation has been a reality for 1500-2000 years this shakes the belief that only class can be the basis of exploitation. And because of this we have to transcend the attempt to find a way only pragmatically and deal with the issue on a philosophical and theoretical level.
Class has been theorized extensively in terms of exploitation; to some extent gender also, but not caste. Exploitation as women in various forms has also been a reality for thousands of years; this also is not through “class.” This reality from throughout the world gives a blow to the idea that exploitation can only be class exploitation. This can also be said of exploitation arising on the basis of racial and communal factors.
By exploitation we mean the extraction of surplus from labour by those who do not themselves labour. The process of exploitation is not a process in the cultural or social fields. The process of exploitation can only come through the relations that exist among various human beings while creating new products in the process of production. It is not a historical fact that these relations are those of exploitation everywhere and among all humans.
Exploitation is not an “eternal” fact and will not necessarily exist in the future. In the matriarchal society the relations of production were not those of exploitation.
A system in which production gives more than is necessary for an abundant existence is one in which “surplus” is created. Such surplus is fundamental for a society a society of varied production. When the productive forces give more than the food and other basic necessities than is necessary to live on, than there is a surplus created. When this happens then some humans are freed from simply producing food. They can do such work as creating clothes and tools. After producing the food or clothes necessary for themselves they can then produce for others. The others may do varied forms of production, or take leisure, or devote themselves to art and philosophy. Thus a “social division of labour” is born. There is no necessity that this must be one of hierarchy or exploitation. Initially it is one of exchange.
However, when some people seize the “surplus” created in this situation, exploitation begins. Or, when those who are direct producers get simply enough to stay alive rather than the goods for an abundant life, and the rest is grabbed as “surplus” then exploitation begins.
Thus arises a social division of labour based on exploitation. Such an exploitative social division of labour may be based on class, on caste or on gender relations. In Hindustan the characteristics of a division of labour based on caste exploitation can be seen from about 600 B CE. However this division of labour based on caste exploitation became triumphant, fixed and general only from about 600 A.D.
Superficial Characteristics of the Caste Mode of Production in Pre-capitalist Period:
The basic superficial characteristic or symptoms of caste mode of production unfolding in its various practices in the form of social relations between humans were the following:
(1) Caste-wise clusters inside the village in residential quarters;
(2) marriages only within the caste;
(3) dining basically inside the caste;
4) decisions of the caste taken by caste panchayats;
(5) hereditary transmission of caste;
(6) caste-wise occupations transmitted generation after generation.
But these characteristics, being superficial, can change because of the effects of many socio-economic changes taking place within the socio-economic formation without changing the ongoing existence of the caste mode of production. That is why one has to investigate the basic laws of motion of the caste mode of production as a self-reproducing system of exploitation and production. We can enumerate the following laws of motion governing the reproduction of the caste mode of production:
Laws of Motion of Caste Mode of Production:
The exploitation in a caste mode is basically not binary but hierarchical. The surplus extracted from the lowest castes goes to the next higher caste keeping part of it with that caste and pumping the major part to the yet higher castes, and thus the major part of the surplus goes to the highest caste and the state. So this could be called a system of pumping up of the surplus in a hierarchical ladder of the caste system where every upper caste takes part in the exploitation of its immediate lower caste. So only the lowest caste is not taking part in exploitation of any other caste.
Because of the first law of motion, the second follows. As an effect of this first law, there is permanent contradiction even between the exploited castes which are getting the part of the production not more than necessary for their existence. But because they are the carriers of the surplus extraction from the immediate lower caste to them they are experienced as part of the exploiters by this immediate lower caste. This is true for the whole hierarchical ladder up to the highest caste. This contradiction between the exploited castes is a reconcilable contradiction, but to resolve this is requires a laborious and tenacious effort. Unless and until the reality of the system which has the highest caste and the state as the exploiters is exposed, the exploited castes cannot come together.
The hierarchy is decided by (a) the “dirtiest” labor is to be done by the lowest caste and as the “dirtiness” of the labor gets reduced, the caste becomes higher and higher; (b) the most laborious jobs are to be done by the lowest caste (even the corvee labor) and as the laboriousness decreases the caste becomes higher. Finally the highest caste and state do almost no physical labor in their day-to-day routine.
A water-tight division between mental and physical labor is brought into practice and as an effect the majority of the castes are not supposed to take part in abstract thinking. Whatever mental labor they do they can do only as a part of their physical labor because the labor process is inevitably a combination of mental and physical labor. The highest caste is supposed to have a monopoly of abstract thinking, learning and teaching/preaching, and the state is supposed to do the same regarding the ruling and managing the production system.
Based on the above laws of motion, the caste are divided from each other and their independent reproduction as castes goes on taking place, keeping each caste intact inside the hierarchy.
The caste patriarchy is a part of the caste exploitative system at all levels of the hierarchy. Women from all castes are not supposed to do any abstract thinking and get educated. The sexuality of women is controlled by the rules of the caste system.
The division of the laboring castes which doesn’t allow them to recognize themselves as a unified unit of exploited people is one of the peculiar laws of motion.
Marriages within the caste which is also a part of the superficial reality is also a basic law of motion of the caste mode of production. It bans intermarriage between castes, though it doesn’t ban sexual relations between men from higher castes and women from lower castes.
Functioning of the Laws of Motion of the Caste Mode of Production in the Contemporary Period:
On the basis of these two realities – the superficial reality and the reality of the laws of motion of the caste mode of production – we can now talk about the existing structure of the caste system under the domination of the bourgeois mode of production.
Today’s caste mode of production is subjugated to the bourgeois mode of production in the Indian socio-economic formation, and its relations of production are interwoven into the capitalist relations of production.
To elaborate the above, we can say that exploitation takes place as a caste in a hierarchical form but the mode of exploitation is basically in a relation of surplus value extraction. So, on the one hand it is a surplus value generation which takes place and becomes a part of capital accumulation, but the exploitation of the caste group is taking place in a hierarchical ladder based on the laws of motion of the caste system.
The erstwhile lowest caste is doing in this system the dirtiest and most laborious jobs, and this is true in a hierarchical form about all erstwhile castes up to the highest castes.
The division of mental and manual labor is also a characteristic of the capitalist mode ofproduction, but in the capitalist mode of production it is not related to caste groups. There is avirtual ban on some caste groups joining the abstract intellectual labor sector.
Increasing murders of young men and women doing intercaste marriages across the nation shows that the law of motion of ban on intercaste marriages still rules in this socio-economic formation dominated by the capitalist mode.
The contradiction, though reconcilable, between the exploited caste groups which are also exploited by capitalism is escalated in today’s Indian situation which shows the law of motion of division of laborers of the caste system is still ruling.
Though we can say that caste-wise residential clusters is mainly superficial reality, it is still a generalized character of all Indian villages. Not only that, even in re-settled villages andmetropolitan cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata, there is a modern way of caste-wiseresidential clusters.
The modern capitalist class has from the beginning been composed mainly of the highest level castes, such as Brahmans, banias and Khatris, and Thakurs. This again proves the re-creation of the highest caste role in control of capital at the national level.
The intellectual monopoly of a particular highest caste on mental labor devoid of physical labor is converted today in an intellectual property right in the era of the capitalist mode of production. But in India it is intellectual property right of the highest caste people.
Though there are people who have gotten educated and are placed in higher positions in the state and exploiting classes coming from exploited caste groups, the majority of the exploited caste groups is re-created as exploited caste groups only. So the caste mode of production gets re-generated under the domination and subjugation of the bourgeois mode of production.
The development of science and technology sponsored by the state and bourgeoisie is affected by all these laws of motion, and so it acquires the caste-biased character along with a class-biased character. It helps to modernize the caste functioning by maintaining caste exploitation and laws of motion of the caste hierarchy.
Only on the understanding of these laws of motion can a program for abolishing of these laws of motion for annihilation of the caste system be based. But it is obvious that the interwovenness of the capitalist relations of production and caste relations of production doesn’t allow any strategy of independent process for annihilation of caste without annihilating the capitalist mode of production. Whether one wants it or not, the stages theory of abolishing the caste system first as a so-called “democratic revolution” doesn’t apply in this situation. It doesn’t depend on anyone’s will and consciousness but on the characteristics of the reality of the interwovenness of the two systems of exploitation.
Role of Brahmanism in Reproduction of the Caste Mode of Production:
It is interesting to note one peculiarity of the caste system that, the castes doing various jobs assigned to them in the balutedari or jajmani system have various names in various states in India. But only one caste carries the same name all over, that is the Brahman caste. It is because of the fact that it is the highest caste in the exploitative hierarchical ladder of the caste system and it is a carrier of the ideology and control system maintaining the caste system intact.
One can argue that why one is talking about Brahmanism instead of Hinduism. If we go into the history of the caste system and the history of religions in India, during the pre-British period there was almost no mention of “Hindu” religion even by the constructors of the ideology of the caste system. Even in Manusmriti it is not that “Hindu” religion is said to be dictating the laws which are enumerated by Manu. Actually historically speaking, the word “Hindu” has emerged as an indicator of the people living beyond the Indus river. People who invented the name “Hindu” couldn’t pronounce “Sindhu” as the name of the famous ancient river and their language forced them to pronounce “S” as “H” and so they called the river as the “Hindu river” and the people beyond it as “Hindu.” For so many thousands of years after thatpeople in South Asia, no matter of what religion, are called “Hindu people” and later as Hindustani people.
The real religion implementing the caste system was by all means Brahmanism from the beginning up to now. By constructing Puranas, bringing forward many epic and interpolating into those epics and such literature, Brahmanism spread and created the complex ideological system which gave the basis for the maintenance of the caste system. Even people exploited by the caste system considered that they live in a particular caste determined by their destiny, because of their erstwhile sins in previous lives. Even after years of domination of the bourgeois mode of production and the ideology of various kinds of bourgeois-democratic equality, caste groups still think that they are fit for only the caste they belong to. Theirhierarchical position also is accepted by them and caste identities are very strong.
It is true that basically caste identities and caste groups are re-created because the caste relations of production which they are involved in are getting recreated, but the ideological basis is given by Brahmanism. Brahmanism has changed itself over time and developed its ideology adjusting to modern bourgeois norms and culture. Not only that, it has also adjusted and found ways to live with western bourgeois culture as in Europe and the USA, so that people live in two identities, one a caste identity and the other the identity as an individual citizen in a civil society of that particular bourgeois nation.
Maintenance of Caste Divisions and Hierarchy after Conversion to other Religions:
Even after a large number of people have been converted to religions which don’t agree with the exploitative hierarchy of the caste system, the caste divisions are maintained among the population which is converted to Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist religions. Not only the main castes are maintained but even sub-castes. This itself is a proof of the fact that the caste system is not only a creation of Brahmans or Brahmanism, and it doesn’t require for its maintenance that kind of brahmanic ideology, but is a system of exploitation which is partially independent of religious affiliation.
Almost all characteristics of the caste system, its conflicts and exploitative ways, are maintained in these religions which are against caste or don’t preach caste. This has gone to the extent where the erstwhile higher caste people are dominant sections of the clergy of these religions. Any mode of production emerges as an ensemble of relations of production and productive forces independent of the religion of the people who are involved in these relations of production. This law of motion of capitalism applies in this respect too. So conversion cannot be the only way for the annihilation of caste. There should be an independent process of abolition of the relations of production and productive forces which reproduce the caste system. Of course ideological struggle for abolition of the ideologies which help consolidate and maintain the caste system is equally important, and conversion to religions not supporting the caste system is helpful in this respect.
Actually Existing Caste Relations of Production Today:
The actually existing caste relations of production are following the dictates of the laws of motion of caste mode of production, which is supported by the hard data given in the Mandal Commission as well as the recent report of the Sacchar Commission. It shows:
Erstwhile lowest and particularly untouchable castes are today situated at the lowest rank of the working people. Erstwhile Mahars and Chambhars and Mangs in Maharashtra are part of either sweepers, rag-pickers, contract laborers, agricultural laborers, etc. 99% of the jobs they are doing are most laborious, most “dirty,” and least renumerated. At the same time these jobs mostly fall into the category of manual labor as such. Whatever mental labor they do is simply a part of the inevitable mechanism of manual labor. They are still not supposed to do any abstract mental labor. 99% of the population of these castes is still doing these jobs so their castes are regenerated continuously as a caste following this particular law of motion defining the lowest caste.
All erstwhile farming castes, majority are either toiling farmers, agricultural laborers, porters, and what is called mathadi workers lifting heavy loads in the various cities related to industrial production processes. These jobs are not as “dirty” as the lowest rank of the working people but they are none the less dirty jobs, most laborious without requiring abstract mental labor. This category also is getting reproduced as a caste group higher in the ladder than the erstwhile so-called untouchable castes, again defined by the laws of motion of the caste system. The majority of these castes are getting regenerated in this way.
More than 99%of the highest groups of castes are doing the jobs which are based on abstract mental labor. If we go towards the top sector of computer technology, and the body of scientists etc. we will find the cverwhelming majority comes from the Brahman caste
.The capitalist class in India, as already has been said, is from the beginning up to now composed of Brahmans, Khatris (or Ksatriyas), banias and such. The capitalist class here never grew out of the artisan castes. They are simply relegated to the menial labors of some other kind while capitalist took over the production of what they were producing. It was unlike Europe where artisans grew into guilds and guilds grew into industrial capital, even though the barons and the landlords also started investing into growth of capitalist industry later on.
Caste-wise residential clusters still exist in all the Indian villages. Not only that, rehabilitated villages because of dam evictees’ or project-affected or earthquake affected people couldn’t come up with the structure of the villages devoid of the caste clusters. Even in cities like Mumbai, Kolkata etc. not only in slums but in chawls and even in higher middle class block systems and bungalow localities, caste clusters are maintained. This remains so because of the fact that all four characteristics mentioned above are following the laws of motion of caste, not allowing this superficial symptom of the caste system to vanish.
Not only are intermarriages between castes not taking place in over 99% of the people, but there is a rise in the murders of young people who try to do intercaste marriages, particularly when one of them is of the lowest caste. This shows the observance of the law of motion of the caste system to transmit itself in a hereditary manner. Even among the people who marry intercaste, the caste of the father is given by society to their children as per the rule of caste patriarchy.
Though in a large number of villages the source of water is not caste-biased and there is no ban on erstwhile untouchables from taking water from a common source, still in the majority of villages in India this has not taken place. Even in a large number of villages in northern India many hotels in rural areas, towns and villages, keep separate cups and places for untouchable castes. Though this is superficial symptom, it still remains intact.
Each caste has its own ancestral original mother and father-gods and goddesses, their own stories of origin, their way to express themselves in dancing, singing and playing instruments in performing art forms. And these aspects are caste-specific. But that also gives identity and separate exclusiveness to the caste. Hierarchical structure also is related to this cultural aspect, since some castes are supposed to function through cultural forms for upper castes even within the toiling castes. These hierarchies, exclusive identities should be converted into the complex of the collective culture. Unless and until that happens this medium functions to keep the hierarchical inequalities among the toiling castes.
The Link of the Caste system to Class in the Capitalist System:
Though the caste system as a system exists today, and though its laws of motion are reproduced from second to second, still its hierarchy has been joined completely and firmly to the capitalist relations of production. Since this interweaving is integral and encompassing, without a movement to end the class system, it is impossible to “independently” destroy the caste system.
In the country, and Maharashtra, those who as sweepers fought as exploited workers, for an “eight hour day” are 100% drawn from the previously low castes. In doing such work, along with the laws of class exploitation, the laws of motion of the caste hierarchy apply. There are thus two sorts of exploitation, and it is not possible to destroy them in separate stages. This interweaving is also seen with the fourth-class employees who collect waste, glass, paper etc.
Those who work as porters in the railways, carrying heavy burdens and doing all kinds ofphysical toil in the cities are included among “unorganized” workers. Here the previous farmingcastes (Marathas, Dhangars, Kunbis etc.) work. Here also the principles of caste exploitation onthe one hand and class exploitation on the other apply. In this connection also there can be noseparate fights. The majority of these castes work in the rural areas as toiling farmers, agricultural labourers. It is also necessary to take account of the fact that among them 3-4% have become capitalist farmers, cooperative barons, small industrialists.
The capitalist class in the country has primarily emerged out of castes of Brahmans, banias, and khatris (Ksatriyas). Within it some 1-1 ½ % come from farming castes, artisan castes to become small capitalists. In fighting with these capitalists it is clear that the struggle has to be both for the annihilation of caste and class.
In today’s ultra-modern imperialist system with its “intellectual property rights” the people who monopolize a pure intellectual field such as computer software and hold a main positions in areas from state administration to big companies have come mainly from Brahman castes. This is also true of the financial field. Here also there is an integral connection between class and caste. A dual struggle will have to be given in this respect.
Aside from the Brahmans, banias and Thakurs who are considered Ksatriya castes, about two to five percent of the people of the toiling castes have become capitalists, capitalist farmers, cooperative barons, or professionals in high level intellectual fields. This section will not take part in a fight for the annihilation of caste. Only a few individuals from them may possible become part of the struggle. This is a result of the ultra-modern capitalist class reality.
Caste and Culture:
To say anything about caste and culture we have to understand that the caste system is not like any other system of exploitation which by and large has binary relations of class exploitation. But it is hierarchical exploitation with a division within the exploited castes which is a division based on one exploited caste taking part in exploitation of the lower castes in whatever partial manner while transferring the surplus to the higher castes. This helps in raising the walls between the exploited castes in the field of culture also. The contemporary exclusiveness of the culture of every caste has got its origin in the emergence of the caste system from the various equalitarian non-exploitative groups of men and women.
The origin of caste culture:
While establishing the wide range of productive systems before caste emerged, the state in exploitative system (after patriarchal gana-sanghas and while establishing kutumbin farmers and emergence of the shreshti class and srenis) forcefully took the equalitarian groups and established them as kutumbin farmers for doing stable agriculture which was supposed to give a major part of the farm produce to the state. These groups became kutumbin farmers as an exploited class but because they were a culturally unified group before they were forced to do this, they carried their own culture with them though it was subjugated to the culture of the exploitative society into which they were brought. When this kind of production system started becoming generalized in a wider geographical area it became impossible to provide farm implements and other implements to these kutumbin farmers. As a result of this more andmore equalitarian groups were forced not to cultivate agriculture only but also to get trained and forced to stay in villages as artisans doing a specific kind of work to produce implements.
This was the basic scenario of the mode of production and class relations which was the breeding ground for the caste system. After a long period of 800-1000 years with the demolition of the centralized state the caste system emerged. That is why the various exploited castes historically carried the culture of ancestral times and that became the specific culture of these various castes.
Problematic of Caste Culture Today:
One can describe the cultures of various castes and call that culture as a “peoples’ culture.” But one should also remember the reality that the culture of every caste is a culture of subjugated people and that it not only shows their cultural life but also indicates their slavery. So there are various problematic which one can enumerate to solve the riddle of caste and culture today:
Each exploited castes has two aspects of its culture; one is what they have historically carried when their original groups were equalitarian and free. This culture today is dominated by the dominant caste culture, that is a bourgeois culture, as well as their own creation as people also living in bourgeois system along with the caste system.
The second aspect of culture of each caste is acquired by them as a caste serving to the upper castes, as a part of their economic and social exploitation. This culture has nothing to do with the history of their free and equalitarian ancestry. Though they are contributors to these cultures and they apply their creativity in that, it basically expresses their slavery.
Each exploited caste has its own unique culture. This culture is not related to what Manu said and what Brahmanism enforced upon them. But this is their unique creation while living their life as human beings and their joys and sorrows though they are exploited people. But it has a contradiction in it. Because on the other hand this culture is a dominated culture it shows contradictory aspects of revolt and subjugation, and vision of the new world they want to have for their liberated life. A culture shown in the various literature of the Varkari saints and others all over India coming from various exploited castes is representative of this contradiction.
Imperialist globalization and capitalism in general has given them the new values of I individualism, individual identity, freedom, bourgeois equality which intermingles with thecollective cultural identity as castes, because caste expresses itself as a collective identity, while a bourgeois culture pulls them towards individuality.
This situation creates the basis for unity among the exploited castes but at the same time maintains the separation and hierarchy of cultures among these castes which becomes a hurdle for them to unite and end the caste exploitative culture.
The Way Ahead:
The way ahead cannot come out of the blue. The newly born culture is going to come from the womb of contradictory character of the culture of today’s exploited castes. But we have to develop an ability to recognize the characters of these cultures which can help for unification of exploited castes and creation of a unified culture of these castes getting dissolved into a single whole of liberated humanity. This is very difficult to do. One has to search for it within the cultural practices of various castes, festivals, songs, art forms, nature of performing arts, nature of values, etc.
Many aspects for doing this could be taken from adivasi culture which never had a caste system. Though these cultures are also dominated from outside by the bourgeois culture and caste culture, still they maintain a certain autonomy of their own culture. So many intuitions could be acquired by studying and experiencing these cultures through the movements of adivasis in today’s modern period.
Lastly, we cannot forget the compassion and love which is the basic character of the culture of women as a separate entity of humanity. Women from all castes were supposed to be shudras culturally by brahmanic ideology, but women always carried their own freedom of revolt and creativity in the cultural field while they were living the subjugated life in various exploitative systems. So this aspect of women’s life could become a very rich breeding ground for the creation of a new culture, a liberated culture. Women are subjugated not only by the class and caste aspect but also by patriarchy, so men from each caste are taking part in exploitation and subjugation of women. Maintenance of creativity and revolt in this situation is a very difficult job but women have done it. This should lessen for men of exploited caste to self-criticize themselves, de-gender themselves along with de-casting and de-classing themselves. This only can become a completion of the process of creation of a new culture of liberated humanity. Otherwise the one major aspect of cultural subjugation and cultural slavery will be maintained by those people who want liberation from class and caste exploitation but cannot liberate themselves from patriarchy.
The Need for Struggle against Brahmanic Religion and Culture: a Historical View
Brahmanic culture and religion has functioned for 1500-2000 years to give a firm foundation for the hierarchical exploitative caste system. From the time of Gautam Buddha up to today there have been many struggles against this culture and religion. Alternatives have been given. Buddhist Dhamma expelled brahmanic religion and culture from the main trend of the social structure Indian subcontinent for a long time. Buddhist Dhamma and Jain religion remained as the main trends for a thousand years in this country. But once the caste structure became fixed, the place of Buddhism as the “mainstream” began to end; it could not prevent the solidification of the caste system. As long as the production system based on the exploitation of the caste hierarchy is reproduced, no great blow can be given to brahmanic culture and religion. This exploitative system has continuously reproduced both of these.
Because of this the struggle for the annihilation of caste must go on two fronts – that of the material productive system, and that of culture.
Brahmanic culture has in the last 2-3 thousand years had a major effect on the society and its people. But in this lengthy period it has also tremendously changed; along with the eras of various modes of production change, so brahmanic culture has adapted and changed itself. It has attempted to shape itself to suit the ideology of the newly coming modes of production. Except for the nearly thousand years of hegemony of Buddhist Dhamma, brahmanic culture has remained dominant in the Indian subcontinent.
It appears that in the period of the decline of the Indus civilization brahmanic culture first began to gain hegemony in some parts of the subcontinent. It is proclaimed in the Purush Sukta of the Rig Veda (dated to about the 10th century BCE) that from the sacrifice of the original “Purusha” the Brahman came from his mouth, from his arms the Kshatriya, from his thighs the Vaishya and from his feet the Shudras. The ideology of the superiority of Brahmans and the hierarchy of superiority and inferiority dates from this period. But such four varnas were not existent throughout the south Asian subcontinent. In some places there were three varnas, in some two and in some the Sangha-ganas of only one varna existed. Aside from the Sangha-gana of one varna, the Khattiya (Kshatriya?), in the other varma forms there was a clearsuperiority of Brahmans. But in the majority areas of the subcontinent these varna types did not exist. In most areas there was no exploitation based on the hierarchy of a varna system or class system. In these areas, adivasi communities existed. There were some doing settled agriculture, some living by hunting and gathering food, grains and fruits, and some shifting cultivation. Among these the majority must have been matriarchal or matrilineal. The one or more varna systems with brahmanic hegemony existed only among those doing settled agriculture. In some of these areas, kingdoms began to appear around the time of the Buddha.
After the defeat of the matriarchal or matrilineal communities, the first exploitative systems founded on patriarchy and the exploitation of women could be found also in the non- kingly sangha-ganas. Later, societies based on kingship emerged. With the rise of agricultural production and commerce, paid “karmakaras” or labourers began to appear as the basic exploited toilers. In the beginning of the period of Buddhism the kingdoms were growing. On one hand, destroying the sangha-ganas, these kingdoms cleared the forests where adivasi communities residing and forcibly turned them into settled agriculturalists, collecting revenue from them. This created the “kutu mbin” farming class. The shrenis of artisans began to beformed in the large cities; the heads of families who controlled agriculture, took revenue from the kutumbins and carried on commerce began to be known as “gahapatis.” Artisans organized in shrenis and as labourers in the cities and in the rural areas the agriculturalist “kutumbins”were the main producers, with dominant people, the “shreshtis,” taking the production from agriculture. This was the general structure of society. This was also the period of in which the land, forests and mines were under control of the kingly states. Their administration developed the roads and irrigation systems.
With the decline and end of this state power, the caste system originated in the society it had ruled. By the time of about the sixth century it was solidified and generalized, and with this the hegemony of Buddhism ended and the hegemony of brahmanic culture and religion was established. The defeated adivasi communities and clans now began to be settled as “kutumbin” farmers doing agriculture, and with this their various kinds of work were determined. In this way the exploitation of the caste system, and the hierarchy of superiority and inferiority took birth with the changes in the mode of production. In addition, a new form of brahmanic culture consistent with this became established in the place of the old forms ofbrahmanic culture.
A new brahmanic religion became created. In the beginning of this period, in the time of the nomadic warlike Vedic Aryans, Indra was regarded as the “hero” who led the battle against asuras and rakshasas – the indigenous peoples. Along with such personalized gods as Indra, elements like the earth, water, fire and sky were seen as divine. The yagna which roclaimed the superiority of Brahmans was central to religious practice. Cattle were sacrificed, and horses also. With this, all the “twice-born” varnas also were of course eaters of beef. The Brahmans did the hegemonic work of legitimizing the varna system and applying its restrictions, and of controlling the snatching of the surplus of production so that it went to the twice-born varnas.
Brahmanic culture was sidelined during the period of the hegemony of Buddhism. Though in this period the “das” or slave system came to an end and the ideology of brahmanic culture was proclaimed in the Manusmriti, still it did not gain dominance in the field of direct production. Instead, this system was based on wage labour, on kutumbin farmers paying revenue, gahapatis (who took the revenue) and shrenis of artisans in the large cities. The ideology of this society was largely drawn from Buddhism. But from the decline of this society and the rise of brahmanic kingdoms, the caste exploitation began to grow. An ideology of a fully developed caste-based society could not be created from Buddhism which completely opposed caste. And so this ideology and Dhamma began to be sidelined. Because of this the dominance of brahmanic religion and culture once again became created. However, the base and shape ofboth of these became to be largely transformed at this time; new deities were adopted, often from indigenous traditions. Of course, the legitimation for exploitation based on superiority and inferiority remained permanent.
The yagna and sacrifice of brahmanic religion in this period was declining. Brahmans became completely vegetarian. New gods emerged. Indra and the five principles were sidelined. Puranas were written and a false history created. The imaginary fables of the Ramayana, Mahabharat became of huge importance. A “book” known as the Gita began to be praised. Krishna is shown as saying in this Gita that “I was the one who created chaturvarnya on the basis of guna and karma,” and is treated as the avatar of Vishnu who supposed preserved the universe. Such books as the Vedas and Upanishads fell into oblivion. Although some sections of the Vedas were taken where necessary to support the caste and varna system, these books no longer remained the foundation for brahmanic religion. The Manusmriti was brought forward as a weapon to establish in a strong way the exploitation of the caste system.
From village to village social and cultural relations began to be born which directly brought casteexploitation. The Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharat and of the Manusmriti and all were brought forward to legitimize and give shape to this exploitation. Under the dominance of the fully superior Brahman caste, people were taught that one should behave according to the position giving in the caste hierarchy and make to effort to do anything different. One should carry out the “duty” of one’s caste. There will be punishment if the rules of caste are broken.
It was in the general era of Brahmanic dominance that finally, imperialism in the form of British colonialism intervened. Imperialism made it possible for the capitalist mode of production, the capitalist form of state power and ideology to begin to develop. In this new reality, Brahmanism once again began to change. In today’s era, brahmanic culture and religion has taken new form through these changes. Without understanding this, it is impossible to understand what kind of alternatives the cultural movement can give in order to annihilate the exploitative hierarchy of caste.
The brahmanic culture of this age has made a special intersection with imperialist capitalist and national capitalist culture. Because of this such practices go on as the dances of Michael Jackson, a corrupted copy of western-style dancing in marriage processions and in the sinking of the Ganpati idols, the garba, the commercialization of women as market objects and practices understood to be low according to the old system.
The concept of calling the brahmanic religion as “Hindu religion” has become established. Originally “Hindu” was a geographical conception. The people living in the area from the region of the Indus river to the east, north and south were described as “Hindus” by the Persians. In their language “S” is pronounced as “H.” for example, “Asura” had become “Ahura.” Thus the Muslims knew the subcontinent as “Al-Hind” or “Hindustan.” Its people were called Hindus; the term had nothing to do with religion. But during the British period the meaning was changed, to become a religion – with the implication that “Hinduism” is the “national” religion of people of the subcontinent. Because of this very clever and far reaching attempt, even while maintaining the oppression from brahmanic religion and the brahmanic rules that establish what is high and low, the brahmanic religion has been able to carry out the effort of making the oppressed castes themselves participate in the ideology of their oppression, using such slogans as “Hindus are all one.”
In reality in the expansive region of Hindustan the religion practiced by the people is completely different form Hindu religion. Festivals such as Bendur (Bailpola), “Ghat basavane”, Hatga and others are considered important by these people. No basic “religious book” has said anything about following these festivals. The “Kulswamis” male or female, honoured by these people as their own particular deities are not mentioned in these religious books. Because of that the brahmanic religion that is called “Hindu religion” today has an uneasy coexistgence with the elements it claims. It hides in fact what is a different religion. These two religions scorn each other completely. The brahmanic hegemony that exists over the nonBrahman people is primarily in connection not so much with religious practice, but with the high-lowcaste hierarchy. Because, though the brahmanic religion has continuously functioned to give cultural support to this exploitative hierarchy. It has also taken strategies. On occasion violent methods have also been used. The caste exploitative hierarchy has the structure of the material relations of production. This structure of material exploitation also, consciously or unconsciously, is continuously reproduced by brahmanic culture. As a result, the exploited castes themselves observe the superiority and inferiority determined by the culture. Because of this splits fall in the middle of the struggles they give from time to time, due to emotions of suspicion and hostility. “The division of labourers” takes place.
Strengthening one’s caste, living in caste-wise settlements even in cities for self-protection, refusal of those exploited castes who considered themselves “savarna” (including those who were not considered “savarna” by the brahmanic religion, or were previously even untouchables) to live near those considered lower, this was the practice. In the last many years also caste was used as “vote banks” and bought by capitalist leaders. The middlemen (dalals) in every settlement and caste leaders were in a large way responsible for this. This is also a huge obstacle in the way of ending the exploitation of the caste hierarchy.
The commercialization of all deities and buwas has gone on in a big way. A huge business has been made of making capital in the name of god. The happenings after the death of Satya Sai Baba have been shocking in this respect. In the name of these gods and festivals money, gold, and silver are collected, demanding contributions and propagandizing companies goes on everywhere.
The religious barons began to apply a new meaning to the books of brahmanic religion. It is claimed that today’s ultramodern knowledge is discovered in the Vedas, and such books as the Ramayana andMahabharat. Caste exploitation is done proclaiming that the “history” told in the Puranas is a true history. This has also entered into the field of education. In such subjects as “moral values,” history and geography this tendency has infiltrated. The mysteries that remain unsolved in science are claimed to be solved by the brahmanic method. The central government has provided funds for the “modernizing” of the baluta work done by various castes, and so has given it a “modern” solidification.
On the basis of caste, community and clan, our democratic independence is being crushed. The old rules and customs are changed. Yet some remain. Bhangis still carry out the “traditional” duty of removing excrement. Women are compelled to practice “sati” in many areas.
Radio and television media are used for mythologizing, and spreading the false history told by the brahmanic religion, and supporting the casteism and superstition arising from the ignorance of brahmanic culture.
The fact that a handful of people from the toiling, exploited castes have entered capitalist state power is used to keep all the men and women of that caste permanently in the thralls of caste. The ideology is solidified that that “our caste people” are in power. On this background there is a great need for people of all exploited castes to unite to give alternatives to Brahmanic culture and religion. It is useless to simply give negative curses to brahmanic culture and religion. Realizing the new knowledge and ignorance existing among the people, studying it, we will have to examine closely the kind of alternatives that are necessary. In working for an ecologically balanced, abundant society, a team of conscious activists shouldwork for a new realistic “religion” and culture consistent with that, leaving aside their weariness and hunger.
This work will not be done through movements organized simply on immediate demands. Activists must be prepared to work in terms of an ideology based on theory. It is possible to link movements on immediate demands and the long-term struggle to permanently annihilate caste and the exploitation of its hierarchy. For this a perspective and set of tasks has to be prepared.
Annhiliatiion of Caste
It is not only sufficient to say theoretically that annihilation of caste will come about only by abolishing the laws of motion of the caste system, and abolishing capitalism and patriarchy with which its existence is interwoven in today’s socio-economic formation in India. One has to give a concrete program for abolishing the caste mode of production and caste system taking all this into consideration.
Programs related to the abolishing of outwardly shown characteristics of the caste mode of production. (a) With the protection of the population from all exploited castes the program of intermarriages should be publicly promoted and implemented and there should be a mass mobilization for supporting and lauding these cases of intermarriage. (b) Establishing rehabilitated villages with no caste clusters and wherein various castes in the ladder are living in houses randomly placed and intermixed in the village; (c) Where new colonies are coming with the growth of population these should be established in the same intermixed manner; (d) The source of drinking water in many villages in India is still caste biased. The program of making all sources of drinking water open for all castes should be taken as a campaign supported by castes which are supposed to be “touchable.”
Ideological-cultural programs. (a) Conversion to religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam which don’t preach caste and also oppose caste divisions and untouchability with the caution that many of such religions now are not taking any program of abolishing the remnants of the caste system among converts. (b) There should be cultural programs doing conscienticization and intermixing of young men and women from all exploited castes for abolishing the caste-cultural differences making them hierarchically different from each other. The new culture of equality and men and women and all humans should be inculcated through dance programs, melodies, songs, performing arts, festivals etc. These forms as already mentioned are functioning today as instruments to keep hierarchy and subjugation. One has to take the pure art content and by excluding the hierarchical aspect should create new equalitarian cultural forms.
Programs to abolish hierarchy at the level of production processes and relations of production: (a) Struggle for establishment of caste-indifferent modern production processes based on renewable materials and renewable energy production managed by toiling people coming from all exploited castes combining abstract mental labor with manual labor. (b) Abolishing all forms of production and labor boasting of upgrading the jajmani or balutedari jobs attached to particular casts for generations, replacing them with modern production processes like the abolve. (c) Instead of boasting for emergence of capitalist individuals from the exploited and lowest castes, the cooperative forms of production processes controlled by producers themselves should be evolved and celebrated. (d) All natural resources such as land, forest, water, wind and solar energy etc. should be collectively governed and managed by exploited castes and, for going toward that, programs such as equitable water distribution for agricultural production sufficient for sustaining a family in a better way including the landless, land redistribution along with that, should be taken up at a wider scale and as a mass program.