Bhakti and Caste

“Forgotten is the pride of varna and of caste” – varnaabhimaan visarun yati  — so sang Tukoba as he danced with his fellow sants on the river banks, celebrating equality.  Garlanded with tulsi, they “fall at one another’s feet” rather than the “lower” falling at the feet of the socially “higher” people.

Equality and rejection of caste hierarchy was a major theme of the bhakti movement.  Ravidas’ “Begumpura,” a song of a “city without sorrow,” speaks of there being neither one, two or three:

The regal realm with the sorrowless name:

they call it Begumpura, a place with no pain,

No taxes or cares, nor own property there,

no wrongdoing, worry, terror or torture.

Oh my brother, I’ve come to take it as my own,

my distant home, where everything is right.

That imperial kingdom is rich and secure,

where none are third or second—all are one;

Its food and drink are famous, and those who live there

dwell in satisfaction and in wealth.

They do this or that, they walk where they wish,

they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged.

Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,

those who walk beside me are my friends.

Begumpura is also, it should be noted, a place of abundant food and drink: both poverty and inequality are rejected in this vision of an earthly utopia.

Kabir was equally equalitarian and scornful of those who advocated caste hierarchy.  He was explicitly anti-brahmanical:

 Worship, libations, six sacred rites,

this dharma’s full of ritual blights.

Four ages teaching Gayatri, I ask you, who won liberty?

You wash your body if you touch another,

tell me who could be lower than you?

Proud of your merit, puffed up with your rights,

no good comes out of such great pride

How could he whose very name

is pride-destroyer endure the same?

Drop the limits of caste and clan,

seek for freedom’s space,

destroy the shoot, destroy the seed,

seek the unembodied place. (Ramaini 35)

Bhakti was full of aspiration for the divine, and along with this it affirmed the universality of love of equality among human beings.    This was its great contribution.

In the 18th century, with hagiographers like Priyadas in north India and Mahipati in Maharashtra, a process began of cooptation.  These writers interpreted bhakti in a brahmanical fashion, for instance showing Ravidas as being born as a Chamar due to the “sin” of having fed meat to a Brahman guru in a previous birth, and with this rejecting the milk of his “untouchable” mother!   This was in opposition to Tuka’s view of Ravidas as having a pure caste and lineage: “He’s a devotionless Brahman, let his face burn, from what concubine was he born?  Blessed is the mother of the Vaishnava Chambhar, both caste and lineage are pure….”  But because of the cooptation, the equalitarianism inherent in bhakti was weakened and almost lost.  Nevertheless it has left an important heritage of aspiration and equality.

Historical Development of the Caste System

                Normally, caste is traced to the “Aryan invasion,” when presumably marauding bands of Indo-Europeans conquered and subjugated the native peoples, turning them into Shudras enslaved by caste bondage.  However, this  a-historical.   A more accurate analysis would stress the following facts:

(1)    There was no “caste” as such among the ancient Aryans.  There is evidence of a three-fold division of priests, warriors and commoners, but none known as “Shudras” were there.   It was a loosely stratified society, with themes of purity and pollution beginning to assert themselves, but no so dominant.

(2)    From a very early period, Brahmans were solidifying themselves and asserting as a social group.  Their “sacred” texts, from the Vedas to the later Manusmriti, Arthashastra etc. proclaimed varnashrama dharma as the ideal form of society, ie caste was prescribed.  But this was not a description of the existing society, it was rather a kind of manifesto describing how the Brahmans felt society ought to be constructed.

(3)    Society in the subcontinent at the time of the Aryan incursion was mostly within a tribal mode of production.  Hunting and gathering were the main occupations.  Gradually as agricultural developed, new classes arose.  These took the form of gan-sangha oligarchies, with large landowners or gahapatis farming with das-kammakaras (either paid or unpaid) or independent villages kutumbin farmers, along with guilds or srenis.   Production of implements for agriculture was done through the guilds, based in the cities.

(4)    This system existed from the time of Buddha onwards.   Buddhism became hegemonic, and fostered a relatively open society.  The gahapatis and srenis predominated.  Jainism also was an important religion, not quite so hegemonic as Buddhism.

(5)    Towards the end of the Buddhist period, with the vast spread of agriculture, it became difficult for the city-based srenis to continue to supply sufficient tools and implements for agriculture.   A new system began to come into being.  Groups of artisans were settled in villages and made to produce for agriculture.  Thus the jajmani or balutedari system began.  The ideology of Brahmanism had been formed earlier, with the formulation of varnashrama dharma in the Manusmriti and other texts; now it had a material foundation to build upon.  So the caste system began to be consolidated.

(6)    The bhakti movement arose in various parts of India, challenging Brahmanism and caste and putting forward a more equalitarian concept of human life and divine joy.  Namdev and Dnaneshwar, Kabir, Cokhamela, Tukoba, Ravidas all represented an outflowing of human aspiration.  They rejected priestly ritualism and preached equality; Tukoba wrote of dancing on the river banks “forgetting the pride of varna and jati.”   Though later in the l8th century processes of cooptation and absorption into a more orthodox framework took place, their heritage was a  crucial one.

(7)    Following the 18th century reaction, progress was stalled in India.  “Modernization” came on the heels of colonialism, and this also transformed caste in India.   New means of transportation and communication, railways, telegraphs, all provided tools for Brahmans to consolidate their communication and position in society.  Education, now pioneered by the British, provided a few openings for those from lower castes, but it was also monopolized by Brahmans who could obtain through it a stranglehold over government jobs.  As Iyothee Thass had put it, “the British rule having appeared, these brahmanar have rolled up and thrown away all the Vedas, Puranas, Smruties and Bhashyams devised for making a living; and learning now Vedas of high court jobs, Smritis of Revenue board employment, Upanishads of Akbari office jobs and Bhashyams of municipal office employment, are in prosperous living.”

(8)    During this period the ideology of “Hinduism” was also constructed.  “Hindu” had always been a geographical concept referring to those who lived beyond the Indus river, in the land of “Al-Hindi” or “Hindustan.”  Now it was given a religious meaning.  The claim was for the existence of a religion called “Hinduism” presumed to be the religion of all those living in the subcontinent who were not Muslims, Christians, etc.   The content of it was constructed as an amalgam of the Vedas, Shastras, a sanitized version of bhakti, with local gods and goddesses thrown in for color and local claims.   This began to emerge as a powerful ideological force.

(9)    Gradually during the colonial and even more the post-independence period, the former jajmani-balutedari system began to fade away.  As modern industries replaced the old woven ropes of the Matangs, the iron of the Lohars, the carpentry of the Sutars, people no longer found a place in their hereditary “caste occupations.”   Instead, a renewed caste hierarchy was formed on the basis of modern industry, obeying the laws of motion of the caste mode of production – that is, that the lowest, “dirtiest” jobs with the greatest amount of manual labour and no element of abstract labor were done by former untouchable castes, while heavy laboring jobs but less “dirty” jobs were done by former peasant and balutedari caste people.  At the top, the clean jobs with a great amount of abstract mental labor – the professions, doctors, lawyers, professors etc. – were monopolized by Brahmans.  Thus caste took on new life in a changed form in the modern period.  But the old hierarchy and its sense of graded exclusiveness remained.

“Cities in Flight” by James Blish

Book Review

“Cities in Flight,” by James Blish, is a whopper of a science fiction novel series.   Set in the near future, after the fall of western civilization, the cities of earth have taken off – powered by great molecular spinning machines or “spindizzies.”   They wander from planet to planet, seeking work, doing itinerant industrial labor: they are hoboes, tramps, “Okies.”   The discovery of anti-agathic, or anti-death drugs, along with the discovery of the spindizzy principle, is what has made this possible.

“They Shall have Stars” tells the story of the discoveries that set off the flight.  “A Life for the Stars” features a young man dragooned into one of the departing cities.  This also introduces us to our heroes – the metropolitan hero, New York, New York – the great city of the stars, and its human hero, Mayor John Amalfi.  In “Earthman Come Home,” we read of Amalfi’s adventures, most notably when he takes on the greatest enemy of earthmen, the Vegan flying fortress.  In the course of the book we learn that not only cities, but whole planets can be flown.  Their flight is a terrifying, tumultuous and impressive one.  In the final book, “The Triumph of Time,” we read of humans confronting the end of the cosmos as they know it, and the transition to a new one.

Science fiction stretches our imagination.  Relationships are familiar; there are always the love stories, the successful and failed romances, the poignant parties and meetings.  But the settings are wild, fantastic, mind-blowing.   Our life is for the stars – this is the theme, and it is a powerful one.  Not the lonely mundane life of a small planet, but galaxies after galaxies, these are our heritage.  This is the message of science fiction.

Malcolm X

“Malcolm was our manhood, our living black manhood….And we will know him for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”   So said Ossie Davis, in a eulogy to Malcolm X following his assassination.  In a recent biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Viking 2011Manning Marable helps us understand why Malcolm found this place in the hearts of black men and women.

As a youngMalcolmX2 man he had led a life of poverty and partial criminality (later exaggerated in his famous autogiography) spending time in prison.   From this marginalized existence he was “rescued” by the Nation of Islam, the militant group of “Black Muslims” whose sole recognized leader was Elijah Mohammed.  This led to a contradictory existence.  On the one hand, the Nation taught a kind of racial hatred, with a mythology (“Yacub’s history”) saying that the white man was created as the devil; on the other hand, Malcolm’s widening contacts with the universalism of true Islam softened this racialism, leading him eventually to repudiate it.

He was also torn because, while the Nation of Islam repudiated political involvement, proclaiming a religious solution, he was drawn to the black power and even civil rights movements, towards taking part in the struggles of his people.

As a minister and a speaker, Malcolm articulated the bitterness, alienation and anger of the marginalized, criminalized ghetto Blacks.   He was popular, adored and followed by many. He helped to build, for a time, the Nation of Islam.

But a break was inevitable.  Malcolm’s growing disillusionment with its leader Elijah Muhammad was fueled by his discovery of the man’s numerous affairs and illegitimate children; political contradictions abounded.  Once he left, he tried to organize on his own, minimizing the differences….but it was useless.  In the end, he was assassinated.   And black America was deprived of one of its noblest and most heroic spokesmen.

Manning Marable’s exhaustive autobiography, with extensive (but unobtrusive) footnotes will fascinate readers who want to know more about this unique leader.

Caste Map

Not since l931 has any Census taken up the issue of caste.  The excuse for having a “caste enumeration” in 2011 did not meet this criterion.  As a result, the only really solid information we have about the caste map of India comes from 80 years ago.  The data is old, but there is reason to think that no really qualitative changes have taken place.

Caste map

The caste map shows the distribution of the various castes.  The largest percentage of Dalits is in northern India, in the Chamar-dominated belt of UP, Haryana and Bihar.   Here the percentage is nearly 20%.   OBCs are prevalent everywhere, with solid majorities in Maharashtra (the Maratha-Kunbi group) and groups such as Kapus, Vokkaligas and Kammas in the neighboring states of Andhra and Karnataka, Kunbis in parts of Gujarat.   Jats and Kurmis in north India are an equivalent group, as are Yadavs.  Rajputs were numerous in some regions, as were Vaishyas in a small part of Gujarat.

This caste map was put together by Joseph Schwartzberg, then at the University of Chicago.  Would that up-to-date Census data were available for similar maps.

Jati-ant Parishad (Conference for Annihilation of Caste)

“Jatiant Ladha Parishad”: struggle conference for the annhiliation of caste.  This was the theme of a successful melawa held in Kolhapur, at the historic Rajarshi Shahu Bhavan, on January 18.

Conference  poster

Our aim is the annihilation of caste.  We fight against caste atrocities, for preservation of reservations, for social justice, but going beyond this we want the complete annihilation of caste and the establishment of a sustainable society based on liberty, equality and fraternity.   This is not impossible.  Some people think it is; they think that caste is so entrenched, so stabilized that it will last for millennia and cannot be annihilated.  But it has to be remembered that caste is NOT five thousand years old; during the thousand years of Buddhist hegemony the caste system was not in existence, though tracts like the Manusmriti promoting the caste system had been written.  Caste came into existence; it can be destroyed.

There are several aspects to this struggle.  One is the issue of inter-caste marriage.

Today marriage is within the caste, arranged by parents and imposed on young people.  Today,, in the 12st century, boys and girls want to break this bondage and choose their own partners, go for whom they like and are attracted to.  But the result too often is atrocities, beatings, murders and brutality.  Such efforts at intercaste relationships and inter-caste marriage have to be supported, promoted, protected.  This requires all our effort.

Today there are caste-wise living quarters especially in villages.  There is Brahman galli, Maratha galli, Mali galli, Kumbhar galli, Chambharwada, Maharwada, the Muslim area etc.  People don’t simply live “in a village”; they live in a special area within that village.  Even in cases of displacement, in rehabilitated villages new caste-wise living quarters are constructed.  This must be changes.  Houses should be mixed, of equal size and facilities, people free to live where they want.

Today there are problems of land shortage and landlessness.  A large percentage of dalits and OBCs are landless, many more are land-poor with only tiny fragments of land.  We say that every family should have access to one hectare of land with assured irrigation facilities!

Today even capitalist industrialization has its own caste hierarchy.  What is needed are new, renewable energy-based sustainable agro-industries within which everyone can get employment.  Too often people talk about “modernizing” and “updating” the traditional work of the different artisan castes.  This model is obsolete!  Being limited to a specific caste occupation has to be rejected.  All occupations should be open to all.

Religion is a problem. It is a specialty of the caste system that it has a religious sanction, a religious justification.  Brahmanic religion, so-called Hinduism, is founded on inequality and justifies caste.  For this reason rejection of Hinduism is necessary.   As Babasaheb said in “Annihilation of Caste,” his important essay of 1936, the entire so-called sacred scriptures must be rejected.  This was done by the great social revolutionaries.  Phule established a Sarvajanik Satya Dharm.  Babasaheb chose Buddhism.  Periyar became an athe

ist.  All of these are possibilities.  Conversion to an equalitarian religion – Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism—would be helpful.  It would not solve all problems; as we know there are problems of caste among Christians, among Muslims, among Buddhists, among Sikhs.  But it would be a big step forward.

The fight for annihilating caste is a long-drawn one and requires a great unity.  Today there are conflicts and struggles among Dalits, between Dalits and OBCs, everywhere.  These have to be overcome and a great unity built as all come together to annihilate caste.

These are all aspects of the fight for the annihilation of caste, and were part of the deliberations of the conference, with ended with resolutions and the singing of “Now let us enflame the fields, now let us raise up a great fight!”

Anti-caste Movements and the Left

Writing on the subject of “Anti-Caste movements and the left” is in one sense fairly simple because the Left has so thoroughly ignored and marginalized the issues of the anti-caste movements that there is little to say.  Of course, left parties have defended Dalits against atrocities, have often taken bold stands on issues of human rights.  But they have rarely sought to analyze caste exploitation as it goes on today and evolve determined, conscious movements aimed at the annihilation of caste.   Tendencies to “mechanical Marxism” abound; the Left forgets warnings such as Ambedkar’s, “caste is not a division of labour but a division of labourers.”   This is true not only of the parliamentary Left parties, the CPI and CPI(M) but also of the “revolutionary” Maoists.   These have theoretically and practically neglected the issues of the anti-caste movements.

                Left parties swear by Marxism.  But the Marxism they use is a mechanical materialism, rather than a historical materialist analysis of Indian society.  Caste is absorbed into “class,” and class struggle is seen as the be-all and end-all solution to problems of caste hierarchy and caste exploitation.  “Exploitation” is not seen in regard to caste but is rather given a purely economic, class interpretation.  Phule and Ambedkar are looked upon as at  best petty-bourgeois democrats, at worst betrayers of the national movement.

                One exception to this is the Shramik Mukti Dal, an organization working in eleven districts of Maharashtra, organizing farmers and toilers on issues of drought, dam and project eviction, and caste oppression.  The Shramik Mukti Dal (SMD) follows an ideology not simply based on Marxism but on Marx-Phule-Ambedkarism.    In their analhysis, caste is a system of exploitation in which there is a graded hierarchy: people at each level labour, and the surplus from their labour is extracted upwards to the level above.  Each level benefits to some degree from the labour of those lower in the hierarchy, though the greater part of the surplus is channeled upward to those at the top.  The “laws of motion,” as SMD puts it, of this system are that the lowest levels of the hierarchy have people doing the heaviest, most manual and most polluting or “dirty” labour; labour becomes progressively “cleaner” and more mentally oriented as one rises in the hierarchy, until at the top Brahmans perform nearly purely mental labour.   The most open version of this hierarchy was the traditional jajmani system, but it exists in a changed form today.  Today, heavy manual labour, and polluting labour such as scavenging, rag picking, etc. is performed by people drawn from the lowest traditional castes; the “clean” peasant castes perform labour that is more neutral as far as pollution is concerned but is nevertheless heavy manual labour – they are porters or hamals, casual labourers on construction works and so on.

                SMD has been moving into action on these issues.   A “caste annihilation conference” held last January at Kankavali in the Kokan adopted several resolutions which formed the base for a demonstration march a couple of months later.    Demands such as land for cultivation, jobs, and special issues of Dalits in the Kokan (lack of roads to villages, traditional forms of discrimination) were taken up.  Another conference is being planned in Kolhapur for January of 2013.

                A related effort in which SMD activists are taking part is a group on “brainstorming caste,” seeking to formulate and specify the theoretical basis for anti-caste activities.   A three-day session is being planned this November in Wardha with selected participants drawn from all over India.   In the notes developed so far for the discussion, the historical nature of caste is emphasized – far from being a timeless (and therefore undefeatable) aspect of Indian social structure, the dominance of caste is actually relatively recent: for nearly a thousand years, when Buddhism was hegemonic, there was no dominant caste system but rather a social class structure based on guilds of shrenis or artisans, gahapatis farming land with das-kammakara servant-slaves, and peasant or “kutumbin” farmers.   It was only after about the 5th century when the guild system could no longer provide tools and implements for production and were replaced by caste-groups of artisans settled in the village that a material base for the dominance of caste ideology was created.   Caste ideology, which had been in existence earlier, since the time of Manu and before, when Brahmanism was forecasting a society based on varnashrama dharma in contrast to the shramana propagation of a caste-free society,  then became hegemonic.  Caste became solidified, and with it untouchability and all the other evils we can see today.

                Thus there are some important new left initiatives coming on the issue of caste and anti-caste movements.   Hopefully the future will be different from the way these issues have been marganizalized among the left in the past.

Ambedkar and Sikhism

Ambedkar was, after his famous conversion announcement of 1935, determined to seek alternatives to Hinduism.   Which religion would this be?   Around 1936 we can see the evidences of Ambedkar’s attraction to Sikhism.  There were reasons for this attraction.  Sikhism was an Indian religion, and one with traditions of equalitarianism which he thought important.   It was also “close enough” to Hinduism that he felt would not so much alienate Hindus who were afraid of conversion that would increase the powers of an alien religion.  In 1936 he met Dr. Moonje of the Hindu Mahasabha, with a statement that was later given out on a wider basis to other leaders like M.R. Jayakar, M.C. Rajah and others.   Interestingly, Dr. Moonje gave a qualified approval while Gandhi unequivocably condemned a conversion to Sikhism.

It was at this time, in April 1936, that Ambedkar went to Amritsar for a conference of the Sikh Mission.  He addressed the meeting, before huge crowds; some Dalits from Kerala converted to Sikhism at this time.  Dr. Ambedkar told the group that he had decided to renounce Hinduism, but not where to go as yet.  However his attendance at the conference alienated the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, which had given an invitation for him to speak in Lahore, and they wanted him to expunge some passages critical of the Vedas from his address.  Ambedkar refused, and had the speech printed on his own – “Annihilation of Caste.”    In it, he makes the statement, “the political revolution of the Sikhs was preceded by the religious and social revolution led by Guru  Nanak.”  In contrast to what he saw as the “reform” of the bhakti movement in Maharashtra, Sikhism was revolutionary.   Ambedkar’s argument was that emancipation of the mind had to precede social and political revolution: “political revolutions have always been preceded by social and religious revolutions.”

Ambedkar’s statement at the time regarding reasons for looking towards Sikhism is also interesting.  “Looking at these alternatives purely from the standpoint of the Hindus, which is best, Christianity, Islam or Sikhism?  Obviously, Sikhism.  If the Depressed Classes embrace Islam or Christiantiy, they not only go out of Hinduism but go out of Hindu culture. On the other hand, if they become Sikhs they remain within Hindu culture.  This is by no means a small advantage for the Hindus.   Conversion to Islam or Christianity will denationalize the Depressed Classes.  If they go to Islam the number of Muslims would be doubled and the danger of Muslim domination also become real.  If they go to Christianity it will strengthen the hold of Britain on the country.”

Part of the debate at the time was whether converts to Sikhism (or any other religion) would retain the rights given to them as Scheduled Castes, under the Poona Pact or whatever.  Moonje had agreed that converts to Sikhism would retain these rights,

Thus on 18 September 1936 Ambedkar  sent a group of his followers to the Sikh Mission at Amritsar to study the Sikh religion.   These became overwhelmed by their welcome, and in the end – against original intentions – in fact converted to Sikhism.  They have not much been heard of since!

On Baisakhi day in 1939 Ambedkar participated in the All India Sikh Mission conference in Amritsar with his followers wearing turbans, and deletated his nephew to take amrit and become a khalsa Sikh.

Later some conflicts came up between Ambedkar and the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh, who undoubtedly feared Ambedkar’s political influence.  The massive numbers of untouchables would overwhelm the existing Sikhs, if conversion took place; and Tara Singh feared that Ambedkar himself would become the leader of the Panth.  In one incident, money (twenty five thousand rupees) apparently promised to Ambedkar was given instead to a follower of Tara Singh, Master Sujan Singh Sarhali; it never reached Ambedkar.

Thus, during the middle period of his life, Ambedkar interacted with the Sikhs and their leaders, and showed some attraction to Sikhism.  It is worth asking why in the end he turned away from it.

One reason was undoubtedly his awareness of the existence of untouchability within Sikhism itself.  Though in   principle egalitarian, in fact Dalit Sikhs retained a separate identity – as Mazbhi Sikhs, or in some cases as “Ravidasis’ – and were differently treated.   There was thus a kind of segregation within Sikhism.  At the social level, Dalit Sikhs in the Punjab remained landless, subordinate as agricultural laborers to the landed Jat Sikhs, the dominant community.

Then, perhaps, the very factors which he early spoke of as reasons for going to Sikhism may have dissuaded him.   If Sikhism was “part of Hindu culture,” then what in the end was the use?  The “Hindu culture” which was so infected with casteism would continue to infect the entire Sikh community; Dalits would remain as untouchables within it, only untouchables who perhaps wore turbans.  Buddhism more and more was appearing to Ambedkar as something different; like Sikhism it was Indian and not “alien”; it would not irrevocably divide the nation or give domination to Muslims or greater continuity of power to British colonialists.  It also offered, perhaps, a kind of rationalism that Sikhism did not – Ambedkar was undoubtedly attracted by this theme that the Buddha had so consistently put forward, that one must decide for oneself, on the basis of experience and rationality: atta deepa bhav.  Thus Buddhism proved to have a stronger and more enduring appeal than Sikhism.  Buddhism could not even offer the limited resources of community support that Sikhism could, but it was also a religion that Ambedkar could shape on his own, could mould to suit what he felt to be the spiritual and moral needs of Dalits.   Sikhism already had its set religious hierarchy, to which Ambedkar – however strong and determined a leader – would have been subordinate.

Thus, in the end, Sikhism lost out to Buddhism as the goal of conversion for Ambedkar and his lakhs  of followers.

Will Globalization Emancipate Dalits?

  1. The general viewpoint of the left is to say that Dalits are going to get completely destroyed because of the new economic policy (globalization).  But this is an erroneous standpoint even from a classic Marxist theoretical understanding.  Because at every stage of capitalism when there is a crisis, as Marx says, capitalism has to renew its relations of production and mode of production to survive and develop.  Globalization is a stage of capitalism which is doing exactly this.  And in such a renewal, again as Marx says, there is a development of the productive forces which becomes inevitable for the survival and development of capitalism itself.  From this it is obvious that what we know as the Left should be corrected.  And what should be said is the following: that globalization will continue the exploitation of Dalits but also it will give many opportunities to Dalits to use and transform their lives in the way of upgrading their standard of living.  At the same time they can use some of the scientific technological development brought forward by the state in their own liberative way to go towards abolition of caste exploitation.

2.   One effect of this that is mentioned as a bad effect is the reduced opportunities of employment in the public sector.  For example, LIC, ublic sector factories like RCF.  Though it is true that this curtailment of the employment opportunities in these sectors with the introduction of modernization curtails opportunities, at the same time it is true that most modern technologies give opportunities to some section of dalits to become small industrialists.  This is shown by the example of the formation of the organization of Dalit industrialists in India.  At the same time industries based on renewable energy, biotechnology, greenhouse technology etc. will give opportunities of new employment.

3. Dalits today have fought and achieved some place in education largely due to reservations.  And this section can organize a movement of caste annihilation as a long-term project by using concepts of equitable water distribution, land re-distribution based on organic farming, wind and solar energy, etc., demands which would lead towards a collective control of the new forces of production rising out of these alternatives; this can become the basis of an alternative for annihilating caste.

4. This alliance with nonDalits would facilitate their own liberation along with the liberation of all, because this would give a way out for their emancipation from the old caste oppression.  Hence the toiling castes which are alienated today from the caste-class struggle will be coming into the fold of a great alliance of oppressed castes toward liberation.

5. Gender oppression has always been a part of caste-class exploitation.  Not only has this aspect been ignored in the movement for a long period, but there are also differences among Dalits themselves about this.  The alternative strategy enabled by the new technologies would include women’s liberation as a part of a general strategy of going towards a society which is casteless, classless, and free from gender exploitation.  So, we need not be afraid of globalization but we should face it boldly and use the opportunities which it gives for the creation of a socialist globalization.

Ambedkar and the Left

                An article by Anand Telbumbe, “Not Red versus Blue” has been recently arousing controversy.   Dalits have attacked it.   In attempting to “mediate” between Ambedkarites and Leftists, Teltumbe according to many has fallen into the trap of turning Ambedkar into a semi-Marxist.

                In fact, Teltumbe does distort Ambedkar in a subtle way.  He writes, ““Ambedkar practiced class politics, albeit not in the Marxian sense.  He always used ‘class’ even for describing the untouchables.”  The one example Teltumbe gives is to Ambedkar’s  essay on caste, which was written in 1916 for a seminar.   In this essay, “Castes in India: Their Genesis, Mechanism and Development”, Ambedkar begins by describing a caste as an “enclosed class.”   However, this is a beginning point, not a conclusion, and it is far from absorbing castes into a Marxian notion of class.  Ambedkar’s elaboration of the mechanisms and development of caste make it clear that caste is a very different category from the openness of class as determined by division of labor.   He is apparently using “class” in a somewhat general fashion in his phrase, “enclosed class,” not in any specific economic sense.

                Ambedkar also of course occasionally uses the term “Depressed Classes” to refer to Dalits.  However this was taken over from British usage, where the term was simply an administrative conventional one used to identify untouchables.   The British here were not in any way making a reference to the Marxist concept of class, but rather using the term as equivalent to “category.”

                In all of his writings from very early, Ambedkar is quite conscious of Marxism as a powerful intellectual and ideological force, and also quite conscious of his differences from it.  He refutes the Marxist notion of social, cultural and religious factors being “superstructural” features which have no real causal significance.   In a 1938 article in Janata, he takes up the architectural analogy and says that if the cultural and religious factors are the building erected on an economic “foundation,” then before the foundation can be uprooted the building should be demolished: thus he turns the metaphor upside down, arguing effectively that religious and cultural factors have to be tackled first of all.   If Lenin had been born in India, he argued in another article, he would first of all have attacked the religious foundations of slavery.

                Class is defined in terms of the division of labour.  But, as Ambedkar noted, caste is not a division of labor but a division of labourers: many castes among the single “class” defined in terms of a similar position within the division of labor fragment and divide that class, making unity impossible. 

                Teltumbe’s article shows his consciousness of the practical problems that Ambedkar faced with the Marxists.  Early Communist organizing was strongest in the textile mills, for example.  But here, because of caste discrimination, Dalits were relegated to the lower paid department.  In the weaving department, when the thread broke, the custom was for the workers to hold it in their teeth; it was unacceptable for caste Hindu workers to allow dalits to do this.  Thus they could get work only in the spinning department.  Communists ignored this discrimination for a long time.   Teltumbe argues that only when Ambedkar threatened to break the strike of 1928 did they remedy this; there is, however, little evidence that they did so even then.  No effective campaign was mounted to get Dalits entry; the discrimination remained.  

                Ambedkar saw this partly as a result of the Brahman character of the early communists, but partly also as a result of the tendency of Marxism itself to ignore “non-economic” issues such as caste.  For Ambedkar, of course, caste was a thoroughly economic reality also, as well as a social one; it determined the economic position of Dalits and bahujans by relegating them to certain positions in the socio-economic order.    This was an inalterable feature of Indian society, related to its religious and cultural foundations.   Marx, in contrast, had seen caste as inimical to human development, but believed that it would be overcome through industrial development.   Ambedkar, of course, as much as Marxists wanted industrial development as a necessary foundation for the removal of poverty, but he did not see it as sufficient to overcome the realities of caste discrimination and exploitation.  

                When Ambedkar wrote, in “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Indian history,” that the history of Indian was one of a mortal struggle “between Buddhism and Brahmanism,” he was making a reference to the accepted Marxist doctrine that history was a history of class struggle.  In India, Ambedkar was in effect arguing, the situation was different: the struggle was a cultural and spiritual one.  

                In Manmad in 1938 at a meeting of Dalit railway workers, Ambedkar made his famous statement that we have two enemies – Brahmanism and capitalism.   Here, taking capitalism as an enemy meant that in a sense he was declaring for an alliance with Communists.  What they had in common was the anti-caste struggle.  But then, would it be sufficient for Communists to give lip service to the struggle against Brahmanism?  This was not so simple.

                The fact is that though Ambedkar was a socialist, he was (as Teltumbe knows well) not a Marxist but a democratic socialist.  Teltumbe calls him a Fabian.   In fact, although at one point, in his book States and Minorities, he called for “state socialism” as a solution to the problems of economic exploitation, he also moved away from this.   Marxists tend to focus on States and Minorities, but ignore the fact that by 1952 with the election manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation he was turning away from “state socialism” towards a more Deweyian pragmatism.   There he argued that rapid industrial development was necessary; where state control worked best its should be used, but where private industrial ownership could give the most rapid development, this would be acceptable.   In this sense, Ambedkar was not a Fabian so much as a pragmatist.

                Ambedkar turned to Buddhism at the end of his life an, saw Buddhism as an alternative to Marxism: in the fight for “liberty, equality and fraternity” Marxism, he argued in a final essay, could achieve equality, he conceded, but not liberty; Buddhism was therefore superior.  And, he denied the concepts of increasing impoverishment leading to revolution, denied the role of class struggle, but concluded that of the “residues of fire” in Marx, the most important was the theme that “philosophers have only interpreted the world the problem is to change it.”  This was true also of the Dhamma, he would argue: the goal of religion is to understand the world, the goal of the Dhamma is reconstruction of the world.   Like Marxism, his was a philosophy aiming at social transformation, but he refused to accept the violence implied in class struggle and the mechanical relegation of everything to an economic base.

Teltumbe wants to argue for a “convergence” of dalit-bahujan and leftist forces.  This is impossible, the differences are too strong, and the Left has shown no tendency at all to rethink on its fundamentals.   This is true for the “parliamentary” parties, the CPI and CPM, as well as for the “revolutionary” Maoists.   It is in this sense that  the moribund nature of this traditional left shows.  However, there can be an alliance.   This was something which Ambedkar had stood for, and it remains a hope.