Dr BR Ambedkar wrote a book called “Annihilation of Caste”.
Can’t annihilate caste. Caste is more than just a lifestyle. In fact, I think that the Battle to annihilate caste is a losing one. When I say caste is a lifestyle, I don’t mean it as some sort of acquired taste based on the economic status of an individual. Rather, I mean it as something that has become a natural habit, so natural that it becomes ingrained in the individual’s DNA. I know this might appear a bit archaic idea and not particularly progressive however, look at the last 70 years of our attempt to annihilate caste. If anything, it has only cemented the idea of caste even more in the minds of the younger generation. Those who give up the idea of caste and try to be caste neutral (for lack of a better word) would anyway subconsciously adopt practices that only differentiates them from the other.
I think, before we talk about annihilating caste it’s essential that we understand what it encompasses. Caste dictates the diction of the language we speak, caste dictates the jobs that we could covet, caste dictates our food habits/cuisine, dictates the deities we worship and how we worship, dictates the festivals we celebrate and our traditional attire, dictates marriage rituals and many more such day to day things; In fact, so disparate are these habits that here one man’s food is indeed another man’s poison. Thus, I believe, caste forms a very integral part of an individual’s identity. Annihilating caste is akin to annihilating a large part of an individual’s identity, hence it hasn’t been an easy task to achieve this goal set by no lesser an individual than Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. I see people getting appalled by the idea of Indians travelling abroad carry their caste
identities with them. What’s so appalling about it? It is such an integral part of an individual’s identity, it shouldn’t be surprising if Indians who travel or settle abroad also carry their caste along. I remember reading an article by the historian Dipankar Gupta, where he says that people from lower caste oppressed for ages, are not in a hurry to convert themselves to an upper caste even if they were given a chance to do so. This is very interesting to note, because why would an individual from an oppressed caste leave an opportunity to escape all that and convert to a caste which is privileged? Gupta points out that so strong is this caste identity that a person belonging to it strongly identifies with it, takes pride in its history, it’s culture, takes pride in its own heroes idolize, and they also take pride in the contribution of their respective community towards the country’s success.
There are individuals who try to live caste neutral, they have often been blamed to be too westernized and disrespectful of the Hindu ethos. This also goes in conjunction with our general distrust in many things western which I will cover in a different blog. The emancipated idea of caste espoused in our scriptures, where caste is linked with action or karma and not birth is very difficult to understand and implement. So, what we would have to live with is this unfortunate idea of caste linked with birth!
Does that mean that we can’t do anything about the discrimination that the individuals from some castes face?
Does that mean we can’t ever get rid of this system of reservation that seems to cripple meritocracy?
No, it doesn’t mean that at all. This is where I think we should train all our effort on eliminating caste-based discrimination and not the caste. When an individual’s identity is not threatened, ridiculed or questioned then the individual’s willingness to accept other identities without discrimination becomes relatively easier. In fact, this is what we see in private sector that’s still hasn’t yielded in any way to reservation, people from various caste backgrounds purely on the basis of their merit get selected to work for the corporate. No one cares or bothers about which caste or religion that individual comes from, all they care about is whether they are contributing to the common goal of the team/organization. However, when the individual goes back home or has his meal he sticks strongly to the background that he comes from, no one tries to prove that their habit is superior to the others or that their habit is better than the others. When a manager evaluates an employee, he does so purely on the basis of merit and performance and not because of that individual’s caste. This is the type of society that we should target to create. We’ve to accept that our society is pluralistic in more ways than one. It will continue to have different castes which would’ve disparate habits and yet we have to also accept that no caste is superior to the other no habit is inferior to the other no matter how contradictory it might be.
While I said what I said, I am not oblivious of the history of discrimination suffered by certain castes and some out-castes. A discrimination that has been a sore to which we have tried to apply the balm of reservations with limited to no success. In fact, I feel, reservation might have helped a small percentage of the historically disadvantaged communities to emancipate themselves only economically, however I don’t think it has managed to do much as far as their standing in society is concerned. If anything, it has only deepened the divide especially as jobs become lesser and difficult to get. I am also aware that historically there has been a caste hierarchy based on purity of one and the impurity of the other. Yet I think caste is a difficult and complex aspect to get rid-of. I feel if we focus on annihilating caste eventually what we would end-up doing is create a new caste hierarchy where what’s on the top today would just be replaced with what we have at the bottom. Instead if we just focus on the issue of hierarchy, social discrimination without challenging or hating any of the castes, we might make a faster progress. In this of course people from all the castes would’ve to forgive and forget some of the atrocities meted out or received. This is a given, because this would have been required even the day when caste would’ve been annihilated.