The ‘Dead Weight’ Debate

Caste and Class

R Mukherji

The heavy weight and great impact of the old social structure, with caste as hereditary division of labour and its relations and connections in the present-day Indian society can be evaluated from the prevailing economic scenario in the country. The Mondal Commission Report in the late 1980s exposed the glaring historical fact of the existence of deadweight of the caste system within the class structure and its decisive power in the economic activity and social developments of the country. It is indeed a very strong and major characteristic that has continued from the age-old period of the occupations and economic life of the Indian people. Caste hierarchy according to the ownership of wealth in Indian social structure shows to have changed only a little through the present time. Caste-system in Egypt and India, observed Marx-Engels, was the crude form of the division of labour, that called forth in the state and religion and it was the power that produced this crude social form in the long past.

The situation in India at present has become far more complicated over time as the "development proceeds" only very slowly, the various stages and interests are never completely overcome, but only subordinated to the existing interest and trail along beside the latter for centuries afterwards and "those productive forces receive under the system of private property a one-sided development only, and for the majority they become destructive forces". Thus, Marx-Engels made their scientific prediction. History has indeed proved their observation correct and real. One may have the current data of the economic and social phenomenon for India from the table given above.

From the viewpoints of social structure and its constitution, economics and politics it is easy to discern that the old, upper-caste households forming the minority (15%) of population account for the vast majority share of the Instruments of production (land and business) and occupations (service and politics) in the Indian economy. On the other hand, shudras, and minorities converted from shudras, the lower castes and religious minorities representing 85 percent of the population share a much lesser proportion of the means of production and occupations in the Indian economy. Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation have further deteriorated in position. Growth for common people principle accentuated the process of their deprivation.

An estimate of 2006 showed that the backward castes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and religions minorities accounted for as much as 82 percent of the people and they are in general, sociologically speaking, oppressed and economically exploited in every possible way by the rich minorities—18 percent of the population mostly belonging to the upper castes. Social structure and hierarchy has however, its own motion over time. It can neither remain fixed or Isolated from the operation and whirlpool of the world market dominated by the international monopoly capital and their native accomplices. Their actions and wranglings continue to further exacerbate the situation. The motion of the upper castes and communities owning, vast majority share of the means of production in collaboration with the international capital is generally towards formation, organisation and development of a native propertied class with overwhelming political clout.

Its motion or growth cannot be smooth or linear. It is always thwarted, hampered and retarded for obvious reasons of the domination of international finance capital. So the process becomes slow, weaker and it is unable to eliminate or abandon the crude vestiges of the past caste and religion.

Naturally, the impact and influence of the age-old caste-system remains powerful, and that festers over the years. The hoary past still haunts the existing social order and its constitution, but the upper-castes and communities can little fight or keep themselves outside of the powerful market forces. Objectively, owning much greater share of properties generally they belong to the broad category of the bourgeois class, similarly, the overwhelming proportion of the population with a little or meagre means of production and occupations cannot be strictly termed as lower castes or communities in the modern sense. Owing to their exploitation, supression, destitution and servitude they undoubtedly fall in the broad category of proletariat. One must remember this development as tension and contradiction have been going on within both the upper and lower caste spheres on a slow motion for traverse and transition to classes, or a reverse to the caste in the Indian society. The transition process is no doubt very slow but it shows relatively, a modern capitalist trend. For instance, the Dalit Indian Chambers of commerce and Industry (DICCI) launched a new venture capital fund for Rs 500 crore on June 6,2013. DICCI now has 3000 millionaire dalit members. In the new economic spaces some dalits have soared and they have been constrained to form a separate business organisation for obvious reasons.

This has of course characteristic features and contours with reference to the past. Mahars formed a sixth of the Maharastra's population and a great majority being cultivators and labourers. There was a great spate of untouchability but a minority section of them became wealthy and rose in the world. Hari Narke observes that the OBC census is a class census and not a caste census. All this speaks of the origin and formation of a class within the caste itself. To extend it farther, notwithstanding the relative 'decline' in rural poverty, in 2004-2005, poverty in India was still very high. The most poor were wage labour engaged in farm and non-farm activities in rural areas where the poverty rate being 44 percent and 32 percent respectively.

Among the caste groups, the poverty also exhibits a typical old hierarchical order. According to Sukhadeo Thorat's study, the poverty is highest for scheduled caste (37 percent), who are placed at the bottom of caste hierarchy, followed by other backward castes (26 percent) and higher caste (17.47 percent). Scheduled Tribes (45 percent) are the most poor among other social groups. Among the religious groups, the Muslims are most poor (33 percent) but better than scheduled castes and scheduled Tribes. Thus scheduled Tribes (45 percent), scheduled castes (37 percent) and Muslim (33) percent in that order are the most poor. And among them the poorest are the farm and non-farm wage labour with 56 percent, and 46 percent for Scheduled Tribes and 37 percent for scheduled castes; respectively. The farm wage labour is thus the poorest among all castes. Figures do not nullify but supplement, relate and confirm the hard reality of economics and existence of class division with their meagre means, provisions and conditions of life and living. The tendency to invoke caste, sub-castes at will has gained more currency in elections in both rural and urban areas and political circles of Iridia. As Rajinder Puri, a veteran journalist writes of the Modi-Singh conundrum in The Statesman (10 July 2013), "with the advent of elections, Mr Modi is making visible efforts to reach out to muslims too. Neither leader has lifted a little finger to promote a modern, casteless Indian identity ....Both leaders are happy with the prevalent, divisive caste-based reservation policy which arguably violates the spirit of the Indian constitution. Indeed Mr Modi is even being projected by sections of his party as the new champion of the backward castes because he belongs to one". Money, caste and religion very much come into play, dastardly command and make a mockery of elections.

Bahujan Samaj Party's General secretary said the Press on 4 May 2013 : "If 16 percent Brahmans and 24 percent dalits come together in Uttar Pradesh, they can ensure the BSP's victory in all the seats". On the other side, all the political parties in a meeting convened by the Election Commission expressed their fake concern over the growing use of money power with majority of them demanding early introduction of electoral reforms to curb black money in funding of elections and banning candidates with criminal background from contesting polls. This caste and election politics are enmeshed, and obviously, it is the capital that commands and controls Parliamentary elections in which the classes’ representatives contest through the political parties. But caste as an old institution of bygone times continues to make a definite impact and still now plays a very vicious and secret role in the democracy of present Indian society at large.

Comprising 11 percent of the population of Uttar Pradesh Brahmins are currently the most coveted and wooed section, while the Swamajwadi Party chose to celebrate the Bhagwan Parsuram Jayanti at the party headquarters. The Bahujan Samaj Party held its Brahmin convention in Maharaj gunj. This was the third such "Woo Brahmin" campaign by both the parties in the year 2013. In Karnataka, Lingayat and Voccaliga communities account for about 32 percent of the vote. Its Assembly elections of 2013 show that the Lingayat community vote was split between the Congress, BJP and KJP. Dalits and backward castes voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Congress, as evidenced by the Party's performance in old Mysore and parts of north Karnataka. Voting is being more related and biased with caste representation and caste's candidate in the Indian parliamentary elections in the present time.

In Bihar the BJP is aggressively seeking to win the sympathy of the extremely backward communities (EBCs) after the Janata Dal (United) severed ties with the Saffron Party a few months back.

THE EBCS, which include some 94 castes and Sub-castes account for 32 percent of the state's total vote. And it matters in vote market. If anything development has been more a 'slogan' than a reality. "The development agenda was never an agenda for the Government, it was just a carefully coined slogan to attract the attention of the voters and brand its image in the media", said N K Chaudhury, a political analyst, adding, real development still eluded the masses. Describing the situation as "regressive" Mr Chaudhury, who is a professor of the Patna University expressed shock over the way the present rulers have turned to caste politics to. stay afloat, rather than carrying forward their politics of development.

While the Mahabharata and present authors of secularism do not recognise existence of caste at the much earlier period of Indian history why do the present parliamentary parties and leaders bring up their support, and preach casteism in election politics? It is obviously for their narrow and clumsy class interest. Casteism and Hindu religion have been mingled in the Indian society in the form of theistic Philosophy. One supports the other and both have been influenced and interwoven with each other.

The long trend of developments in casteism and religion and their chain reactions have long deeply influenced elections and parliamentary politics in India only to divide the people and smash tolerance and plurality of the institutions.

This dangerous trend growing out of caste and religion has affected gravely the organisations of the toilers whose interest in the practical life is certainly one, common and indivisible in the historical process of development. The virus of casteism, religion, factionalism and opportunism naturally afflicted and polluted leadership of the trade union Movement, against which the communist International cautioned long before in the 1930s.

One senior leader of the CPI(M) admits in a speech delivered on 15.06.2013 that the country is divided into barnas and castes. But why? What the party did all along? Why it could not forge unity in the last fifty years? On this issue can they honestly answer to the working class of India? Why did they break the old mass organisations of the workers, peasants and toilers of India, for the sake of reformism, opportunism and groupism?

J M Kaul writes in April 2013, ‘‘This division on political lines has taken place as a result of a number of historical factors but is continuing because on the one hand the workers and the trade unions are able to obtain some benefits by using the leverage of their political parties with the help of their MPs, MLAs and where the political party is the ruling party or part of a ruling coalition it has a clout that the trade union can take advantage of. On the other hand the leaders of the trade Unions are able to use the backing of the workers as a stepping stone on which to build their political careers. But it is obvious that in this kind of a relationship the interests of the workers are often subservient to the interests of the party to which the union is affiliated’’. He says that despite a long record of struggle and sacrifices the trade union movement in India today is facing serious problems, some of which are the result of the onslaught of global capitalism on the working class movement and others are because of weaknesses and shortcomings within the movement. Trade Union movement in India is centred around 7 percent of the workforce engaged in the organised sector, workers of the companies such as Infosys, Wipro or TCS are in fact part of the daily wage labour in the organised sector but ‘‘they by no means form a contingent of the proletariat that has nothing to lose but its chains’’. He concluded that the large section of the unorganised and informal sector comprising 93 percent of the country's workforce who are undoubtedly wage labourers who need to be organised. And obviously a very different approach is required to organise them. "The effort needs to be continued and the trade union organisations will have to deploy their resources both financial and physical to bring abcut a change in the situation’’. Unless the trade union-centres in the organised sector are able to overcome the divisions within the movement and reach out to their fellow workers in the unorganised sector, he cautions, "it will be difficult to stop the onslaught of global capitalism". Onslaught indeed has been continuous and very severe.

What can the Parliamentary Left do by declaring its 10-point principle in election 2014 against the massive onslaught of global finance capital on the Indian soil? It sells and substitutes reformism for Marxism as before. It has developed long filial love for the Congress. Take the programne of the Communist Party of India in the late 1920s. The Programme of action then stated, "whereas, in the opinion of the Communist Party of India it is only the dynamic energies of the toiling masses that can bring Swaraj to India, and whereas the present bourgeois leadership in the Congress has proved itself to be gradually compromising with imperialism and as such is directly in opposition to the interests of the masses, this party calls upon all its members to enroll themselves as members of the Indian National Congress, and form a strong left wing in all its organs for the purpose of wresting them from the present alien control".

The statement is very much conflicting and congradictory to the interest of Working Class. This ‘‘golden’’ rule of class collaboration and opportunism continued all along and culminated in the Left Front's support to the UPA-I Government (2004) led by the Congress Party, daily compromising the economic and Political sovereignty at the altar of international finance capital.

The point at issue is the overwhelming majority of the backward castes, scheduled castes, tribes and religious minorities belong to the mass of the Indian workers, peasants and toilers—the proletariat. A considerable proportion of the upper castes also falls in this category. It is only socialism which can assure their equal position in the humanity and save them from caste discrimination, social atrocities, exploitation of the capitalist and landed classes. Their struggle for genuine democratic reforms are progressive and well within the much wider proletarian ambit and the tenets, theory and practice of class struggle and scientific socialism.

Caste actually appeared as a crude division of labour for usage in the primitive human society, until the recent past, racial struggle for superiority was considered important but, finally, as Marx demonstrated that ‘‘within human society, the racial struggle is superseded by a class struggle in which the economic aspect is the determining factor’’. To deny class struggle in the social organisation of the present time would therefore be a folly. Multiplicity and unity or unity in multiplicity lies in the organism and that continues over time.

Naturally, caste Question ultimately boils down and becomes subject to the determining economic factor in the society. Its total annihilation in reality means complete abolition of the division of labour. It does not however preclude or undemine a systematic campaign and struggle against caste, castiest organisation and casteism, and for radical reform and sustained united working class movement. "If man", says Marx, ‘‘according to his nature is a social being, then only in society can he develop his true nature. Hence he must be judged by this force of his nature; not as a single individual but as an entire society’’. All these aspects of materialist philosophy are inseparably bound in the democratic task of forging a broad united front of the workers, peasants, toilers and democratic masses of the people and the overthrow of the rule of corporate capital and all institutions of internal reaction in the country for the emancipation of labour.

Caste or Community Percentage of the population Land Service   Business Politics
Brahman, Kshatriya & Baisya
Shudra, and Muslim, Buddhist & Christians converted from Shudra

[Sources : Report of the Mondal Commission, Citation from Najrul Islam, Musalmander Karaniya (Bengali), 2012, p. 39]

Vol. 46, No. 40, Apr 13 - 19, 2014