Why Caste Is Still Dominant?

Lohia and Caste

Arun Kumar Patnaik

Lohia argues that there are three kinds of opposition to caste order. First, there are ones who believe in the wordy opposition to caste like Nehruvian liberals, the communists and the Praja Socialist Party. Second, there are those who believe in partial opposition to caste by the like the DK politics in South during his time or Yadava politics of the North during present time. Third, there are those who believe in a wholesale opposition to caste order. Lohia prefers the third alternative as the first two groups are basically hypocrites. True to his character (sheel), he prefers a broad-based opposition to caste involving Dalits, Sudras, Muslims and women who are all victims of caste-based hypocritical politics. Here, he disagrees with Ambedkar's strategy of relying on Dalits only.

Lohia argues, "The wordy opposition to caste is the loudest in respect of such generalised condemnation of caste as it leaves the existing structure almost intact". Raise everybody economically, this thesis claims. It also argues, the caste denies equality of opportunities. So to solve this problem of denial, we must ensure equality of opportunity to everybody irrespective of caste. Communists, the PSP and Nehruvian Congress stand for this thesis. Any other social and political attempt to do away the caste inequalities is condemned as "casteist". As a result, economic equality for Dalits and Sudras are seen as the most important. But this thesis forgets that the policy of equal opportunity in economic sphere has helped the upper caste people entrenched into higher positions. Only the most talented one from among the Sudras and Dalits could be absorbed in the economic sector.

Caste induces Hindus to commit biggest hypocrisies. Hindus like all other religious people tell lies to others. What is however unique about Hindus is they lie themselves. A Hindu tells lies to him as well as others and feels most comfortable with its success. A Hindu mind, due to caste, is a bundle of contradictions. Unless caste is destroyed in belief and practice, a Hindu mind will no way to seek to develop in him/her a consistent character and sincere moral personality.

There is a very interesting discussion between Lohia and Gandhi. After Lohia returned from Germany, he met Gandhi. Gandhi called him a very brave man. Lohia responded by saying that the tiger is also brave. Gandhi called him a learned man. Lohia laughed it away, by saying that a lawyer who enjoys financial benefits as a result of people's growing conflicts is also learned man. Then, Gandhi concluded that Lohia had "sheel", which can best be translated as "continuity in character". Lohia kept silence.

Lohia assumes that once one believes in caste moralities, personalities will remain retarded and under-grown. Lohia thinks that an average Hindu mind. (This idea can be extended to average caste conscious Muslims and Christians) may be brave or may be learned. But in order to have continuity in character, he must believe in a caste-free society, must prove that s/he is committed to the destruction of caste in practice. That means s/he must have social networks (friendship, trusts) across caste order. Any restriction of this will be hypocritical. Lohia gives two more examples from public life. He gives the cases of the PM and the President. The PM once over a week told the press that he would resign as nobody listened to him, even though people respected him. Next day, he would continue to hold the post. Next day, again, he would threaten to resign and next moment, he would withdraw. Thus, the PM would indicate how he lacked "sheel". The President was still worse. He was part of the constitutional post which believed in prohibition but he was also the President of the Calcutta Club, founded by Indian bourgeoisie, where wines flowed every evening. A rich Tanti (a weaver caste) wanted to join as member but was refused as he was not from the families of "the Tatas and Birlas". And the President was still the chief patron of the Club, even after a weaver from upper class was refused its membership. Neither the President nor the Prime Minister did even blink that whatever they were doing was full of contradictions. Such imbecility of mind occurs because of the lack of commitment to a caste-free society. Lohia somehow believed that continuity in character can arise only if the Hindus (or even non-Hindus) are committed to the destruction of caste order in belief and social practice.

This theme remained dear to his writings and personality throughout his life. He comes back to this theme in several of his writings. Lohia's argument about an average Hindu personality believing in caste order as a bundle of contradictions was anticipated by D D Kosambi, the Marxist historian. Kosambi argues that the average Hindu is like a python which assimilates contradictions, without attempting to resolve them. Caste order is indeed based on this kind of assimilation, without any attempt to resolve their contradictions. Contradictions surface and resurface, without any attempt to resolve them. Contradictions between Vedic Brahmin and non-Vedic Brahmin, contradiction between Brahmin male and Brahmin female, contradiction between each Sudra caste trying to claim purity against pollution of other Sudra caste, contradiction within Dalit castes and contradiction between Dalits and non-Dalits. If one takes the case of the Lord Shiva's entourage, it will be very clear what Kosambi means.

Ambedkar pleads that all round Satyagraha must be conducted to destroy the essence of caste which lies in varieties of untouchability created by the social system. It should be enough to indicate how Ambedkar examines caste as a hierarchy of power.

In reality Lohia does not explore how caste is organised as a graded hierarchy. Most probably, unwittingly, he examines what is left out by Ambedkar. Why caste order manages to survive in the midst of resistance against caste and foreign conquests? This is most important question for Lohia, "Castes have endured over thousands of years". He goes on to explore how caste creates legitimation processes so that lower castes feel that they are indeed lower, and so on. He goes on to explore how caste creates insurance or social security for which people do not have to pay a premium. How castes produce a split personality in average Hindus without a stable and sincere voice on anything? How castes disunite and divide masses who witnessed several foreign conquests by tiny armies whereas vast masses remained passive? No foreign conquests propelled them for mass action due to caste divisions. For, he continuously looks for mobilisation of people for socialist action in the midst of passivity of masses imposed by caste or in the midst of social security given by caste? Can socialists learn from some positive features by destroying the negative features of caste system? What strategy they ought to have to do so? What policy actions are possible under socialism?

To cite Lohia: "Caste is presumably the world's largest insurance for which one does not pay a formal or regular premium. Solidarity is always there, when everything else fails". Caste provides for social solidarity in matters of child-bearing, marriage, funeral obsequies, feasts and other rituals. Men belonging to the same caste assist each other at these decisive hours of needs. But Lohia does not fail to notice that caste-based security for which one may not have to pay any premium for insurance protection is also "excluding men of other castes" who are reduced to be in periphery of such social security system. This system of insurance without any cost or premium makes the system more resilient and durable in the eyes of its members only.

Caste continues to survive despite many crisis points posed by moderisation. This partly explains why caste has survived even the foreign conquests led by Muslims and Christians who came to India with egalitarian ideologies but got adjusted with caste order. And in fact, due to a modernisation drive, caste has managed to survive in urban areas by getting organised as associations offering many kinds of assistance at times of distress.

There is one thing common to both Ambedkar and Lohia. Both are dissatisfied with Gandhi's doctrine of least resistance to caste order. Both argue for the rediscovery of Satyagrah against caste system. Gandhi was actually wary of Satyagrah against caste inequalities, notwithstanding his opposition to the British Raj on the grounds of Satyagrah. Gandhi does not think it would be prudent to place Satyagrah against caste order during the British Raj or even after India's Independence. Rather, on the caste issues, he proposes the doctrine of least resistance as a matter of principle rather than a time-dependent strategy. Gandhi thinks that caste is an unequal structure between the touchable castes and the untouchable castes.

He argues for changing the upper caste mentalities by an appeal to their change of hearts. He argues that if the upper castes could be convinced with an appeal to the principle of ancestral calling, it would be possible for them to believe in the redundancy of untouchability. According to this principle, people are doing different functions as their duties to a village community as ordained by their ancestors. Through an alternative education of upper castes, it would be possible to convince them that different castes do mere duties to their ancestors. So, there is no low or polluted duty and high or pure duty. All caste functions are duties as per the ancestral calling. Once upper castes are convinced with a notion of duty in every manual labour, it would be possible for them to remove from their minds that some groups do menial labour or polluted functions. All functions would be seen as necessary duties to ancestors. Once upper castes are convinced with this doctrine, they would also undertake street sweeping and so on as Gandhi himself did. That would bring an end to untouchability. So, Satyagraha against untouchability is not necessary. Ambedkar calls Gandhi's doctrine as the one of least resistance.

Both Ambedkar and Lohia remain dissatisfied with Gandhi's doctrine of least resistance. Both argue that Gandhi, as a matter of principle, denies the relevance of Satyagrah against caste inequalities.

For both of them, the abolition of caste order is more important that the abolition of untouchability of the Dalits as Gandhism envisages. Both agree that Gandhism is an egalitarian ideology on the caste question but it has limited utilities in a democratic nation determined to abolish caste inequalities. In fact, Ambedkar, unlike his followers, clearly demarcates three egalitarian ideologies against caste: Gandhism, Marxism and Buddhism. For him as also for Lohia, it would be possible to learn from Gandhism and Marxism while trying to establish an egalitarian ideology, even though lessons from them may have limited applicability in relation to caste order in India. Ambedkar was not really anti-Gandhi as made out by his followers today. In a dialectical thinking, there are no pro- or anti-positions.

Since caste is a power structure, it needs to be related to a theory of power. A theory of power is usually caught with a tension between two notions of power: power as a hierarchy of domination on the one hand and power as a system of legitimation on the other hand. The former focuses on a hierarchy of elites and subalterns, structural inequalities arising between them and strategies to dominate subaltern strata and so on. The latter focuses on why subalterns give consent to the domination of elites and its moral and legal paraphernalia.

Caste is simply not a system of inequalities between castes of purity and castes of pollution. Such a neat division of labour is not there in the caste system. There are grades of pollution, followed by rules of precedence in matters of education, religion, commensality, marriage, economy and so on. Such rules of precedence exclude not merely Dalits from various sectors of human life. They also exclude Sudras, Vaisyas, non-Vedic Brahmins as well as all women across caste divisions. Caste is thus a hierarchy of grades/ranks of people subdivided by the different rules of precedence in matters governing human life, where the Vedic Brahmin male occupies the top of hierarchy with Dalits occupying its bottom. Let us see how rules of precedence occur in education life under the caste order. Vedas and Puranas were seen as two different sources of knowledge. Vedic Brahmins occupied superior status over Puranic Brahmins as the Vedic knowledge preceded Puranic knowledge. Brahmin male occupied superior status over Brahmin women in matters of knowledge. Women of any caste and all non-Brahmin males were excluded from education system by caste practices.

Lohia argues that a great misreading of Indian history is that foreigners could invade and conquer India due to India's internal quarrels and intrigues. This is plain nonsense. The single most cause is caste system which produced imbecility and passivity among masses who were hardly interested in nation's tragedies. Caste is the single most reason why national feeling, national solidarity and action in preventing national tragedies could not develop and still does not develop. Unless caste is destroyed new India could not revive. India would remain weak, not due to intrigues but due to caste inequalities. If political parties play with caste cards in electoral democracy, nation would remain dormant and docile. India would not be seen as a developed nation. So in Lohia's estimate caste and nation do have negative correlation. If one remains strong, the other remains weak. If caste remains strong, people's languages, their housing and general styles of living will remain undeveloped and their mind will have imbecility due to inferiority complexes instilled in them over thousand years. A vibrant India cannot be born in such situations. So the destruction of caste is more important for nation-building.

There are two major difficulties in accepting Lohia's model of socialism. First, there could be an anomaly in his claim that equal opportunity in education must be followed, whereas preferential treatment in employment is to be adopted. As Ambedkar argues, caste has denied education to many social groups: women, Sudras, Dalits and Adivasis. If there is no preferential policy protecting education for these groups, it would not be possible for spreading education among common people. So any anti-caste measure must aim at affirmative policy on education, for education alone can develop initial capacities of subaltern strata that were historically denied education by caste system. Lohia's argument for equal opportunity in modern education may reproduce educational inequalities caste-wise.

Second, he believes in putting pressure on the state for public egalitarian policies through civil liberties movements. So his model of socialism could be called as state socialism which ultimately gets one-sided in its emphasis for neglecting a community organisation of resources that may also weaken caste communities and help in the emergence of territorial communities with sharing of specific resources at each territorial level. By sharing resources at each territory from below to a summit of pyramid, one can simultaneously retain powers of communities and also push them beyond caste order, without exclusively relying on state action as Lohia proposes. In Lohia's state socialism, the state is all powerful and communities have no role to play in breaking barriers of caste order. Though his model state is a democratic state, the state is still the motor of social change. This is a theme of Jayaprakash's critique of state-centred socialism through his concept of Lokniti, which socialists may have to pay attention in order to explore if these thinkers may complement each other in the withering away of caste order in future India. ooo

(The paper was presented in the Lohia Centenary Seminar, Social Science Forum, Vijayawada, July 26, 2009. I thank Dr Anjaiah for this opportunity)

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Vol. 52, No. 25, Dec 22 - 28, 2019