in Annihilate Caste — by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
A well-known Dalit scholar Gopal Guru, presently editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, once wrote that “Indian Social Science represents a pernicious divide between theoretical Brahmins and empirical Shudras’ (2002). But Shudras did not get much attention in his, otherwise useful article. He immediately shifted his argument to the question of Dalits. Nowhere he elaborated his understanding of the Shudra question in a historical sense. Maybe this was a conscious forbearance. Since he worked in a high end central university of India JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) he consciously used double edged language. Because social science discourses of JNU and also the Delhi University, which were known as the best in India, were more receptive for Western theoretical formulations but sidestepped a serious engagement with ancient, medieval Indian thought processes. They operated under a broad rubric of secularism, liberalism, Marxism, pluralism, modernism, postmodernism and so on. In the 1980s and 90s they deployed a language of Michel Foucault and Jaques Derrida, two French philosophers of post-structuralism and deconstruction, whose language is like Indian Sanskrit that could be understood only by Brahminic Gods but not by people around. Many Indian professors have become like poojaris reciting those theories and that helped the present Hindutva school to characterize them as anti-national very easily.
If we characterize that phase as the post-colonial left-liberal and in that phase the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi youth could hardly get jobs in the high end Indian universities as they could not satisfy the Western educated left liberals. The Indian educated also did not evolve a theoretical discourse around the historical production and humanitarian cultural ethic of Shudra/Dalit/Adivsi masses of India.
Huge number of reserved posts were kept unfilled by the same forces in central universities and institutes by brandishing the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis qualified candidates as non-meritorious. Most selection committees headed by left-liberals concluded in their selection committee meetings by submitting reports as “Not found Suitable” in almost every department, as the OBC/Dalit/Adivasi candidates with Ph.D degrees of even best Indian universities in hand went home to join the labour teams in Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Scheme in their respective villages. Their hard work to earn degrees even at the JNU and Delhi universities was proved to be of no use in MGNREGA labour university. The Dwija youth got well paid jobs in private and public institutes because they were born with merit, and many of them got degrees from foreign universities, while the children of the farmers, who are protesting on Delhi borders, are meant to drive only tractors in the fields.
The Dwija pandits never accepted that Dalitism, Shudraism, and Brahminism could also be deployed as social science categories in studying the Indian socio-spiritual and political ideas and institutions of ancient and modern times. The category Shudras was in existence from Rig Vedic times, but they never thought that Indian society could be analyzed with the help of the indigenous concepts.
The left-liberal intellectual phase officially ended from 2014 general elections. Now India is living in post left-liberal phase of intellectual discourse. In this phase the Sanskrit Vedism will dominate and the same Dwija youth (Brahmin, Bania, Kayastha, Khatri and Kshatriya) will get jobs in all those universities and institutions, both public and private. The agrarian youth’s historical knowledge would not get academic recognition in this phase also. That is the reason why even in JNU and Delhi University, Jat, Gujjar, Kurmi, Yadav and other Dalit/OBC youth did not get teaching positions — whether they came under reservation or not. In all newly established private universities like Ashoka, OP Jindal and so on a mixed intellectual environment will operate. Since there is no reservation there, they still work with Harvard ideology with a Hindutva stamp. The Hinduva forces will allow that because the children of ‘Vishva Hindu’ network that operates from Dwija homes will study there both for global and Indian employment markets. The Shudras farmers around Delhi also never suspected their nationalism and challenged them.
For a long time in the post-colonial India, the liberal and left Dwija intellectuals were quite comfortable with Brahminism and avoided any socio-spiritual and theoretical contending categories of ancient India, both in writing and teaching in the high end universities. They refused to teach even Gautama Buddha as a political thinker in Colleges and university courses. They too were comfortable with Vedas, Upanishads and the philosophies of Manu and Kautilya, with a total silence on caste and theoretical concepts that have been considered to be the root ideas. They have never examined historical conflicts between Shudras and Brahminism in the historical sense, for example, with an opposite ideological engagement with nature and production. Except opposing Hindutva communalism they were as anti-Shudra and anti-Dalits in intellectual discourse as the present Hindutva school is.
No Shudra intellectual emerged from these universities to challenge them. Though Ambedkar wrote a book — Who Were The Shudras? – way back in 1946, later intellectuals often failed to see the connection between Dalit liberation and the Shudras getting free from the feet born status that the Rigveda tied them down. Those Shudras who were working in the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were no exception to the feet born status. They too need to be liberated for the establishment of an egalitarian society.
Hardly any section of social scientists understood that without invoking the category ‘shudras’ as an ideological instrument of pro-production along with the hegemony of Brahminism, the pre-Buddhist ancient society does not provide a framework to examine the production relations during the Vedic, Epic and Puranic times. The entire Brahminic Sanskrit literature did not engage with production at all, as production was seen as a polluting domain that’s proper only to Shudras . That literature talks about only Brahmin saints and Kshatriya kings. The Shudra food producers were completely absent. The Shudras built the pre-Rigvedic Harappan civilization and were responsible for putting India on a much bigger civilizational pedestal than China, Egypt, Israel and Greece. There was no caste/varna system in Harappan civilization.
There was no ideological battle around human untouchability in the pre-Buddhist India as Ambedkar himself admits that untouchability as a major social system was institutionalized in the process of elimination of Buddhism from India. According to Ambedkar, all former Buddhists were rendered untouchable in the battle against Brahminism. Shudras were slaves, oppressed and brutalized for a thousand years before human untouchability came into being. The Shudra producers suffered the Vedic and post Vedic ignominies for a longer time and once untouchability was constructed they seemed to have felt that they had a superior status than untouchables. Even the contemporary caste/varna system shows that Shudra/Dalit slavery and oppression continues as parallel systems.
The idea of God/Goddess in Vedism was anti-production. The idea of God/Goddess amongst Shudras was pro-production and an integral part of productive ethic and spiritual culture. If the Shudras were to live with a life of the same anti-production spiritual ideology and did not involve in production as against the Brahmanic anti-production ethic, the Indian nation would not have survived. The agrarian and artisanal production would have been completely abandoned. Even the Charvaka and Lokayata schools do not reflect the Shudra ideological, socio-spiritual and political ideas. In Charvaka and Lokayata schools also there was not much discourse around production. The communist scholars coming from the Dwija background examined the theist and atheist conflict between Vedic and Charvaka schools, but they were never concerned about the Shudra production and Vedic anti-production conflict. Nations are built with production systems and the cultures that emerged out of production process but not otherwise.
What many political thinkers who studied in India or in the Western universities did not realize is that in pre-vedic times between building of Harappan urban civilization and vedic-pastoralism there was a time gap of about 1500 years. It was almost the present Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis who were existing as indigenous people (Mulanivasis), who were actually Indo-Africans with some racial mutations. They were condemned as Shudras by Aryan Brahmins in Vedic times. The Aryan Brahminism constructed the four varna theory dividing the sub-continental society- Shudra, Vaisya, Ksatriya and Brahmin– in Rigveda. In pre-Rigvedic times there was no anti-production or anti-agrarian school in the Indian sub-continent. All were engaged in hunting, fishing and also agriculture. They built several villages and cities like Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Dholavira and so on much before China could reach such a stage. The development of such an advanced city construction in India with very advanced ancient technologies than that of contemporary ancient China, Israel, Egypt, Greece and so on, would not have been possible without advanced agriculture and village economic systems all around the cities. The Indian cities were never isolated ones, like ancient Greek cities from villages. They were always an extension of villages as we see today all over India. The builders of that pre-Aryan and pre-Vedic civilization definitely were the descendants of the present Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi Harappans.
In Indian university teaching ancient Greek city states and the master-slave relations occupied primacy than studying ancient Indian Shudra-Brahmin civilizational conflict and building of Harappan civilization prior to that. In the garb of political philosophy, more ancient Europe was taught than ancient India because a serious engagement with ancient India would involve serious research on the origins of the caste system and the Shudra slave question.
Now the BJP Government as part of its cultural nationalist package wants to deploy Vedic, Purnic and Epic history a serious focus on the pre-Vedic Harappan civilization is called for.
In the Hindutva history only Brahmins and Kshatriya kings, who worked under the mentorship of Brahmin rishis and writers would be shown as nation builders. The Shudra producers and Vaishya agrarian supervisors and commodity exchanges in pre-Buddhist times do not find place. The Indian nation will be shown as a country of mythological evolution. The Indian food producing farmers, artisans, Dalits and Adivasis will be invisibilized as non-existent social mass.
They not only completely discount the Muslim and Chritian history in India but they completely erase the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi history. The Dwija left and liberal intellectuals do not find any problem with the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi history not being in the teaching courses but they will talk more about minority history as that gives an international rights status. Particularly the non-existence of Shudra/OBCs does not become an issue because they are characterized ‘Caste Hindu’ and the Dwija existence in history is seen as living history of India.
The Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi question has no international recognition as of now. The Dalit question has some visibility in the global stage since numerous studies were taken up and also it is rooted in most inhuman practice of untouchability And this forces the Indian State to feel loss of face on international intellectual forums. They try to support Dalit reservation but they never acknowledge the Shudra slavery at any time in Indian history. As of now the Shudra question is no issue intellectually, because Shudras themselves have not acquired modern English educational intellectual energy to challenge the Dwija hegemony in any field. When this was so when the liberal and left intellectuals were in control of the institutions of knowledge, the Hindutva intellectuals will undermine the Shudra question more systematically but they can be seen as white snakes in green grass. However, since Hindutva forces are in power the very intellectual environment in the educational institutions–particularly in the universities anti-Shudra intellectuality will be strengthened through ‘cultural nationalist’ paradigm. In this paradigm the Dwija history will be shown as Indian history. The entire food production and the Shudra civilizational heritage would have no value at all.
While the control of Brahmin over the Hindu temple was consistent from the days of writing of Rigveda to 21st century, the control of Brahmin over the State by becoming the Prime Minister of the state and chief priest of the State started with Kautilya becoming the Prime Minister and the head priest of Mauryan state. Chandragupta Maurya, though was a Shudra, was given a Kshatriya status and in the process of coronation by separating him from the rest of the Shudra productive masses. From then on to 1947 that system continued whether the state was small or big under Brahminism.
Even during the British period there were number of princely states under the control of Brahmin Prime Ministers and head priests while the rulers being Shudras. But they were given Ksatriyahood in a brahminic ritual. Baroda Maharaj who though sent Ambedkar to higher studies could not give him a house within Baroda city after he returned to take up a job in 1917. Likewise, Mysore king, Kolhapur king, Shahu Maharaj (grandson of Chatrapati Shivaji) had to follow the Brahmin priestly authority even though they were against Brahmins. Even the rulers from Shudra communities did not assert their spiritual autonomy against Brahmin priests. This process arrested the Shudra consciousness.
This kind of spiritual slavery kept them as slaves and subordinates to Brahmins all along. In crucial ways, a ruler of state was a slave of a Brahmin. That did not allow the Shudra rulers to get education and enlightenment. Even now the fear of Brahmin among Shudras is the most difficult knot of the Indian history. All Shudra Chief Ministers and ministers live under the spiritual control of Brahmin priest. Why a Shudra could not emerge as a spiritually independent being? How and why Hindu Gods stopped that change.
From Kautilya to Jawaharlal Nehru the Brahmin Prime Minister position remained unchanged. Sardar Vallabai Patel, a Shudra, could not become the first Prime Minister of India because only a Brahmin should be the head of an Independent Indian state. That principle was an insult to the entire food producers of India. Thus, the Hindu temple and the State became Brahmin property. Shudras never developed a rebellious consciousness against this tradition. No Shudra ruler asked a fundamental question: why a Shudra cannot head a temple as a priest where a Brahmin is part of? Why should a Brhamin not till the land and produce food? It was this question that would have resolved all other issues of Shudra slavery and subordination.
The issue of Shudra slavery is very much linked with the Dalit question. Once Shudra were to get priesthood rights, the authority to run the state on his own would have been realized. Once such questions were resolved abolition of untouchability would have become automatically a major question. Once the spiritual system gets democratized many fundamental questions of human inequality and untouchability would have got resolved.
Till today the Brahmin is avoiding the fundamental question of spiritual democracy within the Hindu order and the Shudra has no self-respect and no critical thinking to assert oneself. This relationship has its implication to modern education of the Shudras. A typical Shudra is afraid of English education like she/he was afraid of Sanskrit education. This is the fundamental reason why even the relatively better off Shudra castes like Jats, Yadavs, Gujjars, Patels, Marathas and so on cannot be found in high end central universities and institutions.
Philosophy of written word has become a fearsome issue for a Shudra. This is what Brahmin did after writing Rigveda. Till today that fear is haunting them. It is time that the Shudras gatecrash the central universities. They must get into teaching positions in all departments and acquire skills to run them efficiently. Let the Dwija youth drive tractors and produce food in the fields. Only this change will resolve the question that Indian courts are repeatedly asking: how many generations should the reservations continue? A simple counter question is for how many generations only the Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis should till the land and produce food? Let the roles change between Shudras and Dwijas and reservations can also end.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist and social activist. His latest book is The Shudras–Vision For a New Path co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy