The Savarna progressive as a writer, activist, politician, articulator or academician is increasingly under social scrutiny for his role and position in the movement aiming to annihilate caste in contemporary India. A great deal of enthusiasm and perseverance is required to extricate the caste convert from the ambiguity of purpose and intent of their deviant caste behaviour. This write up tries to understand the veracity of the claims and counter claims of sophisticated individuals displaying unprecedented disdain for caste. It is an attempt to situate historical relativism of brahmanical propensities ascertaining and addressing the strategic caste narcissism, the caste progressives have displayed at appropriate political situations.
A society full of innumerable disparities and inherent contradictions presupposes tyrannical and oppressive social relations. India as the homeland of pristine equanimity is, the epicentre of graded inequality with caste as the primary unit of social (de)organisation. Nothing substantial is perceptible without comprehending the caste dynamics concerning socio-cultural and politico-economic structures and their functioning. The problem is not that the perpetrators are prosecuting their war prisoners to maintain their ideological stranglehold and hegemony. The victors are justified in their efforts to maintain their suzerainty with the best of their abilities utilising every means at their disposal to fullest potential. And that is exactly what the domineering casteists have done in India. But what interests do the defeated slaves have in maintaining their slavery? Caste slaves' only interest lies, in breaking and smashing the shackles of their slavery at the earliest opportunity available, and if, there is none, they must create opportunities for their own salvation and liberation. That seems to be the natural course of action for any society, otherwise, one must look into the socio-cultural structure of dominance and violence the dominant elite has created.
The dominant caste discourse on the liberation of caste victims betrays common sense, authenticity and has no moral locus standi as it germinates, develops and is nurtured and cultured within the closed conditions of caste hierarchies. The very existence of unjust caste based structures is explicitly abhorrent to human sensibilities. One must be born out and nurtured out of caste to be not impelled by the caste preservation syndrome. A prominent school of thought in India advocates 'de-casteisation' as a pre-condition for taking an active part in the anti-caste struggle. If one is born in a certain caste, nurtured by the caste environment, one inadvertently masters the caste vocabulary and grammar and subsequently becomes, incapable of fighting against the very caste privileges he or she enjoys even by default. The very conditioning of his personality is detrimental to the ethos of substantial change and real transformation as they come with an inbuilt pertinacity internalised for caste inspissation. The caste progressives are imprisoned by the morality and idioms of their unjust culture as their articulations are infested with ill-conceived sensibility and sophistry. The caste culture is unqualified for producing and fostering a righteous and rational head, notwithstanding the temptation to be part of the on-going liberation and democratic movements in India.
For a progressive, it is not sufficient to proclaim the altruistic adherence to the aims and objective of caste annihilation, something they have never done in the past. At the most, the savarna progressives have paid lip service about reforming the caste system (Gandhi), a proposition opposed to the annihilation of caste diligently pursued by the caste victims themselves. What is required by the progressives is a thorough introspection and renouncement of their caste inhibitions and manifest propensities. The most dangerous fallacy of these converts is their belief of being capable of articulating the social transformation discourse and prescribing ways and means for the transformation. The progressive is distinguished by his unquenchable persistence to thrust upon the caste victims, his so-called progressive preference of enemies and allies, his preferences of ideology and organisation and his preference of leadership and inclinations. The over zealous progressives determine whether to fight or not to fight, whom to fight or whom not to fight, how to fight and how not to fight. The struggle against caste oppression can never be brought to its logical culmination by the strategies and tactics of caste nurtured morality. These so-called progressives bring their caste contours and marks into the struggle to the disparagement of the democratic and egalitarian élan of the movement. These prescriptions suffer from congenial deformities and have little substantial intent and content for the caste annihilation. Historically, the claims of savarna progressives have not been proven.
Furthermore, progressives suffer from the incorrigible colonial complex and believe that the caste victims are vegetative being devoid of critical faculties or perceptibility to grasp the reality and must accept the 'principled leadership of the caste converts'. They still carry their caste prejudices and culture that castigates its victims as mere subjects, incapable and unworthy. As a subjugating and oppressor elite in the caste structure, progressives still nurture the pride and arrogance of their social background, and therefore, their routine and ritualistic resistance amounts to declaration and demonstration of their caste tails. The progressives' disbelief in the humanity of caste victims makes them essentially the deceitful distracter and doubtful intruders in the movement to achieve social transformation and economic emancipation.
Caste essentially creates an atmosphere of self-abnegation and denies dignity, self-respect and humanity to its victims propelling the unconscionable pride, vanity, prestige and prosperity of its beneficiaries. These beneficiaries usurp the legitimate dues of caste victims and develop a false ownership claims towards caste victims' possessions. With their strength and pedantic dispensation, the casteists create the idioms of their rights over the caste victims' claims. The theory of Bhoodevta or Superman (Brahmin) in India testifies to this forceful and fraudulent usurpation claiming everything, animate and inanimate, on earth as their divine, cultural and religious rights. The caste victims own absolutely nothing including their own bodies (women included); whatever caste victims possess belongs to the all mighty Bhoodevtas. And the Bhoodevtas will only be exercising their rights in depriving the unworthy victims of their material possessions if any. This deep-rooted cultural trait is brought by the progressives to the social transformation struggle destroying the very humane essence of the movement.
Caste creates another hindrance in the way of these progressives to be truly humane and honest in their convictions. The progressives profess their desire to liberate the caste victims from subjugation and oppression and restore the democratic order in the society as per their own model of modernity fettered with post-modern caste mentality. Caste victims with the perpetual onslaught on their legitimate humanity start accepting physical and material defeat. Left with no choice the great Bahujan masses succumb to the command of their political masters. The gradual resigning of their defiance paves the way to proportionate diffidence and docility transforming the recalcitrant into a subjugated slave. Their claims to be human leading a life full of dignity and self-respect get decisively jeopardised, and the beneficiary takes away the humane and egalitarian self-love of the victims creating layers of self-hatred and self-denial. It is a moral defeat of the caste victims, for they start believing what their tormentors want them to believe and follow. That, they are not human being, but just vegetative sub-human objects inept and undeserving of humanity degrading their dignity, respect and right. The caste beast usurps their humanity and reduces them to no beings. Such is the execution of caste persecution that command of the master gets transformed into the duty of the slave and the slave accepts it as his preordained destiny, nay the divine destiny, never to be altered by any earthly intervention for generations. Greater the hegemonic violence, better the ideological stranglehold and still greater the perpetuating probability. All those dead, living and yet to be born become caste slaves leading a life devoid of humanly elements.
On moral ground also, the savarna progressives are insufficiently equipped to fight for the democratisation of the institutions crippled by caste preferences and propensities. The moral development as advocated by the likes of Mill presupposes the self-empowerment of the individuals to be able to develop one's personality to its fullest potential. Morality lies essentially in becoming self-reliant and independent as a sovereign human being, with the capacity and capability to decipher and decide one's own course of action in the pursuit of one's objective in life in conformity with fellow citizens. The moral development of the Bahujan Samaj is dependent on its capacity to shed its hibernation and self-abnegation and lead a life full of humane prosperity, prestige and promises. This will lead caste victims to the glory of enlightenment as sovereign human beings devoid of diffident strings. The progressive who proudly presumes the role of teacher, strategist and leader strips the caste victims of their moral being, as masters of self-development, their pursuit to reclaim their humanity is compromised and subsequently denied by the imperious caste illuminatis. If the caste victims have to achieve their own moral development and enlightenment, they themselves have to devise ways and means and ought to achieve their objectives with their own efforts and energies. It becomes morally incompatible for the progressives to be leading lights of the self-enlightenment movement.
Strategically also, the savarna progressives have no role to play in the movement for annihilation of caste. Why one is anxious to bring about certain changes in the society? There needs to be some material conditions to the moral requirement of change and transformation in the society. The casteist enjoying privileges and prominence will lose that position in a caste-less system. Those at the helm of affairs are likely to witness the reversal of role if caste is destroyed. The beneficiary of caste will lose instantly the advantages of caste if caste is annihilated. Then what interest a caste beneficiary will have in losing his or her own status. In normal circumstances, a caste beneficiary will do nothing detrimental to the institution of caste exhibiting an apathetic attitude. The inveterate casteist will be willing to forgo his caste interest only in two situations. One, when he is sure to gain more than what he loses, if there are better prospects of power, prosperity and prestige in a non-caste situation, there is no harm for him to go for the new system. That has been the case with many in India. Those who intruded into Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and enjoyed much greater booty than what they were enjoying in the religion of their birth, that is Brahmanism. The basic instinct or driving force here remains the selfish motives and there is nothing egalitarian or equalitarian in this migration. The whole exercise is highly self-centred and opportunistic and directed towards maintaining the caste hierarchies even during adverse political moments. The appropriation of dominant philosophies of the time was executed in the most meticulous and egregious fashion by the caste beneficiaries in the past.
Secondly, the caste beneficiary may relinquish his caste if he is sure of losing more by retaining the caste identity. He may be visualize the imminent danger to the continuance of caste and as a survival strategy may renounce caste contemplating recidivation at an appropriate time in the future. This will help him in two ways. He will be able to save some of his material possessions, and secondly, also create goodwill in the camp of caste revolutionaries who seem to have decisively marched ahead in the mission of demolishing caste. Both these prepositions of 'gaining more and losing less' historically remain tactical moves of these progressive turncoats. The religious conversion movements and revolutionary left movements are a testimony to their scandalous appropriations and how they wrecked various the ideologies, institutions and organisations from within invariably.
As a logical corollary, the progressives have no need for change, no desire for change and therefore, ought to have little interest in bringing in change. Change of substantial nature can only be brought out by those who have latent and manifest need and desire for the same. If there is no need there will be hardly any desire, if there are needs there will be profound desire. Without need, there can only be cosmetic desire which is inadequate to bring about meaningful change in the society. Only those who have need, desire and strength are capable of executing transformation. One who lacks either of these prerequisites falls short of the targets. That's precisely what, has happened in India. The progressives having no need for the annihilation of caste do not even utter the word annihilation and at the most have remained confined to reforming caste which practically means strengthening it. By making suitable adjustment as per the situation, the progressives have steadfastly worked for ossification and cementing the caste institutions. They have used all their resources to articulate their false consciousness and making it the common sense for the caste victims. From their strategic location in the caste hierarchies, the progressives have no agenda for the annihilation of caste and are imprisoned by their caste nurtured sensibilities.
The caste victims have an inherently diligent need for transforming the system and annihilating caste before bringing in an egalitarian society based on socio-economic and political justice founded on the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. The need for replacing the atrocious, horrendous and inequal caste regime with modern democratic society generates instant desire in the caste victims for its annihilation. Being numerically preponderate gives them an advantage in democratic polity where the majority decides, and therefore chances of their succeeding become brighter than ever before. The savarna progressives must make it plain and simple that they will not behave like the descendants of the rishis who had marched ahead of the Aryan hordes in the history of their invasion of Indus alia Buddhist civilisation and Bahujan subjugations thereafter. The onus lies on them to prove otherwise. They own an explanation to the caste victims about what made them change their hearts and left their regressive caste brethren. If there desire is sublime one must provide the moral justification for that. When the need for change was more profound and pressing as oppression was more acute and direct, and the victims were unable to fend for themselves theoretically and practically these progressives were engrossed in historical silence. Their opprobrious past of being mute spectators and perpetrators speaks volumes of their misplaced generosity.
As more and more individuals from the oppressor communities are declaring their somewhat opaque allegiance to the caste victims, it requires demystification of their foundational concerns. When the caste victims themselves have started articulating their own sufferings and remedies, this sudden influx of professional articulators needs theoretical formulations and rational justification. Do they represent the last flickers of a dying flame or are is there a change of hearts, remains to be objectively analysed and verified. When caste victims i.e. Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, were not in a position to decipher the structure of dominance and oppression, the progressives did not perform the much needed role of sympathiser and enjoyed every prerogative of masters, and when victims have acquired the required ammunition for demolishing the iniquitous hierarchies, the casteists seem to have turned hyper sensitive showing overt sympathy and generosity. Has it not come a bit late? 'An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind' advises Gautama Buddha and the caste victims must never be complacent in order to become liberated from the caste yoke. Non-belief by the progressives in the human worth of the caste victims is essentially created by their caste background and is highly unbecoming of a degenerated self-imposed generosity.
The antagonistic contradiction in India is between caste beneficiaries and caste victims and restoration of dignity, self-respect and human rights of the caste victims remains the agenda of social transformation movement in the country. And if the fight is for human dignity of SC, ST, OBCs, they themselves alone are capable of restoring their lost human glory and extricating themselves from ignominy. As Ambedkar also emphasised "Educate, agitate and organize; It is a battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality." If others are fighting for Bahujan they will take away the part of their human right to dignity, self-respect and in a way their humanity. The moral development of the caste victims is dependent upon they acquiring requisite strength and skill and developing enduring capabilities transforming themselves into sovereign beings as elaborated by Mill in his essay 'On Liberty'. These progressives are becoming stumbling blocks for acquiring their fullest personality and potential. The moment one is represented by others he loses his dignity. The very presumption that someone can restore caste victims' dignity is morally and principally a pathological proposition. If it is then Bahujans' fight let them do the needful as they understand it.
Then what is the role of these self-motivated progressives in the struggle of social transformation and economic emancipation of the caste victims? Or do they really have a role to play in this struggle? If they really want to secure a place in the movement, they must perform the role they are most capable of. They need to sincerely retrospect and start from the scratch. They must accept at the outset as being socialised and conditioned by the caste morality and as having been part of the regressive culture, before conversion to democratic cultural behavioural norms. As trained by the caste culture, they understand its concept, definitions, meanings, arguments and reasoning so very well. After realising the inequality of caste they can decide to be part of anti-caste movement and join those who are fighting against it.
Here they must stop, and ponder over the limitations of their upbringing and nurturing. The progressives or new converts are not trained or conditioned to fight against the caste but are the product of caste, therefore inherently incapable of fighting along with or ahead the people who are outside of caste like outcastes. Yet they can perform a very significant role. Since there are so many regressive elements still in their erstwhile caste community whom they understand with their weakness and strengths. These progressives must engage themselves with these regressive elements that have been their own kith and kin at some point of time. As regressive casteists are still practising the caste, they must be stopped doing that and who can deal with them better than their own caste members. The virus of caste can only be destroyed by the mightier virus of caste and who can play this role better then these progressives, they must engage themselves in dismantling these caste structures and their support system. It becomes an institutional imperative for the caste progressives to disengage their caste brethren from casteism and convince them positively for their own credibility and legitimacy. Till the last brahmanic element is freed from Brahmanism, the savarna progressives would entertain lack of conviction of courage. If there are no primordial loyalties of caste to fall back on, he may devote his energies in pursuing his new found love for modernity and rationality? And if both remain side by side, there will always be a possibility of 'sacred and progressive casteists' joining ranks as done in the past ossifying the inveterate brahamanical mentality and hugely delegitimising their progressive credentials. If they accomplish this task of destroying caste institutions, the caste progressives may join the caste victims in their movement of social transformation and economic emancipation.
And if the progressives have no interest in destroying their caste camps before being part of the democratic struggle, one must strategize their intent of joining these movements. Are they joining these movements as they had joined Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or Marxism in the past with the one point programme of wrecking them from within and reverting back to Brahmanism at an appropriate time? Or do they have genuine concern for the self-respect movement? If they are joining these movements to usurp the leadership and dilute and divert the democratic content of the movement they are here for a rude shock. These intruders in the form of progressives will be losing the goodwill of the masses for good and may endanger the same for their posterity. The role of the likes of Ashwa Ghosh, Dhamma Pal, Sharda Kabir, Anand Kaushlyan or Satish Chandra Mishra needs to be revisited and re-evaluated. Their role as progressive Brahmins must pass the scrutiny of purpose of their entry into the movement and contribution if any, or the connivance with the movement's detractors and eliminators. The choice is theirs; if they want humanity they must destroy their caste structures with their manifest actions and if they choose otherwise, the posterity may not be there to forgive them for losing the last, yet golden chance of converting their bestiality into humanity.The caste victims in 'Pursuit of self-affirmation' are sure of their victory and restoring their self-respect, dignity and rights. and may not be resoundingly sure of their opponents' defeat or destruction. Nonetheless, it seems impossible for Brahmanism to produce a Voltaire and Ambedkar's challenge still holds water. This is one proposition, which for the benefit of humanity, the Ambedkarite would be delighted to witness Ambedkar getting falsified.
Raj Kumar is Associate Professor, Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Delhi University.
Cartoons by Unnamati Syama Sundar.