The following article is an attempt to address some of the issues raised by Dalit organizations and intellectuals in the light of the recent upsurge of the Anti-Corruption campaign led by Anna Hazare. While rightly pointing out the upper casteist/ class nature of the campaign and the deep mark of saffron values (e.g. slogans of ‘Vande Mataram’) that were all too conspicuous, many of them condemned Anna’s movement for challenging the supremacy of the constitution and undermining parliamentary democracy. Now this has raised the important issue of whether struggle against caste discrimination and its eventual annihilation can ever be achieved within the framework of Indian bourgeoisie democratic constitution?
It is undoubtedly true that a section of the Indian upper caste/ class look toward constitution and parliamentary democracy with utter contempt, especially constitutional guarantees such as equal rights to all citizens, one person one vote and see this as a great hindrance to realizing their dreams of “Shining India”. And Anna Hazare and his movement in a way does echo this sentiment. However independent of this fact, this article attempts to explore the relationship between struggle against casteism and parliamentary democracy in India.
No Casteism without Capitalism!
The Indian society, today, is outrightly dominated by the upper classes/ casteist forces while Dalits, working class and other exploited/ oppressed sections form the subjugated majority. Though constitution provides equal rights to all, a huge disparity (social, economic and political) prevails in the society between these two antagonistic forces. Last two decades of capitalist globalization has only further consolidated this stronghold of the upper classes/ castes.
In pre-British period, caste system was not merely a social or political organization but it was a mode of production that enabled upper castes to appropriate the surplus generated by the labor of the lower castes. The system had the religious sanction based around the Brahmanical scripts like Manusmriti with rituals and customs approved by Dharmashastras.
Casteism is not inimical to Capitalist system but in fact only aids in the systemic exploitation of the working people, especially those in the unorganized sector where the lower castes/ classes who form the bulk of this section, experience severe form of exploitation. Indian democracy (despite being considered the largest with one of the best constitutions in the world) has only legitimized this form of exploitation. Constitutional provision such as reservations for the lower castes is one the best examples of this limitation, which despite all the best intentions has not been able to make any serious impact on the lives of the majority of lower castes/ classes.
Parliamentary democracy & Struggle against Casteism
It is hardly a secret today as to which sections of the Indian society rules over the so called pillars of the Indian Democracy. Broadly speaking, dominant peasant castes in various regions (for eg., Marathas in Maharashtra, Reddy’s and Naidu’s in Andhra Pradesh, Jats in Haryana and Punjab) have held sway in parliamentary politics while Brahmins have maintained their control over intellectual as well as administration, judiciary and media in modern times. Right from independence onwards these upper castes/ classes have been the ardent supporters of capitalist policies and have been the main forces in ushering the neo liberal reforms in the last 20 years.
It would be a futile attempt indeed to expect to usher in radical transformation of society by confining oneself to the framework of parliamentary democracy. History of the last six decades has proven beyond doubt that no party (that supports capitalism) has been able to survive for long without compromising on their agenda or resorting to naked political opportunism as in case of Mayawati’s BSP.
Consequently Dalit parties are compelled to play second fiddle to major political parties and their politics is limited in attempting to push forward a few demands and mostly compromising to the agenda of the big parties. In fact the politics of Dalit vote bank has turned out to be much more beneficial to major political parties than Dalit parties. Incidentally this subordination is not restricted to political or administrative sphere but goes beyond. All this has once again proven the limits of Dalit politics within parliamentary democratic framework.
Right from vedic period, Brahmnical scripts provided the basis for caste based oppression of the masses. Though British brought in a few reforms these were obviously aligned to maintaining its own interests and status quo. On this backdrop, constitution drafted under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is undeniably of historical significance. For the first time, it accorded equal social status to million of dalits and untouchables who has been quarantined by caste dictates for thousands of years. Through constitutional provisions, such as reservation, it threw open the gates for economic and social elevation in a limited manner. Hence constitution is held with great reverence by many ordinary Dalits even today.
And perhaps this is where the contradiction lies. Though parlimentary democracy can play a role in the struggle against casteism, it should not be mistaken as an end in itself. Doing so would not just be naive but fall prey to the conspiracy hatched by ruling classes to degenerate the Dalit movement. Neo-liberal policies have only strengthened caste identities and creating divisions within the working people. Sooner rather than later the issue of reservations on economic basis (another conspiracy of the ruling classes to divert the attention of the masses) is going to haunt the working people once again. Anti-Brahminical struggles developed by Phule-Ambedkar-Periyar definitely do provide tools and guide to challenge Brahminical order, but in itself is not enough. Real challenge of the hour is linking the struggle against casteism to the struggle against capitalism-landlordism.
(The above article appeared in the Jan-Feb 2012 edition of Dudiyoora Horaata)