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Human beings, or rather, their dominant economic-industrial systems have started to change the earth in major ways, leading many observers and thinkers to accept that we are into the new age of “Anthropocene” – a new chapter in the ongoing “Holocene”, or a time when human society is the most dominant influence on what happens on the earth’s surface and even in the water of the Oceans.  Over the last four and half decades, the world community of nations were forced to repeatedly take stock of the deteriorating state of the Earth’s natural systems, often called the eco-system(s). Starting from the 1972 Stockholm conference, this ‘environmental’ concern has taken on some importance even as a global political action agenda, from being a “mere environmental issue”.  Twenty years later, one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders on issues related to progress of the human race without endangering its future survival (and that of the rest the so called first Earth Summit, was held in 1992, and the increasingly critical nature of the multiple degradations were recognized.  This recognition gave rise to a slew of “global compacts”, mainly the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The Earth Summit was also soon after the global capitalist euphoria of the successful dismantling of the Soviet Union, or as claimed – realization of ‘the end of history’. After another decade, the world again gathered at Johannesburg in 2002, to take stock of how far we have travelled on that road, but the assessment was rather disappointing.  The Johannesburg summit came at a time when even the ‘practitioners of the alternative’ succumbed to the ‘shock & awe’ of the western capitalist juggernaut. From now on, no more social-cultural experiments or alternatives need be attempted by humanity !   From now on, the western model of privatized, corporatized ‘liberal democracy’ will deliver all the results, for everyone !  Another decade was about to pass, but the 1992 Earth Summit’s reasonably worked out Agenda 21, even the half-hearted Millennium Development Goals – all seemed to be getting lost in the din of unbridled market capitalism and the panacea offered by liberalization-privatization-globalization.  

The human-planet  has changed considerably since that first Earth Summit in 1992, and in not so hidden corners of the world – distress and anger at the killing exploitations and mind boggling disparities have grown to become a perceived threat the established world order.  It was not only the “environment” that was gasping for breath. The economically and socially poorer sections of humanity also were getting the hard end of the stick in ever increasing manner. The gains of improved labour conditions in industries were being neutralized – often reversed – by increasingly exploitative “out-sourcing” accompanied by informalization of labour, and by the law-bending increase of “special Economic Zones” in many developing countries.  The world has changed somewhat again, and in not so hidden corners of the world – distress and anger at the killing-exploitations and mind boggling disparities have grown to become a perceived threat to the established world order.  After the 2007-08 economic meltdown, millions of people even in the developed world are now questioning many of these magic mantras. The unquestioning acceptance of the private corporations, and their intentions and abilities to deliver capitalistic growth oriented ‘development’, is no longer wide-spread.   No one could possibly have foreseen the spread of the Occupy movement in the heartland of capitalism, though the real picture & driving force of the so-called ‘Arab spring’ is not yet clear.  The shining attraction of the Euro-zone has faded considerably.  And the accelerated exploitation and marginalization of large sections of humanity – the indigenous, the disadvantaged women & children, the poor of the world, has given birth to innumerable resistance movements across the world, to some extent obliterating the North-South divide for the short-charged people.  Unlike at any point of time in the past, the survival of deprived people is seen by the global society, as intricately connected to the survival of the earth’s eco-systems.   This has also brought into focus the age-old understanding in indigenous societies – that of Rights & Needs of Mother Earth, into global recognition.  

As the world accepts today, the capacities of the vital systems of the earth are now critically endangered by human production-consumption-waste generation activities in this endless-growth oriented consumerist world.  The water cycle in many parts of the world are stressed to provide sufficient fresh water as we are consuming and polluting at a rate much higher than the natural regeneration rate, the carbon cycle is unable to absorb even 40% of all anthropogenic (human origin) carbon dioxide emissions to keep the climate stable,  the rate of extinction of biological species has gone up nearly 100 times the natural background species extinction rate – threatening global biodiversity which is vital for our survival.  The phosphorus and Nitrogen cycles are near breaking points.  That most vital life-nurturer - the Oceans are getting dangerously acidic and polluted…..  The Nine Planetary boundaries (figure below) are at different stages of disintegration, all because the high consumption human societies won’t limit either their resource consumption or the resulting pollution of air, water and soil.  Only in the case of Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, we seem to have taken strong enough action (through the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, by phasing out Ozone Depleting Substances) to stop the degradation and start the slow process of recovery of the life-shielding ‘ozone layer’.

F1 :Planetary boundaries being pushed to the limits – Stockholm Resilience Centre. 

The composite index of Ecological Footprint (originating from the work of William Rees and his research student Mathis Wackernagel, in 1990-1994) – meaning how much area on the earth, land wilderness and ocean - we as human society need to provide for all our current ‘resource’  consumption and to recycle all our wastes, has been calculated to be over 1.7 times the entire area of the Earth, including Oceans (calculated by The Global Footprint Network)!  That means, we are consuming not only more than what the entire earth generates every year, but also eating up those ecological support systems which functions as these regenerators, roughly like spending from the bank fixed deposits rather than from the interest (only in this case, the ‘bank’ is mother earth, and many of us will die if her life-support erodes significantly).  There was a study done last year (2015) which showed that by August 2014, we humans had consumed the entire primary provisions and regeneration done by the entire earth for the full year of 2014, and for the rest of the four months – the Earth was being literally eaten away by us.  This scale of consumption and waste generation by only one species, us the Homo sapiens, is clearly not sustainable by any means. And there are numerous other life forms (over 1.9 million other known species, and possibly another 6-8 million still unknown) that also depend and have a right to these resources generated by mother Earth, and are now greatly stressed as a result of our overconsumption and waste-borne pollution.

Water :Even amongst the human species, there are hugely discriminatory deprivations and stresses. We all agree that fresh water is one of the most essential life support need, and yet – well over 300 crore people (out of the 720 crore global population) are water stressed for a fair part of the year.  Recent research shows that over 50 crore people live in areas where the annual renewable water availability is less than half the water they consume. The figure below (from shows that a large part of the world’s people live in either water stressed or water scarce areas, and most of these are in the poorer ‘southern’ countries. And even where there water is available, many poorer people are/ will be facing water stress because of commodification and privatization of water and their inability to pay the ‘price’  that the market demands (economic scarcity).

F2 : Well over three-fourths of world population will be water stressed by 2025.

Clean Air : None of us can live without enough oxygen-rich clean air, yet the global industrial production system is dumping so much toxic pollutants in our common atmosphere that an estimated 55 lakh people died of air pollution in 2013 (Global Burden of Diseases study), and about 10 times that number suffering health problems due to polluted air. 

F 3 :  Air pollution impacts a huge no of people

Food is the most vital energy source for all life, and yet, nearly 100 crore people in the world sleep hungry every night, slowly wasting away their capacities to work, to create a better world. These include many small farmers who produce the food in the first place !  Right levels of nutrition during childhood is a key for human development, and yet nearly 45% of Indian children under the age of six are malnourished, a percentage figure higher than desperately poor sub-Saharan Africa !The map below (from risk analysis firm Maplecroft) shows again that it is mostly people in the poorer countries who face the highest food security risks.

 F 4 : People of poorer countries faces by far the highest food security risks.

Unsustainable and Unequal Ecological Footprint : In trying to analyse the root causes of these massive problems creating an unsustainable world, many western scholars and institutions, even many in the developing world – have pointed to the rising population as a primary driver.  While there is a relation between more people and more demands of resources and more waste generation, it is not a linear relation, and population (no of people) is not the primary contributor to this unsustainable consumption and pollution, it is the Lifestyle consumption of the rich which is to blame. Take Ecological Footprint (EFP) as the all encompassing index – the 31 crore Americans (310 million US residents) have a collective EFP of about 254 crore Global Hectares (GHa - the standard measure of EFP), while the 127 crore Indians together had an EFP of about 125 crore global hectares, or half of a country with one-fourth the people !  In other words, an average American consumes vital resources, pollutes and destroys nature roughly at the rate of eight (8) times an average Indian.  While an average American had 8 GHa of EFP, the equitable global availability was about 1.8 GHa per person. Clearly it is not the ‘blame-it-for-everything’ population, but consumptive lifestyle of the rich that is at fault.  Even in a ‘clean country’ like Canada, the average resident has an EFP seven times of an average Indian. 

Land :Talking about land, land based agriculture is still the mainstay of a majority of rural people in poorer countries, with the world rural population still at 46%, and south-Asia having 67% of its people living in villages.  For about 65% of south-Asian people, farming is the primary livelihood source, but the availability of arable land (in hectares per person) has gone down sharply over the last 55 years, and is projected to decrease even further (graph below from FAO 2009)– showing their increasing marginalization compared to better off urban people.  This become more acute when we consider that in the richer OECD countries, less than 20% of the population lives in villages, with less than half that depending on agriculture for livelihoods.  This decline is not only for a population increase, but also because of large scale farm land grab in the name of mining, industrialisation, dams, urbanization etc.  Even in India, agricultural income has sharply declined from over 25% of national GDP in early 1990s to about 14% now, while the number of people dependent on agricultural livelihoods is about 56%.

F 5 : Agricultural land availability sharply declines in per person term.

If we think of water, while an average American consumes over 1620 cubic meters of this life giving ‘resource’, countries like Syria, Sudan, Somalia and several others in Africa faces huge conflicts largely due to lack of water, at less than 600-800 Cubic meters per person per year (the UN defines water scarcity at below 1000 CuM/yr per capita).  Again it is not the population figure, but the lifestyle consumption which is driving the water unsustainability.  Since 1950, the world population doubled, but the water use more than tripled, largely due to lifestyle consumption.  

Energy : If we look at the primary driver of world economy and the largest source of world pollution, energy – and look at the past century (1901-2000), the population increased by a little less than four (4) times, while the energy consumption increased by over 22 times (with its attendant pollution) !  Energy extraction, conversion, transmission and use have a dual impact – it is both an essential enabler for basic human development – putting the deprived at a disadvantage, while having large adverse impacts on both ecology and society. As the figure below shows, the hugely skewed energy consumption figures in favour of the rich countries is putting the poorer communities to face both sharp ends of this sword – deprivation and pollution.

F6 :Per person energy consumption/availability between countries vary over 50 times !

Life-style :If we consider life-style food consumption patterns, the large meat consumption of US and Latin American (also African) people (in per capita per year basis), at 70-90 Kgs, cause a huge strain on water resources on countries rearing those meat-providing animals, as one-Kilogram of chicken needs over 3500 Kgs of water in comparison to about 1000 Kgs for one Kg of wheat, and roughly 500-700 Kg water for one Kg of vegetable.  For Beef, the requirement is anywhere between 11000 to 13000 Kgs per Kg of meat !  And with increasing wealth, meat consumption is increasing in countries like India too.  Lifestyles again to blame.and if we are at all serious about sustaining the earth’s life support systems for our future generations, we must drastically reduce the global consumption and waste generation, with a measure of equitable access to earth’s resources ensured.  

Livelihoods :This high-consumption, earth-destroying lifestyles are also causing another huge unsustainability, that of destroying low-impact, sustainable livelihoods that a majority of developing country people practiced for decades and centuries. About 56% of India’s 127 crore people are still dependent on farming livelihoods, with about 60% of these based on rain-fed agriculture.  More frequent climate change induced stresses (increasing because of consumption led greenhouse gas emissions) and global-warming driven hydro-meteorological disasters (like increasingly frequent droughts and floods) are causing huge losses to many of these farmers, often leading to large scale farmer suicides.  There are about 1.1 crore coastal fisher people in India, with a reasonably well off and least-polluting economic activity, which also provides a large source of protein to many.   The ever-increasing demand/ consumption for/of electricity is leading to large no of coastal coal power plants being established in India, and their massive toxic discharges have turned many fish-rich coastal belts into low-life watery deserts, rendering once thriving livelihoods of these fisher people into highly uncertain income generating option.  Another classic example of how high consumption lifestyles are destroying thriving, sustainable livelihoods.

Climate Change &Disasters : This is an overarching issue, with its impacts felt in many areas of human enterprise. There are two kinds of major direct impacts of the global-warming driven climate change –a) extreme events like tropical cyclones, extreme rainfall events, massive droughts, polar ice-shelf breakups, heavy flooding etc, and b) slow onset events like loss of crop production due to higher prevailing temperature, reduction of water resources as less precipitation becomes common, forests becoming less productive due to temperature-humidity regime, increase of pests etc.  The first category has received some media and public attention due to the immediately visible sufferings of large number of people, but the second category of impacts might be more damaging in the long run.

There is third category on adverse impacts, indirect ones – that of the damages caused by the false solutions to tackle climate change floated by global businesses and often supported by governments. The massive displacements and loss of farm lands, forests, homes etc. due to dams have recently been justified by claiming that hydro-electricity is a “low-carbon clean energy”, which is not true.  Nuclear power is being pushed again with the same logic of “low-carbon energy”. Indigenous and traditional forest dwellers rights are being encroached upon /curtailed in the name of protecting and enhancing forests as carbon sinks.   Millions of hectares of forests – where many communities were living for generations, have been cleared for commercial plantations to produce ethanol and bio-diesel, as “green-fuels”.

Climate Change is such a large and interconnected area, that it will need a separate paper just to introduce all the essential elements, so that will have to wait for another occasion (interested readers can also refer to several books written or majorly contributed to by this author, including the – “Climate Change and India : Political Economy and Impacts”, published by Daanish Books with Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung).  Here let me conclude by just giving an idea of how severe the problem of climate induced disasters are becoming.  In the early seventies, roughly 1400 people in every 100,000 used to get affected by climate extreme events each year, By the year 2011, that figure has risen to around 3600, or an increase to over 250%.  Not all “natural” disasters are climate change driven (like earthquakes are not), but a look at the graph from UN International Strategy for Disaster reduction (F7 below) clearly shows that the largest numbers and the fastest rising types of disasters are those that are called Hydro-Meteorological, and these are climate driven, like big floods and strong storms, with extreme temperature events (severe heat waves – like large parts of India is facing now in April 2016)) also showing significant rising trend.

F7 : Number of Climate Change driven hydro-meteorological disasters rising fast.


A study by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) released in Oct.2012, has reached this conclusion – “Over the past two years, 700 natural disasters were registered worldwide affecting more than 450 million (45 crore) people. Damages have risen from an estimated $20 billion (Rs.124000 crore) on average per year in the 1990s to about $100 billion (Rs.660000 crore – this is an amount roughly equalling 70% of the entire revenue collection by the Govt of India in 2013) per year during 2000–10. This upward trend is expected to continue as a result of the rising concentration of people living in areas more exposed to natural disasters, and climate change.”


Sustainable Developmentdebates : a very brief introduction :  It is now crystal clear that if we are at all serious about sustaining the earth’s life support systems for our future generations, we must drastically reduce the global consumption and waste generation, with a measure of equitable access to earth’s resources ensured – not only amongst this single dominant species and in this generation, but ensuring inter-generational and inter-species equity. Facing and recognizing these massive degradations of the earth’s ecosystems and in the lives of its less advantaged people, the world community of governments were forced to look into the questions of sustainability and equity, and took some steps. 

The global debate about sustainable development is many decades old but got into the political centre-stage only with the 1972 Stockholm conference on Environment and Development.  The landmark report – “the Limits to Growth”, released in 1972 by the global think-tank ‘The Club of Rome’, raised important issues about the blind pursuit of economic growth and its effects on the sustainability of the earth’s life-support system itself.  The debate progressed and became better defined through the establishment by the UN of the World Commission on Environment & Development in 1983, the publication in 1987 of the ‘Brundtland Report’ (‘Report of the World Commission on Environment andDevelopment: Our Common Future’) and then the paradigm-defining 1992 Earth Summit in Rio-de-janeiro, where the  ‘Agenda 21’ was adopted, focussing on preserving the environment while pursuing development. The Brundtland Report simply defines sustainable development as the capacity to fulfil today’s needs without damaging the capacity of the earth to serve the needs of future generations.  This is just a macro expansion, without examining the intricacies and complexities of the earth’s ecosystems, but points to a desirable direction of “development”. 

In the year 2000, the UN adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals, of which only Goal-7 (‘Ensure Environmental Sustainability’) talks explicitly about ecological sustainabilityvis-à-vis ‘development’, that too in somewhat vague terms. One important contribution of some of these global exercises is the firm inclusion of the concept that without a universally inclusive access-to-resources approach, recognizing the hugely increasing inequities and trying to address these, there can be no sustainable development.Another realization - that highly degraded natural ecosystems - with specially climate change are leading to increasing damages due to rapidly rising disasters, compounded by the rise of vulnerable places and vulnerable populations - forced the adoption of a disaster reduction framework, called the Hyogo Frameworkfor Action (HFA) in the year 2005.It is very sad that the shoddy implementation of all of these failed to either reduce the vulnerabilities or the damages, leading to both the environment getting more stressed and the lower half of global poor getting worse off.

Two decades after the first Earth Summit, in the Rio+20 second Earth Summit in 2012, facing increasing impacts of global ecological destruction and increasingly damaging climate change, the UN members realized that there can be no development without ensuring all round health of the earth’s eco-systems, and finalized the globally accepted (by the member governments of the UN) report titled “The Future We Want”.  Here it was explicitly recognized that the prevailing (primarily economic) development goals should and could be tailored to an environmentally and socially sustainable development pathway.  This is reflected in the key statement in the ‘The Future We Want’ document – “We recognize that the development of goals could also be useful for pursuing focused and coherent action on sustainable development”.Finally on the 25thof September 2015 – 43 years after the Stockholm conference that started the global debate - the United Nations General Assembly adopted the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its final document titled – “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  Unfortunately (but perhaps as expected) for the world’s poor and the marginalized, the designs of these are centred on the same capitalistic, extractive, exploitative production oriented economic growth.

The adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN was preceded by the adoption, in March 2015, of another important element of sustainable development - a new global disaster reduction frame work, called the Sendai Framework, with the knowledge that without a strong Disaster Risk and Loss Reduction mechanism, many of the economic development gains are being destroyed by increasing disasters.  The third major component for moving towards a sustainable development paradigm, a global treaty on limiting damaging global warming and climate change, was reached in December 2015, though with very serious questions about its adequacy or actionable elements, and is already being rejected by progressive sections of humanity. So, the challenge remains almost undiminished, and an informed, shared & connected global people’s action seems to be the only solution.

-----------  Soumya Dutta :This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“…turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.”

– B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste

“To be radical is to grasp things by the root.” 

Karl MarxCritique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right


No two words in modern history might have had as menacing a consequence to the future of a country as caste and class. They have not only divided the working class movements into two camps, viz., movements believing in class struggle and movements believing in anti-caste struggle, but each backed by the ideological obsession of their protagonists and their historical trajectories pushed them onto the path of divergence and in course weakened both of them to the extent that today they find themselves struggling for relevance. Castes have been the life-world of people in the Indian subcontinent for more than two millennia and largely acknowledged to be the unique feature of its majority of people called Hindus although they never remained confined to them and infected the other religious communities that came into being since medieval times. It did face threats from counter-ideological streams such as shramans (later best represented by Buddhism) and political threats by the outsider invaders coming in from north but managed to outlast all of them. Contrary to a commonplace notion, Buddhism despite its ideological hegemony over the subcontinent for about a millennium could not disturb this life-world. Most of the outside invaders either left or settled mixing up with the local population leaving this life-world undisturbed in its essence. The medieval period saw emergence of Islamic society in India presenting an alternate civilizational prospect to the lower castes and it posed a significant threat to this life-world to the extent a large section of them escaped the thralldom of Brahmanism and embraced Islam. However, even this threat remained short-lived and soon even this new society got infected with caste virus. The new religion of Sikhism ostensibly professing equality of all humans by assimilating noble precepts of both Hinduism and Islam, also could not guard off the caste virus from infecting its society. Later, when Christianity came in, similarly attracting the lower castes in huge numbers as Islam did, the minority of upper castes who embraced it, castized it. Castes thus remained a pervasive reality of the India since antiquity to this day.   

The life-world implied all its inhabitants internalized its principles and ethos. The people behaved as they were expected to by the caste code. It was only during the colonial rule that anti-caste consciousness germinated in the lower castes. The opportunities for economic progress, the new institutional mode of governance and the advent of capitalism under its shelter, catalysed it. Barring stray pockets in the world that reflected caste-like characteristics and African continent which had dominance of tribalism, classes characterized rest of the world. They came into prominence, however, with the spread of capitalism, which in its idealized form, divided the society into two interdependent but antagonistic classes, viz., proletariat and bourgeoisie. They particularly assumed prominence with the theories of Marxism that saw struggles between these two classes reaching their zenith where they would usher into a revolutionary change to socialism and thence, communism.

In this note I intend discussing the meaning of caste and class to elucidate the mistake committed by both the movements, dalit as well as communist, in dealing with them. While presenting my analysis of the situation of these movements, I try to sketch out a strategy for them to converge over a reasonable timeframe.

Definitional Aspects: Varna and Jati

Simply put, caste is a defining feature of the Indian society. Etymologically, the English word “caste” derives from the Spanish and Portuguese casta, with its roots in Latin castus. It meant “race, lineage, or breed”. When the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498 and encountered thousands of in-marrying hereditary Indian social groups they called them “castas”, which became “castes” in English in 1613.  The Indian name for castes is Jati or Jat. While the Europeans did not know anything like jati, their conception of caste subsumed racial connotations and tended to confuse with the varna division of the society, which still prevails significantly among the western scholars.


There is much confusion even in the scholarly literature between jati, and varna [They are used interchangeably by most scholars. For instance, Stuart Corbridge, John Harriss, Craig Jeffrey, India Today: Economy, Politics and Society, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013; Also see Bharat Jhunjhunwala, Varna Vyavastha: Governance through Caste System, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, p. 183; Binod, C.Agrawal, Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Complex Societies, Ethnographic & Folk Culture Society, Lucknow, 1982, p.44; N. K., Dutt, Origin and Growth of Castes in India, Vol. I, The Book Co. Ltd., Calcutta, 1931, p. 4.], which together constitute basis for the caste system. It is largely agreed that varnas were brought into India by the conquering tribes of Aryas during the dark period of history. If the lineage of Aryans is traced to the Iranian society, Avesta mentions only three classes of people based on economic functions in society [See, Mukhtar Ahmed, Ancient Pakistan: An Archaeological History, Vol. V, Foursome Group, Reidsville, 2014, p.149.] sans hierarchy, evolved into four (Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra) varna System (Chaturvarna) by the end of Rigvedic period with a notion of hierarchy and then led to designate the excluded ones as the avarnas (non-varna) or pancham (fifth) varna,.Thus, varnas were finite and with definitive hierarchy. Castes (jatis), in contrast, are countless and (because of it) with fluid notion of hierarchy. [The rough estimate of castes runs into thousands but no one for sure can vouch for those numbers. Louis Dumont deals with this question but leaves it unanswered because of its infeasibility. See Louis Dumont, Homo Hierrachicus, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970, p. 33]. Varna is the vedic classification of the four ranked occupational order, whereas caste refers to ranked hereditary, endogamous and occupational groups separated from each other by the ideas of purity and pollution. Classically, varnas defined the borders of Hinduism, whereas jatis were local within the borders of ethnolinguistic regions. The varnas may be taken as theoretical, a framework, whereas castes (jatis) are real and concrete. Besides, Brahman and the shudra within the original chaturvarna and avarna dalits in its extended form, which bracket overall Hindu social order, all other varnas are rarely found everywhere, but castes are found all over. As a result, the mapping of castes with intermediate varnas remains hazy and not accepted by many castes. Many castes reject legitimacy of the varna hierarchy and/or the places assigned to them by others. In the Brahmanical strongholds of south India itself the intermediate varnas hardly exist. Where they exist, they do so with local variations. Even historically, the village roost was not necessarily ruled by any Brahman caste; when it was, one could find wealth and power rather than its ritual status being instrumental in its placement. Many Brahmans did not enjoy any such reputation. Second, even their explanation for the advent of varnashram dharma also is unconvincing as it does not explain why it only survived in India and not elsewhere.

Historicity of Castes

The discourse on caste customarily starts curiously with the origin of caste, as though castes were the same as they originated. Many scholars have proffered theories of the origin of castes which in sum are no better than a blind man’s description of an elephant. Whether they are plausible or not, from the perspective of their annihilation, they do not serve any purpose. One of the motivations behind knowing the origin of caste is to possibly strike at its root in order to eradicate it. Probably Dr Ambedkar adopts it when in Annihilation of Caste; he attributes its origin to the Dharmashastras of Hinduism and therefore infers that unless they were dynamited, the caste system would not be annihilated.

The theories of the origin of castes may be broadly classified into as many as ten classes based on their thrust: (i) traditional or Indological theory, (ii) racial theory, (iii) political theory, (iv) religious theory, (v) occupational theory, (vi) racial/functional theory, (vii) guild theory, (viii) mana theory, and (ix) evolution or multi-factor theory. According to the traditional or Indological theory, the caste system is of divine origin. It is based on the allegorical explanation in Purushsukta in Rig Veda for the origin of four varnas being parts of the cosmic being purusha or the supreme creator (God)., Castes were born later as a result of different types of marriages between varnas in ancient India. Although of little intellectual value, it underlies the popular belief in castes. The Racial Theory propounded by Sir Herbert Risely  held that caste system was due to racial differences between migrant Aryas and Anaryas (native people).  G. S. Ghurye (1932) appear to support this theory. The political theory held that caste system was the result of political conspiracy of the Brahmans to secure control over the functions of the society. This theory was originally propounded by a French scholar Abbe Dubais and found tacit support in many scholars like Denzil Ibbetson and also S.G. Ghurye. The religious theory was advocated by Hocart  and Senart. Hocart postulated that castes were a hierarchy of ritual offices centered on a king (or a local lord) having as their purpose the performance of the royal ritual for the benefit of the entire community. The king, as the representative of the god and religion, allotted positions to different functional groups. Senart tried to explain the caste system on the basis of prohibitions regarding sacramental food. Occupational/Functional theory, originally propounded by Nesfield, held that occupation were the main base of the caste system. The notion of hierarchy of castes stemmed basically from the superiority or inferiority of occupations. The Racial/ Functional theory put forth by Slater  combines both the racial and functional origins, postulating that the caste system was created to safeguard the professional and occupational secrets of different races. The Aryan invasions intensified and developed the existing structure making occupations hereditary and marriages only within the same occupation groups, sanctified later by ritual practices and religious ceremonies. The Guild theory put forth by Denzil Ibbeston, holds that castes are the modified forms of guilds and the caste system was the product of three forces, (i) tribes, (ii) guilds, and (iii) religion. The guilds evolved into castes imitating the endogamy of the prestigious class of priests. The mana theory based on the views of J.H. Hutton  accords the caste system pre-Aryan origin and suggests that the primitive belief in ‘mana’ among tribes accounted for the origin of the caste system. Mana was associated with magical and harmful powers and hence the ancient tribes evolved elaborate taboos or restrictions to protect themselves from other tribes’ mana. Lastly, the Evolutionary or Multifactor theory propounded by sociologists held that a complex phenomenon of the caste system could not be explained by a single factor and rather was a result of many factors such as beliefs in racial superiority, geographical isolation. metaphysical concepts, belief in mana, desire to maintain racial purity of blood and manipulation by Brahmans.

As could be seen, none of these theories, save for the last one, which does not claim a specific factor and hence is flexible enough to accommodate any of the above or entirely new one within its fold, are explaining the origin of the caste system. They rather explain the varna system and take for granted that caste system is born out of the varna system.

Ambedkar on Caste

In relation to castes, Babasaheb Ambedkar assumes extraordinary importance because of his life-long struggle, both in the realm of theory as well as practice.  His seminal paper, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, which Ambedkar presented as a student, at an Anthropology Seminar taught by Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer in Columbia University on 9 May 1916, dealt with some of these views  and also those of Dr. Ketkar and dismissed them as Petitio Principii of formal logic.. It was here that he observed, “A caste is an enclosed class”.

He disagreed with Senart that the “idea of pollution” was a peculiarity of caste as it was “a particular case of the general belief in purity”. As per him, the idea of pollution could be ignored without affecting the working of castes. It was attached to the institution of caste only because of the priestly caste which enjoyed the highest rank. To Nesfield’s theory highlighting absence of messing with outside the caste, Ambedkar would say that it was mistaking the effect for the cause. Caste being a self-enclosed unit, it naturally limits social intercourse, including messing. He did not find Risley’s views deserving even a comment. He rather included Ketkar who had defined caste in its relation to a system of castes, and had focused his attention only on those characteristics which were absolutely necessary for the existence of a caste within a system. Ambedkar however, critiqued Ketkar for taking “prohibition of intermarriage and membership by autogeny” as the two characteristics of caste and argued that they were but two aspects of one and the same thing. If intermarriage is prohibited, the membership of those born within the group also shall be automatically limited.

Ambedkar argues that the Hindu society like other societies was essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified, could change their class. However, at some time in history, the priestly class socially detached itself from the rest of the people and through a closed-door policy became a caste by itself. The other varnas, which were subject to the law of social division of labour, developed sub-division with social mobility of the class system. However, as he argued, they too lost the open-door character of the class system and have become self-enclosed units called castes. He explained their becoming castes saying “Some closed the door: Others found it closed against them.” He proffered a psychological explanation for the former saying that since the Brahmans or priestly class, occupied the highest position in the social hierarchy of the Hindu society, the other classes simply imitated them by adopting endogamy. Over the years, endogamy became a fashion since it originated from the priestly class, who were venerated and idolized in the scriptures. Endogamy was thus practiced by all the classes, which ultimately resulted into the rigid formation of castes. The custom of endogamy superimposed on exogamy, which prevailed in all ancient tribes, became the creation of castes. He points out that without the practice of endogamy, the caste system cannot survive. Along with endogamy, Brahmans followed the custom of sati and enforced widowhood which later spread to other castes. The mainstream sociology never acknowledged this analysis of Ambedkar, although it predated the thesis by G. S. Ghurye, celebrated as the first sociological treatise on caste by a decade and anticipated many of the ideas of the later scholars.

Ambedkar developed his theory of untouchability on the basis of ‘broken men’ (broken from their tribes during the tribal wars), who, since they were Buddhists, and did not respect Brahmans were made untouchables. He wrote, “...the Broken Men were Buddhists. As such they did not revere the Brahmins, did not employ them as their priests and regarded them as impure. The Brahmin on the other hand disliked the Broken Men because they were Buddhists and preached against them contempt and hatred with the result that the Broken Men came to be regarded as Untouchables”. They were made untouchables because they continued eating beef when the Gupta Kings made cow killing a criminal offence and beef eating a sin in the 4th century AD. This theorization that attributed untouchability to the struggle for supremacy between Buddhism and Brahmanism helped him to endow the dalits with Buddhist past.


Ambedkar’s theorization of untouchability is as problematic as his analysis of castes was insightful. It is pivoted on ‘broken men’ being Buddhist, which, as candidly admitted by Ambedkar does not have any evidential support. He just concludes it saying “No evidence is ... necessary when the majority of Hindus were Buddhists. We may take it that they were.”


Materialistic Perspective

While the ideological contrivance surely plays a role in sustaining a social order, it cannot create it. The fact that varna-like systems of stratification existed in most ancient societies and they were not ordained by any religious ideology, purely ideological explanation for the origin of the caste system becomes problematic. Social systems come into being because the material conditions demand them. The ideological superstructure develops later to preserve them. A section of society that benefits from the system develops vested interests and wants to preserve it through an ideological apparatus. The pervasiveness of the caste system over the vast subcontinental space and its becoming a ‘life-world’ of people is surely attributable to the spread of ideology but the origin of the caste system needs to be searched elsewhere.

The material factors that gave rise to the caste system can perhaps be located in the uniquely rich natural endowment of the Indian subcontinent for the biotic mode of production extant in ancient times. In terms of plentiful flat, fertile land; rivers and water bodies; abundant and all time sunshine, and congenial climate, Indian subcontinent may scarcely have parallel on the planet in its richness for agriculture. These factors might be seen to be the key to unfathom the mystery of the unique system of stratification in the form of the caste system. When nomadic tribes began settling for agriculture, they necessarily underwent change in their social structure everywhere confirming to their material conditions. For instance, the places where lands were hostile and not so fertile; water sources were scanty and seasons were erratic; and sunshine had a narrow window of a few months, as for instance in England, it gave rise to a system of serfdom. In order to cultivate vast tracts of lands within a small time-window necessitated huge army of serfs to work and a lord to control them. In contrast, Indian tribes did not have to undergo such a structural transformation and had settled down with their tribal identities intact. These tribal identities were rather castes, albeit sans hierarchy or any stigma.

The notion of hierarchy and stigma (purity and pollution) were rather superimposed by the post-Rigvedic varna system. Thus, contrary to the proposition of the traditional ideological theory, it is not the varnas that came first and they evolved into castes, but quite the opposite. The castes in the form of tribal identities with some amount of magico-religious development, natural to agricultural communities, already existed in India, which were later overlain by the varna system brought in by the vanquishing Aryan tribes. With the growth of surplus production, it needed an intricate ideological contrivance, appealable to agricultural society as it purported to solve their myriad knowledge problems about natural events on which agriculture depended. The priestly class of Brahmans assumed the role of a mediator between people and gods, and slowly became ‘gods on earth’ themselves to establish their hegemony. They propounded a theory of karma to justify the present order and fortify their own supremacist position. While it made people to accept their caste statuses as their destinies according to their past karma, it also motivated them to adhere to the caste dharma in order to be born into better caste in the next birth. Besides this self propellant, there was a cobweb of rules as in Manusmriti that prescribed their behavior and punishments for any deviation from the prescribed code. This entire superstructure would stabilize making castes as the life-world of people.

It may be noted that the Manusmriti-like rules with harsh punishments provided for violation of caste code must have occasioned clearly to thwart the tendencies towards violation of the caste code. One may attribute it to the ideological influence of Buddhism when it began spreading among masses. In order to fortify the brahmanic structure of the society, such regidfied code might have been occasioned. But during the period of Buddhist hegemony, there appears no evidence that Buddhism actively engaged to fight the caste division in the society. It may be that while people followed Buddhism, the life-world of caste also survived. Buddhism, after it got royal support, lost its missionary zeal and became vihar centric engaged in production of intricate philosophies. People did adore Buddhism and its monks but the practice of castes also continued as a cultural drag. If the Buddhist tenets had crystallized into the cultural practice of people, it would be difficult to imagine complete erasure of it all over the subcontinent.

There were many upheavals in Indian history but this life-world adjusted itself to any disturbance. After the resurgence of Brahmanism under the leadership of Shankara in eighth century, it got strengthened further. It received numerous jolts during the medieval times through the stabilization of Muslim rule, emergence of Bhakti movement, emergence of Sikhism, etc., all of them ideologically oriented against castes, but it managed to adjust itself to the emerging circumstances. 

Catalytic Role of the Colonial Rule

However, it received its severest jolt during the colonial period. The advent of western liberal institutions of governance, English education and capitalist enterprises proved hugely beneficial to the lower classes. Many of them ran after the opportunities created in new urban centers and made significant economic progress. Even before these changes began to befall, the advent of Britishers opened up opportunities for the lower castes to get into their employ and later into army. The latter proved especially significant because it not only gave them an opportunity to wield weapons, which were forbidden to them, but also win wars. It proved great moral booster in decimating the self image of inferiority solidified through centuries’ Brahmanic culture and realizing their martial prowess. The compulsory education in military service further reinforced it. All these changes created a class of relatively educated and economically well off Dalits, who became the harbinger of the Dalit movement. The work of Christian missionaries among them pushed the upper castes into taking up reforms in the Hindu society. The colonial rule variously impacted various sections of the Indian society including their life-world of castes. 

From the dawn of the twentieth century, in process of responding to the various mass agitations (militant youth uprising in Bengal in response of partition and other parts), the British strategized to devolve power to Indian elites, albeit along the communal lines, so as to keep it in their control. The communal basis of sharing political power between two major divisions, Hindus and Muslims represented by the Congress and the Muslim League respectively, inevitably brought the question of where dalits and tribals belonged. On the eve of the Morley-Minto reforms in 1909 the Muslim League objected to the Congress’ taking them for granted as Hindus. It seeded the political space for the dalits in future to claim their separate identity and use it to bargain for their rights. The descent of Ambedkar, endowed with high academic accomplishments, as the dalit leader greatly accelerated this process. His main contributions have been in catapulting the caste question into the political arena, winning the dalits certain special rights such as reservations, theorizations of their struggles, and providing vision of emancipation.

 The most significant measure that is entirely attributable to him is the scheme of reservations. Ambedkar won the dalits reservations with separate electorates in the Round Table Confernces during 1931-32 in contention with Gandhi. He was, however, blackmailed into giving up separate electorates by Gandhi with his fast unto death. The Poona Pact that symbolized the new agreement contained the principles of preferential recruitment of dalits in public services and other necessary things from the viewpoint of their uptliftment. In course, reservations in political representation, educational institutions and in public services (in 1943 when Ambedkar was a member in the Viceroy’s Executive Council) were established. The main justification of this ‘affirmative action’ was the exclusion suffered by the dalits in the Hindu society. They were accepted by the colonial rulers as an exceptional policy in favour of the exceptional people and were also largely reconciled by the populace. The significant development that happened for instituting these policies was the creation of a schedule that included all the untouchable people, imparting them a new administrative/political identity as scheduled castes. There was no back reference to the Hindu religious texts or customs necessary in future, thereby rendering the castes as such redundant.

Post-Colonial Cunning


When the reins of power came into the hands of the native upper caste-class elites, then represented by the Congress Party, they resorted to their Brahmanic cunning lain over the learning from colonial masters. The constituent assembly set up in accordance with the cabinet mission plan with the representatives elected by the provisional assemblies formed through the elections in July-August 1946 had to deal with the aspirations of masses, built up by the Congress during the freedom struggle. Way back in in 1928, under the Nehru committee, the Congress had resolved to undo untouchability. Later, in 1936, the Congress had decided to have a socialist system inspired by the constitution of Soviet Russia. Behind this mass façade, the Congress at its core remained the representative of the interests of the incipient bourgeoisie like Kuomintang in China during the same period. After gaining power, while it tried to keep up this façade, in reality it began surreptitiously but systematically pushing for the development in the interests of the capitalists as could be seen from its clandestine adoption of Bombay Plan (An investment plan prepared by the eight big capitalists during January 1944 for a period of 15 years in the post-colonial India, with the objective of doubling the GDP and trebling the per capita income) while rejecting it in public. In the context of castes, the constituent assembly took a decision to outlaw untouchability with much fanfare and amidst the slogan ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’. It was indeed a victory to strategist Gandhi as he best represented all the upper caste reformers who wanted to abolish untouchability but variously defended castes. Untouchability, however, was a mere aspect of caste; it could not go away if the castes existed. There was a clear opportunity for the new ruling classes to outlaw caste itself. With castes gone, untouchability would automatically vanish. As could be experienced, nothing happened with the untouchability law as survey after surveys, right from the 1950s to just the present day (NCAER report) reveal.


Castes were not abolished ostensibly for giving reservations to the dalits. While theoretically, it may be conceded that the constituent assembly could do away reservations for the dalits that came through colonial times, none little versed with politics would dare say so. The constituent assembly expectedly adopted the 1936 schedule and continued with the reservations to the dalits but not without a mischief. It created another schedule for the tribals and extended the ditto provisions to them as were given to the scheduled castes. In doing this, it skillfully projected reservations as the only measure of social justice. Notwithstanding the fact that the tribals also were excluded like dalits, albeit not stigmatized socially, and therefore deserved reservations like dalits, the natural solution could have been to expand the existing schedule to include the tribals. By so doing the stigma associated with the schedule for the Dalits could have been diluted as the tribals did not have castes. It would have greatly aided the objective of eradicating untouchability if it honestly meant it. But it was not to be. There were many other problems too in creating this schedule. Foremost, there was no indisputable criterion like untouchability to identify tribals. Many a well-off caste managed to get them included into the schedule and deprived the real tribals of its intended benefits. It is an empirical fact that the entire benefit of the ‘scheduled tribes’ is bagged by these fake ‘tribes’ keeping the real tribals high and dry to take up guns. The ruling classes haven’t even stopped at that. They would create a vague provision that the state would identify the ‘backward classes’ (read castes) so as to extend similar provisions in future. They were to seed the reservations for the so called Backward classes but in reality was meant to construct a can of caste-worms the lid of which could be opened at an opportune time in future. As we see, the Prime Minister, V.P. Singh opened the lid in 1990 and unleashed the caste worms all over, castizing the country as never before.


The entire schema about castes being kept alive comes out clear when we see similar scheming around religion, the other weapon to divide people. The constitution scrupulously avoided the term secular that could create a separating wall between religion and politics with an alibi to have space for the state to carry out religion-related reforms. The only reform, seen with hindsight, that one could imagine was in the form of passing the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 in the wake of the burning of Roop Kanwar on her husband’s pyre. It is important to understand these matters to uncover the real strategies of the rulers in devising multiple layers of fortifications over castes.


Castes Today


Notwithstanding huge scholarly interest in caste in recent years, there is huge intellectual inertia in understanding them. Castes today are not the classical castes representing graded inequality. Actually, castes today are reduced to their primordial kink in continuum: dalit versus non-dalits. With the advent of capitalism the ritual aspects of castes have been fast weakening in direct proportion to the degree of interface the castes had with the capitalist system. The traditional ritual differences would come in the way of building supply chain relationships, thereby tending to increase transaction costs. Moreover, the rational base of capitalism also acted against the ritualistic systems. Therefore, the castes in urban areas that entered the sphere of capitalist relations began gradually dropping the ritualistic aspects of castes. It happened with the dwija castes. There is no necessity in caste context that all people belonging to a caste or caste group have such an interface. It may typically happen to a few families but the entire caste would emulate them as the leading elements of caste. When during the first decades of independence, the ruling classes carried out Land Reforms and brought in the capitalist strategy of Green Revolutions, in the name of giving land to the tillers and boosting agricultural productivity, respectively, but in reality to create a class of rich farmers in rural India that would stay as an ally of the center, the phenomenon extended to the shudra castes.


With the capitalist relations entering the country side, the bandwagon of the shudra castes also got hitched to the dwija castes. As for the dalits, these developments proved utterly detrimental. The traditional jajmani relations of interdependence collapsed under the onslaught of capitalist relations, reducing the dalits to be the rural proletariat, utterly dependent on the farm wages by the rich farmers. The latter wielding the baton of Brahmanism from the erstwhile upper caste landlords, who fled to the greener pastures in the urban areas, proved far more atrocious than the ones before because of the backing of overwhelming numbers of their castemen and their lack of cultural sophistication. The conflict over farm wages between the dalit labourers and the shudra farmers began to manifest through the familiar faultlines of castes creating a new genre of caste atrocities. Kilvenmeni, a village in old Tanjavur district classically inaugurated this new phenomenon. On 25 December 1968, the landlords along with their army attacked the agitating dalits and burnt 44 of them (mainly their women and children) alive. The saga of these atrocities continues unabated and unacknowledged by our bankrupt scholarship as characterizing changes in castes!  


On the one hand, the majority of dalits in rural area (they are predominantly a rural people) suffered dual prospect of marginalization and repression by the new ‘Barhmans’ and on the other, they were seen as the undeserving beneficiaries of the state largesse. Their cultural awakening due largely to the Ambedkarite movement reinforced this perception. There is a widespread grudge against dalits in rural population. The politicians keep on announcing a plethora of schemes and keeping the fire alive. These schemes, if at all, benefit a typical minority of better off dalits but are propagandized in the name of entire people. As a matter of fact, reservations, as they have been formulated, benefitted only the relatively better-off dalits and thereafter kept on benefitting only them, increasingly excluding the needy ones. They have rather acted against the interests of majority of dalits. If one took an objective stock of this policy, the people it benefitted in terms of economic uplift may be less than 10 percent. However, the brunt of reservations is borne by the rest 90 percent of dalits in rural areas who can never dream of availing them. As I explained the mechanism of caste atrocities in my books , Khairlanji and Persistence of Castes, the pervasive grudge against dalits acts as fuel, which with the presence of systemic impunity (oxygen) can easily precipitate into a gory caste atrocity with a minor spark (source of ignition) explained with an analogy if fire triangle. 


Dalits today are the sole prop of castes which cannot be afforded by the ruling classes to die. They may allow a section of them to be capitalist (as they indeed are promoting so called Dalit Capitalism) so as to neutralize potential resistance of dalits to their social Darwinist neoliberal policies but will not permit the same logic of capitalist relations to permeate the dalit masses. This feat is achieved through the instrument of reservations that preserves their dalithood. Interestingly, the bunch that flaunts their ‘coming of age’ as job givers and not job seekers also are sustained by reservations. The state that never listened to even the agonizing cries of dalit masses has picked up whispers of this bunch and promptly reserved a 4 percent of the SME quota for them. Tomorrow, the cost of this development also shall be borne by ordinary dalit masses.


Reservations as the Bane


Reservations have been used dexterously by the ruling classes in decimating dalit, which was a quasi class category Ambedkar conceived. Reservations as stated before benefitted a relatively tiny section of better-off dalits, who invariably belong to the most populous dalit castes anywhere. There is a material reason for it. The most populous dalit castes, because of their ‘excess' population could not be absorbed within a village system with any specific caste vocation. As a result, they have reflected most enterprising tendency in grabbing opportunities in history. As they did not have any stake in the village system, they were the first ones to go out. It follows that they were the ones who came to constitute the dalit movement. By the same logic, they grabbed better share of reservation when they came in. Over the years, this was gradually grudged by the other castes among dalits which could not stand in competition with them. The politicians rushed to cash in on this grudge. They could easily incite the next populous dalit castes to demand their due share of reservation as per their population. As a matter of fact (as I showed in many of my analyses) even among the most populous dalit castes, all people  have not benefitted equally. When caste is taken as a unit,  the most populous caste appears to have grabbed most of the reservation. In terms of family, (which I had proposed to be a viable unit as it is family—an immediate family—that really benefits if a member gets reservation benefits) my hunch is that the situation across the castes may be the same. But reservation has never been subject to amy such objective analysis. Today, this categorization demand, which had started in Andhra Pradesh in 1995 by the Madigas there (through their Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti) has spread all other states, making Ambedkar’s dalits as the most casteist community.


Reservations have distorted the entire politics in the country. They have been taken for granted as benefit by dalits, who never counted costs paid for it. Indeed, dalits have paid huge costs – psychological costs of killing one’s self esteem right in the childhood, living with social stigma for the entire life; depoliticization of the advanced elements of dalits (as they land up in the public services where politics is banned), questionably benefiting a few but definitely costing the majority, incurring the grudge of the entire society, and distortion and marginalization of the fundamental obligation of the state in terms of providing basic inputs like health care, education, jobs, land, etc. to the population, to recount the broad ones. Reservation-like policy could only be valid if the state has fulfilled its minimal obligations towards all. There have been numerous such deficiencies with reservation policy as it is designed and operated. I have been writing about them over many years (you may refer “On Reservations” in Mainstream, easily accessible on the net) but without much reception.


The concept of reservation was a product of representation strategy of Ambedkar. He thought that if dalit representatives reach legislative bodies, they would take care of political interests of dalit masses. Likewise, he expected dalits, endowed with higher education, to occupy important positions in bureaucracy to create a protective cover over the dalit masses from the bureaucratic bias and possibly help them. He experienced the folly of this strategy in his own life time insofar as he could never win an election in independence India. He painfully realized that the political reservations had turned out to be more beneficial to the ruling classes than to the dalits. It only produced the ‘stooges’ to use Kanshiram’s language. It is a proof enough that the political reservations which were meant only for initial ten years get automatically renewed before their expiry, without anybody especially asking for them. Ambedkar had similar experience even with reservations in public employment. He found that the beneficiaries of them were engrossed with their own promotion and betterment of their families. It was this realization that he vented off in a public meeting in Agra in 1953 saying that the educated people had cheated him. 


While reservations are grudged by the non-dalit masses, this grudge is accentuated by treating them as holy cow by politicians. As far as they could be attributed to Ambedkar, with his iconization and glorification, as it has been happening in recent years, they killed many birds with a single stone. They wooed dalits by titillating their identitarian pride and correspondingly intensifed the grudge in non-dalit population. This may be roughly correlated with the increasing atrocity numbers. Politicians of all hues, including the parliamentary left (they essentially follow the same grammar as any ruling class party for winning the electoral race in the first-past-the-post type of elections) and even the revolutionary left. The latter is certainly surprising and one would wish to imagine that it is just because of the understanding deficit on their part. But unfortunately one cannot ignore the aspect of wooing dalits even among them. More unfortunate in their case is the ideological laziness that accepts any reservation as progressive and pro-poor. As reservations have become a ‘holy cow’ for politicians, for dalits, they are an irrational emotional issue. For instance, I have been telling them that the public employment had reached its peak in 1997 and since then it has been consistently declining declining. Over the first decade (i.e. up to 2007), there was a decline of over 1.7 million jobs over a base of 19.7 million. It clearly indicates that reservations in net terms had come to an end right in 1997 itself. Paradoxically, only after this decline set in, the clamour for reservations virtually by all castes, has reached its zenith. Dalits, anyway, would not like to listen to it as many of them engaged in pseudo-activism would find themselves jobless.


It is therefore that once I said that the day dalits come out and declare that they do not want reservation, that day will be the beginning of the Indian revolution. 


Class Analysis and Castes


The ‘class-caste’ duality came into being with the communists coming on to the scene. They typically belonged to upper caste educated middle class youth dreaming of a revolution in India inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917.  They were fed on the secondary sources of literature which was smuggled into the country. As such there was neither an adequate understanding of the philosophical framework of Marxism, much less the nuanced understanding of its formulations. What guided their actions was the youthful romanticism about revolution. They jumped on to organize the workers in the urban industrial centers with stereotypical understanding that they were the proletariat who had nothing to lose but their chains. The environmental problem of castes that excluded almost half the population did not bother them. They convinced themselves that it was a superstructural matter drawing support from a metaphorical dictum of Marx, blissfully ignorant about the follow up on it that made both Marx and Engels to regret it. The dictum informed them that once the material (read economic) structure is revolutionized, the superstructure would ‘automatically’ confirm to it. Truly speaking it reflected a Brahmanic attitude of taking the word as sacred, a ved vakya syndrome. The words that reached them, they followed literally. The Brahmanic inertia in realizing the misery of the lower castes also played a role. And Brahmanic arrogance about their own ‘knowledge and wisdom’ added fuel to fire. The birth of idiocy was thus nevitable.


While castes are not a class they were not entirely different either. Ambedkar’s understanding that they were the enclosed classes was far superior compared to theirs. The simple thing to understand was that if castes were the life-word of people, how they could be excluded in the possible class analysis. It was gravest error to think that they were mere religious-cultural matter that belonged to superstructure. Unfortunately, even Ambedkar in his enthusiasm to prove them wrong came to support them when he argued in his celebrated text of Annihilation of Caste that religious revolutions always preceded political revolutions. Even when they (communists) confronted castes in practice, they shied away from correcting themselves and preferred to keep away from the monster. The case in point is the Girni Kamgar Union under their leadership (SA Dange, one of the stalwarts of communist movement was the secretary of the union) which did not take any note of exclusion of the dalit workers from the better paying jobs in weaving section of the mill and the blatant practice of untouchability in keeping separate pitchers for drinking water for dalits. Even when Ambedkar challenged them over the issue, it was not corrected. The communists, informed by their understanding that the caste issue was a superstructural matter, not only kept themselves away but also ridiculed Ambedkar for belabouring a non-issue. The other factor beneath their behavior was the fear of displeasing the non-dalit workers who were in larger number, reflecting the embryonic attitude that would that would dominate their politics when they entered parliamentary system..


What could have been done?


Class is a pivotal category in Marxism but Marx or Engels did not give its precise definition as for many such terms in their writings. The basic theme was that there could not be possible definition of such categories or constructs lest they should be inapplicable to some other social systems that they were not familiar with. It is not to say that they left any ambiguity about what they meant. In various historical contexts they discussed classes which make it clear that classes were to be conceived in concrete social conditions obtaining in a space and time. Marxist-Leninists hold that a person’s social class is determined not by the amount of his wealth, but by the source of his income as determined by his relation to labour and to the means of production. Lenin, who had to translate Marxism into practice to bring about revolution in Russia necessarily had to define class as follows:  

“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and their mode of acquiring it”. (Vladimir I. Lenin: 'A Great Beginning: Heroism of the Workers in the Rear: 'Communist Subbotniks' in: Collected Works, Volume 29; Moscow; 1965; p. 421).

To Marxist-Leninists, therefore, the class to which a person belongs is determined by objective reality, not by someone’s opinion. What was the objective reality of India then? If one goes by the above definition, one would necessarily come closer to consider castes themselves as classes. Are dalits, for instance, not differing from non-dalits ‘by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law—law of Manu (?)) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and their mode of acquiring it’? This perhaps is the sense in which Ambedkar said that the castes were the enclosed classes. But there is obvious difficulty in considering dalits as class because the law which made them different from non-dalits also could apply to the castes within them. While class potentially brings people together, caste tends to divide them by seeking hierarchy. Therefore they do not become a class. Moreover, the classes are to be conceived in relation to the dominant mode of production wherein the caste would lose their salience. Therefore, class analysis in the caste society should necessarily subsume castes. For example, proletariat would include most of the shudras and dalits but they would not be automatically a class until the caste contradiction between them is not eradicated. Therefore, the process of class consolidation should embed the anti-caste struggles. If this had been done in the 1920s, the need for the separate dalit movement itself could have been eliminated. It would have given real fillip to the anti-caste struggle accomplishing the annihilation of caste. It may sound exaggeration today, but this approach would have made Indian revolution a reality much before China.

What Can Be Done Now?

As discussed, both movements—dalit as well as communist—have their share of wrongs committed during the last centuries. The wrongs by the communists, however, certainly outweigh those of the dalits. Dalit movement confronted a unique issue and was juggling with theorizing and strategizing its struggle. It was thus an original exercise in which errors were natural. But the communists had a grand theory of Marxism to guide and the task was just to apply it in the concrete condition of Indian society. The errors therefore were expected to be minimal. But looking back, they were not even errors; they were blunders. The blunder related to ignoring the almost one-fifth of the population that could be the organic proletariat. The dictum of the dalit movement (given by Ambedkar) was not incorrect when he said that whatever path one traversed in India, one necessarily crossed the path of castes. The communists of all hues today have reluctantly come to terms that castes are a part of structure as well as superstructure, and hence deserved attention of the revolutionists; they just reflect a tailist tendency. Why can’t they discard the useless metaphor of structure-superstructure that has done more harm than good to the communist movement right since its birth?

Dalit movement, today equally dilapidated, failed to provide any solution to dalits. Contrary to the slogan of ‘annihilation of caste’ the dalits are out to strengthen castes and have already descended to the sub-caste levels. Ambedkar’s vision of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is in shatters today. The political democracy that he imagined was established by the constitution itself is in question. It is only a notion of ‘one man, one vote, one value’ that is not even valid in rituals of elections. The economic and social democracies have been the chimera. He had famously warned that if they were not achieved soonest, the victims would blast off the structure of political democracy. Even this warning of him failed to materialize. Indian democracy neither flourished nor perished and has only limped along with its burden of contradictions. Ambedkar’s other solution such as conversion to Buddhism also yielded questionable result. The greatest contra-evidence is that castes are kicking as never before, untouchability is intact, and the condition of dalits, measured in terms of relative distance between them and others, is perhaps worse than when they kicked off the dalit movement. Then they had a hope, today they do not have any.  

In such a hopeless situation, how does one look at castes? There should be no doubt that without annihilation of castes, there is no radical future for India. It should also be clear that annihilation of castes is impossible to accomplish only by dalits hampering upon castes. Unless masses of broad people realize the fact that their radical emancipation is not possible without eradication of castes, it would stay as distant goal. Annihilation of castes in this sense is an integral part of the Indian revolution. Those who tend to consider and contrast caste against class must understand that caste is a poisonous category unlike any other. Its fundamental property is seeking hierarchy. Therefore, it knows only to split; split ad infinitum like amoeba. It is incapable of uniting. It should therefore be clear that no radical movement can be articulated on the basis of castes. Even for annihilation of castes, class is inevitable. The caste question is an integral part of the class question and they cannot and should not be spoken in dual terms.

Necessarily, it demands coming together of the communist and dalit movements. In the current situation it may sound like a wishful thinking. But unfortunately there is no option than working for it. Since, the communists had blundered more; they must take an initiative in this regard. Apart from their failure to understand and analyse Indian society, the Brahmanical arrogance and superiority complex of the early communists had played a big role in alienating the dalit movement. The divide between them has gone deep enough and there developed vested interests in deepening it further (many educated Dalits vehemently treating communists as enemy number one), there are even opportunities emerging out of the intensifying crisis of living. The prerequisite in availing of these opportunities however is reestablishing dialogue with the dalit movement. This may only be done if the communists honestly admit their mistakes demonstrate their new understanding of the caste situation. While this may be necessary for moving closer to the dalits, it is in no way sufficient to get them into struggle.

The communists need to discard their dogma and rethink their theories and practice in light of the fast changing world. While the core of their theory still holds good, many a derivatives need critical examination. All this need to lead to a viable strategy in face of fascized and militarized states. Unless they convince dalits or for that matter any people that they can win them a better world, their project may be a non-starter.


Ever since the publication of James Mill’s History of British India (1817) the communal periodisation into the ancient Hindu period, the medieval Muslim period and modern British period, has been prevailing so entrenched in the country’s historiography in spite of the secular historians questioning it. RSS historians blindly depended on Mill’s communal historiography but by dismissing his rational approach towards myths, which was central to the colonial consciousness of the past. Having neither the craft nor methodology for reconstructing the history based on facts, they had no alternative to glorifying the past as golden on the basis of mythical accounts and factoids. RSS historians have been systematically trying to make people believe Veda-s, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana-s as historical accounts by accusing the academic version of history, allegedly based on the prejudiced notions of European historiography, Euro-centrism, British colonialism, English education, and Marxism. They strongly believe that the culture, religiosity, spiritual achievements and the rich intellectual heritage of traditional India were destroyed by the Mohammedan invaders and subsequently misconceived, misrepresented, disfigured and debunked by the Westerners and the Western educated Indians. The paper seeks to briefly examine the ways and purposes of mythologizing the country’s past.

The Context

 Mythologized history combined with the anti-Muslim attitude and upper caste prejudices constitute the ideology of the characteristically aggrandising Hindu nationalism. The Brahmin and other landed upper castes believe that their status and power had suffered under the Muslim rulers who plundered temples, killed the Hindu kings, led their queens to the pyre and destroyed the glorious Hindu civilisation of great sages. This ideology, nurtured by them as the basis of Hindu nationalism, had come up steadily as ‘backdoor nationalism’ from the days of the Freedom Struggle to the present (Bipan Chandra, 2008). Since majority of the educated upper caste Hindus of postcolonial India were influenced by the Nehruvian, socialist, secular, rationalist, inclusive nationalism of modernity, there were lesser opportunities for the orthodox and casteist communal Hindu groups to carry forward their ideological agenda beyond a point.

Nevertheless, these groups, relatively insignificant, sustained themselves through distorted history, religious intolerance and communal riots. They acquired greater following and state power under the aegis of the political economy of the onset of capitalist globalisation in the late 1980s when the IMF, World Bank and WTO had begun to impose neo-liberalism heavily. Subsequently the entailing widespread corruption and the nasty tradeoff in the regional party-politics, which grew rampant under the Congress gave the Hindu communalists a chance again to wield state power towards the end of 1990s. Now the Hindutva groups are again in power ending the grossly corrupt crony capitalist reign of the Congress, and many of the new generation upper caste youth with communal and caste sentiments kindled under grievances against the national policy of educational and employment reservations for the subaltern castes and women, are dallying with temptations around the power. Whenever, the Hindu communal groups wielded the state power, communalisation of history by the RSS had become a national programme of top priority.

Hindu communalists who include several scientists, technologists, Sanskrit scholars, archaeologists, historians and others even today sincerely believe in the glorious past of India distinct for the rare systems of knowledge generated and spiritually endowed by great sages of supernatural or extra sensory powers. The rare legacy of this glorious Hindu civilisation is firmly believed to have been singled down to destruction by the Mohammedan invasion earlier and to vitiation of its cultural heritage by the British conquest and Christianisation later. In recent times several non-resident Indian academics moved by factoids have taken on mythologizing the country’s past as part of their de-colonisation enterprise. Many rich immigrants with lot of finance capital are running huge research projects for retrieving Hindu Civilization out of the Mohammedan ruination and the colonial vitiation.

Neo-Hindutva Arguments

There are two types, the old and new, among the Hindutva enthusiasts. Arguments of the old Hindu communalists are widely known for their straightforward antagonism towards the Mohammedans. Different from the orthodox scholars of bizarre notions about the country’s past Hindu culture, the neo-Hindutva type are modern and hence pseudo-scientific in their explanations of the bizarre. They argue that the non-Western cultures, particularly the south Asian, which differ from the characterisation prevalent in the West whose cultural identity is founded on the Christian religion, necessitate an analysis of the ‘how’ of the construction of religions and cultural differences in India. They feel the need for a thorough re-doing of the intellectual and social history of South Asia, in order to demonstrate as to how it was shaped without having a hegemonic explanatory account of the Cosmos decisive, becomes obligatory. This is indeed a good idea, but why are they not doing it? Ultimately both the types serve the same purpose of communalisation of the people by mythologizing and mystifying their past.

 The Neo-Hindutva scholars do not have the linguistic competency to do their project, for most of them are academics not initiated in Sanskrit or historiography. Many are technologists and industrialists. They debunk history and historians’ craft as what the colonised uncritically accepted from the West and passed on to their progenies who could only perpetuate Eurocentrism. According to the neo-Hindutva enthusiasts what Indians need is their cultural past that Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and Purāṇa-s contain, i.e., the past ‘as existed or exists in reality for the natives of India’ (S.N. Balagangadhara, 2005 & 2012). The institutions like the varṇa, jāti, sati, and stridhana are allegedly constructs by historians of Western consciousness, who distort the Hindu past as the way Western people experienced Indian culture, which they argue, speaks ‘more about the Western civilisation than the native Indian civilisation.’ The neo-Hindutva enthusiasts say that the true history of India is what the epics and Purana-s contain, access to which is being denied to the people due to the European and Marxist misrepresentations of the country’s sacred texts like Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata besides the traditional chronicles like the Purāṇa-s. Alas ! It appears that jāti, sati and all kinds of other institutions of Hinduism, exposed by historians and social scientists atrocious, are in his presumption integral to intrinsic human values of Indian culture (R.Gurukkal, 2014). Compared to the ways and means of the orthodox scholars who had believed in what they preached, the strategies of neo-Hindutva scholars are pretentiously academic and sophisticated in their mythologizing of the Indian past. They hardly believe in what they seek to academically argue out. Not trained in historiography and least acquainted with the traditional texts unlike the orthodox scholars, ultimately they go by mythological accounts and factoids, but very cleverly.

Academic Challenge

Unable to take up the real academic challenge behind their grand project, the neo-Hindutva scholars end up with argumentation without any substance. They should have acquired scholarship to comprehend the contextual relationship between the past texts and the nature of their historical, cultural consciousness. A detailed treatment of the embedded tradition represented by the fragmentary narratives from the Vedas, the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana is necessary, for which they have no technical competence. It requires analysis of the emerging past consciousness as exemplified by genealogies in the making of a historical tradition in the Purana-s. Then one has to ascertain the historical sense in the texts, alternative histories as exemplified by the Buddhist tradition and the externalization of the historical tradition as exemplified by biographies like the Harshacarita and the Rāmacarita. Uninitiated in historical methodology and unable to access the original texts, they escape from substantiating the thesis through a demonstration of how ancient Indian intellectual formation and cultural context are distinct.

Romila Thapar is the only scholar who has done a deeper analysis of all this, but the neo-Hindutva academics have not cared for reading her study of the historical consciousness and its expressions reflected in the texts of early northern India (R.Thapar, 2013). Instead they seem to recommend the Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and Purāṇa-s as true history, despite their being composed over a long period of time by multiple authors. They do not know that there are multiple versions of Rāmāyaṇa belonging to disparate periods. There is the Buddhist version called Daśaratha Jātaka and the Jain version called Paumachariyam. These versions contradict the Valmiki version of Rāmāyaṇa. Which version is to be treated as genuine history? Similarly Mahābhārata took several centuries to evolve itself into its present state. Its earliest form was Jaya consisting of some twelve thousand couplets. The next form namely, Vijaya was an expanded version. Then it became Bhārata and finally Mahābhārata. Which form is to be considered the true version of history – a part or the whole?

How do we determine the date of events in the multiple forms ? Purāṇa-s are many and of widely separated periods between second century and eighteenth century. There are a few Purāṇa-s belonging even to recent times. How do we decide the date and sequence of events in these multiple Purāṇa-s? Which of the Purāṇa-s is to be treated as history? These are not problems for the Hindutva enthusiasts, for they do not know such details of these texts that they equate to history. If a knowledgeable historian points out such problems and speak about the plurality of textual versions and their widely separated periods the Hindutva scholars would accuse the person of being Western or Marxist. That the Buddhist Daśaratha Jātaka and the Jain Paumachariyam contradict the Valmiki Rāmāyaṇa or that certain parts of the Mahābhārata seen in Jātaka-s contradict with the Brahmanical version, is not just a Western misinterpretation or Marxist erasing of continuity and originality of India’s past (R.Thapar, 2013). So do the contradictions appearing in the inscriptional texts. Similarly the fact that we cannot pinpoint any one of the Purāṇa-s as authentic is not the fallout of the Leftist conspiracy. Accessing of history beyond such texts through inter-textual analysis is a universally accepted procedure in the case of literary sources. It is evident from the efforts even by Sanskrit scholars and text based historians to support mythologizing history that they are ignorant of the scientific techniques of analysing texts. Least bothered about the text in terms of its variants, they do not require methods to confirm the historicity, and imply that both historicity and history are irrelevant to them. Hardly do they seem to feel the need to think about the audience, the purpose and the patronage of the text in the past at the different stages of its composition.

Instead of methodologically updating themselves, the neo-Hindutva scholars re-assert the need for retrieving the Indians from their colonial consciousness by decolonising them with postcolonial theoretical insights. Their concern is more about rejuvenating postcolonial ways of representing the West rather than how one could evolve an alternative understanding of the East. How a comparative science of cultures can be conceived of has been their main question because for them a culture is the way a particular social group generates a process of learning to learn (meta- learning). They maintain that meta-learning dominates and crystallize to structure its way of going about understanding the world (R.Gurukkal, 2014). By way of self-justification for being evasive about the task all by themselves, they say that their allocated job (providential ?) is only preparing the ground for building up a huge mansion of alternative social sciences, which is not a job, that a few books or one generation of scholars can accomplish. Their project of mobilising a big team across continents and organizing a big consortium of European and Indian Universities for re-thinking Asian culture is part of this groundwork. Nonetheless, shouldn’t their disciples be shown a sample output of the so called radical mode of re-thinking that they have been preaching?

There is nothing strikingly fresh about the decolonising perspective with which the neoHindutva academics are obsessed. Like colonisation, decolonisation also came from the West. Michel Foucault tried to do its archaeology and genealogy of the knowledge production and its organisation and classification, which was the major source for Edward Said’s discursive processes of how the West went to terms with the East by constituting the latter its opposite. Dismissing such studies replete with jargons, the neo-Hindutva academics express the central problems of modern India studies and potential direction for the socialscientific study of the Indian culture, their central concern. Debunking history and social sciences as mere theological reflection, what is this social scientific study that they propose? They are entrapped in Hussurlian double bind with an antithesis of the West formulated in European positivist ideography, just as post-structuralists sought the language of structuralism to capsize it. On the one side stressing the need for an alternative understanding of the Western culture and blaming it a reflection of Protestant theology, yearning for a social scientific study on the other, is a trap. It is a pity that the radical decolonising agents have not only to try and construct knowledge against the West in the western positivist empirical methodology and articulate it in the knowledge-language of the West but also as construed by the West. This would mean that colonial consciousness is the political unconscious of their writings. Why blame other Indians allegedly promoting the same old colonial ideas and lacking original framework, when the neo-Hindutva scholars themselves have no framework of comprehension other than the colonial. They say exactly as the coloniser accused long ago that the ‘native Indian’ knows no Indian view of India. What is this so called Indian view of India ? That is what the neo-Hindutva scholars see articulated in the epics and Purāṇa-s. They think that these texts help us formulate alternative definitions of culture, colonialism, secularism, and orientalism.

Self-contradictory Position

There is a striking self-contradiction in the arguments of neo-Hindutva scholars. They argue that their mythologizing of India’s past is scientific. In fact, according to them it is science itself. Interestingly, the main defect of the Western way of understanding the world, according to the neo-Hindutva philosopher is that it is unscientific! (S.N. Balagangadhara, 2012). Is not Newton’s Principia scientific? Though it was called Natural Philosophy during his times, we know that in 19th century when the term science began to be applied exclusively to the type of knowledge that Principia embodied.

 The neo-Hindutva philosopher would call it unscientific because of a reflection of the Christian theology in it. Least reflexive about the historical constitution of science, the philosopher goes self-contradictory in his celebration and promotion of pseudo-science as science. The neo-Hindutva philosopher is a victim of internalising the Western cognitive mode, logical structure, constitutional texture and communicative strategy of knowledge in science final. Not only the West and the colonised, but all including himself (now in the state of ‘enlightenment’) are subsumed by it.1 How this Hindutva mission to make the ‘alternative science of culture’ scientific goes well with the equation of Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata to history or celebrating of jāti (not caste), sati and all kinds of other institutions of Hinduism as integral to intrinsic human values of Indian culture, is the problem. This is a self-contradictory position of equating science with epics. Is this way the colonised getting out of the historically given influence of colonial consciousness? Several historians and social scientists, allegedly of ‘colonial consciousness,’ are at least aware of the epistemic injustice involved in the imposition of science as the only universally valid truth. This would mean that it was the so called ‘colonial consciousness’ that empowered them to discover the imperialist substratum of science.

The neo-Hindutva philosopher should try and understand how historians of India have sought to wrench themselves away from the shackles of colonial historiography. They know that the current definition of what constitutes history is based on European understanding of its own past, which has been considerably enlarged in recent times, with the enlightenment emphasizing the notion of progress, and Marx and Weber seeking fundamental laws governing historical forms. Although not altogether free of Western presumptions, Indian historiography had a course of development through Nationalist reactions against the imperial views. Indian historians of modern times have shown a sense of history in conformity with how history is defined in modern times. In the sense that the history of every age has been representation of contemporary consciousness, they had asked much before this neoHindutva philosopher’s articulation of the thesis of ‘colonial consciousness,’ as to how come that the colonial European sense of history, which was contemporary consciousness too, could set the universal normative (R.Gurukkal, 2014). Are we justified in judging the historicity of early writing in the light of the criteria of what we define as history, which are impermanent too ? Just because the various texts of the past do not match the contemporary genre called history, can we, succumbing to the Western prejudice, continue to deny the existence of past consciousness, with the implicit presumption that there is no historical sense other than the contemporary sense of history ? Since historical consciousness has been taking different forms from time to time how could any particular form be superior? Could we insist that the status of history in a past text to be what one would construe today? 1 [On 7 July 2014, he declared himself ‘enlightened,’ a clear indication of the creation of a charismatic aura for constituting his following with the status of a cult.]

 The neo-Hindutva philosophers should study forms, features, structure, constitution and dynamic of traditional Indian knowledge in the perspective of historical epistemology. It, then would really enlighten them about the fact that ‘every society sees its past in a particular way, which it may refer to as history or not, but which is relevant to understanding that society’(R.Thapar, 2013). There is no epistemological discontinuity between the Indian and the Western in several fields of knowledge like astronomy, mathematics and linguistics. Epistemological principles such as rationality, objectivity, verifiability, proof and notion of truth in the enterprise of knowledge production made no difference between the East and West. Epistemological properties like premises, inferential logic, nature of evidence, and concept of truth about traditional Indian knowledge, with a view to understanding the historical trajectory of the advancement of knowledge, the historical development of knowledge in traditional India, in terms of epistemic concepts like objectivity, rationality, methodology, and fundamental concepts that organize knowledge systems of different historical periods. It was hard work, sustained engagement, genuine curiosity and critical inquiry as in the case of the intellectual anywhere in the world, which enabled early Indian scholars to generate deeper knowledge. Why mystify them as sages of supernatural powers and extrasensory perception when some of them at least make their methodology explicit?

Ignorant Criticisms

Several Hindutva archaeologists and historians tacitly over-defensive of the BJP rule criticise the rational historians and social scientists engaged in resisting the move towards mythologizing and mystifying the country’s unpleasant social truth about the past as well as the present. They are branded as Leftists and Marxists hypocritically claiming scientific outlook and moral high ground to cry-wolf the issue of spreading false consciousness among people through distorted history. The Hindutva lobby accuse them of dominating historical bodies like the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Indian History Congress etc., turning them into arenas of political and financial manipulation, imposing the blinkered view of history on the discipline, deliberately sidelining, discriminating, ostracizing and depriving the critics of professional opportunities since the 1970s (R.Gurukkal, 2016). One would immediately feel like asking what prevented them from rectifying all this when they were in power during 1998-2004. Anyway, such trifling remarks in frustration deserve no reply, but those with academic criticisms, ostensible though, have to be answered, for they try and debunk critical scholarship in historiography.

 One thing that the assailants make clear through accusations is their hostility to the Leftists in general and Marxists in particular. But they seem to be failing to identify their enemies, for they think any historian critical of the BJP Government could be either a Marxist or a Leftist. It appears from the allegations that any historian of rational approach distinguishing history from myths and factoids is their enemy too. Their main irritant to them in rational historiography is its critical explanatory method free of narrow sentiments and pride. A widely accepted fact that distinguishes rational history from the sentimental is its intellectual depth and theoretical preoccupation. A fact of wide acceptance about history is its inseparability from theory that enables a historian to make the invisible, visible and the inaudible, audible. Theory is indispensable for a historian to sensibly piece together, manage the bewilderingly complex old time data and draw critical insights into them. It is widely known that historical materialism is the only comprehensive theory available for interpreting the past social processes, relations and structures. How can historians afford to be abstaining from theory and remaining ignorant of historical materialism? Nevertheless, for both communalists and liberalists who are largely idealists of low level analytical sensibility, Marxism is a blinkered view, biased and reductionist. Accusing the other of bias is largely due to the ignorance about the biased self. Reductionism is not the theory’s problem but that of the approach, for in serious Marxist historiography one sees interpretations, strikingly differing from one another. Where is the question of blinkered view in a framework of comprehension that allows hypothetico-deductive investigation? What the Hindutva historians’ prejudice denotes is distaste for theory, the secret of sustained obsolescence from which their ignorant criticisms emanate.

 Their academic criticisms against the ‘Left’ historians are in the form of allegations such as the reductionist approach to history, erasure of India’s knowledge systems, denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, refusal to acknowledge the well-documented the brutality of many Muslim rulers, neglect of tribal histories, biased use of sources, neglect of scientific data from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies, absence of professional ethics, pernicious imposition of legislated history, and promotion of contempt for cultural heritage. The allegation that the Marxist historiography is tainted by ‘a reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of exclusion while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago,’ exposes ignorance about Marx’s theory of social change, in which ‘class’ has precedence over ‘caste.’ Marxist historiography stresses on the function of caste as part of the fetters of productive relations, and systematically unveils the secret of integration. It does not neglect at all the role that caste played in enduring the contradictory structure of the Indian society by containing class struggle. It is surprising that they take pride about caste without which the Indian society ‘would have disintegrated long ago’ (R.Gurukkal, 2016)

Who has erased India’s knowledge systems – those Leftists/Marxists who tried to show that serious knowledge systems of traditional India had adhered to epistemic principles such as rationality, objectivity, verifiability, and notion of truth in their production or those philologists who tried to mystify the origins of knowledge system by assigning them to extrasensory abilities and super-natural powers of sages ? It is in the writings of the former, not exhaustively though, that we see critical inquiries unravelling the logical procedures behind the knowledge systems of early India (D. Chattopadhyaya, 1977, 1986, 1991, 1996). What the accusers consider as erasure is the academic exercise in humanising the past knowledge systems by looking for the epistemic universals behind their production and on the basis of which characterising some of them axiomatic and some others scientific due to insistence of proof.

The allegation of the Leftist ‘denial of the continuityThe allegation of the Leftist ‘denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists’ is based on methodological ignorance. What they mean by ‘continuity and originality’ has to be examined against the source texts concerned and the methodological devices for using them for historical understanding. It is in total ignorance of all this they accuse the Leftists of the denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-BuddhistJain-Sikh culture, and ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists.’ Allegations about the biased use of sources and promotion of contempt for cultural heritage actually stem from this basic methodological obsolescence. In fact, who stops them from historicising the Hindu identity, rationality, progressiveness and legitimacy scientifically? Instead of making an idealistic call from the pulpit for ‘an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India,’ why are they not going ahead with their long-cherished project of re-writing India’s past. Why cry about the Leftists’ neglect of advanced Indological researches in the last few decades, rather than taking on them all by themselves? If the socalled archaeologists have developed alternative perspectives after considerable research, the scholarly world would have accepted them. Why blame the Leftists to have sidelined them rather than looking into what failed them in securing scholarly recognition?

The Marxist and Leftist historians are alleged to have refused to accept the welldocumented brutality of many Muslim rulers, empirical studies exposing their wartime plunders and religious attacks. Indeed such predatory campaigns were brutal and the historians, who sought to expose the hollowness of communal interpretations, had to be in a historiographical struggle for the cause of secularism. This was not to hush up the events of brutality but to unveil the actual historical context for checking the historiographically contingent communalism that unleashes acts of vengeance upon the present day population that has nothing to do with the past events. The neo-Hindutva historians accuse the Marxist historians to have neglected the tribal history. We owe the relative neglect of tribal histories to various factors including the lack of data and promotion of methodological sophistication for writing the history of the people without history (B. Misztal, 2003; E.Wolf, 2010). I do not think that the Leftists can be singled down as responsible for it in any way, for the major part of the work already done goes not to the credit of Hindutva scholars (K.S. Singh, 1985; B.B. Chaudhurri & A. Bandopadhyay, 2004; and Sanal Mohan, 2015). Anyhow, has anyone among the accusers studied ‘India’s tribal communities and their rich belief systems and heritage? Who has studied the tribal cultures to enable the sweeping generalization that they have many things in common with the Hindu religion? Let us not talk about the neglect of scientific data, since the serious readership know how regional archaeo-metallurgical studies are labeled as Indian with nothing Indian about. It is explicit why the casteist and communal historians are interested in genetic studies today.

 All that is discussed so far, which underscores methodological preoccupation, exposes the Hindutva historians’ total lack of professional ethics. It is largely due to their ignorance in social scientific methodology that they tend to denigrate those who use it for writing early Indian history, because it questions the Hindu communal distortion. They seem to be unaware of the process of the existing knowledge undergoing improvement or even replacement by new knowledge that is increasingly analytical, self-reflexive and critical. In fact, a high degree of reflexivity is inevitable for those indulging in the study of early Indian history. It is essential for them to be preoccupied in methodology, without which their knowledge base goes obsolete and criticisms become exhibits of ignorance.

Purpose of Mythologising

The primary goal of mythologizing the past is the cultural preparation the people into an uncritical public. People exposed to rational knowledge are normally inspired by the deeper dimension of it that has a radical critical stance based on the fire of social justice. Ethical postulates are integral to deeper knowledge that is inherently subversive and critical, for it unveils the hidden unjust practices in human affairs and social processes (B. Latour and C. Poter, 2004; P. Freire, 2005). In the process of acquisition of rational knowledge one experiences this subversive dynamic and develops critical consciousness. Critical consciousness, the most vital attribute of quality learning, may vary between the liberal pragmatic and the radical critical theoretical type (M. Horton, 2003, S.D. Brookfield, 2005). Of all critical stances, critical theory based criticism ranks foremost, for it is raised right against the dominant socio-economic and politico-cultural power that the state embodies. People with this radical level of critical consciousness are emboldened to speak truth to power.

 Our education is divested of its critical quality by historically contingent social structural devices which thinkers have theorised differently. What the dominant economy (Technocapitalism popularly called knowledge economy) needs is a well disciplined, workaholic and apolitical youth trained in various skills. Whatever education that produces this robotic youth is quality education or innovative education to it. As a result, critical consciousness is almost alien to our pedagogy at all levels. One is supposed to be acquiring critical consciousness in the process of higher education; but it hardly happens today. Even the critical attitude of a liberal pragmatic kind, which spontaneously comes up in any educated citizen of democratic values, passions and ethical postulates, is uncommon today.

In the capitalist world the critical dimension of knowledge is not easily available to all because of its being incessantly diffused and strategically distracted. Knowledge production is an alienated and highly encumbered activity, inevitably under the systemic control of capitalism. There is a strong, built-in system for depoliticizing the students through the process of acquisition of knowledge. Spread of the myth that knowledge is invariably neutral is the basic strategy. Delinking of knowledge with social reality is another strategy. Yet another strategy is the conversion of knowledge itself as part of the rhetoric and ideology of capitalism. They draw blank about the social use or consequences of it. They become neutral, self-centred, apolitical and least perturbed by social consequences if any. Subsequently they constitute the larger public of conformity, totally bereft of critical thinking.

 Karl Marx called the process as ideological control of the emerging critical impulses. Michel Foucault named the phenomenon as discursive control and Pierre Bourdieu identified it as habitus. In neo-Marxist social theory this process is known as autopoiesis (N. Luhmann, 1990; I. Livingston, 2006). It operates in myriads of ways through the entire people, relations, institutions, practices, ideas and spaces. Knowledge is a very crucial object of autopoietic control and hence its production as well as transmission would not escape the influence of autopoiesis. Naturally education, one of the most powerful social institutions, is inevitably a major channel of operation for autopoietic power. Its main function is containment of antithetical elements in the capitalist socio-economic system involving dehumanising processes and relations, which could otherwise cause upsurges. Autopoietic strategies of containment would act as a safety valve averting systemic overturns.

Nevertheless, it is a significant need of capitalism to transform the general public without any exposure to higher education into an apolitical and uncritical mass. It is mainly for this purpose that the corporate houses make an alliance with the Hindu communalists aspiring to be de facto actors in the aggrandising national state power. The Hindutva middleclass lobby is desirous of a fascist state for aggressively accomplishing a Hindu nation of communal exclusiveness and casteist orthodoxy. Techno-capitalist corporate houses want a crony capitalist state for juridico-political protection and financial patronage through diversion of public revenue as well as natural resources for expanding their enterprises. This alliance between the state and its middleclass actors is a natural development in advanced capitalism.

A state sponsored mythologizing and communalising of the country’s history by debunking rational, secular historiography has to be viewed against the background of the alliance between the Hindutva aspirants of de facto state power and corporate capitalists. Both the groups at the outset need to turn the general public into an uncritical mass. Substitution of rational history with mythological accounts can prevent the rise of critical consciousness in the people. Mythical accounts of the past can trigger antiquarian interests and develop blind sentiments and devotion to the idea of Hindu nationalism. Mythology is enough for them for it keeps people emotionally encumbered. Explanatory historical accounts providing insights into the problems of the present empowering the poor people are not only the unwanted but also the impermissible for them. While the mythologised past full of semidivine heroes excites people’s pride, the rational historical accounts educate them about the past misery due to relations of exploitation, institutions of oppression and structures of domination. One engenders a politically disengaging uncritical mass of people, while the other promotes the formation of a political people craving for emancipation.

Both the Hindu as well as Muslim communalists are ideologically in the same track of ungrounded history, for distorted history is the only ideological means of self justification for them (Bipan Chandra, 2008). Their mutual exclusionism is based on the single question, who should rule India. Communalists of all types distort and glorify an imagined past and disregard the people’s everyday life of the present. It is the veneration of the nation as an abstract semi-divine notion rather than the realisation of a concrete territorial nation inclusiveness assured of the citizens’ peaceful co-existence and collective welfare, which matters to the Hindutva ideologues. It turns the people susceptible to deadly sentiments of caste and religion, and degenerates nationalism into false consciousness. An immediate manifestation of it is social intolerance of the de facto type, the clearest symptom of advanced fascist cultural preparation. This is how the inevitable ontological convergence of communal essentialism and revivalism on the politics of fascism happens (P. Bourdieu, 1991).

Impairment of democracy, the inevitable consequence of capitalist development, has been progressing in the country for the last two decades, and slowly turning the democratic state into functional autocracy as a system of the corporates driven bureaucracy–political heads combine. The process is accelerated under Techno-capitalism run by corporate houses, heavily dependent on the transaction of new knowledge in science and technology, for enhanced accumulation through trading in intellectual property rights and patents (A. Feenberg, 1991; M. Perelmal, 2004). It has given rise to ‘corporatocracy,’ a new type of governance that enmeshes and destroys democracy (L. Suarez-Villa, 2012). In India corporates have succeeded in intensifying their state control under the dominance of the BJP that mobilises people’s acceptance of functional autocracy through the rhetoric of national development and communal cultural preparations by penetrating into all bodies of educational policy-making in general and historical research in particular.

Attempts at a slow process of legislating fascism have been set in during the previous government under the mask of neo-liberal structural adjustments. Bringing the whole higher education under a single regulator by replacing democratic bodies was tried througthe NHE&R Bill (2011) first and now through NHA Bill 2015. The high level environment committee headed by TSR Subrahmanian, a retired bureaucrat gave its Report (2014) recommending the scrapping of all Pollution Control Acts, Wildlife and Forest Conservation Acts for making diversion of land and natural resources for corporate industrial establishments. Fortunately both the houses of the Parliament disallowed the Bill. Now the same Bill is back again as ESA Amendments Notification (2015). TSR Subrahmanian is heading the drafting committee of the New Education Policy 2016 with three other retired bureaucrats and one name-sake academic. These Bills designed by bureaucrats under the direction of corporates, repeatedly pushed forward to the houses of the Parliament indicate sustained moves towards legislating functional autocracy. They are symptomatic of the measured death of democracy.

The Hindutva academicians’ specific interest in the policy making institutions of educational and cultural affairs is making the agenda explicit. Pick the children for ideological social preparation aiming the making of the youth into an assortment of uncritical and apathetic individuals is the strategy. This explains why the Hindutva lobby is eager to quell the dissent of even the liberal pragmatic kind through repressive measures like branding the dissidents as terrorists and traitors. There are attempts at erasing the cultural signatures of other religions through certain apparently legitimate substitutes as exemplified by the case of the governmental imposition of the observance of ‘the good governance day’ on the Christmas Day. Asking through Government Orders the Navodaya Vidyalayas, Schools under the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Central Universities, Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management to the celebration the birth anniversaries of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malaviya is an example of disguised communalisation. Bringing in changes in the schemes and contents of education for nurturing communal divisiveness and hatred among the people of one religion against the other has been in progress. Mythologising the public consciousness will go on in various ways and means under unstinted state support, because it is a crucial need of the political economy to silence the oppressed and exploited.


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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.