[Paper presented in Anti-Caste Seminar]
DURING THE NEO-COLONIAL PERIOD since 1947, there has been basically no change in the plight of the dalits in India. While a section of the middle castes benefited from the Nehruvian policies and succeeded in improving their position in the economic hierarchy, the lower castes composed of the dalits and tribals continued to be the worst sufferers of the harmful consequences of the imperialist sponsored Green Revolution since the 1960s. Even the anti-zamindari legislations and Tenancy Regulation Acts that came into force in the 1950s and 1960s in various Indian states utterly failed to address the question of land-to-the-tiller such that dalits’ deprivation of land continued unabated. At the same time, the dalits were at the receiving end of the economic displacement, social disruption, ecological distortion and cultural dislocation that resulted from Green Revolution. At an economic level, while it transformed the erstwhile feudal landlords into an agricultural bourgeois class, the strangle hold of the upper castes coupled with the newly emerging elite from the middle castes over the rural population remained more or less intact. In the ‘largest democracy’ that India is, dalits are denied vital resources like water, agricultural implements, and are subjected to worst forms of untouchability, social boycotts, violence, rapes and killings.
As a result of imperialist globalization and corporatisation of agriculture, the displacement of dalits has further extended from rural habitats to urban slums where most of the dwellers are dalits. With the connivance of bureaucracy, police and even judiciary of the comprador regime, corporate thugs and land mafia are forcibly evicting slum dwellers all over the country. As a consequence of the earlier displacement from rural habitats coupled with this latest urban eviction under neoliberal globalization, the entire livelihood patterns, social and cultural existence of dalits are subject to continuous disruption and economic and social squeeze.
General Imperialist Policy towards Caste
Colonial policy of imperialism prompted by the pressures of capital accumulation in general led to a disruption of the socio-economic formation in colonies including a distortion of the traditional village communities, changes in land relations including the introduction of private property in land, enforced monetization and exchange relations, imposition of forced labour, destruction of handicrafts and domestic industries, imposition of metropolitan cultures and so on. However, as far as the caste question is concerned, the Britishers pursued a cautious and calculated approach in India. Even while adopting measures against ‘sati’ and child marriage aimed at reforming the upper segment of Hindu religion with a view to integrating it with imperialist market, except the state-sponsored conversion of low caste people into Christianity and isolated missionary intervention with regard to certain heinous caste practices as was the case with the Channar Rebellion in Travancore, no significant step was initiated by the colonial administration to alter the caste foundations of Indian society. On the other hand, the colonial policy was one of manipulating the anti-caste movements of lower caste people that arose in the country as part of the renaissance movement and the anti-colonial struggle to divide the anti-imperialist unity of the people. At the same time, British imperialism ruthlessly suppressed several tribal and peasant struggles mostly led by tribals and dalits that challenged the colonial-caste-feudal order.
Under neo-colonialism, policies of the comprador Indian regime that served imperialist capital have strengthened the caste oppression in new forms. Just as in the case of the communal divide of the people, the Indian state and the ruling system through their political representatives have succeeded in propping up caste based parties ultimately serving comprador bourgeois-bureaucratic-landlord classes through caste based vote banks thereby dividing the fighting unity of dalits and toiling people.
Though a tiny section among the dalits has managed to better its position through reservation, the neoliberal policy of demolishing general education and closing down of public sector, public distribution and overall downsizing of the state itself has made even that option a mirage. Along with this, all kinds of decadent caste practices ranging from untouchability to khap panchayats and “honour killings” are propped up with ulterior ruling class motives. All these have made the life of dalits and tribals utterly horrific.
In this context, with the financial backing of imperialist funding centres and intellectual inputs provided by imperialist research institutions and through comprador intellectuals trained in academic institutions and universities, various hues of post-modern and post-Marxist ideologies such as “identity politics”, “subaltern studies”, “neo-tribalism”, “multi-culturalism”, “orientalism” and so on are profusely manufactured to obliterate the true essence of caste question and the stark realities of life experienced by the dalits and oppressed castes in India.
In the guise of mystifying “imagined identities” and glorifying pre-capitalist traditionalism, erstwhile progressive anti-caste formulations such as ‘caste annihilation’ are replaced by reactionary conceptualizations such as “caste fundamentalism”, “tribalism”, etc. Glossing over the material, social and cultural foundations of caste oppression under neo-colonialism and camouflaging the way in which the various “identities” are shaped and used by imperialist finance capital, corporate media, mainstream literature, art and film often given much space for propagating these alien intellectual and theoretical trends with much fanfare. The ruling classes’ aim behind these ideological trends is to de-ideologise and divert the emerging anti-caste struggles of the downtrodden and the oppressed in India to safe channels.
In brief, imperialism and comprador Indian state are institutionalizing caste system by reinforcing its material, social and ideological foundations through the effective use of all economic, political, administrative, legal and cultural avenues at their disposal. Today, therefore, the struggle for annihilation of caste should be waged at two mutually interrelated realms, viz., political and ideological. As the material foundation of caste as a social institution in India is still firmly rooted in land relations, a revolutionary agrarian program based on land-to-the-tiller principle invariably forms the core of this political struggle.
Vigorous campaigns and intensified struggles against all forms of caste-based oppression and social discrimination including resistance against untouchability, fight against the dilution of reservation as a democratic right, formulation of practical alternatives such as inter-caste marriages and similar struggles according to concrete conditions shall also form part of this political struggle against caste system.
Along with this political struggle, a theoretical offensive against the various strands of postmodern and post-Marxist thinking that trivializes the cardinal importance of the interrelationship between land relations and caste oppression on the one hand, and disregards the need of resuscitating the slogan of caste annihilation on the other, is also urgent to politicize and conscientise the broad masses of the oppressed and win over progressive intelligentsia and democratic forces to the side of anti-caste movement.