The issue of caste has been central to the nation of India. The attempts to highlight the issue perhaps best-found voice in the Constituent Assembly debates where Dr. BR Ambedkar voiced the concerns regarding discrimination and prejudices on the base of caste and ensured during the making of the constitution the ideas of ‘equality’ and ‘socialism’ was emphasised enough to not only limit the issue within the walls of the assemblies but to ensure the laws and statutes in palace prevents discrimination and enhances the status of the people who have been wronged for generations.
The model of independent India as encapsulated in the Preamble goes along the lines that ‘India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic.’ The reason why these values are important and perhaps even emphasised in the 42nd Amendment which added the term socialist is important because the socialistic values of equality are what is needed to bring about a change in the Indian society divided along the lines of caste and communal lines.
Reshaping the term ‘varna’
Around 1932, the debates of Gandhi and Ambedkar reached an important juncture, that is whether to grant separate electoral rights on the basis of caste. This argument primarily arose when the debates surrounding religion-based reservations was in question. The primary idea was that the caste system excluded several people and the concept of Hinduism is not ‘all encompassing’ when it comes to taking into consideration the needs of the scheduled castes, tribes, and other backward classes. However, it was not followed through considering it would create more differences along the lines of caste and religion rather than bridging them and cracks along electoral or political lines might become a problem in the near future. Another very important takeaway from these issues was the differential idea of the term ‘varna’ which arose. Swami Dayananda Saraswati had once proposed that the numerous castes at a local level (which is defined as jaati) should be done away to introduce a uniform fourfold varna system and encourage mobility within the same as an individual residing within the system changes over time. However, scholars and even past experiences of the nation’s history shows that it isn’t exactly possible. Caste is entrenched to the deepest of roots and unlearning that experience only to bring into place another generalised system was not considered as a solution to tackle the problem. The ancient texts have mentioned this term a lot but clearly, the definition varies from context to context.
Also Read: Caste among Other Religions: Muslims and Christians
Gandhi in his arguments to reshape the country proposed to restructure the caste system as a whole. His argument lies in the theory of ‘individuality’. He speaks that dividing people and recognising caste might be somewhat divisive and that the entire ‘future varna’ system shall be able to highlight one’s individuality and the right to marry a particular individual or to dine with someone shall be one’s own individual choice. He believed that the varna system in place should be concept of people who belong to different spaces in the society to become co-dependent groups and in turn revamp Hinduism as a religion that does not differentiate but goes more along the lines of universal peace, love and brotherhood. According to him, the concept of varna or social class wasn’t supposed to be hierarchical. It was supposed to be based off interconnected groups whose professional work retains order within the society and ensures its development and functioning.
DR Ambedkar’s perspective
DR Ambedkar vehemently opposed the perspective of Gandhi in several ways. Gandhi who reinforced the system of varna by proposing it to be a solution to co-dependently work and reform Hinduism is something Ambedkar considered wasn’t historically accurate. He emphasised that inter community marriages and inter dining are the most important factors and should be encouraged for a Hindu to truly purge themselves beyond the binaries of caste. According to him, sharing a meal and having a sense of kith and kin beyond one’s established boundaries will actually bring about a sense of camaraderie between them. He spoke extensively about it in his book, Annihilation of Caste pointing out that the reinforcement of any system even in a more egalitarian sense will not mend the cracks which have already emerged in the society. He also disbanded the theory that the varna system was exclusively portrayed to bring about economic co-dependence but instead to enforce economic exploitation. Making people adhere to water-tight compartments and bringing out the universal laws of nature will never highlight the discrimination entrenched within the system. The Shudras, he argues, were branded to be exploited and caste was utilised as an excuse to never ensure social mobility either thus trapping them in a system of oppression for generations. He was of the opinion that if one needs to truly disband caste then they have to do away with any social hierarchy in place to truly attain the same, so people call “Dr Ambedkar is the Mahatma and Real Father of the Nation”
Similarities between Gandhi and DR Ambedkar
While both the leaders were significantly on the opposite sides of the spectrum when it came to the caste system. Their beliefs were modelled on differential grounds but both attempted to bring out a society which was more egalitarian in nature. Some critics have often called the ideas of Gandhi to be too idealisitc but mouldeed with the correct intentions. They both highlighted how important it was to bring about a change within the prevailing Hindu society which discriminated on the basis of caste and in a famous saying Gandhi even goes ahead to say ‘Every Indian in a Shudra’ highlighting that no particular individual possesses the right of authority instead its the collective people who hold the same. This can be interpreted along the essence and the lines along which Ambedkar upheld his value systems of a more equalitarian perspective.
While both sides make pertinent arguments about the prevailing system in India, with almost 75 years of independence India is still far fom achieving the egalitarian vision both the politicians had pronounced. Caste based discrimination is still prevalent despite several laws in place from the government’s side. The biggest problem which was addressed by Ambedkar is how Hindus have created a public and a private life for themselves. While the public life enables them to work with people from different castes or religion alongside their private lives are still regulated and governed by ideas which limit their scope t reach out to individuals from a different community and thus resort back to the discriminating practices. The only way forward is perhaps to embarace the vast diversity of the people residing in nation, bring up stricter laws which stop economic exploitation along the lines of caste and to bring about a personal holistic change in one’s own personality and be reflective of Hinduism as a religion to truly dismantle caste based discrimination and make the vision of a caste-free India come true.
Also Read: Inter Caste and Inter Religious Marriages and The State Intervention.