The Origins of Caste is an early work of Ambedkar written in 1916. The treatise gives a preliminary explanation of the origin and propagation of caste. It also critiques the interpretation of castes provided by others. In the end, he reiterates this theory is preliminary and could require more research.
He summaries the root caste from others to begin. The other theorists say the caste system is rooted in myths of lineage, traditional occupation, or ceremonial purity. Ambedkar describes all the opposing theories as partially correct. However, he makes his case for the root of the caste system being the prohibition of intermarriage between castes.
When a person understands the root of the caste system is the prohibition on intermarriage, many other customs can be easily explained. The prohibition on intermarriage, each group, must ensure there is an equal number of males and females. If a spouse dies, then there is a surplus man or surplus woman. This adult with no sexual partner would have the incentive to look for a mate from outside the caste. To prevent the widow from a cross-caste marriage, she can be thrown on the funeral pyre or take a vow of celibacy. For a widower, he can be forced into celibacy or given an underage girl to wed.
He criticized that the rule of caste was set forth by one authoritarian ruler, Manu. It would be difficult for one man to enforce these laws during his reign against the will of the people. It would be even more challenging to create a lineage of rulers that did the same thing. It is also unlikely the Brahmin forced caste rules on the lower caste for the same reason.
Ambedkar theorized that the most likely explanation is the Brahmin decided to close themselves off by forming a caste. The next highest social class then converted themselves into a caste to improve their social standing. This behavior continued until finally those at the bottom of society were completely shut out. To support the claim Ambedkar calls to the attention of the reader; there are fewer purity rules the further a person’s caste is from the Brahmin.
The treatise is crucial because it provides a basis for Ambedkar’s struggle for the rights of women with the overall social justice struggle. As women win the right to marry and love as they wish, the foundations of caste will be destroyed.
A copy of this treatise can be found on Google Play or from the below link from Columbia University.