Gandhi’s Vindication of Caste
After Annihilation of Caste was published, Mr. Mohandes Gandhi wrote three articles in his newspaper Harijan. In these articles, he defends his position supporting Chatruvarnya. Chatruvarnya is the belief Hindus should live out one of four ancestral callings, Brahmin(Priest), Kshatriya (Soldier), Vaishya (Retailer), Shudra (Menial). This system was far older than the caste system, which split Hindus into hundreds of sub-castes.
Mr. Gandhi begins by saying nothing in the speech was out-of-character of Dr. Ambedkar. The Society for the Abolition of Caste (Jat-Pat-Todak) should have expected such an address from him. The publishing of the speech was of great benefit to Hindus and encouraged them to read it to know how to refute Dr. Ambedkar.
Ambedkar was raised a Hindu and was part of Hindu culture. He grew disgust for Hinduism due to their treatment of “their fellow Hindus that they label Untouchable.” Mr. Gandhi said Dr. Ambedkar’s feelings were understandable. In addition, Ambedkar was correct in his assessment that the Hindu scriptures justified the discrimination against Dalits.
The question was whether all the scriptures authoritative to the same degree. For example, the Smrities have much in them that can’t be considered the word of God. One can throw them out without the foundation of Hinduism being disturbed. Hinduism created many saints and sages. Therefore there must be wisdom in the religion. In fact, many Dalit activists are fighting the caste system without leaving the faith. One can not judge a religion by the worst participants or the worst scriptures.
In the last article, a member of The Society for the Abolition of Caste explains why they initially invited Dr. Ambedkar. It was not to have a Dalit lead the conference because the Society does not recognize such a distinction. The Society asked him because he agreed with them that caste is destroying India. The Society wanted to remove the statements that Dr. Ambedkar said he was leaving Hinduism, which they felt was not relevant to his thesis or the goals of the conference.
The member of the Society also challenged Gandhi on his assumption that Chatruvarnya is better than caste. Both are divisions of labor based on birth. They both put individuals in a hierarchy. All the arguments to support Chatruvarnya can be used to support the caste system.
The rebuttal from Mr. Gandhi was that Shastras, one of the holiest books in Hinduism, supported Chatruvarnya. If one doesn’t believe in the Shastras, then one isn’t a Hindu. Denouncing the Shastras was equivalent to a Christian denouncing the Bible or a Muslim criticizing the Quran.
Dr. Ambedkar’s Rebuttal
Dr. Ambedkar begins by restating what he hoped to communicate in his speech. First, caste was destroying India. If Indians transitioned to Chatruvarnya, it would still need to be legally enforced due to it being unnatural. Chatruvarnya denies individuals their fundamental human rights of education and self-defense. India will not advance until they adopt the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The Hindu scriptures undergirding them must be destroyed to annihilate caste.
Gandhi’s prescription to evaluate each text and decide which ones to keep and which to discard can’t be done in a mostly illiterate population. Ambedkar also agreed with the Society that there was no significant difference between Caste and Chatruvarnya. Both forced people to take occupations due to birth not ability. Also, none of the saints mentioned by Gandhi in his articles fought the caste system. Most defended it.
The conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi was about was Hinduism morally beneficial. It had nothing to do with judging a religion by its worst deeds. The question was whether those deeds supported by the religion. In the case of Hinduism, scripture justified the evil acts. Therefore the Hindu religion had to be discarded.
To further prove that keeping Chatruvarnya is unrealistic, Dr. Ambedkar gave examples from Mr. Gandhi’s life. The Vaishya caste produced the “Mahatma,” and he now serves as a priest. His son married a Brahmin’s daughter. His failure to follow his own beliefs is not unique. Most Brahmin do not serve as priest and, at the time of publication, there were more Brahmin retailers than priests.
Ultimately the Hindu scriptures must be discarded to annihilate caste.