The Annihilation of Caste was originally written as a speech for the Society of the Abolition of Caste (Jat-Pat-Todak). The Society wanted Ambedkar to lead the 1936 Conference in Lahore. The Society composed of Dalits and Caste Hindus working to end caste first invited Ambedkar on December 12, 1935. Ambedkar initially turned them down because even liberal Hindus often opposed his views. The Society sent a delegation to Ambedkar in Bombay. He eventually agreed to explain in detail how it is impossible to break caste without annihilating religious notions undergirding the caste system.
Ambedkar prepared the first draft and sent it to the Society for approval. An argument began on whether the Society should publish the speech in Lahore or by Ambedkar in Bombay during the completion of the final draft. Ambedkar held firm to his right to publish his work. The Society sent a representative to Ambedkar to make amends and get a final draft of the address.
When the Society received the final draft, many Hindu members were upset that the speech attacked Hindu scripture and the fundamental morality of Hinduism. The Society then asked Ambedkar to change the address to make it more palatable to all the members. Ambedkar refused. The Society specifically asked him to explain how Hinduism is fundamental to the Caste System. If they had a problem with his speech, the Society should have rejected the first draft. Criticizing the casteism within Hindu scriptures is fundamental to Ambedkar’s prescription for Indian progress. The existence of caste inside scripture makes the religion of Hinduism antithetical to equality. Ambedkar canceled the conference and left the Society with the following quote:
But What can anyone expect from a relationship so tragic as the relationship between the reforming sect of Caste Hindus and the self-respecting sect of Untouchables where the former have no desire to alienate their orthodox fellows, and the latter have no alternative but to insist upon return being carried out?
The Annihilation of Caste
India must annihilate caste to facilitate unification. Without unification, there will never be a large enough population resisting British rule. Even if Britain granted independence to a divided India, persecution of the lower castes will continue. The divisions with in the country will retard India’s growth if not rip it apart.
The caste system is a system that divides India into thousands of sub-castes due to birth. Also, the caste system created a hierarchy in which sub-caste in the highest positions have more rights and privileges. There is no unifying moral belief that everyone must follow. All morality is contingent on caste. One is also born with this caste and cannot change it. Therefore conversion is not possible. If one were to adopt Hinduism, they would not have a caste and would not intermingle with other believers. India has a large population of people that still live in tribes uninfluenced by Hinduism.
The term “Hindu” is derived from Arabic to describe the people they conquered in India. Before the Islamic invasion, no word unified all the people in the sub-continent. Essentially, Indians never saw themselves as one united people. The caste worshiped Hindu gods in separate cults. There was never a unifying ethos or praxis in the religion.
Separation due to caste had always weakened India. Muslims and Sikhs stood united against oppression, whereas Hindus understood people of other castes would not support them. That is why so many invaders took over India. Hinduism and the caste system have left India weak. India’s failure to repel a conqueror proves it. The Hindu culture has survived thousands of years only because no conqueror saw it necessary to destroy it. Hinduism is not uniquely resilient.
Many Indians, including Mr. Mohandes Gandhi, favored replacing the caste system with Chaturuvarnya. The Chaturuvarnya classified people into four castes Brahmin (Priest), Kshatriyas (Soldiers), Vaishya (Retailers), and Shudras (Menials). The idea was that reducing the hundreds of castes in India currently would be the first step in unification. Also, the Chaturvarnya doesn’t forbid anyone from learning a profession outside their birth occupation. It only prohibits earning a living from it.
Ambedkar explains Chatruvarnya will not work because people don’t fit into simple categories. People are much too complicated for that, and classification is only superficial. Determining one’s profession by birth hinders people from fulfilling market needs. People need the flexibility to change jobs when needs arise, such as war. If India were to be invaded and only Kshatriyas could serve in the military, there would not be enough soldiers for defense, as seen many times in Indian history.
Even within the Chatruvarnya, there is no motivation for a Kshatriya to defend the rights of a Shudra. There is no motivation for a Brahmin to use his intellect for the good of the Shudra. Hierarchies naturally lead to exploitation. People in every community depends on experts. However, all societies should allow all citizens access to education and self-defense as both are vital needs.
Socialists, in contrast to supporters of Chatruvarnya, wanted to end caste. However, they saw it best to do this indirectly with the inevitable socialist revolution. Once workers owned the means of production, all the workers would unite regardless of caste. There was no need to attack caste directly; the natural progression of society would end caste.
Here the socialist are class reductionists, and Ambedkar reminds them that money is not the only source of power for many people. Religious and social statuses are also a source of power. Muslims will sell their last possessions to go on Haj. Wealthy Hindus will obey penniless gurus. The idea that money is the primary method to obtain power comes from an analysis of modern-day Europe. India is a very different creature, and the socialist theorist had not evaluated the intersectionality of economics, religion, and culture.
The socialist revolution will require all workers to unite. Worker unity is not possible without the abolition of caste. Those of low caste will not trust high caste leadership. Those of high caste would not follow leaders of low caste. The people of India must foment fellow-feeling as a prerequisite to solidarity.
It is essential to remember class is not the same as caste. Classes are not separated socially. Nothing is stopping the poor woman from eating with the rich woman, no reason to kill a poor man that marries a rich woman. Castes are separated in every area of intercourse and suffer stiff penalties for transgression. Dalits are not allowed on the sidewalk at the same time as a Hindu because the Dalit shadow could pollute the Hindu. Dalits had to wear a pot around their neck to catch their spittle and a broom on their waste to sweep away their footsteps. No poor person in Europe had to go through this level of humiliation.
Caste is also not based on race or ethnology. Even in the 1930s, ethnologist agreed that no one is racially pure. Even the ethnologists that support the idea of race do not believe races represent different species. Even if race was the basis of caste, there is no reason to think there would be a scientific justification for hundreds of subcastes. It is also important that those that support eugenicists, those that believe races are different species, are also supporting the idea that Indians are pygmies, and 90% are unfit for military service.
Ambedkar did not believe all men have equal ability. He did believe there is no way to predetermine a person’s ability. Ability is dependent on physical heredity, environment, and personal effort. These factors interconnect in complex ways that are difficult for outsiders to understand. From a practical standpoint, Society should be organized in a way to allow for as much equality from the very start. Equity is the only way to get the most out of each member of Society. The following quote is the best summary:
Treat all men alike not because they are alike but because classification and assortment is impossible. The doctrine of equality is glaringly fallacious but taking all in all it is the only way a statesmen can proceed in politics which is a severely practical affair and which demands a severely practical test.
One must destroy the religious underpinnings of caste to eradicate it from Indian Society. That means an abdication of the Vedas, Smirtis, Shastras, and Sadachars. These texts do not serve as a moral code and are only a set of rules. Ambedkar thinks Hinduism should be reformed as a state religion with the following parameters:
- There should be one and only one standard book of Hinduism acceptable to all Hindus
- Priesthood should be open to all citizens, and heredical priesthood should be abolished
- Only licensed priest can perform ceremonies
- State should discipline priest that break moral or civil codes
- State should limit the amount of priest based on population
After the annihilation of caste, Indians can establish fellow-feeling amongst themselves. This fraternity is the basis of democracy. There will not be campaigns to promote inter-dining or intermarriage because those things will not be needed. India needs and deserves more than a new system of government. Indians need an equitable society.