CLASS STRUGGLE NEEDED TO FIGHT ANTI-DALIT MENTALITY & CASTEIST ARROGANCEOctober 28, 2021
Editorial October 2021
We keep hearing news from every corner of the country wherein people belonging to Dalit community are abused, humiliated, beaten, raped, killed, boycotted, etc sometimes for the ‘crime’ of demanding wages for work done, sometimes for refusing to work as demanded, sometimes just for growing a moustache or simply riding a horse or bicycle, often for taking out the wedding procession or carrying the dead body for the last rites. Many a times they are beaten brutally after being accused of petty theft, sometimes just for women going to the fields for work or defecation, sometimes for the ‘heinous crime’ of inter-caste love or marriage. There are instances when even the dead body is forcibly burnt by the criminals tp prevent them from going to the police or like in Hathras of Uttar Pradesh, the police themselves burned the dead body in the dark night without the consent and presence of the bereaved and aggrieved family of the victim.
A few days ago, some miscreants burst firecrackers and hurled casteist abuses in front of the house of Indian hockey team’s illustrious player Vandana Kataria in village Roshanabad near Haridwar in Uttarakhand, saying that Dalit players were the reason for Indian women’s hockey team’s semi-final defeat in Tokyo Olympics. A few days back, a video surfaced from Jida village in Punjab, in which some self-made panchs of the village brutally thrashed some persons with sticks in the chaupal of the village. Those beaten up were accused of wire theft. A girl studying in class 9 of a Dalit family of a village in Sirsa district was kidnapped and her rotten body was found in the fields after 5 days. A 9-year-old girl, the daughter of a Dalit woman who earned her living by begging in front of a temple, was burnt at a crematorium in Delhi after she was gang-raped by the temple priest and some others. Similarly, we keep hearing about suicides by Dalit students in higher educational institutions across the country and caste-based abuse of Dalit students in schools, being forced to do cleaning work, or compelled to sit separately for mid-day meals, etc.
Most of the people of our country have become accustomed to hearing such news where common thing in all the incidents is that the aggrieved party belongs to the so called ‘lower’ castes. Of course, the atrocities committed by the so called ‘upper’ castes in our country are not a completely new phenomenon. These atrocities have been continuing for a very long time. But, at the same time, it is also true that there has been a rapid increase in attacks on Dalits, minorities and women after the fascist Modi government came to power at the centre and BJP governments were formed in many states. The criminals responsible for such incidents generally do not even fear arrest, what to say of punishment, as they have the support of powerful political people and the administrative machinery often connives with them.
In fact, the leaders of the bourgeois political parties, the police, the bureaucracy, and the courts have a kind of nefarious alliance with such criminals. These criminals usually get away scot free even after committing the most heinous crimes. Sometimes even if action becomes necessary under the pressure of public anger and protest, then some small fry – a working class person, a minority or a Dalit from among the criminal gang, is used as a scapegoat. The real criminals who have influence in the government machinery usually go scot free. All the repeated surveys about prisoners – convicts, undertrials or simply unable to get bail – have revealed the fact that the majority of prisoners in Indian jails come from working class, Dalits, tribals and minorities.
Workers, peasants and other toiling sections of the country have a splendid history of struggle against all forms of oppression. The people of the marginalized sections who were historically victims of oppression began to get some relief from inhuman oppression during the 20th century owing to these struggles. After independence, though India’s capitalism was sickly, but while it was in the phase of expansion, opportunities for education and employment had started opening up to some extent for these historically oppressed sections. But as the Indian capitalism entered economic crisis due to its own reasons after only a few decades, it began to commercialize all social services like education, health, transport, etc and privatize the public sector. Employment has now more and more turned into temporary, ad hoc, and contractual with subsistence wages.
The most disastrous effect of all these capitalist economic policies has been on the working people who were the most exploited and disadvantaged sections historically and among the Dalit castes number of such toilers is proportionally the highest. Therefore, the toiling masses of the Dalit castes, who have historically been victims of exploitation and deprivation, have had to face the most terrible consequences of these neoliberal economic policies of Indian capitalism. The same has also been witnessed in the ruthless lockdown imposed in the name of combating Covid that in all such actions of suppression and economic ruin by capitalist power the Dalit working population is among the worst affected people.
At present, we are passing through a phase when, fearing the emergence of widespread and increasing public anger, as demonstrated by the present peasant movement, due to the economic crisis of capitalism becoming insurmountable, the ruling capitalist class of India has resorted to fascism. They have opened their vaults for the fascist party BJP-RSS. Although other bourgeois parties are also not innocent, the BJP, with the help of hundreds of organizations and stormtrooper gangs of the Sangh Parivar, is most capable of misleading and crushing the toiling people of the country and with their help has rapidly carried forward its agenda of Hindu Rashtra.
The Hindutva nationalists avowed aim is to bring back the ‘Ram Rajya’ and the ‘ancient glory’ of India through all-round development, but their real secret target is to serve the troubled big bourgeoisie by protecting them from the growing discontent and anger of the toiling masses. They never had anything to do with improving the lives of workers, peasants, Dalits and the wider toiling population in the past, nor do they have anything to do with them today. Only this single fact suffices as proof that as the campaign for Hindu Rashtra has intensified, attacks on workers, Dalits and minorities have grown in intensity across the country. The purpose is also crystal clear – divide the working population with communal and chauvinistic slogans of religion, caste, region, language, etc. To implement the neoliberal economic policies of capitalism, it is very important to create division among the working people and spread hatred among them.
This massive attack of domestic and foreign capital can only be stopped by the strength of the solidarity of the working people. In these circumstances, on the one hand, there seems to be an outcry from various sections across the country, on the other hand, a conscious section of the workers, peasants and middle class intelligentsia is also working to concentrate these scattered waves of anger into a single huge wave. But we face some very tough challenges. One major challenge that remains a major obstacle to the unity of the working people of India is the cultural backwardness of our society.
World capitalism had already entered the era of imperialism at the time when caste-based feudalism of our country was starting to disintegrate after reaching its zenith and its growing contradictions were preparing the ground for taking our society into a new era. In these special historical circumstances, our country had to suffer the yoke of colonial subjugation. Colonial imperialist rulers not only maintained the lower feudal structure as their trusted ally to keep the toiling population under control to further their policy of plundering our raw material and labour force, but also gave full protection to its ideological base Brahmanism. Not only were these sections given priority in recruitment in the administrative staff, but the structure of the education system was also built based on a mixture of Brahminical ideas with some modern skills required to serve the colonial government.
At the same time, industries started to come up in the country in the 19th century. As a result, a native capitalist class was born in India and along with it the modern working class also came into existence. But the Indian bourgeoisie, born in the era of colonial slavery, did not have the vitality and strength to fight an all-round decisive battle against colonialism and feudalism, while it itself was afraid of the emerging working class struggles. Therefore, they chose the path of compromise with both colonial power and feudalism. Thus, from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Dayanand, Vivekananda to Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, etc., the nationalism of the Indian bourgeoisie was based on the regressive caste-based Sanatan Dharma and blind revivalism of ancient pseudo-glory instead of modern progressive rational thinking and humanistic ideas of liberty and equality.
In 1947, power came in the hands of this bourgeoisie in the transfer of power under an agreement with the imperialists. The challenge before the native capitalist rulers was to develop the country on the capitalist path. But this sick and weak capitalism born out of the womb of colonialism, instead of radically transforming feudal relations, began to transform feudal economic relations into capitalist relations by change from above adopting the Prussian path of accommodating the old feudal landlords.
This brought about a change in economic relations, but the new ruling class also, like the feudal society, continued to be majorly constituted of the upper castes and the feudal cultural values like caste discrimination/hatred, anti-women mentality, superstition, etc remained largely intact in the arena of culture. These upper-caste feudal landowners of the past, some of whom have now become capitalist farmers, are now part of the current ruling class and many of them, with their feudal cultural values, are part of the state bureaucracy as well as the management of both the public and private sector enterprises play an important role in the rise of fascism today. When the huge working population of India is looking for ways to struggle against the plunder of domestic and foreign capital today, this cultural backwardness of our society remains a major obstacle in the way of the unity of the working people.
These were the historical reasons why our society, unlike the capitalist renaissance in Europe, could not produce such a strong renaissance and a vigorous movement of knowledge dissemination, the light of whose torch could banish this profound darkness of past irrationality, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness from every corner of our society. First, the colonial rulers not only stopped the movement of knowledge spreading in the form of Bhakti movement, religious reforms and other literary movements in the broken feudal society, but also helped to deviate it from the progressive path towards revivalism. At the same time, from the time of Warren Hastings, not only did the colonial rulers build the entire legal, judicial and administrative edifice of India on Brahminical reactionary ideas, but also laid the foundation of a deeply regressive administrative-judicial system, also adding to it some of the most reactionary elements of the Islamic-Christian tradition. It remains same till date with few minor changes.
Later on, the capitalist rulers of India also considered it in their interest to uphold the backward feudal cultural values by adapting them to the needs of the capitalist market. Casteist arrogance is also a very distorted and embodied form of it, which is maintained to a great extent even today in the form of Brahminical domination in many places, in the form of Kshatriya or Rajput dominance in some other places. On the other hand, the land-owning classes, which were counted among the working Shudra castes in the medieval feudal era, have come to the upper strata in the caste system due to their increased economic and social status in the current capitalist system. In areas like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, where there is little or no Brahminical dominance, the caste oppression and arrogance based dominance of Brahmins has been replaced by the dominance of these intermediate castes.
But is the present-day casteism exactly the same as the caste system of the feudal era? No. It is a continuation of the old caste system in terms of hierarchy and social discrimination. But a lot has also changed. The caste system had three main features – first, caste-based division of labour or work, second hierarchical relationship, and third the prohibition of inter-caste marriage. However, on probing deeper, the fundamental material basis of the caste-system was its first feature i.e., the division of labour in the feudal mode of production, while the remaining two features subsisted based on this first.
In the present capitalist mode of production, this material basis of the feudal division of labour to maintain caste relations exists no more. Now the remaining two features are in the process of change, but this process is going on very slowly because their existence not only does no harm to the capitalist system, but it can and does use them to its own advantage. In today’s day-to-day public life, it is not practically possible to exercise ‘high-low’ hierarchy and untouchability, but it is still practised to a great extent in the personal and family sphere and the pace of inter-caste marriages is still very slow.
Therefore, caste arrogance, hatred and discrimination continue to exist in the cultural-ideological sphere even after the material basis of the division of labour of feudal production relations necessary for the caste system no longer exists. This is because capitalism needs it to break the unity of the working people. Capitalism uses casteism as an ideological and organizational weapon like chauvinism and communalism to keep the masses divided. That is why the disgusting picture of widespread casteist discrimination against Dalits is still extant even today.
Is the fight against caste arrogance and caste oppression only a separate struggle of the Dalit population? To answer this question, we have to understand the source of caste oppression. In the present capitalist era, two major historical sections of our society confront each other – the capitalist class which owns the means of production on the one hand and the working class which has lost its right to all the means of production on the other. The conflict between these two classes is one of the main contradictions of our society. The source of oppression against the working population (Dalit and non-Dalit) lies in the conflict caused by this contradiction. About 90% of the total Dalit population of India works as labourers. Therefore, economic, social and all kinds of repression in this class struggle at its severe most in case of almost the entire Dalit population and along with economic exploitation, Dalit population has to face double oppression in the form of caste oppression.
But it is also a fact that the workers of non-Dalit castes have become the majority in the total working population of India. Therefore, the unity of the entire working population of the country is the first condition for the overthrow of the plundering capitalist system. Those who restrict the struggle against the oppression of the Dalit population only on the basis of caste position under the politics of identity ignore this reality. This position of identity politics is not only a hindrance in the way of greater unity of the working class, but it weakens the struggle against caste oppression by alienating and isolating the Dalit working class. For example, in the 1970s-80s, when the revolutionary resistance to caste oppression by direct challenge weakened the upper caste oppression in Bihar, the Lalu Prasad Yadav-Nitish Kumar came to power on the strength of this challenge to the upper caste oppression. However, identity politics in their leadership has broken this unity over the past three decades and reinvigorated the reactionary caste power of the upper castes in the BJP-Sangh leadership.
Today, in the composition of the rural population, people from non-Dalit castes are also in large numbers among the people who have been deprived of the means of production. Only the unity of Dalits, landless non-Dalits and poor peasants among the rural working class can counter caste-based oppression, although the ruling class, through the ideological weapon of casteism, creates a major obstacle in the way of such unity. But it is mandatory to complete this insurmountable task of unity of Dalit and non-Dalit working people today. The entire working population is the victim of class oppression, but the Dalit working population is also a victim of additional caste oppression. Since caste oppression is done only to perpetuate class oppression, the struggle against it also becomes a common struggle not only of Dalits but of the entire working population. To break this common struggle, the working people of the so-called upper castes are used as tool against the Dalit working people by creating casteist arrogance among them. It is therefore extremely important for the ruling classes to maintain the casteist hatred and arrogance since it is a sharp instrument to break the unity of the working class. And that is why it is very important to sensitize and raise the consciousness of the working people of non-Dalit castes to struggle and resistance against caste-oppression, only then the common struggle against class oppression will also become stronger.
An important aspect of the fight against casteist arrogance, hatred and discrimination is the ongoing ideological struggle in the society. Today the reactionary ideological hegemony of capitalism continues to dominate our society. It has not only embraced the medieval backward feudal values but is also promoting these regressive values through all economic, political, administrative, educational, propaganda power of various types of media of the bourgeoisie. To counter this, it is necessary to establish the ideological hegemony of the working class. Fighting against all kinds of backward socio-cultural values forms an essential part of this ideological struggle. Of course, we have a splendid legacy in struggle and resistance to economic oppression, but this is not enough to combat socio-cultural backwardness. For the sake of ideological struggle in the present era, we have to go ahead and analyze and propagate things from the class point of view. The working class, being the creator of all the material and spiritual values of the world, is the most advanced class in history. It is only on the basis of the unity of the working class that one can fight against the increasing attacks on Dalits and casteist discrimination. It is important to emphasize that the struggle against casteist disease and caste arrogance is not that of Dalits alone but a common struggle of the entire working population. Just as Marx told the American workers, “Labor in white skin cannot emancipate itself where the black skin is branded” the propaganda of this consciousness among the working people of the non-Dalit castes of India is of the highest importance that the common struggle of all the working people for the emancipation of the Dalit working class from caste oppression is an essential, integral part of the struggle for their own liberation from capitalist exploitation, a precondition for their own emancipation. Only by fighting against caste, patriarchal, chauvinistic, regional, linguistic i.e., all kinds of oppression, will a great unity of all the working people against the capitalist system be achieved, which will realize the dream of the working people of establishing a socialist society free from all plunder of human beings at the hands of others human beings and in which every person of the society will get full opportunity to participate and contribute without discrimination in every walk of life and at every level.