Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Annihilation of Caste – Knowledge de-coupling

The assertion that “you must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste” has undoubtedly had a great influence on the thinking of Indian social reformers of the recent past, such as Jyotirao Phule, Narayana Guru, Ramaswami Naicker, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Ram Manohar Lohia etc. Some of these great men 'rejected' the absoluteness of the Shastras, inasmuch as they endorsed the hierarchy of the caste-system, and sought to decouple the belief system of the people from the Shastras and lay new foundations (for their belief system) rooted in either Atheism,Agnosticism, Buddhism etc (as had previous attempts through Jainism, Islam, Christianity) with the aim of ridding Lokavidyadhar Samaj of the pernicious hierarchical caste-system. However, in actual social interaction  all these attempts have largely failed to rid the mind of the hierarchy, and concomitant oppression, of the caste-system.

The observation that “the process of the lokavidyadhar samaj assuming leadership in the great social changes that lie ahead appears highly unimaginable owing to the non-enabling nature of caste hierarchies” is very well taken. However, if we understand that the Shastras essentially endorsed/ sanctified an existing heirarchy rather than inventing/imposing  an 'artificial' hierarchy on the varna-jati system(here being used to represent the division of productive labour of society); then we can understand why the attempts at de-coupling the mindset from the Shastras through relatively more egalitarian views propounded by all other reform-attempting religions/movements based on concepts of  equality of all souls, children of one god and so on; failed to counter the 'non-enabling nature of caste hierachies'. They were,perhaps, not addressing the basis for the hierarchy, so fundamental it seems, to make this hierarchy self-perpetrating and self-sustaining.

Let us try to understand the nature of inter-relationships between the jatis.Thiese relationships are determined, in the main, by the interaction between  jatis in the process of production and, more importantly, of exchange. One of the key arenas of the interaction between different jatis comprising Lokavidyadhar Samaj is the local market; where goods and services are exchanged/traded. This interaction was, arguably, based on a shared and accepted concept of ' equal value for all labour' that formed the basis for exchange/trade. In fact, I would think that, abinitio, this concept of value was an intrinsic part of Lokavidya. The value of goods and services that were outside the domain of the local market were influenced by supply, demand and logistics of procurement & delivery, racial dominance etc. [It is very interesting to note that, in large parts of India upto the early 19th century, this non-local market commerce was carried out by tribals(Lambadas,Agiaries etc of central India) and it is appropriate to assume that these tribal communities had a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship with other jatis of Lokavidyadhar Samaj]. As long as this shared concept of value ensured an equitable distribution of wealth and well-being; caste-hierarchy, in whatever form it might have existed, would not be a socially debilitating factor. If and when, there was a disruption of this shared concept of 'equal value for all labour' (probably in the late Vedic age) the sections that gained social 'advantage' as a result of this disruption, sought to give sanctity to the emerging hierarchy and finally 'enshrined' them in the Shastras( that is probably why it took many Manus to finally come out with the Manu-smriti).
The sustenance and self-perpetration of the heirarchy was based on the 'acceptance' of the inequality of value of labour of the different productive jatis that held sway over local market transactions and formed the basis of social hierarchy between jatis. A change in the 'superstructure'(de coupling from Shastras) which was not consistent with this real prevailing concept of value, could not lead to a transformation of social hierarchies.

Seen in this context the attempts of  Gandhi, who while upholding the legitimacy of the varna system of social organisation, sought to rekindle the idea of 'equal value for all labour' through many of his movements and activities. It appears that he was trying to restore the basis for equality and unity of Lokavidyadhar Samaj  in the satyagraha for swadeshi and swaraj. If the foundations for  real determinants of equality could be laid in Lokavidyadhar Samaj, then the  non-enabling nature of caste hierarchies could be tackled. In the realm of knowledge/skills of different sections of the Samaj, if an idea of fundamental equality of different streams of knowledge/skills can be established through a practical intervention in local market relationships; then a real basis for tackling the long ingrained ideas of social hierachies can be attempted with courage and determination.

This movement will have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of  capitalist production and market, globalisation and  knowledge-imperialism so unabashedly depicted by the Internet. The first steps in this direction are being taken by Lokavidya Jan Andolan and its stand in the current election campaign indicates this resolve.


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