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Josiah Thomas
Josiah Thomas

Annihilation Of Caste

Annihilation of Caste is an undelivered speech written in 1936 by B. R. Ambedkar, an Indian academic turned politician. He wrote Annihilation of Caste for the 1936 meeting of a group of liberal Hindu caste-reformers in Lahore. After reviewing the speech's controversiality, conference organizers revoked Ambedkar's invitation. He then self-published the work. The work is considered a classic and is being re-evaluated time and again.

Annihilation of Caste

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In a letter dated 12 December 1935, the secretary of the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Society for the Break Up of Caste system), an anti-caste Hindu reformist group organisation based in Lahore, invited B. R. Ambedkar to deliver a speech on the caste system in India at their annual conference in 1936.[1] Ambedkar wrote the speech as an essay under the title "Annihilation of Caste" and sent in advance to the organisers in Lahore for printing and distribution.[2] The organisers found some of the content to be objectionable towards the orthodox Hindu religion, so intemperate in the idiom and vocabulary used, and so incendiary in promoting conversion away from Hinduism, that they sought the deletion of large sections of the more controversial content endangering Brahmanical interests.[1] They wrote to Ambedkar seeking the removal of sections which they found, in their words, "unbearable."[1] Ambedkar declared in response that he "would not change a comma" of his text. After much deliberation, the committee of organizers decided to cancel their annual conference in its entirety, because they feared violence by orthodox Hindus at the venue if they held the event after withdrawing the invitation to him.[1] Ambedkar subsequently published 1500 copies of the speech as a book on 15 May 1936 at his own expense as Jat-Pat Todak Mandal failed to fulfill their word.[3][4]

In the essay, Ambedkar criticised the Hindu religion, its caste system and its religious texts which are male dominant and spreading hatred and suppression of female interests.[1] He argued that inter-caste dining and inter-caste marriage is not sufficient to annihilate the caste system, but that "the real method of breaking up the Caste System was... to destroy the religious notions upon which caste is founded"[5]

In July 1936, Gandhi wrote articles under the title "A Vindication Of Caste" in his weekly journal (Harijans) in which he made comments on Ambedkar's address. He defended the right of Ambedkar to deliver his speech and condemned the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal for rejecting the President of its choice because the Mandal already knew Ambedkar was a staunch critic of Hinduism and caste system: [6]

The readers will recall the fact that Dr. Ambedkar was to have presided last May at the annual conference of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal of Lahore. But the conference itself was cancelled because Dr. Ambedkar's address was found by the Reception Committee to be unacceptable. How far a Reception Committee is justified in rejecting a President of its choice because of his address that may be objectionable to it is open to question. The Committee knew Dr. Ambedkar's views on caste and the Hindu scriptures. They knew also that he had in unequivocal terms decided to give up Hinduism. Nothing less than the address that Dr. Ambedkar had prepared was to be expected from him. The committee appears to have deprived the public of an opportunity of listening to the original views of a man, who has carved out for himself a unique position in society. Whatever label he wears in future, Dr. Ambedkar is not the man to allow himself to be forgotten.

Western India was the center of the movement. In South India, the non-Brahmin movement in provincial politics had taken up the cause with less publicity. In North India, caste difference entailed rules of sharing, but water was not such a scarce resource there. Conflicts emerged when religious reformers challenged these rules. Provincial and princely state legislatures followed the incidents and court judgments and tried to keep in step. The princely state of Baroda passed a law depriving government funds to any organization practicing caste discrimination.

There were many reports where some beat up others who had forced an entry into a public tank. Gandhi took up several such cases from coastal Gujarat. In all of British India, a few district officers managed an enormous land and a large population. The officers understood that even if the law was starting to take the side of the depressed castes, a top-down order would not work as well as negotiations because the depressed castes were themselves divided and practiced water discrimination against each other.

A 1920s survey reported that untouchability was practiced in its most brutal and degrading forms in the city, where most people from the depressed castes had no access to public wells, drinking water ponds, or schools.

In many provinces where periodic aridity and caste-based inequality were of serious scale, the state governments spent a part of their budget for rural and community development on constructing wells for lower-caste people. After a massive turn toward rural infrastructure in the 1970s, piped water was extended into the countryside. Politicians in the Bombay and Madras Provinces underscored freeing access to water.

A quarter century after a nationwide community development program started, most villages had wells for the use of the depressed castes. In many, there was one well, and in none did the depressed castes have equal access to the well ordinarily used by the upper castes, though, in conditions of great scarcity, the upper castes did draw water from those the others used. A survey of the 1970s found that more than half the population of the lower castes in the rural areas of Karnataka state could not use the public well or tank. The proportion was much smaller, at 15 percent, in urban areas.

Most writings on Dalit political movements touch on the campaign for water access incidentally, as one issue among many the movement fought for. We would make a mistake to think that the battle for equal water rights was a campaign for equal rights in a generic sense. It was a struggle for water. The battle found meaning in a specific environment. It was not an accident that some of the driest areas of the Deccan, with a recent experience of famine, saw the emergence of the most influential political movement against orthodox Hinduism. A natural world exposing many to the threat of water famine was the fertile ground for such a struggle to develop. At the same time, in the two cities close to the region, Bombay and Pune, rights were debated and discussed, disputed in the courtroom, and tradition upheld and questioned. Whether caste and untouchability were colonial creation or not, the means to combat these forces were colonial creations. These were the courts, the mass media, the English press, and the legislature.

What did the movement for equal access to water achieve? It did not achieve real equality in water access everywhere, as the studies cited suggest. There was upper-caste resistance. State authorities avoided confronting the resistance head-on. There was no nationalization of water sources and wells. The struggle for equality in water access, therefore, was a long-drawn-out one. What the movement did achieve was to destroy the religious ground for discrimination. The weapons in the battle were many, from the integration of the depressed caste movement into mainstream politics to the use of the press to conduct campaigns to claiming that water was a public good.

Accordingly, the Hindu caste system has two main aspects. On the one hand, men, women, and children are divided up into separate communities. On the other hand, these communities are placed in graded order, one above the other in social rank according to their Varna.

After finishing his studies Ambedkar dedicated himself to the uplifting of the Dalit people for the rest of his life. Throughout the 1920s he led agitations, addressed conferences, and published in various journals. He founded the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha (Group for the Wellbeing of the Excluded) and called for the mobilization of all Dalits against caste inequality. The motto of his organization was: agitate, educate, organize.

Dr. Ambedkars activism and his views on the Hindu caste system have been immortalized within his masterful critique, the Annihilation of Caste (1936). The Annihilation of Caste was first prepared by Ambedkar to be delivered as a speech to a society of Hindu reformers in Lahore. However, his critique of the Hindu caste system was considered so incendiary, that society rescinded his invitation to speak. Accordingly, Ambedkar self-published his speech as a book in May 1936.

Economically, he claims that caste is a harmful institution. The subjects of the Hindu caste system are not allowed to choose their occupation freely, and by allowing no readjustment in occupation, caste becomes a direct cause of unemployment and underdevelopment.

Yet his bitterness toward the Hindu caste system and his position outside of it never diminished. Just a few months before his death, Ambedkar and approximately 500,000 of his followers converted to Buddhism in a mass public ceremony.

In this excerpt, Ambedkar writes with his characteristic eloquence on how and why the indignities of caste are inseparable from Hinduism, the Brahmanical hegemony implicit within it and offers intermarriage as a possible solution to the insidiousness of the caste hierarchy.

Your Jat-Pat Todak Mandal has adopted this line of attack. It is a direct and frontal attack, and I congratulate you upon a correct diagnosis, and more upon your having shown the courage to tell the Hindus what is really wrong with them. Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny, and a reformer who defies society is a much more courageous man than a politician who defies the government. You are right in holding that caste will cease to be an operative force only when inter-dining and intermarriage have become matters of common course. You have located the source of the disease. 041b061a72


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