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Left Parties and movements on caste

May 01, 2012

The producers produce the wealth of society and it is expropriated by the exploiting classes. This is a general feature of all class societies. However, the mode of expropriation of surplus is not same in all class societies.

Caste is a specific feature of Indian society. Indian feudalism took the specific form of caste-feudalism in which the specific role assigned to a person in social production is determined by the Varna or Jati in which he or she is born. It does not allow individual mobility.

Only the higher Varnas had the access and right to education and thus had the monopoly over the production process while the lower Varnas, later divided into hierarchical strata had to bear the burden of labour. Even when there was no private ownership of land and other means of production, the upper Varnas could expropriate the surplus through their control of the state.

After the system of private ownership was introduced, the upper castes monopolised the ownership of land and other means of production. For millenniums, the contradiction between the upper caste landlords and the low caste peasantry remained the motive force in the development of society. The lower castes have, in course of time tried to evolve new religious practices to get rid of Brahminical domination. When Christianity and Islam arrived in India, their message of universal brotherhood and equality attracted the lower castes and many people were converted. However, the institution of caste was strong enough to continue even among the converted people. In India, someone can change his religion in a day, but it is not possible to change his caste in thousand years. Sometimes, whole castes or parts of them are found to move up or down the hierarchy but there is no scope for individual mobility.

Capitalist relations of production started developing in India even before it was colonised but that, process was thwarted due colonial plunder. The British colonialists encouraged the formation of a class of from among the upper castes (mainly Hindus), some of whom were compradors of East India Company. Ruthless plunder by the British and the landlords turned India into a land of permanent famines. Medieval India reached her excellence on the basis of a well planned combination of agriculture and handicraft. Colonial plunder destroyed both of them. Thus the home market was destroyed and with it, the opportunities for development of capitalism. The capitalist class that was born was bound to be dependent on imperialism not only for capital and technology but also for market. The big capitalists in to-day’s India are big enough even in global scale but have not overcome this dependent character.

I read Marx’s observation that “Caste is the greatest integument to India’s progress” in the sense that caste, in all its manifestations has to be abolished for all-round development of democracy. Some of the sanctions of caste like that against inter-dining and untouchability have lessened to some extent in the sixty years after independence. Industrialisation and migration of labour force has caused it. But in case of marriage, endogamy is still the rule, with some exceptions being found among the middle classes.

But as far as the participation of the people in social production is concerned, the low castes are still engaged in labour-intensive low-paid jobs. Due to the policy of reservation for SC and ST during the last sixty
years a small section among the SCs and STs have got entry into middle class jobs but this has riot changed the overall picture.

Actually the backlog of two thousand years cannot be cleared by affirmative policy of sixty years and that too, taken half-heatedly. Moreover, other democratic steps like land- reform and universal education and health-care have not been taken.

How long to continue with the policy of reservation is a question frequently asked. The logical reply to this question is that reservation should continue as long as the lower castes, tribes, and religious minorities are not adequately represented in all spheres of social activity. The reservation policy in India has been obstructed by the government and the judiciary. The verdict in Balaji case is the most glaring example. A powerful mass movement should be built to ensure that SCs, STs, OBCs, and religious minorities get reservation in proportion to their share in the population.

There is a misconception prevalent among certain quarters that abolition of caste-based discrimination will automatically lead to a class-less society or a society without exploitation. This is totally a wrong view.

Abolition or weakening of caste will encourage the growth of capitalist relations of production, and the polarisation of society into two great warring classes-the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. There is a complaint from Left circles that the upper section among the Dalits and Adivasis have been more benefited from the policy of reservation. The observation is correct but why should a Marxist complain about it? If the Adivasis are polarised into Adivasi bourgeoisie and Adivasi proletariat. A Marxist should accept it as the maturing of condition for a socialist revolution.

After the Mandal Commission was formed in 1978, the commission went to different states and sought their opinion. The CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal formed a one-man committee and within a month, it gave its report that “ there are no backward classes in West Bengal”.

This reflects a total lack of understanding of Indian society on behalf of the CPI(M). Even after their setback in West Bengal, there is little evidence that they have rectified their mistakes. The Marxist-Leninist groups, in general, have a better understanding of the situation and have mobilised the Dalits and Adivasis against caste oppression and state-terror. But, they too, have failed to take up the issues of reservation. The need of the hour is that the M-L forces should join hands to build a country-wide movement with the demand of proportionate reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities; and raise their voice against the 50 per cent ceiling imposed by the Supreme Court. To start with, they may unitedly raise their voice for implementation of recommendations of Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations.

At the end, it is necessary to reiterate that the struggle for reservation is only a part of the general struggles and other important issues like struggles for land reform and against eviction, for remunerative prices of agricultural produce and against anti-labour policies of the government. Actually, these struggles are complementary to each other and they should be combined with the aim of building a new democratic India.

Santosh Rana was one of the legendary leaders of the Naxalite revolt in 1967

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