With Ambedkar, Tilak Or Gandhi, Where Do You Stand On The Issue Of Caste System?

Posted on April 23, 2016 in Politics

By Dr. Suresh:

M. K. Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar

As an Indian, how you experience India depends on your birth and the people you meet in your life. Now, more than ever, the society in India is so diversified that there is a greater need for common national thought process without any political interference. My article is to understand the different thought processes and its history by taking the example of one major event that shaped the History of Independent India – The Poona Pact – and the caste politics that surrounding it. It’s an attempt to emphasize the need for shedding the differences that exist among us and unite for One National Dream.

The battle lines have been drawn between two very ideologically opposed Indias, and every event that happens throws this out in the open. Because of the social media, this is more evident now as everyone can share their opinions publically such as during the Rohith Vemula and JNU issue. All over television, print, and social media people have actively picked sides which was amazing because Free People should have their say in times of a moral conflict as Martin Luther King is often quoted to have said – “the hottest places in hell have been reserved for the people who have remained neutral in times of moral crisis.”

August 15th, 1947 and January 26th, 1956 – the two most important dates for anyone growing up in India. It was one of the joys of childhood to prepare for the flag hoisting on these days, reciting the Indian pledge and all the students in the school standing at attention, singing the national anthem while saluting the flag; it was an amazing experience as a child. The story about the mahatmas and the revolutionists that sacrificed their life for our freedom was truly inspiring. The joy of seeing the President hoist the national flag on TV followed by those fantastic parades. But once you grow up and are out of the protective atmosphere of schools, you start to see how diversified our society is. Suddenly every form you fill, every paperwork you undertake mandates you to divulge your religious preferences and caste background. It’s as though the entire nation wants to put you in your place, show you where you belong. A complex history is to be blamed for this situation.

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambavedkar (renamed Ambedkar by his Brahmin school teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar), Shri Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, are the three people led their generation into three different ideological directions.

The Muslim League led by Jinnah was pushing their agenda of a separate electorate. Ambedkar, who had by then remodeled himself as a representative of the depressed classes of India, also wanted a separate electorate for those he rooted for. The British Government was positive about the entire situation and gave him what he wanted. Gandhi, who was in Yerwada jail at this point, strongly opposed what was happening as he felt this would disintegrate the Hindu Society. Ambedkar had to compromise with Gandhi eventually.

The Poona Pact granted reservation to the depressed classes as a compromise. After this Gandhi actively started a movement to eradicate untouchability. He started a committee in Congress called Harijan Sevak Samithi along with a journal called Harijan, to help the cause. Gandhi was strongly opposed to untouchability and injustice to depressed classes but at the same time felt there was nothing wrong with caste system; while Ambedkar felt without getting rid of this oppressive structure altogether, there would never be real equality among Indians.

Gandhi asked Ambedkar to write a welcome message in the first journal of Harijan. This is what Ambedkar wrote, “I feel I cannot give a message. For I believe it will be a most unwarranted presumption on my part to suppose that I have sufficient worth in the eyes of the Hindus which would make them treat any message from me with respect… I am therefore sending you the accompanying statement for publication in your Harijan. The out-caste is a by-product of the Caste system. There will be outcasts as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the out-caste except the destruction of the Caste system. Nothing can help save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu Faith of this odious and vicious dogma.”

In his rejoinder, Gandhi noted: “Dr. Ambedkar is bitter. He has every reason to feel so.” Gandhi continued, commenting that Dr. Ambedkar’s “exterior is as clean as that of the cleanest and proudest Brahmin. Of his interior, the world knows as little as that of any of us.” Affecting humility, Gandhi announced that Harijan “is not my weekly” but belonged to the Servants of Untouchables Society and that Dr. Ambedkar should feel “it is as much his as of any other Hindu.” Then Gandhi went to the heart of the matter: “As to the burden of his message, the opinion he (Ambedkar) holds about the caste system is shared by many educated Hindus. I have not, however, been able to share that opinion. I do not believe the caste system even as distinguished from Varnashram, to be an ‘odious and vicious dogma.’ It has its limitations and its defects, but there is nothing sinful about it, as there is about untouchability, and if it is a byproduct of the caste system it is only in the same sense that an ugly growth is of a body or weeds of a crop.”

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

That was a fatal mistake by Gandhi. If Gandhi had joined the fight against caste with Ambedkar, India would have been able to get rid of the caste system, but there is a strong political reason for Gandhi’s strange behavior. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the congress man, Guru, and mentor of Gandhi had a strong opinion on this matter as is evident from the speech he imparted at Athani, Maharashtra, “I do not understand what the Teli, Tamboli and Khati Kunbhat (all low castes) would do in Parliament. Will Teli sell oil in Parliament? Will Tamboli stitch clothes in Parliament and Khati Kunbhat (Kurmi or Patidar) plow in the parliament?” 

These are the three Indian thought waves being carried on for generations. Ambedkar’s movement was not just about reservation; it was for complete caste abolition as the depressed classes had no control over the treatment being meted out to them and equality would have been (and still is) impossible till the caste system existed.

Gandhi was the one who proposed reservation that resulted in the Poona Pact but at the same time thought the main problem to tackle was untouchability. He represents the people who now think reservation should go instead of the somewhat tolerable caste system. But reservation is a byproduct of the caste system and the former cannot be done away with till the later continues in full swing.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the desi educated leader who never went out of India and felt there is no role for depressed classes in the Parliament, at least at that point. Tilak had a sudden change of heart towards the end of his career where he respected and acknowledged the differences in the people who constituted this nation and understood the greater need for a common national thought.

Some people are impossible to argue with because they are caught up in a primitive Indian thought which thinks following religion and the caste system is more important than being a human being. My aim here is not to discuss the Poona Pact or reservation but just to point out some ideologies which I feel are responsible for the chaos around us in the present times. Based on your birth and influences in independent India you can choose one of these views, and each thought will have its history backing it.