Skip to main content

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind*
I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed.
I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken.
Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roots of Dalit -Bahujans, whom Iliaiah refers to as ‘production communities’. In an era, where the gulf between academia and social reality is ever-increasing, he tried to bridge the two, which is the need of the hour. His work majorly revolved around productive masses and their contribution to the nation-building process.
Indian sociologists, mostly coming from the upper caste background, have not examined Dalit lives and tribal lifestyles to document their cultural differences from the mainstream Hindu society. This way of writing texts by overshadowing all such nuances of Indian society has been a major issue. In the context of all such limitations, Ilaiah emerged as a saviour of social sciences with his people-centric research work.
His writings were/are devoid of elite jargon and are easily understood by the marginalised sections as well. His contemporaneous scholars tried to limit his reach by refusing to acknowledge his intellectualism, in vain. His first masterstroke against mainstream intellectuals took the form of his book Why I’m not a Hindu. His idea, to quote instances directly from the lives of people, reflects a deviation from conventional ways of writing a book, but protected his work in the long run.
In his book "Post-Hindu India", he refers to Brahmins as ‘spiritual fascists’ and Komatollu/Baniyas as ‘social smugglers’. He consciously separated these castes from the rest to highlight their historical non-participation in the production process. These communities were historically known for ‘‘intellectual discourse” which Ilaiah called a trade of conspiracies. He also added the suffix Shepherd to his name to assert the dignity of labour and to outgrow his local caste identity.

My understanding of Ilaiah

Ilaiah did not confine himself to abstract ideas, at random. But he worked out a systematic framework to express his dissent. For example, the concept of spiritual fascism (the system that excludes Dalit-Bahujans from becoming priests to have a direct connection with god, according to Ilaiah, is not democratic and is spiritually fascist in nature) has its roots in the idea of unequal birth of different castes, based on the different body parts of Brahma. Certain castes are considered to not even be created by god.
How could the upper castes accommodate the ‘uncreated’ castes into their structure of hierarchy and oppress them for centuries then becomes a valid question. Well, we do not get answers to such questions. Hindus have created an unintelligible caste system that is self-contradictory by any measure. But, the way we choose to respond to the challenges posed by Vedic writings is a crucial decision to be made.
Dr BR Ambedkar studied the Vedic texts more than anyone else and wrote a critique of them within the same unintelligible framework, showcasing the shortcomings of the Rig-Vedic period formulations. This has a lot of potential to survive in the form of challenging the status quo with a counter text rather than completely striking down the system as illogical.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd influenced my life and thought. I got a strong philosophical foundation to assert my identity, wherever possible
This is where Ilaiah differs from Ambedkar in terms of his approach. Ilaiah has come up with an entirely different theory about the existing caste structure with a bottom-up approach. Some misconstrued this as sharpening the divisions within the society. But, he tried to explain the scientificity associated with lower caste occupations, like making leather out of dead animals’ skin, knowledge of food resources passed down by tribals, the surgical sense of the barber, and feminism of the dhobis and so on.

My life after Ilaiah

The inferiority complex associated with my social background started to slowly disappear as I read more of Ilaiah. I got a strong philosophical foundation to assert my identity, wherever possible. The utopian view of society, till then, which was a result of my ignorance was shattered with Ilaiah. I have started analysing the patterns of my immediate student environment. This took some time and mental energy but the process was intellectually stimulating.
A Telugu cultural organisation with students from all the four years was led by the seniors. In my batch, I have noticed the preponderance of students coming from upper caste backgrounds in the dominant positions of the organisation.
Even if there were any from the lower caste, they primarily came from the upper class. To my surprise, I have even found that this hegemonic organisational structure was never questioned by lower caste students even though they were in good numbers. Their historical behaviour of compliance was clearly visible.
My initial friction with that organisation and members started after I had noticed that their design of any programme systematically excluded the marginalised. They used to link many programmes with monetary aspects and the obvious sufferers were those who studied on scholarships and were from a poor financial background. The upper caste organisers, being rich donors, would command more respect and have their say in the implementation part.
Several layers of discrimination like religion, region, class, caste were the major factors that determined relationships. After noticing that the majority of the professors come from upper caste backgrounds, I have understood the limitation of such pedagogy. I started searching for my way of overcoming such limitations by reading books written by Ambedkar, Ilaiah, and so on.
This broadened my understanding in a tremendous capacity. For an inclusive environment to prevail in the universities, I propose that there should be space for voices such as Ilaiah from historically excluded sections. That space would democratise knowledge generation and dissemination processes which come about when universities have professors hailing from diverse backgrounds with diverse exposure. Ilaiah taught me that intellectualism doesn’t mean incomprehensible writings, but a dissection of social realities with sheer common sense, which is most uncommon.
---
*Post graduate student in sociology at Hyderabad Central University. Views are personal. Published on Kancha Ilaiah’s blog, this article was distributed by Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre

Comments

jangams said…
Good analysis! Wish the author discussed more on the system proposed by Prof Ilaiah
Anonymous said…
He is convert ka Bacchu. He has only one aim: Maximize soul harvest

TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

Muslim intellectuals met Bhagwat, extra-constitutional authority 'like Sanjay Gandhi'

By Shamsul Islam*  In a significant development a delegation of five Muslim intellectuals namely former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi; former senior bureaucrat Najeeb Jung; former AMU vice-chancellor and Lt Gen (retd) Zameer U Shah; politician-cum-journalist Shahid Siddiqui (presently with RLD); and businessman Saeed Shervani [Samajvadi Party] met RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat at RSS Delhi headquarters. The meeting was kept secret for reasons known to the participants and was held in August. According to the Muslim intellectuals the meeting held in “a very cordial” atmosphere continued for 75 minutes whereas time allotted was 30 minutes! In a post-meeting justification of the parleys Quraishi stated that their main concern was “the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere”. This delegation consistin

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

'True decolonisation move': Demand to name new Parliament building after Ambedkar

By Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd*  In recent weeks, there has been a demand for the new Parliament building being constructed on the revamped Central Vista in New Delhi to be named after the architect of the Constitution and anti-caste leader BR Ambedkar. On September 14, the Telangana Assembly passed a resolution urging the Centre to name the new Parliament building after Ambedkar. The Bharatiya Janata Party was absent during the debate about the resolution. The next day, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi-led government declared that the new secretariat in the centre of Hyderabad would be named after Ambedkar. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao added that he would write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to name the new Parliament building in Delhi “Ambedkar Parliament”. The demand is finding resonance among civil society groups too and has led to social media discussions as well as public mobilisation.  But two questions arise: Should a Parliament that makes laws for a nation over a

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Paradox? Heavy military deployment has had 'tangible success' in enhancing J&K security

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk*  An ethnically diverse Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition in 1947. Despite both countries claiming full control over the region’s entirety, Kashmir is divided between them, into an Indian-administered part and a Pakistan-administered part. For the last three decades, Indian-controlled Kashmir has been characterised by unrest due to a separatist insurgency opposing the Indian rule. Although India’s fragile relationship with Kashmir is not a new issue, tensions intensified when in 2019 India revoked Article 370, depriving the region of its special status and a certain degree of autonomy attributed to it. Article 370 allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution and to make decisions regarding property ownership and permanent residency. As a result, Indians from other parts of the country were not able to purchase property and settle in Kashmir. Scrapping Kashmir’s special status me