Emancipation of Dalits from caste oppression can come only through the class struggle of the proletariat to end all forms of exploitation and discrimination
Nearly 70 years after independence, the scourge of caste oppression continues to haunt India. Numerous dalits are killed every year for daring to challenge the caste system. Dalit women are mercilessly raped and beaten. Marriage of a dalit man with a higher caste woman is punished in the most heinous manner. Dalits face discrimination on a daily basis and continue to do the most menial jobs.
The vast majority of dalits are part of the proletariat, the class which has nothing to sell except its labour power. Dalits make up a major part of the proletariat and suffer from the combined effect of class exploitation and caste discrimination in the existing system. The fact that they constitute the vast majority of safai karmacharis, skins, hides and leather industry workers, scavenging and sewerage pipeline cleaners is an indictment of the Indian ruling class and the State which claims to be working to emancipate them for the past 70 years.
The recent physical attacks on their meagre livelihood as workers in skins, hides and leather industry in Una, Gujarat, by so called Gorakshaks (defenders of cows) are one of the many examples of inhuman atrocities on them while doing their menial jobs. Returning from a political rally against caste oppression on 15th August this year, many of these dalits were brutally attacked by local hoodlums for the “crime” of lodging a police complaint. To rub further salt into their wounds, the police stood by while this was happening. These incidents have once again exposed the hollowness and cynicism of the claim by the ruling class and its politicians that the Indian Republic and its Constitution provide protection against caste atrocities.
The existing State is in the service of big capitalists, headed by the monopoly houses. Far from protecting dalits from caste discrimination and oppression, this State actually perpetuates caste-based discrimination and oppression.
There are only two possible paths in front of the dalits, who are the worst victims of the caste system.
One is the path of revolutionary class struggle, the path shown by the Ghadar of 1857, by Hindustan Ghadar Party, by Bhagat Singh and numerous other revolutionaries in our history. This is the path of united uncompromising struggle of workers, peasants and all the oppressed, rising above differences of caste and religion, to uproot this capitalist system, feudal remnants, caste oppression, women's oppression and the entire colonial legacy and get rid of all forms of exploitation and discrimination. This is the path championed by Communist Ghadar Party of India and all revolutionary forces in our country.
The other is the path of seeking accommodation for elite members of dalits within the existing State, which is an organ for the capitalists to rule and to exploit and plunder our land and labour. This is the path championed by the Congress Party, BJP and all other parties which have managed the existing State. Life experience shows that this is a dead-end road.
The struggle against caste discrimination and oppression is over a thousand years old. History shows that this struggle made significant advances only through the united struggle waged by the oppressed against their oppressors. In pre-colonial times, such struggles led to the weakening of caste based restrictions on individual rights. The Bhakti movement and other movements for secularisation were part of the struggle of the oppressed and toiling people of those times against caste based discrimination and oppression.
The British colonial conquest blocked and in fact reversed the movements for enlightenment, for secularisation of social relations and recognition of equal rights of all human beings, which were growing in the Indian subcontinent. The colonial rulers reinstated the most reactionary and discriminatory codes from Manusmriti in the legal system through the Gentoo Code. The Ghadar of 1857 brought together people of literally all castes, tribes and religions in a united struggle to overthrow the hated colonial rule. With arms in hand, the Ghadaris proudly proclaimed: Hum hain iske Maalik, Hindustan Hamara! (Hindustan belongs to us, We are her master!).
After the suppression of the great Ghadar through treachery and brutality, the British colonialists consciously followed their motto of "divide and rule" to enslave all the nations, nationalities and peoples inhabiting the vast Indian subcontinent. As part of this project, they conducted caste census and repeatedly divided people by promising them jobs through caste quotas in the bureaucracy and into caste and tribal regiments of the Army. They also introduced communal and caste based electoral representation in their toothless provincial councils.
The colonial policy of caste based reservation served to entrench caste prejudices within the state apparatus. While a few dalits were given exalted positions in the administration, the vast majority of them were employed at the lowest level, as sweepers and peons, remaining at the bottom of the ladder. At the same time, an impression was created that “at least something is being done to uplift the most disadvantaged”.
The big capitalists of India accumulated their wealth and grew bigger by compromising with the British colonial rulers and with the big landlords. They allied with the most backward and parasitic elements who served as props for colonial rule. As a result, the Indian bourgeoisie has never displayed any of the revolutionary democratic character displayed by the bourgeoisie of various European countries in the 17th and 18th centuries in removing feudal vestiges.
Far from fighting for equal civil rights for all citizens and against discrimination based on the caste of one’s birth, Indian capitalists have used caste connections to further their own interests. They have perpetuated low social status of dalits to super-exploit them for maximum profits.
The big capitalists, allied with the big landlords, inherited in 1947 the State that was built and left behind by the British imperialists. Since then, the big capitalists have preserved and further perfected this State. They have constantly spread the illusion among dalits that instead of revolting against the existing system and State, they should defend it because a dalit, Dr B R Ambedkar, was one of the architects of the Indian Constitution. In spite of the proclamations and provisions in the Constitution against untouchability, dalits continue to face discrimination on a daily basis. They suffer downright humiliation and oppression at the hands of the police, judiciary and bureaucracy. Their treatment by the State is a continuation of what they face in the fields and factories.
The induction of a few dalits into the bureaucracy has not made any dent in the nature of the State and the economic system it defends. Reservation of parliamentary and state assembly constituencies for dalits has enabled a number of dalit representatives to get elected to these bodies. However, this has not made one iota of difference to the status of dalits, as evidenced by the repeated attacks on them.
The State remains a system of institutions to defend capitalist exploitation and the remnants of feudal and caste relations, imperialist plunder and the entire legacy of colonial rule. As a result, the conditions facing the vast majority of dalits have only gone from bad to worse. They continue to bear the multiple burden of class exploitation combined with caste discrimination and oppression.
Putting an end to caste discrimination and oppression requires a concerted effort by the State to make sure that every child receives school education of uniformly high standard and is thereafter assigned to perform useful work in some sector of social production. It requires introducing in the school curriculum scientific critique and rejection of outdated ideas about “purity” and “impurity”, and about “high” and “low” kind of work. It requires prompt and stern punishment to be meted out to anyone who violates the human rights of any human being. The existing State of capitalist rule has not taken and will not take these steps.
The solution to the problem can only come through a united and determined struggle by all the exploited and oppressed people, led by the proletariat, to put an end to the rule of the capitalist class and replace it with workers’ and peasants’ rule.
The aim of the class struggle of the proletariat in our country is to establish an India in which every human being is respected and treated as a human being and there is no exploitation of some persons by others. It is to establish a State that will defend human rights and promptly and severely punish anyone who violates such rights on the basis of caste, gender, class or any other criterion. Such a State will be an instrument for the working class to lead all the toilers in building a socialist system, which will guarantee education, jobs and a life of dignity for all members of society.
Emancipation from caste discrimination and oppression is inseparably linked with the cause of emancipation from capitalist exploitation, remnants of feudal oppression and from imperialist plunder and the entire colonial legacy. To achieve this goal, it is essential for the proletariat and toiling people of all castes and communities to play an active role in the class struggle to end capitalist rule and liberate our society from all forms of exploitation and oppression.