The Shudras: Vision for a New Path

Simi Mehta, G Sridevi

On the celebration of the birth anniversary of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar and in the context of Shudras revolution in nations building, the Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CCHD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized on April 29, 2021, a Book Discussion on “The Shudras Vision For a New Path“.

The eminent panellists include Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Indian Political Theorist, Prolific Writer, Dalit Rights Activist and Dr Arvind Kumar, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSIP), Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi as the speakers. Prof Sukhadeo Thorat, Eminent Economist; Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) as the chair of the talk. Dr Ajay Gudavarthy, Associate Professor, Center for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and Dr Aakash Singh Rathore, Series Editor, Rethinking India, Penguin/Vintage; Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Law, LUISS University, Rome as the discussants of the talk.

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Setting the tone for the book discussion, the speaker, Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, very briefly touched upon the caste politics of our country and gave an idea of his book. Prof Ilaiah shared very profoundly why he chose” Shudras” as the title of his book.  In this context, he discussed how certain forces in our country are always coming forward to control the marginalized classes by their political power.

He also emphasized that since the Vedic or ancient period the upper castes have been dominating and exploiting the lower classes especially in the context of Shudras who are mainly considered as a working and production-based class in the Varna system in Hinduism, whereas the three upper classes – Brahmin, Kshatriya & Vaishya always have behaved as the master of the Shudras. The Brahmin class is always recognized for economic-social development construction, civilizational building and intellectual legitimacy.

Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd gave the economic definition of the present Shudras in Indian society. He criticized Brahmanism in many aspects and asserted that why the Shudras did not allow wearing the sacred thread “Janeu”, why did they not play the role of priest yet and why did the Shudras not get access to the power language (Sanskrit in Ancient India and English in Present India). He presented a form of linguistic formation, which also came as a barrier in the Shudras’ academic learning.

In discussion, Prof Ilaiah expressed his concern regarding the hegemonic characteristic of BJP, RSS and other political forces, and how they all are suppressing the Shudras in every sphere of life in Indian society.  He also said that it is ironic of our Indian society that till today no text has been written on the Shudras philosophy and how the Shudras became the only muscle power and vote bank for the right-wing party.

It is seen that there is no representation of the Shudras in the central government to date, only two Prime Ministers were elected from this community but only for a short period. In addition, it is also a well-known fact that in our country there is no representation of this class among the 100 industrialists and 25 monopolists. No doubt the Shudras hold 52% of the population of our country and without them the BJP, RSS cannot remain in power, but still, their concerns are not addressed very well at the national level. The Shudras are still facing the hit of Vedic deployment in the name of secularism and anti-colonialism.

Further Prof Ilaiah talked about how the Adivasis, on one hand, got recognition because of their separate location. On the other hand, the Shudras always face discrimination from the economic, political and spiritual hegemonic groups. They were always recognized as non-intellectual, non- modernists and considered as the slave of the Brahmin priest. He said that this book also suggests how the English language is now considered property in Indian society. He criticized how caste politics also decides the leadership of our country. He gave an example of our present Prime Minister and his “baniya” economic support in his win. 

In short, Prof Ilaiah says about his book’s motive which trends a path for Shudras friendly relation establishment. He also expressed his concerns and said that the RSS brought a new form of Brahmanical functional groups in the present Indian society, which also presented a different Hindu centric approach in the form of hegemonic services of the temple, wealth, political and medicinal values (in the name of cow urine). He also expressed his concern in the context of the lack of Shudras literature; he praised the “Gulamgiri” which is the best creation in this field to date.  He also appreciated his young team members who all belong to the Shudras community itself and did not conceal their identity.

The discussant of this discussion, Prof Aakash Singh Rathore, begins by saying that this book is the fifth part of the series and also gave a brief idea of the previous series of books. Further, he applauded this book and said that it is quite relevant in the present era of caste politics. This book suggests a normative platform of how to rethink our realities and imagine the political and public spheres that are very constrained now.

He emphasized that this book also gives some suggestions in the context of a new, equitable and prosperous future for the intellectual and policymakers of modern India. This book also advocates the ideological revolution and constitutional values in nation-building and presents a new vision to rethink India in the context of the principle of graded inequality. At last, he suggested that finally, it’s time to spin the wheels to get rid of the spiritual, social, political and economic slavery of hegemonic Brahmins and build an equitable and just nation for all.

The next discussant, Dr Ajay Gudavarthy, came up with his strong comments on this book and considered it as a very timely book. According to him, this book presents the conceptual basis of a vision of Hindu politics and Hindu Rashtra in present India. In other words, it presents an epistemic philosophy and dominant hegemony in the context of the marginalized class.  This book has also identified a sociological conflict that we lost in the history of Buddhism. It is a well-known fact that Buddhism was the first revolution against Brahmanism in the dimension of social, political and economic dominance in ancient India. He also raised some questions regarding the Shudras, why this class is always considered only for productive works in Indian society.

Further, Dr Gudavarthy asserted that on the one hand Shudras talk about mobility and ideational work, but on the other hand, they present self-concealing contributions. For example, at the recent farmers protest there was the representation of OBC only.  In this sense, why did they not come up with their concerns, as it is known that the Shudras are agrarian or productive class. He presented that there is an indirect contradiction between Shudras and OBC, because of the ignorance of history. So, it is time to address this issue. He also drew attention to the myth and mythologies of caste philosophy, which is the main reason why the Shudras did not get real recognition in Indian Society.

Dr Gudavarthy talked about the introduction part of the book which does not explain clearly in the context of upliftment of the Shudras, it only discusses the historical hegemony of the right-wing, culture logic of late capitalism and power egalitarian things. At last, he said that this book presents symbolic appropriation which is the cause of continuous games of inclusion and exclusion in the society.  Therefore, this is a need of the hour to bring about the kind of equivalence and resolve the dynamic of powers in the present social theory.

The next speaker, Dr Arvind Kumar, started his discussion with some policy concerns related to the backlog seats of the reserved category and also shared his personal experiences on the same. Dr Kumar profoundly shared how the Shudras have faced denial and injustice since the historical period in Indian society, as they did not have the right to read and write, they were only considered as the minions of Brahmins in that period. While discussing the title of this book, he said that in our country we can see a clear politics of naming, that’s why we intentionally chose the word “Shudras” in the title, so we can address this class and its ground reality in true sense.

In addition, his concern was regarding the question in terms of methodology in the context of the academic literature of the backward class and depressed class. In his final note, he raised the issue of how Shudra lost, just because of the foray of social injustice by the upper class. Finally, in this sense, there should be the presentation of egalitarian empirical work.

Further, Prof Sukhadeo Thorat gave his remarks over the entire discussion. He agrees that no doubt there are various problems and issues of OBC and Shudras, but it is not yet raised properly, that’s why this problem remains. Why there is a need for three categorization- economic, political and ideological of Shudras in the context of definition? Why are we not considering the NSSO data to acquire true information about the socio-economic status of the Shudras and OBC? He suggested to young scholars to follow the data in their research work, to give validation/ authentication of the arguments.

He also addressed the Shudras as the cultivators of land with their history, as they didn’t get any high yielding or developed technology but they only carried or followed their traditions through the experiences. That’s why they faced other occupation and education restrictions in that period, which also brought the practices of untouchability in ancient India.

According to Manusmriti, cultivation was considered an inferior profession, that’s why Shudras were treated badly as they were wage labourers. But today the Shudras are also producers and owners of the land. No doubt graded equality also misinterpreted the problems of the Shudras. In this sense, it is needed to represent the issues of this class logically.

Prof Sukhadeo Thorat also talked clearly about the representation of the Shudras in Indian politics. He emphasized that the OBC & Shudras are majority class although they are not in power. As they hold 52% of the total population in the country, in this sense we cannot always blame the upper caste. Finally, he suggested that we should think critically about where Shudras are lacking in the contemporary world based on ideology and social education. 

Then the discussion moved once again to the speaker Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd and he confronted the idea of Prof Sukhadeo Thorat in many aspects and asserted that land is not the symbol of richness, knowledge should be considered as richness. He also disagreed on how we address the questions of historical and philosophical issues based on numbers.

Mr Manikant also contributed to this book discussion and shared that we have to identify those areas where the OBC & Shudras are failing. He also emphasized that there is an urgent need for Shudras consciousness in the new normative direction of understanding the essence of Brahmins modernity. In the final concluding view of Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, this volume is only the beginning in the name of Shudras’ revolution and the main objective of this book to start the conversation on the same.

Acknowledgement: Priyanka Walter is a Research Intern at IMPRI and is currently pursuing MA (PPG) Course from Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, Kochi, Kerala.

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