ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Neglect of Ambedkar

Perennial Problem of Sociology in India

Indian sociologists and historians have retained a certain foundational bias and blindness regarding caste. M N Srinivas’s theory of “Sanskritisation” saw underprivileged castes as aspirational, seeking social mobility. Socio-economic changes were seen as destabilising caste relations and leading to their disappearance. The persistence of upper-caste hegemony, and the resistance to it from underprivileged sections, does not corroborate the thesis forwarded by Srinivas and other sociologists and historians. The neglect of B R Ambedkar has been part of a strange refusal to acknowledge the political in caste.  

The author thanks Aishwary Kumar and an anonymous referee of EPW for their encouraging remarks and precise suggestions.

The intellectual discourse in India has since long been sitting comfortably in its deliberate blindness towards certain proper names of suffering. The proper name of caste struggled to find place in the world of social science theory as upper-caste academicians did not care or pay attention to it. Both liberals and Marxists in India have been reluctant to expand the terminologies of their discourse to include caste as a political category deserving theoretical investigation. Caste was of course mentioned, but never in terms of a political hierarchy that thwarted social change. And Untouchability was addressed not in its radical (meaning, radically exploitative) specificity but as a feature within the caste problem. The left and liberal discourse that supported reservations did so through the Western narrative of positive discrimination, or affirmative action. It was welcomed within the narrative of special, legitimate rights. But this did not simultaneously translate into a political discourse of caste erasure, of challenging the ideological edifice of the caste system.  

The grounds were laid by a host of Indian political and social thinkers. In The Discovery of India (1964), Jawaharlal Nehru (1985: 85) speculated on the “fluid condition” of caste in its earlier stages, and “rigidity” coming in only later. According to Nehru (1985: 216), the institution of caste, “with all its evils … was infinitely better than slavery.” Unlike slave-labour in Greece, Nehru found “a measure of freedom” in the fixed occupational system of caste. This led, according to Nehru (1985: 216) “to a high degree of specialisation and skill in handicrafts and craftsmanship.”

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Updated On : 6th May, 2019
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