Resisting Caste: Theorising an Annihilationist Project
Mr Utkarsh Khobragade, MPhil Scholar, Centre for Philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
How society understands a concept determines, in part, how that concept operates in that society by constructing our dispositions and attitudes towards that concept. Cigarette smoking, for example, when considered a cancer-causing practice, is discouraged in public discourse, even though individuals might continue smoking as an addiction, lack of knowledge or as their choice. Caste is one of the most studied phenomena of Indian social reality in social sciences but it has failed to provide a critical view of it. As a result of this, caste structure, caste relations and caste identities are often taken pride in rather than being discouraged and critiqued in public discourse and popular media. More importantly, this encouragement of caste order is not always explicit and conscious but it often operates as a common-sense „given‟. For example, the names of characters in Indian cinema and the culture to which they belong always invariably represent the names and culture of privileged caste groups.
The source of this uncritical view of caste could be traced in the theories of caste taken up in sociological studies that are often governed by descriptivist approaches. Sally Haslanger provides a critique of descriptivist projects by arguing that these are governed by the classical model of meaning and are detrimental to critical race and gender theories. In this paper, I shall provide a critique of descriptivist projects on caste by employing Sally Haslanger‟s argument to make space for the social and political dimensions of meaning.
Haslanger further employs an “ameliorative approach” to normatively evaluate the concept by asking not what the concept „is‟ but rather what the concept „should be‟. In her approach, we should understand race and gender as unjust structures by building hierarchy within the concept. Hence for Haslanger, categories of Black/White and Man/Woman imply privilege/subordination in the context of race and gender respectively. This definition of the concept requires Haslanger to propose that the ethnic groups may remain but the categories of Black/White should go and similarly male/female may remain but Man/Woman should go. By drawing these parallels, I shall argue that Ambedkar‟s approach towards caste could be understood as “ameliorative” that allows him to propose an annihilationist approach. The annihilationist approach, I shall argue, takes inspiration from Ambedkar‟s observation that caste categories are inherently hierarchical and restructuring of the caste society requires not the „horizontalisation‟ of caste order that idealise to treat all castes equally, but the complete annihilation of the order and the categories it employs.
However, unlike race and gender which are socially constructed by interpreting colour and sex respectively, caste has a deep-rooted belief among masses in metaphysical determinants of caste that governs caste order. These beliefs are constituted by the ideas such as karma, rebirth and purity etc. These ideas are historically made infallible by constructing them as a religion by those with vested socio-economic-political interest in maintaining caste order. In this paper, I shall investigate how Ambedkar‟s annihilationist project takes up this challenge to critique caste not only at the level of physical but also metaphysical.
Ambedkar, B. R. (2013). Annihilation of Caste. Mumbai: Higher and Technical Education Department, Government of Maharashtra.
Haslanger, S. (2012). Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique. Oxford: Oxford University Press.