Annihilation of Caste is a thought provoking book which dissects Hinduism and lays out a sharp, unapologetic critique of it. There were sections of this book where I was laughing at how audacious the ideas were and how offensive the language would have been to a deeply religious Hindu. It is hard to believe that this book was written a hundred years ago when in my opinion; the ordinary Hindu was more religious than he is today. It takes many of the ideas that Hinduism prides itself for and analyses it from a different context, revealing flaws in the original thought process.
One criticism that Ambedkar levels is that by avoiding debate between religions, Hinduism blinds itself to its own flaws. It discourages conversion and hence avoids free thought and criticism of its practices which hide its own shortcomings. Ambedkar also questions why Hinduism never tried to spread its teachings to the tribes living in isolation in the Indian wilderness. This means that the progress of Hindu society is not shared with other members of humanity and they continue to live in their own bubbles, losing out on all the advancement that the rest of the world has undergone.
Ambedkar argues that a byproduct of caste is that the Hindu society is never united. Each caste has its own identity and is antagonistic towards the other castes. No caste is willing to accept new members but each caste feels free to excommunicate any member that goes against any of its rules which makes life extremely rigid. In addition to this, since there is a hierarchy of castes, there are communities that are systemically rewarded and communities that are systemically discriminated against (ie. Shudras and Untouchables). Caste determines every aspect of a Hindu’s life; the profession, the members they can associate with, rules to be followed while interacting with members of other castes, the people they can marry. Hence a Hindus identity is not his/her religion but rather his/her caste. In order to unify the Hindu religion, Ambedkar argues that caste must be annihilated and in order to annihilate caste the Hindu scriptures must be rewritten. Hinduism is a religion of rules and it must be replaced by a religion of principles and this is why this book can be extremely offensive to devout Hindus since it suggests a complete restructuring of the Hindu scriptures.
B.R. Ambedkar is forthright while making such suggestions and is not diplomatic in his choice of words. That’s what makes this book so audacious since the message is definitive and direct. This is also why the book is enlightening even if the reader does not agree with everything said since the thoughts are authentic.
In my opinion, Ambedkar strikes me as a progressive. Progressives is quite a maligned term in today’s world, which is largely associated with privileged college students protesting about any trivial issue they may not even have understanding on. I believe, at its core however, the progressive philosophy strives towards the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity which is what B.R. Ambedkar writes about in the book. He wants every individual to be able to live by these principles irrespective of the circumstances they are born in. This is the major reasons why The Constitution of India was written with these principles at its core even though Indian Society was systemically unequal with extreme poverty and very low education levels. The poverty and low education rate only exacerbated the discrimination that certain people of society faced. Under Indian law, however since every person is equal these inherent prejudices have slowly faded and people are a lot freer and more empowered today.
There are also certain ideas in the book that I somewhat disagree with. There are two major problems with caste. Firstly by following the caste system, each person is assigned a profession at birth without looking at his/her aptitude or interest. Secondly there is a hierarchy of castes which determines the prestige of a certain community. This means that certain professions are more prestigious than others which runs contrary to the principle of ‘Dignity of Labour’. Hence certain professions are looked down upon as ‘dirty’ and people engaged in that activity are systemically discriminated against. These two aspects of caste must be annihilated. However, the creation of caste has also enabled the creation of many subcultures within the Hindu religion. Each subculture has its own norms and practices. In the effort to annihilate caste, one must not try to homogenize all Hindus.
Debating religious practices is a great way to strengthen a religion by removing outdated beliefs and practices. However, I believe that encouraging people to convert from one religion to another is undesirable. Any person practicing a religion would be following practices followed by their fathers and forefathers. Hence there is knowledge passed down within the family. By converting people from one religion to another this accumulated way of living could be lost and a foreign style of living completely different from the current lifestyle would be adopted. Whenever possible people should be encouraged to tweak their own practices and any religion should be flexible enough to let outdated discriminatory practices die and incorporate new practices to enable society to move forward.