Book Review – “Annihilation of Caste” by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar’s radical idea to end the evils of casteism

 

I can trace back my interest in reading the works of Dr. Ambedkar to the time when I studied civics in high school. What were the thoughts of the man who was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly which drafted India’s Constitution?

Of the many hats that Dr. Ambedkar wore, none was more prominent than when he spoke up against the evils of casteism. It only takes a mild scan of the news reports today to see the injustices meted out to those who are considered from a “lower caste” (I’m cringing with disgust at having to write this). I can only imagine how much worse it was a century ago, in Dr. Ambedkar’s time, when he had to personally suffer indignation.

Annihilation of Caste is the speech that Dr. Ambedkar was invited to give at a conference in Lahore in 1936. However, the group that had invited him, on receipt of the advance draft of his speech, felt his ideas were too radical and requested he change a portion of the text. Dr. Ambedkar refused and preferred to have the conference cancelled rather than stand down on his principles.

The speech is an insight into the practices of untouchability and violation of civil and human rights that the Scheduled Castes (as they were later called) were subjected to. It tells us of the injustices and tortures that were commonly meted out to a group of people, only because they were considered to be unclean and born into a certain caste.

Dr. Ambedkar follows this up with demolishing one-by-one the various justifications used to defend the caste system. The scholarly breadth of his defence is breathtaking: from historical and social examples ranging from various parts of the modern world, to Greek and Roman empires, to sociology and science. He liberally quotes from the French Revolution and the Irish Home Rule movement, and explains the structure of government in ancient Rome to explain how a caste system is unfair.

He then takes the flame to the religion. Dr. Ambedkar attacks Hinduism and Hindus (Brahmins in particular) who have used the system to their advantage to keep others impoverished socially, martially and economically. The Manusmriti gets special mentions for the divisions that it created in society. Dr. Ambedkar argues that the only way to get rid of this evil is to discard Hinduism in toto and throw out the scriptures that Hindus consider holy, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagawad Gita and others. (I wasn’t using the word ‘radical’ lightly when I wrote the title of this blog post.)

The book then includes Mahatma Gandhi’s response to Dr. Ambedkar’s publishing the speech and the contents thereof. Gandhiji makes a few thoughtful arguments, but I did feel that they were missing the main point of the speech. Dr. Ambedkar says as much in his response to Gandhiji’s replies. There are clearly very strong differences of opinion between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, but what is revealing (almost refreshing, given today’s times) to see how both respectfully disagree with each other and attack the topic rather than the person.

I did find myself scratching my head at times when I was reading Babasaheb’s arguments, but all in all, I finished this book a little more aware about the evils that existed and the residue of which can be seen till today. I don’t think Dr. Ambedkar had any delusions that he had found an easy solution, but in trying to explain his opposition, he gives us an idea of what it means to treat all people equally with respect.

Snippets:

  • “He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; he, who dares not, is a slave.” – Sir William Drummond
  • “To sum up, let political reformers turn in any direction they like, they will find that in the making of a constitution, they cannot ignore the problem arising out of the prevailing social order.”
  • “Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.”

Books I marked as to-read after reading this book:

Read more about ‘Annihilation of Caste’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: Annihilation of Caste

Author: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

First Published: 1936

Number of Pages: 415

Price: Paperback – Rs. 300.20 / Kindle – Rs. 363.85 (Amazon.in)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

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Book Review – “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama

When Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America, he kindled hope not only in America but across the world. This book outlines the basis of that hope.

Obama argues that in spite of their differences, Americans want the same basic things: jobs, good education for their children and a safe, free environment. And then there are the challenges created by the ideological differences between the two major political parties, the manner in which laws are created and how the legislature works. Not to mention the social and economic challenges brought on by globalization. In ‘The Audacity of Hope’, Obama confesses to not knowing all the answers but does outline a road-map that he says can take everyone ahead.

What I particularly liked about this book are the lucidly explained ideas. Even as someone has never followed American politics in great detail, I was able to grasp most of what was being explained about the legislature. This isn’t a book heavy with details and complexities of how the legislature works but gives us a peek into the lives of U.S. Senators and how they try to align their personal, political and national interests.

I would also say that this is not necessarily an ‘American’ book. The challenges that Obama lists and the common aspirations of the people are a universal story and as applicable to us here in India as to the citizens of America.

Read more about ‘The Audacity of Hope’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: The Audacity of Hope

Author: Barack Obama

Published: 2008

Number of Pages: 375

Price: Rs. 325 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 4/5

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)