DR BR AMBEDKAR’S 132ND BIRTH ANNIVERSARY

  • The Caste System is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of labourers. Civilised society undoubtedly needs division of labour.
  • But in no civilised society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of labourers into watertight compartments it is a hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other.
  • The basic point of social organisation is to share responsibilities.
  • In other words, living in a society means that no one person has to perform all the tasks required for their sustenance.
  • The burden of these tasks is distributed in society, through what we call ‘specialisation’.

For example:

  • a society has farmers who produce food, factory workers who produce goods, sweepers who clean buildings, cobblers who produce shoes, and so on.
  • Over time, the division of labour has morphed and gained sophistication.
  • Ambedkar acknowledges that the division of labour is necessary for society.
  • However, caste goes far beyond being just that because of two basic features of the caste system.
  • The caste system works on the principle of heredity – an individual inherits their caste, and thus their occupation, from their father.
  • Through the principle of endogamy (marrying within one’s own community), the society is divided into clear, watertight compartments.
  • This is why Ambedkar calls caste a division of labourers rather than labour as there is no scope for mobility and intermixing among castes (through taboos on things like interdining, untouchability, etc.)
  • If caste were just a division of labour, it would be possible for a sweeper’s son to become a priest and a priest’s son to be a sweeper.
  • But that is not how caste society works.
  • For instance, as recently as 2021, then Minister of State of Social Justice and Empowerment told the Rajya Sabha that 73.31 per cent of all manual scavengers were from Scheduled Castes, who, as per the 2011 census, make roughly 16 per cent of the population.
  • Ambedkar calls this an “unnatural” division.

Gradation of these divisions

  • Caste also grades these compartments on the notion of purity and pollution.
  • For example, intellectual work, such as reading scriptures, is considered to be the purest while manual work like cleaning toilets is considered to be polluting.
  • This is the basis of untouchability as people of castes who engage in certain tasks considered polluting are thus discriminated against as untouchables.
  • Given that occupation is strictly passed down hereditarily, this gradation of individuals on the basis of the purity of their occupation is the ultimate injustice of caste. 

Conclusion:

  • While across the world, there are class divisions, which too treat some occupations as being better than others, the reason why caste is unique is that this treatment has a moral connotation, with certain tasks more virtuous than others.
  • The justification for the caste system is done on moral terms – people are born into a caste based on the deeds/misdeeds of their previous life.
  • As per Ambedkar this division of labour is not spontaneous, it is not based on natural aptitudes as it attempts to appoint tasks to individuals in advance, selected not on the basis of trained original capacities, but on that of the social status of the parents.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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