Prof. Sunil Goyal
Ambedkar in his writings does not seem to be against Hinduism as such but against a phenomenon called Brahminism, which he believes is one of the components of Hinduism and not its essence. He is a staunch critique of the caste system which according to him is nothing but, Brahmanism incarnates. It is one of the components of a large cultural unit that is the Hindu culture. Brahminism can be easily understood as the desire of those in the Brahmin caste, or those appropriating that status, to assert themselves so as to be at the top of the social hierarchy. Like Brahminism, within the caste system, exist ‘’isms’’ of all kinds, that is the desire to be at the top by every caste and within a caste, by the sub castes. Ambedkar was aware of this fact and the contestation between the Kshatriyas and the Brahmins described by him stands testimony to it. Here I would like to suggest that Ambedkar in his works does not condemn the people born in particular castes (therefore much against what many contemporary ideologues claim), but the tendency within the caste ideology, spearheaded by the status of the Brahmin caste to oppress the lower orders in accordance to the given graded hierarchies.
In “Triumph of Brahminism”, Ambedkar narrates the story of how Buddhist India was revolted against by a new rouge phenomenon called Brahmanism under the leadership of Pushyamitra Shunga. Ambedkar suggests that the Aryan civilization was not Brahmanical. This can be suggested from the fact that he condemns the Shunga Dynasty for breaking the Aryan Law that forbids the Brahmins to rule. Further on, he narrates the tale of gradual degeneration of the Aryan Laws under the Brahmanical reign of the Shunghas, aided by the apostle of Brahmanism Sumati Bhargava who designed the Manu Smriti. Therefore, according to Ambedkar, Hinduism began to degenerate from the Shungha age. He is enraged by the fact that the Shunghas violated the Aryan laws. By the Aryan laws, he refers to the Vedic laws. His rage against the violators of the Aryan laws is suggestive of his inclinations towards the Vedic religion. He also claims that the text was called Manu in order to give it a prestige and authority of some ancient great sage, Manu. Ambedkar does not criticize Manu and rather thwarts Bhargava for appropriating Manu’s name for legitimizing his deplorable literature. He also suggests that the older texts stating social laws were different from the Manu Smriti to the extent that they contained provisions contradictory to the Manu Smriti. By this we can deduce that Ambedkar upheld the pre-Buddhist Hindu past. This can also be glanced from his preference for the Upanishadic teachings from which the Buddhist teachings borrowed.
Ambedkar suggests that historically, Indian culture might be divided into three parts, – Hindu India, Buddhist India and Brahamnic India. Here Ambedkar clearly demarcates Hinduism from Brahmanism. The Varna system was based on occupation and worth, while caste was based on birth. Initially there was a time when castes of people were decided by a board headed by someone called Manu and Saptarishis. Every four years, people’s castes were reviewed according to their deeds in those four years. Following this system, according to Ambedkar, a change was introduced in the caste system. All the children, regardless of their caste went to schools where their castes were decided after completion of their education. Here too the preceptor was not a castist, and we might deduce, not a hereditary priestly Brahmin as the castes were given out to children regardless of their father’s castes after their schooling. Ambedkar upholds these two old, allegedly pre Buddhist systems. Castes were later made hereditary and based on birth by Sumati Bhargava, giving strength to the designs of the evil Shunghas. He also upholds the pre-Buddhist Chaturvarnya system as it did not forbid inter-caste marriage and was flexible nor was it a law of the state. Changes made to these rules by the Shungas annoy Ambedkar. It was the introduction of caste that made the Hindu system unbearable. The fact that the later degeneration of Hinduism, owing to a development of a phenomenon called Brahmanism did not regard the Vedas enrages Ambedkar. He upholds the Vedic Hymns for there are many composed by Shudra seers. This is in line with the arguments of the Arya Samaj. Ambedkar also suggests that in olden times, Shudras were taught as the new laws introduced by the Shungas penalized those who taught the Shudras. Brahmanism, says Ambedkar, is a poison that has killed Hinduism. He wants the Hindus to save Hinduism by slaying Brahmanism and invites the ‘Arya Samajists’ for this cause. While dedicating the work who were the Shudras? to Jyotiba Phule he refers to the consciousness of rights among the lower classes of the Hindus that was kindled by Phule. The Shudras, according to Ambedkar were Kshatriyas, one among the various Aryan tribes. He suggests that the Shudras are Savarnas. The oldest reference to the caste system in the texts upheld by the Hindus is in the Rig Veda. Ambedkar believes that not only this particular Hymn but also that part of it which talks about caste is a later Interpolation and that the early Aryan society did not know anything about the Shudras. Not only on the caste issue, but according to Ambedkar, even on gender Issues, the Hindu religious texts give a rather explicit egalitarian picture where we find women engaging in the study of the sacred Vedic text and running schools for teaching the same. He cites evidence of women writing commentaries on the Purva Mimansa. The Purva Mimansa philosophy explains the deeper metaphysical meanings of the Vedic rituals. Therefore, from here we might be in a position to suggest that Ambedkar did not condemn Vedic ritualism in totality.
The dichotomy between Hinduism and Brahmanism is brought out by Ambedkar in almost all his works. This dichotomy clearly suggests that he believed the two to be different entities. As has been shown above, Brahmanism is phenomena that developed within the frame of Hinduism and began dominating it. These statements strongly suggest that according to Ambedkar, Hinduism is not the same as Brahmanism. Yet another statement that a Brahmin can undo the status of any Hindu at any time stands testimony to what has just been suggested. Though, in his work, who were the Shudras? he narrates how the Kshatriyas of the Solar line came to be dominated by the Brahmins within the Hindu fold, he suggests at the end that not all those who are regarded as Shudras in modern times are real Shudras but this social category also includes those who in later times came to assimilated into this group owing to their cultural backwardness, thereby breaking the Myth that Shudras as we know today have been a homogeneous group throughout and have been dominated for last three thousand years. From this it can be suggested that he did not have anything against Hinduism but Brahmanism which form one of Hinduism’s many constituting elements. Therefore he wrote a work describing the advent of Brahmanism and the perversion of Hinduism that followed.
(Author is Eminent Social Scientist, Columnist, and presently posted as Dean and Chairman – Board of Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University of Social Sciences, Dr. Ambedkar Nagar (MHOW), Madhya Pradesh. Vies are personal. Can becontacted: Email [email protected])
Prof. Sunil Goyal