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Can Indian Communists Really Even Dream of a Revolution?

Organizing the working class without addressing the caste issue is a shrewd way of the privileged caste Communists to pave a way to maintain their grasp over power in the name of proletariats while the marginalized and underprivileged continue to languish in the prison of caste.

The longing for revolution, the dream of a state where "liberty, equality, and fraternity" prevail are just as dear to a staunch Ambedkarite as it is to a resolute Communist. In the battle of socialism versus capitalism, their foe seems one but there are fissures that bar them from amalgamating in the struggle to bring about the revolution they’re longing for. Unifying these two would be an imperative but is it even imaginable especially when Communists blatantly ignore casteism in Indian politics and society?

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar used to say, if Lenin were born in India, he would not have even let the idea of revolution come to his mind before he had completely buried casteism and untouchability. Though Karl Marx initially believed that industrialization under British rule, facilitated by the expansion of railways, would lead to the breakdown of the traditional village communities and with them, the caste system, he later accepted it as an overestimation. Yet Communists fail to accept that economic upliftment alone cannot liberate Indians from caste.

A cursory look at the recent contempt cases against Prashant Bhushan, an Indian public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court and Justice C.S. Karnan, a former High Court Judge, manifests the influence of caste. In January 2017, Justice Karnan sent an enclosed letter to the Prime Minister’s Office alleging the involvement of twenty judges of Supreme Court (SC) and High Court in corruption and mentioning caste apartheid in court. The letter was sent to the SC rather than to an investigative team. A bench of seven judges was set up by the SC to proceed with the hearing on contempt of court charges against Justice Karnan. Since he was still a High Court judge at the time, he too used his constitutional power, filed a case against all seven judges as per SC/ST act, took suo moto cognizance and asked them to appear in his court. However, the bench convicted him and he was sentenced for six months for contempt of court, his rights as High Court judge were nullified, and he was barred from making any statement before the media. Prashant Bhushan was also charged recently for contempt of court for his tweets in June 2020.  He had written about an undeclared emergency, the role of the SC and the last four Chief Justices of India in one tweet and in the other about Chief Justice S. A. Bobde riding a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown of Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak. But Bhushan was let off with a fine of just one rupee by the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B. R. Gavai and Krishna Murari in August 2020.

For the homologous criminal charges, Justice Karnan who comes from a marginalized caste was treated far worse than Bhushan who belongs to a privileged caste. Both of these men have pursued their law degrees from prestigious Indian institutes and it would be safe to assume that they fall into more or less the same economic bracket. So, the one factor that put Justice Karnan at a disadvantage was his caste location.

Despite there being ample evidence of the continuing vulnerability to social justice of people from underprivileged castes, Indian Communists remain captivated by their dream that education and economic status will transform everything for the better for socially backward classes including Dalits. Surely Marx would not approve of such a flaw in a Communist community.  How hard is it for anyone to fathom and see this pink elephant in the room? What must people who ignore the existence of caste apartheid and persistence of caste be called—deliberately ignorant or simply casteist?

Every communist organization in India is headed by privileged caste person and for them caste ostensibly does not matter. Just because they’ve befriended several underprivileged people and treat them humanely, they are ensconced in their belief that no more needs to be done on the caste front. As for discrimination, marginalization, and even genocide perpetrated by privileged castes—these fall on their blind spot.

While fighting for their constitutional right i.e. caste-based reservation, Ambedkarites too, have unremembered the caste combat. Some have even started glorifying their caste. Anand Teltumbde in The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India’s Hidden Apartheid (2010) draws attention to how merely religious conversion cannot liberate someone from caste. Besides, it enlightens on how the barrier of caste hinders the proletariat to amalgamate since perpetrators too belonged to subaltern caste and class.

Ambedkarites have also failed to extend wholehearted support to manual scavengers in Kerala whose pitiful state manifests how self-styled Communist revolutionaries are failing to emancipate proletariats. For thirty-four out of the sixty-five years since the formation of state of Kerala, left wing parties have been in power. Yet manual scavenging continues to be enforced on the people of Chakliyan community in the Kollam district. These are people who were brought to Kerala from Tamil Nadu as slaves in the British army in the beginning of the 21st century. Since 1950, this community has been putting up a struggle. They cannot avail reservation because the law says reservation benefits do not extend to people outside the state of their origin. Moreover, Kerala, despite its flourishing Communist ideas and its reputation as the most prosperous and progressive Indian state has been refusing to recognise its long-standing caste apartheid. In 2017, the government of Kerala set aside about ten crore rupees (more than eleven million euros) for total automation to end manual scavenging and for the rehabilitation of employees. However, even in 2021 manual scavenging is far from eliminated. Further, the illusion of equality in the state is also clearly undermined by the fact that in each of its 14 districts, 84% of wage laborers in farming are from Scheduled Castes.

In 1938, addressing railway workers in Manmad, Maharashtra, Dr. Ambedkar said that the “two enemies” that workers had to deal with were Brahmanism and Capitalism. Encouraging depressed classes to consider their economic grievances, he underlined that Marxist labor leaders who were on a mission to demolish Capitalism were mistaken in their assumption that “owners and workers were the only categories in India”. It must be noted that without an economically strong, stable and socially aware class within the Ambedkarites, the struggle can hardly be fructuous but that cannot be done by making caste invisible.

Organizing the working class without addressing the caste issue is a shrewd way of the privileged caste Communists to pave a way to maintain their grasp over power in the name of proletariats while the marginalized and underprivileged continue to languish in the prison of caste.  The oppressor becoming the proletariat rather than the bourgeoisie is hardly revolutionary. Ambedkarites need to see that the oppressed castes need to seek economic stability without relying on their oppressors. Communists should see that there can be no revolution until caste is annihilated.