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Annihilation of Caste

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“What the Communist Manifesto is to the capitalist world, Annihilation of Caste is to India.” —Anand Teltumbde, author of The Persistence of Caste

B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste is one of the most important, yet neglected, works of political writing from India. Written in 1936, it is an audacious denunciation of Hinduism and its caste system. Ambedkar – a figure like W.E.B. Du Bois – offers a scholarly critique of Hindu scriptures, scriptures that sanction a rigidly hierarchical and iniquitous social system. The world’s best-known Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, responded publicly to the provocation. The hatchet was never buried.

100 pages, Paperback

First published May 15, 1936

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About the author

B.R. Ambedkar

208 books931 followers
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born in 1891 into an “Untouchable” family of modest means. One of India’s most radical thinkers, he transformed the social and political landscape in the struggle against British colonialism. He was a prolific writer who oversaw the drafting of the Indian Constitution and served as India’s first Law Minister. In 1935, he publicly declared that though he was born a Hindu, he would not die as one. Ambedkar eventually embraced Buddhism, a few months before his death in 1956.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 784 reviews
Profile Image for Sumirti Singaravelu.
102 reviews301 followers
March 28, 2016
Annihilation of Caste is a prolific work by Dr. Ambedkar. It encapsulates the ideas of a rebel of how caste and religion oppresses people - socially, morally and economically. Originally conceived as a speech for Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal, an organization of Caste Hindu Social Reformers, it was later published by Ambedkar himself, for the organization refused to allow him to give his speech in the original form. Lucid, powerful and scholarly the treatise provides a thorough insight of how and why caste plagues the life of millions. There is an underlying indignation, fierce and untainted, rightfully directed towards years of unwarranted injustice.

The boon and the bane of Hinduism is the fact that both the philosophy and religion is so intricately weaved around its core faith. Although caste, a necessary adjustment by the society to keep the religion intact, has been objected by many other forerunners previously to Ambedkar, from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Mahatma Gandhi, it has always sprung back with a rejuvenated force, for it derived its root from the fundamental philosophy of the Hinduism. What is more revolutionary and indomitably courageous about Ambedkar and this work is that he questions the very authority of the vedas, upanishads and manu smritis itself.

"There should be one and only one standard book of Hindu Religion, acceptable to all Hindus and recognized by all Hindus. This of course means that all other books of Hindu religion such as Vedas, Shastras, and Puranas, which are treated as sacred and authoritative, must by law cease to be so, and the preaching of any doctrine, religious or social, contained in these books should be penalized"

The mandal refused to allow an audience for Ambedkar's speech for the very reason that, "at least the word "Veda" be left out for the time being."

Citing and drawing parallels from history to western philosophy, from Plato to French Revolution, Ambedkar's argument dazzles and dares with objectivity and erudition.

Another important section in this book is his reply to the criticism of Gandhi to this work. Ambedkar spares no one, especially not Gandhi, and gives back a direct, logical and completely awe-inspiring reply. For instance, his reply to Gandhi's argument that everyone should follow his own ancestral calling according to his/her caste, Ambedkar flashes back with fervor:

"Does the Mahatma practise what he preaches? One does not like to make personal reference in an argument which is general in its application. But when one preaches a doctrine and holds it as a dogma, there is a curiosity to know how far he practises what he preaches......The Mahatma is a Bania by birth. His ancestors had abandoned trading in favour of ministership, which is a calling of the Brahmins. In his own life, before he became a Mahatma, when the occasion came for him to choose his career he preferred law to [a merchant's] scales. On abandoning law, he became half saint and half politician. He has never touched trading, which is his ancestral calling."

Caste in India still persist even in this 21st century. There are still interior rural hinterlands where Caste system prevails, much not exposed by the urban-centric media. Even the young minds are not without any prejudice(Check the twitter, Quora, Facebook for evidence. There are plenty out there with caste based name handles and tags attached to their identities).

I recommend this book to be read by every Indian, especially by every 'Hindu' and by all youngsters. It must question your perspectives and mindset on Indian society and Hinduism. If it does, then India is still in safe hands.

P.S: I do not recommend that edition of this book published with Arundhati Roy's 'Introduction'. Honestly, Ambedkar requires no Introduction at all.

P.S.S: Compliment reading this book along with Ambedkar's another significant work, originally a paper submitted at LSE, "Caste: Their genesis, origin and development' .
Profile Image for Prerna.
222 reviews1,427 followers
April 17, 2023
This text that Ambedkar originally published at his own expense was supposed to be a speech that he was to deliver in a conference organised by the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, a Hindu liberal caste reformer group. On receiving a copy of the speech prior to the meeting, the Mandal members asked Ambedkar to alter many parts of it that they found to be 'controversial.' Ambedkar, however, refused to delete even a comma and so he self-published the speech.

India has an ugly and violent history of oppression based on the Hindu caste system - a form of social order wherein each Hindu person is assigned a caste based on their family of birth. As per the Hindu religious texts, this is a hereditary system. As it stands, no person is allowed to choose the caste they represent, they are simply born into it. Ambedkar himself was born into a Dalit, lower caste family. The upper caste Brahmins have mostly defended the caste system by trying to simply pass it off as a mere division of labour, but the truth is far from it.

While it definitely serves as a basis for division of labour, it does so on completely unjust, unscientific and false premises - the most important one being that of 'Karma'. (I see an alarming number of westerners spouting a lot of nonsense about Karma and its operation, so if you're a westerner reading this, please don't do that. It is an entirely ridiculous concept widely used in India to uphold a centuries old system of oppression.) And so oppression on the basis of caste also easily allows class based exploitation and antagonisms.

Ambedkar makes very rational arguments against caste and the Hindu society. He demands a complete annihilation of caste and destruction of the Hindu religion which he identifies as an unjust system of law rather than a religion.

I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed, and I say there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear off the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that is caused by misnaming this law as religion. This is an essential step for you. Once you clear the minds of the people of this misconception and enable them to realise that what they are told is religion is not religion, but that it is really law, you will be in a position to urge its amendment or abolition.

So long as people look upon it as religion they will not be ready for a change, because the idea of religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change. But the idea of law is associated with the idea of change, and when people come to know that what is called religion is really law, old and archaic, they will be ready for a change, for people know and accept that law can be changed.

Ambedkar states that even if Hindu society is to persist, the religious sanctity behind caste is to be destroyed and the divine authority of the Hindu Shastras are to be discarded.

In my opinion Ambedkar also successfully defends his speech in addressing the absurd arguments that Gandhi made against it. Gandhi has developed into a controversial figure within India. While the Hindu nationalists have tried to malign his image, the far left is also unsettled by his views on caste and generally criticize him, albeit not for the same reasons as the far right. While criticism of Gandhi is frowned upon within centrist and secular groups, there is no denying that his views on race and caste were utterly abhorrent and as Arundhati Roy rightly points out in her introduction to this text - The fact is there was never much daylight between Gandhi’s views on caste and those of the Hindu right.

Ambedkar himself held controversial and colonial views on the Adivasis which he does not shy away from expressing within the speech. While these statements are to be certainly questioned and severely criticized, the general merit of the text and its potential for triggering a social reform in India are not to be mistaken.

Arundhati Roy's introduction to the book is brutal, riveting and brilliant. She examines the history of caste and caste-based violence in India, Ambedkar and Gandhi's personal lives and places the text in the context of 21st century India.

I am now wondering (and slightly fuming at) why this wasn't/isn't essential reading in Indian schools. But I guess that's how they keep the caste system afloat - through sheer propoganda and withholding of resources.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,078 followers
July 11, 2019
This is extraordinary. I have just finished Arundhati Roy’s The Doctor and the Saint, which is the introduction here, though I read it in its form as a separate publication. Now I’m reading Ambedkar whose clarity and cogency are fascinating. Caste has always been an enigma to me, specifically the Dalits. Why would a major religion have coreligionists who are considered, not only unequal to others, but literally foul: that is, embodiments of pollution? I did not know that the justification was said to be in the shastras and the Vedas, whose authority Ambedkar vehemently believes should be destroyed. Hindus believe that these unfortunate people—historically, Untouchables—are on earth to suffer for the bad karma they accumulated in previous lives. Hinduism therefore has an entire population that it believes should submit to its lowly marginal status as a part of its spiritual life! See some of the quotations I’ve highlighted here. They give a vivid idea of Dalit misery and suffering over millennia. Dr. Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, graduated Oxford University, was a practicing barrister in London, and returned to India to advocate for his people. His great argument was with Gandhi, yes, the Mahatma, who as an orthodox Hindu saw no solution for the Dalits, and consistently maligned them in his writings throughout his life.
13 reviews11 followers
January 9, 2011
I began reading this book with scepticism thinking that this is a work of an idologue but I was so mistaken to hold such a view. I have concluded that this is the most scholarly work I have ever read.

It was very much intellectually stimulating for me.

This book is for those who want to want to know how to put forth an opinion, how an ideal speech should be written, how to be objective but still stand firm against oppression & injustice. The most important reason is that it is an eye-opener for every so called 'proud Hindu'.


The book is a great scholarly work. It was intended to be a speech but due to certain circumstances he could not deliver the speech. The exchanges of letters printed in the beginning of the book tell why such hurdles were raised so that speech remains undelivered. Nevertheless, he managed to publish the speech in the form of a booklet. As the book belongs to a writer from repressed community, it goes without mentioning that It is one of the world's Most Under-Rated Books.

No doubt Hindu Fundamentalist organisations have used the book for finding the loopholes in their religion which has shaky foundation. But rather than embracing message of the book of building the house anew, they are busy plugging the loopholes.

In this work, Dr Ambedkar quotes everything from Plato to Veda-Purana, from Indus to Roman civilizations.

Most of the time, I find that any work of non-fiction that I read has a very tiny message to to away & can be summarized very easily. That is not the case with annihilation of castes. Every sentence is a quotable quote.

Highly recommended. The most important book I have read till date.
Profile Image for S.Ach.
519 reviews170 followers
July 31, 2023
The Doctor and The Saint

Arundhati Roy is a deadly butcher. Not a ruthless clumsy one. But like a seasoned assassin. She chooses her target carefully. Equips herself with unfailing arms and ammunition by hours and hours of stern research. And then she strikes. Relentlessly. Mercilessly. She strikes to kill. Kill the target in the eyes of the reader. Even if the target survives, the scars from the bruises remain forever.

This time the victim was - the most famous Indian in the world - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

In the introduction to Ambedkar's famous undelivered speech (probably the longest introductory text to any writing) , she targets only the facet of Gandhi that is deeply religious Hindu adhering to the caste system of the archaic religion. Gandhi supported caste system, calling it the way of life where work is divided to the worthy and deserved. It was refuted by Ambedkar who emphatically denounced, "The caste system is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of labourers."

Ms Roy exposes Gandhi's self-contradictions on his stand on untouchability and racisim. She ridicules Gandhi's rationalization when he had famously said, "My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth."
She mocks, "Ordinary politicians oscillate from political expediency to political expediency. A mahatma can grow from truth to truth."

Ms Roy also introduces (at least to uninformed like me) the prolificness of Ambedkar. Clearly Ambedkar is a radical thinker of his time. Most Indians know him as the drafter of Indian Constitution. But in this introduction Ms Roy gives us a sneek peak to his life and his ideas, apart from his contribution to Indian polity.
However, for me character assassination of the Mahatma was a bit excessive. Probably, this was not the time. Ms Roy could have saved it for another day.

The Undelivered Speech

Ambedkar prepared this speech for his last call to the moderate Hindus to see the light, to bring in reform, by completely destroying the religious sects that upholds the caste-system. The radical nature of speech forced the organizers to cancel the event where it was supposed to be delivered.

Ambedkar's approach towards eradication of untouchability was different than his contemporaries. He believed that social reforms should precede both economic and political reform. And the social reform won't come from a mere acceptance of equality of men in the eyes of law or state, but by destroying the very notion that create such division.

"The real method of breaking up the Caste System was not to bring about inter-caste dinners and inter-caste marriages, but to destroy the religious notions upon which caste is founded."

With astute reasons, brilliant interpretations and poignant illustrations of repercussions of caste-based social practice in India, Ambedkar destroys the logic defending the essence of that evil system. He argues that the Hindu religious texts, at most can be regarded as guiding principles, that make people think, and never as immutable rules that people follow mechanically.

His point was that to believe in the Hindu shastras and to simultaneously think of oneself as liberal or moderate is a contradiction in terms. 

The speech was extremely hard hitting and revolutionary. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the social strata of India, then and now.

The Duel

The duel between the two stalwarts goes long back in time, much before the speech was published.
The discussion that followed post the speech between the two, was interesting enough to be published in this book. Gandhi accused Ambedkar to be misinformed and judgmental and believed that he was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Ambedkar who believed that the baby and the bathwater was a single fused organism, needed to be discarded if that would maintain social sanctity.

However, I failed to see why Ambedkar wanted separate electorate for Dalits. Isn't it against the very philosophical position of removing the divide? Probably, the practical politician overtook the philosophical reformer there.

I need to read more by Ambedkar.
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,255 reviews2,298 followers
August 11, 2016
This is actually two books in one: Ambedkar's famous non-delivered speech to the Jat-Pat-Todak-Mandal (an offshoot of the more militantly anti-caste wing of the Arya Samaj, founded in Lahore in 1922: members pledged themselves to a program of anti-caste propaganda, coupled with interdining and intermarriage) and Arundhati Roy’s book length introduction to it. So let me take each in turn.

Ambedkar's book first.

The Jat-Pat-Todak-Mandal was a society for communal reformation. They wanted to remove caste inequalities within Hinduism. For their annual conference in 1936, they invited Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the famous politician, social activist, and outspoken critique of Hinduism, to deliver the presidential address. However, after perusing Ambedkar's speech which was much more radical than they had anticipated, they asked him make some changes in it. Ambedkar refused. The speech was not delivered and the meeting did not take place. Later, Ambedkar had the speech printed and published it as a small booklet.

Reading the speech in the twenty-first century, one will not be able to appreciate fully how explosive it was at that point of time. So far, the reform movements within the Hindu fold had been to remove caste inequalities and get the "untouchables" (Ambedkar was one) into the fold of the mainstream, without challenging the tenets of the religion itself. Ambedkar had a different viewpoint. He argued for the demolition of the religious basis for the caste system - including the total rejection of the Vedas, which to him was a body of worthless literature. This was striking at the roots of Hinduism itself. No wonder the "reformers" were aghast - they were advocating medical treatments, and here was a guy who wanted nothing short of surgical removal!

Since I do not take religious books literally, most of the arguments in this speech were evident to me. The width and depth of Ambedkar's knowledge and erudition is breathtaking. However, I have one caveat - the good doctor does not go into the philosophical part of the religion, especially the Upanishads, seeing Hinduism only as a mass of discriminatory laws. One can hardly blame him for it, because he was a man moulded by bitter personal experience. Philosophy does not help when one is allowed only to grub in the dirt for scraps to sustain oneself, just because one was born into a certain community.

Gandhi responded to Ambedkar, in his usual hyperbolic way; saying that the "Varnashrama Dharma" (Caste System) was the best social system ever and only the inequality and untouchability were the problems. In a scathing reply, Ambedkar demolished the Mahatma's arguments and chided him for not willing to meet the problem head on. Both these responses are included in this book and make riveting reading.

Now for Arundhati Roy.

Madam, take a bow. Mark Anthony has nothing on you! Your introduction, "The Doctor and the Saint", is the most perfect hatchet job on a famous and hallowed personality that I have ever seen. Starting in mild terms, especially like Anthony did ("Brutus is an honourable man", remember?), you slowly escalate your attack on the persona of the Mahatma until you present him as a dishonest, opportunistic and racist politician who hijacked the freedom struggle for his own benefit and manipulated the public to get the title of "Mahatma" (the great soul) bestowed on himself.

Your introduction gave me an excellent background for the struggle between Ambedkar and Gandhi, and the whole equation of caste which troubles India even now. I disagree with many of Gandhi's views and agree with most of Ambedkar's. But forgive me if I take your picture of Gandhi with a pinch of salt - that smiling visage is enshrined in mind since childhood, and has informed all my political views on non-violent struggle. Possibly Gandhi is a blackguard and Ambedkar is the real saint, as you say: but I will reserve my judgement till I have read the similar hatchet job perpetrated on Ambedkar by Arun Shourie.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
Shelved as '1-tbr-owned-but-not-yet-read'
January 4, 2023
Having previously read Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development and his later memoir Waiting For A Visa detailing his appalling treatment as a dalit, an 'untouchable' caste subject to much social and economic discrimination, with none of the human rights afforded to 'higher' castes, I am eager to read this book.

I was never a fan of Gandhi although of course I admired him for achieving independence for Indian and for his being the model and inspiration for civil rights movements. Although he tried to remove the untouchability of the dalits, he was a great proponent of the caste system without which he thought India and Hinduism could not survive. I always thought that if B.R. Ambedkar had been president and swept away caste entirely, Hinduism would have adapted, caste is a method of control of the economy as much as any religious concept.

In Bali, an island with which I am very familiar, almost everyone is Hindu. There are very few Muslims and the Indonesian Government - Muslim - leaves Bali alone because of the vast sums of foreign currency it brings in both through tourism and manufacturing. 95% of the Hindus belong to the untouchable caste, so it doesn't matter. If a population is 95% of anything, they rule . They have become monotheist, but still with the great pantheon of gods and goddesses, still with the same holy books. Their religion adapted, and they have much social and economic success. It could have happened in India too should Ambedekar been president.

Ambedekar said he was born a Hindu but would not die one, and a few months before his death he became a Buddhist.

I am looking forward to reading this book.
Profile Image for Justin Podur.
Author 9 books39 followers
July 7, 2013
I read Gandhi as a high school student, and liked him, but it was not until I read Ambedkar that I felt like I had really found something good. Ambedkar is clear, uncompromising, unadulterated. He was also incredibly prolific. This speech, which became a book, was too clear and too uncompromising to even be delivered. I read it more than 15 years ago and remember so many quotes - caste is a monster, you cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you slay that monster. It is from 1936 but it is relevant today, and still sounds fresh. What's more, it is relevant for more than just caste in India. Indeed, it helped me understand racism in the Americas as well. This is an amazing book by an amazing author, who is rightly revered by millions of people in India.
Profile Image for Murtaza .
669 reviews3,399 followers
October 8, 2019
The caste system, only dimly understood outside the Indian subcontinent, is perhaps the most rigid form of hierarchical social organization in human history. Caste is something like a relic from ancient times and proves the close relationship between India and the hierarchical ancient Greek civilization — a relationship far more direct than that existing between the modern West and antiquity. This book consists of two major parts: a debate between Bhimrao Ambedkar, the champion of the Dalits, and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as a scathing essay by Arundhati Roy about the latter. I found Roy's essay about Gandhi enjoyable, but it also felt too partisan to be taken as the definitive word on him.

What is truly interesting is the contrast between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Gandhi portrayed himself as the champion of the Dalits, and in a way he was. He was against their mistreatment and the oppression that had been inflicted on them over the centuries. He did not, however, want to abolish caste. In line with his general romantic attitude towards the past, Gandhi wanted to reconcile Dalits to their place in the system. In return he wanted others to respect them for their role in it. Gandhi was against the cruel practice of "untouchability," but he wanted to maintain social differentiation, albeit in a way where those tasked with cleaning excrement and those tasked with being priests would still somehow consider each other equal. He did his best to live this example personally. On a mass level it strikes one as a utopian goal.

In a way, Roy argues, Gandhi's campaign on behalf of the Dalits was merely a subtle means of allowing those fortunate enough to be born of high caste to maintain their privileged role in society. The Congress Party as a whole functioned as a vehicle for high caste interests. It is important I think to understand the roots of Gandhi's own sentiments. He was a man who was against the post-Christian West at its very roots. He had experienced the cruelty of the industrial West in apartheid South Africa (a country where he himself was far from pure, as Roy points out) as well as under the British Raj. He didn't want to just fight this civilization by any means available He wanted to reject it in its essence. As Gandhi saw it, caste in India could not be discarded, only reformed. It was part of the imagined culture that he was trying to preserve and defend against modernity.

Ambedkar was different. He was bred in India and rose from the worst depths of caste oppression to become a student at Columbia University and author of India's first constitution. For him the West meant not oppression but liberation. He did not have warm feelings about an idyllic Indian past. For Dalits, the past meant cruelty and hatred that is scarcely imaginable to modern human beings. Ambedkar did not want to reform caste but "annihilate" it in its entirety. All individual men may not be equal, it is true. But the only valid governing principle for a society is equality, since it is impossible to simply sort people across vast categories. No less should it be seen as possible to sort them into appropriate roles before they were even born.

Ambedkar was a reverse Gandhi in many ways. He wore nothing but Western suits as a sign of his liberation, while the former barrister Gandhi wore the lunghi as a sign of his own. Although Ambedkar's sentiments are totally understandable, he lacked a critical perspective on the shortcomings of modern Western civilization that people like Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi saw. Grappling with those shortcomings has become more important now that that civilization has been truly globalized.

I can see the perspectives of both of these remarkable people. Like Gandhi, I have been shaped by an intimate experience of living within Western civilization. In a time of ecological destruction, rampant inequality and soulless materialism, I have to say that his critiques resonates strongly with me. At the same time, Ambedkar's voice embodies the anguish of those who suffered in the supposed "golden age" before the present era of Western hegemony. There was no golden age anywhere in the past, in fact. At least not for everyone. The ideal village of Gandhi's imagination was a place of torment and humiliation for people like Ambedkar. True, Gandhi wanted to reform that, but he did not want to take the full radical steps that Ambedkar proposed of tearing up the old system root and branch. He didn't experience the pain of being a Dalit.

The dispute between Gandhi and Ambedkar was the clash between modernity and traditionalism in microcosm. In many ways it was an epic misunderstanding borne simply of seeing the world from different perspectives. This misunderstanding persists today. Whereas people in Pakistan might see a McDonalds and very reasonably see in its golden arches a sign of progress and development, we who have grown up among such things often see it as a sign of degradation of urban blight. While others seek to escape the past by pouring as much concrete over it as possible, many of those raised on that concrete are secretly longing for the harmonious idyll that they suspect (often wrongly) preceded it. Both views have a certain validity. Like Ambedkar and Gandhi, your sympathies may depend upon on how and where you were raised.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,997 reviews1,639 followers
April 26, 2023
This is a very powerful essay and I think it absolutely accomplishes the goal of its title. Seriously, I can think of no rational rebuttal to Ambedkar's points as he lays out a comprehensive take-down of caste as a system and particularly as it relates to the Hindu practice.

The forward by Arundhati Roy isn't worth the time, though. She spends a hundred-plus pages trying to show how nothing has changed since this speech was published. And she may have a point, I don't know enough of current events to judge. All I know is that her particulars sounded like the kind of propaganda you get when someone blows up events into their worst possible versions; the good guys are pure of heart and persecuted by the vilest of evil villains. Indeed, whole communities of evil villains who hate their Dalit neighbors with a burning passion and must do everything, lie, steal, even murder, to keep them down. She depicts a clown universe and that makes me suspect that she is maybe not the most reliable of narrators.

The afterward includes some exchanges with Gandhi in which Gandhi does not come off very well. Ambedkar doesn't either, at least in the vicious tone of the exchange. There is obviously bad blood between them, though both have a rational foundation to their actual arguments. Taking just the rational foundation, I have to declare Ambedkar the clear winner. Though that's inevitable given that this exchange was curated by him (or his allies).

And I have to say, I can totally see why they chose not to let Ambedkar deliver the speech after he gave them the text. The stated dispute about who prints it where (and thus who recoups the costs and profit) are obviously a veneer around them biting off more than they could stomach. A Hindu organization, no matter how liberal a reformation they seek, is going to have a problem with a speech that ends with the speaker declaring the religion corrupt at its core and his desire to leave it as irredeemable.

I will say that the kind of caste-strife I'd expect to see based on this text isn't apparent in my months in Kochi. It may be a factor of this area where Hindus are a minority (everyone is a minority with a relatively equal split between Catholics, Hindus, and Muslims). Or it may be that most of my associations are with tech-sector workers who are comparatively well-off. Also, everyone (and I mean everyone) is extremely friendly with Melissa and me. Possibly because we're visibly foreign. And well-off. I dunno. I hope it means things are better now than they were when this was published.

I will say that there's a palpable energy about this place. Everyone seems to be pursuing prosperity and an entrepreneurial spirit is the norm. I love that this energy has such an Indian flavor to it with kindness and family as evident as the pursuit of betterment. I haven't seen so many young families in public spaces (with well-behaved, but bright-eyed and interested kids) since my youth. I hadn't realized that the US had lost that until I recognized it here as a contrast to home. People are building futures here and with family as a basic foundation of their endeavors. I love that more than a little.

Anyway. This is easily five stars and well worth the read if you're interested in caste as a social construct. Though maybe not if you want to come out of it still convinced that a caste system is a good idea...
126 reviews104 followers
March 9, 2018

I think it is a great book. Ambedkar tells us what is rotten in India. Being an 'Untouchable' himself, he knew the situation of lower castes inside out. Indian society is predominantly divided into four castes. Those at the top do work in fields such as education, business, law and so forth, while the lowest castes do the manual work, and then there are those who are without caste; their situation is the worst in Indian society. Even though a vast population is affected by the caste system, it is difficult to fight it, or annihilate it as Ambedkar suggests. One reason for this is that those who belong to the upper castes do not want to give up their privileged position in society. Second reason is giving up caste means giving up Hinduism itself. Since 'caste' is sanctioned by the religious texts; not observing caste means rejecting Hinduism. In addition, the idea of 'karma' plays a vital role in the Indian imagination. It has a firm grip on an ordinary Indian mind. One can safely say that most people, irrespective of their caste, genuinely believe in 'karmic order' and in turn, have a firm belief in caste. One accepts one's lot, it does not matter where one is in the caste hierarchy, and this very conception strengthens caste.

What is so stunning about the book is that Ambedkar shames the upper castes with such vehemence, contempt and astute arguments that the upper caste reformists, possibly, cannot counter him in any reasonable way. I mean any normal thinking person will at once see the cruelty and cunning innate to such a system that has worked for over two centuries now. This is colonialism too, perhaps, even more lethal because it modernizes itself and stays relevant.

One perfectly understands Ambedkar rage against the Indian caste system. He quotes from various sources both literary and religious to bash the upper castes. His anger is largely directed at those Hindus who consider themselves not only atheists but also see themselves as social reformers. His chief opponent was Gandhi. When one looks at their correspondence, Ambedkar makes far more sense than Gandhi.

According to Arundhati Roy, who wrote a book-length introduction to this book, caste is the engine that runs India. It always did. She
sees Ambedkar as Doctor and Gandhi as Saint– most probably a fake one. In her essay, she shows how banal Gandhi was in his ways and what a hypocrite when it had to deal with the issue caste reforms; how his thoughts take different hue in the English press, and a quite different tone in the regional press. She delves into very real documents to make us see the 'real' Gandhi who developed from 'truth to truth' in his political career, as she pointedly observes. In contrast to Gandhi, Ambedkar is shown as far more honest and forthright in his political affiliations.

On my first reading of Roy about Ambedkar and Gandhi, I was disappointed in Gandhi and his hypocrisies. I still believe that everything that Roy wrote about him was true. But I also think that Gandhi, with all his quirks and peculiarities, cannot be so easily fixed. There is much more to him that has made him 'Gandhi.' Just like everyone else Gandhi was no god, he had his imperfections, and he did certain things that no politician, saint or otherwise, could have managed. He was the only one who provided the much-needed leadership to the vast Indian population which responded to him brushing aside differences that are intrinsic to a heterogeneous country like India. Gandhi, with his queer ideas concerning sexuality and sex, truly helped men and women to have equal, respectful and harmonious relations.

Gandhi was probably the only leader who worked so closely with 'Untouchables.' He was the product of his society and just like everyone around him, he practiced caste and had some funny or rather very subtle caste-based prejudices against 'Dalits' in his early years, but considering what he did with his life, it would be reckless to dismiss him. Gandhi worked with 'Dalits' and cleaned lavatories that no 'Brahmin' will do even in today's India. Gandhi used fasting and nonviolence all his life to fight injustice. When India got Independence, he wanted his country to be secular. There were many forces even then that wanted India to be a Hindu nation, but he firmly opposed it. Can we really call him a bigot? He was indeed a clever politician, and in order to be a politician in such a diversified country, it is not easy to appease everybody. He was bound to fail and stumble.

But I guess Gandhi succeeded in many ways, so did Ambedkar. And as long as there are writers like Roy in India, one can be sure that India will tame the monster of caste.

Profile Image for Siddharth.
125 reviews173 followers
December 6, 2015
"My quarel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over the imperfections of their social conduct. It is much more fundamental. It is over their ideals."

Reading this Critical Edition of The Annihilation of Caste is like watching back-to-back one-sided boxing matches. The other bloke is helplessly holding his hands up to his face as vicious body-blows rain upon him. As the audience, you periodically wince, but you also enjoy the systematic dismantling of the Other - in this case, Gandhi and Hinduism.

In her excellent book-length introduction, Arundhati Roy takes on the Mahatma and exposes both his disappointingly racist views on South Africa's blacks during his two decades in the country, and his damaging doublespeak on caste.

"Ordinary politicians oscillate from political expediency to political expediency. A Mahatma grows from truth to truth." Ouch!

In the main course, Ambedkar systematically takes on Hinduism, its sacred books and the "positively pernicious" caste system in an absolutely brilliant argument that deserves to be quoted whole. I will keep myself to one paragraph.

"It is a pity that caste even today has its defenders. The defences are many. It is defended on the ground that the caste system is but another name for division of labour; and if division of labour is a necessary feature of every civilised society, then it is argued that there is nothing wrong in the caste system. Now the first thing that is to be urged against this view is that 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. The caste system is not merely a division of labourers—which is quite different from division of labour—it is a hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other."

The notes by S. Anand are meticulous, as is his brief account of the Communal Award of 1932 (which awarded a separate electorate for Dalits, and also gave them a vote in the general electorate), and the Mahatma's ridiculous fast-unto-death form of blackmail which forced Ambedkar to accede to the Poona Pact (reserved seats - not separate electorates).

5 stars. Should be made compulsory reading in schools. It won't be.
Profile Image for Amishi Agrawal.
37 reviews9 followers
March 8, 2021
I don't know why I didn't read this sooner. Ambedkar's writing, logics, and propositions are bullet-proof.
The reality of caste in India is scary, and more often than not the averagely educated person is not adversely impacted by it, thus making it a topic that not many think, and thus learn about. But we learn to revere those who upheld caste, and that is wrong.
Ambedkar's writing is of global relevance, and one of my most favourite parts was about his analysis of religions and cultures as an indicator of the morality and way of life in different societies. Yes, religion is not neutral and no, culture is not a defence for a practice that impedes someone's dignity.
I would love to connect with other people who have read this text, and I hope to introduce a lot of people to this text as well.
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 1 book79 followers
April 11, 2023
Ko es zinu par Indijas kastām? Ne sūda nezinu, kā es noskaidroju, uz turieni aizbraucot.

Pirmkārt, izrādās, ka "nepieskaramie" ir cilvēki bez kastas, tātad bez jebkāda statusa, tātad paši "zemākie", no kuriem var "sasmērēties". Tādēļ nepieskaramie. Nevis, kā es iedomājos, tik svēti, ka viņiem nevar pieskarties. Kaut gan varbūt tieši viņi ir svētie. Mocekļi.

Otrkārt, kastas nav tikai sociāla šķira. Tā ir reliģijā balstīta apspiešana, kas ietekmē gan sociālās, gan ekonomiskās, līdz ar to arī visas citas kvalitatīvas dzīves iespējas. Oriģināli (un vienkāršojot) bija (lai ko šis vārds arī nozīmētu; par to izcelšanos es tā arī nenoskaidroju) četras kastas, kas saistītas ar iespējamajiem amatiem - bramaņi (priesteri), kšatriji (karavīri), vaisjas (zemnieki un amatnieki) un šudras (kalpi un vergi). Šodien jau ir tūkstošiem dažādu kastu. Un tad ir daliti, cilvēki ārpus kast��m, nepieskaramie, netīrie, piesārņotie. Agrāk, ja sagadījās nejauši iekāpt dalita ēnā, bija aši jāskrien mazgāties un mazgāt visas drēbes.

Bengalūrā man bija tas gods redzēt izrādi par dalitiem. Par kādu dalitu kopienu un viņu tradīcijām, kas, protams, nav pašu brīvi izvēlētas. Piemēram, šī kopiena nedrīkst ieiet pilsētā, viņi ir klejotāji, kas nedrīkst ieņemt nevienu sakarīgu amatu, līdz ar to arī nopelnīt viņi sev nevar. Viņi ir lūdzēji. Viņi sasniedz kādas pilsētas attālu nomali, uzmanoties, lai viņus neierauga (jo tas var nozīmēt arī brutālu piekaušanu, pat nāvi). Viņi apmetas zem kāda koka. Vēlu vakarā kopienas pārstāvis dodas uz pilsētas robežu un, uzmanoties, lai neviens viņu neierauga, sauc, paziņo, ka viņi ir ieradušies, noklāj uz zemes lakatus un pazūd. Tad pilsētas iedzīvotāji uz lakatiem saziedo ēdienu. Jebko, ko viņi vēlas, kādas ir viņu iespējas. Pret rītausmu, kad pie lakatiem neviena vairs nav, kopienas pārstāvis satin pārtiku lakatos un nes pārējiem. Līdz ar to viss ēdiens sajaucas, tek, birst. Bet vismaz ir. Šādi gadījumi vēl notika pavisam nesen - pirms 15, 20 gadiem. Tagad šai kopienai valdība piešķīra mājas, bet tām mēdz uzbrukt, izdauzīt logus. Pilnīga cilvēktiesību ignorēšana pret šiem ļaudīm Indijā ir norma. Citu kastu pārstāvji dalitus precēt nevar, bet izvarot gan drīkst. Seksuālās vardarbības statistika ir šausminoša. Vēl jo vairāk tādēļ, ka tā noteikti neaptver visus gadījumus, jo arī policija bieži vien uz šiem noziegumiem piever acis. Jo tie taču nav pat zemākās kastas cilvēki. Kādi šausmu darbi jāizdara, lai nokļūtu šādā kastā? Jāpiedzimst. Kastā piedzimst, to pārmanto, to nevar izvēlēties, ieprecēties, izprecēties.

Par laimi, ir cilvēki, kopienas, kustības, kas cīnās pret šo netaisnību. Starp viņiem bija arī Ambedkars, kurš pats nāk no dalitu kopienas, bet viņam paveicies iegūt labu izglītību, tai skaitā ārzemēs. Viņš iestājās pret kastu sistēmu, to pētot un par to izglītojot. Šai grāmatai ir trīs daļas - Arundhati Roy emocionālais ievads, Ambedkara runa, kas bija paredzēta kastu sociālo reformu organizācijai, bet kuru aizliedza lasīt, jo tā uzbruka hinduismam, kā arī neliela diskusija ar Mahatmu Gandi, kurš uzskatīja, ka kastām ir jāpastāv, jo tas nodrošina vienotu Indiju, un tikai vienota Indija spēj turēties pretī britu valdīšanai (mana interpretācija). Un izskatījās, ka Gandi tiešām neko nerubīja vai negribēja rubīt (nenoniecinot viņa paveikto Indijas neatkarībā - jā, man pret viņu ir aizspriedumi saistībā ar viņa rīcību ar jaunām meitenēm viņa gultā un te vēl kāds apzināti provokatīvs raksts par viņu).

Šī grāmata man sagādāja daudz pārdomu un sāpīgu, bet vērtīgu sarunu. Arī par to, kā mēs, rietumu ceļotāji, austrumu skaistuma un garīguma apbrīnotāji, apstiprinām kastas. Tie tempļi, ašrami, par ko fanojam, burvīgais veģetārais ēdiens, senās arhitektūras pieminekļi - tas viss ir augstāko kastu radīts un uzturēts. Un ar savu sajūsmu un naudu mēs apstiprinām - jā, tas ir labi, kā jūs te dzīvojat. Turpiniet! Un pastarpināti tas nozīmē - turpiniet neizmeklēt joprojām notiekošās dalitu slepkavības, turpiniet apspiestajām kopienām dot tikai tādus darbus kā cilvēku sūdu lasīšana no dzelzceļa sliedēm (ar rokām, milzu bļodās uz galvām), turpiniet tieši vai netieši diskriminēt viņu izglītošanās un izaugsmes iespējas.

Es jautāju - bet ko tad es varu darīt? Atbilde bija - tā nav jūsu vaina, jo mēs paši indieši nedodam telpu šo kopienu izpausmēm, kultūrai. Ko tad darīt? Un es sapratu, ka ir trīs lietas, ko varu viegli un bez sāpēm - izglītoties (lasot šo grāmatu, piemēram), dot telpu apspiesto kopienu balsīm (piemēram, lasot šo grāmatu) un stāstīt, dalīties pārdomās.

Arī pēc grāmatas izlasīšanas un mēneša Bengalūrā šķiet, ka par kastām Latvijas cietumos zinu daudz labāk. Tomēr tajā pašā laikā arī zinu, ka ir durvis. Atvērtas tikai mazā spraudziņā, bet vismaz esmu tās pamanījusi. Un tas ļauj ieraudzīt līdzīgas durvis arī tuvāk, tepat apkārt.
15 reviews18 followers
September 19, 2014
Without doubt, this book is perhaps one of the most well researched and scholarly works on the caste system of India and Hinduism. Dr. Ambedkar with his irrefutable observations and sound arguments puts forward a strong case against casteism in the Indian society, especially in the context of its implications for the Depressed Classes. His prolific writings backed by evidence from the Hindu scriptures will make you challenge your own beliefs on a number of occasions throughout the book. Moreover, without a conscious attempt to do so, Dr. Ambedkar justifies why he continues to remain Gandhi's most formidable critic till date.

This is a book which must be read by anyone who believes that- social reform is as necessary if not more, than political or economic reform; that religion and customs should not be rules of law free from logical reasoning; that liberty, equality and fraternity are paramount to the sustenance of any society, and any faith that compromises on these principles must be thrown open to criticism and modification or even extirpation.

By the end of the book, you'll find yourself wondering why history or society could not be more kind to Dr. Ambedkar or more judicious about its own future. This book deserves nothing less than a rating of 5, even though rating such a piece of work would be undermining its relevance and application.
Profile Image for Amirtha Shri.
241 reviews56 followers
March 15, 2019
"What is this Hindu religion? Is it a set of principles, or is it a code of rules? ... The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills the responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act."

The abandoned speech of Dr. Ambedkar for Jat-Pat Todak Mandal made it into the powerful and well articulated book this is! The injustice, hypocrisy, and prostitution of the caste system - practiced especially by members of higher caste - is broken down to digestible pieces and fed with sufficient examples and well-founded arguments. To annihilate caste, one must go back to the cause of it and renounce / modify the religion that subscribes to it. I felt the arguments were more elaborate and valid than the solution proposed i.e. the forced evolution of religion to accommodate morality and operate based on principles, in a way, it appears as if the answer lies in turning the Hindu religion into a political system.

I would wholeheartedly abandon religion rather than try to put effort to fix a flawed and outdated belief system. Again, as Dr. Ambedkar says, this is not to say the entire religion has no merit, but "anyone who relies on an attempt to turn members of the caste Hindus into better men by improving their personal character is wasting his energy and hugging an illusion... how can you accept personal character to make a man loaded with consciousness of caste a good man, i.e. a man who would treat his fellow men as friends or equals?"

It is the impossibility of radical evolution of the religion that acts to its demerit and has elevated its insensitivity with time. "Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the armory of a reformer. To deprive him of these weapons is to disable him for action." Perhaps, that is among the true intentions of the religion.

In a vindication of caste, Mahatma Gandhi raises questions "absolutely besides the point and the main argument of the speech is lost on him." The replies of Dr. Ambedkar are sharp and quick-witted. One might be moved to excitement and whistle-blowing at the deftly put rejoinders. This book should surely be read by anyone who believe that the Hindu caste system holds an ounce of merit and relevance in the current way of life.
Profile Image for Satheeshwaran.
69 reviews202 followers
June 23, 2020
A must read for every Indian!

Why do I admire Dr. Ambedkar a lot? As he says in his own words,

"Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the armory of a Reformer."

He was just that. He had acted upon these words. This is why he is one of the best, if not THE best reformer India ever had.

Apart from the topic of annihilating the caste system, this book also offers insights on the below and more.

1. On what basis an ideal society should be functioning?
2. What is a religion? Should a religion be functioning based on a set of 'rules' or should it be functioning based on a set of 'principles'? And, how are rules different from principles?

Amazed by the audacity that Dr. Ambedkar had, to fight the whole social system almost single-handedly throughout his life. As he says in his own words "Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer, who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies Government."

There is not a better intellectual than Dr. Ambedkar who studied the psychology of the Indian Caste-ist society than he did. By observing what is going on in our society every day, any rational person would agree with what Ambedkar says in the book,

"The wall built around Caste is impregnable and the material, of which it is built, contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality..
.. At any rate, it would take ages before a breach is made."

The journey in the coming years are going to be tiresome. It will be very easy to give up. The man worked his socks off to fight the system. Can we afford to give up? NO. Let us not give up and fight the fight for Dr. Ambedkar.
Profile Image for Yogarshi.
225 reviews41 followers
January 5, 2021
Excellent book to kick start 2021. Ambedkar's writing has the clarity and sharp quality that makes him stand head and shoulders above his critics (particularly, and in the context of this book, Gandhi, whose simplistic arguments are destroyed by Ambedkar without blinking an eye). I want to say this book should be compulsory reading in schools and colleges everywhere, but honestly, as a privileged upper-caste teenager, my head was so far up my ass that I probably would have dismissed this work without a second thought. I'm glad that I read this when I did, with a few extra years of mature world-view on my side. It is patently clear that the problems highlighted by Ambedkar almost 9 decades ago are still relevant to the DBA community. While to a bystander Ambedkar's solution of dismantling the structures of Hinduism are radical, his arguments make it very clear how these very structures enable and perpetuate social inequities via the caste system. No amount of socio-political reform of Hinduism is going to solve the caste problem.

That is not to say Ambedkar never falters. His disregard and condescension towards Adivasis is problematic (as also pointed out in the book-length introduction by Arundhati Roy, which does a good job of setting the context for the speech). Despite this, there is more wisdom and food-for-thought to be gained here than in any of his contemporaries' writings.
Profile Image for Jyotsna.
391 reviews173 followers
February 4, 2021
It's so sad that the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal did not allow Dr. B. R. Ambedkar to deliver this particular speech. It's radical, but it's real, the caste system is the reason why many don't have opportunities to outgrow their social and economic woes.

I would have given this 5 stars, but the version of the book I have, has an introduction from Arundhati Roy. Roy explains the contrasting ideas Gandhi and Ambedkar had and criticizes Gandhi a lot. Ger points are of course valid, but they really overshadow what Ambedkar has to say about the caste system. It's like she's stealing his thunder although that's not the case.

But, this book is a MUST read, read the undelivered speech for sure.
Profile Image for Tiyas.
259 reviews15 followers
May 30, 2023
কাঁচা অপরিণত হাতে এই বইয়ের রিভিউ হয় কি? ভারতীয় সমাজের ধর্মীয় ও রাজনৈতিক ইতিহাসের প্রেক্ষাপটে এই অব্যাক্ত বক্তৃতাখানির দাম যে অনেকখানি। কতটা কি বুঝে উঠতে পারলাম, কে জানে। এমন স্বচ্ছ চিন্তা, তীক্ষ্ণ নগ্ন যুক্তিবাদ! যা পড়ে অচিরেই শিউরে উঠতে হয়। ভাবতে হয়। নতুন করে চিন্তা করতে হয়। সবকিছুর সাথে একমত নাই বা হলাম, তবুও!

যাই হোক, সাত-আট পৃষ্ঠার একখানা জমাটি রিভিউ লিখে জমা দিতে হয়েছে। সে জিনিস যদি আমার প্রফেসরের মনে ধরে, আর যদি কপালজোড়ে (বাই চান্স) ভালো নম্বর উঠে যায়। তবেই সে জিনিস এই সাইটে অ্যাডাবো, নচেৎ নয়। 🙏
5 reviews8 followers
March 7, 2014
This is an amazing book.How much I wish this book were taught in the school.Then the kids would have understood the real situation at a much younger age rather than studying half baked and flattering stories about Indian leaders and Indian History
Profile Image for Ribhav Pande.
69 reviews30 followers
April 16, 2021
It’s plain embarrassing that I read this so late in my life.

Preliminary thoughts beyond the book: Dr Ambedkar is taught to us in schools as the father of the Indian Constitution and a leader of the untouchables. The former is excessively emphasised, the latter is muted. It is known that he was not quite happy with the way the Constitution came out. Why is the former considered his enduring legacy and the latter muted? Because if you were to go into his views on caste, your complacent mind would be blown.

Annihilation of Caste — a speech to the Jat Pat Todak Mandal that Dr Ambedkar was not allowed to give — is a rational analysis of the roots and working of the caste system, its pitfalls, its perpetuation and a roadmap to its destruction. It is a searing indictment of caste and savarnas (those within the 4 Varnas, untouchables placed outside it). It develops into an attack on Hinduism itself. Any guesses why we aren’t taught this ever?

Dr Ambedkar’s analysis simply put is that caste has religious sanction, and savarnas at their respective position would never work for its destruction because they will lose their power in the social structure. Hence, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’ is the slogan he gives to the untouchables of India to claim their rightful place. He speaks about social inefficiency caused by the caste system and how India loses from a system that assigns worth/work based on birth. He believed that the caste system is so intrinsic to Hinduism, as explained through various texts he cites, that unless there’s a major rebuke of the Shastras and Vedas that perpetuate caste, caste can never be annihilated.

Dr Ambedkar makes clear that he has no issue with religion per se, but it must be based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. He specifically makes reference to the Mauryan period in India that extolled such virtues.

There are many takedowns of Mahatma Gandhi in this speech, and through excerpts in the book. Gandhi initially supported the caste system, and then went on to oppose it yet support the Varna system where tasks are assigned by merit not birth. Dr Ambedkar calls out Gandhi’s fallacious reasoning on many counts. For one, he indicts this theory on a practical basis — the masses don’t understand such theoretical formulations. Second, this delimitation of work is not feasible practically. He laments that Gandhi was followed by untouchables too who believed it their fate to be subjugated (past sins-rebirth angle), as also because Gandhi advocated for a removal of untouchability but not true equality between a Brahmin and an untouchable. What Gandhi said was that the work an untouchable does in cleaning toilets is of equal worth to the Brahmin priest who works at a temple. He didn’t say that an untouchable can be a priest should he work for it through his merit.
[Side note: I wonder if there are parallels between Lincoln and Gandhi. Lincoln advocated for the gradual compensated abolishment of slavery his entire life, yet that did not imply that he believed in the equality of the Black and White races in America. He in fact made plans for a colony for emancipated Blacks outside America.]

Another thing about what we’re taught is that somewhere it comes about that Dr Ambedkar was a British stooge for asking for separate electorates for the untouchables through the Communal Award. Do we go behind this assertion and enter into the realm of his reasoning and justification? Not at school. The note on the Poona Pact at the end of the book by S Anand is an excellent reading to understand what the purpose of it was and how Gandhi’s fast against separate electorates for Untouchables only (and not Muslims and Sikhs) was a disgusting act as per Ambedkar. Gandhi justified it on the basis on Hindu unity. History went one way, we won’t know how it would’ve been otherwise.

There are too many thoughts and threads here that I am to understand more about. Annihilation of Caste is only the beginning in my readings on caste in India. But this book is excellently annotated to give you a path for further reading.

Please read this book at some point in your life.
Profile Image for Utsob Roy.
Author 2 books66 followers
April 5, 2018
ভারতবর্ষের ইতিহাস তার ভুখণ্ডের মতই বিস্তৃত ও প্রাচীন। যে অংশটা আমাদের বিদ্যায়তনে পড়ানো হয় তা মূলত গত দুই শতকের বিপ্লব ও স্বাধীনতার ইতিহাস। বৃটিশদের হাতেই দুটি ভাগে ভাগ হলো ভারতবর্ষ। তার পঁচিশ বছর যেতে না যেতেই পাকিস্তান ভেঙে হলো দুটি দেশ। স্বাধীনতাই যে এই উপমহাদেশের মানুষের একমাত্র প্রয়োজন ছিল না তা এতদিনে আমরা বুঝে গেছি। সুশিক্ষার অভাব এবং আমাদের বহুযুগের কুসংস্কারের আধিক্যে আজও এই উপমহাদেশে হীনবল। আমাদের সকল সমস্যার মধ্যে সবচেয়ে গুরুতর আমি মনে করি সাম্প্রদায়িকতা। এই বইয়ের বিষয়বস্তু এক বিশেষ ধরণের সাম্প্রদায়িকতা যা হিন্দুধর্মের মজ্জাগত একটি বিষয় যাকে আমরা বর্ণবাদ বলে জানি।

‘জাত-পাত ত���ড়ক মণ্ডল’ নামের একটি সংগঠন (মূলত কিছু দেশহিতৈষী উচ্চবর্ণের মানুষের প্রচেষ্টার ফসল) ড‌. আম্বেদকারকে(B.R. Ambedkar) তাদের একটি সভার সভাপতিত্ব করতে অনুরোধ জানান। পরবর্তীতে মণ্ডলের তুলনামূলক নরম অবস্থানের সাথে আম্বেদকারের না মিললে তিনি সভাপতি হওয়া থেকে বিরত থাকেন। সেই সভার বক্তৃতাটি তিনি মুদ্রণ ও বিতরণ করেন ‘Annihilation of Caste’ নামে। এই বইটির শেষ সংস্করণে যুক্ত হয়েছিল এই বইয়ের প্রতিক্রিয়ায় লেখা গান্ধীর উত্তর ও তার পাল্টা উত্তর। এগুলোর সাথে আম্বেদকারকে নিয়ে লেখা অরুন্ধতী রায়ের(Arundhati Roy) একটি প্রবন্ধ এবং প্রচুর টীকা সমেত একটি সংস্করণ করেছে লন্ডনের ভার্সো(Verso) প্রকাশনী। আমি সেটাই পড়েছি। বইটি নিয়ে কিছু বলার আগে আমার মনে হয় কিছু কিছু ব্যাপারে একটু বলা দরকার।

হিন্দুধর্ম ও হিন্দুত্ববাদ
ধর্ম হিসেবে হিন্দুধর্মের বয়স কম, হিন্দুত্ববাদের বয়স আরো কম। যারা ইতমধ্যে আমাকে হাজার-হাজার বছর পুরনো হিন্দুধর্মের গল্প বলার কথা চিন্তা করছেন তাদের জ্ঞাতার্থে বলি, হিন্দুরা নিজেদের হিন্দু বলে জেনেছে বহিরাগত জাতিগুলো আসার পরে। এমনকি বৌদ্ধ ও জৈনদের তারা আলাদা ধর্ম বলে স্বীকার করত না। সে অর্থে হিন্দুধর্মের বয়স খুবই কম। হিন্দুত্ববাদ হিন্দুধর্মের রাজনৈতিক দর্শন, এর উৎপত্তি ও বিকাশ ব্রিটিশ শাসনামলে। বৈষ্ণব ও আরো কিছু সম্প্রদায়ের দর্শন উদার হলেও মূলধারার হিন্দুধর্ম খুবই অমানবিক ও সহিংস।

বর্ণাশ্রম ও জাতিবাদ
হিন্দুধর্মে বর্ণবাদ ও জাতিবাদ ভিন্ন ধারণা। মনুসংহিতায় হিন্দুদের চারটি বর্ণে ভাগ করা হয়েছে। শ্রেষ্ঠত্বের ক্রমানুসারে ব্রাহ্মণ, ক্ষত্রিয়, বৈশ্য ও শুদ্র। বস্তুত গুণাবলির দ্বারা বর্ণ নির্ণয়ের নিয়ম থাকলেও ক্রমে তা জন্ম দ্বারা নির্ণয়ই রীতি হয়ে ওঠে। এই চারবর্ণের বাইরে সবাই অবর্ণ ও অস্পৃশ্য। অপরপক্ষে, জাতি পুরোপুরিই জন্মের ওপর নির্ভরশীল। সময়ের সাথে ব্যবহারিকক্ষেত্রে দুটোর পার্থক্য ম্রিয়মান হয়ে এসেছে। বর্ণে-বর্ণে, জাতিতে-জাতিতে সম্পর্ক ও মেলামেশায় বিধি-নিষেধ আছে।

আম্বেদকার: যে বীরের গাঁথা নেই
আম্বেদকার এসেছেন অস্পৃশ্য জাত থেকে। তারা বিদ্যা ও ধনগ্রহণে অযোগ্য, ভালো পোশাক, অলঙ্কার পরলে বা ঘি খেলেও যাদের শাস্তি পেতে হয়। সবর্ণ হিন্দুরা যাদের ছায়াও মাড়ায় না, যাদের সংশ্রব এড়িয়ে চলে। বস্তুত এ দাসত্বেরই নামান্তর। কোনো কোনো দেশে দাসদের চাইলে মুক্তি দেওয়া যেত। মুক্ত হওয়া দাস নিজের চেষ���টায় জীবনের উন্নতির চেষ্টা করলে কারো কিছু বলার ছিল না। কিন্তু সবচেয়ে দুঃখের বিষয় হলো জাত থেকে কোনো মুক্তি নেই।

তো এই আম্বেদকার ব্রিটিশদের শাসনে শিক্ষার সুযোগ পেলেন। পেলেন এক রাজার আনুকূল্য। বিদেশে পড়লেন সেখানে সম্মান পেলেন। কিন্তু দেশে ফিরে তিনি সেই অস্পৃশ্যই রয়ে গেলেন।

আম্বেদকার সংগ্রাম করলেন। নিষ্পেষিত মানুষদের জন্য। কংগ্রেসের মত গোঁড়া হিন্দুত্ববাদী রাজনৈতিক দল সবসময়ই তাকে শত্রুর কাতারে ফেলেছে। বলা হয়, গান্ধীর সবচেয়ে বড় শত্রু তিনি। বলা হবেই বা না কেন? স্পষ্টভাষী ও বাস্তববাদী তিনি। বিনয় ছিল যথেষ্ট তবু সত্যের খাতিরে গান্ধীর সফেদ ভাবমূর্তি কাদায় মাখামাখি করা ছাড়া কোনো উপায় ছিল না। ব্যক্তি হিসেবে গান্ধী সারাজীবনই স্বার্থান্বেষী ছিলেন। প্রচণ্ড মৌলবাদী হলেও সময়মত ভোল পাল্টাতে তার দ্বিধা ছিল না। অরুন্ধতী রায়ের মতে:

The trouble is that Gandhi actually said everything and its opposite. To cherry pickers, he offers such a bewildering variety of cherries that you have to wonder if there was something the matter with the tree.

তাছাড়া খুব ইনিয়ে-বিনিয়ে সাফাই গাইতেও তার জুড়ি ছিল না। জাতিবাদ নিয়ে তিনি বলেন:

Caste is another name for control. Caste puts a limit on enjoyment. Caste does not allow a person to transgress caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment. That is the meaning of such caste restrictions as inter-dining and inter-marriage … These being my views I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the Caste System.

আম্বেদকারের সংগ্রাম তখনকার স্বরাজের সংগ্রাম থেকে অধিকতর কঠিন ছিল। স্বরাজের আন্দোলন বস্তুত নিজেদের দেশের ওপর নিজেদের কর্তৃত্বের দাবী। কিন্তু এইসব অস্পৃশ্য জাতির দেশ থেকেও নেই। গান্ধীর সাথে আম্বেদকারের প্রথম সাক্ষাত সম্পর্কে অরুন্ধতী রায় লিখেছেন:

In 1931, when Ambedkar met Gandhi for the first time, Gandhi questioned him about his sharp criticism of the Congress (which, it was assumed, was tantamount to criticising the struggle for the Homeland). “Gandhiji, I have no Homeland,” was Ambedkar’s famous reply. “No Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land.”

এই অবস্থান থেকে ছিল তার লড়াইটা।

তার চরিত্রের আরেকটা গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বিষয় হচ্ছে এই সমস্ত বিষয়ে তার প্রচণ্ড আবেগ থাকলেও তার লেখায় তিনি যুক্তি-প্রমাণের বাইরে এক পা-ও হাঁটেননি। অর্থাৎ, আলোচনায় তিনি নৈর্ব্যক্তিক।

এই বক্তৃতার শ্রোতা হওয়ার কথা ছিল মূলত শিক্ষিত হিন্দুসমাজ। তাত্ত্বিক বিষয়গুলো চেষ্টা করেছেন শিক্ষিতসাধারণের বোধগম্য করতে। তিনি জাতিবাদ ও বর্ণবাদের উৎপত্তি ও বিস্তার, তার কর্মপদ্ধতি ও মনস্তত্ত্ব, গভীরতা ও প্রভাব কখনো উদাহরণ দিয়ে, কখনো শাস্ত্রের উদ্ধৃতি দিয়ে বুঝিয়ে বলেছেন। জাতিবাদের পক্ষের আলোচনার দাবিগুলো খন্ডন করেছেন আধুনিক সমাজতত্ত্ব, নৃতত্ত্ব এবং বিজ্ঞানের আলোকে। সমসাময়িক অন্যান্য প্রচেষ্টার নির্মোহ মূল্যায়ন করেছেন। চেষ্টা করেছেন সমাধান দিতে। এতই সংহত ও শক্তিশালী লেখা যে এটার বিরুদ্ধে লেখা গান্ধীর প্রতিক্রিয়ায় যুক্তি বলতে কিছু ছিল না।

এখন, কারো কারো কাছে এটি ঐতিহাসিক দলিল। ঐতিহাসিক ব্যর্থতার দলিল, কেননা এখনো শুধু ভারতে ১৬কোটি অস্পৃশ্য মানুষের বাস। ব্যর্থতা আম্বেদকারের না, হিন্দুদের। যে ব্যর্থতার কথা বলেছিলেন আম্বেদকার। শুধু একটি মূর্খ জনগোষ্ঠী কর্ণপাত করেনি:

But the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible. I do not care for the credit which every progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realise that they are the sick men of India, and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.
Profile Image for Udit Nair.
320 reviews63 followers
April 14, 2020
One of the fiercest commentaries on the deplorable practice of caste system of India. Ambedkar thinks that there can be no fundamental reform in the Hinduism until and unless caste system is annihilated. This leads him to another proposition which is the sanction behind the caste system is religious in nature. As a result you either get out of the fold of the Hinduism as he himself did or destroy the sanctity of the texts which prescribe the caste system or supports it indeed.
He passionately tears into each and every justification given for caste system. He does this with scholarly backing and also bit of common sense which seems to be missing all the times.
The best part about the work is that it has lessons for everybody. For eg even the people who wish for the so called hindu unity have been given insights through this. Ambedkar firmly believes that without the end of caste system there cannot be a unity of the so called majority in india. Although he is so brutal with his analysis that most of the right wingers would be too uncomfortable reading or even understanding him.

Just to give a little insight into his take on chaturvarna system let me quote him verbatim here_
"There cannot be a more degrading system of social organization than the Chaturvarnya. It is the system which deadens, paralyses and cripples the people from helpful activity. This is no exaggeration. History bears ample evidence. There is only one period in Indian history which is a period of freedom, greatness and glory. That is the period of the Mourya Empire. At all other times the country suffered from defeat and darkness. But the Mourya period was a period when Chaturvarnya was completely annihilated, when the Shudras, who constituted the mass of the people, came into their own and became the rulers of the country. The period of defeat and darkness is the period when Chaturvarnya flourished to the damnation of the greater part of the people of the country."

Further he goes on to give solutions too. First as I mentioned above is to get out of the fold of Hinduism. Second would be question the authority of scriptures. Probably the third one is the most feasible one which is inter caste or interfaith marriages. Once you mix the blood there is no purity as such and this cannot be refuted at all.

The parting paragraph of this commentary is directly addressing the Hindus and here it is -
"The Hindus must consider whether the time has not come for them to recognize that there is nothing fixed, nothing eternal, nothing sanatan; that everything is changing, that change is the law of life for individuals as well as for society. In a changing society, there must be a constant revolution of old values and the Hindus must realize that if there must be standards to measure the acts of men there must also be a readiness to revise those standards."
Profile Image for Amara Bharathy.
46 reviews7 followers
September 8, 2019
An eye opener on Dalit lives in India during the 1940s and now (the introduction part by Arundati Roy - the Doctor and the Saint). Thanks to the Tamil director Ranjith, that I started reading Dr.Ambedkar. There were times when I read Gandhian articles and was a fan of Gandhi, wherein Dr.Ambedkar is either cast as a villain or never mentioned at all! Then I thought about reading about this great man, and there couldn't be any better choice than this book.

This book has 3 parts - 1. Doctor and the saint by Arundati Roy; 2. Annihilation of Caste, the speech of Dr.Ambedkar and 3.Exchanges between Gandhi and Ambedkar. The book successfully explained me how caste system works and why Hinduism as a religion is the base for the caste system. Only by renouncing this religion can one come out of the caste chain. Ambedkar proposes that this religion has evolved so much in the hands of upper caste people in a way that someone should always remain under a few elite class.

I was shocked to note that only in Hinduism, the very scriptures like Vedas and Upanishads and the likes divide Human based on their birth . Almost all the religions follow an inclusive approach, whereas Hinduism says how exclusive your rights are to oppress the class under you.

Must read to know India and Hinduism
Profile Image for Parth.
90 reviews2 followers
June 5, 2021
If a person born in India reads just one book in his entire life, let it be this book. Dr. Ambedkar does not just take down everything wrong with Hinduism, but he explains the myriad ways in which the caste system has corrupted the Hindu mind and it helps explain a lot of Indian attitudes towards things. It is sad to see that even today the left has been unable to bring into action the ideas of Annihilation of Caste.
I hope it is made compulsory reading in schools all over the country. It is an important document even today and until the idea of caste has been ripped from Indian society.
Profile Image for Nikhil.
337 reviews30 followers
January 1, 2021
This is a foundational text. As such, some of the arguments it makes may seem dated. Nonetheless it is foundational for a reason.

Caste functions as a hereditary hierarchy. The hierarchy requires one performs caste, with the humiliations it entails, and transgressors are disciplined with extreme violence. At the local level, caste is inescapable - you cannot pass because everyone knows who you are and knows your caste status. Under modernity/the city, where all fixed and fast relations become unmoored and melt into air, there is scope to pass, blurring caste boundaries.

The caste system, however, is not immutable. Rather, like the many-headed hydra, it twists and evolves so as to survive. The caste system has always been a mechanism to slot and categorize the disparate groups of people living in and migrating into South Asia into a hierarchy with relative privileges, powers, an deprivations. The mutability of caste is well documented by jatis having upwardly an downwardly mobile caste status over time: rajputs and thakurs began as shudras, and assumed Kshatriya status when they seized political (I.e., military) power. New groups of migrants into South Asia (e.g., the Scythian) also slotted into the hierarchy. Indeed, the Kshatriya varna has always reflected contemporaneous power rather than genealogy.

In this way, the caste system served as the mechanism by which Brahminism ate other peoples and their Gods. Hinduism is distinct from other religions in that it cannot said to have any core tenets, nor any central texts. This is contrast to Brahminism which has a set of written texts (Vedas, Shastrqs, etc,). The pernicious genius of Brahminism is that it devours everything. New religions and new gods get absorbed into the pantheon and slotted in as additional deities or aspects of earlier deities, with the power ascribed to these news gods in accord with the power of the group that believes them. See how Durga and Kali get absorbed into the Hindu pantheon, or Skanda or even Shiva for that matter (Shiva as the original Dravidian destroyer whom the Aryans could not fully eat). Note how the spiritual absorption of other peoples mirrors how the caste system absorbs other peoples. This is the central feature of Brahminism over all others: caste/devouring.

Ambedkar, writing as he was 80+ years ago, articulates quite a bit of this. He correctly understands “Hinduism” as understood by his contemporaries to be a fundamentally modern concept of trying to define a Brahmannical nation state; a project he abhors and rejects. He understands that such a national project would not liberate anyone, and must be overthrown. He suggests that to do this one most overthrow Brahminism - the belief in the divinity of Brahmannical texts.

But Ambedkar does not understand caste as performance, or that one can pass or not pass, or that the caste system has substantially mutated over time. More troubling, his proposed solution to Brahminism, a state regulated religion where a new central text overthrows all local tradition, is, paradoxically, the very modernist project of a Hindu nation-state that he opposes.

Gandhi, of course, comes out looking quite poorly in this text. Gandhi was uninterested in upending caste hierarchy, he merely wanted Dalits as objects for him to perform his sainthood upon. The positions as Gandhi articulates them in this text are uninteresting defense of hierarchy using the same logic used everywhere (there are some minor excesses, a few bad apples, etc,).

Overall, this is essential reading for those interested in South Asia. A warning: the text requires a great deal of prior familiarity with the National movement/South Asian history/Hindu religious tradition to contextualize and evaluate the arguments therein.
Profile Image for Niyatee Narkar.
52 reviews29 followers
April 16, 2022
Annihilation of Caste is Dr. Ambedkar's undelivered speech that was considered too blasphemous by the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal's mostly privileged caste Hindu organizers for their annual conference in 1935. Ambedkar provides a scathing indictment of the sacred texts of Hinduism (most prominently the Manusmriti) and how privileged caste Hindus religiously cling to them as a defense to maintain the social hierarchy established by the caste system. The power the higher castes hold is sustained through the social and economic oppression and resulting inhumane treatment that is inflicted on the Dalits, to this day. But unlike race, caste is invisible and yet all pervading. Ambedkar proposes questioning the sanctity of these texts as one of the major solutions to social reform and implores people to not be passive observers but to become more conscious thinkers, especially since our practices forces million of people to lead deplorable lives.

A friend had remarked that he finds Ambedkar to be too critical of the Hindu religion. I am also reminded of how my parents would often emphasize that they don't see caste. But having read about the instances of gruesome caste discrimination in the 1930s presented by Ambedkar and the present day atrocious crimes against Dalits cited by Arundhati Roy in the introduction, I am severely disturbed and forced to acknowledge my privilege of never having to think about my caste. Because my caste and seemingly entangled class has not disadvantaged me in any aspect of life. But Ambedkar was embittered by his cruel experiences and I think that justifies his decision to not die as a Hindu even though he was born as one.

I can't stress enough how critical this piece of work is, it has really shaken my view of the Hindu society (read also Indian society as caste even permeates the boundaries of religion in our country). It must be read, at least to understand that privileged caste experiences are not universal, to burst that comfortable bubble of reality we have lived in so far. That should be a good start?

I have also come to realize that the only two times, the privileged caste-Hindus and especially the politicians care about Dalits is either for Votes or when they want to convert to another religion in the hope of escaping the tyranny of the caste system (*coughs Hindu nationalists *). So it doesn't come as a surprise how seemingly both the left and right have assimilated Ambedkar as someone to be proud of. Or as Roy says in the introduction, 'as junior partner to Gandhi in their joint fight against untouchability'. And ah coming to the larger than life Mahatma!, how brutally Arundhati Roy strips him of his saintly title. She breaks down the tailored version of Gandhi's life in South Africa that we have been raised on. Gandhi's own writings are referenced to display his stubbornness in continuing to exult the merits of the caste system and his disdain for any Dalits trying to free themselves from the shackles of the lowly professions prescribed for their caste. She also presents a good overview of Ambedkar's desperate efforts to obtain political rights and representation for his caste members and how he died with the disappointment of the compromises he was browbeaten to make.

I still feel conflicted about Gandhi and would like to read more of the other side. However above all, Arundhati Roy makes it abundantly clear that Gandhi may not be a saint but was a good politician with all his contradictions and craftiness. And despite his erudition and formidable intellect, Ambedkar wasn't. And yet I believe Ambedkar's life itself was the most radical act.
Profile Image for Navya.
247 reviews5 followers
July 8, 2019
Difficult to review such a formative text.

I enjoyed Roy's introduction, in and of itself very informative as well as exceptionally good in setting the context for Dr Ambedkar's undelivered speech. A brief history of caste and anti-caste activism in independent India would also have been very helpful.

A must read, especially for Hindu Savarnas.
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