Monthly Archives: January 2009

Robbers and the State

Ramakrishna Paramhansa once told the following story to a gathering (don’t ask me to be exact!):

A man going through a forest was robbed by three robbers. After robbing him, one proposed to kill him. Another reasoned about the uselessness of killing the person, he proposed to tie him up and leave him in the forest. Ultimately, the robbers bound his hands and feet and left him. After sometime the third robber returned and freed the person saying, “I am very sorry, hope you are not hurt. Come, I will lead you to the highway from where you can go home”. When they came to the road the man expressed his gratitude towards the robber – “You have been very kind to me. Come with me to my house”. The robber, obviously, refused and went away, while the man kept on looking at him charmed by the goodness of the robber and asked god to keep him safe.

This world itself is the forest, where Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the robbers robbing a man of the Knowledge of Truth (The Real), leaving him enchanted by Maya. Tamas wants to destroy him, Rajas binds him to the world, while Sattva rescues him from the clutches of the other two. Under the protection of Sattva, the man is rescued from anger, passion and other evil effects of Tamas. But then Sattva too is a robber who leaves him further off from the knowledge of Truth – of Moksha and Maya. Ultimately he is left mesmerised by Maya.

Isn’t this story an interpretation of the dialectic of coercion and consent (which is the basis of the State and its apparatuses) – translated in terms of the interplay of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva?

The Meaning of Anti-Casteism

Ambedkar clearly defined the meaning of the struggle against the caste system. For him it was not simply a petty bourgeois assertion of identity, a struggle for mere representation, as many exponents for and against the dalit movement have propounded. In his ILP days and again in “Who were the Shudras” (1946), Ambedkar essentially viewed the origin and function of caste (and therefore casteism) as conversion of “the scheme of division of work into a scheme of division of workers, into fixed and permanent occupational categories”. So the revolt against caste system (or casteism in a capitalist society) is a revolt against the material and ideological division of workers, against labour market segmentation, against the individualist-competitive ethic (a petty bourgeois tendency) among workers (which frequently takes identitarian forms). Only by questioning and destroying the whiteness of the “white” workers, a larger united working class movement could be posed in the racist societies like the US. Similarly in a casteist society like India, only by attacking the “upper/middle-caste-ness” among workers, a working class alternative could be posed. A drastic reorientation of the dalit movement (and therefore of the working class movement) is needed if it has to pose a real challenge to the caste system and casteism, as Ambedkar understood them. Dalit Movement has to re-emerge as the vanguard of the working class movement.