Babasaheb said, “They cannot make history who forget history”.
The term ‘Shudra’ is very difficult to understand. Who are/were they; how did they come to be known by this name? How did they become the fourth varna in the Indo-Aryan society? Many questions like this come up when one tries to understand the history of Shudras. Babasaheb, in his essay ‘Who were the Shudras’, says that the word Shudra lost its original meaning of being the name of a particular community and became a general name for a low-class people without civilization, without culture, without respect, and without position. Many other historians have also theorized around the position of Shudras in society. In today’s context, people do not identify themselves as Shudras. Largely, people from the OBC (Other Backward Classes) community are identified as Shudras. But they are lost in today’s India, as they haven’t ventured into understanding their own history.
Dalits have begun to organize in order to overcome the structural oppression that they face because they have chosen to walk on the path laid down by Babasaheb. They have fully embraced Ambedkar. They are making themselves more educated and have begun to investigate their own history. But the Shudras neither have Ambedkar nor do they chose to follow the legacy of Savitri/Jotiba Phule, who have shown a way for their liberation. In the post-independence era, the life of Dalits in India has undergone many changes due to their strong collective efforts. However, the Shudra society has not yet produced a contemporary thinker with whose help they can liberate themselves from years of oppression. If a Shudra is able to read or write today, it is only because of the relentless struggle of Dalit-Bahujan anti-caste thinkers, starting from Buddha to Savitribai, Jotiba Phule, Fatima Sheikh, Shahuji Maharaj, Periyar, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanshiram, and many others. But only a few among the Shudras seems to know about these personalities; the school curriculum has also failed to inform them about their own history.
Since Dalits have been walking in the path set by Babasaheb Ambedkar, they have been working towards creating an egalitarian society. That has helped them improve their own lives. They are now aspiring to get into higher educational spaces, which have been denied to them for many years. And most importantly, they are living a life of self-respect and self-dignity. But the situation of the Shudras is grave; they have not lived a life with freedom, self-dignity, and respect. They haven’t even lived for themselves in their entire history. They have always been living to serve others, specifically the upper castes in society. Kancha Ilaiah has noted that ‘the Shudras have been allowed to use their muscle power but not their brainpower’.
Mahatma Phule has been a pioneering thinker who constructed a theory that realized the connection between knowledge and power. Communities that were given opportunities to acquire education have always been in better social positions. Shudra society was never allowed to read and write, because of which they have suffered for thousands of years. In his own words, “Lack of education led to lack of wisdom. Lack of wisdom led to lack of morals. Lack of morals led to lack of progress. Lack of progress led to lack of money. Lack of money led to the oppression of Shudras. Lack of education led (the Shudras) to such catastrophes”. Even as Shudras were allowed to access education in later years, they merely remained as the recipients of knowledge and not the producers of knowledge. To bring about a revolution, the people of society have to write their own history. The Shudras know their struggle; they know their pain better. Now many of the Shudras are well educated, and we must let them write their own history. Through imposing their literature upon the Dalit-Bahujan, the upper castes have done a crime. It is time to get out of such victimization and take power in our own hands.
Jotiba and Savitri Phule were one of the first who embraced the indigenous voice in writing about history as well as socio-economic and political life of the people. Because of their relentless efforts, many Shudras have been able to benefit from higher education. Many are studying in foreign universities as well. But it is very sad to note that not even a single biography or a book has been written on Jotiba and Savitribai Phule by his own people.
It is really very important to understand how Brahmanism had rendered the Shudras a ‘low-class people without civilization, without culture, without respect and without position’. Only a new Shudra consciousness can change this scenario and set the Shudras, as well as the entire country, on a better course. The rest depends upon the Shudras (OBCs). Many Shudra intellectuals, writers, scholars are beginning to challenge the course of society. For long, Shudras have been bearing the discriminations that have been imposed upon them. For years, they were not allowed to enter schools. Only now people are getting a better education. If the Shudras do not start fighting for their rights now, they will have to struggle for thousands of more years. That which can be done in this generation, it is better to do it now. This burden should not be passed on to the upcoming generations. It is unfortunate to see that instead of raising their hands for education, some Shudras are raising their hands for building temples. They are not able to understand that temples are preventing them from accessing true education. They must see that the journey of liberation passes through the doors of schools and not temples.
Babasaheb has said that non-Brahmins must get highly educated and occupy strategically important positions, which have remained the monopoly of Brahmins since long. If the OBCs do not wish to remain under the thumbs of others (Brahmins), they should concentrate on two things: education and politics. It is high time to join hands with the other lower castes, who too have been victims of the caste system since years. And fight back against those, who are preventing other people from accessing important resources in the public sphere. Dr. Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, Jotiba Phule continued to emphasize the need for the Shudras to empower themselves. Shudras are awakening gradually. They must not forget that the future of this country depends upon them.
Dedicated to my fellow Shudra friends, who have not yet realized their slavery.
Subal Meher is from Balangir, Odisha and is currently pursuing his Masters in Dalit and Tribal Studies from TISS, Mumbai.
Published on Sep 6, 2019 at 05:18