REPUBLIC OF CASTE

Book by Anand Teltumbde

Anand Teltumbde’s Republic of Caste came out in 2018, his book is relevant because the caste system and its evils still continue to plague the Indian society. The COVID-19 pandemic has perpetuated caste identities with several Upper Caste Brahmins practicing untouchability in the name of social distancing and safety. The idea of caste is deep-rooted in our society and this indirectly manifests into events that are masked in the debates of politics. The recent rape and murder case of Dalit women by four upper-caste men reiterates the existence of caste hierarchy being explicates through channels of violence and dominance. 

Teltumbde is a renowned scholar, activist, author, and professor at the Goa Institute of Management. His tryst with activism began in his school days when he fought against the hegemony of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the government school he studied in.

He is well-versed with the unpleasant caste and capitalist system, which only benefits the ones at the top. He believes that no radical change is possible in India without addressing the caste system.

The Republic of Caste does an extremely poignant and impeccable job of unpacking decades worth of oppression, discrimination, and ostracization faced by the Dalits in the country. The author accuses dominant political parties in the Indian political sphere of implementing token measures to appease a section of its voter base, like reservation policies. While Ambedkar did fight for the representation of Dalits through reservation policies, Teltumbde critically analyzes how reservation has played a role in emphasizing caste identities in the country as opposed to annihilating them which was Ambedkar’s vision. The book also addresses crimes and atrocities committed by members of the upper caste community against the Dalits. Incidents of crime are also unleashed against those who raise their voices against the state, – termed as ‘Naxals’ or ‘Maoists’. The author accuses the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) regime of curbing dissent and suppressing minority voices and how the party’s sole focus has been on propagating their ‘Hindutva agenda’. The author establishes a link between a fascist regime and neoliberal policies and their respective tendencies to favour members of the upper class. Concerning neoliberal policies, he glances at the state of education, healthcare, and business in the country. He comments on how the post-liberalization economy has resulted in an increase in PPP which is detrimental to the marginalized sections of society.  The book also reflects on the caste-class dichotomy, the inflection points between Ambedkar and Marx, and how the present-day struggle to annihilate caste can be inspired by the intersection of the two ideologies. In its entirety, the book is an excellent commentary on the impediments that plague the Indian landscape, the caste system in particular. 

Ideology and power, one of the central themes of the book, assess the influence of power on ideology and how the tastes of power intoxicate parties when they rise to the top. This in turn leads to an abuse of power and acting in their self-interest. ‘Educate. Agitate. Organize’ – a philosophy of Ambedkar that’s strongly advocated in different sections of the book. Another prominent theme in the book is the caste-class dichotomy. Ambedkar always believed that a solution to the caste problem in India lies in the intersection of class and caste. To substantiate this point, he talks about the ownership of land – a phenomenon common to the upper castes in the country, and the superiority they exert over minorities solely on these grounds. 

While the book provides an extensive critique of the caste system, reservation policies, the nature of political parties, the functioning of welfare schemes, etc., the author poses too many questions to the reader that he would like them to answer. The author does little to address the mobilization of Dalits against Dalit capitalists, middle-class Dalits who want to maintain the status quo because it is beneficial to them. When the author addresses Dalit protests and atrocities against the Dalits in the country, there are barely a handful of instances/cases from the south. While the author does touch upon the caste system in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, he does little to reflect upon the nature of protests in these states.