ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Class-Caste Debate Revisited

The recent critique of the Ambedkarite Dalit movement by Marxist critics has led to a hostile reaction from the former as it was seen as part of a long history of acrimonious relations between these two forces fi ghting similar battles for the deprived and oppressed. Can these two radical streams overcome this history of bad relations and misunderstandings to synthesise a new unifi ed politics of protest?

Within the Marathi dalit-Left intellectual circles, the class-caste debate has been at a stalemate for the last two decades. The attempts of bringing a synthesis between this ideological dialectic appear more of a rhetorical exercise. Further, as an academic interest too it has reached its deliberative limit as most of the commentaries have been repetitive in questioning the shortfalls of the independent class and caste movements. The two camps – caste and class – are at a loggerhead, as both refuse to compromise with their canonical positions. Thus, when Anand Teltumbde and other Marxist scholar activists presented a critical review on B R Ambedkar and his understanding of the class-caste struggle, an aggressive challenge has come from within intellectual circles, mainly on the social network sites from Maharashtra and Delhi.1 A Marxist critique of Ambedkar and the dalit movement can have theoretical merit, but it can only become substantive when it is placed in the actual sociopolitical context of Maharashtra. Similarly, the response by the Maharashtra dalit intellectuals to the Marxist critics is also reflective to the contested historic trajectory that continues to define and construct their ideological and programmatic orientations even in the contemporary situation.

It was in Ambedkar’s writings that the anti-caste movement in Maharashtra was introduced to the ideas of Marx in a formal way. He reprimanded the Marxian trend for its lack of democratic credentials, violent methods and their neglect of caste in the discussions over the Indian revolution. Marxism as a revolutionary doctrine was understood as unsuitable in the sociocultural uniqueness of India. However, similar to Jawaharlal Nehru, Ambedkar also appreciated the merits of Marxism for envisaging radical changes in India’s socio-economic relations and engaged with various facets of Marx’s ideas while thinking out his sociopolitical strategies. On the contrary, within the Left intelligentsia, there was an overt neglect to Ambedkar’s critical observations, and none among his contemporaries thought it necessary to build a systematic conversation with Ambedkar on the caste question. For the post-Ambedkar dalit movement, his critical appreciation of Marxism and its socialist ideals have become canonical instruments to judge its application for the sociocultural struggles in which the dalits have been engaged.

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