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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

Lohia Line on Destruction of the Caste System

Saturday 21 March 2009, by Anand Kumar

Dr Rammanohar Lohia was the theorist of seven revolutions in the context of creating a new world order on the basis of socialism. The programme of seven revolutions included confrontation with discrimination and deprivations based upon caste, class, race, gender and nationality. He wanted to give a new direction to the movement for socialism by giving equal emphasis to the struggles against sexism, class and caste-based exploitations.

It was a departure from the Marxist line of a class-centric programme for a socialist revolution. It was also going beyond the Gandhian emphasis on constructive programme of ending untouchability and casteism. These seven revolutions are suppoed to be simultaneously taking place in the modern world system and it was presented as the most outstanding feature of the twentieth century. These seven revolutions are: (1) for equality between man and woman; (2) against political, economic and other inequalities based upon skin colour; (3) against the inequalities between higher and backward castes and for preferential opportunities for the backward sections; (4) against foreign rules and for freedom and democratic world government; (5) for economic equality and planned production and against the lust for and system of private property; (6) against unjust interference in private life and for democratic methods; and (7) against arms and weapons and for Satyagraha. It is obvious that nearly half-a-century after this thesis of Lohia the world has moved closer to these noble aims in different parts of the world.

But the Lohia line of caste-related preferential opportunities has become the most powerful programme among the backward castes and communities in India. Lohia began conceptualising his understanding of the caste system (jati pratha) as well as his programme for eradication of castes (jati toro) between 1952 and 1967. The formal programme about preferential opportunities was adopted by his party at the Third Conference of the Socialist Party in 1959. He also created a manifesto of the Forum for Studying and Destroying Caste in 1960. He further developed his programme against the caste system by 1962 in the form of a seventeen-point programme. Finally an eleven-point programme was presented by him in a historical essay in 1966—Samta aur Sampannata. The Lohia line was first articulated in his famous lectures at Hyderabad in 1952 where he defined caste as immobile class and class as mobile caste. This was part of his worldview which has been published as Wheel of History.


Lohia interacted with some of the most important anti-caste leaders, movements and organisations of India in the 1950s with the quest for ending the caste system. He engaged with Dr B.R. Ambedkar in 1955-56 and Periyar Ramasami Naicker in 1958. He did not agree with the anti-Brahminism of both the social revolutionaries as it was found to be used for dominance of the middle caste in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. It generated a split among the poor of India. Lohia also found the necessity to connect the movements for unity among the non-dwija castes with the socialist movement to strengthen the struggle for equality and prosperity in India after independence. In Lohia’s view, the caste system has not created a bi-polar system of forward and backward castes. In fact there are three layers in the society because of the logic of the caste system—the real upper castes who are affluent, the fake upper castes who are the poor, and the backward shudras. He also underlined the pathetic condition of all women across caste lines. Thus he wanted unity of all the women, shudras and the fake upper caste people who are together trapped for centuries in the prison of poverty and powerlessness. Furthermore, he also wanted to take the anti-caste forces beyond the twin tragedies of jealousy and sycophancy so that a new age of unity, sacrifice and reconstruction may be inaugurated through struggle against the caste system.

He was aware of the negative and positive aspects of his caste policy. He used the metaphor of samudra-manthan where poison (vish) preceded nectar (amrit). He also used the example of Mahabharat to prepare the socialists of India for his anti-caste programme. He did agree that there will be need of largeheartedness on the part of the youth of the upper castes as the programme of preferential opportunities may contain elements of short-term injustices against them. But it has to be tolerated in order to energise the backward millions of men and women who are arrested in two prisons of caste and gender-based segregation for centuries. He also warned the victims of caste and gender-based injustices about the possibilities of their leadership adopting the ways and means of the upper-caste elite and destroy the dream of an egalitarian and prosperous Indian society through destruction of caste and class-based injustices.

Lohia wanted preferential opportunities for all the backward sections of the Indian society which included (a) women, (b) the backward castes, (c) the Scheduled Castes, (d) the Scheduled Tribes, and (e) the backward sections of Muslims and other minorities. These opportunities were in the fields of (i) political leadership, (ii) government jobs, (iii) army and (iv) economic enterprises. But he was against prevention of the children of non-backward sections from educational opportunities. He was against any reservations and discrimination in the field of education as he wanted quality of basic education for all children and open opportunities for higher education for all students. Therefore, he was only a partial supporter of the recommendations of the First Backward Classes Commission.

The Lohia line was part of his vision of seven revolutions. He wanted to combine the forces of class conflict and caste conflict. His dream was partially accepted in the later years in the form of the Mandal Commission recommendations. But there is a fundamental difference between the Lohia line and the Mandal mindset: Lohia wanted end of the caste system whereas the Mandal movement has only promoted a dominant-caste democracy. It is time to get back to the Lohia line.

The author is a Professor in Sociology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Co-ordinator, Global Studies Programme in the JNU.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62