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Mainstream, VOL L, No 14, March 24, 2012

Summons for the Global Community: Perceptions of Lohia on Caste and Gender

Tuesday 27 March 2012


“…. It is impossible to impart vigour to the country’s politics unless the uneducated are given a proper place in the leadership”.
—Rammanohar Lohia1

March 23, 2012 marks the 102nd birth anniversary of that legend of Indian politics, who had dedicated his whole life for the emancipation of the disadvantaged and marginalised classes. On this occasion, there has been a renewed political curiosity and awareness about the versatile personality of Rammanohar Lohia, the depth of his realisation of the deprived rural poor including women and his ideas for combating the impugns of the 21st century. Since his birthday coincided with the day of martyrdom of three of the country’s renowned revolutionary freedom fighters, namely, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru (who were executed by the British rulers in Lahore Jail on March 23, 1931, when Lohia was 21 years old), hence he did not want his followers to celebrate his birthday. However, during his birth centenary in 2010, the day was suitably observed in different parts of the country this year. In recognition of the importance of his views in the present problem-ridden society, Lohia has been widely remembered on several occasions across the nation since the last two years. The birth centenary celebrations went much beyond the linguistic and geographical boundary of Lohia’s mother tongue, Hindi, and his own State, Uttar Pradesh.

Lohia is remembered today as a ceaseless fighter for the upliftment of the suffering castes as well as women. He was a non-conformist, sensitive to human distress and played the role of an accusing prophet in an unjust society. He was a profound, innovative and original socialist thinker. He had not only embodied some noble aspirations for his country but also represented an important section of opinion in the Indian political scenario. He belonged to a lost generation in the Indian political life; came into the national movement in the early nineteen thirties, played a distinctive role in the movement, but was too young to claim a share in power immediately after independence and too old by the time conditions were suitable for an alternative leader-ship.2 He was the propagator of a new civilisation based on democracy, socialism, non-violence and disarmament. He was a great champion of an egalitarian international order and a world government. He considered himself as a world citizen. In the Third World, Gandhi and Lohia were the original thinkers in the real sense.3 Lohia was prominent among the few thinkers who questioned the modern civilisation’s ideals. In his essay ‘A Philosophical Hypothesis’, he wrote: ‘… those who adhere to God, demon or closed philosophies, be they Adam Smith or Karl Marx, and adhere to them in a rigid classical style, become fanatical and have exclusive faith in their own mistaken notions… I wish for our country to have an experimental frame of mind.’4 He wanted revolutionaries to at least try to remove the weapons of fear and hatred from their own armoury.
About political parties, he rejected the claim that there could be a conflict between party interest and national interest. The clash between the two could be possible only when a political party lost all its good content and became a mere ladder for more power. A party inevitably arises when the existing ways have lost their value and a new way becomes necessary.

Lohia stressed upon India’s poverty, misery and hypocrisy stemming from the twin segregation of caste and women. He did not agree with those who believed that building a modern industrialised economy would do away with these segregations. He observed that these two segregations of caste and women were basically responsible for the decline of the democratic spirit in India. He emphasised that all war on poverty was a wild-goose chase, unless at the same time it was a conscious and sustained war on these two segregations.

Recently the debate on women’s reservation did not remind people of Lohia, one of the first advocates of preferential opportunities for women, but the Mandal Commission’s report brought him to mind. As a result of the untiring efforts made by Lohia, the reservations for OBCs are being implemented now. He had shown the path for a substantive role for the backward castes in the politics of northern India.
Against this background, the present paper enumerates the relevance of Lohia’s vision for the all-round development of the peripheral castes and women, who constitute the majority of the Indian population living in rural areas. How his broadbased ideas can serve as a beacon for contemporary India and at the global level at large has been highlighted here.

Perceptions of Lohia on Caste

IN India, the credit goes to Lohia for bringing the caste phenomenon to the centre-stage of political discussions among Leftists. He subscribed to the view that every society encounters external and internal contradictions in the course of its develop-ment. Internally, class struggle heightens and beyond a particular point, it becomes very ‘unbearable’ and the danger arises that the social progress might come to a halt. Lohia vocally questioned upper-caste dominance. He advocated caste-based affirmative action. He had supported time-bound preferential opportunity for the backward castes. The traditional caste system and the new hierarchy based on knowledge of the English language dismantled the socialist principle of equality.

Lohia stated that there were two definite and very powerful movements against the caste system in India. The first began with the rise of Jainism and Buddhism and lasted till the decline of Mauryan rule, and the second during the Gupta period. Efforts were made to criticise and reform the caste system rather than destroy it altogether. Lohia believed that a war on the caste system was a necessary precondition for inculcating the spirit of national integration among the Indians and releasing their latent capacities for inno-vations. He tried to overturn the widespread thinking that industrialisation along with the development of transport facilities and increasing mobility of the people would make the caste system largely ineffective.

In July 1950, during the course of a discussion on Hinduism, he remarked: “Caste may slacken as an institution in some of its forms, but as a habit of mind it has not yet been dislodged.”5

Lohia stressed that class changed into caste in specific circumstances and, similarly, caste changed into class under specific conditions. He tried to give the clue to the reasons for the decline of the Indian society and its subjugation. According to Lohia, what differentiates caste from class is immobility that has played a negative role in class relationship, the immobility of an individual to get into a higher caste and of a whole caste to move up in status. Every society has known this movement from class to caste and vice-versa. This movement is at the root of almost all internal happenings.6 His idea of socialism was aimed at liberating the nation from British colonialism as well as unravelling the dark contours of caste and gender. He vocally discarded the caste system because it vigorously confined an individual to a narrow cell. The inherent potentiality of an indi-vidual does not get an opportunity for exploration due to the restrictions on the castes. If those branded as ‘low castes’ suffer in a caste-based society, the sufferings of the upper castes are also not negligible.7 The credit goes to Dr Lohia for bringing the lower castes into politics and giving them a sense of direction. It was largely due to his efforts that they came out of the confines of their caste sabhas from the mid-1950s.

Class-based disparity, apartheid and racial supremacy can be found in other parts of the world. In this context, Lohia’s recommendations can pave the way for substantive equality and social justice, which lays stress upon adequate access to resources. His vision is equally applicable to the communities beyond the national border. However, such noble ideals were forgotten by the new governments, supported by the bureau-cratic classes, that is, those who were indoctrinated by the legacy of the colonial administrations.

Lohia’s Thoughts on Gender Equity

LOHIA was an adherent and advocate of women’s emancipation. The movement for empowering women socio-economically should be boosted through increased awareness of their rights and duties as well as an avenue of access to resources. If these steps are sincerely implemented, then it would be a milestone towards greater security for them.

Lohia was one of the first advocates of preferential opportunities for women. His consistent and uncompromising advocacy of gender justice was not focused properly. He was in support of such a revolution by virtue of which women could become equal to men in all walks of life. In his view, active involvement of women in politics and decision-making levels cannot be imposed from above; it must grow up from the bottom. The ultimate goal of women’s empowerment based on Lohia’s conceptualisation of a four-pillar state is the welfare of all through production in the economic domain, equal participation in the political ambit, and mutual aid in the social sphere without taking into consideration caste, class or gender.
The misery and harassment women have to face in our orthodoxy and underdeveloped rural society was brought to our concern by Lohia. He observed: “The problem of the majority of Indian women is the lack of water taps and latrines. The Indian woman is condemned to the drudgery of drawing water, often dirty and muddy, from distant wells or ponds and carry it home every morning and evening. She must also save her modesty by easing herself in the open fields either before sunrise or after sunset.”8

In his opinion, it is a mistaken notion to think women as merely a machine for producing children. He observes only two crimes in the code of sexual conduct which cannot be excused or overlooked: rape and the breach of trust or promise. There is also a third offence of causing pain to others which they should avoid upto their level best. Legally abortion should be permitted in an overpopulated country like India. Lohia was deeply concerned over the fate of the coloured women because they are the worst suffering group of people.

Women’s participation in collective political life is remarkably limited also in developed countries like Russia and America. In Lohia’s view, “Women have to be conscious and aware to feel and realise at every step of their life that they are builders of their nation and a peaceful world.”

Lohia was a great motivator of gender equity. He gave emphasis on the view that “in place of Ram-Rajya, the ideal society should be named as Sita-Ram-Rajya”.9 He quite often gave the instances of mythical characters like Draupadi, Savitri and others for making his idea graspable and well acceptable to the masses. The lifestyle and liberal rationality of Draupadi of Mahabharata appeared to be inspiring to Lohia. The vivid, dominating, intellectual and respectable personality of Draupadi was the ideal woman in Lohia’s vision. He cited various instances referring to the vibrant persona of Draupadi on many occasions.

In his work “Sapta Krantiya”, Lohia mentioned seven types of inequalities. Among them, inequality between men and women was the central point of his thinking. According to him, participation of women in the policy and decision-making processes at the domestic and public levels are the most important indicators of women’s empowerment.10

In his words, “I believe the goal of empowerment depends on a three-fold revolution. The first is to change the people’s heart. The second is to create a change in their lives. The third is to change the social structure. I do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness. I want both men and women to come out of the ‘psychological trap’ in which they have got entangled.”


LOHIA draws our attention towards the pitfalls of modern civilisation as it is based on poverty, hatred and war. His movement for the development of rural poor, suffering caste and women should be of utmost importance. Rural India constitutes 70 per cent of our population and happens to be the economic backbone of our country through agriculture and agro-based industries. Hence, the economic development of the marginalised sections of society including women is very crucial for inclusive growth. Lohia’s ideal for the socialistic pattern of economic growth was at the grassroot level and in confor-mity with the culture and tradition of the Indian society. He strongly advocated education and development in science and technology through the Hindi medium, so that villagers and common men can improve their traditional skills. Education is the central wheel of progress, self-respect and active participation of the masses for development of rural and urban areas.
Lohia’s vision for socialistic ideals was very clear and mature. He was firm in putting into action what he believed to be essential for the welfare of the suppressed caste and women. In the present era most of the national development efforts are running towards infrastructural development, massive buildings and hotels in big cities been testimony to it. In this process, only the rich people are being benefited. The backward castes and women in villages are the worst sufferers. Hence Lohia’s ideals are imperative for the common people’s wealth, education, health and participation in politics.

Various societies have their own geographical and cultural characteristics based upon their traditional knowledge. These form the very identity of the people. An anguished section, including poor women and children, is there in most societies as in India and Western countries as well. So, neglecting the development of this strata would have negative consequences for their cultural identity, traditional position, and overall development process. Marginalised castes, women and children, those deprived of the minimal needs, can be found in many of the Third World countries and they form the majority there. Acknowledging the above perception of Lohia, his principles to combat against the miserable condition of suffering castes and women can act as a guideline in the newly liberated nations of Asia and Africa. The social inclusion of these peripheral classes has not been effectively done under the present government set-up in most of the countries. The economic development of the underprivileged classes is essential for substantive equality. Dr Lohia’s campaign against unemployment, food and health problems and total upliftment of the suffering classes are not limited to the Indian society. This can be co-related with similar problems in other societies as well.
Lohia raised several theoretical issues pertaining to society, political sphere, economy and the global system such as cyclical movement of history and society, elimination of inequality at the international level through a world parliament and an equal world order.11 In the current scenario these concepts are more relevant than ever before.

Beacon for the Contemporary Realm

THE birth centenary of Lohia offered an opportunity to revisit his background. His personality, political career, thought processes and ideological orientation stimulated his followers to prepare a comprehensive plan to spread his vision of the restructuring of the Indian society and world order. His nationalism was not narrow. Lohia was totally against the kind of anti-Brahmanism that is prevalent in the south. He called it distorted and wanted the Sudras in the north to discard it. They must not adopt the same way, he said. He was aware of the likely catastrophic consequences in the north because of the greater hold of Brahmanical traditions and the numerical significance of the Dvijas. It was indispensable for the abolition of the caste system that the political leadership should come from among the Sudras, it should be broadminded, truly national and respected by all the other sections of society. The Sudras coming to the position of power and leadership must not think of only their communities but be sensitive to the interests and welfare of all the communities prevailing in the society including the upper castes. Lohia opined that it was in the self-interest of the Dvijas to struggle for destroying the caste system, because so long as the caste system survived, the country could not develop and gain in strength and implement substantive equality.
Similarly pertaining to gender justice, Lohia’s thought was indubitably relevant and fruitful for the contemporary phase. In over half-a-century of freedom we have neither been able to clothe our women nor been able to provide them the basic necessities such as secure and adequate number of toilets and shelter even in the Capital city of Delhi. This problem was brought to our notice and attention by Lohia.

If one looks closely at the history of India from ancient times to the modern day, one identifies certain common elements. These elements were integrated into a full-fledged line for maintaining the unity and integrity of the Indian nation and bringing about its continuous socio-economic and cultural renewal. Secularism, social homogenisation, humanism, democratisation, equality, national integration and so on can be easily discerned as its integral elements. In this context, the significance and applicability of Lohia’s approaches in the contemporary period in relation to the place of castes and classes in Indian society, preferential opportunities to the weaker sections, due place of the Indian languages in official work and administration, history writing and researches in Indian universities and abroad have became a matter of deep contemplation. These issues are more prominent in the first decades of the 21st century when communism has collapsed and the world system based on the Western capitalistic market economy, globalisation and liberalisation is confronted with robust economic crisis.
There are very few political personalities in India who have contributed substantially for the freedom struggle and the nation’s post-independence regeneration, development planning and awakening in such a brief life-span. Lohia led several mass movements and was jailed on many occasions in both the pre- and post-independence period. He was an uncompromising soldier with a commanding influence and could not be suppressed by either force or coercion. Lohia died over four decades ago. The Socialist Parties he had helped to found in the ambit of national politics no more exist today. Even in such a distressing moment, if Lohia is remembered and talked about across the country in a variety of dialects, it is undeniably a measure of the individual and a source of inspiration for all those who adore their nation and hate exploitation in any form.11 Therefore, here lies the significance of recognising the application of Lohia’s concepts and ideas for the upliftment of the destitute classes in the 21st century.
Conforming to our tradition of worshipping Maa Ganga with its own water, we are remembering the contribution of Lohia through the intellectual exercise of understanding the deep insights of his thoughts, and that is how we are paying rich tributes to him.

He was a veteran freedom fighter, great futurist thinker, founder of the Indian socialist movement, a practitioner of Gandhian techniques of resistance and an active proponent of the sketch of a world government. He was an incessant fighter for Indian independence and his basic objective was to reconstruct India through upright politics, substantive equality, social justice, decent standard of life, capital formation through control over lavish disbursement, giving a judicious place for Indian languages, abolition of castes and unfolding an opportunity for the backwards through time-bound partisan measures.12 What Lohia demanded was preferential action for the lower castes, not only in the matter of jobs, but even while electing leaders of political parties. Lohia tried to bring out the dissimilarity between the rural based and urban based Dvijas. The former were no better than the Sudras, because they were not benefited by whatever progress the country had made.

On the auspicious occasion of his birth centenary, his principles and contemplation pertaining to society, polity, economy, culture, world order have been profoundly discussed threadbare, appraised and, wherever found appropriate, as per the demands of time and space, have been sought to be applied. In the present era, where one finds the human race suffering from ethic strifes, caste based conflicts and gender discrimination, Lohia’s views can serve as a soothing balm for the nation and world community. One shall be paying the best homage to Dr Lohia by upholding his intellectual contri-bution for arousing the downtrodden classes including women.

1. Lohia, Rammanohar, Will in Power and Other Writings, Hyderabad, 1956.
2. Mishra, Girish and Pandey, Braj Kumar, Rammanohar Lohia: The Man and His Ism, New Delhi: Eastern Books, 1992.
3. Padia, Chandrakala, Orientalism and the Question of Women: In the Eyes of Modern Indian Thinkers, Varanasi: Centre for Women’s Studies and Development, BHU (in Hindi), 2007.
4. Verma, Vishwanath Prasad, Aadhunik Bharatiya Rajnitik Chintan, Agra: L.N. Agrawal, 1971.
5. Ray, Ram Kamal, Rammanohar Lohia: Aacharan ki Bhasha, Allahabad: Lokbharti Prakashan, 1995.
6. Ravindranath and Syed, Ayub, “Left Unity: Lohia’s Approach”, Mainstream, XLVIII, No. 13 (2010): 17-21.
7. Yadav, Yogendra, “On Remembering Lohia”, Economic and Political Weekly, XLV, No. 40 (2010): 46-50.
8. Acharya, Pritish, “Remembering Rammanohar Lohia”, Mainstream, XLVIII, no. 13 (2010): 22-24.
9. Krishna, Gopal, “Rammanohar Lohia: An Appreciation”, Economic and Political Weekly, 3, no. 26/28. (1968): 1105-1114.
10. Prasad, Bhagwat, “Evolutionary Socialism and Lohia in the Twentyfirst Century”, Mainstream, XLIX, No. 13, (2011): 21-27.
11. Chitta Ranjan, C.N., “A Legacy for the Left”, Mainstream, XLVII, No. 43 (2009): 16-19.
12. Kapoor, Mastram, “Lohia’s Prescription for Capitalism’s Crises”, Mainstream, XLIX, no. 13 (2011): 27-29.
13. Nene, S.R., “Gandhi and Dr Lohia—Eternal Optimists”, Mainstream, XLVII, No. 43 (2009): 19-25.
14. Dubey, Satya Mitra, “Dr. Rammanohar Lohia: A Rebel Socialist and a Visionary”, Mainstream, XLIX, No. 13 (2011): 30-35.
15. Dave, Anurag, “Lohia Ki Drishti me Bhartiya Naari” in Prachyavad aur stree ka Prashna: Aadunik bhartiya Chintako ki Dristi, Chandrakala Padia (ed.), Varanasi: Centre for Women’s Studies and Development, BHU, 2007.


1. Gopal Krishna, “Rammanohar Lohia: An Appreciation” in EPW, 3, no. 26/28. (1968): 1106.

2. Gopal Krishna, “Rammanohar Lohia: An Appreciation” in EPW, 3, no. 26/28. (1968): 1105.

3. Bhagwat Prasad, “Evolutionary Socialism and Lohia in 21st Century’’, Mainstream, XLIX, no. 13, (2011): 21.

4. Ibid., 21.

5. For further studies see, Rammanohar Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, 114.

6. Girish Mishra and Braj Kumar Pandey, Rammanohar Lohia: The Man and His Ism, New Delhi: Eastern Books (1992), 154.

7. Pritish Acharya, “Remembering Rammanohar Lohia”, Mainstream, XLVIII, no. 13, (2010):23.

8. Ibid., 52-54.

9. Pritish Acharya, “Remembering Rammanodhar Lohia”, Mainstream, (2010): 24.

10. Rammanohar Lohia, Caste System, (Hyderabad: RML Samata Vidyalaya, 1986), 102-105.

11. Satya Mitra Dubey, “Dr Rammanohar Lohia: A Rebel Socialist and a Visionary”, Mainstream, XLIX, no. 13 (2011): 30.

12. Satya Mitra Dubey, “Dr Rammanohar Lohia: A Rebel Socialist and a Visionary” Mainstream, (2011): 34.

Manisha Mishra is a Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. She ccan be contacted at e-mail: HYPERLINK "mailto:manish-asumi@gmail.com"manish-asumi@gmail.com

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