IN this paper, to trace the origins of the dalit question we take up a detailed analysis of the genesis of the caste system in the ancient communal mode of production in India and the changes in it with the dissolution of this communal mode and the development of commodity production and capitalism. Since an analysis of Ambedkarism was there in the recent Special Issue of Liberation we are not repeating it here but take up certain aspects of dalit movements and dalit politics in post-47 India. We have sought to trace the caste-class interface in different periods in the context of dalit question.

Resolution of the dalit question is ultimately related to the abolition of the caste system. The caste system existed on the basis of certain core principles like endogamy, hereditary occupational particularisation of endogamous groups, a social hierarchy based on oppression, economic exploitation and ritual ranking as well as a social division-of labour etc. There have been lots of changes in the caste system over time. To get an understanding about these changes let us see how the system evolved concretely in history.

The Genesis of the Caste System

The origin of varna divisions can be traced back to the early-Vedic times — the latter part of the second millennium BC — among Aryan tribes in northeastern India. The vedic society consisted of various tribes, both Aryan and non-Aryan. The tribes, mainly the Aryan tribes, were made of numerous clans. The central organizing principle and the binding factor in the clan was the principle of lineage. The clan, as such, consisted of various lineage groups, each owing its origin to a common ancestor, real or imaginary. These lineage groups are referred to as Vamsha, Parampara or Kula.

Rigvedic society was predominantly pastoral. Agriculture was secondary. Only by mid-first millennium B.C., settled agriculture seems to have achieved predominant position. The land was communally held by the clan/lineage groups and cultivated by the households. There was no indication of private ownership in land in Vedic sources. The household is a kin group, a family of three or four generations. This is the setting which gave rise to the Varna system – the division of society into Brahman, Rajanya/kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra – the concrete evolution of which is as follows.

The emergence of two distinct categories of people viz. Brahmans and Kshatriyas as distinct lineages and households is related to the rise of religion and political authority in their embryonic forms inside the clans. The word Brahma (from the root brih) means prayer and Brahman means utterer, or conductor of prayer. The term Kshatra means power and Kshatriya or Kshatrapati means the person who exercises' power. Whole clans, and at a lesser level, lineage groups, emerged after some prominent Rajanyas, notable among them being Chandravamasa and Suryavamasa clans. These Rajanyas backed by their lineage groups exercised power over a territory and in latter Vedas they came to be referred as Kshatriyas. It may be noted that in the early vedic times neither Brahmins nor Kshatriyas were close endogamous groups to begin with nor these occupations, if they may be called that, were hereditary occupations. The urge to have monopoly over positions of social pre-eminence have made these groups exclusive.

Vaishya is derived from the early vedic term of vis. Vis originally referred to the whole clan as can be seen from the usage of this term for non-Aryan clan as well. After the emergence of two distinct lineage groups from within the clan viz. Brahmanc. and Kshatriyas, Vis came to denote the rest of the clan, that is, the ordinary people. In early Vedic times, the Vis were common people engaged in pastoral, and latter, agricultural and other occupations. But there is no reference to their having any hereditary monopoly over these occupations though the Vis/Vaishyas also became an endogamous group subsequently. The lineage principle was not so prominent among them as it was among Brahmans and Kshatriyas. The Vis, latter Vaishyas, were the primary producers and the surplus produced by them went to Brahmans and Kshatriyas in the form of prestations – offerings during sacrifices and religious ceremonies.

The Shudras were probably earlier inhabitants - both descendants of prior Aryan immigrations as well as non-Aryan native tribes conquered by the invading Aryan tribes and put to enslaved labour. It is interesting to note that the concept or practice of pollution — which was central to the dalit question — does not find a single mention in Vedas. It was only after the Aryan conquests were greatly extended and they settled down fully in agriculture in the plains of Yamuna and Ganges, the Shudras seem to have been fully incorporated into the varna system as the lowest varna and were put to a status of total servility.

From Varna to Jati

Yajurveda (800-600 BC), in its thirteenth chapter, mentions various distinctive categories in the community. By this time Aryans had settled down in village community with a certain measure of stability. Brahmins had become a hereditary and endogamous priesthood and they had developed elaborate rituals and detailed religious rites. Gradual centralisation of lineage authority and clan authority into a political authority spread over vast areas was taking place and apart from warfare and internal order and security, land and tax administration had become two important functions of the proto-state. Though the village communities were primarily based on agriculture, a considerable division of labour on the basis of diverse occupations too had developed. Trade, mostly barter trade, too had developed to some extent.

There in no mention in Yajurveda of any ranking among these people engaged in such occupations nor of these occupations being confined to some hereditary group in a fixed manner. Most of these occupational groups and non-Aryan tribal or regional groups were ultimately recognised to form distinctive jatis. Apart from these two origins of jatis, many of the groups known subsequently as jatis were latter attributed by Manu to varna sankara or varns-admixture. Brahminical priesthood considered some occupations low and degrading so that they attributed the origins of those involved in such occupations to impurity of blood and lineage, thereby ascribing a low status to them.

Privileges, status differentiation, ritual-ranking and defilement or pollution first occur in the context of Vedic sacrifices and are mentioned for the first time in the immediate post-Vedic works. Thus these categories and untouchability which first originated in the context of the Vedic sacrifices were further extended and generalized to encompass all aspects social life and became general principles of gradation and social differentiation. In tune with this ritual ranking of various varnas and jatis, the numerous occupations were also ranked as high and low. Here it may be noted that these occupations were not the products of a division of labour based on commodity production and exchange; rather they were based primarily on the self-sufficient village community and on labour-service, and in certain instances, barter. More on this later. The forced labour-service and the religious values attached to certain things like corpses of animals, skin, excrement, hair etc. partly explains why certain occupations came to be considered low. But the low status ascribed to labour as such has a deeper significance. The corvee labour, i.e., forced free labour-service, and the confining of certain groups to ‘menial’ occupations were also the basis for the origin of the hegemony of one social group over another.

The fusion of ritual ranking and occupational ranking in combination with the principles of endogamy and lineage within the kin group gradually gave rise to a social order of varnas and jatis in the form of a hierarchy of hereditary-occupational groups. Tradition and the necessity of the reprod action of the social and economic conditions may have played a role in bringing about the occupational rigidity, that is, herediterization of occupations and occupational particularization of heredity groups. Certain occupations' were confined to certain jatis and members of other jails were discouraged from taking up these occupations. Historical facts amply prove that the social order was evolving in an imperfect way and at no point reached perfection in tune with the theoretical varna-jati model as subsequently propounded by Brahminism.

However, what made this social order rigidly iron-clad was the twofold attempts of the Brahminical priestcraft. The Brahmans developed and interpreted religion in such a manner as to make the social order religiously sanctioned. The Brahminical doctrines like the undifferentiated unity between atman and Brahman, of rebirth, of karma and dharma, or divinely ordained rewards and punishments and high and low status etc., and their concrete interpretation in the light of social realities brought about a sacralization of the social order. The spiritual and material conditions of an individual as well as those of a varna or jati became inseparable. Violations and deviations in either the spiritual or material realm would automatically mean concomitant variations in the other realm. Secondly, the Brahmans gave ideal and juridical expressions to various facets of the evolving social order and codified them into laws called sutras. Once the varna-jati social order was given legal expression and some divinity was attributed to these sutras, they became the dogma and it became obligatory for both the political authority as well as the society to abide by them. Thus the emergence of Brahminism as a full-fledged ideological and political system marks a qualitatively new stage in the development of varna-jati system.

The Communal Mode and its Dissolution

Since caste was one of the organising principles of the communal mode no substantial change in the caste system was possible without a break up of this mode. Here we set aside the controversy whether the communal mode of production existed in India exactly as described by Marx. Whatever might have been the exceptions in certain areas and at certain points in history there in no denying the fact that the village community system existed in vast areas of India down to the British period.

The village community was based on caste division of labour without commodity production or exchange. There was no private ownership of land but land nominally owned by the state was privately possessed. The surplus was extracted for the state but was also shared by the dominant castes at the village level, mainly by Kshatriyas, Brahmins and Vaishyas. The Shudras were made to either cultivate the communally owned land allotted to them in parcels or were put to labour-service. Among those who were engaged in labour-service some were made to work as farm-hands in the households of Vaishyas and other dominant castes who cultivated the land directly and others were engaged to perform various other types of services, both in agriculture as well as in handicrafts, and both for the community as well as for the dominant households.

There were two main forms in relations of production and in surplus extraction — rent-in-kind (in the form of tribute) and labour-service. It is obvious that such economic exploitation based on a generalised relation of lordship and servitude even in the absence of private property in land can be perpetuated only through a generalised system of extra-economic coercion. Caste system, based on an ‘unalterable division of labour’, made unalterable by religious sanction and enforcement by the despotic state, was precisely an institutionalisation of such a system of domination and extra-economic coercion.

In the absence of private ownership in land, slavery did not exist as a mode of production in India. Caste system was a modified form of slavery where slaves were not privately owned but there was attached labour and socialised forms of enslavement. The individual doesn't become independent of the community just as he doesn't become independent of his position in the iron-clad caste division of labour. New occupations created new caste groups but as a general rule one cannot switch over from one occupation to another just as one cannot change one's caste which is a hereditary and endogamous group.

But this caste division of labour was by no means horizontal as we have seen. Under the Brahminical orthodoxy, there was an occupational ranking, and accordingly a ritual ranking and on that basis there was a social ranking. There was differentiation among Shudras based on their occupations and the ranking of these occupations on the basis of the values of purity and pollution attached to them. But in the later context of commodity production the economic significance of these occupations also had a crucial role to play in further differentiation.

The broad categories among Shudras were the cultivator castes who cultivated the land under the possession of Vaishyas and other dominant castes and who paid rent-in-kind as well as extended labour service, the farm hands attached to the households of dominant castes and who were put to agricultural labour, various artisan castes engaged in the production of use-values for the community and various other service castes providing services of different ritual ranking to both the community as well as dominant households.

The future dalits and the backward castes — the cultivating and the artisan castes and the service castes — are to emerge from this category of Shudras. The cultivators and artisans among Shudras in view of their role in production assuming greater significance in the future context of commodity production were to move up within the social hierarchy while the farm hands and some of the service castes confined to certain occupations of very low ranking, the socalled menial occupations, were confined to the lowest rungs of the caste system and came to be treated as the untouchables.

Centering around the two main forms of exploitative production relations — the rent-in-kind and the labour-service two proto-classes emerged. The future classes of peasantry and the landless peasants/agricultural labourers were to crystallise around these two proto-class categories. Within the same caste category of Shudras at least two major categories of agrarian classes were thus to emerge in addition to the petty-producer class of artisans. Likewise, within the class category of (landless) labourers there were numerous jatis or castes with various occupations.

As we have mentioned already, the precondition to any change in the caste system was the dissolution and the disintegration of this communal mode of production. And the key to any substantial change in the caste system was the delinking of occupation and caste. In other words, the principle of occupational particularisation of hereditary endogamous groups should collapse even for some minimal substantial changes in the relations of hierarchy and domination. Introduction of commodity relations was the only subversive force which alone was capable of bringing about this change.

Nonetheless the village community mode had an unchangeable quality about it. Marx said that this mode necessarily survives the longest. The dissolution of this mode means development of commodity production and its generalisation, emergence of private ownership of land and land itself becoming a commodity, labour becoming a commodity and emergence of free wage labour, transformation of labour-rent into rent-in-kind or money-rent etc. Other services should be paid for and be free. Only then the relations of dependence can change from personal and communal forms of dependence to objective form of dependence based on money and commodity exchange. Only then there can be a break up of the old precapitalist division of labour without commodity exchange and hence the break up of the caste system.

But this break up was not to begin in a big way until the advent of the British. True, the commodity production had developed to some extent in some parts of the pre-British India. But only the exchange of products between the communities and between the urban centres and the village communities which mainly assumed the commodity form. Guilds were engaged in petty-commodity production but they were based on attached labour of the kinship groups or artisan castes called Shrenis. Though under the form of rent-in-kind it is theoretically possible for the direct producer to retain some portion of the surplus in some cases and convert it into a commodity its role remained only marginal and not adequate enough to undermine the village community system based on the unison of self-sufficient agriculture and handicrafts. May be in due course of development, gradually it could have disrupted the village community system. But it was mainly the British intervention that caused substantial disruption which was described by Marx as a historically very progressive step.

Before this crucial turning point was reached the society witnessed lots of changes but they were changes on the surface like dynastic wars, succession struggles, rise and fall of empires etc., while the foundation of the society, the village community remained unaltered by all these changes taking place on the surface. Of course, in the mediaeval literature there are many references to the rebellions from the lower castes, especially Shudras but they were all put down by the upper castes and the despotic state and without any substantial change in the development of productive forces they ended up without altering the basic caste structure. At the social level also there were many important changes including those in the caste hierarchy. For instance, with the development of productive forces following the transition from pastoral to settled agricultural society, the Brahminical practice of Vedic sacrifices of cattle amounted to enormous waste of productive forces which was resisted by Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who rallied to put up a powerful challenge to the Brahminical orthodoxy which found reflection in the realm of religious struggles in the form of Buddhist challenge to Brahminism.

It was a powerful challenge which dislodged Brahminism from the high pedestal for a while. Though Buddhism challenged the supremacy of Brahmins and the Brahminical doctrines it was never a thoroughgoing fight against varna-jati system as a whole. Rather Gautam Buddha himself explicitly acknowledged the role of shudras in the caste hierarchy. In this sense the reverence for Buddhism found among latter-day dalitists is totally misplaced. The Shudrus had virtually no stakes or role in the struggles waged by Kshatriyas and Vaishyas against Brahmins. It is because of these inconsistencies of Buddhism, due of course to its historical and social limits, that Brahminism, in a slightly modified form, could reestablish its hegemony again.

There was also the trend of Brahminisation among many lower castes which the sociologist MN Srinivas calls Sanskritisation. There was a tendency among the lower castes to take to the rituals and customs of the immediately higher castes and claim a higher status in the caste hierarchy. Again this tendency too was largely confined to certain higher layers of the caste hierarchy — at the most it came down up to the higher rungs among Shudra castes who were to escape from the total untouchability stigma but who themselves were to treat other Shudra castes as untouchables.

Capitalism and the Caste System

After the British advent, the land settlement, the colonial trade, the development of cash crops in agriculture and the consequent development of commodity relations in a widespread manner started the process if real break up of the village community system. The land became a commodity, wage relations started appearing even though wage labour was not generalised, sections of the populations were torn away from their traditional occupations. There was an exponential growth in the number of occupations, and obviously, the new occupations could not lead to new castes. The people who wanted to escape from the semi-slavery of the village community increasingly found many outlets in the newly emerging urban areas; many areas of economic and social life were becoming secular and comparatively caste-free; and the migration to urban areas and the recruitment of people including from the lower castes into the colonial army and their subsequent demobilisation and the recruitment of a large – labour force for the plantations etc., caused serious dislocations in the rigid village community and the caste system. While on the one hand, they loosened the rigid caste bonds, on the other hand, they increased the oppression of the feudal upper castes who wanted to keep the old system going. The development of modern education by the British for the first time created the possibility of at least a few from the lower castes acquiring modern education. The development of railways, setting up of industries and emergence of big urban centres accelerate all these processes.

But the most important blow that the caste system received from the nascent capitalism was the delinking of occupations and castes. While majority of the people from a caste continued with their old occupations, for the first time there was a possibly of some of them switching over to occupations which are not caste-particular, was opened up, even though this process was very slow. The new occupations did not create new castes. But the new occupations also had some sort of social ranking — as it exists even in the present-day capitalist societies — depending upon their economic significance. For instance, people from the lower castes were mostly absorbed in low-paid unskilled jobs, from the intermediate castes they went into industrial jobs and the higher castes took jobs in the colonial administration. In this sense the new capitalism did not abolish social inequality but only created only a new, supposedly-secular, social hierarchy. The old social hierarchy reflected in the new hierarchy without the rigidity of the caste system however. The possibility for upward and downward mobility was open. This was to throw up certain new dimensions in the caste struggles later as we shall see. Additionally, the capitalist technology and the system of mass production in factories in combination with the generalised system of commodity exchange destroyed many old caste-based occupations and released a huge mass of people from their traditional occupations. Thus capitalism dealt a mortal blow to one of the cardinal principles of the caste system. And this delinking of the caste from occupations, even though it was not complete, was the first major step in the break up of the caste system.

Even in the case of those who were confined to their traditional caste occupations there was an important difference. They were no longer limited to producing use-values but were beginning to produce exchange-values or commodities. So the relations of personal dependence were beginning to be replaced by the relations of dependence on the market.

Urbanisation and capitalist development also started striking at another evil feature of the caste system, viz. untouchability. For instance, there was this obnoxious practice of carrying the night soil by some dalit castes. Several decades of efforts by prominent reformists including Ambedkar could not put an end to this practice. What finally started abolishing this practice was the modern urban planning and the development of the sewage system. While dalits are refused to be served or served food in separate vessels even now in some parts of rural India such a thing is unimaginable in the hotels of big cities.

But these processes had just begun as trends and by no means were complete. Since capitalist development in India did not proceed in a rapid and revolutionary manner they were very gradual and painfully long. Moreover all these processes did not proceed automatically. Even though the conditions were created for them almost each and every change came about through bitter and bloody struggles. As the imperialism and later the Indian bourgeoisie compromised with feudalism, the feudal forces were not destroyed in one stroke but large-scale feudal remnants are prevalent everywhere in rural India even now.

In the setting of underdeveloped capitalism caste ties assumed new roles. They became the means for social mobility and securing employment. The literate upper castes could get government jobs through their caste connections. Caste as an institution became crucial for the development of entrepreneurship. The trading castes like Banias and Chettiars accumulated more money, stole a march over other upper castes in terms of economic power, became compradors to the British but caste connections were very important to their business. Under conditions of underdeveloped capitalism certain castes even turned into corporate groups which brought about their transition to find a place in the new capitalist setting.

Even after the delinking of castes and occupations, caste still remained an endogamous group. Due to the rituals, customs and sub-cultures of each caste it had an ethnic identity as well. But at the social level the hierarchy was still continuing. Not only because of differences in the average economic status and inequalities in employment and education but also because of the wide prevalence of the feudal values of the caste system in the entire society. Capitalism only introduced a formal equality of opportunity which was largely theoretical and not real equality. In real life it only widened the inequalities. For instance, among the top 1000 industrialists in India there may not be a single industrialist from the dalit origin. The role of the pre-existing caste structure in the evolution of capitalism in India is primarily responsible for this.

The beginning towards a real equality is possible only through a democratic revolution in India which can abolish all the remnants of feudalism in a thoroughgoing manner and reorganise Indian society in a socialist orientation. Substantial resolution of dalit question is possible only then. Because, even after four decades of capitalist development only a thin layer of bureaucratic elites and a narrow segment of the petty bourgeoisie has emerged from among dalits. Vast majority of the dalit masses still remain agricultural labourers or poor peasants. Green revolution has made them free agricultural labourers in many areas of the countryside. Though this has increased their assertiveness this has only made them more vulnerable to the attacks from the oppressive castes, especially, the kulaks from the intermediate castes who mobilise along caste lines. This has given rise to certain new features in the rural class struggles and the caste-class interface in the class struggle. Though many areas of economic and social life have become caste-free and many occupations have become caste-neutral in urban areas, the rural areas are still smothered under the heavy shadow of caste. For instance, though it is now possible for a dalit to own land and engage in some small trade it is still not possible for him to run a tea stall or a hotel. It is difficult to visualise abolition of untouchability without abolishing the segregation of dalits in separate colonies in the villages. The lack of recognition of this need for a thoroughgoing anti-feudal struggle and land reforms as part of a larger democratic revolution was a source of many reformistic currents on the dalit question, the notable being Ambedkarism.

Anti-Caste Movements

Ambedkarism was a product of the great churning process in Indian social and economic life during the latter period of the British rule in India described above. The general national awakening and the national movement, in its wake, fired the educated section of dalits with a strong democratic urge and they launched a movement giving primacy to fighting caste. As a revolutionary democrat operating within the limitations of those historical times Ambedkar led many campaigns against casteism and came to symbolise dalit awakening in the country. Yet two of his basic shortcomings continue to remain the main limitations of the many dalit groups today which go by his legacy. Drawing a total balance sheet of his efforts we can see that he put more emphasis on greater educational and employment opportunities for dalits through reservations hoping that this would enable the dalit masses to come out of the oppressive conditions. Yet the promotional measures by the state are no match for the ever widening inequality spawned by capitalism and this he could not realise. Though he gave a graphic description of the Indian villages calling them bastions of reaction he could never fully grasp the need for a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution to undo the foundations of casteism. Hence his life-long struggle—confined largely to the social plane—was directed at the episodic forms of oppression thrown up at the surface level by the feudalism and the caste system. These two fundamental shortcomings led him away from the communists to the opposite camp and the political assertion of dalits independent of the bourgeois politics and bourgeois constitutionalism became a casualty. These weaknesses are characteristic of many of the present-day Ambedkarite democratic movements led by the petty bourgeoisie.

Notable among such movements are the mass, democratic dalit movements which came up in Maharashtra and Karnataka in the '70s, viz. the Dalit Panthers and the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti. When a minister of dalit origin in the Devraj Urs ministry called Kannada literature bhoosa (ricebarn), there was a sharp backlash from the forces of the upper castes in early ’70s in Karnataka. The dalit students and intellectuals launched a powerful resistance against this. Soon the movement acquired a mass character and developed a rural base. Protests were organised against every major instance of atrocity on dalits. Many grassroots struggles, including some land struggles were organised. Soon the DSS emerged as the major struggling platform of the dalits in Karnataka. By mid-80s the organisations split into several factions. Soon the movement stagnated. Though the movement was led by a group of Lohiaites the ideology was a diffused kind of Ambedkarism. The organisation became no more than an informal network of prominent personalities left only with the capacity to provide a reference point whenever there were emotive outbursts against acts of oppression. The largest faction ended up as an electoral ally of Janata Dal, the party of the very oppressive castes in Karnataka. More or less the similar story was repeated in Maharashtra with the only difference that while many of the Dalit Panther groups have disintegrated, the large chunk of the movement is still better organised under Prakash Ambedkar who belongs to another stream. Both the Panthers and the DSS have a mild hostility towards the left politics but often collaborate with bourgeois parties.

Whether to remain a non-party social movement or to become a mainstream political party is a constant dilemma of such groups. Since politics based exclusively on dalits is not a viable proposition purely because of demographic factors such organisations either go into an alliance with one of the leading bourgeois parties or try to build bridges between dalit community and backwards and Muslims under the slogan of social justice. This social justice formula is the same Mandalite prescription expressed from the point of view of dalit organisations. No matter however differently it is presented or interpreted, it only paves the way for a unity between them and some of the existing Mandalist parties and seldom they become equal partners except under exceptional situations like in UP where they have a stronger presence in the coalition. In the absence of radical class-based mobilisation that can exclude reactionary class forces of the backward castes, the basic social balance of forces tilts against them which makes them for ever a secondary partner. Their socalled political gains undo their social gains. Judging from their original point of departure every step forward becomes at the same time a step in the backward direction.

BSP best exempifies this dilemma. Since we have already covered a detailed analysis of this party in a recent issue of Liberation here we will only deal with the developments after their electoral victory. Setting aside its other reactionary features and covert equations with Congress (I) let us focus on only one aspect. This party whose point of departure was ‘power to the dalits’ graduated to ‘social justice’ to share ‘power’ with Mulayam. But when there were a series of atrocities and a backlash from upper caste forces this party was quite powerless to do anything about it. The difference between holding the office and holding the power became explicit. Social justice through ballot box became a farce. The class struggles from below brought to the fore a different dimension of social justice. Evading the real challenges on the field the party was taking refuge into some sensational debate on Gandhi. All these will only lead in the long run to the ebbing of the vigorous support of the dalits to this party. Pushing Mulayam to the position of a junior partner is a far cry. Any such attempt will only land this party into the lap of the Congress(I). Kanshi Ram’s smart interpretations of the politics of polarisation notwithstanding, reports indicate that the party is now trapped into pincer polarisations from both Congress(I) and Mulayam. The practical course of this party now comes into serious conflict with its own ideology of dalitism based on political parochialism, reverse casteism, cultural exclusivism and anti-leftism. No wonder then that some avowed dalitists have started criticising Kanshi Ram of not being loyal to himself!

In sharp contrast to such experiences we stand for organising struggles against caste oppression and gradually leading them along the lines of more open class struggle by focusing more and more on economic issues. We are opposed to those dogmatic Marxists who mechanically pit class against caste. In a country of underdeveloped capitalism where democratic revolution is on the agenda, the class formation is not fully developed. Caste and class questions are intertwined and no ‘pure’ class struggle exists in the countryside. In many areas of our struggle, notably in Bihar, the movement first began on issues of caste oppression by upper caste landlords and it was only later it took up many economic issues and class organisations were formed. In the process the middle peasantry could be neutralised and poorer sections from intermediate castes could be won over and united with dalits who came to play a leading role in the overall movement and become an independent political force.

Before concluding, let us take note of the phenomenon of caste conflagrations in rural areas. Atrocities on dalits are not new. But there is a new phenomenon which marks a departure from Belchi and Pipra type of episodes. A small incident of atrocity or clash soon snowballs into a major conflagration and immediately spreads to hundreds of villages, there develops a civil war kind of situation, the struggle rages for prolonged periods with numerous armed conflicts in between, the upper caste forces who attack dalits face counterattacks in equal measure, the earlier social and power equilibrium gets altered and when the situation gradually returns to ‘normalcy’, there is a new confidence among dalits and there is a new and altered equilibrium of the local balance of forces. Such conflagration have been witnessed in Tsundur of Andhra, Kambam-Bodi ‘riots’ of Tamil Nadu and Badanavala of Karnataka. The contrast between Kutnher of Rajastan or the recent Marathwada riots where the dalits were totally at the receiving end and the above flare-ups reveal many things — the ability of the dalits to organise powerful resistance (about one hundred thousand people from several districts gathered in Badanavala and in Bodi and Kambam also dalits from hundreds of villages were able to hire trucks to reach the troubled spot to offer resistance and in Bodi the dalits were able to buy weapons including firearms for lakhs of rupees etc.), the spreading of the clashes spontaneously to hundreds of villages and the issue immediately coming into state-level or even national political focus and so on. One uniform feature of all these rural explosions is that in all these areas dalits are economically and educationally more developed. Some sociologists have called it competing equalities. Such flash-points push the upper caste forces into the defensive, at least in the short-term. But often they degenerate into a caste war of attrition without any orientation or conscious objectives. Just as spontaneous class struggles can end either in one class overwhelming the other or in mutual destruction, these caste struggles also end in heavy losses mutual paralysis but without any definite political advance. Herein lies the conscious role of the communist party. Our valuable experiences in Bihar in combining class struggles and caste struggles shows that with a conscious orientation of extreme restraint in the face of provocations, avoiding a struggle on a broad front along caste lines, consciously splitting the intermediate or upper castes through proper political tactics and targeting a few can prevent the situation from degenerating into a caste war of attrition, consolidate class unity and enable political advance. Only such a combination of the class and caste struggles has enabled the dalit masses of Bihar to unite with the poor from other castes and emerge as an independent political force in the political scene of the state under the leadership of the communist party.