Book Review : Annihilation of caste by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Annihilation of Caste -The annotated critical Edition

“What is this Hindu religion? Is it a set of principles or is it a code of rules? Now the Hindu religion, as contained in Vedas and the smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up. Whats is called religion by Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions. Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them; and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu’s life. That for a Hindu dharma means commands and prohibitions is clear from the way the world dharma is used in the Vedas and the smritis and understood by the commentators. The world dharma as used in the Vedas in most cases means religions ordinances or rites.”  — An excerpt from Annihilation of Caste-undelivered speech of Dr. Ambedkar

Why I Picked This Book ?

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is among the intellectuals who along with Bhagat Singh is well known among the people but very few people have actually read them or read about them. I always wanted to read his views about India with respect to caste system. When this book came with annotations, it made me go for it, as I realized   annotations will provide the context and necessary background of what was written in the year 1936.

The Book 

Annihilation of Caste –  was the speech that Dr. Ambedkar  was supposed to deliver as a presidential speech in the annual conference of Jat-Pat-Todak Samaj a reformist Hindu organisation. The speech was cancelled by the organisers, as they were not comfortable with the content of the speech and wanted Dr. Ambedkar to make some changes in the speech, to which Dr. Ambedkar did not agree. Finally he got the speech printed and published himself.

This edition of Annihilation of Caste is annotated with footnotes and background information as well as translation of the sanskrit sholkas used by Dr. Ambedkar in his speech. This gives you more insight about the original work. Also, there is an introduction essay by Arundhati Roy named – The Doctor and the Saint.  This a long essay and gives you a perspective about the caste system in India. It also compares both Gandhi and Ambedkar and is a strong critique of Ghandhi.

In his original speech (undelivered), Dr. Ambedkar was invited to speak on charting a path to end the caste system. The speech was too much too handle for the organisers, who were all Hindu upper caste themselves and as was the audience. 

He talks about political and social reforms and how the latter is more important or as important as the other.

Dr. Ambedkar with his sound arguments and reasoning explains the main cause of the caste system in India and why it would remain as long as Hindus believe in Vedas and smritis. He argues that these (Vedas, smritis) are not religious principles but commands and rules. 

“To put it in plain language. what Hindus call religion is really law, or at best legalised class ethics.Frankly I refuse to call this code of ordinance as religion.”

He breaks up the entire caste system, the genesis, the continuation of it, who wants it to continue and why. He talks about Brahmanism, the varna system and how it is not the way in practice as some of the proponents of varna system claims it to be.

He talks about how heredity and eugenics are cited in defense of caste system and how all this is nothing more than exclusion of certain castes. He breaks the myth that there is any scientific merit in it. 

“Caste does not result in economic efficiency. Caste cannot improve, and has not improved race. Caste has, however, done one thing. It has completely disorganised and demoralised  the Hindus.”

It is a long, passionate and very well researched and well argued speech.

About the Author

B.R. Ambedkar was born in 1891 into an ‘Untouchable’ family of modest means. One of India’s most radical thinkers, he transformed the social and political landscape in the struggle against British colonialism. He was a prolific writer who oversaw the drafting of the Indian Constitution and served as India’s first Law Minister. In 1935, he publicly declared that though he was born a Hindu, he would not die as one. Ambedkar eventually embraced Buddhism, a few months before his death in 1956. Arundhati Roy is the author of the novels The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and several collections of political writings.

 Our Verdict

A must read for every Indian to understand the caste system and intellectual power house Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was and still is though his writings.

Also this book becomes all the more interesting because of the annotations provided by S.Anand, which gives you a much better understanding o the context and helps you in understanding the book.

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