I appreciate that you people have a vision to liberate dalits ALONG with women, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, poor and landless peasants and oppressed nationalities and tribes.
But I understand that when you talk about landlords, capitalism and the wages given to the working class by those people, I think you are talking about a social problem and not about "caste."
I agree with you that caste is a material institution that helps maintain a unjust society. But how can you rule out the fact that caste is caused by psychological feeling of superiority and inferiority or by religious ideas?
Are you not aware of the fact that even today, lowercaste people are given separate cups in tea shops in villages of southern districts of Tamil Nadu and north India. The lowercaste people are not allowed inside the temples of many villages in India. Lowercaste people are not allowed to walk wearing chappals [footwear] in the streets of uppercaste people!
Obviously the caste system involves both feelings of superiority/inferiority and religious ideas. But that doesn't explain anything.
Religion everywhere is a source of social backwardness and a tool of the ruling classes, but not all religions teach that particular groups of people are purer than others by birth. There are religions that preach that all people are the children of God. Why are certain religious ideas prevalent in South Asia and not others? Did the religion make the society or the society the religion? It is not only Hindus who practice caste in South Asia. There is a caste system among Muslims there, yet Islam is officially an egalitarian religion and most Muslims in other societies do not practice caste.
We are very well aware, as you know from reading our site, of the grotesque social and ritual subordination of lowercaste and outcaste people in India. The question is WHY are people made to feel inferior on the basis of caste? If the caste system is just an expression of basic psychological impulses, why isn't there a caste system in every society? And why is it that particular castes feel superior to others? The lower castes are in the majority—why don't they decide they are superior to uppercaste people and oppress them? Do you think it is a coincidence that it is the castes that traditionally control the productive resources who feel superior and the castes whose labor is traditionally exploited are made to feel inferior?
The caste system is justified by backward ideas about certain people being superior to others and these ideas have religious sanction. But to fight caste it is not enough to explain to people that their ideas are wrong. It is not enough to prove to them scientifically that no caste is purer than any other. It is important to make these arguments, it is important to educate people—particularly workers—that caste ideology is an ignorant superstition. But ideas and arguments alone will not smash the caste system. We wish it were that easy, but experience has shown that it is not. There have been reform movements in India, many people there are highly educated, and yet its society remains saturated from top to bottom with caste ideology.
Marx said that ideas do not determine how people live in society, it is the way they live in society that determines their ideas. And society at any moment in history is determined by the class struggle. The caste system serves a material function in a society that is based on exploitation. When exploitation is done away with, when no one lives off another person's labor and no one has to work for someone else to live, only then can there be real social equality, only then will the caste system serve no social purpose.
How can you say we're not talking about caste when we talk about landlords? All the landlords in India are uppercaste, and nearly all the landless laborers are dalits. This is not an accident. The caste system developed historically on the basis of who served whom in the ancient village communities and towns, a division of labor that remains extant today in its main outlines, especially in the countryside. Each caste is defined by a specific traditional hereditary occupation or economic role (field laborer, tanner, washerman, potter, landowner, priest, and so on). The broad ritual categories by which these hereditary occupational groups are ranked correspond to basic class divisions. Nothing could be clearer.
Caste is not the same as class. Not all uppercaste people are rich—most are very poor. Nowadays not all dalits are impoverished, and yet they're all oppressed as dalits. But the caste system, by dividing the urban working class and keeping the rural masses in their place, gives indispensable support to the class rule of the landlords and the capitalists and their imperialist masters, and that is why it exists.
Yes, the solution we offer—socialist revolution—does not simply address caste. We don't think caste is an isolated problem that can be fixed on its own. We think that caste oppression and women's oppression and communalism and all the other basic problems in society have their roots in the class rule of a minority of exploiters who control the wealth that is created by others. That does not mean we don't recognize that caste is a special problem that requires special demands and special forms of struggle. But we do not think the special oppression of lowercaste and outcaste people can be abolished without smashing its material basis through proletarian revolution.