Jyotiba Phule’s Trenchant Critique of Caste: Gulamgiri

Written by Jyotiba Phule | Published on: April 11, 2016

On his 189th Birth Anniversary, April 11, we bring to you excerpts from Jyotiba Phule’s path breaking work, severely criticising Brahminism and the Caste System

Jyotiba Phule was born on April 11, 1827

If a Bhat happened to pass by a river where a Shudra as washing his clothes, the Shudra had to collect all his clothes and proceed to a far distant spot, lest some drops of the (contaminated) water should be sprayed on the Bhat. Even then, if a drop of water were to touch the body of the Bhat from there, or even if the Bhat so imagined it, the Bhat did not hesitate to fling his utensil angrily at the head of the Shudra who would collapse to the ground, his head bleeding profusely.

On recovering from the swoon the Shudra would collect his blood- stained clothes and wend his way home silently. He could not complain to the Government Officials, as the administration was dominated by the Bhats. More often than not he would be punished stringently for complaining against the Bhats. This was the height of injustice!

It was difficult for the Shudras to move about freely in the streets for their daily routine, most of all in the mornings when persons and things cast long shadows about them. If a `Bhat Saheb' were to come along from the opposite direction, the Shudra had to stop by the road until such time as the `Bhat Saheb' passed by - for fear of casting his polluting shadow on him. He was free to proceed further only after the `Bhat Saheb' had passed by him.

Should a Shudra be unlucky enough to cast his polluting shadow on a Bhat inadvertently, the Bhat used to belabour him mercilessly and would go to bathe at the river to wash off the pollution. The Shudras were forbidden even to spit in the streets. Should he happen to pass through a Brahmin (Bhat) locality he had to carry an earthen-pot slung about his neck to collect his spittle. (Should a Bhat Officer find a spittle from a Shudra's mouth on the road, woe betide the Shudra!)…….

[[The Shudra suffered many such indignities and disabilities and were looking forward to their release from their persecutors as prisoners fondly do. The all-merciful Providence took pity on the Shudras and brought about the British raj to India by its divine dispensation which emancipated the Shudras from the physical (bodily) thraldom (slavery). We are much beholden to the British rulers. We shall never forget their kindness to us. It was the British rulers who freed us from the centuries-old oppression of the Bhat and assured a hopeful future for our children. Had the British not come on the scene (in India) (as our rulers) the Bhat would surely have crushed us in no time (long ago.)]]

Some may well wonder as to how the Bhats managed to crush the depressed and down-trodden people here even though they (the Shudras) outnumbered them tenfold. It was well-known that one clever person can master ten ignorant persons
(e.g. a shepherd and his flock). Should the ten ignorant men be united (be of one mind), they would surely prevail over that clever one. But if the ten are disunited they would easily be duped by that clever one. The Bhats have invented a very cunning method to sow seeds of dissension among the Shudras. The Bhats were naturally apprehensive of the growing numbers of the depressed and down- trodden people. They knew that keeping them disunited alone ensured their (the Bhats') continued mastery ever them. It was the only way of keeping them as abject slaves indefinitely, and only thus would they be able to indulge in a life of gross indulgence and luxury ensured by the `sweat of the Shudras' brows. To that end in view, the Bhats invented the pernicious fiction of the caste-system, compiled (learned) treatises to serve their own self-interest and indoctrinated the pliable minds of the ignorant Shudras (masses) accordingly.

Some of the Shudras put up a gallant fight against this blatant injustice. They were segregated into a separate category (class). In order to wreak vengeance on them (for their temerity) the Bhats persuaded those whom we today term as Malis (gardeners), Kunbis (tillers, peasants) etc. not to stigmatise them as untouchables.

Being deprived of their means of livelihood, they were driven to the extremity of eating the flesh of dead animals. Some of the members of the Shudras community today proudly call themselves as Malis (gardeners), Kunbis (peasants), gold-smiths, tailors, iron smiths, carpenters etc, on the basis of the avocation (trade) they pursued (practised), Little do they know that our ancestors and those of the so¬called untouchables (Mahars, Mangs etc.) were blood-brothers (traced their lineage to the same family stock).

Their ancestors fought bravely in defence of their motherland against the invading usurpers (the Bhats) and hence, the wily Bhats reduced them to penury and misery. It is a thousand pities that being unmindful of this state of affairs, the Shudras began to hate their own kith and kin.

The Bhats invented an elaborate system of caste-distinction based on the way the other Shudras behaved towards them, condemning some to the lowest rung and some to a slightly higher rung. Thus they permanently made them into their proteges and by means of the powerful weapon of the `iniquitous caste system,' drove a permanent wedge among the Shudras.

It was a classic case of the cats who went to law! The Bhats created dissensions among the depressed and the down- trodden masses and are battening on the differences (are leading luxurious lives thereby).

The depressed and down­trodden masses in India were freed from the physical bodily) slavery of the Bhats as a result of the advent of the British raj here. But we are sorry to state that the benevolent British Government have not addressed themselves to the important task of providing education to the said masses. That is why the Shudras continue to be ignorant, and hence, their 'mental slavery' regarding the spurious religious tracts of the Bhats continues unabated. They cannot even appeal to the Government for the redressal of their wrongs. The Government is not yet aware of the way the Bhats exploit the masses in their day to day problems as also in the administrative machinery. We pray to the Almighty to enable the Government to kindly pay attention to this urgent task and to free the masses from their mental slavery to the machinations of the Bhats.

I am deeply beholden to Shri Vinayak Babji Bhandarkar and Rao Saheb Shri Rajanna Lingu for their continued encouragement to me in the writing of this treatise.

(From the Introduction to 'Slavery' by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule)