Democracy and Hindu social system

An excerpt from BAWS, Vol.4

There are various forms of Government known to history—Monarchy,
Aristocracy and Democracy to which may be added Dictatorship.
The most prevalent form of Government at the present time is
Democracy. There is, however, no unanimity as to what constitutes
Democracy. When one examines the question one finds that there are
two views about it. One view is that Democracy is a form of Government.
According to this view where the Government is chosen by the people
that is where Government is a representative Government there is
Democracy. According to this view, Democracy is just synonymous with
Representative Government which means adult suffrage and periodical
elections.According to another view, a democracy is more than a form of
Government. It is a form of the organization of Society. There are two
essential conditions which characterize a democratically constituted
society. First is the absence of stratification of society into classes. The
Second is a social habit on the part of individuals and groups which is
ready for continuous readjustment or recognition of reciprocity of interests.
As to the first there can be no doubt that it is the most essential condition
of Democracy. As Prof. Dewey1 has observed:

[Quotation referred to by the author is not recorded in the original MS
from ‘Democracy and Education’, by Dewey p. 98.]

The second condition is equally necessary for a democratically
constituted society. The results of this lack of reciprocity of interests

This chapter consists about 20 pages out of which first two pages and the
concluding six are in the handwriting of the author. The rest are typed
pages with all necessary modifications by Dr. Ambedkar.—Ed.

among groups and individuals produce anti-democratic results which
have been well described by Prof. Dewey1 when he says:

[Quotation from ‘Democracy and Education’ of page 99 referred to by
the author is not recorded in the original MS.]

Of the two views about democracy, there is no doubt that the first
one is very superficial if not erroneous. There cannot be democratic
Government unless the society for which it functions is democratic in
its form and structure. Those who hold that democracy need be no more
than a mere matter of elections seem to make three mistakes.
One mistake they make is to believe that Government is something
which is quite distinct and separate from society. As a matter of fact Government is not something which is distinct and separate from Society.
Government is one of the many institutions which Society rears and to
which it assigns the function of carrying out some of the duties which
are necessary for collective social life.
The Second mistake they make lies in their failure to realize that
a Government is to reflect the ultimate purposes, aims, objects and
wishes of society and this can happen only where the society in which
the Government is rooted is democratic. If society is not democratic, Government can never be. Where society is divided into two classes governing and the governed the Government is bound to be the Government of the governing class.
The third mistake they make is to forget that whether Government
would be good or bad democratic or undemocratic depends on to a large
extent upon the instrumentalities particularly the Civil Service on
which everywhere Government has to depend on for administering the
Law. It all depends upon the social milieu in which civil servants are
nurtured. If the social milieu is undemocratic the Government is bound
to be undemocratic.

There is one other mistake which is responsible for the view that
for democracy to function it is enough to have a democratic form of
Government. To realize this mistake it is necessary to have some idea
of what is meant by good Government.



Good Government means good laws and good administration. This is
the essence of good Government. Nothing else can be. Now there cannot
be good Government in this sense if those who are invested with ruling
power seek the advantage of their own class instead of the advantage
of the whole people or of those who are downtrodden.
Whether the Democratic form of Government will result in good
will depend upon the disposition of the individuals composing society.
If the mental disposition of the individuals is democratic then the

1 Democracy & Education p. 99.

democratic form of Government can be expected to result in good
Government. If not, democratic form of Government may easily become
a dangerous form of Government. If the individuals in a society are
separated into classes and the classes are isolated from one another
and each individual feels that his loyalty to his class must come before
his loyalty to everything else and living in class compartments he
becomes class conscious bound to place the interests of his class above
the interests of others, uses his authority to pervert law and justice
to promote the interests, of his class and for this purpose practises
systematically discrimination against persons who do not belong to his
caste in every sphere of life what can a democratic Government do. In a
Society where classes clash and are charged with anti-social feelings and
spirit of aggressiveness, the Government can hardly discharge its task of
governing with justice and fairplay. In such a society, Government even
though it may inform be a government of the people and by the people, it can never be a Government for the people. It will be a Government by a class for a class. A Government for the people can be had only where
the attitude of each individual is democratic which means that each
individual is prepared to treat every other individual as his equal and is
prepared to give him the same liberty which he claims for himself. This
democratic attitude of mind is the result of socialization of the individual
in a democratic society. A Democratic society is, therefore, a prerequisite of
a democratic Government. Democratic Governments have toppled down
in largely due to the fact that the society for which they were set up
was not democratic.

Unfortunately, to what extent the task of good Government depends
upon the mental and moral disposition of its subjects has seldom been
realized. Democracy is more than a political machine. It is even more
than a social system. It is an attitude of mind or a philosophy of life.
Some equate Democracy with equality and liberty. Equality and liberty
are no doubt the deepest concern of Democracy. But the more important
question is what sustains equality and liberty? Some would say that it
is the law of the state which sustains equality and liberty. This is not a
true answer. What sustains equality and liberty are fellow-feelings. What
the French Revolutionists called fraternity. The word fraternity is not
an adequate expression. The proper term is what the Buddha called,
Maitree. Without Fraternity Liberty would destroy equality and equality
would destroy liberty. If in Democracy liberty does not destroy equality
and equality does not destroy liberty, it is because at the basis of both
there is a fraternity. The  fraternity is, therefore, the root of Democracy.

The foregoing discussion is merely a preliminary to the main question.
That question is—wherein lie the roots of fraternity without which
Democracy is not possible? Beyond dispute, it has its origin in Religion.
In examining the possibilities of the origin of Democracy or its
functioning successfully one must go to the Religion of the people and
ask—does it teach fraternity or does it not? If it does, the chances for a
democratic Government are great. If it does not, the chances are poor. Of
course, other factors may affect the possibilities. But if fraternity is not
there, there is nothing to built democracy on. Why did Democracy not
grow in India? That is the main question. The answer is quite simple.
The Hindu Religion does not teach fraternity. Instead, it teaches division
of society into classes or varnas and the maintenance of separate class
consciousness. In such a system where is the room for Democracy?
The Hindu social system is undemocratic not by accident. It is designed
to be undemocratic. Its division of society into varnas and castes, and
of castes and outcastes are not theories but are decrees. They are all
barricades raised against democracy.

From this, it would appear that the doctrine of the fraternity was unknown
to the Hindu Religious and Philosophic thought. But such a conclusion
would not be warranted by the facts of history. The Hindu Religious and Philosophic thought gave rise to an idea which had greater potentialities
for producing social democracy than the idea of fraternity. It is the
doctrine of Brahmaism1.
It would not be surprising if someone asked what is this Brahmaism?
It is something new even to Hindus. The Hindus are familiar with
Vedanta. They are familiar with Brahmanism. But they are certainly
not familiar with Brahmaism. Before proceeding further a few words of
explanation are necessary.

There are three strands in the philosophic and religious thought of
the Hindus. They may be designated as (1) Brahmaism (2) Vedanta
and (3) Brahmanism. Although they are correlated they stand for three
different and distinct ideologies.
The essence of Brahmaism is summed up in a dogma which is stated
in three different forms. They are—
(i) Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma—All this is Brahma.
(ii) Aham Brahmasmi—Atmana (Self) is the same as Brahma.
Therefore I am Brahma.
(iii) Tattvamasi—Atmana (Self) is the same as Brahma.
Therefore thou art also Brahma.
1 have borrowed this word from Prof. Hopkin’s–The Epics of India.

They are called Mahavakyas which means Great Sayings and they sum up the essence of Brahmaism.
The following are the dogmas which sum up the teachings of Vedant—
I Brahma is the only reality.
II The world is maya or unreal.
III Jiva and Brahma are—
(i) according to one school identical;
(ii) according to another not identical but are elements of him
and not separate from him;
(iii) according to the third school they are distinct and separate.
The creed of Bramhanism may be summed up in the following dogmas—
(i) Belief in the chaturvarna.
(ii) Sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas.
(iii) Sacrifices to Gods the only way to salvation.
Most people know the distinction between the Vedanta and Brahmanism
and the points of controversy between them. But very few people know
the distinction between Brahmaism and Vedanta. Even Hindus are not
aware of the doctrine of Brahmaism and the distinction between it and
Vedanta. But the distinction is obvious. While Brahmaism and Vedanta
agree that Atman is the same as Brahma. But the two differ in that
Brahmaism does not treat the world as unreal, Vedanta does. This is
the fundamental difference between the two.
The essence of Brahmaism is that the world is real and the reality
behind the world is Brahma. Everything therefore is of the essence of

There are two criticisms which have been leveled against Brahmaism.
It is said that Brahmaism is piece of impudence. For a man to say
“I am Brahma” is a kind of arrogance. The other criticism levelled
against Brahmaism is the inability of man to know Brahma. ‘I am
Brahma’ may appear to be impudence. But it can also be an assertion
of one’s own worth. In a world where humanity suffers so much from
an inferiority complex such an assertion on the part of man is to
be welcomed. Democracy demands that each individual shall have
every opportunity for realizing its worth. It also requires that each
individual shall know that he is as good as everybody else. Those who
sneer at Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahma) as an impudent utterance
forget the other part of the Maha Vakya namely Tatvamasi (Thou
art also Brahma). If Aham Brahmasmi has stood alone without the
conjunct of Tatvamasi it may not have been possible to sneer at it. But with the conjunct of Tatvanmsi the charge of selfish arrogance cannot stand against Brahmaism.

It may well be that Brahma is unknowable. But all the same , his
theory of Brahma has certain social implications which have a tremendous
value as a foundation for Democracy. If all persons are parts of Brahma
then all are equal and all must enjoy the same liberty which is what
Democracy means. Looked at from this point of view Brahma may be
unknowable. But there cannot be slightest doubt that no doctrine could
furnish a stronger foundation for Democracy than the doctrine of Brahma.
To support Democracy because we are all children of God is a very
weak foundation for Democracy to rest on. That is why Democracy is so
shaky wherever it made to rest on such a foundation. But to recognize
and realize that you and I are parts of the same cosmic principle leaves
room for no other theory of associated life except democracy. It does not
merely preach Democracy. It makes democracy an obligation of one and all.
Western students of Democracy have spread the belief that Democracy
has stemmed either from Christianity or from Plato and that there is
no other source of inspiration for democracy. If they had known that
India too had developed the doctrine of Brahmaism which furnishes a
better foundation for Democracy they would not have been so dogmatic.
India too must be admitted to have a contribution towards a theoretical
foundation for Democracy.

The question is what happened to this doctrine of Brahmaism ? It is
quite obvious that Brahmaism had no social effects. It was not made
the basis of Dharma. When asked why this happened the answer is that
Brahmaism is only philosophy, as though philosophy arises not out of
social life but out of nothing and for nothing. Philosophy is no purely
theoretic matter. It has practical potentialities. Philosophy has its roots
in the problems of life and whatever theories philosophy propounds
must return to society as instruments of re-constructing society. It is
not enough to know. Those who know must endeavour to fulfil.
Why then Brahmaism failed to produce a new society? This is a
great riddle. It is not that the Brahmins did not recognize the doctrine
of Brahmaism. They did. But they did not ask how they could support
inequality between the Brahmin and the Shudra, between man and
woman, between casteman and outcaste ? But they did not. The result
is that we have on the one hand the most democratic principle of
Brahmaism and on the other hand a society infested with castes,
sub-outcastes, primitive tribes and criminal tribes. Can there be
a greater dilemma than this ? What is more ridiculous is the teaching of
the Great Shankaracharya. For it was this Shankarcharya who taught
that there is Brahma and this Brahma is real and that it pervades all
and at the same time upheld all the inequities of the Brahmanic society.
Only a lunatic could be happy with being the propounder of two such
contradictions. Truely as the Brahmin is like a cow, he can eat anything
and everything as the cow does and remain a Brahmin.

BAWS, Vol4

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