Brahmanical patriarchy and the question of sub-castes

Each caste has created many sub-castes and the social consolidation of caste as an institution has been strengthened.

Credit : Shubham Patil

- Kunal Ramteke 


In the social context of India, after the process of ‘Social Self-Determination’, the place of Dalit women has always been marginalised. In fact, the attempt to deny women's participation was an Indian, and of course, Brahmanical patriarchal, attempt to extend the exploitative caste system and make women its carriers. Although the so called Republic of India was founded after independence, the positive participation of women, and especially Dalit women, could not take place in the mainstream social, economic and political circles. It is clear that no constitutional system can be created without the participation of these women.

Originally, the Indian caste system was a product of Brahmanical dominance and patriarchal values which placed women at the ‘bottom’. The 'woman' became the first victim of this discriminatory system. On the other hand, the practice of keeping women as slaves in India perpetuated a separationist, casteist society and gave rise to a very disgusting system. A clear dichotomy could be seen in terms of morality and sexuality. In order to preserve the chastity or sexuality of the upper class women, they were subjected to forced labour and constant confinement under the guise of housework, while the labour and sexuality of Dalit women were exploited. (Ref. - Prof. Kamble Sanjaykumar, 2014, ‘Jat-Varg Pitrusattak Prabhutv ani Ijjaticha Prashna)

The concept of ‘Jat Nahi Ti jat’ is consistently used in the context of caste to enhance caste exploitation. However, the question of sub-castes has also become important as each caste has created many sub-castes and the social consolidation of caste as an institution has been strengthened. Even sub-caste issues can be informed and understood through the lens of Brahmanical patriarchy. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, while analysing the issue of sub-castes, has called it a 'foolishness' to undertake programmes for internal reform and eradication of sub-castes.

After Lord Buddha’s eradication of the Varna system, there are more than 5,000 castes in contemporary India. There are also 12 and a half sub-castes in each caste. However, from the so called aristocratic and reformist point of view, the basic question of Brahmanical patriarchy was not addressed and in the beginning, there was an attempt to deal with the issue of bread-only among the sub-castes and later with the issue of inter-sub-caste marriages. In this regard, Prof. Dilip Chavan has given some references in his famous book 'Samkalin Bharat: Jatiantachi Disha.’ Accordingly, in the year 1888, the Brahmin community of Satara had asked for permission for inter-caste marriages from Shankaracharya of Sringeri Pitha. In a positive response to this, Bal Gangadhar Tilak had published two articles in his 'Kesari' on November 13th and 20th, 1900 under the title 'Kokanastha, Deshastha, Karhade' and appealed to the Brahmins to marry into sub-castes. However, he explained that there is a huge gap between "trying to break all castes in India and start the same ‘roti-beti’ business everywhere, and trying to start closed ‘beti trade’ in sub-branches of the same caste." 

Originally, a new class emerging among castes and the question of marriage within the same class within these castes also began to arise before the Brahmin society of that time. The values and concepts of inequality and caste annihilation remained distant from these activities. According to NC Kelkar, ‘The four castes should be maintained and the sub-castes should be broken down’ (National Convention of the Hindu Mahasabha, 1929, Dhaka). It was a very changing time as their leaders had taken such a role that ‘the unity among the Brahmins would be destroyed’. (Prof. Chavhan Dilip, 2019, 'Samkalin Bharat: Jatiantachi Disha’, Page Number 142 & 143) However, such efforts reinforced and continued to perpetuate ethnic or casteist identity, a sense of dominance and alternatively, the framework of exploitation. In fact, the role played by the upper castes in the context of the above sub-castes was only and only an attempt at ‘Social Self-Determination’ or ‘classification’ at that time.

Today, the question of sub-castes and their internal reform or elimination is constantly being discussed, but it is important to note Dr Ambedkar’s opinion. He remarked that "the destruction of the sub-caste will make the caste stronger and more powerful, and therefore, more destructive." In fact, the unrealistic discussion of sub-castes has pushed back the broader agenda of ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and the process of caste consolidation will once again begin anew. In order to prevent this, the first step in our constitutional struggle should be to "end caste" without falling into the trap of any sub-caste reform or eradication programme.


Kunal Ramteke is a freelance journalist and Ambedkarite social activist.