‘The Seeds for Annihilation of Caste lies in Agrarian Reforms’ – Ambedkar on Agriculture

"Ambedkar's Thoughts on Agriculture and the contemporary Farmers' Issues".


In the wake of the ongoing Farmer’s protests across the country a webinar was organized by Baba Saheb Dr. BR Ambedkar Research Centre of Loyola Degree college in Bengaluru on “Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Agriculture and the contemporary Farmers’ Issues”.  Well-known intellectual and human rights activist from Karnataka, Shivasundar speaking at the webinar noted that “In agrarian reform lies the seeds for the annihilation of caste.”

Delivering the talk, Shivasundar said: “So far, proponents and supporters of Ambedkar have confined him to the Constitution and have largely ignored other important thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar. Hence, Ambedkar’s contributions in other fields including agriculture, history and economics are not discussed widely. Even though we might not accept them as a whole, it is necessary for us today to look back on his works with a critical lens. So, let’s understand how his thoughts on agriculture can be helpful in contemporary times.”

“We find that Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts on agriculture is spread across his seminal works and has significantly evolved over time from 1918 when he authored The Problem of Small Land Holdings in India to his speech in the context of the Third Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1955. Ambedkar’s thoughts on agriculture must be understood within his thoughts on the economy. Ambedkar had actually understood that Indian agriculture was burdened by small land-holders about 102 years ago. ”

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“Ambedkar in toto rejected the then-dominant agrarian theory which argued that productivity increases when land holdings are large. Later, he introduced the concept of ‘economic holding’ to understand and explain how do could a land-holding be made productive and profitable. According to this concept, a land-holding becomes an economic holding only when it is able to make profits even after providing for all the expenses incurred. Else, it is deemed to be an un-economic holding. It must be noted here that it’s not just the land that needs to be factored for but also the capital invested and labor-effort put-in. A holding can be productive only if capital and labor are also well-supplied. Thus, even when the holding is productive if more people depend on a smaller land-holding, it renders itself uneconomic. Today, the dependence on farmland is so high that small land-holders are not able to make capital investments and/or arrange for labor and thereby are selling the small lands that they own. This does not generate capital. Hence, the development of the agricultural sector is impossible itself until there happen large-scale industrialization and urbanization in the country which is able to absorb within its fold the masses involved in agriculture from the rural areas. Only when people are able to earn by migrating to cities from rural areas will they able to make capital investments in agriculture” he said.

“However the industrialization and urbanization we witness today has not been in line with what Ambedkar envisioned. Instead, this has further aggravated the agrarian crisis” explained Shivasundar.

“Majority of people amongst the population of 30 Cr in Ambedkar’s time were involved and dependent on agriculture. From 1700-1855, 67% of income for the British Company was sourced out of agriculture. (Today while 55% of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture, the agricultural sector contributes only 17% of the country GDP). Hence, in order to reduce its dependence on the agricultural sector, the country must move towards industrialization (shedding its precarious livability for the laborers). Only then, can the agricultural sector and the country move towards development.” opined Shivasundar.

Ambedkar’s seminal essay titled The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India authored in 1925 discussed the then-practiced agricultural taxation system. Shivasundar explained about Ambedkar’s thoughts in the that “British used to impose taxes based on the size of land-holding which destroyed small land-holdings. Opposing such a system, Ambedkar had argued that taxes should be levied on the basis of production. People argue that the practice of the zamindari system and the problem of middle-men should obliterate and that all land should be shared equally. Going further, some also argue that the government must own all lands and that there should be a direct relationship between the farmers and the government. However, the most important point here is that co-operative farming practices should be undertaken from time to time by taking all possible measures for agriculture, rather than just providing complete ownership of land to farmers. In other words, Ambedkar argues that the government must own-up for greater responsibility in agriculture”.

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“But today, the Modi government is making farmers fall at the mercy of the corporates by bringing in contract farming instead of cooperative farming practices and is shirking its responsibility by privatizing everything. Hence, the agricultural laws being introduced today is anti-thetical to Ambedkar’s ideas on agrarian reforms”

Shivasundar commented, “This is in complete contradiction to the ideas of Ambedkar.”
In many of his struggles and speeches, Ambedkar distinguish between the peasants and the landless, saying that the abolition of the land tenancy system is of no use to the landless. Or that they cannot achieve equality in society or in the social structure, even when the land is provided to the peasants under the pressure from the government because small tenants lack the capital. Therefore, both the union and state governments must be provide for co-operative agriculture. The government has to intervene and say that these problems should be solved in a state of dominant socialism.

In March 1947, Ambedkar wrote an essay titled “State and Minorities: Their Rights and How to Achieve It in the United States of India.” which documents Ambedkar’s vision for agriculture more precisely. This can be called the True Constitution penned by Dr. Ambedkar.

In it, Ambedkar puts-forth and argues in favor of an important issue – the nationalization of wealth. “Ambedkar points to land-ownership as the reason for both – arrogance of large land-owners and the submissive nature of the landless.” Both these phenomena will end only when there exists no land-ownership. For this to happen, the entire wealth of the country must be nationalized. All the land should be owned by the government. The government should then allot 2-3 acres of land to every household in each village, based on the mandatory compulsion of undertaking ‘co-operative agriculture’ and provide other inputs including water and manure for free. Ambedkar says that both caste hierarchy and class-division will be destroyed when this happens.

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In Ambedkar’s view, “The reason for the existence of the class divide is ownership; The reason for the persistence of caste is that the upper and lower castes do not sweat it out together. It is because every clan has an occupation of its own. They live in their own colonies. Therefore, every caste in the society which does not share difficulties and pleasures is selfish. Also, because every caste works only in its own interest, none of them care actually work in the interest of the country.”

Hence until caste persists, the country cannot turn towards development. “The caste system must see an end and people must sweat together” in order to walk on the path of development. It means Brahmin and Dalits should work together. Then, there would not exist a concept of ownership at all.  When this becomes universal, inter-caste marriages between these two communities will be witnessed commonly. This would also ensure the erasure of the caste system. Hence, Ambedkar says “The seeds for the annihilation of caste is present in agricultural reforms”.

As a part of Land Reform in 1951, the land tenancy system was abolished on the lines of ’tiller is the landowner’. However, Ambedkar had criticized this move vehemently:

“Those oppressed by the land tenancy system are not Dalits. In addition to the landless laborers, there were about 5 crore land-less untouchables. They would neither get the land nor benefit from this land reform. No savarna farmer would want to give away his land to landless Dalits. Also, Ambedkar raises the question if the large land-owners who controlled the government would agree to the enforcement of these laws. Even if the land is distributed amongst tillers, it would give rise to a lot of small land-holders. This would break down agricultural land into even smaller holdings. This would eventually reduce its productivity. Destruction would await.”

Ambedkar said that that three factors would be crucial for the Land Reforms act to be successful; it would need an act that is revolutionary in nature, the will to enforce it, and a strong social movement. He also reiterates the necessity to nationalize wealth. Thereby stating that effective agrarian reform is possible if it is undertaken on the basis of “State Socialism, Welfare State & Co-Operative Farming”.

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Translated by Shashank S R.


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May 2024


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