Men, The Pre-Untouchables
By B.R. Ambedkar
There was a
time when the ancestors of the present day Untouchables were not Untouchables
vis-a-vis the villagers but were merely Broken Men, no more and no less,
and the only difference between them and the villagers was that they
belonged to different tribes.
[In primitive society]
All tribes did not take to settled life at one and the same time. Some
became settled and some remained nomadic. The second thing to remember
is that the tribes were never at peace with one another. They were always
at war. When all tribes were in a Nomadic state the chief causes for
intra-tribal warfare were (1) stealing cattle, (2) stealing women, and
(3) stealthily grazing of cattle in the pastures belonging to other
When some tribes became settled,
the tribes that remained nomadic found it more advantageous to concentrate
their fight against the settled tribes. It was more paying than a war
against other Nomadic tribes. The Nomadic tribes had come to realise
that the Settled tribes were doubly wealthy. Like the Nomadic tribes,
they had cattle. But in addition to cattle, they had corn which the
Nomadic tribes had not and which they greatly coveted. The Nomadic tribes
systematically organized raids on the Settled tribes with the object
of stealing the wealth belonging to the Settled tribes.
The third fact is that the
Settled tribes were greatly handicapped in defending themselves against
these raiders. Being engaged in more gainful occupation, the Settled
tribes could not always convert their ploughs into swords. Nor could
they leave their homes and go in pursuit of the raiding tribes. There
is nothing strange in this. History shows that peoples with civilization
but no means of defence are not able to withstand the attacks of the
barbarians. This explains how and why during the transition period the
Settled tribes were faced with the problem of their defence.
How the problem of the Broken
Men arose is not difficult to understand. It is the result of the continuous
tribal warfare which was the normal life of the tribes in their primitive
condition. In a tribal war it often happened that a tribe instead of
being completely annihilated was defeated and routed. In many cases
a defeated tribe became broken into bits. As a consequence of this there
always existed in Primitive times a floating population consisting of
groups of Broken tribesmen roaming in all directions.
To understand what gave rise
to the problem of the Broken Men it is necessary to realise that Primitive
Society was fundamentally tribal in its organisation. That Primitive
Society was fundamentally tribal meant two things. Firstly, every individual
in Primitive Society belonged to a tribe. Nay, he must belong to the
tribe. Outside the tribe no individual had any existence. He could have
none. Secondly tribal organisation being based on common blood and common
kinship an individual born in one tribe could not join another tribe
and become a member of it.
The Broken Men had, therefore,
to live as stray individuals. In Primitive Society where tribe was fighting
against tribe a stray collection of Broken Men was always in danger
of being attacked. They did not know where to go for shelter. They did
not know who would attack them and to whom they could go for protection.
That is why shelter and protection became the problem of the Broken
The foregoing summary of
the evolution of Primitive Society shows that there was a time in the
life of Primitive Society when there existed two groups - one group
consisting of Settled tribes faced with the problem of finding a body
of men who would do the work of watch and ward against the raiders belonging
to Nomadic tribes, and the other group consisting of Broken Men from
defeated tribes with the problem of finding patrons who would give them
food and shelter.
The next question is: How did
these two groups solve their problems? Although we have no written text
of a contract coming down to us from antiquity we can say that the two
struck a bargain whereby the Broken Men agreed to do the work of watch
and ward for the Settled tribes and the Settled tribes agreed to give
them food and shelter. Indeed, it would have been unnatural if such an
arrangement had not been made between the two especially when the interest
of the one required the co-operation of the other.
One difficulty, however,
must have arisen in the completion of the bargain, that of shelter.
Where were the Broken Men to live? In the midst of the settled community
or outside the Settled community? In deciding this question two considerations
must have played a decisive part. One consideration is that of blood
relationship. The second consideration is that of strategy. According
to Primitive notions only persons of the same tribe, i.e., of the same
blood, could live together.
An alien could not be admitted
inside the area occupied by the homesteads belonging to the tribe. The
Broken men were aliens. They belonged to a tribe which was different
from the Settled tribe. That being so, they could not be permitted to
live in the midst of the Settled tribe. From the strategic point of
view also it was desirable that these Broken men should live on the
border of the village so as to meet the raids of the hostile tribes.
Both these considerations were decisive in favour of placing their quarters
outside the village.
We can now return to the
main question, namely, why do the Untouchables live outside the village?
The answer to the question can be sought along the lines indicated above.
The same processes must have taken place in India when the Hindu Society
was passing from Nomadic life to the life of a settled village community.
There must have been in Primitive Hindu society, Settled tribes and
Broken Men. The Settled tribes founded the village and formed the village
community and the Broken Men lived in separate quarters outside the
village for the reason that they belonged to a different tribe and,
therefore, to different blood. To put it definitely, the Untouchables
were originally only Broken Men. It is because they were Broken Men
that they lived outside the village.
This explains why it is natural
to suppose that the Untouchables from the very beginning lived outside
and that Untouchability has nothing to do with their living outside
the village. The theory is so novel that critics may not feel satisfied
without further questioning. They will ask:
(1) Is there any factual
evidence to suggest that the Untouchables are Broken Men?
(2) Is there evidence that
the process of settlement suggested above has actually taken place in
(3) If Broken Men living
outside the village is a universal feature of all societies, how is
it that the separate quarters of the Broken Men have disappeared outside
India but not in India?
ARE THE UNTOUCHABLES BROKEN
To the question: Are the
Untouchables in their origin only Broken Men, my answer is in the affirmative.
An affirmative answer is bound to be followed by a call for evidence.
Direct evidence on this issue could be had if the totems of the Touchables
and the Untouchables in the Hindu villages had been studied. Unfortunately
the study of the totemic organisation of the Hindus and the Untouchables
has not yet been undertaken by students of anthropology. When such data
is collected it would enable us to give a decisive opinion on the question
raised in this Chapter. For the present, I am satisfied from such inquiries
as I have made that the totems of the Untouchables of a particular village
differ from the totems of the Hindus of the village.
Difference in totems between
Hindus and Untouchables would be the best evidence in support of the
thesis that the Untouchables are Broken Men belonging to a tribe different
from the tribe comprising the village community. It may, however, be
admitted that such direct evidence as has a bearing on the question
remains to be collected. But facts have survived which serve as pointers
and from which it can be said - that the Untouchables were Broken men.
There are two sets of such evidentiary facts.
One set of facts comprise
the names Antya, Antyaja and Antyavasin given to certain communities
by the Hindu Shastras. They have come down from very ancient past. Why
were these names used to indicate a certain class of people? There seem
to be some meaning behind these terms. The words are undoubtedly derivative.
They arc derived from the root Anta. What does the word Anta mean? Hindus
learned in the Shastras argue that it means one who is born last and
as the Untouchable according to the Hindu order of Divine creation is
held to be born last, the word Antya means an Untouchable. The argument
is absurd and does not accord with the Hindu theory of the order of
According to it, it is the
Shudra who is born last. The Untouchable is outside the scheme of creation.
The Shudra is Savarna. As against him the Untouchable is Avarna, i.e.,
outside the Varna system. The Hindu theory of priority in creation does
not and cannot apply to the Untouchable. In my view, the word Antya
means not end of creation but end of the village. It is a name given
to those people who lived on the outskirts of the village. The word
Antya has, therefore, a survival value. It tells us that there was a
time when some people lived inside the village and some lived outside
the village and that those who lived outside the village, i.e. on the
Antya of the village, were called Antyaja.
Why did some people live
on the border of the village? Can there be any other reason than that
they were Broken Men who were aliens and who belonged to tribes different
from those who lived inside the village? I cannot see any. That this
is the real reason is to be found in the use of these particular words
to designate them. The use of the words Antya, Antyaja and Antyavasin
has thus double significance. In the first place, it shows that living
in separate quarters was such a peculiar phenomenon that a new terminology
had to be invented to give expression to it. Secondly, the words chosen
express in exact terms the conditions of the people to whom it applied
namely that they were aliens.
The second set of facts which
shows that the Untouchables were Broken men relates to the position
of a community called the Mahars. The Mahar community is a principle
Untouchable community in Maharashtra. It is the single largest Untouchable
community found in Maharashtra. The following facts showing the relations
between the Mahars and the Touchable Hindus are worthy of note: (1)
The Mahars are to be found in every village; (2) Every village in Maharashtra
has a wall and the Mahars have their quarters outside the wall; (3)
The Mahars by turn do the duty of watch and ward on behalf of the village;
and (4) The Mahars claim 52 rights against the Hindu villagers. Among
these 52 rights the most important are:
(i) The right to collect
food from the villagers;
The evidence arising from the
position of the Mahars is of course confined to Maharashtra. Whether similar
cases are to be found in other parts of India has yet to be investigated.
But, if the Mahars case can be taken as typical of the Untouchables throughout
India it will be accepted that there was a stage in the history of India
when Broken Men belonging to other tribes came to the Settled tribes and
made a bargain whereby the Broken men were allowed to settle on the border
of the village, were required to do certain duties and in return were
given certain rights. The Mahars have a tradition that the 52 rights claimed
by them against the villagers were given to them by the Muslim kings of
Bedar. This can only mean that these rights were very ancient and that
the kings of Bedar only confirmed them.
(ii) The right to collect corn from each villager at the harvest season;
(iii) The right to appropriate the dead animal belonging to the villagers.
These facts although meagre
do furnish some evidence in support of the theory that the Untouchables
lived outside the village from the very beginning. They were not deported
and made to live outside the village because they were declared Untouchables.
They lived outside the village from the beginning because they were
Broken Men who belonged to a tribe different from the one to which the
Settled tribe belonged.
The difficulty in accepting
this explanation arises largely from the notion that the Untouchables
were always Untouchables. This difficulty will vanish if it is borne
in mind that there was a time when the ancestors of the present day
Untouchables were not Untouchables vis-a-vis the villagers but were
merely Broken Men, no more and no less, and the only difference between
them and the villagers was that they belonged to different tribes.
(Excerpted from Chapters
3 and 4 of B.R. Ambedkars 1948 work The Untouchables: Who Were
They and Why They Became Untouchables? as reprinted in Volume 7 of Dr.
Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, published by Government of
Maharashtra 1990. Copyright: Secretary, Education Department, Government