43 pages 1 hour read

B. R. Ambedkar

Annihilation of Caste

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1936

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Summary and Study Guide


Annihilation of Caste (1936) is a famous publication originally meant to spread the text of a speech that was never publically delivered. Composed by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar—otherwise known as B. R. Ambedkar—the work is a forceful and detailed exposition of the ills that Hinduism’s adherence to a caste system has caused; it also details the reasons why the system should be abolished and explains the positive outcome that such a revolution would entail. While Ambedkar would publish many other works, deliver many more speeches, and go on to an influential and well-decorated political career as a public servant, Annihilation of Caste remains his most well-known and influential composition to this day. The text was originally composed to be delivered at a political rally for a reform movement concerning the caste system, but the organizing party requested that he tone down his harsher criticisms. When Ambedkar refused to do so, he withdrew from attending the event and simply published the work himself to be disseminated in hard copies.

This guide was composed with reference to the Digital Fire edition, which is a publication of the Third Edition of the speech (originally published in 1944).

Content Warning: This text contains intense criticisms of religious beliefs, specifically those in Hinduism. It also references social discrimination and systemic oppression.


Ambedkar begins by referencing his own status as hailing from one of the “untouchable” castes and speaks to his own unlikely position as now heading up an event striving for the abolition of the caste system since he himself is one of the more outspoken and explicit critics. This therefore makes him far more likely not to succeed in his mission. Moving on, he begins to speak of how there are numerous kinds of reform, but the three most necessary and critical are social reform, political reform, and economic reform. While many movements begin with these latter two arenas, the true goal should be first of all social reform. Any reform movement that does not begin there is doomed to failure, since political and economic reform are downstream of the overall culture and social system. Social reform, Ambedkar insists, is the true key to demolishing the caste system.

Ambedkar speaks to how the caste system fails in many of its own goals and also fails to advance and nourish Hindu society as a whole. Even those who argue for the necessity of caste in order to preserve bloodlines and some notion of racial essentialism are proven wrong, since the caste system does not even succeed in this, he argues. What is more, the caste system directly causes the social breakdown of Hindu society by pitting different groups against one another in their own kind of class warfare, where individual Hindus are set at odds with others purely on account of the caste to which each belongs. They do this even if everything else about them would be in harmony.

Caste explicitly ensures that Hindu society remain at a stand still, as the higher castes are always in competition to ensure that none of the lower castes rise above their current status. Caste even prevents the religion from gaining new followers and converts since it is not a missionary religion like Christianity or Islam; Hindu society has become insular and self-serving in large part thanks to caste. If India is to improve and change, caste must be abolished, and the real key to such a project is the social reform that is brought about by a deep and incisive criticism of the Hindu religion.

Religious reform is a necessity without which there is no hope for social reform and the abolition of the caste system to come about. The manner in which the Hindu religion is practiced is contrary to the way in which contemporary culture thrives, and in many cases, it is even at odds with rational thought itself, he argues. The problem is that the very people who must participate in this social and religious reformation are the very people who benefit from the situation remaining as the status quo. The Brahmins, for instance, the religious leaders, would need to be a part of this reformation, but there is no way they would consent to a movement that would mean their own destruction.

In the end, the entire system would need to be overhauled so completely that it would give birth to a whole new meaning of Hindu religion and culture. There is little reason to hope that this will occur, Ambedkar states, but it is a noble goal to pursue since the caste system is one of oppression and isolation that needs to be abolished. For his own part, however, Ambedkar states that he will do this from the outside looking in, as he has determined to abandon the Hindu religion altogether. He assures his listeners/readers that he will not abandon the cause and that he will continue to work tirelessly in this regard but that his own part in the reform movement will necessarily look different as one no longer technically working from the inside.