Following the Trail: Ambedkar, Buddhism and Caste
The history of Buddhism and its relation to caste has two opposing engagements. One is represented by professional historians like Vivekanand Jha and R.S. Sharma, who argue that the religion was accommodative of caste ideology. The other strand, represented by B.R. Ambedkar, who led the largest ever mass-conversion to Buddhism, is based on a belief in the religion’s anti-caste potential. The professional historians were extremely critical of Ambedkar, calling him a politician who paid little heed to the empirical historical method, who was swayed more by emotion than objectivity.
Chandrabhan Yadav will reflect on this pretension of objectivity in professional history-writing, and examine more closely what it means to write history. In examining original Pali sources, with special attention to the Jatakas, Yadav will produce a nuanced understanding of how the religion negotiated with and subverted caste. In doing this he will explore the limits of professional historiography and show how ideology functions in seemingly neutral history-writing. Caste and Buddhism have an extremely contested relation. Yadav’s book will be a rigorous attempt to put these issues to bed.
Chandrabhan P. Yadav is currently finishing up his doctoral work on the Jatakas at the Centre for Historical Studies at JNU, Delhi.