Friday, 30 July 2010

The Pointing Finger of Babasaheb Ambedkar
Shah Alam Khan
Mayawati, the Chief Minister of the most populous state of India is in news yet again. Her fondness to Greek Parthenon-style memorials has landed her in trouble with the highest court in the country. I wonder what the Supreme Court of India would have done to the likes of Shahjahan, Akbar, Cholas of Southern India and Rajputs of Rajasthan if it existed in their times. Surely, Mayawati is not a Shahjahan and her Parks nothing compared to the beauty of Taj and the Thanjavur temple. Well, that is not the point I am arguing. No sensible person on earth can defend the exorbitant and vulgar waste of public money in building stone monuments even when more than half of state’s children perish with malnutrition and disease. In fact I can argue with more fervor against the building of Mayawati’s parks and her loathness with development projects in the state. What we need is a more thoughtful insight into the reasons which go into the execution of this agenda of capricious commemoration. The sensitivity involved in Mayawati’s parks is more heart aching than the stone sculptures they represent. I see these parks as embodiments of pride and smugness. They are a means to leave an imprint in the sand of time by those who are tasting power maybe for the first time. The startling size of the statues is in direct proportion to the degree of throttle which the dalit community struggled with in the centuries gone by. I believe by building parks and grotesque statues, a subtle message goes: we have arrived! The building of statues and memorials is not new to us. Every dynasty and every ruler has tried to leave his impression in stone. Even if we ignore the rulers of ancient and medieval India, it is presumed that the largest number of statues came up immediately after independence, in the new, vibrant and democratic India. Each freedom fighter was celebrated in stone. That was our way of showing to the world that we have arrived. We called it different names. We never questioned its absurdity. Even as the country struggled to find solutions to the problems of illiteracy, hunger and poverty, more and more statues came up. More memorials were built and even more were planned for the next decade. Each statue came with adjectives like honor, pride and respect. Our courts never questioned their correctness. Baba Saheb was himself idolized in stone across thousands of small dalit villages and “mohallas” in India. His not very alluring statue, with the pointing finger, pock marked the country in unprecedented numbers. Was this an attempt to immortalize his philosophy? Surely not. Those who build his statues are alien to his philosophy. They are too illiterate to read the volumes of literature he has written. Their understanding limits itself to self pride and gratification. It is a celebration of their freedom within the tiny confines of the shadow of his statue. It is scientifically proven that statue building is a method of emotional expression. We can surely see the emotions which go in building the statues of the most respected dalit leader of all times. To me, Mayawati’s parks are an expanded and a vulgar version of this statue of Ambedkar. So where does this all lead us to? With hands across our hearts we need to ask difficult questions. Are we reacting to Mayawati’s parks and statues because she comes from a background to which we, the Indian elite, are not used to getting ruled by? Are we not being more stringent with her than with her predecessors? Are we not disturbed in our comfortable cocoons with the political rise of dalits in this country? The charges of corruption against her are extremely serious. But are we not being too self righteous in approaching her? Is it new that a Chief Minister has been charged with corruption? Well we have sitting Chief Ministers with charges of murder! Surely two wrongs do not make a right but the judgment of right and wrong has to come with a clear, un-jaundiced vision. We accepted Mulayam and Lalu, the abbreviated versions of dalit leaders, but to accept Mayawati is getting difficult for us. She represents a community which was meant to be ruled, to be decimated at will. She surely stands guilty of breaking this rule. Baba Saheb Ambedkar had once written, “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the depressed classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living”. I am sure if he was alive today; he would have been pained to see the contemptible misuse of money in building parks and statues. Mayawati too needs to learn from this message of salvation and social elevation. Political power is temporary, social elevation permanent. Statues can be a way to display social arrival and arrogance but surely it would be better if the same money is used for genuine emancipation of the most depressed sections of the Indian society. I wonder why Barrack Obama doesn’t start building statues of all those who toiled for the rights of the African-American community in the USA? He won’t because a level of education has taught him the correct way of achieving salvation. The blacks of America will not be benefited by a statue of Frederick Douglas but they surely will benefit from the health reforms on the agenda. We may like it or not, but Mayawati is a change which we have to come to terms with. Her statues may be a representation of corruption in the political class but surely they are much more than mere stone idols. As Indians, the only way in which we can stop this vulgar display of symbols of emancipation, is to give life to the thoughts of people who are idolized in these statues. By imbibing the thoughts of Ambedkar, we will no longer have to face his pointing finger.
Posted by Shah Alam Khan at 10:28 PM

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on Gandhi & the black Untouchables: Gandhi is the greatest enemy the untouchables have ever had in India.”
Gandhi & the black Untouchables
As opposed to the popular perceptions, here you will see Gandhi’s image from the eyes of a very famous untouchable leader, named, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1893-1956). Born and raised as an untouchable, Dr. Ambedkar received his masters and Ph.D. from Columbia University, which later on also conferred upon him the Doctor of Law. Dr. Ambedkar also received a D.Sc. degree from London School of Economics, and the Bar-at-Law from the Grays Inn, London. Suffice to say, Dr. Ambedkar’s sharp intellect has provided us an insight into Gandhi, some of which we will like to share with you all. We recommend the following:1. Nichols, Beverley. Verdict on India. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944.
A book we highly recommend. Beverley Nichols, a famous novelist, musician, playwright, essayist, reporter, and a journalist visited British India. During this visit, he met Dr. Ambedkar, who told him:
“Gandhi is the greatest enemy the untouchables have ever had in India.”
So what did Ambedkar mean? Mr. Nichols explained it as follows:
[We can best explain it by a parallel. Take Ambedkar's remark, and for the word "untouchable" substitute the word "peace." Now imagine that a great champion of peace, like Lord Cecil, said, "Gandhi is the greatest enemy of peace the world has ever had." What would he mean, using these words of the most spectacular pacifist of modern times? He would mean that passive resistance--which is Gandhi's form of pacifism--could only lead to chaos and the eventual triumph of brute force; that to lie down and let people trample on you (which was Gandhi's recipe for dealing with the Japanese) is a temptation to the aggressor rather than an example to the aggressed; and that in order to have peace you must organize, you must be strong, and that you must be prepared to use force. Mutatis mutandis, that is precisely what Ambedkar meant about the untouchables. He wanted them to be recognized and he wanted them to be strong. He rightly considered that the best way of gaining his object was by granting them separate electorates; a solid block of 60 million would be in a position to dictate terms to its oppressors. Gandhi fiercely opposed this scheme. "Give the untouchables separate electorates," he cried, "and you only perpetuate their status for all time." It was a queer argument, and those who were not bemused by the Mahatma's charm considered it a phoney one. They suspected that Gandhi was a little afraid that 60 million untouchables might join up with the 100 million Muslims--(as they nearly did)--and challenge the dictatorship of the 180 million orthodox Hindus. With such irreverent criticisms were made to him, Gandhi resorted to his usual tactics: he began to fast unto death. (As if that altered the situation by a comma or proved anything but his own obstinacy!) There was a frenzy of excitement, ending in a compromise on the seventh day of the fast. The untouchables still vote in the same constituencies as the caste Hindus, but a substantial number of seats are now reserved for them in the provincial legislatures. It is better than nothing, but it is not nearly so good as it would have been if Gandhi had not interfered. That is what Doctor Ambedkar meant. And I think that he was right.]
2. Ambedkar, B.R. What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables? Bombay: Thacker & Co., Ltd, 2nd edition, 1946. Excerpts from this book were published in: Gandhi: Maker of Modern India? Edited by Martin Deming Lewis. Boston: D.C. Heath and Co., 1965. Here is the report which you must read in its entirety:
Mr. Gandhi’s views on the caste system–which constitutes the main social problem in India–were fully elaborated by him in 1921-22 in a Gujrati journal called Nava-Jivan. The article is written in Gujrati. I give below an English translation of his views as near as possible in his own words. Says Mr. Gandhi:
(1) I believe that if Hindu Society has been able to stand it is because it is founded on the caste system.
(2) The seeds of swaraj are to be found in the caste system. Different castes are like different sections of military division. Each division is working for the good of the whole….
(3) A community which can create the caste system must be said to possess unique power of organization.
(4) Caste has a ready made means for spreading primary education. Each caste can take the responsibility for the education of the children of the caste. Caste has a political basis. It can work as an electorate for a representative body. Caste can perform judicial functions by electing persons to act as judges to decide disputes among members of the same caste. With castes it is easy to raise a defense force by requiring each caste to raise a brigade.
(5) I believe that interdining or intermarriage are not necessary for promoting national unity. That dining together creates friendship is contrary to experience. If this was true there would have been no war in Europe…. Taking food is as dirty an act as answering the call of nature. The only difference is that after answering call of nature we get peace while after eating food we get discomfort. Just as we perform the act of answering the call of nature in seclusion so also the act of taking food must also be done in seclusion.
(6) In India children of brothers do not intermarry. Do they cease to love because they do not intermarry? Among the Vaishnavas many women are so orthodox that they will not eat with members of the family nor will they drink water from a common water pot. Have they no love? The caste system cannot be said to be bad because it does not allow interdining or intermarriage between different castes.
(7) Caste is another name for control. Caste puts a limit on enjoyment. Caste does not allow a person to transgress caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment. That is the meaning of such caste restrictions as interdining and intermarriage.
(8) To destroy caste system and adopt Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be a chaos if every day a Brahmin is to be changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin.
(9) The caste system is a natural order of society. In India it has been given a religious coating. Other countries not having understood the utility of the caste system, it existed only in a loose condition and consequently those countries have not derived from caste system the same degree of advantage which India has derived. These being my views I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the caste system.
In 1922, Mr. Gandhi was a defender of the caste system. Pursuing the inquiry, one comes across a somewhat critical view of the caste system by Mr. Gandhi in the year 1925. This is what Mr. Gandhi said on 3rd February 1925:
I gave support to caste because it stands for restraint. But at present caste does not mean restraint, it means limitations. Restraint is glorious and helps to achieve freedom. But limitation is like chain. It binds. There is nothing commendable in castes as they exist to-day. They are contrary to the tenets of the Shastras. The number of castes is infinite and there is a bar against intermarriage. This is not a condition of elevation. It is a state of fall.
In reply to the question: What is the way out? Mr. Gandhi said:
The best remedy is that small castes should fuse themselves into one big caste. There should be four big castes so that we may reproduce the old system of four Varnas.
In short, in 1925 Mr. Gandhi became an upholder of the Varna system.
The old Varna system prevalent in ancient India had the society divided into four orders: (1) Brahmins,whose occupation was learning; (2) Kshatriyas, whose occupation was warfare; (3) Vaishyas, whose occupation was trade and (4) Shudras,whose occupation was service of the other classes. Is Mr. Gandhi’s Varna system the same as this old Varna system of the orthodox Hindus? Mr. Gandhi explained his Varna system in the following terms:
(1) I believe that the divisions into Varna is based on birth.
(2) There is nothing in the Varna system which stands in the way of the Shudra acquiring learning or studying military art of offense or defense. Contra it is open to a Kshatriya to serve. The Varna system is no bar to him. What the Varna system enjoins is that a Shudra will not make learning a way of earning a living. Nor will a Kshatriya adopt service as a way of learning a living. [Similarly a Brahmin may learn the art of war or trade. But he must not make them a way of earning his living. Contra a Vaishya may acquire learning or may cultivate the art of war. But he must not make them a way of learning his living.]
(3) The Varna system is connected with the way of earning a living. There is no harm if a person belonging to one Varna acquires the knowledge or science and art specialized in by persons belonging to other Varnas. But as far as the way of earning his living is concerned he must follow the occupation of the Varna to which he belongs which means he must follow the hereditary profession of his forefathers.
(4) The object of the Varna is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war. I believe in the Varna system because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons.
(5) Varna means the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born.
(6) In the Varna system no man has any liberty to choose his occupation. His occupation is determined for him by heredity.
* * *
The social life of Gandhism is either caste or Varna.Though it may be difficult to say which, there can be no doubt that the social ideal of Gandhism is not democracy. For, whether one takes for comparison caste or Varnaboth are fundamentally opposed to democracy….
That Mr. Gandhi changed over from the caste system to the Varna system does not make the slightest difference to the charge that Gandhism is opposed to democracy. In the first place, the idea of Varna is the parent of the idea of caste. If the idea of caste is a pernicious idea it is entirely because of the viciousness of the idea of Varna. Both are evil ideas and it matters very little whether one believes in Varna or in caste.
* *
* Turning to the field of economic life, Mr. Gandhi stands for two ideals. One of these is the opposition to machinery… evidenced by his idolization of charkha (the spinning wheel) and by insistence upon hand-spinning and hand-weaving. His opposition to machinery and his love for charkha are not matter of accident. They are a matter of his philosophy of life….
The second ideal of Mr. Gandhi is the elimination of class war and even class struggle in the relationship between employers and employees and between landlords and tenants….Mr. Gandhi does not wish to hurt the propertied class. He is even opposed to a campaign against them. He has no passion for economic equality. Referring to the propertied class Mr. Gandhi said quite recently that he does not wish to destroy the hen that lays the golden egg. His solution for the economic conflict between the owners and the workers, between the rich and the poor, between the landlords and the tenants and between the employers and the employees is very simple. The owners need not deprive themselves of their property. All they need do is to declare themselves trustees for the poor. Of course, the trust is to be a voluntary one carrying only a spiritual obligation.
Is there anything new in the Gandhian analysis of economic ills? Are the economics of Gandhism sound? What hope does Gandhism hold out to the common man, to the down and out? Does it promise him a better life, a life of joy and culture, a life of freedom, not merely freedom from want but freedom to rise, to grow to the full stature which his capacities can reach?
There is nothing new in the Gandhian analysis of economic ills, insofar as it attributes them to machinery and the civilization that is built upon it. That machinery and modern civilization help to concentrate management and control into relatively few hands, and with the aid of banking and credit facilitate the transfer into still fewer hands of all materials and factories and mills in which millions are bled white in order to support huge industries thousands of miles away from their cottages, maimings and cripplings far in excess of the corresponding injuries by war, and are responsible for disease and physical deterioration due directly and indirectly to the development of large cities with their smoke, dirt, noise, foul air, lack of sunshine and outdoor life, slums, prostitution and unnatural living which they bring about, are all old and worn-out arguments. There is nothing new in them. Gandhism is merely repeating the views of Rousseau, Ruskin, Tolstoy and their school.
The ideas which go to make up Gandhism are just primitive. It is a return to nature, to animal life. The only merit is their simplicity. As there is always a large corps of simple people who are attracted by them, such simple ideas do not die, and there is always some simpleton to preach them. There is, however, no doubt that the practical instincts of men–which seldom go wrong–have found them unfruitful and which society in search of progress has thought it best to reject.
The economics of Gandhism are hopelessly fallacious. The fact that machinery and modern civilization have produced many evils may be admitted. But these evils are no argument against them. For the evils are not due to machinery and modern civilization. They are due to wrong social organization, which has made private property and pursuit of personal gain, matters of absolute sanctity. If machinery and civilization have not benefited everybody, the remedy is not to condemn machinery and civilization but to alter the organization of society so that the benefits will not be usurped by the few but will accrue to all.
In Gandhism, the common man has no hope. It treats man as an animal and no more. It is true that man shares the constitution and functions of animals, nutritive, reproductive, etc. But these are not distinctively human functions. The distinctively human function is reason, the purpose of which is to enable man to observe, meditate, cogitate, study and discover the beauties of the Universe and enrich his life and control the animal elements in his life. Man thus occupies the highest place in the scheme of animate existence. If this is true what is the conclusion that follows: The conclusion that follows is that while the ultimate goal of a brute’s life is reached once his physical appetites are satisfied, the ultimate goal of man’s existence is not reached unless and until he has fully cultivated his mind. In short, what divides the brute from man is culture. Culture is not possible for the brute, but it is essential for man. That being so, the aim of human society must be to enable every person to lead a life of culture, which means the cultivation of mind as distinguished from the satisfaction of mere physical wants. How can this happen?
Both for society as well as for individual[s] there is always a gulf between merely living and living worthily. In order that one may live worthily one must first live. The time and energy spent upon mere life, upon gaining of subsistence detracts from that available for activities of a distinctively human nature and which go to make up a life of culture. How then can a life of culture be made possible? It is not possible unless there is sufficient leisure. For, it is only when there is leisure that a person is free to devote himself to a life of culture. The problem of all problems, which human society has to face, is how to provide leisure to every individual. What does leisure mean? Leisure means the lessening of the toil and effort necessary for satisfying the physical wants of life. How can leisure be made possible? Leisure is quite impossible unless some means are found whereby the toil required for producing goods necessary to satisfy human needs is lessened. What can lessen such toil? Only when machine takes the place of man. There is no other means of producing leisure. Machinery and modern civilization are thus indispensable for emancipating man from leading the life of a brute, and for providing him with leisure and for making a life of culture possible. The man who condemns machinery and modern civilization simply does not understand their purpose and the ultimate aim which human society must strive to achieve.
Gandhism may well be well suited to a society which does not accept democracy as its ideal. A society which does not believe in democracy may be indifferent to machinery and the civilization based upon it. But a democratic society cannot. The former may well content itself with a life of leisure and culture for the few and a life of toil and drudgery for the many. But a democratic society must assure a life of leisure and culture to each one of its citizens. If the above analysis is correct then the slogan of a democratic society must be machinery, and more machinery, civilization and more civilization. Under Gandhism the common man must keep on toiling ceaselessly for a pittance and remain a brute. In short, Gandhism with its call of back to nature, means back to nakedness, back to squalor, back to poverty and back to ignorance for the vast mass of the people….
Gandhism insists upon class structure. It regards the class structure of society and also the income structure as sacrosanct with the consequent distinctions of rich and poor, high and low, owners and workers, as permanent parts of social organization. From the point of view of social consequences, nothing can be more pernicious…. It is not enough to say that Gandhism believes in a class structure. Gandhism stands for more than that. A class structure which is a faded, jejune, effete thing–a mere sentimentality, a mere skeleton is not what Gandhism wants. It wants class structure to function as a living faith. In this there is nothing to be surprised at. For, class structure in Gandhism is not a mere accident. It is its official doctrine.
The idea of trusteeship, which Gandhism proposes as a panacea and by which the moneyed classes will hold their properties in trust for the poor, is the most ridiculous part of it. All that one can say about it is that if anybody else had propounded it the author would have been laughed at as a silly fool, who had not known the hard realities of life and was deceiving the servile classes by telling them that a little dose of moral rearmament to the propertied classes–those who by their insatiable cupidity and indomitable arrogance have made and will always make this world a vale of tears for the toiling millions–will recondition them to such an extent that they will be able to withstand the temptation to misuse the tremendous powers which the class structure gives them over servile classes….
Mr. Gandhi sometimes speaks on social and economic subjects as though he was a blushing Red. Those who will study Gandhism will not be deceived by the occasional aberrations of Mr. Gandhi in favor of democracy and against capitalism. For, Gandhism is in no sense a revolutionary creed. It is conservatism in excelsis. So far as India is concerned, it is a reactionary creed blazoning on its banner the call of Return to Antiquity. Gandhism aims at the resuscitation and reanimating of India’s dread, dying past.
Gandhism is a paradox. It stands for freedom from foreign domination, which means the destruction of the existing political structure of the country. At the same time, it seeks to maintain intact a social structure which permits the domination of one class by another on a hereditary basis which means a perpetual domination of one class by another….
The first special feature of Gandhism is that its philosophy helps those who want to keep what they have and to prevent those who have not from getting what they have a right to get. No one who examines the Gandhian attitude to strikes, the Gandhian reverence for caste and the Gandhian doctrine of Trusteeship by the rich for the benefit of the poor can deny that this is an upshot of Gandhism. Whether this is the calculated result of a deliberate design or whether it is a matter of accident may be open to argument. But the fact remains that Gandhism is the philosophy of the well-to-do and the leisure class.
The second special feature of Gandhism is to delude people into accepting their misfortunes by presenting them as best of good fortunes. One or two illustrations will suffice to bring out the truth of this statement.
The Hindu sacred law penalized the Shudras (Hindus of the fourth class) from acquiring wealth. It is a law of enforced poverty unknown in any other part of the world. What does Gandhism do? It does not lift the ban. It blesses the Shudra for his moral courage to give up property. It is well worth quoting Mr. Gandhi’s own words. Here they are:
The Shudra who only serves (the higher caste) as a matter of religious duty, and who will never own any property, who indeed has not even the ambition to own anything, is deserving of thousand obeisance…The very Gods will shower flowers on him.
Another illustration in support is the attitude of Gandhism towards the scavenger. The sacred law of the Hindus lays down that a scavenger’s progeny shall live by scavenging. Under Hinduism scavenging was not a matter of choice, it was a matter of force. What does Gandhism do? It seeks to perpetuate this system by praising scavenging as the noblest service to society! Let me quote Mr. Gandhi: As a President of a Conference of the Untouchables, Mr. Gandhi said:
I do not want to attain Moksha. I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an untouchable, so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them, in order that I endeavor to free myself and them from that miserable condition. I, therefore prayed that if I should be born again, I should do so not as a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra, but as an AtiShudra…. I love scavenging. In my ashram, an eighteen-years-old Brahmin lad is doing the scavenger’s work in order to teach the ashram scavenger cleanliness. The lad is no reformer. He was born and bred in orthodoxy…. But he felt that his accomplishments were incomplete until he had become also a perfect sweeper, and that, if he wanted the ashram sweeper to do his work well, he must do it himself and set an example. You should realize that you are cleaning Hindu Society.
Can there be a worse example of false propaganda than this attempt of Gandhism to perpetuate evils which have been deliberately imposed by one class over another? If Gandhism preached the rule of poverty for all and not merely for the Shudra the worst that could be said about it is that it is mistaken idea. But why preach it as good for one class only?… In India a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not. If Gandhism preached that scavenging is a noble profession with the object of inducing those who refuse to engage in it, one could understand it. But why appeal to the scavenger’s pride and vanity in order to induce him and him only to keep on to scavenging by telling him that scavenging is a noble profession and that he need not be ashamed of it? To preach that poverty is good for the Shudra and for none else, to preach that scavenging is good for the Untouchables and for none else and to make them accept these onerous impositions as voluntary purposes of life, by appeal to their failings is an outrage and a cruel joke on the helpless classes which none but Mr. Gandhi can perpetrate with equanimity and impunity….
Criticism apart, this is the technique of Gandhism to make wrongs done appear to the very victim as though they were his privileges. If there is an “ism” which has made full use of religion as an opium to lull the people into false beliefs and false security, it is Gandhism. Following Shakespeare, one can well say: Plausibility! Ingenuity! Thy name is Gandhism.
Such is Gandhism. Having known what is Gandhism the answer to the question, “Should Gandhism become the law of the land what would be the lot of the Untouchables under it?” cannot require much scratching of the brain…. In India even the lowest man among the caste Hindus–why even the aboriginal and the Hill Tribe man–though educationally and economically not very much above the Untouchables. The Hindu society accepts him claim to superiority over the Untouchables. The Untouchable will therefore continue to suffer the worst fate as he does now namely, in prosperity he will be the last to be employed and in depression the first to be fired.
What does Gandhism do to relieve the Untouchables from this fate? Gandhism professes to abolish Untouchability. That is hailed as the greatest virtue of Gandhism. But what does this virtue amount to in actual life? To assess the value of this anti-Untouchability which is regarded as a very big element in Gandhism, it is necessary to understand fully the scope of Mr. Gandhi’s programme for the removal of Untouchability. Does it mean anything more than that the Hindus will not mind touching the Untouchables? Does it mean the removal of the ban on the right of the Untouchables to education? It would be better to take the two questions separately.
To start wit the first question. Mr. Gandhi does not say that a Hindu should not take a bath after touching the Untouchables. If Mr. Gandhi does not object to it as a purification of pollution then it is difficult to see how Untouchability can be said to vanish by touching the Untouchables. Untouchability centers round the idea of pollution by contact and purification by bath to remove the pollution. Does it mean social assimilation of the Untouchables with the Hindus? Mr. Gandhi has most categorically stated that removal of Untouchability does not mean interdining or intermarriage between the Hindus and the Untouchables. Mr. Gandhi’s anti-Untouchability means that the Untouchables will be classes as Shudras instead of being classed as AtiShudras [i.e., "beyond Shudras"]. There is nothing more in it. Mr. Gandhi has not considered whether the old Shudras will accept the new Shudras into their fold. If they don’t then the removal of Untouchability is a senseless proposition for it will still keep the Untouchables as a separate social category. Mr. Gandhi probably knows that the abolition of Untouchability will not bring about the assimilation of the Untouchables by the Shudras.That seems to be the reason why Mr. Gandhi himself has given a new and a different name to the Untouchables. The new name registers by anticipation what is likely to be the fact. By calling the Untouchables Harijans, Mr. Gandhi has killed two birds with one stone. He has shown that assimilation of the Untouchables by the Shudras is not possible. He has also by his new name counteracted assimilation and made it impossible.
Regarding the second question, it is true that Gandhism is prepared to remove the old ban placed by the Hindu Shastras on the right of the Untouchables to education and permit them to acquire knowledge and learning. Under Gandhism the Untouchables may study law, they may study medicine, they may study engineering or anything else they may fancy. So far so good. But will the Untouchables be free to make use of their knowledge and learning? Will they have the right to choose their profession? Can they adopt the career of lawyer, doctor or engineer? To these questions the answer which Gandhism gives is an emphatic “no.” The untouchables must follow their hereditary professions. That those occupations are unclean is no excuse. That before the occupation became hereditary it was the result of force and not volition does not matter. The argument of Gandhism is that what is once settled is settled forever even it was wrongly settled. Under Gandhism the Untouchables are to be eternal scavengers. There is no doubt that the Untouchables would much prefer the orthodox system of Untouchability. A compulsory state of ignorance imposed upon the Untouchables by the Hindu Shastras made scavenging bearable. But Gandhism which compels an educated Untouchable to do scavenging is nothing short of cruelty. The grace in Gandhism is a curse in its worst form. The virtue of the anti-Untouchability plant in Gandhism is quite illusory. There is no substance in it.
What else is there in Gandhism which the Untouchables can accept as opening a way for their ultimate salvation? Barring this illusory campaign against Untouchability, Gandhism is simply another form of Sanatanism which is the ancient name for militant orthodox Hinduism. What is there in Gandhism which is not to be found in orthodox Hinduism? There is caste in Hinduism, there is caste in Gandhism. Hinduism believes in the law of hereditary profession, so does Gandhism. Hinduism enjoins cow-worship. So does Gandhism. Hinduism upholds the law of karma, predestination of man’s condition in this world, so does Gandhism. Hinduism accepts the authority of the Shastras. So does Gandhism. Hinduism believes in idols. So does Gandhism. All that Gandhism has done is to find a philosophic justification for Hinduism and its dogmas. Hinduism is bald in the sense that it is just a set of rules which bear on their face the appearance of a crude and cruel system. Gandhism supplies the philosophy which smoothens its surface and gives it the appearance of decency and respectability and so alters it and embellishes it as to make it even more attractive….
What hope can Gandhism offer to the Untouchables? To the Untouchables, Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors. The sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas, Smritis and Shastras, the iron law of caste, the heartless law of karma and the senseless law of status by birth are to the Untouchables veritable instruments of torture which Hinduism has forged against the Untouchables. These very instruments which have mutilated, blasted and blighted the life of the Untouchables are to be found intact and untarnished in the bosom of Gandhism. How can the Untouchables say that Gandhism is a heaven and not a chamber of horrors as Hinduism has been? The only reaction and a very natural reaction of the Untouchables would be to run away from Gandhism.
Gandhists may say that what I have stated applies to the old type of Gandhism. There is a new Gandhism, Gandhism without caste. This has reference to the recent statement of Mr. Gandhi that caste is an anachronism. Reformers were naturally gladdened by this declaration of Mr. Gandhi. And who would not be glad to see that a man like Mr. Gandhi having such terrible influence over the Hindus, after having played the most mischievous part of a social reactionary, after having stood out as the protagonist of the caste system, after having beguiled and befooled the unthinking Hindus with arguments which made no distinction between what is fair and foul should have come out with this recantation? But is this really a matter for jubilation? Does it change the nature of Gandhism? Does it make Gandhism a new and a better “ism” than it was before? Those who are carried away by this recantation of Mr. Gandhi, forget two things. In the first place, all that Mr. Gandhi has said is that caste is an anachronism. He does not say it is an evil. He does not say it is anathema. Mr. Gandhi may be taken to be not in favor of caste. but Mr. Gandhi does not say that he is against the Varna system. And what is Mr. Gandhi’s Varna system? It is simply a new name for the caste system and retains all the worst features of the caste system.
The declaration of Mr. Gandhi cannot be taken to mean any fundamental change in Gandhism. It cannot make Gandhism acceptable to the Untouchables. The untouchables will still have ground to say: “Good God! Is this man Gandhi our Savior?”

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ambedkar and the Hindu Reform Movement

Avery Morrow

In the midst of B.R. Ambedkar's speech to a group of reformists entitled "The Annihilation of Caste", he makes a series of unlikely proposals for reforming Hindu society, including subjugating Hindu priests to the state and binding them to teaching only from a "Hindu Bible".


(1)There should be one and only one standard book of Hindu Religion, acceptable to all Hindus and recognized by all Hindus. This of course means that all other books of Hindu religion such as Vedas, Shastras and Puranas, which are treated as sacred and authoritative, must by law cease to be so and the preaching of any doctrine, religious or social contained in these books should be penalized.

(2)It should be better if priesthood among Hindus was abolished. But as this seems to be impossible, the priesthood must at least cease to be hereditary. Every person who professes to be a Hindu must be eligible for being a priest. It should be provided by law that no Hindu shall be entitled to be a priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the State and holds a sanad from the State permitting him to practise.

(3)No ceremony performed by a priest who does not hold a sanad shall be deemed to be valid in law and it should be made penal for a person who has no sanad to officiate as a priest.

(4)A priest should be the servant of the State and should be subject to the disciplinary action by the State in the matter of his morals, beliefs and worship, in addition to his being subject along with other citizens to the ordinary law of the land.

(5)The number of priests should be limited by law according to the requirements of the State as is done in the case of the I[ndian ]C[ivil ]S[ervice].

To some, this may sound radical. But to my mind there is nothing revolutionary in this. Every profession in India is regulated. Engineers must show proficiency, Doctors must show proficiency, Lawyers must show proficiency, before they are allowed to practise their professions. During the whole of their career, they must not only obey the law of the land, civil as well as criminal, but they must also obey the special code of morals prescribed by their respective professions. The priest's is the only profession where proficiency is not required. The profession of a Hindu priest is the only profession which is not subject to any code. [...] The whole thing is abominable and is due to the fact that the priestly class among Hindus is subject neither to law nor to morality. It recognizes no duties. It knows only of rights and privileges. It is a pest which divinity seems to have let loose on the masses for their mental and moral degradation. The priestly class must be brought under control by some such legislation as I have outlined above. It will prevent it from doing mischief and from misguiding people. It will democratise it by throwing it open to every one. It will certainly help to kill the Brahminism and will also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahminism incarnate. Brahminism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism. 1

The intent of this list of suggestions is elusive, because it is clear that no democratic Indian state could enact or enforce such a law. Eleanor Zelliot refers to it as "naïve and legalistic, based on abstractions rather than possibilities".2 Bhagwan Das, on the other hand, quotes the list approvingly and sees it as reflective of an Ambedkarist view of the place of religion in general: "Even if a law could be enacted, Hindus would not respect it. But the suggestions are still relevant. Buddhists can take a cue from them."3 I believe that one may read from this list an important aspect of Ambedkar's view of the ideal relationship between spirituality and the law.

Context of the Speech

"The Annihilation of Caste" was presented to the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal (Caste Destruction Society), a group of caste Mahars who did not want to hear about conversion away from Hinduism. Christian missionaries were already agitating for conversion to some extent, making any talk of conversion a danger to the cause of Hindu reform. As a result, Ambedkar only mentions conversion once in the speech, just below the quoted portion: "[Reform] means conversion—but if you do not like the word, I will say it means new life." He refers to his own intended conversion only as "decid[ing] to change". A few months later, finding these restrictions too tight for his taste, he gave another speech entirely to a group of Mahar Untouchables, telling them that Hinduism was "not worthy to be called a religion" and commanding them all to "change your religion", a resolution they unanimously adopted. At that conference he also convinced a group of Mahar hermits to renounce Hinduism and burn their Hindu symbols.4

Ambedkarite Basis for Religious Reform

The most immediate context for these proposals is the justification Ambedkar gives to them immediately afterwards. He explains that there is no difference between the role of a Hindu priest and any other "profession". Like a doctor or a lawyer, a priest performs necessary functions in the community and is called upon when needed. The state regulates other professions with examinations and certification awarded solely on merit; why should religion be any different?

From this alone, we can see that Ambedkar does not perceive religion as a manner of tradition, and that he would be unimpressed by arguments that Hinduism has been practiced a certain way for 3000 years, so the tradition must be continued in the same form. On the contrary, Ambedkar sees religion as a profession like medicine and law that is constantly improving and fits itself to the needs of the people. This attitude is summarized by his famous statement to a Mahar conference: "Religion is for man, and not man for religion."5 In this belief he was not alone, nor was he the first: Ludwig Feuerbach had cast Christianity in a similar light a century earlier in Das Wesen des Christentums when he called its "true" essence "anthropological".6

Rodney Starke and Roger Finke are only echoing these words of Ambedkar and Feuerbach when they present as a "new paradigm" their economic theory of religion. According to Starke and Finke, rather than religious adherence being an "opium" used by the few to brainwash the many, individuals make choices of religious attitude "guided by their preferences and tastes ... follow[ing] the dictates of reason in an effort to achieve their desired goals."7 It is hard to say whether this is a universal paradigm, but Ambedkar saw its appeal and political application. He considered the "new paradigm" a turning point in the development of modern civilization: "Man in the antique world did not call upon his maker to be righteous to him. Such is this ... Revolution in Religion."8 He saw "equality and human dignity" as laws that would hold stronger and truer for modern Indians than the law of caste.9

Consider the paradigm Ambedkar was pitted against. In the Manusmriti, Manu states that "castes are inherited by birth and they cannot be given up."10 Following this tradition, one's ability to make choices based on "preference and taste" is highly limited; questions of how one makes a living, where one worships, and who one is allowed to eat with cannot be decided based on personal convictions, but must adhere to the unchanging law of caste. When Ambedkar makes the distinction in this speech between the fearmongering of the "priestly class" and the desires and needs of the people, he is looking to the "new", anthropological paradigm as the model which subverts these traditionalist claims. In short, Ambedkar's rebuttal to traditionalism opened the door to both Hindu reform and, eventually, conversion to Buddhism.

The Hindu Code Bill

While Ambedkar is famous for his Buddhist movement and authorship of the Indian Constitution, another of his great struggles was not directly related to either of these subjects. From April 1947 to October 1951, a period inclusive of the entire debate over the Constitution, he pushed for the passage of a revised Hindu Code which he authored and sponsored. The debate over this code occupies over 1300 pages of the official edition of Ambedkar's writings, and it was the prolonged ambivalence of the government over the reform of the Hindu Code which eventually drove Ambedkar to resign as law minister of India.11

The Hindu Code is an aspect of Indian law dating to the 18th century, when the British were compelled to codify unwritten traditions in India based on a combination of British law and inaccurate English translations of Persian translations of prehistoric religious texts. While India is a secular nation and does not have religious courts, there is a great variation in matters of family law. During the Hindu Code debate, Ambedkar justified the British system as follows: "This country is inhabited by very many communities. Each one has its special laws and merely because the State desired to assume a secular character it should withdraw itself from regulating the lives of the various communities, undoubtedly would result in nothing but chaos and anarchy."12 It is clear that Ambedkar supported the regulation of such aspects of private life as marriage, separation, inheritance, adoption, and funerals, and on this principle at least he was not playing favorites, as the bill applied the same rules to Hindus and Buddhists.13

Ambedkar had a strong belief in establishing equality and human rights through European-style legality, which was part of the reason he was chosen to author the Indian Constitution despite his anti-authoritarian streak.14 His plan for the Hindu Code, reflecting this belief, was ambitious and consequential. The bill would have legalized divorce, permitted intercaste marriage and adoption, standardized property ownership across the wide diversity of local traditions, and allotted a much larger inheritance to daughters and widows than the prior norm.15 The intent of these reforms can be easily gathered from the lengthy debate on the bill: to render all Hindus equal in the eye of the law, including Dalits and women, and to bring the practice of divorce under the auspices of the Indian justice system rather than leaving it to be worked out by the parties involved. He and his supporters justified these changes, not by asserting that Hinduism itself needed reform, but by claiming that they were returning to the standard of Hindu texts.16

We see in the Hindu Code Bill an intermediary stage between using internal and external pressure to reform Hinduism. Obviously, the bill changes the traditional relationship between Hinduism and the law: with its passage, Hindu families affected by divorce or intercaste marriage would no longer be able to sue on the grounds that their religion had been disrespected. But Ambedkar's wording of the bill also allowed Hindu power structures to remain in place. Because the original draft applie to all Indians who were not Muslim, Parsi, or Christian, it did not encourage Dalits to convert away from Hinduism to obtain additional legal rights. Rather, Ambedkar aimed to bring the same legal rights to all Indians that he wanted for his own supporters; the bill was written with the human rights interests of even the most conservative Brahmin in mind. In his defenses of the bill, too, Ambedkar shows an acceptance of what he saw as some problematic aspects of Hinduism. Instead of objecting to the textual basis of Hinduism itself, he engages Hindus on their own terms, citing the Dayabhag, Kautilya, Parashara Smrti, and Brhaspati Smrti.17

However, Ambedkar's Untouchable birth and participation in the Dalit civil rights movement was not exactly appealing to the conservatives who sought such justifications. The fact that the same man who had burnt the Manusmirti was now proposing radical changes to the existing system of Hindu law led to an ugly debate where he was accused of attempting to pollute the law with "a spirit of supreme contempt for anything Hindu"18 and even of "aim[ing] at the utter demolition of the structure of Hindu society".19 It is remarkable that he introduced the bill in the first place, and even moreso that he pursued its adoption for four years. In less capable hands th bill would have been abandoned, but Ambedkar made sure this happened. Although the controversy did not die down after his resignation, the bills eventually passed with most of the reforms intact.20

The Hindu Code Bill legitimatized Ambedkar's legalistic approach to bringing about social change, and gave weight to the "new paradigm" of valuing the desires of common people over the demands of the Brahmins. It also asserted the ability of the state to make its own decisions on matters of family law rather than bowing to religious authorities. Finally, the actual reform accomplished gave underrepresented groups such as Dalits and women new legal rights, which could be seen as a movement by government towards Ambedkar's goals. However, compared to his proposed reforms in The Annihilation of Caste, the consequences of this bill on the structure of Hinduism were relatively minimal. This bill was clearly not equivalent to what Ambedkar was trying to accomplish with this propositions.

Hinduism and Indianness

The Hindutva movement, which has been active since the early 20th century, promotes defense of Hinduism as a national policy for India. Although not all Indians are Hindus and not all Hindus are Indians, Hindu nationalists appeal to tradition and authority to argue that support for Hinduism is the mark of a true patriot. They are assisted by the close link between the words for "Hindu" and "Indian" in many Indian languages (e.g., Hindustan for India). If he honestly aimed to reform Hinduism, therefore, Ambedkar would not have been able to get very far without an authentically Indian authority to appeal to.

In a 1954 speech, shortly before his death, Ambedkar said that "positively, my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality, and fraternity." Understanding the obvious implication of this trifecta, he added, "Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution." He goes on to explain how Buddha interpreted the relationship between these three ideals.21 But if he recognized the origin of this phrase, then he clearly was referencing the French Revolution, and more generally Enlightenment principles. It is curious that Buddha, whom he calls his "master" in this speech, is only an interpreter for the French motto. In his other writings, Ambedkar uses "liberty, equality and fraternity" as the three chief signs of humane and just religion: they represent to him everything that Hinduism is not.22 Is this a sign that he held European values more highly than Indian values, and wished to make over India in the image of Europe? Certainly this has been an active strain of criticism about his life's work, and the debate over the Hindu Code bill was largely a question of Indianness versus international opinion.

The proposed reforms for Hinduism play into this argument easily, because they seem to be partially an attempt to rewrite Hinduism from scratch in order to model it after Christianity. Rather than a diverse bundle of contradictory sacred texts, which different strains of Hinduism honor in different orders and ways, Ambedkar would have a group compile "one and only one standard book of Hindu Religion" which would become the only legal text for teaching Hinduism in the country. He does not mention the word "Bible", but the parallel is obvious. Meanwhile, he would eliminate the caste distinctions which render all Brahmins priests by birth, and instead outlaw preaching or holding ceremonies without accreditation, and allow any Hindu to become a priest if they pass an examination. This resembles the method by which some sects of Christianity accredit priests.

However, a closer look reveals some clear discrepancies with how Western nations treat religion, and suggests that Ambedkar was modeling his ideal Hinduism on his understanding of Buddhism. The Buddha and His Dhamma is his "one standard book", specifically written to encourage a single orthopraxy and the elimination of "not-dhamma" popular beliefs,23 and in this aspiration it resembles Theravada Buddhism.24 In Ambedkar's Buddhism, we find a set of open standards for the priesthood similar to those laid out in The Annihilation of Caste: the Sangha is free of all barriers of caste, sex, and status, and monks are certified by oral examination.25 This, too, accurately reflects how Theravada is practiced in Southeast Asian countries, with the exception that the nun's lineage died out in the medieval era.

Additionally, and more bizarrely to Western eyes, the state plays a large role in the proposed reform. The priest is required to be "the servant of the State", the number of priests will be fixed by the state, and the state will draw up an examination which all priests will be required to pass. This system does not seem to be a blueprint for a religion so much as an parallel agency to the Indian Civil Service, the immense administrative and education bureaucracy mentioned by Ambedkar. Since the separation of church and state was an issue long since settled by Ambedkar's time, he could not be said to be drawing on any contemporary Western source. Rather, these reforms must point deeper, to Ambedkar's understanding of the nature of Hinduism itself.

Hinduism as Non-Religion

If our understanding is correct, then Ambedkar imagined an egalitarian Hindu reform which would ground it in Buddhism, and enforce this reform across the nation by law. This would be an ambitious program indeed. But doesn't regulating religiousness undermine one's capacity for free expression, the entire basis of the "new paradigm"? Ambedkar's statement of personal philosophy, given many years after this speech, reaffirms this : "Law is secular, which anybody may break while fraternity or religion is sacred which anybody must respect."26 This statement portrays religion as a matter of voluntary association ("fraternity") which could not be manufactured by the law. There is the possibility that Ambedkar had completely reversed his position on Hinduism after going through the ordeal of the Hindu Code Bill and preparing for his own conversion to Buddhism. Even if that is the case, how do we resolve the initial contradiction?

The answer is in Ambedkar's conception of Hinduism, and this answer may also supply us with a resolution for some of the remaining problems with his proposed reforms. Ambedkar, deriving his understanding of religion from Max Muller, recognized that "in all ancient Society, Law and Religion were one." He therefore recognized the Manusmriti as a "Code of Laws", but not as a "book of Religion" in the modern sense,27 because it did not fulfill his requirements for modern religion—namely, it lacks social utility, justice,28 and the "fraternity" associated above with religion, not to mention equality and liberty.29 He wrote that "what Hindus call Religion is really Law", a statement that seems clear enough given his legal background and legalistic critique of Hinduism, but appended a clear denunciation of claims to religious status: "Frankly, I refuse to call this code of ordinances, as Religion."30

In Ambedkar's perception, the Manusmriti must be reread, not as an expression of transcendental order, but as a Draconian and fundamentally unjust code of laws originating in the mind of the "hireling" Manu in order to serve "the interests of a class ... whose title to being supermen was not to be lost even if they lost their virtue."31 This condemnation mirrors the description of the modern priestly class as one that " recognizes no duties [and] knows only of rights and privileges." By placing the Manusmriti in historical context and reevaluating it as a self-serving tract, Ambedkar delegitimizes and desanctifies. Of course, just because it is a legal system that favors one group over another does not necessarily mean it is uninspired. The legal system of the Qu'ran is justified today as being the direct command of God, and likely some Brahmins would defend the Manusmriti with a similar argument. In response, Ambedkar points to the less than divine origins of the book, as a production of a minor class of guru,32 to show that rather than deserving the protection of "religious freedom", it ought to be treated as a legal text and regulated in that way.

It is not difficult to see the connection from this line of argument directly to Ambedkar's proposals for Hindu reform. In these proposals, Ambedkar is minimizing the theological implications of reform in order to focus in on legal changes. If the role a Brahmin plays in a village is that of a sort of rogue lawyer, rather than a metaphysical teacher, it is easier to understand why he cannot be allowed to enforce his laws without earning and receiving the approval of a government authority. Such unjust laws as those in the Manusmriti, too, could not possibly be certified for enforcement in a democratic nation; it is better to set up a single law-book, which regulates the behavior of local lawyers, and does not allow gross contradictions from town to town. When he says that "to my mind there is nothing revolutionary in this", he means that he is only applying the same standards to Hinduism as he would to his own profession as lawyer and legislator.

Was Ambedkar justified in this reductionist view of Hinduism? I am inclined to agree with Professor Zelliot that his proposals are "legalistic". However, they are certainly not "naïve" in the sense of unsophisticated or lacking understanding of Hinduism. Rather, they show that Ambedkar has read the Manusmriti and determined its legal structure, and is providing in his speech an analysis of the bare minimum reform needed to provide legal equality to the Dalits if they were to remain Hindus. If any of his reforms were ignored, Brahmins would retain the capability to enforce the unjust law of caste, and the Dalits would be no better off than where they started.

Protections in the Constitution

Ambedkar inserted into his drafts of the Indian constitution a concern for the rights of traditionally unprotected and oppressed people, similar to what we find in the Hindu Code Bill and his critiques of Hinduism. Not only does it categorically abolish untouchability33, establish an officer to monitor "scheduled castes and scheduled tribes",34 and outlaw religious and caste discrimination,35 but the preamble declares that the establishment of justice, liberty, and equality is the very purpose of the Republic of India. The preamble is echoed in section 38, which reads that "the state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it can a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life." Given the opportunity to write the Constitution, Ambedkar turned it into a vehicle for social justice and an affirmation of some of his lifelong values.36

In recent years, rather than ignoring these sections of the Constitution, the Indian government has endeavored to expand on them. The single officer appointed for the sake of Dalit rights in the initial Constitution was amended in 1990 to become a "National Commission". The provision in the Constitution to monitor the condition of socially backward classes (such as the Criminal Tribes) also became a full-scale Commission in 1992.37

The structure of the Indian Constitution shows the successful application of Ambedkar's legal ideas to a universal context. Here, he did not have any competing authority which required him to defend his political philosophy: Hinduism was not a social institution especially familiar with constitutions, and the main debate during the adoption of the Constitution was over the inclusion of "emergency powers".38


Ambedkar's proposals for Hinduism, although they conflict with the Western conception of "religious freedom", reflect his modern and humanistic values with respect to religion as a practice. They are linked to his belief that "religion was made for man" and betray a skeptical analysis of unjust power structures. The Hindu Code Bill, which changed the nature of the state's relationship with Hinduism, the Constitution, which promoted social justice, and the structure of the Buddhist movement he initiated at the end of Ambedkar's life reflect elements of the reforms he laid down here.

Still, would Ambedkar really have expected reform-minded Hindus to pick up on his line of argument and begin pressing for complete government control over their own religion? Given the tone of his message, I do not believe that he thought anything of the sort. Perhaps he purposefully exaggerated the extent to which his reforms would have to be enforced in order to demonstrate how hopeless the situation was for Dalits. By the time this speech was made, Ambedkar had already given up on satyagraha as a means of social change, burned the Manusmriti, and quarreled with Gandhi over the subject of Untouchability. He seems to express a personal skepticism in the possibility for meaningful internal change when he ends his speech by saying, "I will not be with you. I have decided to change."39 Rather than preparing for battle, he is already bowing out of the discussion. If he could have conceived of a more reasonable approach to Hindu reform, he more likely would already have begun pushing for that reform himself in the public sphere, rather than offering it as a suggestion to others. Instead, I believe that Ambedkar used this list of reforms as a rhetorical device to accurately summarize the insurmountable extent of the caste problem in Hinduism.

1B. R. Ambedkar. Annhiliation of Caste, section 24. Retrieved from the online Columbia University edition at . I preface my essay with this text, rather than interspersing it throughout, because it is difficult to consider one part of it without referencing the other.

2Eleanor Zelliot. From Untouchable to Dalit, New Delhi: Ajay Kumar Jain, 1996. p. 157.

3Bhagwan Das. "The Significance of Dr. Ambedkar's Writings and Speeches on Buddhism" In K.N. Kadam (ed.), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: The Emancipator of the Oppressed. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1993. p.125.

4Dhananjay Keer. Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971. pp.266-276.

5Quoted in Zelliot, p.192 ("Religion is for man; man is not for religion"); also A.R. Biswas. "The Jurist of Modern India". In Kadam 1993, p.34.

6Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989.

7Rodney Starke and Roger Finke. Acts of Faith. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. p.38.

8B.R. Ambedkar. "Philosophy of Hinduism." In Vasant Moon (ed.). Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra Education Department, 1987. Vol. 3, p.21

9Mishra 1997, op. cit.

10Srikanta Mishra. "Dr. Ambedkar's Role in Constitution Making." In Mohammad Shabir (ed.), B.R. Ambedkar: Study in Law and Society. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1997. pp.214-215.

11In Writings and Speeches, Vol. 14, pp.ix-x.

12Ibid., pp.39-40.

13Ibid., p.50.

14Biswas 1993. p.73.

15Writings and Speeches, vol. 14, p. 11.

16Biswas 1993, p. 37.


18Writings and Speeches, vol. 14, p.411.

19Ibid., p.547.

20Rina Williams. Postcolonial Politics and Personal Laws. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pg. 99-112.

21Ambedkar. "My Personal Philosophy". In Kadam 1993. p.1.

22S.K. Gupta. "Dr. Ambedkar's Perception of the Indian Society." In K.C. Yadav (ed.). From Periphery to Centre Stage: Ambedkar, Ambedkarism and Dalit Future. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2000. p.105.

23c.f. Book III, Part IV.

24Peter Jackson. Buddhadāsa: Theravada Buddhism and modernist reform in Thailand. Bangkok: Silkworm Books, 2003. p.20.

25B.R. Ambedkar. The Buddha and his Dhamma V.1.2 (pp.305-307). Bombay: Siddarth Publication, 1984.

26In Kadam 1993, op. cit.

27Writings and Speeches , vol. 3, pp.332-333.

28Ibid., p. 71.

29Ibid., pp. 99-106.

30Nagendra K. Singh. Ambedkar on Religion. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 2000. p. 12.

31Writings and Speeches, vol. 3, p. 76.

32Ibid., p. 78.

33In article 17.

34In article 338, unamended.

35In articles 15 and 16.

36K.I. Vibhute. "Social Justice: Constitutional Scheme and Spirit." In Shabbir 1997. pp.46, 49.

37Ibid., pp.52-53.

38Raju G. C. Thomas. Democracy, Security, and Development in India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996. pp. 77-78.

39Annhiliation of Caste, section 26.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram: similar, yet different
Badri Narayan
The major difference in perceptions and visions of both the Dalit ideologues may be observed in their views of caste and emancipatory political actions

Two outstanding leaders of the Dalit movement, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, may have fought for the same things but could not have been more different.
One was trained in Columbia University while the other was born in a tiny village of Punjab and trained in Pune Dalit Politics. As a successful propagator of Ambedkar’s ideology, Kanshi Ram turned a stoical critic of the Maharashtrian Dalit movement. As a student of the Western knowledge tradition, Ambedkar derived most of his ideological ingredients by looking at Dalits in the context of history while Kanshi Ram explored his political arguments in favour of Dalits using the interesting mixture of both historical and mythical context.
So are Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram comparable? Maybe yes. And maybe no.
Here I am not comparing Ambedkar with Kanshi Ram but trying to analyse two experiments, which are sometimes linked, overlapping and interactive.
Movements and mobilizations for Dalit emancipation: Ambedkar initiated the Dalit movements in western India and Kanshi Ram led the Bahujan movement in north and central India.
The Bahujan movement, as reflected in the formation of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its remarkable success in previous elections in Uttar Pradesh, is most of the time understood as merely an extension of Ambedkar’s ideas and politics. We usually do not pay attention to the underlying variations and difference of perceptions, visions and strategies in the ideas and political actions of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. During the 1980s, when Kanshi Ram was sowing the seeds of BSP politics in Uttar Pradesh, he too associated himself with Ambedkar’s articulation. Both were of the view that political power is the master key through which one can open all the doors of progress and recognition, and to achieve this, it was very important for the Dalits to unite.
In his speeches, Kanshi Ram always asserted that the sapling of Dalit politics originated in Maharashtra but it grew and was nurtured in the soil of Uttar Pradesh. Ambedkar called the politics of emancipation of marginalized groups the “Dalit movement” while Kanshi Ram preferred to term it the “Bahujan movement”. He usually avoided using the word Dalit and said that Dalits have to give up their attitude of crying, begging and demanding. He said they have to become very strong and emancipate themselves from the vicious circle of “Dalitness” so that they could be charitable to others instead of demanding charity.
On the pedestal: A May 2007 photo of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati (second from left) standing in front of statues of herself (far left), Ambedkar (centre) and Kanshi Ram in New Delhi. Prakash Singh/AFP
Ambedkar tried to provide an ethical context to the politics of Dalit liberation; for him morality was more important for the attainment of political goals. However, Kanshi Ram, in his political experiment, did not pay much heed to the means of acquiring a political regime but laid more emphasis on the end—the attainment of political power. For him the end justified the means.
He provided a practical form to Dalit politics in Indian society. But this practical form of Dalit politics is not like those of upper caste dominant parties such as the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is associated with the weakening of these dominant forces by the subversive use of the tools of Brahminical and hegemonic politics.
When the BSP was forming a government in alliance with the BJP, someone put forth his view before Kanshi Ram that this was sheer opportunism. Kanshi Ram is said to have quickly replied: “If the Brahmins can become influential by making use of this opportunism then there is nothing wrong if the Dalits use this opportunism to empower themselves.” While Ambedkar based his Dalit politics on ethical and moral values, Kanshi Ram’s way of Dalit politics was practical and pragmatic in approach. He believed in using instruments of dominant groups which had been applied for centuries to oppress the marginalized.
Strategically and politically, there is a great similarity between Ambedkar’s and Kanshi Ram’s thoughts on politics. Both of them thought that the Dalits should organize themselves into such a political power that the influential political groups fail to get absolute majority. In that situation they would come to the Dalits for support.
The major difference in perceptions and visions of both the Dalit ideologues may be observed in their views of caste and emancipatory political actions. Ambedkar wanted the annihilation of caste. However, Bahujan politics, which Kanshi Ram developed in Uttar Pradesh, was different from Ambedkar’s concept and was based on awakening the Dalits towards the restoration of their caste identity and self-esteem. Kanshi Ram said: “In 1962-63, when I got the opportunity to read Ambedkar’s book Annihilation of Caste, then I also felt that it is perhaps possible to eradicate casteism from the society. But later on when I studied the caste system and its behaviour in depth, gradually there was a modification in my thoughts. I have not only gained knowledge about caste from the books but from my personal life too. After understanding its functions in Indian society, I have stopped thinking about the annihilation of caste.”
For the eradication of caste, Kanshi Ram believed in the strategy that the Dalits should use their caste as a tool for their emancipation. He felt that as long as a casteless society was not formed, caste would have to be used to dethrone Brahminism. Kanshi Ram’s idea regarding Ambedkar’s demand for a separate state for Dalits was also different. He wanted the Dalits to attain a respectable and glorious position in mainstream society and that they should not be treated as a separate entity.
Ambedkar associated the emancipation of Dalits with their religious emancipation and because of this he quit the Hindu religion and embraced Buddhism on 14 October 1956. On the contrary, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati said religious emancipation is only possible through political liberation. They were willing to convert to Buddhism only when the Bahujans acquire power in the government. That is why in spite of using the symbols of Buddha in their politics, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati did not convert to Buddhism. One of the important reasons behind this was also that most of the rural Dalits of Uttar Pradesh are associated with medieval sects (Bhaktikaleen) such as the Ravidas Panth, Kabir Panth and Shiv Narayani. The people of these sects believe in creating a space for themselves while residing in the cultural milieu of Hindu society. They won’t be able to associate themselves with Buddhism. Somewhere Mayawati fears that this can spread discontentment among rural Dalits. Perhaps this is the reason why Mayawati says that without establishing Bahujan power in this country, religious conversion will only cause harm to the welfare of the Bahujans. The history of the political actions of Kanshi Ram suggests that he always took insights from marginalized people than from ideas and ideologies. He even learnt the tricks and tactics from the groups with whom he had to fight.
The late founder of the BSP said this best himself.
“Ambedkar learnt from the books but I have learnt from my own life and people. He used to gather books, I tried to gather people.”
Badri Narayan is a writer and columnist based in Allahabad. He is also a faculty member of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Saturday, 10 July 2010



[Dr Eleanor Zelliot, a leading American Scholar, has done pioneering work through her studies of various aspects of the Dalit liberation movement, about which she here speaks to Yoginder Sikand. Excerpts.]
Q: How did you develop an interest in the Dalit movement ?
A: I got interested in Ambedkar when I was reading widely about India when I was at the
university, and found his name in most books which I referred to. I however, had no
analysis to explain his rise. I have been supporting the African-American movement
since I was 14, so the comparable Indian movement was a natural subject for me.
Q: You have written a great deal on ‘Dalit Culture’. How would you define that term ?
A: Every act, including a poem, song, object or design that a person who defines himself
or herself as a Dalit does or creates act of creation arising out of the fact of the
consciousness of one’s being a Dalit is a part of Dalit Culture.
Q: Can non-Dalits play any role in developing Dalit Culture ?
A: A white man cannot write Black literature, though he can write wonderfully well
about Black society. John Griffin, a white American sociologist, painted himself
black, lived in a black ghetto for two months, and then wrote a book which be claimed
faithfully represented an insider’s view of Black society in America. But the blacks
asserted that despite this attempt at identifying with them, he was unable to fully
capture the story of their plight.
The same is true for the Dalits in India. Non-Dalits cannot write Dalit literature, but
they have a crucial role to play in facilitating its development. The social awakening
brought about by non-Dalit reformers in Maharashtra such as Ranade, Agarkar and
Bhandarkar did play a crucial role in the later rise of the Ambedkarite movement. A
group of Maharashtrian non-Dalits were the first to publish radical literature written
by Dalits. I therefore see the possibility of non-Dalits being facilitators to the Dalit
movement but not its guides or preachers. Non-Dalits cannot direct the Dalit
movement. When Gandhi announced that he was a “Harijan”, that ended forever the
possibility of his leadership of the Dalits.
Q: Do you, see the possibility of a radical “liberation theology’ on Latin American lines emerging in Ambedkarite Buddhism today?
A: To a great extent, conversion to Buddhism has meant psychological liberation to many
Dalits. The Dalits today appear to be moving towards a socially more engaged
Buddhism, but not really in the direction of liberation theology. This is akin to the
recent developments in Thai and Vietnamese Buddhism. The Dalits could learn a lot
from the efforts of people like the Vietnamese scholar Thich Nat Than who teaches
“Buddhism and Social Action” in France.
There are several training institutes for the Buddhist Sangha in Maharashtra, but I am
not sure if the Sangha is really necessary. What is required are more lay teachers
moving from one ‘Vihara’ or Dalit settlement to the other. There is also a pressing
need to develop Buddhist cultural activities to transmit the message of social
emancipation through dramas, folk songs etc. The cultural side of Buddhism has been
neg-lected by the Sangha. Buddhism appeals directly to the intellectual, but for the
masses one requires more colour, more activity.
Q: But are these efforts radical enough or are they at best reformist?
A: I am not quite sure what the term “Revolution” really means today. Marxists in many
countries, while not ignoring macro-level issues, are thinking in terms of local
problems, grassroots level organizations and decentralized leadership.
And as far as ‘liberation theology’ is concerned, I do not think it has as yet emerged in
India and most certainly not in Hinduism. Instead, what has happened is that the
secular Indian intelligentsia have left the field of religion completely to the
conservatives and reactionaries. In such a situation, where is the possibility of
liberation theology emerging ?
Q: Is it possible to creatively draw upon the epics, legends and collective memory of the Dalits and other oppressed groups to assist in their mobilization for social emancipation?
A: Such a venture would work wonders for arousing the awareness of the Dalits. Much
work has to be done to collect the people’s own versions of history or oral historytheir
stories and songs of defiance of caste oppression, etc. These can then be used by
activists in the field in a creative way. For instance, the stories of Eklavya, Shambhukh
and the ballads of the Dusadhs of Bihar that an associate of mine has collected, could
be used as crucial images in the creation of a positive Dalit culture. Dalit culture and
the Dalit movement cannot be built on the mere negative platform of anti-Brahmmism.
The infusing of Dalit culture with the images of the long-forgotten Dalit heroes and
heroines would serve as a positive foundation of the Dalit cultural movement.
Q: Would the Ambedkarite Dalit cultural movement that you talk about be able to unite the various Dalit castes?
A: I feel that Ambedkarites ought to make efforts to link their movement to the local folk
heroes and anti-caste charismatic leaders of the various Dalit castes so that its appeal
could be much wider. I saw a good instance of this at the Ravidas Temple at Ramakrishnapuram
in New Delhi recently. A picture of Ambedkar there is placed next to
one of Ravidas and this is an effective means to link the Ravidasis to the Ambedkarite
Movement. However, it is also a fact that the Bhakti and ‘Untouchable’ Saints had a
limited social programme, and the Dalit Cultural Movement needs to be aware of this.
Preaching the equality of all people in the eyes of God is not the same as actually
transforming society in the direction of social equality.
Q: Is it not the case that many Da-lits today have almost turned Ambedkar into another divine prophet and thereby refuse to critically evaluate or re-interpret Ambedkarism?
A: It is true that many Dalit Buddhists are not going beyond Ambedkar. In the minds of
these Dalits, Ambedkar was the one who gave them self-respect, and so they feel the
same way about him as many Indians feel about their “Gurus”. As regards the need to
creatively reinterpret Ambed-karism today, some Dalits do not seem to agree and they
appear to be arguing that if Marxism was in existence for 150 years but Marx was not
capable of being critically evaluated until only some years ago, a somewhat similar
logic operates in their strict adherence to the views articulated by Ambedkar.
Q: Do you sense any danger to the Dalit Movement as the result of the growing threat of Brahminical Hindu chauvinism?
A: The RSS is trying to co-opt Ambedkar. They even go to the extent of claiming that
Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, and Ambedkar had similar aims! If the RSS are
genuinely admirers of Ambedkar they ought to denounce caste and convert to
Buddhism as Ambedkar did! It is simply impossible to go back to the Varna System as
many Hindu revivalists argue. In today’s context only the Brahmin Varna has any
meaning and sociological relevance. Even in the Varna system the Shudras are
considered to be menials, so attempting to revive this system would not change their
degraded status at all. ????
Dr. Ambedkar: An Ambassador of Humanity
By Dr. Chaman Lal

12/07/2009 at 8:32 pm (On B R Ambedkar)

Bhim Rao Ramji, who, later came to be known as Dr. B.R.Ambedkar or Baba Saheb Ambedkar in popular parlance, was born at Mhow, near Indore on 14th April 1891. He was fourteenth child of Subedar Major Ramji and his wife Bhimabai. Only five of the children of this couple survived, including Bhim Rao and two each of his sisters and brothers. Ambavade in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra was the ancestral village of the family and they belonged to Mahar caste, one of the numerous untouchable castes in those days.

In 1896, family shifted to Satara, where shortly Bhim Rao’s mother died. He was just five year old at that time. He had his early education here. In 1904, the family shifted to Mumbai and lived in Parel, an area inhabited by textile workers. In 1907, at the age of 16 years, Bhim Rao completed his school education from Elphinston High school. Next year he was married to Ramabai, eight years younger to him and of nine years of age at that time. In 1912, Bhim Rao graduated from Elphinston College and joined the armed forces of Maharaja of Baroda as Lieutenant. Same year his father died. In 1913, Maharaja Sayaji Rao of Baroda awarded him a scholarship to study at Columbia University in USA. In 1915, Bhim Rao completed his M.A. in Political Science and wrote a dissertation on ‘ Administration and Finance of the East India Company’ , to obtain degree. On 9th May 1916, he presented a paper on ‘Caste in India:Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’, which was published later in journal ‘Indian Antiquity’ in 1917. Just in one year, after completing his M.A. degree, Bhim Rao submitted his PhD thesis on ‘ National Dividend- A Historical & Analytical Study’ to Columbia University, on which he was awarded PhD degree in 1917.

After submitting his PhD thesis, Bhim Rao joined London School of Economics as well as in the Grey’s inn in 1916 .Bhim Rao returned to India as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in 1917 itself and joined the services of Maharaja Baroda as per the contract of scholarship. However even after obtaining PhD degree from USA, rare feet in those days, he was subjected to indignity of untouchability, so he left that service. In November 1918, he joined Syndenham College of commerce as Professor of Political Science. In 1920, he started a Marathi fortnightly-‘Mooknayak’(The silent Hero).

Dr. Ambedkar actually started his journey as scholar-activist from 1916, when he first presented a paper on caste in India, which turned out to be one of his major writing later. The publication of ‘Mooknayak’ was second step in this journey, through which Dr. Ambedkar started awareness campaign among Dalits. In 1920, he also participated in the first all India conference of depressed classes. This conference was presided over by Shahuji Maharaj of Kolhapur. Dr. Ambedkar exhorted Dalits in this conference, for self-help to free them. In September 1920, Dr. Ambedkar went back to London School of Economics to pursue his studies further and he got his MSc. Degree from there in 1921, writing dissertation on ‘Provincial Decentralization of Imperial finances in British India.’ In 1922, he was invited to the Bar-at-law from Grey’s inn. In 1923, he was awarded DSc. Degree by London School of Economics on the thesis ’The Problem of Rupee-its origin & solution’. This thesis was published by King & co. London in the same year. King &Co. also published his PhD thesis of Columbia University in 1925. he went to Berlin for yet further studies, even after two Doctorate degrees from most prestigious Universities of the world. In fact Dr. Ambedkar specialized himself in three equally important subjects-Economics, Political Science and Law. It must definitely be a record in those days for any Indian to achieve such feet. Dr. Ambedkar, two years younger to Jawaharlal Nehru, seems to be tallest amongst all national leaders of those days, in matter of academic achievements.

Returning to India in 1923, Dr. Ambedkar started practicing law at Mumbai High Court. In 1924, he formed ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha’(Depressed Classes welfare Association). Apart from practicing law, Dr. Ambedkar also taught at Batliboi institute as part time teacher from 1925 to 1928. He was nominated to Bombay Legislative Council in 1927 for five years , which was further extended for another five years in 1932.Third step in his journey as scholar activist occurred with his Satyagraha on Chowdar tank in Mahad for Dalits right to draw water in 1927. He delivered his famous speech at Mahad on 25th December 1927 in this Satyagraha, when copy of ‘Manusmriti’ was burnt. This was a significant step towards advancement of Dalit liberation movement. In April 1927, he had started another Marathi fortnightly ’Bahishkrit Bharat’(Exiled India). In 1928-29, he served as Professor of law at Government College of Law at Mumbai. During 1928-29, he also brought another fortnightly’ Samta’(Equality). In 1930, he brought out another Marathi fortnightly’ Janta’(People). During the same period, Lala Lajpat Rai was bringing out English daily ’The People” from Lahore. In 1930, Dr. Ambedkar started another Satyagraha from Kalaram temple,in Nasik, which continued intermittently for five years. In 1930 itself, Dr. Ambedkar also became President of first all India Depressed classes Congress, held at Nagpur. Whole year of 1930, was full of activities for Dr. Ambedkar, this very year, he participated in first Round Table Conference called by British rule to discuss the future shape of India. In 1931, he was part of Second Round table Conference. !932 was also politically significant year. This was the year, when Poona Pact, also known as Gandhi-Ambedkar pact was signed on 24th September. This year again, he participated in Third round Table conference.

Dr. Ambedkar suffered a personal setback in May 1935, when his wife Ramabai died. From 1935 to 1938, he remained Principal of Govt. law College, Mumbai. In October 1935, he declared at Yeola conference though born Hindu, he would not die as Hindu. He announced that he will embrace Buddhism, which he could do only after 21 years, hardly two months before his untimely death. In 1936, one of his classics-‘Annihilation of Caste’ was published. In 1936 itself, he formed his first political party-‘Independent Labour Party’. In 1938, he protested against Industrial Dispute Bill. In July 1942, Dr. Ambedkar formed ‘Scheduled Castes Federation’. In 1942, he was also appointed as Labor member in Viceroy’s council, which he continued till July 1946. Viceroy’ Council in those days was like central cabinet. In 1945, he wrote on ‘Communal Deadlock and way to solve it’. Like Bhagat Singh, Dr. Ambedkar was also concerned about communal problem, as well as about labor laws. In 1945, he also founded ‘People’s Education Society’ Mumbai, which established Sidhartha College of commerce in 1946. In July 1947, he was elected to Constituent Assembly from Mumbai and on 3rd August, he was appointed the first law minister of India. On 19th August 1947, he was appointed chairman of drafting committee of constitution of India. The draft prepared by this committee was approved by the constituent assembly on 26th November 1949 and India was proclaimed Republic from 26th January 1950, with the constitution coming into force from that date.

Dr. Ambedkar remarried on 15th April 1948, after 13 years of widowhood. Dr. Sharda kabir, who was looking after him in his ill health, shared ten letters with him, before he could agree to this marriage. He was hesitant, because Sharda Kabir was younger to him by 15 years at that time. Dr. Kabir became Dr. Savita Ambedkar after marriage conducted in most simple manner.

Dr. Ambedkar resigned as law Minister from Nehru cabinet inSeptember 1951 and he lost election in first elections of Lok Sabha ,held in January 1952. However he was elected to Rajya Sabha from Bombay legislative council in March 1952, which he continued till his last day. Columbia University honored its alumni with Doctor of Law degree in June 1952. In December 1954, Dr. Ambedkar participated in world Buddhist conference in Rangoon, and in 1945 he formed Boudha Maha Sabha. He was not keeping well, so to fulfill his commitment of 1935, he embraced Buddhism on 14th October 1956, alongwith lakhs of his followers. After participating in World Buddhist Conference in kathmandu on 15&16th November 1956, despite his ill health, he breathed his last on 6th December 1956 at Delhi. All through this period, he was working very hard and writing continuously. His another classic, ‘Buddha and his Dhamma’ was published after his death. Many other unpublished writings were also published later.

Maharashtra Govt. formed a committee to edit and publish Dr. Ambekar’ Speeches and Writings, under the chairmanship of Vasant Moon, which brought out 16 volume edition in Marathi and English. Dr. Ambedkar foundation in Delhi is assigned the task of getting these volumes translated and published in other Indian languages.

There are hundreds of books written on the life and deeds of Dr. Ambedkar in almost all Indian languages. These books include biographies, critical commentaries on his writings, creative writings like novels; poetry plays etc. on the life of Baba Saheb. Followers of Dr. Ambedkar formed Republican Party of India (RPI) and it created strong base in Maharashtra in its early phase. Later as usual in India, it got split into many factions and it now remains confined to Maharashtra only. Many groups of RPI are still a force to reckon with among Dalits in Maharashtra. Many other parties, professing the ideology of Dr. Ambedkar came up later in different parts of the country. Out of these, Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) is stronger in north India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh(UP), where it has tasted the touch of power as well. All other political parties of India ,including BJP, whose reprenstative Arun Shourie attacked Dr. Ambedkar as ‘false god’, play Ambedkar card to woo Dalit voters. What Dr. Ambedkar could not become in his own life time—an icon of Dalit identity, he became two decades after his


Now in the early years of twenty first century, there are many personalities, who are becoming a bridge between the split peoples of India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh, which were one people sixty years ago. Dr. Ambedkar is one of these personalities, apart from Bhagat Singh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Faiz Ahmad Faiz,Rabindra Nath Tagore,jagan Nath Azad, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan and many others, who bind the people of these countries in emotional bond. The common heritage of events like Tipu Sultan’s struggle in 1806, 1857 revolt, Bhagat Singh and others revolutionary activities, Ghadar party tradition , Chittagong revolt and 1946 navy revolt are such glorious common struggles against British Colonialism which exhorts them to jointly fight again against neo imperialism of today, which is much worse than yesterday’s British imperialism. But how come that Dr. Ambedkar has also become a common symbol of these countries, whose birth anniversary is being celebrated in Lahore this year, perhaps for the first time in sixty years!

In my view, it is the humanism inherent in the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar, which brings the people of India and Pakistan and perhaps Bangla Desh and Nepal too, closer to each other. In spite of the fact that caste system ,particularly the untouchability is in built part of Hinduism alone and all other religions of the region-Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. do not only approve of casteism, these religions have strongly indicted casteism as social practice. Most of these religions apparently profess the essential unity and equality among mankind. It is only through ‘Manusmriti’ and few other texts of Hinduism, which have codified caste system. During British rule and earlier during Moghul rule, lakhs of sufferers of caste system had converted to Islam or Christianity, yet even after conversion to these religions, this suffering humanity did not get equal social status in society. No doubt they were not subjected to indignity of untouchability in their new religion, yet the human social respect at equal level was far away. This reality has been aptly captured in many creative writings such as Jagdish Chander’s Hindi novel trilogy—‘Dharti Dhan Na Apna’(Land does not belong to us), ‘Narakkund mein Vaas’(Living in a hell) and ‘Zameen Apni to Thi’(The land was once ours) or Gurdas Ram Aalam in his Punjabi poem ‘Dr. Ambedkar’ etc. So the inequality though formally removed in the converted religion for untouchables, yet it remained in practice in social conduct. Even after conversion, Dalits were treated at lower level and were not entered into marriage relations by upper class people. Dr. Ambedkar put a great emphasis on this aspect by insisting on the need of inter caste or for that matter inter religious marriages to really eradicate inequality among caste and classes. Dr. Ambedkar spent his whole life to understand the mechanism of inequality, ingrained in the caste system at intellectual level and struggled all through to eradicate it at social and political level.

At intellectual level , we can see his writings on caste system and untouchability such as-‘Caste System in India’, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, ‘Who were the Shudras’, ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’, ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ etc. Dr. Ambedkar’s speech at Mahad on 25th December 1927 is one of the sharpest analyses of caste system, where he equates the Dalit liberation movement in India with French revolution of 1789, which has the core slogans of ‘Equality, Fraternity and Liberty’.

At social and political level from 1920 onwards, with the publication of ‘Mooknayak’ at the age of 29 years, Dr. Ambedkar remained active to his last breath for 36 years, to change the life of crores of Dalits in India on the basis of his ideas of essential human equality and also of socialism. The major struggles he took up, apart from publications of various journals and books in this direction, was launching of Chowdar tank Satyagraha in Mahad and Kalaram temple Satyagraha, which continued for five years. Then as member of Mumbai legislative council, Central assembly, Rajya Sabha; as member of Viceroy council, as law minister or as chairman of constitution draft committee, Dr. Ambedkar played a major role in shaping the destiny of Dalits of India in particular and Indian people in general. His role in three round table conferences, in signing Poona pact was to ensure fair and equitable deal for Dalits in future set up of India. By all his ideas and actions, Dr. Ambedkar advanced the scope and space of liberation for vast number of Dalit population of Indian society.

Dr, Ambedkar was enlightened by the philosophy of French revolution, Buddhism and Marxism for the emancipation of Dalit masses. ‘Buddha or Marx’ is one of the titles of his major writings. He was for socialism, but was against the use of violence to achieve it. He wanted to build socialism in Indian society through peaceful constitutional means. That is why the philosophy of Buddhism attracted him more, particularly in Indian context, where people are too much religious. But Dr. Ambedkar accepted the atheist and rationalist form of Buddhism.

Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy of humanism is much more relevant in Asian societies today, where the worst kind of religious fundamentalism of many hues, worst kind of inequalities on caste and class basis exist. Asia needs to seek inspiration from the ideas of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh like personalities to bring radical changes in their societies, to make these more equal, more just, and more humane.


1. Speeches and Writing of Dr. Ambedkar in 16 volumes- published by Govt. of Maharashtra
2. Essential writings of Dr. Ambedkar -Edited- Valerine Rodrigues, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
3. Dr. Ambedkar:His Life and Works-Dhanjya Keer,Popular Prakashan Mumbai (Biography)
4. Remembrances and Reminiscences—Nanak Chand Rattu
5. Baba Saheb Ambedkar—Vasant Moon-(Biography), National Book Trust of India, New Delhi
6. Poisoned Bread—Edited- Arjun Dangle- Dalit literary writings- Orient Longman, Delhi
7. From Untouchable to Dalit—Eleanor Zelliot- Manohar, Delhv