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Ambedkar

Radhakanta Barik

I was invited by the Ambedkar Society of Kalindi College of Delhi University. The young students read their papers with their startling opinions. One student questioned the social hierarchy in terms of caste on the basis of Manu Sashtra. Another student questioned the gender inequality as defined in Manu sasthra. These are young undergraduates of a Women's College. As I got a chance to take the clues from these papers for giving the Valedictory lecture. It is Ambedkar who brought these concepts into Art 14 of Indian constitution where the Right to equality is a fundamental right. One cannot discriminate on the basis of caste, race and gender which gives a foundation to social revolution. In a hierarchical and unequal social relationship this idea is a revolutionary one. 

Three people came from the city of Pune: Gandhi, Ambedkar and Savarkar. Gandhi after coming from South Africa getting down at the Bombay Port straight went to Pune to have a meeting with Gokhale a constitutional liberal who played a definite role in Indian national movement. Gandhi spent some years in Pune inside the jail or outside. Ambedkar took the city as experimentation of ideas of equality and justice. Savarkar after coming back from London and took Pune as his Karmasthal. Gandhi was in a constant dialogue with both and took Ambedkar as his teacher in learning about social oppression and social discrimination. Ambedkar took the city of Pune because it was a thinking place where a large number of people supported his ideas. Savarkar experimented his ideas of Hindutva here. it is an interesting city and its landscape helped in having a debate among many. But never had it happened a follower of Savarkar killed a rationalist Dabholkar some years back in Pune while he was on a morning walk. Their inability of debating and discussing ideas led to killing of a rationalist who was pleading against superstition and blind belief. The city for last hundred and fifty years debating over ideas but in the year 2013 Dabholkar shot dead. His killers have not yet punished by the administration.

Pune city remained as an interesting city of Maharashtra which is recognized as the cultural capital of the State. It is a learning place as there is a network of schools and colleges which draw students from all over the State. Being the cultural capital it is very much vibrant in various activities related to theatre and political meetings. This is the place where serious academic works happen. It allowed conservatives and liberals to debate on one end and another end socialists and communists and Ambedkarites. But at the core of the city dominated by the conservative Brahmins from the Konkan belt. But they sustained Tilak and Savarkar on the end and another end they sustained many liberals and constitutionalists. The continuous debates did not happen between them as one group is highly obstinate. Gandhi took interest in mediating between these two groups. But today the absence of Gandhians is felt and the domination of Savarkars is there in the city but their number is less and Ambedkarites are much stronger and produce interesting intellectual works. Liberals side with the Ambedkarites which made these individual Savarkarites angry and used to silence the dissident intellectuals by killing them. These Savarkarites went to Delhi at the time of Independence and succeeded to target at Gandhi and in the end some of them killed Gandhi. But almost six decades they remained quiet but today with the rise of the Hindutva politics they are getting emboldened and once more decided to attack the intellectuals. They killed some and some are being kept in the jails as Urban Naxalites. In this scenario let us examine the contribution and voice of Ambedkar in politics and intellectual environment. There are new plays getting staged here and new novels and poems are being written by these people where as Savarkarites faced the drought on their intellectual front. They look at the journals of the RSS which are being written in obtuse language and not easily understood by them. On their side hardly any imaginative writer and artists and on the contrary there are many film makers taken keen interest in producing good films. One of the films became a box office hit where inter caste marriage happen and the songs became so popular that the film got adapted in other languages including Hindi. ‘Daring To Fall In Love’  See Inter-Caste Couples Challenge India’s Oppressive System the Sairat became the hit film at the box office which made the Savarkarites more angry than cooled lot. We have to place Ambedkar in the context of changing political cultural scenario.

Ambedkar's ideas of equality and justice is being threatened by liberalisation of phase of capitalism where economic inequality among classes and castes have increased. It seems that India's top 1% bag 73% of the country's wealth, says Oxfam and furthermore every two days one billionaire is created in India. The vast majority of people do not have access to basic minimum income. My study shows that in Banaras some industrialists from Dalits have been created with the rise of BSP in politics. Their first two generations got the various government jobs in the reserved category but the third generation wants to take risk and start doing some enterprising activities without going for the jobs. These are small scale industries such as textiles and construction activities. None of them can enter into the billionaire club in near future. Most of India's rural and urban poor come from the Dalits and backwards and minorities. Ambedkar predicted the economic inequity among caste groups that the upper castes share of wealth has increased sharply where as Dalit's share of wealth has declined except Tamilnadu. This brings out a gloomy picture for the poor of India whose freedom to have livelihoods is getting snatched. Bigger threat is coming from the city brother Savarkar whose ideas are threatening individual freedom at every stage. Ambedkar had not discussed this issue but Hindutva has grown into a force. His city where debates and discussions were going on for more than hundred years and new plays and new thinking was growing and getting threatened by the violent actions of the followers of Savarkar. His followers went destroyed the library which was the place for writing a book on Shivaji. This is a new form of attack on freedom of expression and that library as the store house of knowledge is getting attacked. People who are articulating rational ideas are getting killed in the city of Pune. Freedom of thinking and expression have got shrunk which has never thought by Ambedkar while framing of Indian constitution. Moreover Tagore's famous poem on Right to Freedom from fear has been taken away from the public libraries by Modi government. "Where the mind is without fear, And the head is held high ".  Fear is the basis of caste system and Tagore pleaded for freedom from fear in this poem. …

It is fear which is the basis of caste system. In the early 1970s I was talking to the boys and girls belonging to Dalits who did not attend schools and they told bluntly that fear of walking in the main lanes of the village made them not to go to the primary school as the location of the village school is at the end of the main lane. Ambedkar's anti caste movement brought these people fearless which gave them a chance to fight against injustice. Today all children belonging to Dalit families of our locality go to the schools. In our locality in 1970s the first engineer came up from a Dalit family. After getting the job of engineer he walked in the main lane of the village and their family got a notice from the caste Hindus that they had to leave within 24 hours, it is a fact that family left the village within a stipulated time. They have never returned back to the village. It is fear of caste Hindus allowed them to leave the village. 

How fear haunts anybody let me quote a poem of Michael Taylor :

Fear after all, is only fear(title )
Fear after all is only fear 
And only fools are never afraid 
And you are not a fool
Those who fear yet go ahead 
Are the truely brave
And you daily outface your fear.-------

Fear is the basis of caste system as one finds from a friend's brother from Meerut village told me in 1972 that no dalit walks in the village lanes if they walk they bow down while walking. This brings out the relationship between Dalits and Caste Hindu is based on fear. In 1980 the Dalit cobbler in Portblair told that it was fear they could not allow him to wear ganji and gamacha. Ambedkar's ideas and working of political democracy helped in creating an atmosphere of fearless. Let us examine before 1972 election the dalits were not allowed to cast their votes in the Western UP, the decision by Mrs Indira Gandhi to open the separate polling booths changed the scenario. People started casting votes in large numbers they defeated Charan Singh. Working of constitutional democracy has created a fearless atmosphere in India.

Ambedkar's ideas are working against feudalism and caste hierarchy. The practice of untouchability got challenged by Gandhi and Ambedkar both. This is continuing in some form or other in Indian villages and cities. In 1980 while I was teaching in Portblair where there was a chapter on practice of Untouchability in Indian politics for which I decided to invite a cobbler who spoke to MA Students beautifully. He is from Tamilnadu as he described the forms of discrimination by Caste Hindus. That one could not wear a ganji and a gamcha which were being hated by the caste Hindus. As while he was teaching MA students and wearing a ganji and keeping a gamacha. This brings a revolutionary consciousness which helped them in protesting against the caste system. In the early 1990s we visited the villages of Tamilnadu for studying the welfare policies and its implementation. The District Collector went with us to the villages and while we were discussing with the villagers of the caste Hindus and we found the Dalits came and demanded that the District Collector's presence in their lanes. The DC went to lanes of Dalits and we found all were educated but educated girls demanded jobs. This assertiveness has grown among Dalits of Tamilnadu and there is a sense of equality and fearlessness for which Ambedkar's ideas worked as a revolutionary one.

Ambedkar's ideas are a force as Marx says that when ideas are being used by class then it turns into a force. This has happened in the case of India. Ambedkar is a thinker and constitutional lawyer can recognize the obstructions on the path of equality and justice that is the caste system. The Dalits of India are really working class who have nothing to lose but their chains. They find here that they are workers as well as they belong to Dalits are being oppressed by the caste hierarchy. They have adopted the idea of Ambedkar and built his statues in a village corner to the centre of the city. They have not built the statue of traditional Marathi dress but in modern suite holding Constitution in his hand. This statue has a symbolic value in our society that modern education and modern jobs will help them in liberation from their chains as Lenin told. Ambedkar has combined in him Ambedkar and Lenin as these workers of India want to liberate with modern technology and cooperative works. They are able to fight the battle on rusty rural village lanes of Saharanpur against the imposition of a statue of the Rajput king Rana Pratap who fought against the kings of the Moghuls. They violently attacked the Thakurs who did not want them to build a statue of Ambedkar. They came out the streets of Chennai when their young engineer fell in love with a woman of caste Hindu got killed by the parents of the girl. The girl is ready to witness against her parents by telling them in the court they are criminals as she Found her Romeo by telling "Are You Romeo?" -as Shakespeare says. The soldier who fought in the war against Pakistan and came and got married while riding the horse in Rajasthan and the upper castes did not allow him but he fought against them. Then a Dalit boy working in Dubai as a labourer from a distant village of Odisha gave a feast on the occasion of the death of his father which would be remembered as the great feast where 8000 people came for dinner from four villages. They have spreaded to four corners such as East, West and North and South which sysmbolised they have conquered the world with the ideas of Ambedkar that fought against any injustice and for justice and equality as provided by the constitution. Ambedkar's ideas turn into force by bringing a social revolution on the basis of organisation, education and modernity. Their reservation in government jobs got diluted by the Modi government they came to the streets and fought a battle against the upper caste people and they showed their mettle to prove a point that they stand together and fight together with modern ideas and cooperatives. Let them fight with the ideas of Ambedkar on a peaceful democratic manner.

Dialogue and differences continue between two great persons working from Pune both Gandhi and Ambedkar. They continued to debate over various issues including the caste system of Hindu society and both agree to a point that castes and its hierarchy demean human being. There human being is the child of God loses one's soul because of the caste system and another raises a point that caste system creates an oppressive system which results in creating Dalits of the society. Ambedakar believes in changes are possible by constitutional means to provide justice and equality whereas Gandhi believes in movement for justice can help in enforcement of a constitutional law. Ambedkar writes after submitting a powerful political document that is Indian Constitution to the respected leaders of the Indian National movement such as Prasad, Nehru, Azad, Rajgopalchari etc who bless Ambedkar for his contribution to the nation building. There is a beautiful picture where a painting hanging on the walls of Jamia Millia Islamia,New Delhi telling the story of Ambedkar's contribution to nation building. Let us examine his own statement after the submission of draft of constitution where he clearly shows his difference with Gandhi. "The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non cooperation, non cooperation and saytagraha." Ambedkar questions the methods adopted by Gandhi and its implication in constitutional democracy. But these methods have worked in the case of Dalits, tribals and working class where they are fighting for justice and equality which constitution provides. Realisation of these ideals without political movement remain on the paper which Gandhi can understand in those critical moments.

Ambedkar and Savarkar had no such engagement but Gandhi had a dialogue with both. Once in London in 1909 over the release of the book Hindi Swaraj where he told Gandhi that he believed in violence. But Gandhi replied to him that he did not believe in violence but nonviolence. The story ended then there. Once Gandhi came to India and took the leadership of the Congress Party he kept engaging with Savarkar. Once Gandhi went to his village located in Konkan where both had a dialogue. But Savarkar developed his theory of Hindutva while working in London by looking at the nationalism of Italian society. This pained Gandhi and Ambedkar. But in today's politics one finds there are four ideas working at the ground level: Gandhian path of non violence has shaped many ecological movements getting organised in a non violent manner. Ambedkar's anti caste movements are working everywhere. The best example Elgar Parishad organised the protest movement in the city of Pune. Furthermore, the all India protest movement against the dilution of the reservation policy is an all India movement against Hindutva politics. Savarkar's Hindutva has a limited appeal which is creating some form of attacks on individuals in the name of cow vigilantes which can be termed as the terrorist movement as UNO defined when any movement attacked the individual or small group in a violent manner. The other two movements are within Indian constitution where the last movement against Constitution as Justice Chandrachud says that the death of Aqlaq in Dadri made Indian constitution to cry. These cries do not enter into these hearts that create these attacks.

Gandhi believed in a dialogue and argumentation which is the basis of Gandhian philosophy. That he could maintain this relationship with everybody. There was a special reason for maintaining his relationship with Ambedkar. His sociological insights made him convinced that he intended to understand the Indian society. After meeting Gokhale and having discussions with him Gandhi got convinced of touring whole India to understand our society. In 1919 he went to Champaran to settle the disputes between peasantry and colonial settlers. The day he got down in the train there were two crowds to welcome him. There he understood that Indian society is a hierarchical one. Upper section and lower section did not stand together. He decided to welcome Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram to help him in understanding the complexities of Indian society. Constant dialogue with them made him improved his understanding of Indian social situation. Pune his adopted city he spent quite some time to discuss the issues with Ambedakar as he had already organised the untouchables into an association of depressed classes. This made him closer and both continued debates and shaped their understanding of depressed classes and developed a human relationship. This human relationship made it possible to bring Gandhi and Ambedkar to have a dialogue over the question of separate electorate for Dalits. Being the most imaginative and believed in constitutional way of bringing change in Indian society. Peaceful way of bringing social revolution made it possible to have Gandhi - Ambedkar agreement which is popularly known as the Poona Pact. This became the basis of constitutional provision of Right to equality and Art 14, 15 and Art 16. Unequal society needs to create special provisions for creating equal opportunities which are there in creating provision of reservation for Dalits and tribals. This is the most innovative thinking of Indian constitution which brings the social agreement between two social blocks: Hindu society and Dalits. This is not there in any constitution as those who think that Indian constitution is a borrowed text must revise their minds and arguments.

After 70years of working of constitutional democracy Indian state looks little flabby in the context of protecting rights of individuals belonging to Muslims and Dalits. This threat is coming from Savarakarites who do not believe in a dialogue and discussion. This reflects in politics of India where individuals working in trade or buying beef or cow are getting killed. As no text on Hinduism approves the actions of these people, on the contrary the Bhagvat, a 16th century text recognizes the point that in a dialogue between Krishna and Uddhava where the question of food has come up and Krishna advises one needs to be free to eat whatever available but the other has no opinion over the food. Indian Constitution recognizes this important aspect in Art 19 where one has freedom in trading of the animals as an occupation. Despite the laws of state are there to protect these people and but Savarkites are coming in a small group and attacking individuals leading to deaths which has created fear in the minds of Muslims and Dalits. Fear has entered into far off villages of Odisha where a section of people belonging to Dalits used to eat the dead cows and selling the skin. Out of fear they have stopped this work. Police administration is losing its enforcing capacity of justice in opposition to the Modi Regime. As W B Yeats  say: “ Anarchy has spread to different corners.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, ”Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan” - Johnny Walker as he was singing the song where crimes related to city have spread to India.

But at the same time democracy has deepened and masses are ready to fight for their justice and are not ready to tolerate inequality in any form be it caste or class terms. A poor and marginal is asserting his or her right. Today the transgenders have been given special status and right to equality with other genders. Here one can place the song on Democracy written by Cohen given below: I hope it’s not too late to point out the perfect track for today on Ambedkar’s birth day. For so many reasons, it just has to be Leonard Cohen’s exhausted but hopeful “Democracy,” recorded 25 years ago [yesterday] and still inspiring—and, let us hope, prophetic.

Cohen died just a day before Donald Trump was elected president, so we’ll never know his reaction. But we can still glean wisdom and hope from his lyrics:

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

As for democracy in India people belonging to various ideological moorings such as Ambedkarites, Marxists, Gandhians , Socialists and Nehruites  are fighting on many fronts for a developing a sustainable society based on equality and justice where the marginal and poor have a voice and let us celebrate Ambedkar and his ideas.

Prof Radhakanta Barik, retired as Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi

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Jun 9, 2019


Prof Radhakanta Barik radhakantab@gmail.com

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