Continued from here.
On 25th December, 1927, Ambedkar along with his Brahmin and Muslim colleagues (who donated land to conduct the ceremony) burned ‘manusmirti’ at the hands of Bapusahib Sahastrabuddhe. Will the RSS or the Brahmins, who Ambedkar called the natural leaders of the Hindus, be able to digest that the manusmriti was first burned by none other than a Brahmin under Babasaheb’s guidance? Will RSS appropriate or erase the fact that in “Riddles in Hinduism” Ambedkar discarded all the 15 riddles largely propagated by Brahmins?
I wish that the savarnas of this country had monopolised Ambedkar’s thoughts when he was alive. When the Hindu nationalist leaders were emphasizing on the political aspect of nationalism while consciously ignoring the social aspect of it; when Ambedkar was profusely criticizing the anti-egalitarian nature of the dominant Hindu culture and its inability to bind the culturally diverse people into the goal of achieving fraternity, then why was no one there to monopolise his thoughts?
They seem to have failed to monopolise Ambedkar’s idea of nationalism or Ambedkar in totality. Ambedkar’s conviction to get free from society’s internal oppression and external domination were snatched away from him. The civil rights which Ambedkar was envisioning before the freedom movement was not acceptable to the nationalists back then. The Hindu nationalists were deeply entrenched in furthering the system of caste, that’s why they called Ambedkar, who was devoted to the struggle of human dignity for untouchables and other marginalized, as an anti-national. His ideology was in the true spirit of social democracy. But only his ideology of nationalism was given importance.
I wish savarnas of this country would have monopolized him, untouchables, poor and marginalized, who are still subjected to violence, oppression and marginalization. They wouldn’t then have been so helpless, and diligently seeking justice. If it’s about monopolizing Ambedkar, I wish savarnas of this country would have done that, monopolized him, including his writings and speeches and his ideology. But the irony is they waited until the educated mass within Dalits started theorizing Ambedkar through their autobiographies, they waited till the masses produced the pains through literature. This literature infused Ambedkar within the Dalit masses- education brought back the educated, radical, scholarly, social democrat, compassionate and revolutionary Ambedkar. Some of our brothers and sisters who are far away from access to formal education are still struggling to understand Ambedkar, so does that mean that Dalits are monopolizing Ambedkar?
The author of the First Post piece mentioned in part 1 slyly compares Dr. Ambedkar with Swami Vivekanada. To compare Dr. Ambedkar with Vivekananda is like joining two poles apart, which can never be joined together. The latter’s views on caste are highly problematic and he is an out and out casteist. They are instructive for many upper caste Hindu social reformers and laymen who often quote Vivekananda’s views to justify the caste system today. Vivekananda1 defended the caste system thus: “The beauty of caste system is that it leads to a stable, non-violent system, and the end result is that it achieves better for all“. So far, the ‘beauty’ only turned out to be a beast and has been violent for Dalits. How can it possibly achieve good for all? Vivekananda’s views on caste are not only problematic for secularism and the social fabric of this country, but also against constitutional morality. A website2 which has documented Vivekananda’s views on caste states3:
“It is the nature of society to form itself into groups; and what will go will be these privileges! Caste is a natural order. I can perform one duty in social life, and you another; you can govern a country, and I can mend a pair of old shoes, but that is no reason why you are greater than I, for can you mend my shoes? Can I govern the country? I am cleaver in mending shoes, you are clever in reading Vedas, that is no reason why you should trample on my head; why if one commits murder should be praised and if another steals an apple why should he be hanged? This will have to go.”
According to Vivekananda caste is a natural order, and disrupting this natural order is an unnatural thing. According to Vivekananda if you are good at mending shoes then you can’t govern the country. He also speaks of dignity of labour but then contradicts by saying, “I am clever in mending shoes, you are clever in reading Vedas, that is no reason why you should trample on my head”. Vivekananda talks about the dignity of labour, which is impossible in Hindu India, where our mind doesn’t stop unless and until we know the caste of the person we are interacting with. While Ambedkar just in one line refutes Vivekananda’s labour theory of caste. Ambedkar says, “Caste is not only division of labour but also division of labourers”. That means it’s the labour which is divided in Hindu India on the basis of his or her birth. Vivekananda doesn’t stop here, his preachings are often used by many upper caste progressives, like the author himself who is preaching to Dalits. Vivekananda also said:
“To the non-Brahmana castes I say, wait, be not in hurry. Do not seize every opportunity of fighting the Brahmana, because as I have shown; you are suffering from your own fault. Who told you to neglect spirituality and Sanskrit learning? What have you been doing all this time? Why have you been indifferent? Why do you fret and fume because somebody else had more brains, more energy, more pluck and go than you? Instead of wasting your energies in vain discussions and quarrels in the newspapers, instead of fighting and quarrelling in your own homes – which is sinful – use all your energies in acquiring the culture which the Brahmana has, and the thing is done. Why do you not become Sanskrit scholars? Why do you not spend millions to bring Sanskrit education to all the castes of India? That is the question. The moment you do these things, you are equal to the Brahmana! That is the secret power in India”.
At many places Vivekananda’s views on caste are laughable, like when he says; “Where would you be if there were no caste? Where would be your learning and other things, if there were no caste? There would be nothing left for the Europeans to study if caste had never existed”. Because for him it’s a natural order which they don’t want to disrupt. Vivekananda was living in some delusion for wasn’t he aware of the power hierarchy created by the Hindus in which Brahmins were at the topmost position and they were the beneficiaries of the caste system where power as well as the intellectual, social, educational and economic resources were totally controlled by them?According to the set rules, non-Brahmins were not supposed to get educated but perform their caste duties. For Vivekanada it was some undeniable fact that Brahmins have more merit and intelligence to produce knowledge than others. So, how can someone whose opinions are deeply casteist be equated with Ambedkar? How can someone so blind to the reality of his time and living in such delusions be equated with the visionary Dr. Ambedkar?
How can anybody who is not a congenital idiot accept Chaturvarna as the ideal form of society? Individually and socially it is a folly and a crime. One class and one class alone to be entitled to education and learning! One class and one class alone to be entitled to Arms! One class and one class alone to trade! One class and one class alone to serve! For the individual the consequences are obvious. Where can you find a learned man who has no means of livelihood who will not degrade his education? Where can you find a soldier with no education and culture who will use his arms to conserve and not to destroy? Where can you find a merchant with nothing but the acquisitive instinct to follow who will not descend to the level of the brute? Where can you find the servant who is not to acquire education, who is not to own Arms, and who is not to possess other means of livelihood, to be a man as his Maker intended him to be? ~ Section V, Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah. Vol-I, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches.
In Annihilation of Caste, Dr. Ambedkar writes,
“You must not forget that if you wish to bring about a breach in the system, then you have to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the shastras, which deny any part of reason; to the Vedas and shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must destroy the religion of the shrutis and the smritis. Nothing else will avail.”
These quotes of Ambedkar clear his position on caste and the varna system. He knows the genesis of these systems, i.e. the shastras and Vedas and shrutis and smritis which he says one must destroy by applying dynamite.
The First Post author further writes, “It is best to look at Ambedkar as a non-doctrinaire intellectual rather than someone committed to this ideology or that. This is the true hallmark of a great leader- someone who rethinks his hypothesis when circumstances change.” I would like to disagree with the author again for calling Ambedkar non-doctrinaire. It will be a grave injustice to Ambedkar’s vision and political ideas which are vociferously reflected in his work. It is a fact that Buddha, Kabir (as his father was Kabirpanthi) and Mahatama Phule had a strong influence on Dr Ambedkar. Ambedkar also considered them as his three gurus. One can see the influence of all these philosophers on Ambedkar’s life at different points of time.
In his preface to Buddha and his Dhamma, Dr. Ambedkar reveals his inclination towards Buddha due to a book written by his teacher Dada Keluskar and gifted to him. He writes, “I read the book with great interest, and was greatly impressed and moved by it”. He further writes, “It was not with an empty mind that I went to the Buddha at that early age. I had a background, and in reading the Buddhist lore I could always compare and contrast, between things happening around. This is the origin of my interest in Buddha and his Dhamma”. Buddha fought against the Vedas and Upanishads, his philosophy taught Ambedkar to question the infallible nature of these scriptures. This led to works like Buddha and His Dhamma, Buddha and Karl Marx, his speeches delivered before conversion, his article Buddha and Future of His Religion written for Mahabodhi Society’s Journal and his idea of conversion to Buddhism and then the explanatory, spirited, inspirational and historic speech he delivered on the next day on “Why was Nagpur Chosen” on 15th October 1956.
Ambedkar in one of his speeches also says that “The ideals embedded in Constitution of India like Liberty Equality Fraternity are not taken from the French Revolution, but from Buddha’s Dhamma“. During the making of the constitution he studied Buddha’s Sangha and how they practiced a democratic system of governance. Similar reverence he had for Kabir and Phule’s work. Kabir was rational and secular while Phule was more radical and also questioned Manusmirti by starting the first women’s school for Mang and Mahar girls. Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his book, “Who Were the Shudras” to Mahatma Jotiba Fule. Ambedkar writes, “The greatest Shudra of modern India who made the lower classes of Hindus conscious of their slavery to the higher classes and who preached the gospel that for India social democracy was more vital than independence from foreign rule.“
In the second part of the title, the author of the First Post article writes “He (Ambedkar) would’ve been Indian’s best Prime Minister”. This postulation is nothing but rhetoric. Dr. Ambedkar didn’t have any urge to become the Prime Minister. He was in the Congress, not because he wanted to, but because that was the only means available through which he could manage to bring political reforms and changes at the policy level for untouchables. There is no doubt that Dr. Ambedkar was a modern, rational, logical, patriotic revolutionary, who didn’t bend himself in front of the Hindu upper caste opposition to the Hindu Code bill unlike Nehru. Though Nehru agreed with Ambedkar’s reformative agenda yet he didn’t support him in the end. Nehru was waiting for the first general elections so that he could get a popular mandate. Nehru didn’t allow the bill to come on the table while Ambedkar didn’t want to wait until general elections. Because of this incident, Ambedkar submitted his resignation and left Nehru’s cabinet as Law Minister. This clearly shows that he wasn’t a power hungry person, nor did he even aspire to become the PM of the country.
Another postulation of the author is that: “Ambedkar would probably have backed the land acquisition bill of Narendra Modi“. I would like to disagree with the author’s presumption. Ambedkar would have never backed Modi’s land acquisition bill because the bill propagates ’eminent domain’ in which the state can have the power to take private property for public use following a ‘just’ compensation to the owner of the property. The bill or ordinance passed by the Modi government first of all doesn’t protect the rights of the people dependent on the land. It also misuses the principle of ‘public purpose’, i.e. there is no assurance if the project will be benefiting the public or not. The bill also exempts the government from Social Impact Assessment of the acquisition on fertile irrigated and multi-cropped land. The five special categories for land use will be defence, rural infrastructure projects, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects based on public private partnership (PPP). There are no adequate details provided on these categories, it may allow the state to misuse ‘public purpose’. The above-mentioned provisions for acquiring the land may also displace and destroy the livelihoods of small farmers across India.
Modi’s bill also violates human rights laws and basic principles of the constitution like liberty. It denies prior informed consent for the above five categories, resettlement and equal benefits to the families (Chaudhary, 2015). Many of the violating principles go against the constitutional and individual rights of the people. Ambedkar who was a strong propagator of liberty and individual rights of the people would never have supported the bill.
To conclude my deliberation, I would like to state that the articles which are appearing in different upper caste media spaces and portals only deal with Ambedkar rhetorically. They take Ambedkar as an armour to criticise or paint the failure of the entire Dalit movement in general and Dalit politics in particular. These critiques go beyond logical comprehension and get stuck in polemics, like, “Dalits have limited Ambedkar to themselves“, or, “Dalits are into veneration of Ambedkar and how Dalit movement has failed to work on the principles of Ambedkar”. The celebration of Ambedkar Jayanti or veneration of Ambedkar cannot be rationalized by a Hindu upper caste dominant view or with any academic glare unless one is an Ambedkarite or has a Dalit ‘experience’. As Gopal Guru writes, “Theoretical Brahmins and empirical Shudras”, for Dalits empiricism is a by-product of experience, which the upper caste theoreticians, leaders, writers or commentators do not have. So most of the criticism by upper castes comes through a bookish view of Ambedkar rather than the field view of Ambedkar. It shows the slender view of critiques like R. Jagannathan’s for looking at Dr. Ambedkar and their obliviousness towards the Dalit movement and Dalit literature.
The polemics of rescuing Ambedkar from ‘pure Dalitism‘ and his devoted captors is nothing but the author’s own postulation and presumptions. Dalits have never claimed that Ambedkar is only their own, or that a non Dalit cannot talk about Ambedkar or write about Ambedkar. In contrast, one can understand that limiting Ambedkar to celebrating his Jayanti, or erecting Ambedkar’s statues and memorials is done by all the political parties, including savarnas. Similarly, upper caste academicians and activists attempt to woo Dalits for intellectual and academic pursuits; for all of them Ambedkar is much needed. All this in spite of their anti-Dalit attitude in terms of delivery of justice to the Dalits and without any pre-engagement with Ambedkar’s thoughts and the Dalit movement. This shows how Ambedkar is no longer limited to the reach of only few classes or castes, but has become a national and international icon in recent times. So, it will be wrong to assert on anyone’s part to say that he was confined to Dalits or that Dalit intellectuals kept Ambedkar to themselves or Ambedkar was ghettoised etc. Having said that, the branding of or calling Ambedkar as a leader of ‘only’ dalits or only as the architect of the constitution of India, is done by none other than the savarna scholarship, historians and upper caste political leaders and writers.
Dalits have claimed the spirit of Ambedkar which inspired them to fight after him. They claim the legacy of the entire Dalit movement, its activists who along with fighting everyday caste struggles, also kept Ambedkar’s legacy alive, each and every essay, his ideas, his books alive. While this country has seen more desecration of his statues but we believed in erecting one in every veli wada, every Dalit wada, in every Dalit cheri, in every Dalit basti, even in posh housing colonies. Ambedkar today still stands tall in our drawing rooms as well as in our hearts. One can’t take away the legacy of the contribution of the entire Dalit movement.
Nilesh Kumar is a PhD Research Scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences interested in documenting dalit histories and narratives.