“Gandhiji, I have no homeland”, said Babasaheb Ambedkar during the 1930s when India was struggling for freedom from the British. Babasaheb further says, “how can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own, wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink? No self-respecting Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land. The injustice and sufferings inflicted upon us by this land are so enormous that if knowingly or unknowingly we fall a prey to disloyalty to this country, the responsibility for that act would be solely hers”.
In another instance, Babasaheb reiterates the same thing with a deeper meaning – “Man has a body as well as a mind. He needs physical as well as mental freedom. Mere physical freedom is of no use. Freedom of the mind is of prime importance. Really speaking, what is meant to a man by physical freedom? It means he is free to act according to his own free will. A prisoner is unchained and is set free. What is the principle underlying this? The principle is, he should be free to act according to his free will, and he should be able to make the maximum use of the abilities he possesses. But what is the use of such freedom of a man whose mind is not free? The freedom of mind is the real freedom”.
In other words, Ambedkar’s struggle was not merely for freedom for the land. His struggle was for freedom from the clutches of all kinds of slavery and oppression. It was freedom for human liberation. Today, the country is witnessing everything that Ambedkar had said.
Babasaheb was fully aware that, Hinduism will never leave its core philosophy, how much ever it contradicts the Indian constitution. Ironically, the hard Hindu, soft Hindu, progressive Hindu, and Left Hindus successfully managed to accommodate Hinduism in democracy. The principle of the Indian Constitution is the biggest challenge to Indian society. Babasaheb’s position on many issues was ethically embedded and morally sound. The citizens, leaders, academicians, political parties and his opponents cannot escape from it. Astonishingly, all of them are accepting him today – it may be for their self-interest, for their vote bank politics or for other genuine reasons.
Today, truth prevails even if one may not agree with the fact that Ambedkar is indispensable. The question of Nation and Nationalism, unity of the country, danger of Hinduism, democracy, reservation, equality, annihilation of caste, women’s liberation, democratic socialism, equal distribution of resources, education and so on, are the genuine demands today, which were raised by Ambedkar. His warning on Hinduism is a superb example. In his analysis, it is Hinduism that has created all the problems. To him, “a people and their Religion must be judged by social standards based on social ethics. No other standard would have any meaning if religion is held to be a necessary good for the well-being of the people”. Who is responsible for this calamity? Unfortunately, by default, all are Hindu today, except other religious minorities.
Today Ambedkar is politicized. He is politicized by all his opponents, and he is politicized by stooges. It is also a fact that, Ambedkar is seen as a Dalit leader. He is stigmatized and ghettoized as a caste leader. The most important issue taken up by Ambedkar was caste discrimination. Dalits, who constitute twenty percent of the total population, face caste violence and continue to suffer on an everyday basis. But it never becomes a national or international issue. Let us interrogate a current issue: the Rohith Vemula incident exposed the Brahminical conspiracy in higher educational institutions, while the hooligan nationalism killed the spirit of the Rohith issue.
The people of JNU responded very seriously when it came to anti-nationalism or freedom of speech, but strangely, we did not find a similar crowd in the case of Rohith. This comparison is not to show narrow casteist mindsets, but one cannot deny the reality that appears before us. Political organizations can do politics on Rohith, but cannot bring justice for/of Rohith. Rohith is no more today and the cause lives on, rhetoric but not in concrete terms. Brahminism has entrenched itself in such way that upper castes live in ambiguity about the cause of Dalits. This is because caste is deeply intrinsic to Indian life and that reflects in the struggles as well. Therefore, the suffering of Dalits remains confined to Dalits. In their fight, it may seem like only their struggle is genuine, however it is a fight against inhumanity and anyone can join in it.
The self-proclaimed progressive left has disregarded Ambedkar’s core idea. The left has been alleging that Ambedkar is a liberal democratic constitutionalist. The point raised by left has to be interrogated by raising a counter question. In the last one century of left in India, no where have they criticized the Hindu religion. They do not see Hindu religion as a major threat to bringing in communism. Who is responsible for fascist Hindutva today? Has it ever been raised by the left in their political discourse? There is no hope that the left would stand to destroy Hinduism in the future.
In this context, who is the real liberal, left or Ambedkar? To put it differently, who upholds Hinduism to create a binary of communalism and secularism? To further this argument, how can a left activist worship Hindu Gods the same way as the right wing performs? Is this a secular and communist practice? The answer lies in understanding Indian society and its problems.
Ambedkar strongly believed that the constitution is a normative document, which will bring qualitative change in the society. However, there are limitations in the constitution. Let us question the praxis of left and right by asking – how do they regard Indian constitution as a guiding principle? According to left, constitution is a liberal bourgeoisie document while the right says it is a violent constitution, which prohibits all religious performances. In a way, both share a kind of totalitarian vision or find it easy to accept the praxis of Hinduism. Constitution is a document that provides a framework to work with, for seeking social justice.
Babasaheb Ambedkar, you are great in so many ways that rings true in contemporary India. Your importance is present in every sphere of life. You are the real savior, mission, revolutionary, vision, path, and destiny. What would be India today, if you had not played a key role in your lifetime? I believe that people of this country are realizing your struggle as time passes. You will be alive for a long time to come, because you have fought for freedom of humananity, not freedom of land.
Kurukhetra Dip is a Junior Research Fellow (M. Phil) at Center for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, JNU New Delhi. His areas of interest include Disability Studies, Dalits (Subaltern) Studies, Methods and Methodology, Social Theory, Social Movement. He is currently doing research on “Disability Policies”, and on “Interface of Disability and Untouchability in Construction of Body”