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Hindu festivals and dilemma of Ambedkarites
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Hindu festivals and dilemma of Ambedkarites

pratik tembhurne

Pratik Tembhurne

pratik tembhurneIt’s the festival season. Time for celebrations, get-togethers, delicacies and wait – rituals. Here begins the confusion among some groups. What do rituals mean? When the term rituals get attached to all the fun, another word gets to be added. Yes, the rituals are Hindu rituals. In local dialect, the rituals are often called as “Karma kaand”.

Here the confusion begins among the non-Hindu groups viz: Muslims, Atheists, and Ambedkarite (Scheduled caste) groups.

These groups are often fine with the celebration and fun part of the festivals. While they even participate with extra zeal and enthusiasm in these Hindu festivals, there has been a long running dilemma among the Ambedkarite groups in particular about the Hindu festivals. The well read Ambedkarites find it very difficult to explain and convince their fellow Ambedkarite friends, relatives, etc who still follow – some superficially and some in a full-fledged manner- not to practice the Hindu rituals.

The enlightened groups among the Ambedkarites anyways don’t pay much heed towards the Hindu festivals. But there are some not-so-aware groups who still practice the rituals involved during the Hindu festivals. And paradoxically they also do not deny that they are Ambedkarites.

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Exploitation of the gullible becomes easy in the Name of Religion.

The root of this dilemma arose when Ambedkar in 1956 along with lakhs of his followers denounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur. The conversion was one of a kind. The people voluntarily attended the conversion ceremony and it was absolutely not a coerced conversion.

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Ritual/Religion is often an Economic enterprise.

After the conversion, Ambedkar prescribed 22 vows for all those who converted to Buddhism. Some of the 22 vows included vows like:

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna, who are believed to be the incarnation of God, nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus, nor shall I worship them.

It is pretty much clear from these three vows that the Ambedkarites shall not worship the Hindu gods henceforth. Though the idea sounds radical, it was an obvious gesture of the group exploited for generations in the name of religion. In the name of Gods. In the name of the worshipping the Hindu gods in particular.

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Our fears and insecurities are misused in the name of Metaphysics.

Chaturvarna has been a religious code sanctioned by the gods. Through various codes and mythologies, the institution of the caste system and inequality continued for thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. The inhuman Laws of Manu which treated shudras and women to the level of animals, enjoyed the religious patronage until the implementation of Constitution lately.  And all of this perpetuated in the name of worshipping gods and performing the Karma kaand.

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A disciple (Bhakt) is not supposed to reason. Hence, so long as you are in the Hindu religion, you cannot expect to have freedom of thought” – Dr. Ambedkar.

Some elite Ambedkarites still argue against this ‘that being liberals we should not be aloof and separated from fellow Indians’. Therefore they still do not hesitate to celebrate as well as practise the Hindu rituals.

It is, however, difficult to understand as to how does not following the rituals that others follow set a group apart from another group? If only the group which follows these rituals is intolerant to boycott the people with a different view in matters of following rituals and customs. Therefore, if the majority has mutual respect for the views of the minority, the argument of staying aloof doesn’t hold true.

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The exploitation and oppression continues till date.

Some argue ‘that religion and beliefs are private matters and nobody else has any right to interfere in one’s personal beliefs’.

The mostly elite Ambedkarites or for that matter the Hindus also argue that the relation between an individual and God is a private affair and nobody has a right to intervene in one’s individual beliefs. Sure, that’s a sound argument. Ambedkar has been one of the greatest liberals the Indian intelligentsia has ever produced. How can Ambedkar, therefore, talk of interfering in an individual’s personal beliefs?

When we properly examine the three vows mentioned above, Ambedkar is not addressing the question of Atheism or Theism. Of whether to believe in existence of God or not. Ambedkar clearly mentions the names of the Hindu gods. And pledges to refrain from worshipping the Hindu Gods. Another name for worshipping Hindu gods is Karma kaand. In the name of which, these people have been exploited for generations. Therefore the question of interfering in one’s personal beliefs doesn’t hold in this context. If it does, it only questions their belief in rituals and Hindu Gods, thereby questioning the indirect following of a custom of inequality.

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Rituals often replace Humanity, Free Thought and Conscience.

It is true that Reason and Conscience are one of the important aspects of Ambedkar’s teachings. However, in the context of worshipping Hindu gods through the vows, the question was beyond that. In fact, once Ambedkar also appreciated people’s belief in God in his speech ‘Frustration’ He argued as below:

“If the Jews rose after their first captivity, it was primarily because of their plus condition of mind and body. This plus condition of mind and body can arise from two sources. It can arise from reliance on God. God, if nothing else is at least a source of power and in an emergency, man needs mental power, the plus condition of mind and body which is necessary for success. There is therefore nothing wrong in the suggestion that the Jews succeeded because of their Covenant of God if it is interpreted in the right way.”

In the vows, however, Ambedkar is not talking of belief in God. Ambedkar is talking about whom not to believe as God. His exhaustive works like Philosophy of Hinduism, Riddles in Hinduism and Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient and Medieval India justify quite in detail his stand.

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Discard the Sanctum Santorum to achieve Social freedom. Discard the Sanctum Santorum to establish an Egalitarian and Just society.

Therefore while arguing on this matter, we must understand the difference between an open mind and an empty mind. In Rohith Vemula’s words, being an open mind and vouching for individual freedom does not mean following an atrocious religion (at least for a large group) and the rituals attached to it.

Therefore, it is only safe for Ambedkarites to keep away from at least the rituals/Karma kaand associated with the festivals. For the following of the rituals and Karma kaand has been the primary pretext under which these groups were brought to the lowest strata in society. Being suspicious about the cause of slavery is only wise and there is no reason to observe it as some hatred.

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Pratik Tembhurne looks forward to social change through the prism of subaltern struggles and social inequality. He believes that the subaltern struggles can offer a new alternative mainstream narrative, without being sectarian. He is a facilitator at New India Debate Society (NIDS) which  is an initiative which attempts to learn and comprehend Ambedkar in a holistic manner, trying to relocate the missing thread of his Nationalism and Democratic values. The initiative is purely an academic pursuit with no ulterior motives of any social or political action.

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