Krittika Aveira Mondal, Deeksha Rahul, Deepak Kumar, Surendra Wankhede, Archana Rahul Khupte, Vruttant Manwatkar and Piyush Kant
We are concerned about the growing problem of the commercialization of the Ambedkarite movement. This problem is of selling of victimhood in the name of “Radical Dalitism”, and the pessimism regarding the revolutionary and radical nature of the Constitution of India. On 18th March 1956, Dr. Ambedkar lamented in Agra that it was the educated people of the community that had cheated him. Unfortunately, one can still find some of the educated people of the community who continue to fail his vision by supporting anti-Constitutional ideas and especially those who construct ‘radical’ discourses just to increase their saleability.
Taking the specific example of the excerpt published in The Hindu from Suraj Yengde’s recent book “Caste Matters”, we wish to highlight both the growing inclination of anarchy amongst a section which calls itself Ambedkarite despite following Maoist/Anarchist principles, as well as the lack of critical engagement within the Ambedkarite movement. On one hand, Dr. Ambedkar has repeatedly been very sharp in his critique of radical communist ideology, contrasting them with his own philosophy of Democratic ideals based on Constitutionalism, Republicanism and Rule of Law. On the other hand, as we see from the current scenario, there is an apparent disposition towards “hero-worshipping” which Dr. Ambedkar warned us to be wary of (in ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’) wherein people are promoting anti-Ambedkarite ideas without any critical outlook.
The excerpt, at first look, seems harmless as the title proclaims that ‘Relying on the Constitution is Not Enough’, but that is the most mellow proclamation of the jarring anti-Constitutional message contained in the body of the article which elaborates how “the idea of the Constitution is romantic”. Have Ambedkarite activists become so ungrateful to Dr. Ambedkar himself that such a misinformed condemnation of the Constitution receives no criticism whatsoever, especially from the educated elites? Or are they so dazed by the shine of a foreign degree that they can no longer differentiate between a flawed analysis and an educated criticism?
In the excerpt taken for critique, for example, the very first sign of Yengde’s incomprehension of the Ambedkarite movement and philosophy lies in the opening of the excerpt where he announces that “the methods of Dalit emancipation remain unknown.” Needless to say, the idea of “Dalit emancipation” is itself oxymoronic as those who refuse to recognize the place of ‘Dalits’ in the Hindu fold can hardly be imagined to fight Brahmanism. Secondly, it seems that however immensely well-read Dr. Yengde may be, he has always chanced to avoid the several writings and speeches of Babasaheb, including but not limited to ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and ‘Emancipation What Way’, that focus on the method rather than the ideal of the emancipation of the oppressed sections of society. To that effect, Babasaheb followed the great minds and works of Tathagat Buddha, Emperor Asoka, Kabir, and the Phules who pioneered the anti-caste movement, all of whom Yengde conveniently disregards in one sweeping statement, “the Dalit movement in India is yet to be fully formed with a sizeable consensus.”
Yengde hints towards anarchy by calling for a “radical antidote to set a tone of mutuality and respectability” without clarifying what the antidote is. The confusing of Maoism/Anarchism in the name of “Radical Dalitism” is an old practice that follows a legacy of those who have been pawns of brahmanical supremacy. Take the example of Namdeo Dhasal who is taken to be an ideal Dalit Panther as he spoke the language of ‘radicalism’ but eventually was seen to join the communal Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Yengde seems to be attempting to fit himself in the legacy of Dhasal and Teltumbde who romanticized the communist revolution while not recognizing the radical constitutional and religious Ambedkarite method as a means of acquiring Freedom. Our leader Raja Dhale had attacked the Dhasalite romanticism in the name of Ambedkarism, by criticizing the constitution of the Dalit Panther as a communist document and not an Ambedkarite one. This communist constitution romanticizes oppressed identities as being ‘dalit’ which is often wrongly taken to be emancipatory even though it glorifies victimhood. Being Radical doesn’t mean selling an identity by embellishing it with victimization. Rather, Radical is the person who attacks the Shetji-Bhatji nexus vehemently and uncompromisingly.
In Yengde’s excerpt, he gives the example of his bureaucrat friend who faces challenges at his workplace when he gets the opportunity to study abroad. Ironically, this example can only be for the brahmin readers who need to be told of their behavior in order to make them feel sympathy or pity, as a reader from the oppressed communities has their own experiences of everyday casteism, far more dehumanizing and humiliating than having extra workload. In fact, the language of the excerpt seems to be tailored to appease the conscience of the oppressor-class by clinically describing “dalit” misery. The brahmanical forces which control mainstream media and movements are huge fans of such narratives of victimhood as they reinforce the established power hierarchies. As Dr. Ambedkar mentions in ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’, “…in these days, with the press in hand, it is easy to manufacture great men”, exposing the current fashion of blindly lauding a man whose baseless criticisms of the Constitution gather no opposition from even those who gain from it.
This trend is dangerous, as it gives a leeway to the sect which wants the destruction of the Constitution. Simply put, there are only two sections which want to get rid of the Constitution that was made by a Bahujan and challenges their power- the secular brahmins (who support and patronize Maoism/Anarchism) and the priestly brahmins (who support and patronize Manuism). Both these forces are eventually the same caste-class that seeks to benefit from the dissolution of the Constitution by establishing their own rule. In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, “It is useless to make a distinction between the secular and priestly Brahmins. Both are kith and kin. They are two arms of the same body and one is bound to fight for the existence of the other” (‘Annihilation of Caste’). These are the masters whom Yengde and his ilk represent and fight for when talking about their “radicalism” vis-à-vis what he terms “dalitpassivism” which is encouraged by the Constitution.
It is preposterous and pretentious of Yengde to talk of “dalit passivism” from his privileged position of a Harvard fellow based in the USA when there are hundreds of “activists” in India who face punitive action and even death while defending their rights laid down by the Indian Constitution. Some are perhaps fools in the eyes of Dr. Yengde to have left comfortable salaried jobs to spread the word of the Constitution among the masses who are otherwise unaware of basic rights and laws. Instead of dismissing the Constitution altogether, an Ambedkarite scholar should rather use their acumen to devise a better method to spread the awareness of the Constitution and its acts amongst the common masses easily in order to prevent atrocities or incidents of casteism that often go unreported or unheeded due to the ignorance of the people. This will help provide the requisite thrust to the legal means of the anti-caste struggle. In fact, contrary to Yengde’s assumptions, an “ordinary peasant” does look to the Constitution for the safeguarding of their rights. Let us not forget that the common masses participated hugely in the mass movement that took place on April 2, 2018 in the form of an all-India strike in response to the dilution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act (SC/ST Act) which was anything but “dalit passivism”.
Yengde is also gravely dismissive when he states that the Constitution is “close to the hearts” of “only dalits” as it rejects the faith put on this revolutionary document by different communities- religious, cultural, gendered etc.- that face structural injustice. His reading of the Constitution as only a “grievance cell” is highly flawed as the Indian Constitution is a unique, living document in that it is adaptable to suit contemporary issues and movements. Take for example, the recent repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This landmark modification was only possible due to the faith put by the LGBTQIA+ community in the radical and changing nature of the Constitution. This was an example of a successful 21st century movement in India that got inspired by a 20th century document. Similarly, the rights such as Right to Education, Right to Work and Right to Information were only possible to be added to this document given its ‘living’ nature that is still making a difference to and changing the lives of a plethora of communities and multitude of individuals.
With reference to Dr. Ambedkar’s views, the Constitution as a document is not a problem although its implementation must be our point of enquiry, which was the concern of the Ambedkarite activists protesting on the roads. But in order to suit the needs of the Brahmin-Bania (Shethji-Bhattji) media, Yengde, in aping classical Marxist thought, believes in the withering away of the state and constitution and the futility of legal means, rights and provisions. He erroneously criticizes the constitutional morality and inaccurately invokes the inadequacy of laws and rights for an effective change in the lives of the oppressed by advocating instead a change in the hearts of the brahmin-savarnas with reference to justice Verma’s judgement. By losing faith in the Constitution and basing his hope of emancipation merely on the dramatic moral change of so-called upper caste hearts, Mr. Yengde seems to have taken a Gandhian recourse. This approach was heavily criticized by Dr. Ambedkar who stated that the oppressed groups cannot wait to acquire their rights till whimsical caste Hindus change their minds. Certainly, it is important to have rightful change in the attitude of this supremacist class but Yengde’s emphasis, instead of being on the failure of the brahmin-savarnas in not changing their attitude, is rather on attacking the Constitution.
Through his abstraction of “Dalit Radicalism”, Yengde seems to be trying hard to establish his displaced communist identity and “selling it under Ambedkar’s name”. In this attempt, Yengde seems to be doing nothing other than conjuring a disarray of romanticism by calling to Gandhian and Maoist fantasies. At various incidents, Yengde’s articulation has been rhetorical, ambiguous and self-contradictory. In fact, through his ideological disorientation and verbal jugglery, he has tried hard to appeal the Liberal Savarna audiences by using Gandhian anarchism mixed with Maoist radicalism and anarchism. Yengde’s aspiration to appeal the conscience of the brahmin-savarnas by invoking their favorite philosophies is evident throughout his farrago of ideologies. The apparent approach he has resorted to while showcasing his ideas is antithetical to the ideals and values of the Indian constitution and constitutionalism per se. Furthermore, falling to the popular demands of the market and selling these ideas in the name of Ambedkarite ideology is an injustice done to Dr. Ambedkar’s oeuvre.
For the socially marginalized and depressed classes of India, whose lives are always under severe structural and moral attack by the oppressors, it is the Constitution that confirms primary assurance to ensure justice. For the Governing and Oppressive class it still remains the document which has proved to be the most exasperating bone of contention in maintaining their status quo. Under these circumstances, the attempt to spread pessimism and confusion regarding constitutionalism and the Ambedkarite methods of freedom by any academic should be dealt with sternly. Moreover, such an act demands severe skepticism, especially if it is coming through somebody who is strategically projected as an emerging spokesperson of the marginalized and oppressed classes by the secular brahmin academia and media.
While articulating our sincere and straightforward allegations against Yengde and his ideological comrades, our task is to expose the booming market of victimhood fully controlled and managed by the Manuist oppressive class. We stand firm in criticizing the cunning ambitions of such people who try to take advantage of the sentimental masses by consciously feeding to the market-demands created by the brahmanical merchants of slavery. We also appeal to the scholars and people following the critical legacy of Tathagat Buddha, Kabir, the Phules and Dr. Ambedkar to scrutinize and identify such sellers who harm the Ambedkarite movement and ideology of emancipation. As part of the intellectual class of the society, it is our duty to take responsibility for leading Dr. Ambedkar’s caravan of ‘Samata’ forward in the Right direction.
“I consider one as a leader who without fear or favour, without worrying about popular acquisition, tells the people what is good and what is bad for them. It is my duty to tell you, what is good for you, even if you don’t like it. I must do my duty. And now I have done it.”
– Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. May 31, 1936; Dadar.
Krittika Aveira Mondal is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She is also an Odissi dancer, founder member of the band Baudhkaro and the study circle Prabuddha Council.
Deeksha Rahul is an MA scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She is also an activist working in the Dhammabhoomi Movement.
Deepak Kumar is a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Surendra Wankhede is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He is also a Theatre Artist and a founder member of Bahujan Rangbhoomi, Nagpur.
Archana Rahul Khupte is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Vruttant Manwatkar is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He is also a founder member of the band Baudhkaro and the study circle Prabuddha Council.
Piyush Kant is a PhD Scholar at CPS, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.