Thursday, April 15, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Ambedkar’s Idea Of A Humanist India

Ambedkar's Idea Of A Humanist India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

15 April, 2010

When we see the chaos in India and the flirtation of its political
class with the fundamentalist forces, Ambedkar and his forthright
views are always a reminder to us. The man one side took on Gandhi for
his parochial views but on the otherside did not leave the Muslim
leagues for instigating hatred. It is a man of Ambedkar's stature who
walks out of meeting with Pope just because he never liked the
ambiguity of Pope's argument. It was the time when Gandhi, and Pope
were gods of their respective faith. Who could walk out of the meeting
with Pope because he was the biggest man of Christian world? We know
how isolated he was when he took on Gandhi, a Mahatma for upper caste
Hindus as Ambedkar did not have that many people to defend him that
time as he has today when every one try to prove his loyalty to him.
Today, when the crisis in our forests zones have escalated and when
some of us question the mode of fight, we are often told that there is
no option except to pick up guns. The poor will always pick up guns,
they say. Revolutions world over happened with guns they say though
they do not say while they want this revolution from tribal only, why
not uniting all the poor of India.

Well, I would not like to comment upon the revolutions elsewhere but I
can definitely talk about the revolution in India which is silent
revolution where millions of Dalits are now joining the mainstream of
India. They are not just joining jobs but leading their respective
political parties, doing business and writing their own stories. The
fact is that the problems of Dalits were more acute and racial in
nature than the issue of tribals. It is not to put down the tribal
issues as nothing but the difference is clear that the Dalits were not
fighting against state, they were fighting for their own space as they
know if that is not ensured no state would do justice to them.

Ambedkar therefore concentrated on the social system first. It is very
difficult to fight against the social order in the height of a
campaign for 'India's independence'. Many might say that Ambedkar was
a constitutionalists and that the Dalits have now forgotten to fight
but the fact is that it is not just Ambedkar, but Jyoti Ba Phule,
Chatripati Shahuji Maharaj, EV Ramaswamy Naicar and in later
Kanshiramji, all believed in political solutions to the issue of Dalit
Bahujans. And they mobilized people politically and definitely won
their battles. The battle to change a system does not end with one
revolution. It is a continuous process. No political leader, Mahatma
or any body can claim that he or she would get all that she thought
during the life time. The process of change is a continuous process.

The historic legacy of the Dalit Bahujan's world was the world of
freedom of ideas and expression. Ambedkar is central to this theme. He
is the center of these ideas of modernity and change. Unlike those who
fight against state with guns and weapons and condemn it for all their
problems, Ambedkar challenged the non state actors and put the onus on
state to implement modern laws that would help not only Dalits and
others but respect their right to be an individual.

A supporter of individual's right, Ambedkar had visualized that if the
political constitution does not do justice to his people, they would
blow it up some day. Ambedkar's faith in the ideals of democracy and
liberalism were extraordinary. His likes and dislikes were clear. He
never like ambiguous answers to his questions. The fact is that after
facing so much of discrimination could have easily picked up guns and
provided that kind of solution but he did nothing of that short. He
had essentially realized the condition of his community and so was
fighting for a long battle.

He not only exposed the Hindu myths and its social order but also
studied other alternatives. He was an argumentative Indian who was not
just well read but well interacted person with his community. He was
not just an academic but a leader of the mass movement. Today, it is
time to understand why Ambedkar is important for us and revisit his
ideals of freedom and democracy.

Many of our friends only remember Ambedkar of 1930s when he was
fighting on caste system and articulating his views with Gandhi on
caste and shastras. If the Shastras are not according to modern values
we must change those texts, said Ambedkar which were virtually Jolted
Gandhi and his faith. He could never imagine that somebody could
challenge him to this level. That was power of Ambedkar's love. He
agitated for temple entry in famous Kalaram temple of Pune. He was the
first one to take up the water issue in Mahad which was one of the
biggest mass protests of Dalits.

The biggest change in Ambedkar's thinking came when he declared that '
though I am a born Hindu which was not in my hand but I would not die
as a Hindu'. He started studying Buddhism and had many more thoughts
in his mind. He did not want to focus on Hindus and their caste
system. He had mobilsed community against the caste system and
brahmanical domination. He decided that this vast energy has to be
channeled for positive purposes.

And that positive idea was the cultural changes that his work started
bringing in the communities and areas he visited. In maharastra,
women's were inherent part of his movement. When I spoke to Baby Tai
kamble about her involvement, her eyes sparkles about the involvement
of women and how culturally they changed and became Buddhists. The
Jatavs of Agara were also the ones who were quick to embrace his
ideals. Cultural changes are more important before anything and
Ambedkar had realized that and that is why his embracing Buddhism was
not just a religious effort but providing the masses an alternative
philosophy which would bring revolution in their life. The change has
worked as today the Buddhists in Maharastra have proved themselves no
less than any one in academics, cultures and achievements. They do not
need government jobs as they are excelling in every field, in science,
music, private sector, entrepreneurships and art.

My friend P.L.Mimroth had an interesting episode to narrate but I do
not have any thing to verify this but because it is related to
Ambedkar was the person who could have done it. When he was labour
minister in Viceroy's council, the department for PWD and New Delhi's
big builder started courting his son for this. They would call him for
party. One day, Yashwant went to Baba Saheb and told him about his
this particular builder but Baba Saheb realized that his son was not
in the right direction and packed him to Mumbai.

Why it is important to take a lesson from Dr Ambedkar. All his life
Ambedkar was very clear about his priorities and his action. He was a
man of character. Making money as a lawyer or as a minister could have
been easier for him but for him it was important that things should
not be clean but also should also be seen as clean. And he never
confined himself to the cause with in the community. Widely read as he
was, Ambedkar understood the threat of Fascism on India and that is
why during his stint as labor minister he not only supported M.N.Roy
for his anti war efforts but also brought worked on many legislations
for the benefits of the labor in the country.

Today, we jump up to fight if any one among our leaders is found
corrupted. We start questioning the motives. We can not defend the
indefensible. When he decided to embrace Buddhism, Ambedkar was in a
different mode. He came out of the clutches of caste system and chose
a different way. Now, once you are in that mode, you chose a new path,
a path that leads to liberation. That is why, I firmly believe,
Ambedkarism does not come to you automatically. You have to earn it.
Ambedkarite perspective of the world is supporting all the social
movements for change, for rights of individual, for questioning every
religious text and defending the ideals of freedom and justice. You do
not inherit Ambedkarism by just being born some where. Despite his ill
health, enormous amount of work, the man work tirelessly and started
many educational institutions including colleges and libraries. He not
only spend time with people fighting their cases free of cost and
providing them new ideas but also travelled large part of country to
organize them. Ambedkar was in touch with many stalwarts of his time
to provide a new alternative to the country. He sponsored a number of
students for higher and professional education abroad. And we must
understand he had limited capacity financially.

In Delhi people would come to his house in odd hours for consultation
and with their grievances. And none went without hearing him. Some
would come him to just see how he work. Such was his passion for work
that he drafted Hindu Code Bill despite all his ailing health and was
ready to draft a Uniform Civil Code with in 24 hours if all the
members were ready. We all know how all kind of seculars joined hands
in condemning him terming him as Modern Manu in the Parliament. Nehru
could not fulfill his promise to get the bill passed and Ambedkar had
to resign from cabinet.

We remember Ambedkar for his spirit, for his challenge to the system
and for many because he gave us a new constitution. But definitely, he
was much bigger than simply the drafter of our constitution. There are
many things which he wanted to be part of the constitution but it
could not happen. He wanted Land to be Nationalised and redistributed
but that could not become part of our constitution. There were lots of
constraints on him but he did succeed on many things. At the fag end
of his life he demanded for proportionate electorate system to be
implemented for the benefits of marginalized communities as they would
be able to have their leaders of their choise and not coopted and
corrupted leaders.

It is important to see the life cycle of Baba Saheb. Buddhism provided
him a new path. And that path was forward looking with new ideals of
democracy, freedom and liberty.

One of his endearing thoughts were of Karuna i.e. passion. Knowledge
without passion is nothing but arrogance. Knowledge has to be useful
to people and not just to your academics. A positive path is to look
forward, giving new ideas and new support to the community. Government
do not change system, it is people who change it. To fulfill the
ideals of Ambedkar, we need to strengthen our links to community and
work for it. And more importantly please support those who work in the
community. Do not discount those who may not write on the internet but
working silently on the ground. The best tribute would be to bring
together all the forces of social justice together with the ideals of
Dr Ambedkar. The ideals of Ambedkar are valid for all those who fight
for human rights and social justice world over.

21st century could be of the ideals of Dr Ambedkar only when we build
up an Ambedkar Samaj where you leave your caste tag behinds and look
positively forward with modern solutions to primitive value system.
When the forces of revivalism are gaining ground and sympathy through
media and political class, when the non state actors such as Khap
Panchayats, and religious thugs refuses to accept the domain of our
constitution, it is a big challenge to us. And we can not fight
against them with just constitutional provisions. We have to shame
them with our ideals, with our actions and with our arguments. When
each of these religious fanatics want their own Manu Smritis to
dominate us and guide our destiny then we have to expose them with
involvement of masses as how dangerous these ideals of religious
fanatics are? When the issues of gods become more important than human
lives and human miseries, we need more like minded people and spread
this ideals to more people as how religion and its dominant classes
have killed people's spirit, their ideals and will to work
independently. If we confine Ambedkarism to particular set of people
and stop spreading it, it will become redundant and ghettoized.
Ambedkarism is an idea for all democratic struggle who are fighting
for social justice and support equality, liberty and fraternity. Let
the tribes of Ambedkarites grow and work for social change and human
rights. Let it reach on every nook and corner of the country to
develop it as 'Prabuddha Bharat', as Baba Saheb had visualized so that
people do not pick up guns to counter any hegemony but arguments to
demolish historical myths of the ruling elite. It is the right moment
in our history and we have to accept the challenge and use Ambedkar's
thought to develop counter culture of democracy, freedom and humanism.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Visit my blog at


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