Goldy M. George
Forty nine years back on 6 December 1956 Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
attained 'Mahaparinirvan'. Born on 14th April 1891, in the military
town Mhow, he was the fourteenth child of his parents. Parents from
untouchable community viz. Mahar, his father was a retired army
officer and headmaster in a military school, and his mother an
Since he was born in an untouchable caste, he was made to sit
separate from other students in a corner of the classroom. Despite
all kinds of humiliations, he passed his high school in 1908 with
flying colours. This was such an exceptional achievement for an
untouchable, that he was felicitated in a public meeting.
Four years later he graduated in Political Science and Economics from
Bombay University. After his graduation he went to the USA to study
economics at the Columbia University with a scholarship form the
Maharaja of Baroda. Bhimrao remained abroad from 1913 to 1917 and
again from 1920 to 1923. In the meantime he had established himself
as an eminent intellect. Columbia University had awarded him the PhD
for his thesis, which was later published in a book form under the
title "The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India". But his
first published article was "Castes in India - Their Mechanism,
Genesis and Development". In 1920 he went to London where he got his
Bar-at-Law at Gray's Inn for Law. During his sojourn in London from
1920 to 1923, he also completed his thesis titled "The Problem of the
Rupee" for which he was awarded the degree of DSc.
During the brief stay in India from 1917 to 1920 he first got a job
as Military Secretary in Baroda Raja's office. Here he was ill
treated again by the upper caste employees. Even drinking water was
not given to him and files were kept at a distance from him. He
couldn't continue in Baroda and later taught at Sydnom College in
Bombay and also brought out Marathi weekly whose title was 'Mook
Nayak' (meaning 'Dumb Hero'). He had to face similar experience of
untouchability and dishonour even in Bombay.
While coming back to India in 1923, Ambedkar again experienced
humiliation. The upper caste lawyers would not even have tea at his
desk. But his greatest consolation was his clients, whom he treated
with liberal mind. His reputation and fame among the Depressed
Classes began to grow. He visualised and struggled for a casteless
and equal India.
By the time he returned to India, Bhimrao had equipped himself fully
to wage war against the practice of untouchability. In 1924 he
started the organisation 'Bahiskrit Hitakarini Sabha' (Outcastes
Welfare Association), for the upliftment of the untouchables.
Ambedkar adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, the eradication of
illiteracy and economic uplift of the downtrodden and second,
initiating non-violent struggle against visible symbols of casteism,
like denial of entry into temples and drawing water from public wells
The problems of the downtrodden were centuries old and difficult to
overcome. Their entry into temples was forbidden. They could not draw
water from public wells and ponds. Their admission in schools was
prohibited. Ambedkar won two major victories when the High Court of
Bombay gave a verdict in favour of the untouchables. On 25th December
1927, he led the Mahad March at the Chowdar Tank at Colaba, near
Bombay, to ensure the untouchables right to draw water from the
public tank. The marchers were met with the brutality of caste
Hindus. He then burnt copies of the 'Manusmriti' publicly terming it
a document of discrimination with a number of his supporters. It was
an act of great courage to do so in the den of violent Chitpawan
Brahmins in Maharastra. The two struggles shook the religious
foundation on which the caste system is built. This marked the
beginning of the anti-caste and ant-priest movement in Maharastra.
The temple entry movement launched by Dr. Ambedkar in 1930 at Kalaram
temple, Nasik is another landmark in the struggle for human rights
and social justice.
He was fully convinced that nothing could emancipate the Dalits
except through a complete destruction of the caste system. He
continued his movement to attack the base of caste system in every
In the meantime, the Simon Commission visited India and Dr. Ambedkar
met the commission in Pune in which Ambedkar presented his position
on depressed classes. He then followed it up during the round table
conference after which Ramsay McDonald? announced 'Communal Award' as
a result of which several communities including the 'depressed
classes' were given the right to have separate electorates. Gandhiji
wanted to defeat this design and went on a fast unto death to oppose
it. On 24th September 1932, Ambedkar and Gandhiji reached an
understanding, which became the famous Poona Pact. According to this
Pact, in addition to the agreement on electoral constituencies,
reservations were provided for untouchables in Government jobs and
legislative assemblies. The Pact carved out a clear and definite
position for the downtrodden on the political scene of the country.
For the first time in Indian history it opened up opportunities of
education and government service for them and also gave them a right
Dr. Ambedkar attended all the three Round Table Conferences in London
and each time, forcefully projected his views in the interest of
the 'untouchable'. He exhorted the downtrodden sections to raise
their living standards and to acquire as much political power as
possible. He was of the view that there was no future for
untouchables in the Hindu religion and they should change their
religion if need be. In 1935, he publicly proclaimed," I was born a
Hindu because I had no control over this but I shall not die a Hindu".
Ambedkar The Socialist
It is also interesting to note and which not many Ambedarkites have
ventured, that Dr Ambedkar was a socialist to the core of his heart.
The disappointing relation with the communist movement stands as the
single most unfortunate paradox of contemporary Indian history. It
didn't come out of much of ideological differences, which certainly
existed in the form of certain unclear theoretical constructs in the
mind of Ambedkar - as from the attitudes of the communist leaders
towards the Dalit movement. These leaders in the Trade Unions of
Bombay dogmatically regarded the caste question as an unimportant
super-structural issue, which would automatically disappear when the
revolution takes place. Their orthodox outlook regarding
untouchability, caste disparity, discrimination was the basics on
which Ambedkar's entire thesis on Communism was formed. For
historical reasons the leadership of this communist movement however
came from the middle class educated youth who had to come from upper
castes communities, the majority being the Brahmin itself.
Ambedkar's writing on Marxism is heavily reflects his frustration
with the Bombay-Communists. This legacy to identify Marxism with its
self-appointed practitioners still appears to be followed by Dalits.
They cite examples of the parliamentary communist parties to show the
lacuna or inapplicability of Marxism. It is necessary for them to
understand that Marxism intrinsically solicits criticism but it
presupposes its careful study.
As Anand Teltumde puts it, although Ambedkar could not discuss the
philosophy of communism in the manner it deserved, he was never
antagonistically disposed towards it. Rather, he acknowledged the
beauty of communist philosophy and said that it was closer to his
own. Preoccupied with the mission of liberating the Dalits, he
insisted, quite like Marx, that the test of the philosophy was in
practice, and opined that if communists worked from that perspective,
to win success in India would be far easier than in Russia (Janata,
15 January, 1938). He always regarded communism as the ultimate
benchmark to assess his highest ideal - Buddhism. With unpleasant
experience with communist dogma and vulgarity of his times, he did
sound polemically against Communism and appeared at times even
professing its doom but it all underscored his wrath against the
dogma that occupied the communist practice.
Despite all these aspects of Ambedkar's disagreements with Communism
it is cannot be ruled out that Ambedkar was not a Socialist. He was a
socialist of a different kind. One of his prime conflicts with Marx
was `dictatorship of the proletariats', which he condemned saying
that dictatorship of any kind is unethical. His stood for greater
democracy of, by, for and among the oppressed ones in every field. At
one stage he was clearly of the opinion that the historical conflict
is between the exploited and exploiters and that all.
It is with this idea that Dr. Ambedkar, formed the Independent Labour
Party, participated in the provincial elections and was elected to
the Bombay Legislative Assembly. During these days he stressed the
need for abolition of the 'Jagirdari' system, pleaded for workers'
Fight to strike and addressed a large number of meetings and
conferences in Bombay Presidency. In 1939, during the Second World
War, he called upon Indians to join the Army in large numbers to
defeat Nazism, which he said, was another name for Fascism.
He stood for the nationalisation of property like land, banks etc.
Ambedkar was also an advocate of women's rights. He struggled for
women's liberation from the caste-entrenched patriarchal system. At
the conference of the Depressed Classes Women in Nagpur in 1942, he
stated: 'let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be
her husband's friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave'. He
resigned from the Nehru's cabinet as Law Minister only when the
cabinet refused to pass the Women's Rights Bill. This strongly proves
that his idea of Socialism was embedded in his core agenda of freedom
for all from all forms of bondage.
Ambedkar and after
The post Ambedkar Dalit movement had witnessed several ups and downs.
On one side a categorical awakening among the Dalits had grown beyond
all levels of history and on the other it has somewhere stagnant
after Ambedkar mainly due to ideological disposition of stagnation.
It would be opportune to look at the post Ambedar Dalit movement and
do a stock taking of the changes within the Dalit politics to
understand the phenomenon. Subash Gatade says that the ups and downs
through which the Dalit politics passed through after the death of
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar can be broadly divided into three phases -
Rise and Fall of the Republican Party, emergence of the Dalit
Panthers and thirdly the growing assertion of Dalits for political
power and their consequent refusal to remain satisfied merely with
education and job opportunities arising out of the policy of
There is no need to underline the immense potentialities in the
phenomenon of Dalit assertion in today's caste ridden polity. There
is no denying the fact that it is a step ahead in the real
democratisation of the Indian society and the polity dominated by
Brahminical values and traditions despite nearly six decade
experiment in electoral democracy. The impressive intervention of BSP
under Kanshiram in the national politics underlines this third stage.
It is noteworthy that while in the earlier two stages in the post
Ambedkar Dalit movement the unfolding Dalit politics in Maharashtra
guided its orientation, its role has been increasingly marginalised
in the third stage. The success achieved by BSP has certainly
encouraged emergence of similar experiments in different parts of the
At this stage there is another factor that developed among Dalit
castes too. These are organising themselves under the banners of
their respective caste and sub-caste for achieving their rights.
Consequently their guns are trained besides the Varna system also on
the so-called rich Dalit castes or the creamy layer in them, which
they feel, have monopolised a large part of the reserved posts. The
Mahar/neo-Buddhists vs. Matang and Charmakar debate in Maharashtra,
Mala vs. Madiga in Andhra Pradesh are symptomatic of this rising
trend. This propensity is similar in most states where the
marginalized Dalits are organising themselves into a movement for
castewise categorisation of reserved seats in educational
institutions and jobs etc, which could not avail of the quota for
historical reasons, could avail of it.
It is indeed ironical that at a time when the issue of Dalit
assertion has got acceptance even in the mainstream polity in the 90s
a counter tendency has emerged which seem to fracture the new found
identity. One could also perceive the whole process as an explosion
of identities hitherto suppressed by the hegemonic caste and class
structure. In the beginning of the 70s the term Dalit denoted a
broad, homogenous fraternity. This is no more the case. If you just
say Dalit you are making an incomplete statement. It would be
necessary to also specify whether he is a Mala or a Madiga or a
Matang or a Charmakar. This process has thrown up new 'icons' from
among the different castes and the subcastes as well. This clearly
gives a broader picture of the fact that how much the individual
caste identity had become more important than the collective one of
Another aspect that the Dalit movement in the post-Ambedkar era
failed to address is that of the direct challenges of communal
fascism. Communal-fascism is exploring its way to elaborate its base,
activities and action. It appears that building of philanthropic and
religious institutions like Saraswati Sishu Mandir, Vanvasi Kalyan
Ashram, Sanghs, Deen Dayal Shodh Sansthan, Sanskriti Bihar, Vikas
Bharit, Gayatri Pariwar, Brahmakumari Samaj, etc. are some of the
strategies adopted to create inroads among the Dalits & Adivasis.
Another strategy applied is the steady and systematic capturing of
the community panchayats and organisations. The best example of this
is Gujarat where the communal fascists have got their stranglehold
and successfully executed the carnage against the Muslims by
communalising Dalits and Adivasis.
Resultant is the perpetual assurance of control over these
communities plus a bonus of sustaining casteism. Expansion of caste
fascism has so far and is disintegrating the Dalit ideology,
theology, and identity and intimidated their very existence.
Apparently this ruptures the community, deteriorates the noble
notions of sharing, caring and co-operation, expansion of patriarchy
and battered the inkling of community ownership over resources. Let
us not forget Ambedkar was the greatest fighter against religious
fascism and historical caste fascism.
Thirdly Dalit movement neither understand the politics of imperialist
globalisation not address it in any form. Rather than entering the
debate in a critical way from the subaltern perspective, it remained
passive to the process of globalisation, and many times joined the
sustaining party. Globalisation in India marked through Economic
Reforms launched in July 1991 in India were in nature of a crisis
management response to the economic and political crises that erupted
in early 90s. The blue print for the Reforms was provided by the
combination of macro-economic stabilisation and structural adjustment
programme of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank
respectively, which had been adopted by many countries before in
This had quantitative and qualitative adversities on food security,
employment, inflation, poverty alleviation schemes as well as social
security. For example reservation in the educational institutions and
the financial assistance in the form of scholarships and freeships
had gone out of context, with the advent of education as an industry.
Without education, all constitutional safeguards including the
reservation in services would be futile. The Reforms have already
resulted in freezing the grants to many institutions and in
stagnating, if not lowering, the expenditure on education. The free
market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way.
Commercialisation of education is no more a mere rhetoric; it is now
the established fact. Commercial institutions offering specialised
education signifying the essential input from utilitarian viewpoint
have come up in a big way from cities to small towns.
It is the same way that the employment sector had its impact due to
the thus called `economic reforms'. Howsoever, unsatisfactory the
results of the implementation of reservation in employment may be,
its importance from the Dalit viewpoint cannot be under emphasised.
As could be evidenced by the organised private sector, where it would
be difficult to find a Dalit employee (save of course in scavenging
and lowliest jobs), without reservations Dalits would have been
totally doomed. The importance of reservations thus could only be
assessed in relation to situations where they do not exist. Whatever
be their defects and deficiencies, they have given certain economic
means of livelihood and some social prestige to the sons and
daughters of over 1.5 million landless labourers. Whether they get
real power or not, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the sphere of
bureaucratic authority with the help of reservations. Besides these
tangible benefits promised by the policy, it has instilled a hope in
Dalit community. This hope predominantly manifests in the form of
spread of education among them. Their emotional bond with the nation
and its Constitution despite heaps of injustice and ignominy they
bear every moment of their life may also be significantly
attributable to the Reservation Policy.
The selling out the PSU, the disinvestment of PSUs, promotion of
privatisation, the letting off of land to the corporates, etc. had
crafted formulae of neo-colonisation. This is high time that Dalit
leadership across the country enters this debate in a big way, which
it had until now failed to do.
Coming back to Ambedkar, he was not dogmatic but pragmatic. He had
rightly confronted the forces of fascism, communalism and capitalism.
He believed that any system that promotes unequal human relationships
should not thrive. Unfortunately, his socio-economical writings were
kept aside while his writings on religion and caste system of 30s
were used more by the representatives of the movement, thus clearly
alienating a vast masses of the unorganised labour away from the
mainstream Ambedkarite movement. That is why today, despite
globalisation resulting in wars and multiple conflicts, yet we Dalits
simply remain as silent spectators, just waiting for our turn of
reservation. Dalits are confined to use the Dalit card for just
reservation in education and employment, nothing else.
The forth barrier of the post Ambedkar Dalit movement is the
emergence of a new sect of Dalit elite. This Dalit elite whom Baba
Saheb had opposed tooth and nail in his lifetime had become the
Sarkari Babu Sahab clan, who not only take the benefits of
reservations but also conveniently forget the community once they get
there. It is also observed that while this sect functions throughout
with the brand `Dalit', also engage in all the corrupt practices that
was once the cornerstone of Brahministic culture and ethics. It is
interesting that Ambedkar fought for the rights of Dalits and had a
broader vision, which couldn't be inculcated by postAmbedkar
Ambedkarites. He wanted to give his people an identity so that they
get out of Varna System, but here what we see is the stimulation of
the culture of varna and caste within the Dalit communities.
Despite the leaps and bounds, the Dalit movement made in Indian
context, the failure of Ambedkarite movement to address the questions
of fascism, communalism, globalisation, imperialism and the most
importantly patriarchy in relation with casteism has altogether
dragged the Dalit movement to the crossroad in the present context.
Any pragmatic and progressive movement cannot stand on the selective
criticism of a few religious texts or political ideologies and
conveniently keeping quiet on other questions. A movement cannot be
built on superfluous philosophy of negativism. It has to provide its
own alternative to the people. To quote V.B. Rawat, Dalits have their
own distinct identity and culture and those claiming to provide them
an alternative God really misquote Ambedkar and kill their
revolutionary spirit as suggested by many Dalit activists.
Ambedkar's popularity among the Dalits is not due to the corrupt
Dalits who use all tactics to grab money and power but the poor
Dalits who consider him as the liberator. There are many reasons for
the same. Ambedkar is a uniting factor for Dalits. No doubt that he
has become an icon of Dalits from North to South from Hindi heartland
to the southern Tamilnadu. However he himself was against `hero
worship' of any time. He believed in the exploration of knowledge on
historical and scientific basis. This has to be a regular, rather
ongoing, process which is only possible by addressing the problems of
the oppressed and exploited masses. The undeniable fact is the
Ambedkar is mainly known among the working class Dalits. The only way
to salute Bhimrao is by truly standing against oppressive structure,
for equality and justice.
The writer is a Dalit activist and writer on DalitAdivasi issues in