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Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

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    Salam Bhimrao! Goldy M. George Forty nine years back on 6 December 1956 Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar attained Mahaparinirvan . Born on 14th April 1891, in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2006
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      Salam Bhimrao!

      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
      illiterate woman.

      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.

      Ambedkar's Movement
      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
      and tanks.

      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
      possible way.

      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
      to vote.

      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 sub–castes 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
      the 70s.

      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
      similar situations.

      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 post–Ambedkar
      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.

      And then!
      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 Dalit–Adivasi issues in
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