April 14 : Ambedkar Jayanti
The glorious legacy of the radical democrat Dr. BR Ambedkar stands totally and irreconcilably opposed to Hindutva
“Inequality is the soul of Hinduism,” wrote Ambedkar. He characterized the oppressive caste system as the tyranny of Hinduism. After spending a lifetime in a crusade against the oppressive Hinduism, Ambedkar finally renounced Hinduism, and converted to Buddhism and exhorted his followers to do the same. It is an irony that BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits are trying to appropriate such a historic personality as Dr. BR Ambedkar. To woo the dalit voters, the BJP is performing Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations on April 14. They have started unveiling Ambedkar photos and statues. Some Sangh ideologues have torn some quotations of BR Ambedkar on Islamic invasions out of context and misinterpreted them to fit Ambedkar in their own anti-Islamic framework. Vinay Katiyar took out an Ambedkar Yatra in UP. Mayawati unveiled a statue of Ambedkar’s wife even though her party, the BSP, shamelessly betrayed the Ambedkar tradition by aligning with his arch ideological-political foes, the Hindutva brigade, in a coalition for the sake of power. To attract dalits to its fold, the BJP made Bangaru Laxman its ornamental chief but he had to ignominiously bow down from office for accepting Tehelka cash bundles. But before his resignation he made a speech in the Nagpur session of the BJP National Council almost equating Ambedkar with Hedgewar. In fact, the actual history convincingly refutes the dirty tricks of the Sangh Parivar.
During the freedom movement, because of the failures and neglect of the Congress a few political streams arose independent of it. Because of the Congress neglect of Muslims and the influence of Hindu conservatism and Hindu dominance in Congress leadership, Muslims rallied independently under the Muslim League. For similar reasons, Sikhs also rallied under the Akali Dal. Brahminical upper caste forces dominated the Congress leadership and the party turned a blind eye to the aspirations of nationalities. In Tamil Nadu, Periyar EV Ramasamy fought against this, first through the anti-Brahmin movement and then went on to represent the nationality aspirations of Tamils. It was Ambedkar who squarely put social reform on the agenda during the freedom struggle and launched a simultaneous movement against untouchability and the caste order that were the hallmarks of Hinduism, and championed the interests of dalits. In this he was far to the left of Gandhi. On the other hand, far to the right of Gandhian leadership there was first Hindu Mahasabha and later RSS streams, which often collaborated with the British and considered, with open hostility, even Gandhi too liberal. This hostility finally culminated in the assassination of Gandhi by an RSS man Nathuram Godse. Ambedkar was lifelong at loggerheads with the Hindu fundamentalists. Even in his Thoughts on Pakistan,(on which Katiyar’s portrayal of him as an anti-Muslim Hindutva figure rests), he ruthlessly critiques the Hindu Mahasabha and Savarkar. He writes: “The Hindu nationalist who hopes that Britain will coerce the Muslims into abandoning Pakistan, forgets that the right of nationalism to freedom from an aggressive foreign imperialism and the right of a minority to freedom from an aggressive majority’s nationalism are not two different things, nor does the former stand on a more sacred footing than the latter.”(p.10-11) This clearly illustrates his criticism of aggressive mjorotarian nationalism. He further criticizes Savarkar, commenting that “strange as it may seem, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it”. But Ambedkar exposes Savarkar’s authoritarian intent: “ Mr. Savarkar wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the subservient nation under it.”
Such being the historical evolution of different political streams in India, it is clear that the legacy of Ambedkar and Hindu fundamentalism are irreconcilably hostile to each other. Hindutva forces today are trying to delink Ambedkar from his entire legacy, cover up their hostility towards him and try to appropriate him for electoral use.
The fundamental hostility of the Sangh Parivar against Ambedkar was clearly brought to the fore by the vile campaign unleashed against him by RSS ideologue and presently a BJP minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet Arun Shourie through his book Worshipping False Gods. Shiv Sainiks, the soul mates of Hindutva forces, also launched a struggle against Ambedkar’s book The Riddles of Hindusim. This is the actual record of Hindutava forces vis-à-vis the heritage of Ambedkar, which they are trying to hide now in order to appropriate his glorious image for their own vested interests.
Ambedkar was the architect of the constitution of India. Sangh Parivar is even opposed to the marginal secular and liberal features of this Constitution and that is why they have formed a committee to tinker with it.
While Ambedkar had total enmity towards Hindu Mahasabha and RSS and other Hindu fundamentalists, he was generally pro-left and, befitting a true democrat in a semi-feudal society, he had a positive attitude towards Marxism though it was unfortunate that the communists in those days failed in their united front tactics and failed to develop a proper relationship with Ambedkar. This was part of their general weakness and shortcomings in India.
The contrast between Ambedkar and Savarkar
Savarkar’s strategy of dissolving more than 3,000 castes into one pan-Hindu identity involves pan-Hindu temples, pan-Hindu dinners, inter-caste marriages, anti-untouchability programmes and the removal of injunctions on caste-ridden vocations and sea-voyage. Thus, Savarkar seems to have admonished Hindus to break off the seven shackles that according to him hindered the progress of the Hindu society. Did this programme really denounce Hinduism? The answer to this question has to be in the negative because the anti-caste programme particularly relating to injunctions against inter-caste marriage and advocating vedic rights for the shudras and ati-shudras given by Savarkar did not have vigour and genuine thrust to attack the Hindu shastras and caste system. Savarkar’s contention regarding inter-caste marriages looked to be so casual that he offered only a qualified support to such marriages, thus replacing the need for creating any conscious motivation necessary for the radical mobilisation of the people towards reaching the desired end. Similarly, Savarkar’s attempt to grant the study of vedas and vedic rituals to non-Brahmins though apparently liberal may effectively lead to the Brahminisation of the non-Brahmin castes thus according legitimacy to Hindu shastras.
On the contrary, Ambedkar considers inter-caste marriages as the effective means for abolishing caste system. But Ambedkar is also aware that inter-caste dining or even inter-caste marriages are not enough to eliminate casteism. He was of the opinion that for realising the desired goal of casteless society through inter-caste marriages it is necessary to destroy the belief in the sanctity of Hindu shastras. And for destroying this belief, Ambedkar suggests that people should not only discard the shastras, but they should deny their authority as Buddha and Nanak did. Thus; it can be argued here that socially radical Ambedkar was very unlikely to be attracted by Savarkar whose proposal, according to one of the sincere Savarkarites, contained reformative zeal aimed at revival of Hinduism rather than its denunciation.
(From Appropriating Ambedkar by Gopal Guru,
Economic and Political Weekly, July 6-13, 1991)
Ambedkar was never a Marxist. He could not carry forward his struggle for thoroughgoing abolition of semi-feudalism and against imperialism through a democratic revolution like Mao did in China. He focused mainly on the petty bourgeois and bourgeois intelligentsia from the oppressed communities and worked largely within the system representing their interests in the form of reservation etc. Nevertheless, despite this limitation, he remained an outstanding bourgeois revolutionary democrat who was head and shoulders above many in the Congress leadership and was clearly far more radical than Gandhi. In the course of his differences against the Congress, he never made any concession to the Hindu Right and always remained hostile to them.
Against Brahminical Hinduism
During his boyhood Ambedkar had to suffer lots of personal humiliation due to untouchability. In Chowder Tank satyagraha led by Ambedkar in 1927, the upper caste Hindus attacked him and physically injured him. During the freedom movement Ambedkar emerged as the tallest leader of social reform in India.
Ambedkar asserted: “I was born a Hindu, but never will die a Hindu… What is required is to get rid of the doctrine of ‘Chatuvarna’. That is the root cause of all inequality and is also the parent of the case system and untouchability, which are merely other forms of inequality”. It is relevant to note here that while both Hedgewar and Golwalkar upheld Manu and thus rationalised the caste system inherent to the Hindu religion, Ambedkar even burnt copies of Manusmruti through a campaign. On December 25, 1927 Ambedkar observed a “Manu Smruti Dahan Din”, and publicly burnt Manusmruti. The struggle was known as the “Maha-Sangharsha” of Mahad Satyagraha, and it is an important milestone in dalit struggle against Brahmanism and Brahminical Hinduism. Manuvadis had comspired so that Ambedkar did not get a ground for the meeting, but a Muslim gentleman, Mr. Fattekhan, gave his private land to observe this protest. There was a strong reaction in the Brahmanical press, Babasahib was called “Bheemaasura” by one paper. Dr. Ambedkar justified the burning of Manusmruti in various articles.
Ambedkar made a scathing attack on Hinduism: “I tell you, religion is for man and not man for religion. If you want to organise, consolidate and be successful in this world, change this religion. The religion that does not recognise you as a human being, or give you water to drink, or allow you to enter temples is not worthy to be called a religion. The religion that forbids you to receive education and comes in the way of your material advancement is not worthy of the appellation ‘religion’. The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with its co-religionists is nothing but a display of a force. The religion that teaches its followers to suffer the touch of animals but not the touch of human beings is not a religion but a mockery. The religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant and the poor to be poor is not a religion but a visitation!”
He added this on the upper castes: “It is your claim to equality which hurts them. They want to maintain the status quo. If you continue to accept your lowly status ungrudgingly, continue to remain dirty, filthy, backward, ignorant, poor and disunited, they will allow you to live in peace. The moment you start to raise your level, the conflict starts. Untouchability is not a transitory or temporary feature; it is eternal, it is lasting. Frankly it can be said that the struggle between the Hindus and the Untouchables is a never-ending conflict. It is eternal because the religion which assigns you the lowest status in society is itself divine and eternal according to the belief of the so-called high caste Hindus. No change warranted by change of time and circumstances is possible.” Such being the views of Ambedkar, those who offer political patronage to outfits like Ranvir Sena can have no claim over Ambedkar.
The ideologues of Hindutva are trying to rationalise caste system saying that it is a division of labour. Ambedkar refuted this saying, “Caste System is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of labourers. It is an hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other.” While the Hindutva brigade is known for defending Manu and the caste system, Ambedkar made a trenchant criticism of the caste system associated with Hinduism: “There cannot be a more degrading system of social organisation than the Chaturvarna. It is the system which deadens, paralyses and cripples the people from helpful activity.” He further added, “Caste in the hands of the orthodox has been a powerful weapon for persecuting the reforms and for killing all reform.” Relating the inseparable relation between caste system and Hinduism, Ambedkar wrote, “Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors. The sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas, Smritis and Shastras, the iron law of caste, the heartless law of karma and the senseless law of status by birth are to the untouchables veritable instruments of torture which Hinduism has forged against untouchables.”
In Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar has enumerated the evils of Hinduism in the following manner: 1) It has deprived moral life of freedom; 2) It has only emphasized conformity to commands; and 3) The laws are unjust because they are not the same for one class as of another. Besides, the code is treated as final. According to Ambedkar, “what is called religion by Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.” The Sangh Parivar is out to make this code the official code in India under their scheme of authoritarian Hindu rashtra.
Sensing the alienation of dalits, many people, from Savarkar to Gandhi, made token gestures against casteism. The RSS was also forced to come out with some tokenist pronouncements. But Ambedkar put things in the right perspective by saying, “Caste cannot be abolished by inter-caste dinners or stray instances of inter caste marriages. Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be changed into nectar.”
Ambedkar even made a sarcastic comment against Gandhi: “There have been many mahatmas in India whose sole object was to remove untouchability and to elevate and absorb the depressed classes, but everyone has failed in their mission. Mahatmas have come, mahatmas have gone but the untouchables have remained as untouchables.” Ambedkar told dalits that, “You must abolish your slavery yourselves. Do not depend for its abolition upon god or a superman. Remember that it is not enough that a people are numerically in the majority. They must be always watchful, strong and self-respecting to attain and maintain success. We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.” He further stressed that, “What you have lost others have gained. Your humiliations are a matter of pride with others. You are made to suffer wants, privations and humiliations not because it was pre-ordained by the sins committed in your previous birth, but because of the overpowering tyranny and treachery of those who are above you. You have no lands because others have usurped them; you have no posts because others have monopolised them. Do not believe in fate; believe in your strength.”
It may be recalled that Advani recently raised a controversy over a Buddhist symbol like Ashoka chakra figuring in the national flag and a Buddhist symbol being the national emblem. Regarding their origin Ambedkar explained, “Even though Buddhism is almost extinct in India, yet it has given birth to a culture, which is far better and richer than the Brahminic culture. When the question of the national flag and the national emblem was being considered by the Constituent Assembly we could not find any suitable symbol from the Brahminic culture. Ultimately, the Buddhist culture came to our rescue and we accepted the Wheel of Law (Dhamma-Chakra) as the national symbol.” No wonder, a Brahminical high-priest of Hindutva like Advani wanted to do away with these symbols introduced by Ambedkar and his colleagues.
In his slanderous campaign against Ambedkar, the RSS ideologue Arun Shourie questioned the patriotism of Ambedkar. Ambedkar, however, defined patriotism thus, “I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indians first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians.” And despite all his differences with the Congress, Ambedkar remained a staunch nationalist.
For Ambedkar, the conception of a secular state is derived from the liberal democratic tradition of the West. In contrast to the Gandhian misinterpretation of secularism as ‘sarva dharma samabhava’, Ambedkar said, “No institution, which is maintained wholly out of state funds, shall be used for the purpose of religious instruction irrespective of the question whether the religious instruction is given by the state or by any other body”. He further explained the corruption of the concept of secularism in India, “This country has seen the conflict between ecclesiastical law and secular law long before Europeans sought to challenge the authority of the Pope. Kautilya’s Arthshastra lays down the foundation of secular law. In India unfortunately ecclesiastical law triumphed over secular law. In my opinion this was the one of the greatest disasters in the country.”
Ambedkar effectively punctured the false supremacy of the narrow Brahminical elite: “In every country the intellectual class is the most influential class. This is the class which can foresee, advise and lead. In no country does the mass of the people live the life for intelligent thought and action. It is largely imitative and follows the intellectual class. There is no exaggeration in saying that the entire destination of the country depends upon its intellectual class. If the intellectual class is honest and independent, it can be trusted to take the initiative and give a proper lead when a crisis arises. It is true that the intellect by itself is no virtue. It is only a means and the use of a means depends upon the ends which an intellectual person pursues. An intellectual man can be a good man but he may easily be a rogue. Similarly an intellectual class may be a band of high-souled persons, ready to help, ready to emancipate erring humanity or it may easily be a gang of crooks or a body of advocates of narrow clique from which it draws its support.”
Though changing one’s religion through conversion is not going to abolish the semi-feudal inequalities, Ambedkar’s decision to convert to Buddhism in the evening of his life – just a couple of months before his demise on 16 December 1956 – only underlined his disgust and bitterness with the highly iniquitous Hinduism. About 2 lakh dalits converted to Buddhism along with him in October 1956. Since then neo-Buddhism has remained a trend. This clearly rattled the Hindutva bosses who are clamouring for anti-conversion legislation in every state.
A thorough democrat
Though Ambedkar headed the committee that crafted the Constitution of the democratic republic of India, he was never fully satisfied with the democracy which came to be established in India. In his opinion, “A democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of a society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy. It may not be necessary for a democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends and by mutuality of sympathy. But it does unmistakably involve two things. The first is an attitude of mind, and attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organisation free from rigid social barriers. Democracy is incompatible and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness resulting in the distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged.” “Democracy is not a form of government, but a form of social organisation”, he asserted. He further elaborated, “What we must do is not to content ourselves with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it, a social democracy.”
Ambedkar underlined the limitations of formal law and Constitution: “The prevalent view is that once the rights are enacted in law then they are safeguarded. This again is an unwarranted assumption. As experience proves, rights are protected not by law but by social and moral conscience of the society. If social conscience is such that it is prepared to recognise the rights which law proposes to enact, rights will be safe and secure. But if the fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no law, no parliament, no judiciary can guarantee them in the real sense of the world. What is the use of fundamental rights to the untouchables in India?” “If I find the constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it,” he declared.
Ambedkar also had certain premonitions about the rise of authoritarian forces in India which is coming true before our eyes: “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one-man-one-vote and one-vote-one-value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man-one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril”. The Sangh Parivar outfits rally tribals and dalits only to use them to attack Christian missionaries as witnessed in Orissa or to launch pogroms against Muslims as seen in Gujarat, and thereby endanger democracy. To frustrate the designs of the Sangh Parivar it is necessary that today communists and genuine Ambedkarites should come together to defend democracy from communal fascists, a democracy to establish which Ambedkar fought so hard.
In his last days, Ambedkar raised a note of warning: “The point is that India once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by treachery of some of her own people...Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. … Will Indians place the country above their creed or creed above their country? I do not know, But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we all must resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood!” The rise of Hindutva forces who totally cringe before the US imperialism but at the same time are bent upon establishing a fascistic Hindu rashtra has proved how correct this warning was. As Ambedkar called upon us, we must defend this freedom and democracy with the last drop of our blood.