Dalit Movement After Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar In India: Pitfalls, Challenges & Way Ahead

Goldy M George

Published in Issue IV, October 2013

……continued from September 2013 issue.

Globalisation – The Bypassed Threat

Dalit movement neither understood the politics of 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 1990s. 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.

As such Globalisation is not a new phenomena or process. The fundamental attribute of globalisation, then and now, is the increasing degree of openness in most countries. The openness is not simply confined to trade flows, investment flows and financial flows; it also extends to flows of services, technology, information, ideas and persons across national boundaries. There can be no doubt, however, that trade, investment and finance constitute the cutting edge of globalisation. The pasts two decades have witnessed an explosive growth in international finance, so much so that, in terms of magnitude, trade and investment and now dwarfed by finance (Singh, 1998). The political stability or instability has a direct bearing on the process, pace and intensity of the globalisation and reforms, which admittedly have been slow and inadequate (Tripathi, 2009).

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 (Teltumbde, 1996).

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 (Teltumbde, 1996).

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. Dalits have their own distinct identity and culture and those claiming to provide them an alternative God really misquote Dr. Ambedkar and kill their revolutionary spirit, as is the suggestion by many Dalit. Dr. 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. Dr. 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 Tamil Nadu. 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 on-going, process, which is only possible by addressing the problems of the oppressed and exploited masses. The undeniable fact is Dr. Ambedkar is mainly known among the working class Dalits.

Re-reading Dr. Ambedkar

In broader terms the Dalit movement failed to properly address many things. It is very essential at this juncture to re-investigate what Babasaheb had mentioned about the various different aspects, despite the limitation of time, space and ideological factors. Dr Ambedkar certainly was not dogmatic but pragmatic. He had rightly confronted the forces of casteism, fascism, communalism imperialism and capitalism. He believed that any system that promotes unequal human relationships should not thrive.

Was Ambedkar non-radical? Did he ever not talk against imperialism? Did he not oppose capitalism? Did he not oppose Hindutva and communal forces? Did he fail to connect the intricacies of these aspects? To any extends if anyone grasped imperialism and empirism, its entire length, and breadth, and height, its capacity and volume it was Ambedkar. Notwithstanding the fact that as a true democrat, Ambedkar, far from being a stooge of the British imperialism – as maligned by some leftist and pseudo nationalist, was against imperialism of every hue. His sole crime was that he saw imperialism in its totality, as a rule of one society over the other. Otherwise it was understood in a stereotype model of rule of one nation over another. He was of the opinion that anything being enforced on others in social or political or economic is the core of imperialism.

Let us examine these passages what he had to say on empire and empirism is like this, “The British have an Empire, so have the Hindus. For is not Hinduisma form of Imperialism and are not the Untouchables a subject race, owing their allegiance and their servitude to their Hindu masters? If Churchill must be asked to declare his war aims how could  anybody avoid of asking Mr. Gandhi and the Hindus to declare their war aims.” Further he writes, “The sky-piercing slogan shouting ‘Down with Imperialism’ could entrench itself in India. The young leaders do not seem to understand if the foundation of Brahminism on which the superstructure of imperialism is erected, is itself weakened. The power and strength of imperialism lies in the weakness of the classes that are ruled by imperialism. The weakness of India is accumulated in the social structure of the Hindus. Or social norms and traditions are destructive of unity and supporter of division. That is why imperialism could strengthen its base here and it is still able to carry on.” Again he speaks, “if consciousness and reason can be insinuated into the resulting struggles they can only qualify, never abolish, the injustice. If injustice is to be abolished it must be resisted and when injustice proceeds from collective power, whether in the form of imperialism or class domination, it must be challenged by power. A class entrenched behind its established power can never by dislodged unless power is raised against it. That is the only way of stopping exploitation of the weak by strong” (BRAWS, 1990B).

Yet another distorted and maligned confusion around Dr. Ambedkar remains that he was in favour of foreign rule or colonisation. This is one strategy applied by the Indian Communists (as guardians of caste system) thereby alienating the crude question of caste, and silently legitimising caste as if it will disappear with the larger class struggle. This happened the vice verse when the entire Dalit movement isolated from seriously studying or question of class struggle or anit-imperialistic agenda. None other than Dr. Ambedkar who while making a strategic use of the British rule as arbitrator between the Hindus and Dalits knew this reality as he repeatedly castigated it for having done nothing for the Dalits. In one of his editorials he wrote with a caption “What have British Lords done for you?” “Whatever desirable change may have come in our condition during the British rule has just happened in the course of time. We cannot be sure about whether the British government has made any special efforts for that. On the contrary, we are of the opinion that it is utterly futile to expect any emancipatory work for untouchables from the British rule.

He was fully aware, perhaps better than many swadeshi sloganeers of his times, of the exploitative character of the British imperialism and its social and economic importance. Dr. Ambedkar wrote three scholarly books on economics where he closely looks at the role of the British imperialism, its overall impact on the different sections of Indian society. The first one ‘Administration and Finance of the East India Company’, he had exposed how the East India Company exploited Indians during the long period of 1792 to 1858 and after its rule was abolished in 1858, how instead of removing the injustice, the British Crown increased it by loading the starving Indians with the huge debt, which was taken by the East India Company for its own consumption. The second was the ‘The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India’, which analysis the evolution of Centre-State financial relations in British India during the period, 1833 through 1921 (BRAWS, 1989). The third one is ‘The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution’. It is considered as magnum opus in economics.

The essential colonial mechanism for exploitation gets succinctly exposed in Dr. Ambedkar’s conclusion, “apparently the immenseness of India’s contribution to England is as much astounding as the nothingness of England’s contribution to India” (BSAWS, 1989). The same language and fervour against British imperialism could be found in all his subsequent writings, as he was clear that imperialism is a major component as a burden to freedom and advocated for self rule. But to his sense the self-rule of untouchables cannot be equated with the self-rule of the caste Hindus, since there already existed a nation within a nation.

While comparing the bearings and pains of the Jews and Untouchables Babasaheb wrote, “It is generally agreed among the thoughtful part of humanity that there are three problems (1) Imperialism, (2) Racialism, (3) Anti-Semitism and (4) Free Traffic in that merchandise of death popularly called munitions. There is no doubt these are the plague glands in which nation’s cruelty to nation and man’s inhumanity to man have their origin. There is no doubt that these problems must be tackled in a new and a better world is to emerge from the ashes of this terrible and devastating war. What my fear is that the problem of the untouchables may be forgotten as it has been so far. That would indeed be a calamity. For all the ills which the untouchables are suffering if they are not as much advertised as those of the Jews, are not less real. Nor are the means and methods of suppression used by the Hindus against the untouchables less effective because they are less bloody than the ways which the Nazis have adopted against the Jews. The Anti-Semitism of the Nazis against the Jews is in no way different in ideology and in effect from the Sanatanism of the Hindus against the Untouchables” (BSAWS, 1990B). One need not forget the connective fact that anything that is imperialism is strongly connected with the economic mode of production by means of feudalism and capitalism.

Secondly beyond any doubts, Dr. Ambedkar believed in secularism to his core, which he strongly manifested through his thorough study of religion and particularly Buddhism as a rational way of life. The flag-bearers of Hindutva, in their task of manufacturing history, have now left Babasaheb even. The RSS has presented him as a leader in league with  Hedgewar and Golwalkar and as a defender for the cause of the Hindu Rashtra (Islam, 2003). Leaders of BJP have not given up any chance to declare Ambedkar as a supporter of Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra. This is nothing but injustice to a man who had renounced Hinduism because of its repressive elements and converted to Buddhism. Throughout his life, Ambedkar opposed the communal politics of both the Muslim League and the Hindutva forces. His book, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1940), stands testimony to his opposition to the nefarious designs of communal elements. In fact, his ideas and warnings about Hindutva, as contained in the book, can even now work as bulwark in checking the resurgence of communal forces (BRAWS, 1990A).

Ambedkar writes, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account, it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost. The idea of Hindustan for Hindus is not merely arrogant but is arrant nonsense”. Dr. Ambedkar was of the firm opinion that Hindutva was nothing but a ploy by upper caste Hindus to maintain control over society and its resources. He wrote: “They have a trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others the good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth, and with wealth and education they have captured the State. To keep this monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life. Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power. This attitude of keeping education, wealth and power as a close preserve for themselves and refusing to share it, which the high caste Hindus have developed in their relation with the lower classes of Hindus, is sought to be extended by them to the Muslims. They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus. This trait of the high caste Hindus is the key to the understanding of their politics” (BRAWS, 1990A).

Ambedkar, in his struggle to establish a secular State, did not differentiate between flag-bearers of Hindutva and the Muslim League. He treated them as two faces of the same coin, which is bent on destroying India. He wrote: “Strange as it may appear, Mr Savarkar and Mr Jinnah, instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it. Both not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India – one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation” (BRAWS, 1990A).

Ambedkar did not cut off words or fractured his spike when he wrote, “It must be said that Mr Savarkar’s attitude is illogical, if not queer. Mr Savarkar admits that the Muslims are a separate nation. He concedes that they have a right to cultural autonomy. He allows them to have a national flag. Yet he opposes the demand of the Muslim nation for a separate national home. If he claims a national home for the Hindu nation, how can he refuse the claim of the Muslim nation for a national home?” (BRAWS, 1990A).

Ambedkar didn’t differ from exposing the communal character of the Muslims even. Blaming them for creating the demon of communalism, he says, “The Muslims are howling against the Hindu Mahasabha and its slogan of Hinduism and Hindu Raj. But who is responsible for this? Hindu Mahasabha and Hindu Raj are the inescapable nemesis which the Musalmans have brought upon themselves by having a Muslim League. It is action and counter action. One gives rise to the other. Not partition, but the abolition of the Muslim League.” He continues to write in the same page, which shows his true secularist character “forming mixed political parties based on an agreed program of social andeconomic regeneration, and thereby avoiding the danger of both Hindu Raj or Muslim Raj becoming a fact. Nor should the formation of a mixed party of Hindus and Muslims be difficult in India. There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends than they would with the high caste of Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries” (BRAWS, 1990A).

 To Conclude

Until now I attempted to discuss the post-Ambedkar Dalit situation at the national level, its connection with different spheres of socio-political development, its varied dimensions in relationship with the people, systems, ideologies, identities, religions, conversion, how effective it had been in building up a movement, particularly its successes, its failures, the ups and downs, and what are the areas that a genuine Dalit movement should be more active and progressive in future. In so far the agreement on which my framework is based is that no society or system could be categorically classified into incontrovertible blocks, in each society there always remains an invisible but closed propinquity. Though many claim follow Ambedkar, their integrity is also questionable while making such claims and positions.

We need a close study of Ambedkar, which normally many people never do. Ambedkar is beyond conversion. One needs to go beyond the dogmatism of Babasaheb and build-up on the values that he had been emphasising. His noble ideas of a secular, socialist, democratic India is still valid as the guiding principles in the creation of a new India. This means one needs to engage in a process to develop a counter-culture, as alternative to the present one that could combat the growing trends of the combine of casteism-fascism-globalisation-imperialism. Unless we consciously raise a sense of counter culture time and again, all these efforts will be futile and in vain. Hence a sense of alternative culture also needs to be understood in this process.

There are elements of this counter culture still alive around us, mostly observed in the Dalit and Adivasi art forms. Since these art forms have all the principal elements of sustaining life, direct democracy, social engagement, egalitarianism and justice concerns it is suited in the attempt to develop a counter culture. The edifice of counter culture is based on the culture and art forms of those who had suffered a lot. It is the search for fullness of life and quest for justice in the dark world. Here values are not individual centric, rather is based on the common good of all. Their consciousness of prosperity is of higher degree and greater. It is linked with the prosperity of all in common. For instance this chorus from a Malayalam Dalit song reveals it apparently. It goes like this:-

Naadu Poliyuga, Nagaram Poliyuga!

Ooru Poliyuga, Ulagam Poliyuga!

Let my country be prosperous, let my city be prosperous, let my village be prosperous and thereby let the universe be prosperous. This had been the vision and mission of Ambedkar, which the current Ambedkarite and Dalit movement had lost in the discourse.


  1. R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (1989) “The Administration and Finance of the East India Company”, in Vol. 6, Education Department, Govt. of Maharastra, Mumbai

  2. R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (1990A)“Pakistan or the Partition of India”, in Vol. 8, Education Department, Govt. of Maharastra, Mumbai

  3. R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (1990B)“Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables”, in Vol. 9, Education Department, Govt. of Maharastra, Mumbai

  4. Bahishkrit Bharat (1929)March 15.

  5. Das, Bhagwan, (1983) “Untouchability, Scheduled Castes and Nation Building” in Jose Kananaikil, (Ed.) “Scheduled Caste and Struggle Against Inequality- Strategies to Empower the Marginalised”, Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.

  6. Gatade, Subhash (2004) “Inverting Dalit Consciousness: Hindutvaising the Dalits, Communalising the movement” in Goldy M. George Edited “Globalisation & Fascism… The Dalit Encounter”, Dalit Study Circle, Raipur

  7. George, Goldy M. (2005) “Salam Bhimrao!” Editorial Column in Daily Deshbandhu December 6.

  8. George, Goldy M. (2006A) “Fascism Versus Indigenous People”, http://www.countercurrents.org/dalit-george020906.htm accessed on August 10, 2013

  9. George, Goldy M. (2006B) “The Future of Dalit Movement in India”, theme paper in the National Seminar on “How can we ‘Survive’ and ‘Succeed’ Ambedkarism in the 21st century?” from 18-21 November, Nagpur.

  10. Islam, Shamsul (2003) “Ambedkar as Hindu”, The Hindustan Times, 15 April, 2003

  11. Omvedt, Gail and Bharat Patankar (1979) “The Dalit Liberation Movement in Colonial Period”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 14, Nos: 7 & 8)

  12. Singh, Kavaljit (1998) “A citizen’s Guide to the Globalisation of Finance”, Madhyam Books, Delhi & Documentation for Action Groups in Asia, Hong Kong.

  13. Singh, Shyam (2010) “Dalit Movement and Emergence of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh: Politics and Priorities”, Working Paper 242, The Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.

  14. Teltumbde, Anand (1996) “Impact of New Economic Reforms in India”, A Paper Presented in the Seminar on ‘Economic Reforms and Dalits in India’ Organised by the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, on November 8, 1996.

  15. Teltumbde, Anand (2004) “Damning the Dalits for the Bania-Brahmin Crimes in Gujarat”, in Goldy M. George Edited “Globalisation & Fascism… The Dalit Encounter”, Dalit Study Circle, Raipur

  16. Teltumbde, Anand (2005) “Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Caste”, Ramai Prakashan, Thane.

  17. Teltumbde, Anand (2006) “Theorising The Dalit Movement: A viewpoint”, unpublished paper.

  18. Tripathi, P. M. (2009) “Impact of Globalisation on Regional Development in Asia”, AVARD, http://www.angoc.ngo.ph/pdffiles/Impact-of-Globalisation-on-Regional-Development -in-Asia.pdf accessed on December 1, 2009



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