Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Published in Issue VI, May 2015
There have been lot of discussion on Arundhati Roy’s ‘introduction’ to ‘Annihilation of Caste’, a historical document produced by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar which should have been introduced in our school text books as well as made part of syllabus in Universities in India. I am of the firm opinion that let this book be introduced to our students without any introduction or edition or deletion by any one. Let the students develop their critical thinking to understand the dynamics of caste and how it has sought to be defended in the name of traditions and religion by high and mighty who we ‘worship’.
The issue is not whether she can write on Ambedkar or not. No one can stop anyone to write on a public figure and his or her work. A few of them said that none had brought this great work to international people and hence if Navayana is doing so we should complement him. It is wrong to say that the work has not been published. Of course, the debate of annihilation of caste actually remains within the confines of ‘converted’. Fact is that Dalits do not need this debate as it has to go to the so called dwijas whose arrogance will destroy India as a civilized nation. In an award giving ceremony just a few days back when I referred the name of Dr. Ambedkar to push my idea of ‘constitutional morality’ and there were loud cries against me for being ‘casteist’. Such is the aversion as if Dr. Ambedkar discovered caste. Gandhi remains biggest patronizer here with the arrogant simplicity of the Gandhians.
Like any other community and intelligentsia, Ambedkarite or those claiming to be, are also of different varieties and hence reaction to her book and article cannot be said to be the only Ambedkarite position, as it is a huge world and opinions differ here too. Definitely those who feel hurt at her patronizing attitude too are young Ambedkarites and have their issues which have some very valid points and definitely need discussion. The reaction of the Ambedkarites is very much democratic as they have a right to boycott any ceremony or book which definitely the Maoists would not have allowed in Chhattishgarh if uncomfortable questions were raised about their ideology and perception.
It is not that some upper castes have written about Dr Ambedkar or on caste for the first time. There were many who participated in his movements in Mahad too but yes really never claimed their brahmanical lineage. Yes, there are serious questions but we must also understand the fact that the movement has grown much from the rhetoric of our own voice and identity to ideology now. Hundreds of those who claim Dr. Ambedkar by virtue of their birth are in Hindutva while equal numbers of those who do not have the ‘caste’ as a factor to embrace Ambedkar and came to him just with the idea of liberation are with the movement. Definitely Dr Ambedkar is not just an ideologue but an emancipator and liberator of the community and central to Dalit identity.
There were leaders like Jagjivan Ram who remained with power structure and had more in relations with upper castes than the Dalits. There are great soldiers of Ambedkarite movement such as Bhadant Anand Kautshlyayan who came to Ambedkar and Buddhism because they knew brahmanism is a disease and hence they left it. It was he who had translated huge work of Baba Saheb Ambedkar into Hindi for common masses. Though their number is very low, yet they remain as an important part of Ambedkar’s movement in spreading Buddhism to common masses.
Ambedakarites are now making solidarity with other like-minded revolutionaries. They know all those revolutionaries are part of their movement which Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was the central figure. Hence, March 23rd is celebrated by a huge number of Dalits all over the country in their own way to remember Bhagat Singh and his ideas about a casteless secular India. For years Ambedkarite organizations have been organizing the birthday celebrations of Rahul Sankrityayan whose contribution to Buddhism in India is extraordinarily underrated by ‘experts’. And these legends have been part of Ambedkarite discourse for long. There are numerous others who have been working silently in the movement and have left their identities which they have inherited by birth. Actually, such variety of Ambedkar’s movement is much more visible at the ground with common masses than those who claim to be educated. Young scholars are now challenging the status quo and brilliantly articulating their views. Definitely they do not want to be ‘favored’ or patronized. It is the self-respect and dignity aspect that appeals to them. They want to create a niche for them independently. Hundreds of them are now published, becoming international and are serving in different capacities. They are coming back to community also through different means. Frankly speaking, the criticism to Arundhati came more from the young budding Ambedkarites and not from those who are already established.
Their concern may be an overreaction but they have a right to speak their mind. Some where they felt that the attempts are being made to project Arundhati as the new ‘messiah’ of the Ambedkarite Dalit movement. Definitely, it was not needed and Arundhati does not require that. She has her own fan following and all those who follow are not upper caste Hindus but Dalits, tribal, minorities and vastly those market forces too who she always target in her essays. Therefore we have to understand that neither is Arundhati the first non-Dalit writing on Ambedkar, nor is she going to be the last. Secondly, as we move ahead, more research come, more political interest creep in, there will be people who will also redefine Ambedkar according to their own convenience. Since Ambedkar has become a big brand in the post 1990s, every ideological formulation wants to use him for their own purpose. Despite critique like Arun Shourie and Sanjay Paswan.
There are those who initially were Ambedkarites but now ‘critiquing’ him too for their own selfish motives. The reason I am writing it is that an attempt is being made to look at the entire Ambedkarite movement in a ‘Talibanised’ way which has no level of tolerance to a dissenting view point. In fact, a huge number of people have not heard about the book written by Arundhati Roy because the entire discourse is running around English speaking groups.
It is therefore important to understand that Arundhati Roy’s writings are an extension and not everything. Ambedkarites know Dr. Ambedkar much better than Roy but we cannot snatch her right to write on an issue which she deemed fit. For millions of oppressed masses in India, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is not just another political leader, thinker or writer, he remains their father figure, philosopher and guide and therefore there will definitely be a difference between those who analyze Ambedkar as a political philosopher like any other contemporary and those for whom he was an emancipator.
Now I come to the point raised in the essays written by Arundhati Roy who pleads her case passionately. Those who know Ambedkar and his writing well do understand that he does not need someone to ‘introduce’ him to the world but at the same point of time he is also an international icon now and will be evaluated, presented and analyzed in different ways. We have right to counter the allegations or criticism in a democratic way. We have seen those days when a brahmanical ‘intellectual’ called Arun Shourie tried to misrepresent the facts on Ambedkar in his so-called ‘research’. It was a lawyer’s argument denigrating Ambedkar because he felt Ambedkar criticized Gandhi and questioning Gandhi, for Arun Shourie, was like challenging the very idea of India and its authority. Shourie selectively quoted, or I would say misquoted Ambedkar. Years later, a brahmanical Maoist ideologue Rangnayakamma too came out with a book criticizing Ambedkar as a part of the power structure and did not address the basic issues of Dalits.
Ms. Arundhati Roy has been fascinated by the Maoists struggle in the forest of Bastar. She has written extensively and definitely spoken on other issues where Indian government has definitely not done a great service like issue of Armed Forces Special Power Act in North-East and Kashmir. Prior to that Roy was also in the Narmada Valley but realized that their struggle could not attain anything for the masses as it is fighting with in the same ‘power structure’.
The issues of Dalits and Aadivasis are different yet also similar in many aspects. Both are oppressed communities. One remained isolated in the forests and became victim of the ‘developmental’ agenda of the Indian state while others were victim of brahmanical hierarchical social system and faced not just ostracisation but cultural violence. Aadivasi movement, though strong in certain pockets, got romanticized by upper caste ‘intellectuals’ who enjoyed ‘patronizing’ it in the name of ‘preserving’ cultural identity of the community while Ambedkar became a difficult person for them as he not only questioned the very thesis of ‘golden ‘past’ but also sought participation in power structure. Dignified participation in all walks of life is the biggest problem for the upper elite to accept. So Ambedkar’s perception differed highly against those romantics of past who harp that India has become ‘worst’ because of British Raj in this country. It is not that he was not critical of British Raj and its implications on India but he feared the Hindu Raj to be worse than the so-called whites as the caste prejudices among the caste Hindus were deep rooted and could have been detrimental to the growth of the rights of the Dalits if they were not ensured in the constitution.
I have not read the book definitely went through Arundhati’s essays published in Caravan as well as her interview given to outlook. They are definitely based on many other ‘left critique’ of Dr Ambedkar particularly the issue of ‘village’. Yes, Dr Ambedkar said villages in India are den of feudalism, nepotism and casteism. They live in ignorance and are truly a replica of Manu’s law. The biggest state in India is actually brahmanical mindset. It is more powerful than any other things. Arundhati has written on numerous occasions about Bastar and how the tribals are denied right to even protest. Contrary to this, Hazare and his upper caste followers like Kejriwal have been given larger than life role by media and protection by police and administration. Why? They fixed in the upper caste nationalism which only is the guarantee of right and wrong in India according to power elite. Hence, when we discuss ‘State’ in India, we cannot talk state in a utopian Marxist sense to hide the follies and crookedness of the brahmanical masters of the state.
I am sure, Arundhati must have heard about the water movement in Mahad led by Dr Ambedkar. That apart, he fought many battles for workers’ rights with trade unionist in Nagpur, Mumbai as well as for the land rights of the people. He talked about ‘Nationalisation’ of land and stood for it even when he could not do anything for it in the Constitution of India because of all the obscurantists’ hell bent to stop his reforms. He was a thorough democrat and hence did not approve the ‘communist’ form of government but he was fascinated with the land reforms that had taken place in Soviet Union and China. Often critique of Dr Ambedkar brings the issue of his call for people to migrate to cities and his appreciation for freedom and liberation in the United and Europe without understanding the meaning and feeling behind these words.
Dr Ambedkar called people to migrate to cities, to adopt new education, shun superstition and develop rationalist attitude. We must appreciate that this was his concern for the community and he was speaking as an elder who had faced untouchability in his life time. When he went to United States, he felt different as none asked him questions about his caste and identity and every one shook hands with him. And once he returned to India with a bigger degree and experience, yet the caste minds discriminated against him and State of Baroda could do nothing. So, we have to realize that, in India, state is nothing but Brahmanism and unless you target the brahmanical values, its system, the merely shouting Indian state and leaving the ‘builders’ of these state out of your criticism will only amount to your trying to avoid caste discrimination.
So when Ambedkar appreciated the freedom and liberty that he breathed in United States of America and Europe, it does not mean that he supported all their action. How is it possible? When Dr. Ambedkar was speaking for the rights of Dalits who were his main concern, how is amounted to ‘not being able to speak’ for ‘aadivasis’. He defended their right of cultural autonomy and Schedule Areas to be demarcated for the Aadivasis. Yes, he was not in a luxurious position like Gandhi to speak for everyone. Even speaking on behalf of Dalit was challenged by Gandhi who claimed that he had more ‘followers’ among the ‘Harijans’ than Dr. Ambedkar. Yes, Gandhi’s followers will always remain Harijans but Ambedkar’s followers will remain those who believe in dignity and self-respect. A call to migrate to cities was meant for his people in the very similar way ‘educate, agitate and organise’ where he advised people to migrate to cities to save themselves from the violence of untouchability and caste discrimination. It does not mean that he wanted to demolish the villages. He wanted to demolish the caste structure in the villages and not villages. One should appreciate a man who embraced Buddhism cannot be a hater of nature. Ambedkar modernism does not mean building of ‘concrete’ structure. He talks of ‘Prabuddha’ Bharat which from his own understanding was where caste identities are demolished and he felt it was only possible once India embraced the path of Buddha. Many people may not like it as they have their own prejudices towards Buddhism, but Dr Ambedkar had realized that in Buddha’s path lies our salvation. So when he talks of modernity, it means end of Khap Panchayats and concealed hatred.
In his book, ‘Pakistan or partition of India’, Dr Ambedkar clearly mentions that Hindu Rashtra would be a calamity for India. He says unambiguously that Hindu Rashtra would be as dangerous as Muslim Rashtra and then he went on to say that only a political formation of the workers, Dalits, aadivasis, OBCs and other secular progressive people can counter the communal forces in the country.
It is not without reason that Ambedkar talked about cooperative farming and support to farmers. His main emphasis was people’s participation and how Dalits were to be made part of this power structure. If those who are now becoming part of power structure do not remain committed to their ideology, it is not the problem of Ambedkar but dishonesty of those who use him. We all know that Dr Ambedkar wanted people to work for society.
In the Constituent Assembly debates, he tirelessly advocated for the Directive Principles of State and claimed that they were instructions to the state to work on. Can anyone show that Dr Ambedkar has ‘love’ for capitalist order or has he ever supported western invasions or imperialism? Yes, in India, he felt Hindu imperialism would be more dangerous than the British imperialism and he was negotiating with British government for ensuring the space for the untouchables as he used to say. Don’t we know that Congress Party was formed not to ask for ‘freedom’ of India but ensuring the space for caste Hindus in power structure and hence it called for reservation for Hindus in the British regime?
It is important to understand that Dr Ambedkar was a thorough democrat and his vision for India was basically a society which has equality of people irrespective of their sex, caste, religion and other identities. The day India becomes a society, the day we respect individuals, it is possible. I know many people who have fascination for ‘collectives’ will never like Dr Ambedkar’s view. It is not that he was against Panchayati Raj Institution but his concern was how Dalit could be part of a majoritarian dominant culture without losing their autonomy and freedom. Will the draconian majoritariasm that exists in our villages allow the Dalit voices of dissent in our Panachayat democracy? Will this Panchayati Raj not turn into a Hindu Raj suppressing Dalit voices? If we see the results after 60 years what does it prove? Can we say that the fears expressed by Dr Ambedkar were wrong? Don’t we know how our Panchayat model operates?
Dr. Ambedkar is an institution. He is a hope. He is a voice for millions who have been denied rights but definitely he might have his own issues and problems. He has been criticized in the past and in future too as they are part of life. And the criticism of Ambedkar will not come from the so called upper castes but emerging from the Dalits too but none deny them that as everyone has a right to voice his/her opinion. However, it would be good to understand that Ambedkar was not a writer or philosopher, but a leader of a huge segment in India so many of his decisions are political in nature taken at that point of time. He is not here to answer those questions and if he were here, he would have responded. A leader has to be analyzed in entirety.
We must remember that Dr Ambedkar was an iconoclast. He never believed in icons and his hero was Voltaire whose famous quote he always used,’ I may disagree with you but I will defend your right to express’. He always mentioned that India needed a Voltaire, a dissenter who can speak without keeping things in heart. When he questioned Gandhi his opponent called him British stooge but he signed the Poona pact to save Gandhi’s life. He was a fighting a lonely battle that time. Today, we have huge number of educated people, aspiring writers, journalists, academics yet the work with the people not gone. Those who want to make us believe that Ambedkar only had a constitution book in his hand actually leave aside his historical role in mass struggle for the rights of the people. One has to understand that he used all the opportunities that came in front of him for the sake of his community and hence, when we review him or speak of him, we need to take into account the circumstances.
Ambedkar stood for all those who were oppressed by religious dogmas. He challenged all the religious scriptures. He challenged the state and provided the state a new alternative. He himself said that good constitutions too can be failed by bad people. He further said that if this constitution fails to protect people, he would be the first to burn it. He always wanted that India need a Voltaire who could not be the voice of the state but stand with people. I am sure, despite differences, he would have appreciated Ms. Arundhati Roy speaking for people and becoming a prominent dissenter in this age when state and corporate are co-opting everyone. After all, how many of us are speaking against the Indian State? How many of us have stood up and said that the act of Indian State in Chhattishgarh amount to violation of rights of Aadivasis? She already has a voice and does not need to write on Ambedkar to get ‘famed’. She is already famous world over whether we like it or not. If she lent voice to any movement, it strengthens. It is not that she will come and become the leaders of Dalits. So, let us give her the right to write and we have every right to democratically critique her and frankly speaking I felt the young Ambedkarites have followed that path only. Let us take these things positively without further hatred as these have lessons for us all. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s place in the heart of Dalits cannot be replaced by anyone but at the same point of time, Dr Ambedkar as an international leader for all the oppressed masses will also be under study by political commentators and social scientists which is a great sign as it mean Ambedkar’s idea is now being accepted by all as the future of the democratic world.