A presentation made at London School of Economics on 16th June 2016 in the conference organised by Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhists organisations, UK in collaboration with London School of Economics to commemorate 100 years of Dr Ambedkar’s association with London School of Economics.

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It is a privilege to be able to speak to you on this historic occasion
to commemorate the centenary of Dr Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s
association with this prestigious institution, London School of
Economics. As you know after finishing his masters at Columbia
University in the United States, Dr Ambedkar came here for his Masters
in Geography in 1916 as he wanted to complete his research here but
was not allowed to do so. Finally, he registered as Ph.D student in
1920 and finished his doctoral thesis on ‘The problem of the rupee’ in
March 1923 which was not accepted of reasons unknown though several
experts feel that it was too revolutionary and anti ‘Empire’ that time
to get accepted but finally it was resubmitted in August 1923 and
accepted in November 1923.

For millions of people in India, who follow Dr Ambedkar, consider him
as their ‘friend, philosopher and guide’, London School of Economics
is a holy pilgrimage, an institution which it must be proud of, for
the man changed destiny of millions of Indians, hence today, I bow to
the institution and to Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar whose fight for human
dignity and human rights must be made part of curriculum of Human
Rights education world over. Today, at this iconic institution, it is
important for us to ponder over as what would have Dr Ambedkar been
doing and thinking about the major issues confronting our country.
Isn’t it an appropriate moment to do it when the entire South Asia is
on the verge of ‘tyranny’ of ‘religious’ majoritarianism where
minorities are being considered as ‘obstacles’ and freedom of
expression being challenged by the extra state actors who are running
their campaign against all the dissenters and intimidating them?

At the moment when ruling elite is singing ‘hosannas’ about Dr
Ambedkar and using his differences with other contemporaries for their
own ‘political purposes’, it is important to ask whether those who
want to ‘worship’ Ambedkar really accept his ‘riddles of Hinduism’ or
‘riddles of Rama and Krishna’? How can riddles go along with those who
want to build a grand ‘Rama temple’ at Ayodhya. They were these
people who were offended with his work that they called for a ban on
his book when it was published by Maharastra government.

It is not for unknown reasons that the Gujarat government withdrew the
booklet published on life of Baba Saheb Ambedkar for the students of
secondary classes as a committee later found that the 22 bows by Baba
Saheb were not suitable to ‘certain’ communities and ‘threaten’ the
‘social harmony’ in the state. We know well that the Hindutva
ideologues always feared Ambedkar though they just want to use his
differences with Gandhi and Nehru.

Today, our campuses are on fire. There is student unrest. The
government has not given any serious thought on how to improve quality
education in our schools and colleges. We are a country of illiterates
and the quality of education is highly substandard and this is the
first time when we saw how officially attempts were made to discredit
institutions, which have some standing. SC-St students are not getting
scholarships and rather than inducing openness and freethinking the
academia is made to behave like the ‘acharyas’ or ‘dronacharays’ of
the old Gurukul days where ‘Eklavya’ who could offer his ‘thumb’ to
the Guru to facilitate a Kshatriya student to be the best archer of
the world. Teachers who are sympathetic to Dalit OBC students are
being suspended as has happened at Hyderabad Central University
recently. Dr Ambedkar said he wanted a Voltaire in India who could
question the wrongs of power, he wanted honest intellectuals who have
the strength and courage of conviction to stand up against wrongs of
society whether institutional or individual. How will the universities
and academic institutions promote such ideas when the openness is
considered to be anti national and where we shy away from debating the
controversial issues? How can we bring thought provoking debates in
our institutions when we want every one to think like primary class
students memorizing their favorite quotes to impress others. Haven’t
we become habitual of ‘impressing’ people through misquoted ‘quotes’
as if the serious issues could be resolved through one liners or two
liners and at the same point of time not ready to go into the details
of those issues.

A society, which does not allow freedom to speech, free thought is a
society, which is afraid of getting exposed. We have seen this in the
past few years the attempt to shun all debates and distort history.
One side, we blame all those who questioned the mainstream thought as
‘left’ ‘historians’ as if they were responsible for all the challenges
to brahmanical hegemony. The fact was the real challenge to
brahmanical hegemony in India did not come from the ‘so-called’ left
but Dalit Bahujan cultural stream and Dr Ambedkar remain the central
figure of those revolutionary thoughts. In the brahmanical left, many
of them, did not even bother to consider Ambedkar as an intellectual,
leave aside, his monumental contribution to our nation’s freethinking
intellectual traditions and building it a modern nation through an
egalitarian constitution.

Is not it a shame that even after 70 years after our independence, we
still have over 18 million ‘modern slaves’ as pointed by an
International organization which said that many are compelled into
this virtual slavery under stressful conditions of migration. There
are however, other forms of slavery too in India which include manual
scavenging too, a practice where a particular community is ‘divinely
tasked’ to clean human excreta of the fellow human beings. Our
government has failed in getting the exact number of the people. It
has no plan to honorably rehabilitate him. Many suggest, why don’t
they leave this work and engage in other. I can answer this. Who would
like to go into deep stinking holes and hits? Can any one go into
these hell out of their ‘choice’ ? It is not merely question of their
choice? People want to get out of it but the caste does not allow it?
Can a person from manual scavenging community start a ‘chai shop’ in
his village as a plan to rehabilitate him? If yes, will the local
Brahmins or any other caste Hindu come and drink tea with him? Can
Bindeshwari Pathak put a stamp of ‘made by Balmiki women’ or those
engaged in manual scavenging in his ‘masala’ or papad products and
then sale it in Indian market ? No, it wont be possible to do so which
exposes the highly casteist culture of Indian society.

How would Baba Saheb react to what was happening in Vidarbha and other
parts of the country where people are suffering for water and farmers
committing suicide? His first battle in 1927 was for the water rights
of the people who were denied drinking water from the Chavadar pond at
Mahad. At the same place Baba Saheb with thousands of people
irrespective of their caste burnt Manu Smriti. Yes, many few people
understand that it was not Baba Saheb but his Brahmin friend
Shahshrabuddhe who burnt the Manusmriti, a document of discrimination.

We need to understand why Baba Saheb chose a Brahmin to burn the
Manusmriti and we will come to understand that he wanted people to
know, every one to know including Brahmins that it was a document of
discrimination and violates basic human rights. It is not that he did
not know that burning a document of discrimination will not resolve
the crisis but the symbolism was much bigger. Those were the years
when you cant speak anything against religion and burning a
‘holy-book’ was blasphemous but Ambedkar did it. It was a challenge
that nothing sacrosanct and all written text could be challenged. It
is a great example for today’s political leaders who are charging
everyone disagreeing them as anti national. What could be a bigger
‘anti national’ act than burning and rejecting the ‘holy-book’ of the
manuwadis ? Yes, if fight for equality and dignity is being anti
national then we all are as we are asking to get our republican
constitution implemented in letter and spirit but those who have the
duty to implement it have no ‘faith’ in it. It is a document of
convenience for them. In their heart they owe allegiance to Manu
Smriti but they have to pretend to respect the modern constitution. It
is this reason that the atrocities on Dalits, aadivasis, and women
continue unabated and constitution being violated daily. If those who
are trusted to implement the constitution in letter and spirit do so
with their heart, I can guarantee, a huge number of cases of violence
and violation will reduce in India. Baba Saheb had warned that a good
thing can turn bad in the hands of bad people. Our constitution is
being made ineffective as the many changes have been brought, many
important acts are being diluted and we don’t even know which is most
threatening and disappointing to say the least.

Today, Hindutva has become the biggest threat to our modern thoughts.
It is determined to glorify our past when it was not so. History is
being distorted. Let me very clear here. All our academic institutions
are under the threat because the Dalit Bahujans have now started
questioning all these myths. The JNU incident was not merely a
Kanhaiyya Kumar shouted something anti national but most importantly
it was that the demographics of our universities are changing. More
and more Dalits, OBCs, Aadivasis and Muslims are coming up in our
institutions despite all hardships and challenging the very notion of
merit as defined by the brahmanical institutions. The knowledge, which
was denied to vast majority of our people is now becoming their asset
then we create such situation. Every time, Dalits, OBCc, aadivasis
assert, ask for their rights, we will find a new monster being created
in the form of communalism to polarize the people. Uttar Pradesh is
going to poll next year and we are witnessing attempt to create
divisions among people so that they are polarized between Hindus and
Muslims.

It is a big challenge; as they eulogize Ambedkar one side to befool us
and the other side curtail all our rights. Dr Ambedkar was a
proclaimed socialist and the constitution he drafted directed the
state in the form of Directive Principles of State policies. Where
have we honored these principles? Education is being privatized,
health is privatized and who is going to impact most is not a question
of great ‘guess’? Aadivasis are hounded out of their forests as big
corporations are vying for those beautiful places to fill their
coffers and large part of India suffering from water particularly in
zones like Marathwada in Maharastra where Baba Saheb Ambedkar had
launched his struggle for water rights of the people.

Very few people know how Dr Ambedkar worked towards uplift of the
agrarian workers. He led the largest strike of the agrarian workers in
Konkan region, which went for over 7 years, and people still remember
him as many old veterans can verify this.

Baba Saheb Ambedkar was an iconoclast who never succumbed any big
‘personality’ or any empire. Today, when we remember him at this great
institution, we must remember that Ambedkarites and all those who
believe in equality of human being and free thought must stand up and
speak. If we keep quiet and do not speak for our brothers and sisters
who are fighting for their rights, against distortion of history,
against religious bigotry and against privatization and
corporatization of our public resources, we will only be called
opportunists. Dr Ambedkar faced threat to his life, humiliation and
intimidation but he remained unfazed, as for him the welfare of the
people was the most important task. We need to remember him that way
that today we will speak against all forms of violation of human
rights of our people and stand with them in the hour of crisis, which
is the historical need of the hour.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist.
He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com
twitter @freetohumanity Email: vbrawat@gmail.com

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