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Ambedkar’s Idea Of A Humanist India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

15 April, 2010

When we see the chaos in India and the flirtation of its political class with the fundamentalist forces, Ambedkar and his forthright views are always a reminder to us. The man one side took on Gandhi for his parochial views but on the otherside did not leave the Muslim leagues for instigating hatred. It is a man of Ambedkar’s stature who walks out of meeting with Pope just because he never liked the ambiguity of Pope’s argument. It was the time when Gandhi, and Pope were gods of their respective faith. Who could walk out of the meeting with Pope because he was the biggest man of Christian world? We know how isolated he was when he took on Gandhi, a Mahatma for upper caste Hindus as Ambedkar did not have that many people to defend him that time as he has today when every one try to prove his loyalty to him. Today, when the crisis in our forests zones have escalated and when some of us question the mode of fight, we are often told that there is no option except to pick up guns. The poor will always pick up guns, they say. Revolutions world over happened with guns they say though they do not say while they want this revolution from tribal only, why not uniting all the poor of India.

Well, I would not like to comment upon the revolutions elsewhere but I can definitely talk about the revolution in India which is silent revolution where millions of Dalits are now joining the mainstream of India. They are not just joining jobs but leading their respective political parties, doing business and writing their own stories. The fact is that the problems of Dalits were more acute and racial in nature than the issue of tribals. It is not to put down the tribal issues as nothing but the difference is clear that the Dalits were not fighting against state, they were fighting for their own space as they know if that is not ensured no state would do justice to them.

Ambedkar therefore concentrated on the social system first. It is very difficult to fight against the social order in the height of a campaign for ‘India’s independence’. Many might say that Ambedkar was a constitutionalists and that the Dalits have now forgotten to fight but the fact is that it is not just Ambedkar, but Jyoti Ba Phule, Chatripati Shahuji Maharaj, EV Ramaswamy Naicar and in later Kanshiramji, all believed in political solutions to the issue of Dalit Bahujans. And they mobilized people politically and definitely won their battles. The battle to change a system does not end with one revolution. It is a continuous process. No political leader, Mahatma or any body can claim that he or she would get all that she thought during the life time. The process of change is a continuous process.

The historic legacy of the Dalit Bahujan’s world was the world of freedom of ideas and expression. Ambedkar is central to this theme. He is the center of these ideas of modernity and change. Unlike those who fight against state with guns and weapons and condemn it for all their problems, Ambedkar challenged the non state actors and put the onus on state to implement modern laws that would help not only Dalits and others but respect their right to be an individual.

A supporter of individual’s right, Ambedkar had visualized that if the political constitution does not do justice to his people, they would blow it up some day. Ambedkar’s faith in the ideals of democracy and liberalism were extraordinary. His likes and dislikes were clear. He never like ambiguous answers to his questions. The fact is that after facing so much of discrimination could have easily picked up guns and provided that kind of solution but he did nothing of that short. He had essentially realized the condition of his community and so was fighting for a long battle.

He not only exposed the Hindu myths and its social order but also studied other alternatives. He was an argumentative Indian who was not just well read but well interacted person with his community. He was not just an academic but a leader of the mass movement. Today, it is time to understand why Ambedkar is important for us and revisit his ideals of freedom and democracy.

Many of our friends only remember Ambedkar of 1930s when he was fighting on caste system and articulating his views with Gandhi on caste and shastras. If the Shastras are not according to modern values we must change those texts, said Ambedkar which were virtually Jolted Gandhi and his faith. He could never imagine that somebody could challenge him to this level. That was power of Ambedkar’s love. He agitated for temple entry in famous Kalaram temple of Pune. He was the first one to take up the water issue in Mahad which was one of the biggest mass protests of Dalits.

The biggest change in Ambedkar’s thinking came when he declared that ‘ though I am a born Hindu which was not in my hand but I would not die as a Hindu’. He started studying Buddhism and had many more thoughts in his mind. He did not want to focus on Hindus and their caste system. He had mobilsed community against the caste system and brahmanical domination. He decided that this vast energy has to be channeled for positive purposes.

And that positive idea was the cultural changes that his work started bringing in the communities and areas he visited. In maharastra, women’s were inherent part of his movement. When I spoke to Baby Tai kamble about her involvement, her eyes sparkles about the involvement of women and how culturally they changed and became Buddhists. The Jatavs of Agara were also the ones who were quick to embrace his ideals. Cultural changes are more important before anything and Ambedkar had realized that and that is why his embracing Buddhism was not just a religious effort but providing the masses an alternative philosophy which would bring revolution in their life. The change has worked as today the Buddhists in Maharastra have proved themselves no less than any one in academics, cultures and achievements. They do not need government jobs as they are excelling in every field, in science, music, private sector, entrepreneurships and art.

My friend P.L.Mimroth had an interesting episode to narrate but I do not have any thing to verify this but because it is related to Ambedkar was the person who could have done it. When he was labour minister in Viceroy’s council, the department for PWD and New Delhi’s big builder started courting his son for this. They would call him for party. One day, Yashwant went to Baba Saheb and told him about his this particular builder but Baba Saheb realized that his son was not in the right direction and packed him to Mumbai.

Why it is important to take a lesson from Dr Ambedkar. All his life Ambedkar was very clear about his priorities and his action. He was a man of character. Making money as a lawyer or as a minister could have been easier for him but for him it was important that things should not be clean but also should also be seen as clean. And he never confined himself to the cause with in the community. Widely read as he was, Ambedkar understood the threat of Fascism on India and that is why during his stint as labor minister he not only supported M.N.Roy for his anti war efforts but also brought worked on many legislations for the benefits of the labor in the country.

Today, we jump up to fight if any one among our leaders is found corrupted. We start questioning the motives. We can not defend the indefensible. When he decided to embrace Buddhism, Ambedkar was in a different mode. He came out of the clutches of caste system and chose a different way. Now, once you are in that mode, you chose a new path, a path that leads to liberation. That is why, I firmly believe, Ambedkarism does not come to you automatically. You have to earn it. Ambedkarite perspective of the world is supporting all the social movements for change, for rights of individual, for questioning every religious text and defending the ideals of freedom and justice. You do not inherit Ambedkarism by just being born some where. Despite his ill health, enormous amount of work, the man work tirelessly and started many educational institutions including colleges and libraries. He not only spend time with people fighting their cases free of cost and providing them new ideas but also travelled large part of country to organize them. Ambedkar was in touch with many stalwarts of his time to provide a new alternative to the country. He sponsored a number of students for higher and professional education abroad. And we must understand he had limited capacity financially.

In Delhi people would come to his house in odd hours for consultation and with their grievances. And none went without hearing him. Some would come him to just see how he work. Such was his passion for work that he drafted Hindu Code Bill despite all his ailing health and was ready to draft a Uniform Civil Code with in 24 hours if all the members were ready. We all know how all kind of seculars joined hands in condemning him terming him as Modern Manu in the Parliament. Nehru could not fulfill his promise to get the bill passed and Ambedkar had to resign from cabinet.

We remember Ambedkar for his spirit, for his challenge to the system and for many because he gave us a new constitution. But definitely, he was much bigger than simply the drafter of our constitution. There are many things which he wanted to be part of the constitution but it could not happen. He wanted Land to be Nationalised and redistributed but that could not become part of our constitution. There were lots of constraints on him but he did succeed on many things. At the fag end of his life he demanded for proportionate electorate system to be implemented for the benefits of marginalized communities as they would be able to have their leaders of their choise and not coopted and corrupted leaders.

It is important to see the life cycle of Baba Saheb. Buddhism provided him a new path. And that path was forward looking with new ideals of democracy, freedom and liberty.

One of his endearing thoughts were of Karuna i.e. passion. Knowledge without passion is nothing but arrogance. Knowledge has to be useful to people and not just to your academics. A positive path is to look forward, giving new ideas and new support to the community. Government do not change system, it is people who change it. To fulfill the ideals of Ambedkar, we need to strengthen our links to community and work for it. And more importantly please support those who work in the community. Do not discount those who may not write on the internet but working silently on the ground. The best tribute would be to bring together all the forces of social justice together with the ideals of Dr Ambedkar. The ideals of Ambedkar are valid for all those who fight for human rights and social justice world over.

21st century could be of the ideals of Dr Ambedkar only when we build up an Ambedkar Samaj where you leave your caste tag behinds and look positively forward with modern solutions to primitive value system. When the forces of revivalism are gaining ground and sympathy through media and political class, when the non state actors such as Khap Panchayats, and religious thugs refuses to accept the domain of our constitution, it is a big challenge to us. And we can not fight against them with just constitutional provisions. We have to shame them with our ideals, with our actions and with our arguments. When each of these religious fanatics want their own Manu Smritis to dominate us and guide our destiny then we have to expose them with involvement of masses as how dangerous these ideals of religious fanatics are? When the issues of gods become more important than human lives and human miseries, we need more like minded people and spread this ideals to more people as how religion and its dominant classes have killed people’s spirit, their ideals and will to work independently. If we confine Ambedkarism to particular set of people and stop spreading it, it will become redundant and ghettoized. Ambedkarism is an idea for all democratic struggle who are fighting for social justice and support equality, liberty and fraternity. Let the tribes of Ambedkarites grow and work for social change and human rights. Let it reach on every nook and corner of the country to develop it as ‘Prabuddha Bharat’, as Baba Saheb had visualized so that people do not pick up guns to counter any hegemony but arguments to demolish historical myths of the ruling elite. It is the right moment in our history and we have to accept the challenge and use Ambedkar’s thought to develop counter culture of democracy, freedom and humanism.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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