The Pointing Finger Of Babasaheb Ambedkar
By Dr. Shah Alam Khan
12 October, 2009
Mayawati, the Chief Minister of the most populous state of India is in news yet again. Her fondness to Greek Parthenon-style memorials has landed her in trouble with the highest court in the country. I wonder what the Supreme Court of India would have done to the likes of Shahjahan, Akbar, Cholas of Southern India and Rajputs of Rajasthan if it existed in their times. Surely, Mayawati is not a Shahjahan and her Parks nothing compared to the beauty of Taj and the Thanjavur temple. Well, that is not the point I am arguing. No sensible person on earth can defend the exorbitant and vulgar waste of public money in building stone monuments even when more than half of state’s children perish with malnutrition and disease. In fact I can argue with more fervor against the building of Mayawati’s parks and her loathness with development projects in the state.
What we need is a more thoughtful insight into the reasons which go into the execution of this agenda of capricious commemoration. The sensitivity involved in Mayawati’s parks is more heart aching than the stone sculptures they represent. I see these parks as embodiments of pride and smugness. They are a means to leave an imprint in the sand of time by those who are tasting power maybe for the first time. The startling size of the statues is in direct proportion to the degree of throttle which the dalit community struggled with in the centuries gone by. I believe by building parks and grotesque statues, a subtle message goes: we have arrived!
The building of statues and memorials is not new to us. Every dynasty and every ruler has tried to leave his impression in stone. Even if we ignore the rulers of ancient and medieval India, it is presumed that the largest number of statues came up immediately after independence, in the new, vibrant and democratic India. Each freedom fighter was celebrated in stone. That was our way of showing to the world that we have arrived. We called it different names. We never questioned its absurdity. Even as the country struggled to find solutions to the problems of illiteracy, hunger and poverty, more and more statues came up. More memorials were built and even more were planned for the next decade. Each statue came with adjectives like honor, pride and respect. Our courts never questioned their correctness.
Baba Saheb was himself idolized in stone across thousands of small dalit villages and “mohallas” in India. His not very alluring statue, with the pointing finger, pock marked the country in unprecedented numbers. Was this an attempt to immortalize his philosophy? Surely not. Those who build his statues are alien to his philosophy. They are too illiterate to read the volumes of literature he has written. Their understanding limits itself to self pride and gratification. It is a celebration of their freedom within the tiny confines of the shadow of his statue. It is scientifically proven that statue building is a method of emotional expression. We can surely see the emotions which go in building the statues of the most respected dalit leader of all times. To me, Mayawati’s parks are an expanded and a vulgar version of this statue of Ambedkar.
So where does this all lead us to? With hands across our hearts we need to ask difficult questions. Are we reacting to Mayawati’s parks and statues because she comes from a background to which we, the Indian elite, are not used to getting ruled by? Are we not being more stringent with her than with her predecessors? Are we not disturbed in our comfortable cocoons with the political rise of dalits in this country? The charges of corruption against her are extremely serious. But are we not being too self righteous in approaching her? Is it new that a Chief Minister has been charged with corruption? Well we have sitting Chief Ministers with charges of murder! Surely two wrongs do not make a right but the judgment of right and wrong has to come with a clear, un-jaundiced vision. We accepted Mulayam and Lalu, the abbreviated versions of dalit leaders, but to accept Mayawati is getting difficult for us. She represents a community which was meant to be ruled, to be decimated at will. She surely stands guilty of breaking this rule.
Baba Saheb Ambedkar had once written, “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the depressed classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living”. I am sure if he was alive today; he would have been pained to see the contemptible misuse of money in building parks and statues. Mayawati too needs to learn from this message of salvation and social elevation. Political power is temporary, social elevation permanent. Statues can be a way to display social arrival and arrogance but surely it would be better if the same money is used for genuine emancipation of the most depressed sections of the Indian society. I wonder why Barrack Obama doesn’t start building statues of all those who toiled for the rights of the African-American community in the USA? He won’t because a level of education has taught him the correct way of achieving salvation. The blacks of America will not be benefited by a statue of Frederick Douglas but they surely will benefit from the health reforms on the agenda. We may like it or not, but Mayawati is a change which we have to come to terms with. Her statues may be a representation of corruption in the political class but surely they are much more than mere stone idols. As Indians, the only way in which we can stop this vulgar display of symbols of emancipation, is to give life to the thoughts of people who are idolized in these statues. By imbibing the thoughts of Ambedkar, we will no longer have to face his pointing finger.
Dr. Shah Alam Khan
Department of Orthopaedics
All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Ansari Nagar, New Delhi-29