As A Human Rights Defender
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights signed on December 10th, 1948 and a majority of nations including
the so-called imperial power, newly independent states, every one, agreed
to certain principals of human life which would be guiding principals
for the 20 th century. But to say that human rights and struggle for
human rights came into effect after Universal Declaration of Human Rights
were signed, would be a negation of historical struggle for social reform
and human rights right from Buddha to Thomas Paine to Jyoti Ba Phule,
to Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The struggle for human dignity and human rights
are as old as the exploitation of human beings who some of ancient people
termed as 'lesser fortunate'. That clearly reflected a mindset, which
justified everything in the name of religion, and customs hence exploited
communities were termed as 'unfortunate'.
was not only the son of a down trodden but a son of modernity and globlisation.
I mean, had he not been educated at Columbia and then in the London
School of Economics, he might have accepted the same 'term' of being
'lesser fortunate' or being 'unfortunate'. Yet, education in United
States and England showed him what exactly freedom was as he could mix
with students of other countries and races. The feeling of humanness
that he developed after facing torturous days of humiliation in India.
came only after his stay in Europe and America. He did not confined
to Indian social system but broaden his philosophy and ideas. Therefore
Ambedkar is child of internationalism where scholarship is respected
and acknowledged. While there is no need for me to explain Ambedkar's
understanding of human rights and international law.
the discrimination on the basis of his birth and understanding fully
well that varna system of caste is not merely the issue untouchability
but much beyond that Ambedkar clearly suggested that if Hindu Society
has to improve it must be formed on the basis of equality, fraternity
It is the
greatness of the man and quintessentially humanist attitude that Ambedkar
wanted not only challenge the Vedas and other holy texts but also change
them according to modernity. It is here that he was thoroughly disgusted
with Gandhi who mentioned that any one who does not believe in Shastras
can not be a Hindu and that Shastras can not be changed. For Ambedkar
human dignity and humanity was much bigger issue than any religion.
' We do not
value Hinduism, we value human dignity.' [Gore 1993: 97]. We want equal
rights in the society. We will achieve them as far as possible while
remaining within the Hindu fold or if necessary by kicking away this
worthless Hindu identity.'[Ibid . 91] (Debrahmanising history pg.357
was a proponent of modernity and human right. Unlike Gandhi, he was
a man of reason and good senses who was not prepared to submit to a
tradition that defy human dignity and self respect. When Gandhi ask
the Scavenger community to continue with their profession since it was
based on their caste and that they would be serving it according to
tradition, Ambedkar decried Gandhi.
preached the rule of poverty for all and not merely for the shudra,
the worst that could be said about it is that it is a mistaken idea.
But why preach it as good for one class only? Why appeal to the worst
of human failings, namely pride and vanity in order to make him voluntarily
accept what on a rational basis he would resent as a cruel discrimination
against him. What is the use of telling the scavenger that even a Brahmin
is prepared to do the scavenging when it is clear that according to
the Hindu Shastras and Hindu notions, even if a Brahmin did scavenging,
he would never be subject to the disabilities of one who is born a scavenger?
For, in India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a
scavenger because of his birth, irrespective of the question whether
he does scavenging or not. If Gandhisim preached that scavenging is
with the objective of inducing those who refuse to engage in it, one
could understand it. But why appeal to scavengers pride and vanity in
order to induce him and him only to keep on to scavenging by telling
him that scavenging is a noble profession and that he need not be ashamed
of it. To preach that poverty is good for Shudra and for none else,
to preach that scavenging is good for the untouchables and for none
else and to make them accept these onerous impositions as voluntary
proposes of life, by appeal to their failings is an outrage and a cruel
joke on the helpless classes which none but Mr Gandhi can perpetrate
with equanimity and impunity.
the historical occasion for Ambedkar to enter into a debate on the issue
of caste and Varna with Gandhi on his writings in ' Harijan'. Gandhi
as usual considered himself an expert on every subject, from theology
to spirituality. Unfortunately, his ridiculous religious beliefs that
any one who did not believe in Varna or caste cannot be a true Hindu
were stronger enough to compel Ambedkar think for alternative to Hinduism.
None of the Gandhian questioned his fanciful ideas. In fact some of
them went on to support Gandhi and chided others. Indian media is full
of such jokers who have nothing to do with Gandhi and yet they are ready
to exploit Gandhi and his upper caste Indian dream. Gandhi's retrogressive
views on caste were well exposed in his debate on the issue with Ambedkar.
caste and Varna are convertible (interchangeable) terms and if Varna
is an integral part of shastras which define Hinduism. I do not know
how a person who rejects caste i.e. Varna, can call himself a Hindu".
59. (Annihilation of caste by Dr B.R. Ambedkar)
such orthodox views by a leader who considered him not only awaking
the political people of India but soul of India, came as a shock. His
famous remark followed this: " Though I am born as a Hindu, I shall
not die as a Hindu'. Ambedkar therefore considered emancipation of Dalits
as more important to freedom of India, which he felt was a mere transfer
of power to the upper caste Hindus which could be detrimental to the
interest of Dalits in India.
Rights of Women
was a great votary of women's emancipation. He believed that the Varna
system has not only subjugated Untouchables but also women.
however be a mistake to suppose that only the wrongs of men are a religion
to him. For the Brahmin has given his support to the worst wrongs that
women have suffered from in any part of the world. Widows were burnt
alive as suttees. Widows were never allowed to remarry. The record of
Brahmins as law givers for the Shudras, for the untouchables and for
the women is blackest as compared with the record of the intellectual
classes in other parts of the world. For, no intellectual class has
prostituted its intelligence to invent a philosophy to keep his uneducated
countrymen in a perpetual state of ignorance and poverty as the Brahmins
have done in India.
Ambedkar's Writings and Speeches: Volume-9 page 215-216
be no doubt that there has been an utter down fall in position of women
in India from what it was once was. One cannot say much about the part
they played in ancient time in the state craft. But there is no doubt
they did occupy a very high position in the intellectual and social
life of the country.
Manu and Manu Smriti and felt it was solely responsible for the down
and fall of Hindu woman.
' It is the
nature of women to seduce man in this world. For that reason the wise
are never unguarded in the company of females.
In fact Ambedkar
resigned from Nehru's cabinet after the Hindu Code Bill could not be
passed as visualized. His fight for the right of the women for divorce
was opposed fiercely in the Parliament by not only the right wing Hindus
like Shyama Prasad Mukharje but also like Dr Rajendra Prasad and K D
Malviya. He was thoroughly dejected because of Nehru's failure to get
the bill passed.
for Civil Rights
1932 Ambedkar wrote to A.V.Thakkar, known as Thakkar Bappa, General
Secretary of anti untouchability League. Ambedkar and Thakkar Bapa did
not go together. Even when Thakkar Bapa asked for the opinion of Dr
Ambedkar on various matters yet the following advise given by Dr Ambedkar
was not even acknowledged. I am quoting this important letter of Ambedkar
and Thakkar Bapa to give you a direct understanding of how Ambedkar
was a true champion of human rights and he took the battle of Dalits
and untouchability from the perspective of human rights.
' I think
the first thing that the league should undertake is a campaign all over
India to secure the depressed classes the enjoyment of their civic rights
such as taking water from the village wells, entry in the village schools,
admission to village chawdi, use of public conveyance etc. Such programmes
if carried into the villages will bring about the necessary social revolution
in the Hindu society, without which it will not be possible for the
depressed classes to get equal social status.'
of the depressed classes will come only when the caste Hindu is made
to think and is forced to feel that he must alter his ways. For that
you must create a crisis by direct action against his customary code
of conduct. The crisis will compel him to think and once he begins to
think he will be more ready to change than he is otherwise likely to
be. The great defect in the policy of the least resistance and silent
infiltration of rational ideas lies in this that they do not compel
thought, for they do not produce crisis. The direct action in respect
of Chawdar Tank in Mahad, the Kalaram temple in Nasik and the Gurwayur
temple in Malawar have done in a few days what million days of preaching
by reformers would never have done.
Much of the
misery and poverty of the depressed classes is due to the absence of
equality of opportunity, which in its turn is due to untouchability.
be done by the private firms, and companies managed by the Hindus by
extending their patronage to the depressed classes and by employing
them in their offices in various grades and occupations suited to the
capacities of the applicants.
way of achieving it is to establish closer contact between the two.
Only a common cycle of participation can help people to overcome the
strangeness of feeling which one has, when brought into contact with
the other. Nothing can do this more effectively in my opinion than the
admission of the depressed classes to the houses of the caste Hindus
as guests or servants. The live contact thus established will familiarize
both to a common and associated life and will pave the way for that
unity which we all are striving after. (78-83)
He was very
forthright and was never prejudiced and hence when Savarkar wanted to
discuss the issue of removal of untouchability he wrote to him (Letter
to V D Savarkar on 18.2.1933)
' If the
untouchables are to be a part and parcel of the Hindu society, then
it is not enough to remove untouchability, for that purpose you must
destroy the Chaturvarna.
In a letter
to Laxmi Kabir on Gandhi's death Feburary 8th, 1948
' Great men
are of great service to their country but they are also at certain times
a great hinderance to the progress of their country.
had become a positive danger to this country. He had choked all free
thought. He was holding together the congress, which is a combination
of all the bad and self seeking elements in the society who agreed on
no social or moral principals governing the life of the society except
the one of praising and flattering of Mr. Gandhi. The death of Gandhi
he said ', will release people from bondage to a superman, it will make
them think for themselves and it will compel them to stand on their
( page 205)
Political, Economic Social Rights invisible
On the social
plane we have in India a society based on the principal of graded inequality
which means elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic
plane we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth
as against many who live in abject poverty. On the 26 th January 1950,
we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In Politics we
will have equality ' one man one vote and one vote one value, and in
social and economic life we will have inequality. We must remove this
contradictions at the earliest possible moment or else who suffer from
inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this
assembly has so laboriously built.
is any cause of freedom in this Indian turmoil for independence, it
is the cause of the untouchables. The cause of Hindus and the cause
of Musalman is not the cause of freedom. Theirs is a struggle for power
as distinguished from freedom. Consequently, it has always been a matter
of surprise to me, that no party, no organisation devoted to the freedom
has so far interested itself in the untouchables.'
( From Emancipation of Dalits by Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar ).61.
Self Determination : Ambedkar talked of self determination in the form
of separate electorate. That is why when Ambedkar pressed for the separate
electorate demand for Dalits, Gandhi opposed it tooth and nail. It was
the same Gandhi who had nothing against Muslim demand for a separate
electorate. When the Poona pact was awarded in 1932, Gandhi could not
tolerate his defeat at the hands of an articulate Dalit leader. As soon
as he came back to India, Gandhi decided to fast unto death against
such an award that would have brought a lot of changes in the quality
of Dalit leadership in India. For Dalits would not have depended on
the upper caste Hindus to get elected. Ambedkar succumbed to the blackmailing
tactics of Gandhi and commented ' Mahatmas have come, Mahatmas have
gone but the lot of Dalits remain the same'. Ambedkar feared that death
of Gandhi would spark backlash against Dalits in the villages where
the upper caste tyranny was still prevalent. He entered into a deal
with Gandhi and signed Poona Pact, which allowed reservation of seats
for Dalits in Parliament and state assemblies. Gandhi saved his upper
caste interest and made Dalit leadership dependent on upper castes votes.
Ambedkar himself became a victim of this and could not win Lok Sabha
election from the state of Maharastra as all the upper castes joined
hand against him.
to choose your faith
redefined history and linked the Dalits with Buddha. His efforts to
reform Varna religion failed and he embarked on rational path of Buddhism.
In fact, he mentioned very clearly that ", Unfortunately, I was
born a Hindu. It was beyond my power to prevent that, I solemnly assure
you that I will not die a Hindu."
his viewpoint on Conversion, Dr Ambedkar said,' There are two aspect
of conversion as well as religious, material as well as spiritual. Whatever,
may be the aspect or line of thinking it is necessary to understand
the beginning, the nature of untouchability and how it is practiced.
Without, this understanding, you will not be able to realise the real
meaning underlying my declaration of conversion. In order to have a
clear understanding of Untouchability and its practices in real life,
I want you to recall the stories of the atrocities perpetrated against
you. But very few of you might have realised as to why this happened..
This is the root of their tyranny. To me it is very necessary, that
we understand it. This is not a feud between two rival men. The problem
of untouchability is a matter of class struggle. It is a struggle between
caste Hindus and untouchables. It is not a matter of doing injustice
against one man. This is matter of injustice being done by one class
against other. This struggle starts as soon as you start claiming equal
treatment with others…
said that there is no place for individual's identity in so-called Hindu
dharma as it does not appeal to my self respect and self conscience.."
I tell you very specifically, religion is for men and not Man for religion.
To get human treatment get converted. convert for getting organised.
Convert for becoming strong. Convert for securing equality. Convert
for getting liberty. Convert so that your domestic life may be happy."
He told the people from his experiences ", Three factors are required
for the upliftment of an individual. They are: Sympathy, equality and
liberty. Can you say by experience that any of these factors exists
: Ambedkar championed the cause of the down trodden. But to confine
him to mere as a leader of Dalits will do him great injustice. He was
the most accompalished political leader and philosopher among his contemporaries.
He was much ahead of his time which is reflected when he was drafting
the Hindu Code Bill. It was a bill which gave Indian woman a right which
they never imagined. Unlike other political leaders including some of
the Dalits who could not challenge the religion and text books, for
Ambedkar human dignity was bigger than any religion and religious text
book. The famous Satyagraha for the rights of the dalits to fetch water
in Mahad is well known to be mentioned here. No human rights discourse
in India could be complete with out detailed discussion on the outstanding
work of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
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