Sep 29, 2023
Sep 29, 2023
by Sarika Goyal
Babasaheb Ambedkar was a man of intellect and strong determination. Visualising the evils of Indian society, role of politicians in ameliorating these, plight of his brethren, empty talks of reformers, his seer like vision knew that a change can be brought in the condition of the downtrodden only by providing them civil rights and these rights will be applicable only in a socially awakened, advanced and aware society and by generating political will. But this was not an easy task, there was lack of education and support for the untouchables or dalits and a Brahminical society favoured the upper castes. The upliftment of the lower classes became all the more important after India’s independence as he was of the opinion that real republic and democratic India will have to grant equal rights to all the communities. Having university education and a doctorate degree, the man took up the challenge of reforming Indian society by framing the Indian constitution and paved way for legal empowerment of the lower classes for bringing about their emancipation.
The socio political situation before him was bleak. The dominant Hindu castes were exploitative and this embarked upon the supremacy of Vedas and sacrosanct Hindu texts like Manusmriti that upheld the varna system. The English were preparing to leave the country and instead of cooling the broth, the missionaries were putting more fire under it. Leaders from congress and Gandhi wanted unity of Indian subjects but were not desirous to shift power to other communities. The new born independent country needed some laws that would govern it possibly for more than a hundred years. Ambedkar felt much concerned about this socio-political scenario and thus drafted laws for Indian Republic. The present paper strives to explore some of such socio-political concerns of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
The Hindus in India boast of their ancient civilization and religion but are totally insensitive towards the inhuman treatment they have been meeting out to their own brethren and countrymen for ages. On one hand, the pre-independence India saw an emergence of social and religious reformers with establishment of Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj etc. where its prominent leaders like Swami Vivekananda were emphasizing that god exists in all human beings and shudras are only those who perform subservient acts. On the other there were political leaders like Gandhi who visited the quarters of untouchables, ate with them, addressed them as brothers and sought to unite them with the main stream Indians. Ambedkar was not satisfied either with reformers or political leaders. He took great care that the constitution resolves, to secure to all citizens, justice, social, economic and political, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among them all fraternity, assuring the dignity of individual and unity’. (Ingole). Reiterating this further an addition was made in the directive principles that the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the scheduled castes / tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation’ (Ingole).
Some of social reformers were trying to bring modifications in Hindu marriage laws, stressing on education of girls, condemning the customs of sati and purdah, reconsidering marriage & divorce and its impact on Muslim women and revitalizing the decayed roots of Hinduism bred on fundamentalism, age-old traditions, rituals and superstitions and above all some religious texts. They were quite compassionate for the dalits but were also not ignorant of the fact that Christian missionaries have baited them and are feeding on these very bleeding lacunae of Hinduism. Smashing the mythological basis of untouchability, Ambedkar argued that ‘it is disgraceful to live at the cost of one’s self respect. It is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone that one derives strength, confidence and recognition’ (Dr. Ambedkar and Nationalism).
In Mistry’s A Fine Balance one can easily find the echoes of humiliation as Dukhi’s sons tried to cross the line of occupational caste. He himself had been unable to cross this ‘invisible line of caste’. In the village of leather workers, it was sure that ‘untouchability poisons Hinduism as a drop of arsenic poisons milk’. Ambedkar therefore applauded the work of some reformers as he said ‘A reformers who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies government’ (Dr. Ambedkar and Nationalism) as he believed social tyranny to be more appressive than the political one. The untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand projects the sulky conditions of the outcastes’ colony where Bakha, the sweeper boy says aloud in a street ‘sweeper, coming, where Sohini his sister doesn’t pollute Brahmins if they cast their lusty eyes on her, where colonel Hutchinson is trying to get conversions by his proselytizing mission and where flush system is only end to the miseries of a manual scavenger. The brutal chopping off fingers for a mistake committed, naked parading of a dalit woman, setting alight houses of untouchables and pouring molten coal in the undeserving ears that overhear the sacred shlokas (A Fine Balance) are a testimony to the feudal tyranny. The untouchables inhabit the marginalized world where the centre is the Hindu Brahmnical discourse and every system in administrative machinery is set out to oppress, suppress and humiliate the persons belonging to lower castes ‘Daupadi in Mahashveta Devi is oppressed and tyrannized by the men who enforce the law and guard national interests, Valmiki in Joothan is threatened for studying by the teachers, headmaster and classmates. All this prepares a ground for various other narratives by dalits seeking to secure a place for seething tales of pain, oppression, violence, brutality and humiliation.
Gandhi was the most powerful political leader of his times and some men in the Congress were also famous for their integrity and wisdom. Gandhi was termed a Mahatma by people but in fact, he was a national leader trying to unite Indians for a common cause that was freedom from alien rule and was very well aware that freedom required contribution of millions of Indians and necessitated the assimilation of untouchables into Indian mainstream. He coined the word harijans for them, and coaxed them in every rally and every visit that he undertook to various nooks and corners of the country. Waiting for the Mahatma by R.K.Narayan delineates how office holders of civic bodies felt repulsive during Gandhi’s sorties into sweepers’ colonies where the scavengers of the whole town lived in most filthy conditions. Bakha in the untouchable is unmoved by the empty verbiage of Mr. Gandhi as it talks of no immediate solution. Ambedkar repeatedly criticizes Gandhi on caste issues that ‘he was not willing even to concede reserved seats in general electorates to the depressed classes, although he knew or should have known, what sort of treatment they would get, should they be thrown upon at the mercy on caste Hindus (Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability: Political). Ambedkar perhaps overlooked the fact that the British deliberately maintained this caste system. They had such a powerful legal system that they could easily frame laws against caste brutalities but their motive was to maintain disintegration of India by one method or another. Fanny Parkes makes an elaborate list of various servants and the wages they earned. The castes were as per occupations and English kept them all to serve in different tasks.
Ambedkar proposed the policy of ‘State Socialism’ that could bring about ‘the nationalization of basic industries and the nationalization of land and its organization in collectives’ (Ambedkarian Perspective for Economic Development). He was well aware that state can ensure equitable distribution of National wealth and income among all sections of society irrespective of castes, creed, gender, region and religions’. He also proposed separate village settlements for dalits. Ambedkar’s ‘social liberation’ philosophy distinguished him both from Marxists who saw the protetariat as revolutionary and neglected cultural and social factors, and from both the dominant congress trends which refused to see elements of exploitation and appression in Indian tradition (Dalit Identity and Politics, 149). For him Brahminism and capitalism were the two enemies of the working class but instead of attacking at the community, he emphasized that ‘by Brahminism I mean the negation of the spirit of liberty, equality and Fraternity’ (146).
Dalit literature gives a call for social and cultural revolt. Many poets and writers inspired by Ambedkar display resistance to dominant ideology in their works and bring Marxian revolt though Ambedkar himself embraced Buddhism and kept a peaceful stance by promoting the rights of dalits through legislature & protesting for a respectable place not at the lowest rung of the social ladder.
As a civil rights activist, he can be equated with Martin Luther King junior, who was a good orator and had great pleas but demanded his rights in a civic and non-violent manner. Hindu scriptures don’t approve of varnasankara or leaving one’s varna and mingling with the other. Ambedkar was firm that ‘it is mainly the custom of endogamy that has preserved the castes and prevented one caste from fusing into another’ (Ingole). It will be worth mentioning here that Gandhi implored many women to marry out of their caste.
Another social concern of Ambedkar is related to Muslim law and the practice of burqa. Severely criticizing this practice he remarked that it was clinically wrong to observe it as such women are usually victims to anemia, tuberculosis and pyorrhea and have deformed bodies and crooked bones. He further added that ‘Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment (Pakistan or The Partition of India). According to him such morally degenerated beings have restricted outlook and are engaged in petty family quarrels.
In his essay entitled Prospects of Democracy in India, he points out that India can hardly be called democracy as there is no ‘associated living’. Various castes in India have no experience to share and are not sympathetic for each other and a country where the desire for welfare, loyalty to public ends and sympathy and cooperation are limited to selected communities only, can’t be termed a republic.
Fighting for the marginalized and dalits, he perhaps could not locate a centre for those situated at the peripheries. For example, he proposed that these should be a statutory commission to administer excluded areas or the backward communities as ‘the aboriginal tribes have not as yet developed any political sense to make the best use of their political opportunities’ (Commual Deadlock). Similarly he proposed for according a single seat to Manipur and Tripura as these lack local authorities.
To conclude, Ambedkar has appropriately earned the title Baba Saheb as he like a grandparent ensured socio-political rights for the perspective generations and worked for abolition of caste system paving way for equal treatment to all castes as per constitution. As a framer of constitution, he took examples from Africa, Europe and America where rights of minorities and tribals had been worked out in the constitution itself. It is a sorry state that Indian political parties don’t respect this constitution and politicians keep on playing cheap games to secure vote banks for dalits, muslims or other minorities. The heated debates and ensuing riots over reservation and protests by right wing activists have failed to find any proper solution. The framework can be strengthened only by positive role of socio-religious reformers and political leaders.
More by : Sarika Goyal