Edit: This was supposed to be published on 14/04/2020 but due to some issues, it was published on 16/04/2020.
If you’re wondering what in the world a political post is doing in a mathematics blog, then don’t. Ambedkar’s experiences and pervasive effect on society merits far greater attention than any fancy mathematical abstraction or theorem I could slap unto the front page of my blog. Today is Ambekar Jayanthi, a day in remembrance of B.R Ambedkar and I could hardly resist myself in making some kind of a comment on how inspiring his views have been in shaping my worldview and political inclinations. Perhaps, the first question to ask is: Who is Ambedkar? I’ll give a very brief introduction to this legendary character but I mostly assume that anyone who takes interest in this post has some idea about him. I wanted to discuss in some depth his interactions with other leading figures of the time like Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah(the ideological founder of Pakistan), his thoughts on Indian Independence, Dalit representation and the ‘Islamic Problem’, and the contemporary image of his legacy.
Some may find it strange that I should call him an ‘unsung hero’ as every soul in the country knows his name yet I stick by it, for his true importance is woefully understated, both today and in the past.
I am neither a political expert nor a historian so to some extent, I absolve myself from any frivolous errors I might make in the post. Needless to say, this is not a biography; I will state my opinions clearly on Ambedkar’s ideas and interactions. I am not being promoted or paid, in any measure, in publishing this post. He is, like most important characters in the Indian Independence episode, a controversial figure, especially his scathing rebuke of Gandhi and Islam.
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar(भीमराव रामजी आंबेडकर)(1891-1956) was born in Mhow, currently in Madhya Pradesh, into a low-middle class family(economic) from the Mara caste, one of the lowest caste denominations in Maharashtra. Quite early in his life, he moved back to Maharashtra. He is mainly remembered as one of the foremost Dalit(untouchables in the caste hierarchy) activists of his era and a key founder of the Indian Constitution. He was also a highly reputed economist, obtaining a doctorate degree at Columbia University, and practicing law at the famous Gray’s Inn while studying at LSE(London School of Economics).
The story of the discrimination he faced in his schooling days are well-known to many Indians. As a child in school, he was often made to sit separately from the other students, if not outside the class, on account of his low caste. He was not even allowed to drink water, unless it was poured from a designated student of higher caste into his mouth.
While in the school I knew that children of the touchable classes, when they felt thirsty, could go out to the water tap, open it, and quench their thirst. All that was necessary was the permission of the teacher. But my position was separate. I could not touch the tap; and unless it was opened for it by a touchable person, it was not possible for me to quench my thirst. In my case the permission of the teacher was not enough. The presence of the school peon was necessary, for he was the only person whom the class teacher could use for such a purpose. If the peon was not available, I had to go without water. The situation can be summed up in the statement—no peon, no water
He studied in Bombay University and was the first one from his caste to do so. In fact, his family had arranged a grand celebration for this event though Ambedkar himself was not too keen about it.
Another incident springs to my mind from his youth, after he passed his matriculation examinations and was offered the position of ‘Talati'(a bureaucratic position in villages, dealing with accounting) in the Kheda district in Gujarat. When he reached to government office, he was greeted by the ‘Karkun'(clerk) in a most abusive manner:
The Karkun contemptuously asked, “Who are you?” I replied, “Sir, I am a Harijan.” He said, “Go away, stand at a distance. How dare you stand so near me! You are in office, if you were outside I would have given you six kicks. What audacity to come here for service!” Thereafter, he asked me to drop on the ground my certificate and the order of appointment as a Talati. He then picked them up. While I was working in the Mamlatdar’s office at Borsad I experienced great difficulty in the matter of getting water for drinking. In the verandah of the office there were kept cans containing drinking water. There was a waterman in charge of these water cans. His duty was to pour out water to clerks in office whenever they needed it. In the absence of the waterman they could themselves take water out of the cans and drink it.
And yet again, he was denied of his most primitive needs: water. Nobody in the village, of whatever caste, was willing to accommodate him. He went to meet the Headman of the village and wished him good morning to receive no reply. It became clear to him that his very existence in the village was repulsive. Soon enough, the librarian of the village gathered a mob(how ironic that an ‘educated’ person does so) and threatened to stab him.
Addressing the Ravania (village servant) he said, “Who allowed this dirty dog of a Bhangi to sit on the chair?” The Ravania unseated me and took away the chair from me. I sat on the ground.
He managed to somehow escape the situation and took leave to go back to his hometown.
Years at Columbia University, NY
The Gaewkar of Baroda, the Maharaja of the Baroda State, offered scholarships for Indian students to study at Columbia University, of about 11.5 pounds per month. The Maharaja himself was also quite an interesting man, introducing a wave of social reforms and ready to protect his citizens and principles of governance against the British Indian government, who could only barely tolerate him for his support of the Indian National Congress and his lackadaisical obeisance to King George V when he came to visit India. Indeed, the grandiloquent title of ‘Maharaja’ was just a pathetic joke in those days given how most of them were simply pawns of the British.
Ambedkar was fortunate to obtain this scholarship and was soon on his way to Columbia where he met one of his lifelong friends, Naval Bhathena, a Parsi, in his dorm. He was now thousands of miles away from his family and initially had an extremely strong resolve to perform well in his studies and make a great name for himself. But with the gala time he had enjoyed with his Indian and American friends in the first few weeks of his studies, engaging in new pastimes and social amusements, of which there were plenty, in New York. Soon enough, it struck him that his resolve had receded, and he made a firm decision to take his time and opportunities seriously.
But one night, after wrapping up all the chit-chat around 3:00 AM, he lay down in bed and began to ask himself, “What am I doing? I left the loving members of my family thousands of miles away and came here to study–and I am just sidelining my studies and amusing myself–and that too, on the Government’s money! If I make good use of the opportunity given to me, then I will be able to achieve a greater name and fame for myself. Just getting degrees is of no use in itself.”…. At 5:00 AM he sat up in bed and made a strong resolve that henceforth he would dedicate his life only to study, not to amusements…. His friends teased him, but he stuck to his resolve. At night, when students in the room next door laughed loudly and made a ruckus, Bhimrao would shut the door and windows of his room and put balls of cotton in his ears, so he could sit and study.
He studied with John Dewey, a foremost American scholar in philosophy and psychology. He also worked under James Shotwell and Edwig Seligman.
Lalalajpat Rai meets Ambedkar
Lala Lajpat Rai, a crucial agitator of Indian Independence, came to New York, to meet with the Ghadar party. He pleaded strongly with Ambedkar and repeatedly tried to convince him to strengthen and support the position of Indian Independence. Perhaps, it is no surprise that Ambedkar’s response was quite weak. His past, filled with tortuous harassment and discrimination from others, and his newfound sense of relative equality at New York, likely made him say:
You have enslaved untouchables in your struggle–and you are looking to do away with your own political enslavement!
Lajpat Rai organized a council of Indian students in 1916 and Ambedkar was absent. This is the start of the story where we get an inkling of how exactly Ambedkar builds his ideas on the concept of Indian Independence, which even in that time, was assumed to be an impossible ideal to achieve. There was still an active voice of moderates like Wacha, Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Gopal Krishna Gokhle who had a rather different opinion of the British-a benevolent ‘necessary evil’ necessary to ‘civilize’ and improve Indians. No doubt, this position was quite popular among many Parsis and certain elite classes of Bengal, who received the greatest social and economic benefits during British rule and from the Opium trade in China. Some of the earliest large-scale businesses set up by Parsis were essentially funded by the fabulous profits reaped from selling opium in southern China, especially Canton(modernly Guangzhou). At one point, multiple Parsi families were outperforming or equaling the British crown in opium trade profits.
Lala Lajpat Rai, a fierce nationalist, who had displayed tremendous zeal for the Independence movement, risking multiple arrests and actual physical violence inflicted by the British force, was probably in fierce disagreement with the moderates’ ideals.
The following is a lesser known incident in the life of Ambedkar but nonetheless, I’ve found it be a clearer representation of how Ambedkar believes caste reforms ought to be executed. I’ve also found it be surprisingly reflective to how upper castes view caste reform today.
The Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal was roughly put, a society of caste reformers and they were quite interested in Ambedkar’s ideas.
In 1935, Dr. Sant Ram, the secretary of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal sent Ambedkar a letter inviting him to be the President for one of their annual conferences. Here, is a small excerpt from the letter:
Independent Harijans of Punjab are very much desirous to meet you and discuss with you their plans. So if you kindly accept our request and come to Lahore to preside over the Conference it will serve double purpose. We will invite Harijan leaders of all shades of opinion and you will get an opportunity of giving your ideas to them.
As usual, quite characteristic of Ambedkar, he was sceptical of movements related to caste reforms led by caste Hindus(i.e non-Dalits). Here are his thoughts on that:
As a rule, I do not like to take any part in a movement which is carried on by the Caste Hindus. Their attitude towards social reform is so different from mine that I have found it difficult to pull on with them. Indeed, I find their company quite uncongenial to me on account of our differences of opinion.
At first, he declined their invitation but soon, with much convincing on their part, he agreed to preside the conference. However, after a month or so, something unexpected happens:
The mandal cancels the conference! When Ambedkar enquires of the reason and explicitly states that one way or another, he will hold his address either in Lahore or Bombay, their unclear replies appeared immediately suspect and disingenuous to Ambedkar. The Mandal sent one of their officers to meet with Ambedkar in Bombay and it was dawning on Ambedkar that it wasn’t logistics or the major disapproval of Ambedkar’s address by orthodox sects in Lahore, Bombay that caused them to cancel the conference but rather, the contents of the address itself.
Ambedkar agreed to postpone the address instead, the Mandal came up with a new set of excuses to get Ambedkar to call it off. Finally, a passive-aggressive reply came to Ambedkar from Har Bhagwan regarding their misgivings with the contents of Ambedkar’s address which he agreed to previously agreed to share with them. Here is an excerpt of that letter:
There is, however, one thing that we have been compelled to bring toyour kind attention. You will remember that when I pointed out to you the misgivings entertained by some of our people regarding your declaration on the subject of change of religion, you told me that it was undoubtedly outside the scope of the Mandal and that you had no intention to say anything from our platform in that connection. At the same time when the manuscript of your address was handed to me you assured me that that was the main portion of your address and that there were only two or three concluding paragraphs that you wanted to add. On receipt of the second instalment of your address we have been taken by surprise, as that would make it so lengthy, that we are afraid, very few people would read the whole of it. Besides that you have more than once stated in your address that you had decided to walk out of the fold of the Hindus and that that was your last address as a Hindu. You have also unnecessarily attacked the morality and reasonableness of the Vedas and other religious books of the Hindus, and have at length dwelt upon the technical side of Hindu religion, which has absolutely no connection with the problem at issue, so much so that some of the passages have become irrelevant and off the point. We would have been very pleased if you had confined your address to that portion given to me, or if an addition was necessary, it would have been limited to what you had written on Brahminism etc. The last portion which deals with the complete annihilation of Hindu religion and doubts the morality of the sacred books of the Hindus as well as a hint about your intention to leave the Hindu fold does not seem to me to be relevant.
I would therefore most humbly request you on behalf of the people responsible for the Conference to leave out the passages referred to above, and close the address with what was given to me or add a few paragraphs on Brahminism. We doubt the wisdom of making the address unnecessarily provocative and pinching. There are several of us who subscribe to your feelings and would very much want to be under your banner for remodelling of the Hindu religion.
Ahhh!Where do I even start!Succinctly put, the caste Hindu organizers of the Mandal were quite taken aback and insulted by the Ambedkar’s direct attack on the Vedas, Hindu religious texts and his decision to leave the religion once and for all. The Mandal expected a tamer address of Ambedkar talking about the specific evils of Brahminism and subsequent caste reforms within the context of a Hindu identity but nothing as ‘extreme’ as disparaging and leaving the religion and its ideas itself.
Little did they know, Ambedkar was not one to compromise on his ideals. This is exactly what Ambedkar was getting at when he said he didn’t like to cooperate with caste Hindus in matters regarding caste reform.
Har writes above that ‘the last portion which deals with the complete annihlation of the Hindu religion….your intention to leave the Hindu fold doesn’t seem to be relevant’.
Then what the fuck is relevant? Ambedkar and his ilk who have had to face systemic discrimination and the most barbaric abuse have to yet again compromise so as to not offend the orthodox partners and sects lurking within the Mandal and in extension, the organizers of the Independence movement itself. Why do they wish for Dalits to be within the Hindu fold and respect its beliefs if they are literally treated like dirt under the very same system?
As expected, in this episode and even later in his life, Ambedkar is accused of promoting disharmony and disunity among the Hindus and threatening the Independence movement itself. Ambedkar clearly realizes that in his own words, wining and dining with all castes and marrying among them is not his idea of social justice. His ideal of justice is the complete emancipation of the Dalit and disassociation from all ideas and concepts of religion that hurt them. In this sense, his vicious attack of the Vedas, caste Hindu beliefs, and Brahmanism make sense.
This is one of the first examples of what is known as ‘identity politics’ today.
Strangely enough(not strange at all in reality), many upper castes simply ignore or pretend to not understand this train of thought. They think that if the Dalit is provided with enough monetary support and with enough pressure, social discrimination is outlawed that everything will fix itself. Unfortunately, the rot runs deeper than that. It takes a daring man to put his hand into the slimy gutter overflowing with rat corpses and the most unimaginable filth to excruciatingly clean every every nook and cranny before declaring victory, a Dalit perhaps as this is the kind of work they are simply expected to do. The others can imagine that the rats are a school of blossoming fish and the gutter is a stream of freshwater flowing from the arms of the Himalayas.
The core of their beliefs lies in respecting the hierarchy of castes, maybe not directly but through the way the live their daily life. Brahmins and many caste Hindus wear certain items, eat certain food and practice certain things that distinguish them. Dalits do the same. The caste Hindus have been doing these things for centuries. They don’t need to need to directly insulting the Dalits but Ambedkar argues that this social and cultural barrier is so hard to appropriate that only the complete extrication of the Dalits from these ideas is the solution.
Ambedkar is not willing to pander to orthodox sects and those affiliated with them who believe in the above version of caste reform.
In fact, I don’t completely believe that a religious caste-reform involving caste Hindus is doomed to fail but it has to be much clearer of its goals and willing to sacrifice a large portion of the caste Hindu status in the existing hierarchy and not simply offering doles and meaningless platitudes to Dalits. As many who know me would point out, I don’t think religion holds as strong a hold in people’s actions as many would initially believe. People follow certain protocol and rites of behaviour for absolutely no other reason than they were raised to do so. The saddest thing is many of these rites are so entrenched in the behaviour of caste Hindus that they don’t even believe it is wrong! I will talk about all of this at the end. Ambedkar’s story is not yet done.
In a reply to Mr. Bonnerji about some debate between the importance of pursuing poltical or social reform, this is what Ambedkar had to say:
Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a large class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use public schools? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use public schools? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them the use of public wells? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them the use of public streets? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them to wear what apparel or ornaments they like? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food they like?
This has been the extent of caste reform propogated by the caste Hindus, a social restructuring that poses to improve the lives of Dalits but is dominating and reticent at its core beliefs that actually threaten Dalits and completely willing to subsume the Dalit identity.
After writing his thesis and brief stint at a position in Syndeham College, he went to LSE(London School of Economics) to pursue another graduate degree and also became a barrister at the Gray’s Inn, London, an extremely prestigious position.
Return to India
His Baroda scholarship sponsored by the Maharaja had ended and he was to return and take a position as a military secretary to the Gaikwar of Baroda. This was a year-long position before he went to LSE in 1917. His years at Europe and America ‘had completely wiped out of his mind any consciousness that he was an untouchable’. He was lost and basically did not know where to go. There were hotels maintained by Hindus but they wouldn’t admit him if they found out he was a Dalit and the consequences were too severe if he impersonated a caste Hindu. He did not wish to go to any of his friend’s house lest their family is embarassed to house a Dalit. He somehow found an inn run by Parsis, somehow managed to find a lodging. After a few days though, his identity was revealed and a gang of Parsi men had approached him and forced him to vacate.
This incident remained vividly throughout his life, the very thought provoking tears. An untouchable to a Hindu is also an untouchable to a Parsi.
In the next year or so, he found another stint by starting an investment consulting firm with the help of a few Parsis and becoming a tutor. His firm came to a crashing halt when people eventually learned that he was a Dalit. And so, Ambedkar continued on with his life, every step as erratic as the next. He stayed around with the Maharaja and worked under him in various positions as he was grateful for his monetary support.
Ambedkar enters the political arena
In the 1920s, he began retreating from his stints and professorial positions and entering the political arena. His inital steps were small but helped build his reputation. He started a newspaper to consolidate Dalit support and enlighten them on the scale of social disabilities that they themselves face.
In 1926, he was given the important position of Member of the Legislative Council in the Bombay Government where he worked on economic issues and financing of the council money.
A few years earlier, he founded the ‘Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha'(बहिष्कृत हितकारिणी सभा)
whose motto was the famous ‘Educate,Organize and Agitate’, one of the earliest central institutions to take on the Dalit cause as its primary objective and place their grievances before the government. Around the same time, he completed his graduate thesis at LSE though his inital draft was marked for revision on challenges of subversion to the British crown due to anti-British rhetoric.
Dalit Consolidation in Nagpur and Kolhapur
The cause of centralizing support for the Dalit movement was still in its infant stage. So pathetic was the situation that there were factions and gradations among the Dalits too. One must note that the term ‘Dalit’ didn’t really mean anything concrete; Ambedkar was attempting the centralize the cause of their emancipation through political means. One thing remained true however:Whoever was termed a Dalit was not of any caste. Slowly however, he had begun building support groups throughout North India and gaining followers to champion his political cause.
Another interesting incident sparks to my mind during these years.
In the early 1920s, he went to Kolhapur to preside over a Depressed Classes Conference where the Maharaja of Kolhapur was present. The Maharaja extolled Ambedkar for his ideas and speech and proclaimed that he would be a great national leader. The Maharaja shocked many orthodox communities and caste Hindus by having lunch with Ambedkar and his followers after the event. While it may seem like a minor incident, it is truly a terrific display of Ambedkar’s burgeoning reputation. Sitting with a Dalit means that the Maharaja had to sacrifice his traditional status as a Kshatriya(likely, correct me on that though) and hence,a portion of his societal respect and pride. This simple theme of respect and status pretty concisely encapsulates why Dalits face discrimination.
Another similar incident took place in Nagpur where he was able to gather leaders of the 18 sub-castes of the Mahar caste(to which he belonged) to gather for a meal along with many other communities classed as Dalit. There was troubles and glitches even in achieving this simple goal. Ambedkar could see that without a united front among the Dalits, there would be no results.
In typical Gandhi-style, he organized followers to go the Mahad district and perform the most mundane of tasks: drink water from the common tank, reminiscent of Gandhi’s salt march where he marched from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi to prepare salt, in violation of the British monopoly over the production over salt.
The theme of drinking water has repeatedly appeared throughout his life: in his schooldays, in his college and even in his days as a professor. Something so mundane and primitive actually strikes at the heart of why Dalits face such discrimination.
The truth is that the in the eyes of caste Hindus, the Dalit is literally less than human, a kind of parasitic worm that will infect everything in its path. Everybody needs water to survive and a Dalit drinking water from a source meant for caste Hindus meant that the water was now infected. The Dalit is meant to be destined to a life of performing the basest tasks: cleaning sewers with their bare hands, removing excrement, filth and disposing of corpses(especially cows).
A Dalit marrying outside of his caste means an infection of the bloodline with an impure element. These underlying themes of purity and cleanliness are the foundation of preserving the complex, multi-layered caste hierarchy in almost perfect harmony.
He went to the local water tank and drank water from it. Multiple local caste Hindus were preparing to riot and after he left, Brahmins in the village proceeeded with an extensive ritual cleansing procedure at the tank.
He returned later to the Mahad to organize a second movement where he ridiculed the Laws of Manu, an important text from the Vedas and burned it publicly to the shock of many locals. The Laws of Manu were a directive to the ways in which the Brahmana must lead his life, who is assumed to unquestionably supreme in the social order.
Ambedkar vs Gandhi(*)
Perhaps, it seems like a childish way to title it but I don’t really care much. This is probably one of the most controversial aspects of Ambedkar’s life and a testament to the slimy nature of the Indian National Congress(INC) in dealing with the threat of Ambedkar’s growing importance. Much of the material below is derived from one of Ambedkar’s books which was banned immediately after Indian Independence.
I actually wanted to make this the focal point of the post so it’ll be quite detailed in its exposition.
The Round Table Conferences
The Round Table Conferences were a series of conferences held in London between the British government and political representatives of the Indian Independence. The Indian side was represented by many famous fellows like Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Aga Khan, Sardar Ujjal Singh and others. The British side featured Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Arthur Henderrson and other sidekicks from the Labour party government in Britain.
Ambedkar was, from the beginning, quite sceptical of the INC’s claims of promoting Dalit reforms and the sincerity with which it even held social reforms. Ambedkar truly believed that Gandhi was nothing short of a fraud. Yet, the ideal of independence was not lost upon Ambedkar. After the London Round Conference, Ambedkar said the following:
Just now, with the London round table conference in progress, there is some slight indication of a better attitude on the part of the Hindus. But we are afraid it may not be sincere or lasting. It may be only a temporary political expedient for the sake of proving to Great Britain that all Indians have a common cause and are unanimous in their demand for self-government. If they win, perhaps the Hindus will forget again that we ‘untouchables’ are human beings and will see no reason for removing caste slavery because they have gained political freedom. But we are trusting them and taking our chance by merging our cause with theirs in these London negotiations.
In 1917, the INC with suspicious alacrity arranged many addresses on caste reform in its annual conference, inviting Mrs. Annie Besant, Mr. Asaf Ali, Mr. Rama Iyer to preside the sessions. The resolution of this conference was the following:
“This Congress unglues upon the people of India the necessity, justice and righteousness of removing all disabilities imposed by custom upon the Depressed Classes, the disabilities being of a most vexatious and oppressive character, subjecting those classes to considerable hardship and inconvenience.
The idea was the in preparation for arranging a picture of self-government for the nation, the INC could gain the trust and complete loyalty of the Dalits. Of course, this was going to be difficult as there were hardly any Dalits in the organization and the INC had not yet built a strong enough track record among Dalits who were becoming consolidated in Ambedkar’s and other Dalit leader’s struggle.
The problem was that the INC was riddled with orthodox types who would only concede to a meek version of social reform and call out Ambedkar’s actual(more radical) ideas as threatening to the Independence struggle. Of course, there was enough virtue-signalling thrown around in the INC conference. They spoke of the ‘shattering of shackles’, commonality of ‘red blood’, made references to various other lower class groups in England and other places and congratulated themselves on being non-communal.
It was a circlefest of idiocy, group-think and fanatic displays of crass loyalty.
The Congress had never mentioned any concrete reforms on untouchability for its nearly thirty-year existence.Ambedkar suspected ulterior motives behind these moves. The same year, it had become major news that a Dalit organization published the resolutions:
“First Resolution- Loyalty-Loyalty to British Government and prayer for victory to the Allies.”
“Second Resolution carried at the meeting by an overwhelming majority, the dissentients being about a dozen, expressed approval of the scheme of reform in the administration of India recommended by the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League”
“Third Resolution carried unanimously was; “As the population of the Depressed Classes in India considered Untouchable and treated as such, is very large, as their condition is very degraded owing to that treatment and as they are behind the rest of the people in point of education, being unable to secure fair opportunities for their improvement, this public meeting of the Depressed Classes strongly feeds that in the scheme of reform and reconstitution of the Legislative Councils which Government may be pleased to adopt, due regard be paid to the interests of the said classes. This meeting therefore prays the British Government to be so gracious as to protect those interests by granting to those classes the right to elect their own representatives to the said Councils in proportion to their numbers.”
Fourth Resolution unanimously carried at the meeting was: “That the Government be prayed for the adoption, with all convenient speed, of a compulsory and free system of education rendered necessary by the fact that the social elevation of any community depends upon the universal spread of education among its members and that degradation of the Depressed Classes is due to their illiteracy and ignorance.”
and also this:
“(1) Resolution of loyalty to the British throne.”
“(2) That this meeting cannot give its support to the Congress-League Scheme in spite of its having been declared to have been passed at the meeting of 11th November. 1917 by an overwhelming majority.”
“(3) That it is the sense of this meeting that the administration of India should be largely under the control of the British till all classes and specially the Depressed Classes, rise up to a condition to effectual participate in the administration of the country.”
“(4) That if the British Government have decided to give political concession to the Indian Public, this meeting prays that Government should grant the Untouchables their own representatives in the various legislative bodies to ensure to them their civil and political rights.”
There are essentially two major blows to the Congress leadership in this.
First is the willingness to concede government to the British if the condition of the untouchables continues to be as pathetic as it was, a direct threat to to very aim of the Congress. In fact, Ambedkar opened one of his Round Table Conferences with this inflammatory remark:
he tie that bounds the Depressed Classes to the British has been of a unique character. The Depressed Classes welcomed the British as their deliverers from age long tyranny and oppression by the orthodox Hindus. They fought their battles against the Hindus, the Mussalmans and the Sikhs and won for them this great Empire of India. The British, on their side, assumed the role of trustees for the depressed classes. In view of such an intimate relationship between the parties, this change in the attitude of the depressed classes towards British Rule in India is undoubtedly a most momentous phenomenon.
He concedes later that the British are not perfect in their apporoach. He states that have fixed a few minor kinks and problems within the Hindu society but never messed with the fundamental structure of the hierarchy much like most of the colonizers preceding them.
Actually later on in the speech, Ambedkar somewhat retracts his statement and opposes the continual of British rule. However, unlike the Congress who object to British on philosophical reasons and obtaining स्वराज(self rule), Ambedkar objects primarily on the grounds of the inability of the British to resolve the problems of the untouchables.
We do not accuse the British of indifference or want of sympathy. What we do find is that they are quite incompetent to tackle our problems. If the case was one of indifference only it would have been a matter of small moment, and it would not have made such a profound change in our attitude. But what we have come to realise on a deeper analysis of the situation is that it is not merely a case of indifference, rather it is a case of sheer incompetence to undertake the task. The depressed classes find that the British Government in India suffers from two very serious limitations. There is first of all an internal limitation, which arises from the character, motives, and interests of those who are in power. It is not because they cannot help us in these things but because it is against their character, motives and interests to do so. The second consideration that limits its authority is the mortal fear it has of external resistance. The Government of India does realise the necessity of removing the social evils which are eating into the vitals of Indian society and which have blighted the lives of the downtrodden classes for so many years.
Second, they ask for explicit quotas in political representation for Dalits in assembly bodies, making it quite a bit harder for the Congress to gain political capital as they now have to gain the trust and support of Dalits, who hitherto have had not too good of an impression of the Congress.
Gandhi explicity rejected separate political reservations for Dalits, claimed that Dalits were ‘Hindu’ and should not be treated as a minority.
Ambedkar was swift to call him out on this.
I am a rival of Mahatma Gandhi in this respect—speaking for the masses, I could not consent to such a Legislature, and thereby consign their destiny to a government working under a system of this kind and thus to use an expression of the late Lord Asquith—functioning under a system of false balances and loaded dice.
Gandhi was visibly frustrated by many of Ambedkar’s retorts and his consistent position on the inclusion of the untouchables as a separate electorate. Ambedkar also directs this at Gandhi:
And for this reason, Mahatma Gandhi told us on the first day that he spoke in the Federal Structure Committee that as a representative of the Indian National Congress he was not prepared to give political recognition to any community other than the Mohammedans and the Sikhs. He was not prepared to recognise the Anglo-Indians, the Depressed Classes, and the Indian Christians.
The Congress appears disinengenuous once again, in its sincerity with which it handles Dalit representation. Their overarching idea was the giving the Depressed Classes seaprate electorates would open up schisms within the Hindu society. Of course, they never conceded the same with other religious groups.
In fact, I think they were simply frightened of the growing centralization of the Dalit movement and the fact that it was not completely subsumed by the Congress. They knew the humiliation which these classes faced over millenia and their newfound power to topple the Congress’ objectives.
The Congress has landed itself in a tricky spot: On one hand, they can’t attack the Dalit movement or Ambedkar himself due to the moral outrage it would across the world. On the other hand, they were beginning to realize that they had never taken the cause of the Dalits seriously enough or even worked towards their causes to gain their support under the banner of the Congress.
Congress betrays Ambedkar again!
The duplicitous Congressmen came up with a new tactic(as they always do) to express support for the Dalit cause to avoid jeapordizing the independence movement while simultaneuously not enacting any geniine effort at all.
I suspect deeply that this next incident is the one which majorly dealt a blow to the relationship between Ambedkar and the Congressmen camp, especially Gandhi.
The Congress had come up with The Constructive Programme of Social Amelioration with funding of about one crore rupees to fund various political and social causes, one of which was educational and social uplifment of the untouchables through building schools and enabling access to common facilities. The fund was named the Tilak Swaraj Fund, after Bal Gangadar Tilak, one of the earliest nationalists who called for complete independence/’Swaraj’. This was quite suspect to Ambedkar who had reservations about Tilak, essentially accusing him to be just another handyman of the orthodox camp.
In a 1923 meeting at Bombay, they held a proceeding on these resolutions where the following was declared:
Resolved that while some improvement has been effected in the treatment of the so-called Untouchables in response of the policy of the Congress, this Committee is conscious that much work remained yet to be done in this respect and in as much as this question of untouchability concerns the Hindu community particularly, it requests the All-India Hindu Mahasabha also to take up this matter and to make strenuous efforts to remove this evil from amidst the Hindu Community.
My God! Is there a crueler, more kafkaesque joke than to designate matters of Dalit uplifment to the Hindu Mahasabha, a militant-type hardline Hindu organization that is sure to concede not an inch of the their status to the Dalits. The Mahasabha was the precursor to the Rashtriya Swamseyak Sangh(RSS).
It seems that in the course of the freedom struggle, the Congress was willing to conspire with most scummy and deplorable organizations and characters. The ideals of their distant ‘Swaraj’ lie at odds with the very practises and people that they tolerate. This is what Ambedkar had to say:
It is not a social reform association. It is a purely political organisation, whose main object and aim are to combat the influence of the Muslims in Indian politics. Just to preserve its political strength, it wants to maintain its social solidarity, and its way to maintain social solidarity is not to talk about caste or untouchability. How could such a body have been selected by the Congress for carrying on the work of the Untouchables passes my comprehension. This shows that the Congress wanted somehow to get rid of an inconvenient problem and wash its hands of it. The Hindu Mahasabha of course did not come forth to undertake the work for it had no urge for it and also because the Congress had merely passed a pious resolution recommending the work to them without making any promise for financial provision. So the project came to an inglorious and an ignominious end.
At first, I asked myself the question: Why in the world would they do such a foolish thing? Could they not have formed another of their committees and designated the work to them? It seems like the purposely pulled the worst straw.
After a closer inspection of Ambedkar’s writings and other accounts, I’ve come to the conclusion that it simply because the Congress never actually cared about the entire project. All they wanted was Dalit support. It was never meant to be reciprocated. All they wanted was a discreet supression of the entire Dalit movement headed by Ambedkar and to consume it into their toxic, self-contradictory Congress gang.
The entire project was innocent at heart, contained no revolutionalist or goonish elements yet the Congress finally pulled away large funding for it by compeltely transfering its execution to Hindu Mahasabha, who we can be sure would do a piss-poor job at it.
Ambedkar provides evidence in one his books to show that the Congress indeed possessed enough money to execute the project but they still essentially abandoned the programme.
Whatever schools were setup at the end of the day still practiced caste segregation, contradicting the Congress’s claims of providing schools with no elements of untouchability. The entire thing was an infuriating, sick farce.
Ambedkar’s relationship with Gandhi was probably hurt by this incident too.
In another session of the Round Table Conferences, Gandhi made a highly self-defensive remark on the Untouchables which made Ambedkar again question his sincerity:
The Congress has, from its very commencement, taken up the cause of the so-called ‘Untouchables.’ There was a time when the Congress had at every annual session as its adjunct the Social Conference, to which the late Ranade dedicated his energies, among his many other activities. Headed by him you will find, in the programme of the Social Conference, reform in connection with the ‘ Untouchables ‘ taking a prominent place. But, in 1920, the Congress took a large step and brought in the question of the removal of untouchability as a plank on the political platform, making it an important item of the political programme. Just as the Congress considered the Hindu-Muslim unity—thereby meaning unity amongst all the classes—to be indispensable for the attainment of Swaraj, so also did the Congress consider the removal of the curse of untouchability as an indispensable condition for the attainment of full freedom. The position the Congress took up in 1920 remains the same today; and so you will see the Congress has attempted from its very beginning to be what it described itself to be, namely, national in every sense of the term.
The programme they are talking about above is the sham of a project they delegated to the Hindu Mahasabha. Gandhi’s ability to make false promises, use feel-good words and circlejerk the moral egoes of the Congress gang was indeed in full display once again.
Once Gandhi explicitly declared again that no special polticial representation to Dalits and only to Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, Ambedkar considered this a ‘declaration of war against untouchables’. Gandhi was even willing to say something as low as this:
One word more as to the so-called Untouchables. I can understand the claims advanced by other minorities, but the claims advanced on behalf of the Untouchables, that time is the ‘unkindest cut of all.’ It means the perpetual bar-sinister. I would not sell the vital interests of the Untouchables even for the sake of winning the freedom of India. I claim myself in my own person to represent the vast mass of the Untouchables. Here I speak not merely on behalf of the Congress, but I speak on my own behalf, and I claim that I would get, if there was a referendum of the Untouchables, their vote, and that I would top the poll. And I would work from one end of India to the other to tell the Untouchables that separate electorates, and separate reservation is not the way to remove this bar-sinister, which is the shame, not of them, but of orthodox Hinduism
This seems strangely bizarre and self-aggrandizing of Gandhi. He was getting desperate. Ambedkar dutily noted that Gandhi spent most of his time in the Round Table Conference clamouring on and on about this ‘Untouchable Problem’. The scum nature of the Congress in regards to Dalits seems to have started straight from the top.
The famous Poona Pact was signed in 1932 between caste Hindus and political representatives of the Untouchables discussin various matters on uplifment of untouchables.The Congress’ plan to consume the Dalit movement was in full swing.
Soon enough, there was barrage of publications in newspapers of new laws regarding entry to temples for Untouchables, sharing of common public facilities and the instiution of a new fund for the Dalit cause called the Harijun Sevak Singh, a pet-project of Gandhi himself.
Gandhi went around collecting funds for the project and newspapers hailed him as the new saviour of the Untouchables. While the Singh was expected to spend around 6 lakh rupees a year, it ended up spending only half of that.
The Congress was unwilling to use the general Tilak funds for which there were substancial sources of donations. In fact, rarely any caste Hindus even donated to the Singh. While the Singh continued to deteroriate and run on a shoe-string budget, the newspapers praised this project as the largest and most successful of its kind. Gandhi was slowly winning.
Many temples continued to prohibit the entry of Untouchables and beyond occassional measures of force used by the Congress to bring them to line, nothing much was ever done about it.
Even the Poona Pact which was convened by the great efforts of Ambedkar and his friend Srinivas was cast by the newspapers as the sole effort of the Mahatma Gandhi. Ambedkar could probably stand this slimy. This is the vile language that Mehrchand Khanna, a friend of Gandhi, used on Ambedkar:
Your best friend is Mahatma Gandhi who even resorted to a fast for your sake and brought about the Poona Pact under which you have been enfranchised and given representation on local bodies and legislatures. Some of you, I know, have been running after Dr. Ambedkar, who is just a creation of the British Imperialists and who uses you to strengthen the hands of the British Government in order that India may be divided and the Britishers continue to retain power. I appeal to you in your interests, to distinguish between self-styled leaders and your real friends.
Khanna was a part of the Hindu Mahasabha and after a stint abroad, joined the Congress. As usual, the Congress has dropped all standards. A substantial amount of the Tilak Fund could be transferred the Singh but it never was. At this point, Ambedkar was quite frustrated with the wishy-washy actions of Gandhi. This is whathe had to say:
Do the Untouchable regard Mr. Gandhi as being in earnest? The answer is in the negative. They do not regard Mr. Gandhi as being in earnest. How can they? How can they look upon, a man being in earnest who when in 1921 the whole country was aroused to put the Bardoli programme in action remained completely indifferent to the anti-untouchability part of it ? How could they look upon a man as being in earnest who, when out of 1 crore and 25 lakhs of Swaraj Fund, found that only 43 thousands rupees were allotted to the cause of the Untouchables did not raise any protest at this niggardly treatment of a long neglected cause ? How can they regard a man as being in earnest who when, in 1924 he got an opportunity to impose upon the Hindus the obligation to remove Untouchability did not do so even though he had the power and the occasion to enforce it ? Such a step would have served three purposes. It would have put the nationalism of Congressmen to test. It would have helped to remove Untouchability, and it would have proved that Mr. Gandhi was sincere in his talks about the evil of Untouchability and its being a sin and a stigma on Hinduism. Why did not Mr. Gandhi do it ? Does this not show that Mr. Gandhi was more interested in the spread of spinning than in the removal of Untouchability ? Does this not show that removal of Untouchability was the least part of Mr. Gandhi’s programme and that it was not even last ? Does it not. show that the statements by Mr. Gandhi that Untouchability is a blot on Hinduism and that there will be no Swaraj without the removal of Untouchability were just empty phrases with no earnestness behind them ? How could they believe in the earnestness of a person who takes a vow to fast if the Guruvayar temple is not opened to the Untouchables but will not go on fast even when the temple remains closed ? How could they accept a. man to be in earnest when he sponsors a Bill for securing Temple-entry and subsequently becomes a party to dropping it. ? How could they accept the earnestness of a man who contents himself with saying the he will not go into a temple if it is not open to the Untouchables when what is required of him is to adopt every means to get the temples thrown open tp the Untouchables? How could they believe in the earnestness of a man who is ready to fast for everything but will not fast for the Untouchables? How can they believe in the earnestness of a man who is prepared to practise dstyagraha for everything and against everybody but who will not practise it against the Hindus for the sake of the Untouchables? How can they believe in the earnestness of a man who does nothing more than indulge in giving sermons, on the evils of Untouchability?
Now, for sure, Ambedkar was furious not only with the Congress but with Gandhi in particular.
As usual, Gandhi continued with his sermons of inane shibboleths-promising words but no action. The Congressmen clap, the media roars and the day ends with nothing actually happening.
Gandhi went further and agreed to many demands setup by the Muslim League led by Jinnah in order to get them to agree to stop supporting the call for the political representation of Dalits. This is something, unfortunately, not many people know about.
He even went on one of his classic fast unto deaths to block this call. Gandhi was becoming quite paranoid and losing all sense of reason. But he was the champion in the newspaper’s eyes, the messiah of Independence and Dalits.
In the last chapter of Ambedkar’s book, we get the juiciest of soundbites from Gandhi himself.
Ambedkar believed that Gandhi, under all his garb, was a staunch defender of orthodox Hindu caste beliefs. He appears to represent the Dalit(and actively says he does) but he strongly forbids conversion and believes everything can be solved through Hindu religious reforms. We talked about this before! The caste Hindu never seems willing to give up status or even accept fault.
This is what Gandhi said in 1925:
I gave support to caste because it stands for restraint. But at present caste does not mean restraint, it means limitations. Restraint is glorious and helps to achieve freedom. But limitation is like chain. It binds. There is nothing commendable in castes as they exist today. They are contrary to the tenets of the shastras. The number of castes is infinite and there is a bar against intermarriage. This is not & condition of elevation. It is a state of fall.
The best remedy is that small castes should fuse themselves into one big caste. There should be four such big castes so that we may reproduce the old system of four varnas.
I don’t even know what to make of this gibberish. It sounds like something the madman(aka godman) Yogi Adityanath would say or perhaps the kind of crackpot propaganda spread on Quora by RSS types.
There is no talk of giving up status by eliminating caste divisions, the cornerstone of Ambedkar’s ideas, but rather it seems that Gandhi is espousing the consolidation of various caste groups into an even more robust and indestructible 4-fold division.
The entire thing is actually quite simple;the inherent power division can’t continue to exist. But it seems the caste Hindu, like Gandhi, will come up with the most overly convoluted ploys and offer the the most idiotic banalities to Dalits to continue propagating the division, preserve their position in the hierarchy while offering just petty doles to the disadvantage to not hurt their moral egos.
Ambedkar summarized Gandhi’s beliefs:
Mr. Gandhi explained his Varna system. in the following terms :
‘”1. I believe that the divisions into Varna is based on birth.
“2. There is nothing in the Varna system which stands in the way of the Shudra acquiring learning or studying military art of offence or defence. Contra it is open to a Kshatriya to serve. The Varna system is no bar to him. What the Vavna system enjoins is that a Shudra will not make learning a way of earning a living. Nor will a Kshatriya adopt service as a way of earning a living. [Similarly a Brahmin may learn the art of war or trade.. But he must not make them a way of earning his living. Contra a Vaishya may acquire learning or may cultivate the art of war. But he must not make them a way of earning his living.
“3. The varna system is connected with the way of earning a living. There is no harm if a person belonging to one varna acquires the knowledge or science and art specialised in by persons belonging to other varnas. But as far as the way of earning his living is concerned he must follow the occupation of the varna to which he belongs which means he must follow the hereditary profession of his forefathers.
“4. The object of the varna system is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war. I believe in the varna system because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons,
“5. Varna means the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born.
“6. In the Varna system no man has any liberty to choose his occupation. His occupation is determined for him by heredity.”
I sincerely doubt that even the other memebers of the Congress(like Nehru) would ever say something so regressive.
Ambedkar on the Mahatma himself
This was hardly the end of Ambedkar’s remarks on Gandhi. Ambedkar views him as highly irrational, self-contradictory and most importantly, untrustworthy to the causes which he outwardly supports. His fasts unto death are a kind of reflection of to what extent his reticence will take him.
Ambedkar states that Gandhi hardly even considered the class-struggle to be an actual struggle. Amebdkar quotes Gandhi:
Two paths are open before India, either to introduce the Western principle of ‘Might is right’ or to uphold the Eastern principle that truth alone conquers, that truth knows no mishap, that the strong and the weak have alike a right to secure justice. The choice is to begin with the labouring class. Should the labourers obtain an increment in their wages by violence ? Even if that be possible, they cannot resort to anything like violence, howsoever legitimate may be their claims……
I am not even going to bother the read by posting the rest. One is well accustomed to these meaningless homilies of supreme Easternly truth or whatever!In other accounts, Gandhi quite frankly states that even in the times of suffering, the victims must stoically accept their fate. One can recount his repelsive pacifism directed at the situation of the Jews under Nazi Germany.
I actually think this points to Gandhi’s almost obsessive insistence on maintaining existing status quos. I wonder if it is in this light that he saw the Independence movement; the British were a glitch in the millenia of stagnant preservation of hierarchy and custom hence, they were to be driven out? This is just a fleeting thought so I ask the reader to excuse me.
Perhaps, Gandhi was merely disgusted with the outwardly suffering of people like the conditions of rampant poverty and their ailments that he sought अहिंसा(non-violence) not to disturb the status quo but to induce in the oppresor’s minds the desire to correct their ways so that any resulting change of the respective status’ of the oppresor and the oppressed is due to the will of the oppresor himself.
Ambedkar comments on these things:
Mr. Gandhi does not wish to hurt the propertied class. He is even opposed to a campaign against them. He has no passion for economic equality. Referring to the propertied class Mr. Gandhi said quite recently that he does not wish to destroy the hen that lays the golden egg. His solution for the economic conflict between the owners and workers, between the rich and the poor, between landlords and tenants and between the employers and the employees is very simple. The owners need not deprive themselves of their property. All that they need do is to declare themselves Trustees for the poor. Of course the Trust is to be a voluntary one carrying only a spiritual obligation.
Ambedkar believes that Gandhi’s ideas(especially about rapid modernization, industry and nature) are essentially simplistic at best and primitive at worst. He futher sats that they are not even original, attributing Gandhi’s hate of machinery and aspects of civilization as a whole to a long line of thinkers like Tolstoy and Rousseau. It is a call back to the eras of ignorance and misery. Gandhi doesn’t view this poorly.
For Gandhi, it seems that the priviledged and the upper-castes must be the only ones to hold the keys to the fate of the underpriviledged. Gandhi agrees that must be ‘trustees of the poor’ but nothing else; the disadvantaged and poor must bear no responsibilty or collective action for their own condition for that would not be in accordance to the existing social structures.
Armed with this new knowledge, perhaps, it becomes clearer why Gandhi was so vehemently opposed to a separate electorate for the Dalits. Their fate and supposed uplifment was to be carried out only in the hands of the upper castes so that at the end of the day, when Independence does inevitably come, their millenia of social sins would be wiped out by an inculcation of a most toxic slave complex.
As there is always a large corps of simple people who are attracted by them, such simple ideas do not die, and there is always some simpleton to preach them
Ambedkar’s next comments in his book are the most illumianting. He believes that the endgoal of Gandhi’s ideals is not to achieve any form of democracy but to ensure caste. Gandhi writes voraciously in the defence of caste in on his books. Ambedkar carefuly deconstructs each of them. The first argument posed by Gandhi is the success of the survival of India and he pins this on the caste system which ensured everlasting stability.
Of course, Ambedkar argues, that mere survival is actually shameful and hints at the failure of Hindus through centuries to rebel against foreign invaders or even recognize them as such. Many Brahmin families had left their traditional temple-duties long before even the British entered the subcontinent in order to pursue better opportunities serving whatever new ruling elite had invaded the land.
Another absolutely bizarre argument is that the caste system prevents the lust of man for a woman of another caste. What good is this, if the very foundation of these restraints is based on oppresion and something so arbitrary and regressive and caste divisions.
Gandhi, proceeds to do the unimaginable, he even approves of the hereditary system of occupation propogated by caste. He argues that the untouchable, who should be free of social and economic ailments from the benevolent hands of his caste Hindu master, must of his own willingness choose to continue degrading occupations like manual scavenging and hard labour. Gandhi seems to be the perfect candidate for covering up the degrading aspects of orthodox militant Hinduism in a shroud of tirades about archaic concepts of universal truth, non-violence, social justification or other nonsense.
Much of these disagreements were buried after independence by a wave of propaganda and today, many still rememebr Ambedkar as another devout member of the Indian National Congress.
Ambedkar was a strong believer than inter-marriage between the castes could allow social endosmosis and improve social and economic mobility.
Ambedkar on Islam and Article 370
There is one thing about Ambedkar that stands out so vividly-he was never one to compromise or be an apologist. His frank comments on the support of British rule(one can argue to put pressure on the INC), his misgivings on Gandhi which he made public, and his insistence to not accept orthodox practices for the sake of other goals, even Independence.
His thoughts on Islam surprisingly come to a shock to many. He believed strongly in partition, regarding it is as necessarily obvious to protect the nation. He studied deeply, as we shall soon discuss, the major religions of India and found in Islam, a psyche that he could not tolerate and pratices as regressive as the orthodox Hindu. Ambedkar says the following:
The Muslims have no interest in politics as such. Their predominant interest is in religion …Muslim politics is essentially clerical and recognizes only one difference, namely, that existingbetween Hindus and Muslims. None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of the Muslim community and if they do find a place – and they must because they are irrepressible – they are subordinated to one and the only one governing principle of theMuslim political universe, namely, religion.
Another very famous line from him:
The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only .
Essentially, he believes that the allegiance of a Muslim is suspect because the very religion is incongruent with local self-government as it hinges only on the directive of the Quran and Muslim clerics. According to Ambedkar, a Indian Muslim is a Muslim first and a Hindu second.
As a side-note, one can find an interesting of humiliation faced by Ambedkar from Muslims in his youth who attacked him for being a Dalit.
As for partition, he advocated something quite stronger even: a systematic exchange of populations. Of course, this is quite in stark contrast to the politics of today where leaders of Dalit movements are in alliance with Muslim political organizations.
Ambedkar charges Islam with the strict adherence to Pan-Islamism and disregard for rule of land and territorial affinities. To the Indian Muslim, he says, ‘A Hindu is a Kaffir’. General charges of fanaticism are also prevalent in Ambedkar’s writings.
Ambedkar is equally shocked by the lack of large-scale social reforms in the Indian Muslim community saying that the pathetic nature of this situation may lead to their own social demise.
The other members of the Congress where very much silent on Muslim issues or outright ignored them in order to not offend others and hence jeopardize the Independence movement. Many of these attitudes almost seamlessly carry on today.
Perhaps, that’s why Ambedkar is a little popular even among BJP/RSS supporters though they support a hardline Hindu stance that very much threatens the dignity of Dalits. In recent years, this emblazened Hindu nationalist ethos hasn’t really changed the fate of Dalits much, they remain as ever, threatened, mocked and hated.
His singular opposition to Article 370 had come as a shock to many of his colleagues. There is not much to add, his words summarize his intentions:
You want India to defend Kashmir, feed its people, undertake
its all-round development and give Kashmiris equal
rights all over the country. But you do not want the
rest of India and Indians (to have) equal rights in
Kashmir. I am (the) Law Minister of India, I cannot
betray my country.
After studying the major religions in India(Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism,..), Ambedkar decided to convert to Buddhism and made it his lifelong goal to allow Dalits to escape the stigma of caste by practically converting to Buddhism.
Conversion to Buddhism and the Nagpur Rally
This was another highlight of Ambedkar’s legendary life.
Quite late in his life, in the 1950s, he travelled to Ceylon to meet the Buddhist monk Saddhatissa to discuss large-scale conversion to Buddhism. In 1956, the year he died, as a final testament to his legacy, he organized a procession to convert nearly 50,000 people to Buddhism including himself. Today, nearly 16% of Nagpur’s population is Buddhist, a very high proportion compared to the rest of the country.
You can read more about his reasons to do so in his book ‘The Buddha and his Dhamma’.
Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution
The Congress was winning in their streak for Independence, the war came to an end, the British reserve was too broke to continue the project of India and America was exerting enough pressure on Britain to get rid of its colonies. Independence was inevitable in these decades, in fact even delayed by a decade or so, but that is another story.
Ambedkar, as we’d seen, was uncomprimising in his ideals, now that Independence had rolled around, he was tasked with the greatest duty in the world: to draft the Indian Constitution. He was tasked to do so by Nehru as the newly appointed Law Minister.
Imagine this, a man from the lowest possible birth and caste had risen up to such a state of power, with the staunch disapproval and betrayal of the INC and his colleagues and essentially everyone he ever met was now the most educated economic and political scholar in India.
The greatest challenge lays before him; He may have disagreed with the whims and the arbitrary standards of the INC but now was his chance to impact Indian society in an opportunity he would never get again.
And so began, the arduous task of writing this extensive, amazing document. He realized all too well that the political and social fabric of the country would be at odds with the Dalits and other minorities. Independence wouldn’t change that. Laws, even if not necessarily in the spirit of the people, may be the last hope. It is the responsibility of the government, quite often, to impart social reform in times of ignorance and strife.
The truth is that Ambedkar efforts were actually just limited to womens and caste issues. He was able to secure guarantees for reservation for Dalits in civil services, schools, colleges and major reforms to women’s rights. A major portion was written by B.N Rao. But Ambedkar’s efforts are still respected to this day.
Quite funnily, he once said that if the Indian Constitution was to be burned, he would be the first to do so. Observe this comcial exchange in the Rajya Sabha:
Anup Singh: Last time when you spoke, you said that you would burn the Constitution.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Do you want a reply to that? I would give it to you right here. My friend says that the last time when I spoke, I said that I wanted to burn the Constitution. Well, in a hurry I did not explain the reason. Now that my friend has given me the opportunity, I think I shall give the reason.
The reason is this: We built a temple for a god to come in and reside, but before the god could be installed if the devil had taken possession of it, what else could we do except destroy the temple? We did not intend that it should be occupied by the Asuras. We intended it to be occupied By the Devas. That is the reason why I said I would rather like to burn it.
K. P. Sinha: Destroy the devil rather than the temple.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: You can not do it. We have not got the strength. If you will read the Brahmana, the Sathapatha Brahmana, you will see that the gods have always been defeated by the Asuras and that the Asuras had the Amrit with them which the gods had to take away in order to survive in the battle.
Today, the Constitution is implictly assumed to this sacrosanct document, written by God himself. In reality, the circumstances surrounding Independence like the Partition of India, formation of the government and other obligations meant that not many people were actively working on the drafting of the Constitution and preplanned British interference ensured that the Indian Cosntitution was a hotchpotch of existing constitutions and laws from other countries. To many people today, talking about making major reforms to the Constitution is equivalent to attacking Ambedkar himself. It is quite ironic what Ambedkar himself had to say about this document he helped forge:
I feel that the constitution is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile
His attitude is pleasantly pragmatic. Moral of the story: Reform of the constitution may not be a bad idea.
And that was the story of this great man, perhaps the greatest in Indian history. He died of diabetes on December 6 1956. His abrasive streak of individuality, consistency and sincere dedication to the causes he supports made him one of the rare heroes of the 20th century.
- ‘Waiting for a Visa’, B.R Ambedkar
- Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables, B.R Ambedkar
- Pakistan or the Partition of India, B.R Ambedkar
- Preservation of Social Order,B.R Ambedkar
- Milestone on the Road to Conversion, Sangharakshita