Ambedkar is the tallest leader of dalits in India. No other dalit leader could achieve what Ambedkar could achieve for his community. (Dhananjaya Keer – writer of biography of Ambedkar). Ambedkar is also a controversial personality like Sir Sayyad Ahmed Khan.
Ambedkar as anti-nationalist(?)
Arun Shauri in his book, WORSHIPPING FALSE GODS has called Ambedkar ‘anti-national’. He has given following reasons.
1] Ambedkar opposed Purna Swaraj resolution of 1929.
2] On 8th Aug 1930, Ambedkar held that depressed classes should be grateful towards British for improving their status.
3] Ambedkar directed dalits to stay away from a) Gandhi’s Harijana Sevak Sanghs. b) To stay away from Indian National Congress.
4] Ambedkar called Poona Pact as Himalayan blunder, he wanted separate electorates for dalits.
5] Ambedkar criticized ‘Quit India Movement’ as ‘Mad-venture of Gandhi’.
6] Ambedkar supported Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan.
7] Ambedkar wanted Britisher’s to stay.
8] Ambedkar joined the defense advisory committee formed by British as well as Viceroy’s executive council which was set up to gain legitimacy for British efforts.
Thus on above basis, certain sections of Indian political class and intellectuals call Ambedkar anti-nationalist.
Like Sir Sayyad Ahmed Khan, Ambedkar also emerged as the leader of the community rather than leader of the nation. Ambedkar himself held that between interests of the dalits and interest of the nation, I will give preference to the interest of dalits.
Ambedkar as a nationalist.
However according to Arundhati Roy and Christophe Jaffrelot, it will be wrong to call Ambedkar anti-national.
Ambedkar represented the largest section of Indian society. (bahujana samaj). Person representing largest section of the nation cannot be regarded as anti-national. On the status of India as a nation, Ambedkar’s approach was as practical as that of Jyotiba Phule. It was difficult for Ambedkar to accept a society divided into castes as a nation. The concept of nation, according to Ambedkar is based on the trinity of liberty, fraternity and equality. There can be no nation without this trinity.
However it does not mean that there was no desire in Ambedkar that India should not emerge as a nation. In his speech to the constituent assembly in Dec 1946, he held that ‘I know, we are divided politically, economically and socially. We are group a of warring camps, I myself is a leader of one such camp.’ However I am convinced that day will come, when we will forget these differences and emerge as a nation. Ambedkar believed that sooner we accept that we are not a nation, better it is, at least we will start thinking how to become a nation by understanding the reasons that we are not a nation.
Life of Ambedkar
Ambedkar belonged to the community of untouchables in Maharashtra. Hence he had first hand experience of what it means to be untouchable in India. Ambedkar was fortunate enough to get opportunity to gain western education. He earned the degree in law and started practicing law in Mumbai. However because of his caste, nobody approached Ambedkar for his services. Hence Ambedkar realized that even when Dalits are educated, they will not be able to live the life of dignity. Hence he believed that untouchability has to be abolished to address the exploitation of Dalits. He dedicated himself for the cause of the abolition of untouchability by raising awareness amongst Dalits. He brought magazine MUKANAYAK, he brought newspaper BAHISHKRIT BHARAT. He established Bahishkrit Hitkarni Sabha, All India Depressed Classes Federation which was renamed as Republican Party of India.
Ambedkar also adopted Gandhian technique of Satyagraha. He organized Mahad satyagraha, he asserted the rights of untouchables to take water from the same well, which is used by ‘caste Hindus’. Ambedkar was disappointed as he could not get the support of Gandhi for his satyagraha. Gandhi held that for the time being satyagraha should be used only against colonial authorities. Ultimately Ambedkar felt that it is better for untouchables to take the help of British state in improving their status.
Ambedkar never believed in commitment of Gandhi towards upliftment of untouchables. One of the grievance of Ambedkar against Gandhi has been that Gandhi never kept any fast for abolition of untouchability.
Concept of Caste
Ambedkar’s main work revolves around the abolition of caste. His most important work on the issue of abolition of caste is ANNIHILATION OF CASTE.
Ambedkar was not satisfied with the explanations related to caste system found in religious texts. Ambedkar attempted the scientific understanding of the origin of caste on the basis of anthropological researches. His important works on the issue include CASTE IN INDIA, WHO WERE SUDRAS, ORIGIN OF UNTOUCHABILITY.
Ambedkar also rejected the theory of Aryan invasion. As per the theory of Aryan invasion, upper caste have been the Aryans whereas so called untouchables were the original inhabitants, often mentioned as dasas or dasyus. There is no such historical evidence, it means all caste in India had common origin.
Ambedkar rejected the view of Manusmriti according to which different varnas originated from the different parts of Viratapurusa as mentioned in Rigveda also. In Manusmriti, untouchables are mentioned as chandals. Chandals are those who are the offspring of Shudra father and Brahmin mother, which shows the pollution of Brahmins by Shudras. The entire concept of untouchability is based on purity and pollution.
Ambedkar had also explained the origin of Sudras. As per Ambedkar’s theory, there were only three varnas – Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. Sudras were originally Kshatriyas, however they were those Kshatriyas, which did not accept the hegemony of Brahmins, hence Brahmins stopped Upanayana sanskar for this group. Upanayana sanskar is linked to purification. Hence it was believed that they remain polluted.
Ambedkar’s explanation of untouchability
Ambedkar has used the term Dalits. The term Dalit come from Marathi word dal. Dal denotes broken. Ambedkar calls Dalit as broken men. According to Ambedkar, there used to be tribal way of life, there used to be tribal wars. Gradually some tribes started settled life. When settled life started, agriculture started. This started the practice of cattle rearing and not killing cattle for food as it was not needed. Initially the main wealth used to be cattle, but now it became land. There were certain tribes which remained nomadic. These tribes continue to remain dependent on cattle even for food. Many of such tribes were defeated and got scattered. Thus they became broken and weak. Settled tribes did not include these tribes within their society. Since they lacked land, they were made dependent on the settled tribes. There was a contract between those who were living in the village and those who were settled on the outskirts of the village. Those on the outskirt will watch and ward the security of the people in the village.
According to Hindu literature, dalits were called antyaja because they were last to take birth from body of Bramha. Ambedkar does not accept the explanation and suggest that they were called antyaja because they were living outside village.
According to Ambedkar, these tribes have accepted Buddhism. Brahmins targeted these tribes out of anger because these tribes insisted on remaining Buddhist. Hence Ambedkar believes that the practice of untouchability is also because of anger and the rivalry between Brahmins and Buddhists. Ambedkar even mentions that originally beef eating was not prohibited but to regain the lost stage, Brahmins stopped eating non-vegetarian food. This made them to claim Brahmins as pure. Ambedkar even mentions that exogamy was not prohibited among varnas. This practice was started later by Brahmins to show their exclusiveness. According to him, there is no pure blood on the subcontinent. Intermixing of blood had already taken place much before the origin of caste system. Ambedkar does not consider untouchables as a part of Hindu society, since they have been socially segregated, they should also be politically segregated. According to him, any amount of economic equality will not help. No upliftment is possible without rejection of Hindu social order. Hinduism as a religion and caste system as a social order has ruined Dalits. He even believed that the social order will ultimately ruin Hindus themselves. It will ruin India itself.
Ambedkar on Hinduism/ Brahmanism.
It is because of caste system where person’s status is based on birth, Hinduism cannot be ‘missionary religion’. Hinduism cannot go for conversions like Islam or Christianity. He held that Hindus cannot form a nation. They are segmented communities and warring tribes. He held that Hindus are race of losers. They will continue to lose to other religions. Thus caste system is not just responsible for the exploitation of Dalits but is responsible for the weakness of India as a nation. According to him, Hinduism is nothing but Brahminism. It is a hegemony of Brahmins. Core idea of Hinduism is endogamy. Hence without destroying endogamy, caste system cannot end. Hence biggest anger of Brahmins will be against inter-caste marriages. According to him, Hinduism is not a religion but madness. He held that ‘I had no choice but being born as Hindu. However it is in my capacity not to die as Hindu. The religion which force poor to remain poor, uneducated, which allows man to touch the excreta of cow but not touch the fellow human being is nothing but madness’. In other societies, inequality is social, in Hinduism there is a justification of inequality even in philosophy.
According to him, Hindus are not bad people, their main problem is they are highly religious. Hence even Hindu social reformers would not be successful. There is nothing in Hinduism except caste system. One cannot reject caste being Hindu. Annihilation of caste requires rejection of Hinduism. Hence he held that there is a need to put dynamite on Vedas and Manusmriti.
Hence Ambedkar appealed to reject Hinduism. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism on 14th Nov 1956. Ambedkar held that ‘I am disowning the religion of my birth. I am reborn. I reject religion which treats me inferior.’
On the issue of conversion, there was disagreement between Gandhi and Ambedkar.
Gandhi Ambedkar differences.
Gandhi believed that if person is born in a particular religion, there is a divine will. One can accept good things from other religions but one should not leave one’s religion. On the other hand, Ambedkar wanted to convert. He even explored conversion in Islam and Christianity but ultimately found spiritual satisfaction in Buddhism.
Ambedkar and Gandhi also had debate over Varna system. Gandhi believed Varna system as division of labour. It is a feature of even advanced societies. However Gandhi rejected caste system. Gandhi was also against untouchability.
Ambedkar held that Gandhi’s description is too idealistic, textual. Varna is a text, caste in context. In reality varna exists as caste. Caste is not the division of labour, it is a division of laborers. It is also not a sensible economic system. Profession is not based on merit but based on birth. Gandhi’s impracticality is evident as Gandhi himself was not observing his varna dharma. Hence abolition of caste and varna is same. Ambedkar criticized Harijana Sevak Sanghs formed by Gandhi. He compared Harijana Sevak Sanghs with Putana. The mythological character sent to kill Krishna by nursing poison in the form of milk.
Ambedkar had objection with respect to the use of the word Harijana. According to Ambedkar, it is a misleading term because it does not tell the real status of untouchables in Indian society. It may push them into ‘false consciousness’. Hence Ambedkar preferred to use the term dalits and depressed classes.
Ambedkar has analyzed the relevance of Marxist mode of revolution in Indian situations. He found that this method is not appropriate. Why? The basic structure of Indian society is not economic rather ideological. Brahminism forms the basic structure and hence just economic upliftment will not give them a life of dignity. Hence he suggested annihilation of caste by putting dynamite on Vedas and Manusmriti.
Thus Dalits will have to for building ‘counter-hegemony’.
Ambedkar was influenced by liberal scholars like John Dewey. A lawyer by profession, Ambedkar had faith in constitutional methods. According to him, society in India is more exploitative and hence the state can work for Dalits. He favored state led affirmative action. In this context also his view was different from Gandhi. Gandhi favored Panchayati Raj, Gandhi was against state led model. Ambedkar found Gandhi’s approach too idealistic. He held that Indian villages are ‘den of ignorance’ where caste system is most entrenched. Modernists like Pandit Nehru, Ambedkar preferred state led approach.
Ambedkar knew that the change in the status of Dalits requires the emergence of consciousness among Dalits themselves. Hence he brought magazines and newspapers, established societies for generating awareness. Ambedkar’s mantra for Dalits was ‘agitate, educate and organize’.
Ambedkar’s idea of social justice.
The issue of social justice has been not only the concern of political philosophers, but political leaders also. Ambedkar’s idea of social justice has to be seen in context of the peculiar forms of injustices found in Indian society. The basic composition of India society has been based on caste. According to Ambedkar caste system is a graded system of hierarchy where the life of people at the lowest levels is like a hell.
Ambedkar belonged to the community of untouchables/antyaja. The most depressed section. Social justice for Ambedkar meant a life of dignity to this section of the society. According to Ambedkar, social justice requires annihilation of caste. Since caste is the basic structure of Hindu society, it also means rejection of Hinduism, for Ambedkar Hinduism is not a religion but ‘madness’.
Ambedkar knew that caste Hindus will not be able to come out of caste system hence the practical approach to justice in Indian context shall be compensatory justice. Ambedkar believed political power is necessary for the empowerment of untouchables. Hence Ambedkar advocated separate electorate, though ultimately succumbed to the pressure by Gandhi and finally agreed for reservations.
Ambedkar’s idea of social justice embraced the concerns of India’s subaltern class, the bahujana samaj. It included the concerns of untouchables, shudras, tribal, minorities, women, laborers, peasants. It was Ambedkar’s idea of social justice which inspired him as a law minister to bring Hindu Code Bill. Hindu Code Bill proposed by Ambedkar challenged the patriarchy present within Hindu Personal Laws based on ‘Manuvaad’.
The special rights which minorities have in India can be attributed to Ambedkar’s idea of social justice.
Ambedkar’s critique of Marxism.
Ambedkar was influenced by Marx’s idea of social justice which aimed at the ending the exploitation of poor. However Ambedkar felt that Marxist methods are not so relevant in Indian situations.
Ambedkar disagreed with Marx on two basic issues. Marx’s conception of religion. Ambedkar did not agree that all religions are ‘opium of masses’. Buddhism is not opium of masses. Perhaps Marx didn’t knew about Buddhism. Buddhism as a religion has a lot for the nourishment of human soul. Untouchables can embrace Buddhism, Buddhism as a religion will provide untouchables a source of inspiration, spiritual satisfaction and the creation of world brotherhood. Buddhism is based on Karuna (Compassion), samata (Equality) and prajna (Rejection of superstitions).
Ambedkar also disagreed with Marx with respect to state. He didn’t accept Marx’s view that state is a instrument of exploitation. Society is more exploitative than state and hence Ambedkar preferred affirmative action through the state.
If Gandhi was father of nation, Ambedkar was father of constitution. The two leaders had similar aims though their paths were different. Arundhati Roy addresses Gandhi as saint and Ambedkar as Doctor.