Ambedkar on the Attic

ambedkar consitution

Many would complain that it is unfair to limit Ambedkar to one community. Yes, it is true that his writings, his activism, his work as minister, constitutionalist, law maker does cover politics, economy, foreign affairs, welfare, labor issues, history, caste, rationalism and religion and addresses deprivation of the rights of every vulnerable section of the society.  This means that he could be admired by every citizen of India. Like any other leader of the 20th century, Ambedkar was a nation builder. However, majority of non-Dalits would like him. For non-Dalits, to admire or respect Ambedkar is a choice. It cannot be so with Dalits.For reasons one could easily understand, it is fair for conscious Dalits to claim Ambedkar to be their inspiration. Though it is unfair for anyone to ignore the foundational contribution made by Jyothi Rao and Savitri Phule, Narayana Guru, AyotheeThass, Ayan Kali and Sahoo Maharaj in challenging oppressive/suppressive superstructures, it also fair to recognize the courage of Ambedkar who single handedly not only carry forwarded the legacy of his predecessors but also theorized caste and caste oppression, fought against it, built means and methods of fighting against it and ensured constitutional guarantees to achieve due human rights, dignity, decency for Dalits. Therefore, Dalits would admire him as a path provider, torchbearer, exemplary and inspiration to carry forward his legacy and continue the fight. But question is are all Dalits, who even after understanding that their decent lives are the gift of Ambedkar’s life long fight, respecting, revering and following his path? The answer completely cannot be affirmative. Since, not many Dalits, especially educated middle class Dalits are avoiding to identify with Ambedkar, it is better to understand possible reasons behind such disinterest and indifference.Ambedkar, in India, there is no doubt, has become symbol of assertion and resistance. In a still upper caste dominated India, Ambedkar’s presence, as an idea, song, book, picture, lecture, movement, protest and a statue would automatically enrage the caste Hindus in the country. However, this is not the sole reason for Dalits to hide Ambedkar on the attic.

First reason, Ambedkar as symbol of assertion and resistance is a problem for those who are vulnerable to atrocities of caste Hindus. Under the fear of repercussions, these vulnerable Dalits believe that announcing affinity with Ambedkar and keeping his portraits in homes and statues in streets and following his ideology at individual and group level would invite problems. Since the Indian general society, especially, caste Hindus expects the status quo from Dalits, any assertion in any form would be viewed as serious violation of the social order. Yet, given the time and context where the law of the land and Dalit consciousness put some amount of pressure on the non-Dalit, they would not out loudly pronounce their anti-Dalit and anti-Ambedkar views. Yet, inside their heart and mind they are angry against Ambedkar for challenging their social positions, angry for allegedly insulting and damaging Hindu social orde and for attacking Hindu culture. They areanti-Dalitsbecause Dalits of modern times are continuously fighting against caste system for which Ambedakar was a reason. From the time, Ambedkar began the Mahad revolt in 1927 to Bhim Koregoan Movement in January 2018, the history of Dalit assertion has instilled fear among Dalits. Every incident of Dalit assertion (fight for justice) was met with loss of life, livelihood, physical, psychological and mental torture and property losscaused by caste Hindus and the state. It kept Dalits in rural and semi urban India under the control. Ambedkar’s statuea as a symbol of assertion are always under attack. Perhapas, no other leaders’ statues, in this country, is subjected to such a variety of insult. His statues are caged, defaced, vandalized, de-colored, garlanded with slippers, urinated, kicked, sat on and so on. Yet this counter-violence didnot dampen the zeal of all Dalits. However, these continuous attacks made them live in continuous fear. Very few in these areas shows the courage of keeping Ambedkar as symbol of assertion. But for most, it is this threat that indirectly forcesthem to keep Dalit consciousness and Ambedkar away from their general identity. If all rural Dalits are educated about Ambedkar and about the constitutional benefits they draw because of Ambekdar and if they are given the confidence that they are part of the united Dalits and that they would be taken care in case of atrocities committed on them they would not be as submissive as they found to be. For most the rural Dalits, Ambedkar is unknown. This is a biggest failure of Ambedkarites in the independent India. However, Ambedkarites alone may not take the entire blame. The government of India and the states which holds the constitutional responsibility of eradicating caste should have educated every caste Hindu in this country to achieve the required attitudinal transformations. They should have campaigned on the consequences of practicing untouchability and discriminating Dalits. But both these agencies have terribly failed in their duty. All that they did was                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              publishing one sentence (practicing untouchability is crime according to law) anti-caste campaign on the back cover of the government published and freely distributed books to primary, secondary and higher-secondary school students. Ironically, most of those who get these books are Backward Castes (BCs), Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Dalits and Adivasis. Students of the earlier two communities, though Sudras but falls under the category of the touchable communities. Not many would look at what is printed on the back cover of these books. Even if they have read it, since they are school children, they would not understand the meaning of the statement.Therefore, the government’s anti-untouchability campaign is utterly hypocritical and meaningless. If the government is serious about annihilation of caste, it should conduct anti-untouchability campaign among college going students who can grasp and understand the issue. It should have conducted campaigns in villages and small towns. Since it is not done, the Indian village sees untouchability is essential and that Dalits must be in their line of control. Both the educated and uneducated rural caste Hindus who strictly adhere to caste system see any violation of the established social norms by the Dalits in the name of justice, equality and democracy is anti-Hinduism and anti-culture and anti-touchable castes. First reaction of the caste Hindus including Sudras was physical harm, property damage, deprivation of livelihood and social ostracization. This is more than enough, for a Dalit to keep Ambedkar away from their homes in rural India. In fact, Dalits, in rural India so far have subjected to indescribable caste violence. Yet, there are handsome number of the Dalit ghettos which are showing the courage of installing Ambedkar’s statue. The rural educated Dalits are, of course, courageous enough for not only to be Ambedkarites but they also spread Ambedkarism. However, spread of Ambedkarism into rural India is quite minimal.

Second reason is the raise of sub-caste consciousness among Dalits. Dalit population, in India, is neither as caste nor as a religious community is homogenous. According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, there are ninety-five sub-castes within scheduled castes. No matter what Ambedkar did for Dalits, the very penetration of caste into heart of Dalits would work as a divisive force. Sub-Caste consciousness among Dalits in the three decades in India has resulted in limiting Ambedkar to savior of upper-class Dalits or ‘upper caste Dalits’ within Dalits. Ambedkar has never been a champion of any particular caste within Dalits. Therefore, it may not be fair to limit Ambedkar to upper strata of Dalits. The Dalit sub-caste consciousness did raise serious questions about the inbuilt hypocrisy among the intellectuals and political Dalits who failed to understand that their first responsibility is topay attention to all Dalits, destroy the caste system within. It took long time for the first generation intellectuals and leaders that it is their first duty. It is the failure of this that resulted in reducing the scope of Ambedkar among some Dalits. The sub-caste movements have also corrected lots of historical inequality. It is true that in producing the history of Dalits, both the non-Dalits and Dalit historians have paid less attention on the Dalits who are at the bottom of the ladder within Dalits. There were many Dalit educated leaders, reformers and intellectuals in peripheries/regions who did not come into limelight. However, neither their work nor their views affect the pan-national image of Ambedkar. Neither they were speaking about the people who they belong to. Like Ambedkar, these regional Dalit leaders too were speaking for everybody. They, as historical figures, were gaining prominence at a particular point in time to serve a particular purposefor which they were being invoked to. This did not affect the centrality of Ambedkar.Nevertheless, if not all but very few leaders of the sub-caste movements instead accommodating both Ambedkar and his contemporaries of sub-caste identity in to a single frame to fight for equality, they placed Ambedkar and the sub-caste leaders into He vs them binary. This though has not done much damage but, at least, for short time, it kept Ambedkar aside.However, majority of the sub-caste leaders did not disturb the position of Ambedkar that they give to him prior to emergence of sub-caste movements but they placed leaders belong to their sub-caste identity next to Ambedkar.  This is how it has to be.

Third reason, is the religion of Dalits. Dalits, as a caste social group, in this country, are part of pan-Indian identity i.e. they all are Dalits despite divided into sub-castes. But as religious groups, they are compartmentalized into Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, and Islamic Dalits. Is this religious compartmentalization works against Ambedkar as sources of assertion and inspiration? If needed, will Dalits to come together across all religious affiliations to fight for common and larger interests? Do religious Dalits consider Ambedkar as a force of assertion? What is the scope for such a thinking? For my understanding, believers in gods and religion does not consider that it is possible for the mortal to solve their problems. However, it is difficult to say that religious Dalits completely deny that Ambedkar’s endeavors did not play any role in changing their social, economic, cultural, religious and social positions. If not all of them, many religious Dalits, chalks out middle path that accommodates both Ambedkar and their gods, religious figures and religion. Unlike Hindu Dalits who are part of the religions from the beginning, Sikh, Christian, Islamic and BuddhistDalits who converted to these religions to escape from the horrors of the caste system would not believe that their conversion has completely eliminated the problems of the caste. For these converted religious Dalits, their conversion might have offered temporary relief from the primitive form of caste discrimination but not from the new forms. They might have got psychological and mental relief from the feeling of being untouchablesandthey might have got new opportunities. But the government of India with the introduction reservation policy which is deprived for non-Hindu-Dalits, reduced the courage of theseDalits who converted into new egalitarian religions into a mere opportunism. But in actuality, their conversion is nothing but rejection of Hinduism.Excluding Christian, Islamic and Buddhist Dalits from the gambit of the reservations policy naturally reduces the significance of Ambedkar as their savior. Their exclusion is the conspiracy of the Hindu dominated Indian government to curtail further conversion of Dalits into these egalitarian religions.

For Dalit Christians, Ambedkar being mortal is the first problem. Therefore, if not all of them, most of the Dalit Christians do not hang Ambedkar portrait on their walls. Their homes and work places,their privately run institutions and business establishments are primarily dominated by the portraits of Jesus Christ, Cross and other such religious symbols. Very few conscious Dalit Christians who are deeply social and political would keep Jesus and Ambedkar together. Nonetheless, they not keeping Ambedkar in their homes does not amount to ignoring Ambedkar. Yet, there is lack of continuity in building and promoting Dalit consciousness among Dalit Christians as a mass if it is completely not missing. After all, their caste and religious identity put them at higher risk.

As per Dalit Buddhists are concerned, most of the Buddhists, in this country, are Dalits. According to 2011, Buddhist population is 8.4 Million population which makes it to 0.7% in the total population of India. within this, the Navayan Buddhists who are convertedAmbedkarite or Neo-Buddhists are up to 87%. Buddhism is very close to Ambedkarism. Ambedkar declared that he was born as Hindu but would not die as Hindu. Towards the fag end of his lie he converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar’s rejection of Hinduism and conversion to Buddhism certainly brought Buddhism, Ambedkarism and Dalitism together. Buddha and Ambedkar have become synonymous symbols of assertion. Ambedkar’s death is conceptualized after the Buddhist concept Mahaparinirvana, the site where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism is known as Dheekashabhoomi and Ambedkar’s death memorial known as Chaitya Bhoomi. Not only Ambedkar, AyathiThass in Tamil Nadu too has found that Buddhism is suitable to Dalits. Even today, every time,Dalits were being punished for not adhering to the norms of caste system, in North India, Dalits, as act of rejection and assertion have been, at regular intervals, converting to Buddhism. Therefore, for a Neo-Buddhist, Buddha and Ambedkar supposed to go together. If not in all, but in most of their homes, one can easily find portraits of Buddha and Ambedkar together. Here, you would not find the conflict between Ambedkar as mortal and Buddha an immortal. They see both of on equal grounds.

Scope for keeping Ambedkar portrait or considering Ambedkar as a symbol of assertion might be less among Dalit Muslims despite, they form part of the majority of Muslim population in India. According to 2011, while there are 172 million Muslims, 75% of them are Dalits. Known as ajlafs(low born) within Islam. Converted into Islam to escape from the horrors of the caste, they are less in the organized employment and more in the wage labor. Compare to Hinduism, Islam, offers some amount of breathing space. However, Dalit Muslims are not free from caste oppression. Indian Islam did adopt Hindu caste system and developed its own version. Dalit Muslims, in their fight for rights and equality within the Islam and with the government, are forging unity among the Hindu, Christian Neo-Buddhist and Sikh Dalits. In their fight for justice, they may not keep Ambedkar pictures in their homes because Islam banns idol worship but Ambedkar would float in their minds and hearts as his methods and ideas are essential for fighting against discrimination for the claiming rights. Ambedkar for them is social and political necessity.

Among religious Dalits, it is Hindu Dalits, who leans more towards their religion than towards Ambedkar. In actuality, it is they who suffer a lot from caste system and it is they who supposed to venerate Ambedkar more than any social group. Ironically, it is from this group see Dalits who are most indifferent and assertive, The assertive intellectual Dalits within Hinduism are Hindus on certificate but are not practicing Hindus. Most of them are humanists, atheists, secularists, feminists and progressivists. But they are minute minority within Hindu Dalits. these assertive Hindu Dalits are typical Ambedkarites who promotes, propagates and carry forward Ambedkarism in multiple ways. But unfortunately, the majority of Hindu Dalits, consisting of rural, semi-urban and urban Dalits, are more of Hindus than they are anything else. If leave vulnerable Dalits from this group aside, we find that majority of Hindu Dalits who forms major part of Dalit middle class are indifferent and maintains miles of distance from Ambedkar.By logic, it is this group which issupposed to venerate, respect. rejoice, cultivate ideal of Ambedkar than any other group. But ironically, they carry Hinduism on their bodies like typical brahmins. They adhere to their religious life without a small compromise in the method and content of Hindu rituals and festivals. They prioritize Anjaneya over Ambedkar. They fill their homes with portraits of Hindu gods of all kinds. If there is enough space in home, they keep Ambedkar in an invisible corner. If they had to accommodate another God’s portrait, they shift Ambedkar onto the attic. This, unfortunately, is the attitude the most benefitted from Ambedkar struggles. Most of their women are not taught about Ambedkar and expect few octogenarian men, most of middle and teenaged men too do not read about Ambedkar.

The educated Hindu Dalits who are moderately and highly successful in life could be categories into assertive, irresponsible, indifferent and careerist Dalits. Except the first one, rest of all categories would not care about Ambedkar and his ideals. They keep Ambedkar away from home and even from minds. If asked, they would offer justifiable reasons not only for keeping Ambedkar away but also for keeping away from being part of the Dalit identity and consciousness. Most of them knew who is Ambedkar, what he did and how they benefited from Ambedkar’s struggles. If you ask them about their opinions on Ambedkar, they would say ‘Amendakar! Yeah! But we are busy’. Some of them would go to the extent of denying existence of caste and caste oppression in modern urban India. Careerist Dalits among them is even worse. For them, in politics, academics and in all other spheres of employment submissiveness and loyalty to the dominant forces class would pay dividends than believing in the ideals of Ambedkar. With this attitude, they by choice keep Ambedkar. They present their success as an outcome of sincerity and seriousness towards work. In fact, they would argue that Dalit consciousness and assertiveness is not helping Dalit cause. They even go to the extent of presenting submissiveness and loyalty as best strategies of getting what otherwise Dalits cannot get. For these Dalits, Ambedkar is an unnecessary trouble. Therefore, they keep Ambedkar miles away. Thus, in a context where democratic struggles are still seen as essential for Dalits to live decent and dignified life, almost half of Dalits consciously keep Ambedkar and Dalit consciousness away from their lives.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao ,M.A,Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirapalli




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