Ambedkarites need to be content creators

Jai Bhim

On 14th April 2023, I had an opportunity to meet and listen to Prof Scott R. Stroud at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar Mumbai. He has recently authored an amazing book, “The Evolution of Pragmatism in India” and was speaking about the same. With a mind captivated by the contents of the talks, combined with a zeal due to meeting some good old friends again, I was driving back home. Knowing it is Ambedkar Jayanti I checked for the fastest route back home. For a journey which usually takes 30 min, the map displayed 55 minutes. I knew what was in store.

My route had to pass through the dense ‘Dalits pockets’ as they are usually called. I was looking forward to experiencing the vibes, the energy and the zeal of people celebrating Jayanti in various approaches, depending on their resources, both economical and social. The common thread of celebration was a procession being taken in their locality, with either an image or statue of Ambedkar (sometimes combined with other Bahujan leaders) in a decorated and well-lit open vehicle, preceded by music (either speakers or live instruments) and his followers dancing. The participation of women (of all ages) was near equal. Something which Ambedkar always spoke of is being implemented by his followers with zest.

There are many small-big Mandal/Samiti (organisations) set up exclusively by Ambedkarites to celebrate and observe these special occasions. These organisations are dormant the whole year and become hyperactive during these special dates. Their count is unknown to anyone but to get an estimate through my experience, a radius of 1 sq km had at least 8-10 such processions being carried out. In a locality there exists multiple of such organisations, where the organising team wants to be office bearers of the body and minor differences set them to create new organisations. This has resulted in splintered organisations in the same locality, yet they all happily coexist and celebrate Jayanti. I see this as an entrepreneurial skill but lacking a channel, this ability of the people needs to be enhanced further.

While the whole of Mumbai was blue, filled with flags, cut-outs and banners across the city, it reminded me of the only Bollywood movie which had a scene from Jayanti. Even though the movie was set in Nagpur, the same essence can be seen in Mumbai, all cities and towns in Maharashtra and also other parts of India. No other Bollywood movie has shown Ambedkar Jayanti. Do we term this as ‘practising unscreenability’ ? Wonder how the entire Bollywood directors, writers have been blind to this celebration happening for decades. They have shown every other festival in movies. The Jayanti celebration content in a Hindi movie came when the director was Ambedkarite.

The songs in the procession sing praises of Ambedkar, his struggle, and his achievements. Today everyone wants to record a bit of this and post it on their social media account. Few clips do go viral post celebration, especially young girls dancing or a child waving the blue flag or maybe someone dancing drunk. Content is created whereby the core is towards entertainment, which is also essential, but not the need of the hour. This content helps to display the ‘power’ of the community.

A point to note is, there were no slogans abusing anyone, and no hatred in these processions. The number of processions is huge, their sizes were small to medium. They all were cooperative with the law authorities, and traffic management, helping to assist the movement of people, with no display of arrogance, no vengeance. The only weapon they could display is the ‘Pen’ of Ambedkar and ‘The Constitution of India’, no other weapon had space in these processions.

Later on the following Sunday, 16th I had another opportunity to meet and listen to Prof. Aakash Singh Rathore, author of the book ‘Becoming Babasaheb’. In the talks, he highlighted how in recent 6 months, 6 books have been published (in English) by prominent publications on Ambedkar. A common thread in these books is none of them have been authored by a Dalit. He also explained the reasons as lack of space to write these books combined with social capital to access these publishers. The point to note is, there is a necessity of more writers to write on every aspect of Ambedkar as the appropriation of Ambedkar has begun. It won’t take too long in this fast-digital age before Ambedkar is hijacked by the very people whose ideology he opposed. And this has begun. There are books for students on Ambedkar, where the most important chapter of Ambedkar’s life i.e his conversion to Buddhism along with the masses is omitted. Something similar has been happening with Gandhi, his assassination has been deleted/omitted in many texts.

Dalits need to pick up their weapons (pen and mobile) to fight this war of content for the appropriation of Ambedkar. He is all set to be a bigger global philosopher in the coming days. We do welcome others to write on Ambedkar. The ‘whites’ will make trips to India to study Ambedkar, and their access to Ambedkar shall be channelised by the forces who once stood against Ambedkar. The content they seek is in the hearts, minds, bodies, songs, and speeches of the Dalits. But not all know their local language. Their content needs to be documented and disseminated for many others.

The content can be Intellectual, Historical, and Inspirational but has to be real, authentic and truthful to the core. While glorification is good, it leads to the deification of Ambedkar, and this process would be fuelled by people with vested interests. You call him ‘Baba’ a fatherly figure, a human…. Don’t make him the ‘Baba – A Godman’

While you create content, don’t create to react but to set a narrative. Create new vocabulary, words which are defined by you. English offers the flexibility to create your own new words. In this article, I just attempted one word. ‘Un-screen-ability’ inspired by Un-touch-ability. I liked the way Prof. Rathore in his speech referred to Uppercaste as Oppressor Caste. V.T. Rajshekar, editor of Dalit Voice also used to set new narratives, often controversial.

Understand the Socio-Politico-Cultural environment of today, and create content with wisdom and sharp arguments. The best gift to Ambedkar is to create the world’s largest library filled with books on, about, and around Ambedkar, his ideals, his life and his philosophy. #JaiBhim

Vivek Sakpal is an Ambedkarite activist

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