Towards a ‘Suitable’ Ambedkar and a ‘New’ Dalit ! How Ten Years of Modi Regime Has Undermined Constitutional Rights to Dalits

If the fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no Law, no Parliament, no Judiciary can guarantee them in the real sense of the word”,..“What is the use of fundamental rights to the Negro in America, to the Jews in Germany and to the untouchables in India. As Burke said there is no method found for punishing the multitude’

– Ambedkar

Ambedkar Jai Bhim Dalit

Introduction

Within less than a fortnight we will have a new government in power.

Indian people normally make a judicious choice while electing their representatives, their government and this year won’t be different.

One can recall their wisdom when their united resistance helped unseat Indira Gandhi regime after the emergency (1977) or their concerted action could overthrow the Vajpayi government ( 2004) despite the much hyped ‘India Shining’ rhetoric pushed by it.

Today also ground currents definitely suggest change is in the air.

People’s desire to defeat the Republic of Hate which is pushed before them and regain their Republic of Hope seems overwhelming. 

As already expressed by scholars, political activists, concerned citizens, if the elections remain free and fair, if the various guardrails of democracy can remain true to their mandate , we will have real ‘Acche Din‘ waiting for us.

It is an opportune time to look back and see how this much trumpeted regime fared in the last decade in various aspects of India’s society and state.

It is opportune to see how the ‘New India’ – which we have supposedly ushered in – has fared via-v-vis Dalits. What follows is not an exhaustive picture of the last decade of Modi rule but a cursory glance at the issue at hand.

Perhaps it would be opportune to begin with RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat’s interview in the wee hours of Modi’s reign as PM.

I.

‘Time for a Social Review of Reservation Policy’

There are some statements, interviews, which remain glued to the leaders who deliver them

Golwalkar. the then Supremo of RSS learned it in a hard way. (1969)

His interview to a Marathi daily ‘Navakal‘ – wherein he had extolled the ‘virtues of Chaturvarnya’ (the division of the Hindus in four Varnas) and ‘glorified Manusmriti’ the ancient edicts of the Hindus.had created tremendous uproar.

There were protests across the state and elsewhere for ‘disrespecting the Constitution’ and was much castigated for exposing Sangh’s worldview unashamedly.

Mohan Bhagwat, the present Supremo of RSS, had a similar ‘Golwalkar’ moment less than a decade back.

He had opened his heart in an interview to mouthpieces of Hindutva thought namely ‘Panchajanya and Organiser which was conducted on the eve of elections to Bihar Assebly. (1)

His blunt assessment was that it was a ‘Time for a Social Review of Reservation Policy ‘

Like Golwalkar his views on reservation had similarly received all round condemnation and even BJP had to distance itself from it formally, it even underlined that  it “respected 100 per cent the reservation rights of the SCs, STs and other backward castes

According to analysts these remarks did cost rather heavily to the BJP and it lost 2015 elections to Bihar assembly.

Later Bhagwat clarified that what he said was misconstrued and what he supposedly meant.

Looking back at Modi government’s decade old journey one can say that these remarks and the flip flop later symbolised what awaited Dalits and the Constitutional Guarantees provided to them.

This ambivalence, this ‘cat and mouse game’ vis-a-vis the idea of reservation, (2) the balancing act they have to do to cater to their key agenda of Hindu Unity, and usher in a Hindu Rashtra still continues.

Bhagwat’s interview and its later retraction was the first salvo of a kind.

II

‘Reservation breeds Separatist Consciousness’ !

Poor Mohan Bhagwat, he had to bite his words.

Despite being legatee of the RSS Supremo’s Crown, he could not even say that he was just regurgitating what he had learnt in Baudhiks organised in RSS study circles – which he attended since his childhood days or how his predecessors had looked at the policies of affirmative action, on occasions in more damning ways.

No doubt, it was not a difficult task to find out how the earlier Supremo looked at the policy or how they viewed the making of the Constitution itself – where Dr Ambedkar, legendary son of the oppressed was made a Chairman of its drafting committee.

It is part of history how Golwalkar and his ideological senior from Hindu Mahasabha – Savarkar – viewed the making of the Constitution. Much has been written about how they had opposed its making since beginning of the formal process and had instead talked in glowing terms about adopting Manusmriti as independent India’s Constitution.(https://www.newsclick.in/unending-discomfort-rss-constitution)

Their resistance to the very idea had its origins in their world view – which yearned to make India a Hindu Rashtra – but also emanated from the fact that they were never part of the anti-colonial struggle and could never comprehend that the making of Constitution itself was a long process.

The Conversations, intense interactions, struggles during this long anti-colonial struggle played a formative role in the making.

There are many important spots in its journey but it is not the focus of our discussion.

Suffice is to say that the Nehru report of  20s prepared by Moti Lal Nehru, an esteemed lawyer himself – father of Jawaharlal Nehru – at the behest of Congress Party –  was itself an important milestone towards the Constitution.

One can also recall how the Objective Resolution tabled by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly in Nov 1946  had provided an outline of this august document, which was finally drafted under the Chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar.

Our ushering into becoming a Republic on 26 th January 1950 and adopting the Constitution began with the promise and commitment to abolish untouchability and all other historical forms of oppression. And the framers of our Constitution envisaged the whole idea of affirmative action in clear terms :

[r]eservation was to be provided on the basis of social conditions of caste groups and specifically only to those who had been historically oppressed and denied respect and equal opportunity in Indian s...(3)

The present Sangh Supremo did keep quiet about the origins of his controversial views regarding reservation but it was not difficult to find out the real source of his understanding.

Here was Golwalkar, the second Supremo, much valorised in the Sangh Circles , who had famously commented in ”Bunch of Thoughts’, who had equated providing special opportunities and special protection to these historically oppressed communities as breeding ‘separatist consciousness’. For example,

“Even the state machinery is being prostituted for further widening these dissentions. Separatist consciousness breeding jealousy and conflict is being bolstered in sections of our people by naming Harijans, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and so on and by parading the gift of special concessions to them in a bid to make them all their slaves with the lure of the money.” (4)

Bhagwat maintained silence but Lalu Prasad Yadav, ex CM of Bihar, even flagged a copy of Golwalkar’s much controversial book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ emphasising how its founders envisaged an independent India.

It was told how ‘RSS had opposed reservation from very beginning‘ (5)

Here is Golwalkar again who enunciates his take on providing special opportunities for the socially oppressed communities :

‘“We must cry a complete halt to forming groups based on caste, creed, etc., and demanding exclusive rights and privileges in services, financial aids, admission in educational institutions and all such other fields. To talk and think in terms of “minorities” and “communities” should be totally put an end to.”

– Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Part II.X  ‘ (6)

Coming back to Bhagwat’s controversial remarks (2015) and his later retraction, it can be said that today, Bhagwat looks a ‘changed man’ prompting analysts even to say that his understanding differs from the Parivar. Few months back he was even talking of continuing reservation “..as long as there is discrimination.” (7) He even added that  “it is about giving respect.. and if sections of society faced discrimination suffered for 2000 years, why cannot we accept some trouble for 200 more years“(8)

This apparent complete change of his formal views is noteworthy but anyone who looks closely can notice the shifting stance of the patron organisation (8)prompting critics to decipher the real meaning.

The innocuous claim that “reservations should continue as long as beneficiaries require them or until discrimination persists” does imply that it should have limitations. (-do-)

III

‘Dereservation’ – Nothing official about it !

The real test of how this understanding unfolded on the ground can be had from its implementation only.  

The best route is to verify whether its trajectory really vindicates that it “respected 100 per cent the reservation rights of the SCs, STs and other backward castes‘ as it had claimed earlier in the beginning of its first term in office ( 2015) and / or to look at how the present regime or its affiliated institutions today talk about  reservation.

The cat was let out of the bag by the ruling dispensation and its loyal personnel themseves, when preparations were on for ‘Amrit Kaal of India’s ushering into Republic’

Few months back UGC (https://www.ugc.gov.in/Aboutus/Genesis) – the statutory body of the Government of India formed for the coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards of university education in India – was at the centre of a controversy. The reason being it put forward a plan in public domain to seek views around its draft proposal of ‘dereservation’ of seats in educational institutions for various posts if not a suitable candidate from reserved category is found.

This move was seen as ruling dispensation’s surreptious attempts at attacking or biting away at the affirmative action policies emanating from the Constitution rightly which led to protests in various quarters and ultimately Human Resources Ministry had to intervene underlining that there is no such proposal.(9). The clarification could not clear the ambiguity around the issue (10) giving further credence to the critics of the regime that if 2024 elections go in favour of the present ruling dispensation, then they will go ahead with it.

Less than a week after the ‘clarification’ of sorts by the Human Resources Ministry a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Welfare of SC and ST headed by a  Lok Sabha MP Kirit Premjibhai Solanki associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party itself was placed before the Lok Sabha. This house panel report to the government just exposed the vacuousness of the claim peddled by UGC itself – a statutory body of the government itself – for ‘dereservation’ because of ‘lack of suitable candidates.’

It underlined how even in elite institutions like AIIMS ‘‘Biased assessment’ keeps SC, ST posts vacant in educational institutes : House Panel, 7 th Feb 2024 (11)

According to the ministry of Health and Family Welfare data submitted to the panel, in 2018, 16 senior faculty posts went vacant in AIIMS Delhi s the selection committee found “candidates not suitable” in the SC/ST and OBC category. In 2022 another 12 such posts went vacant.

What was noteworthy that the Committee, which underlined how ” [c]andidates from such backgrounds are “deliberately declared” unsuitable to “deprive SC / ST candidates of their legitimate rights to be part of faculty“. It also demanded that to allow better representation of these sections the AIIIMS act be amended so that “to include members from SC and ST community in the selection panel.” (12)

An unintended outcome of this debate around ‘dereservation’ was also that the ‘caste blindness’ of this leading institution came to the fore once again.

What rather shocked analysts was that last year only it had notified rules to address grievances of students, had clubbed issues of caste discrimination with general complaints, which conveyed an impression that it has to enable / facilitate  non-discriminatory atmosphere in all such campuses of learning, but at the same time it seemed either cavalier or oblivious of the fact that of late, higher educational institutions in India have themselves emerged as new sites where cases of discrimination have occurred. . (13)

This notification also then appeared incongruent in an ambience where there are still increasing demands to enact Rohith Act (14) on the lines of the Nirbhaya Act, that can secure students from deprived communities living and studying on campuses in the country, first raised in the aftermath of tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University (2016) and the nationwide movement that followed it, and also there being no let up in extreme cases of suicides in higher educational institutions (15)

May be the attempt at ‘dereservation’ via backdoor or the earlier attempt to generalise caste oppression with other issues such thing cannot be seen merely as an outcome of the whim of some bureaucrat sitting in the statutory body but they resonate with the way the ruling dispensation led by the RSS -BJP has viewed the issue of caste and its attendant discriminations.

IV

EWS Quota   :

How it puts the Whole Idea of Affirmative action on its head ?

The idea that sections of people, caste groups – who had been historically oppressed and have been denied respect and equal opportunities – should be provided with reservation, has never had much purchase within the Hindutva fraternity.

The tremendous discomfort of the Hindutva Parivar with these policies of reservation for SC / ST and OBC had manifested itself from time to time.

One can recall Golwalkar, the second supremo of RSS had no qualms in emphasising that reservation should be provided on economic basis only in his famous book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’  (16), a view which was very much against the way makers of Constitution viewed it.

For example, in early 80s, Gujarat then ruled by Congress witnessed an anti reservation movement ( which later turned into communal riots ). May be to address the anxieties of the anti reservationists, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had said that we will have to keep in mind that merit does not get ignored while we ensure justice for deprived sections. The RSS did not lose time in passing a resolution at its Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS), calling for “the constitution of a committee of non-partisan social thinkers, which will study in depth all the problems arising out of reservations and suggest positive steps for the uplift of (Dalits) and Tribals”.

The resolution also wanted the committee of thinkers to “recommend necessary concessions to the other economically backward sections with a view to ensuring their speedy development” (17)

This very understanding sits at variance with the basic rationale behind affirmative action for the socially oppressed.

A cursory glance at the debates during Constitution making make it clear that the makers of the august document deliberated over the fact how caste and other historically ordained hierarchies have stiffled a large section of our people and such people need special support. The victims of these age old customs, institutions suffered not as individuals but as communities and therefore any such measure should be on that level only. As put by scholars and activists in the fields it “was not a programme to eliminate poverty. It was part of a national enterprise to remove the inequalities created by the caste system.” (18)

Instances galore how the Hindutva Supremacists viewed affirmative action policies and how they were keen to dilute it, upturn it but perhaps they had their moment of victory when they were successful in granting quota on the basis of Economically Weaker Sections – which effectively meant ‘reservation for the upper castes / dominant castes’ few months before the 2019 elections to the Lok Sabha. Analysts understood the  move  as a ‘fraud on constitution’ (19) or ‘putting the whole Idea of Affirmative action on its head’

Much has been written on it but perhaps few basic points need be reiterated here.

The background for the the “10 per cent quota for Forward Castes” as the Constitution ( 124 th Amendment Bill ) has been described by ruling party members then ( January 2019) (-do-)  was the coming elections to the parliament in 2019 and BJP’s loss of power in three Hindi heartland states – Rajasthan, M.P and Chhatisgarh held in Nov-Dec 2018.

The loss was construed by the RSS that the upper caste is angry with the BJP and its long time anxieties vis-a-vis reservation need to be addressed. The solution was presented in the form for “reservation for forward castes” which as anybody can see is a departure from earlier laws for affirmative action.

This 10 per cent reservation was meant for ““economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes” whereas the Articles 15 and 16,  currently mentioned talk about Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

Remembers as already mentioned the framers of our Constitution envisaged the whole idea of affirmative action in clear terms : “[r]eservation was to be provided on the basis of social conditions of caste groups and specifically only to those who had been historically oppressed and denied respect and equal opportunity in Indian s…

Definitely the “forward castes” have never faced any “historical oppression”

There is thus a qualitative difference between the two measures.

V

‘Manusmriti : Back with a Bang !

Idea of ‘Dereservation’ was formally denied but there were other surreptious or not so surreptious ways to peddle the reactionary agenda during this decade .

The way a premier Central University introduced Manusmriti – during this ten year period – is worth discussing.

The Department of Dharmashastra Mimansa at this Central University Banaras Hindu University – which already had study of The Manusmriti in its academic courses that involve the study of ancient Indian scriptures – mooted a proposal to research “Applicability of the Manusmriti in Indian society”. As per notification issued it planned to utilise funds which it had received under the Centre’s Institution of Eminence scheme. This scheme as we know provides research-and-development grants of up to Rs 1,000 crore to each of 10 select public-funded institutions.

The proposal seemed anachronous not only because money was being allocated in such an esoteric theme – in the background of severe fund crunch faced by all the public universities and how they are even being forced to cut down on essential expenses but mainly because the content of the said monograph – whose supposed ‘applicability’ the department wants to  study – has continued to generate controversy for more than hundred years.

Nearly hundred years back in the first Dalit revolt of its kind in modern times Dr Ambedkar, the legendary leader of the Oppressed, had even symbolically burnt it in a public programme held at Mahad ( 25 th December 1927) calling it  “gospel of counter revolution”  with thousands of people in attendance who had gathered there mainly from different parts of then Mumbai province.

The resolution read out on the occasion of the public “cremation” of Manusmriti which was proposed by Gangadhar Sahasrabuddhe made clear the intentions of this programme. It emphasised that it was the

[f]irm opinion of this conference that Manusmriti, taking into consideration its verses which undermined the Shudra caste, thwarted their progress, and made their social, political and economic slavery permanent.. is not worthy of becoming a religious or a sacred book. And in order to give expression to this opinion, this conference is performing the cremation rites of such a religious book which has been divisive of people and destroyer of humanity’ (20)

Around 23 years later when the Indian Constitution was being dedicated to the nation Dr Ambedkar – Chief of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution – had famously declared that it has ‘ended the rule by Manu’.

As already discused the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS had never kindly viewed the making of the Constitution and their leaders in those times had at various places underlined their difference over the issue, making it clear their fascination towards Manusmriti. (21)

It would be rather height of incredulity to believe that the academics in this leading Central University – who must have given green signal to  the proposal by Department of Dharamshastra Mimansa in their academic council meetings – would be unaware of all this stormy history around the monograph and how atrocious it looks in the third decade of twenty first century to search for applicability of a text which disparages women and backward caste.

No doubt this attempt by the department seems to be another deliberate move to delegitimise all these struggles and yearning for change which refuses to die among broad sections of people and simultaneously provide fresh legitimacy to all those moves (https://www.newsclick.in/Treacherous-Road-Manu-History-Hindutva-Ambedkar) engaged in by rightwing and status quoist forces whose focus has been to package – what this ‘gospel of counterrevolution’ as Ambedkar calls it – in a more attractive cover.

VI

Not Just Manumriti  :  How Textbooks Helped Perpetuate Ageold Hierarchies !

On closer scrutiny one observed that this period also witnessed prevalence as well as peddling of ideas which   were repugnant to the spirit of Constitution.

For example, a study of the textbooks taught in the government schools in Orissa – a first of its kind in India – corroborated what children from oppressed communities had been experiencing all their school years and later.

What they discovered made disturbing reading! (22) It showed a persistent curricular bias against the oppressed castes.It showed that Dalits find mention in merely three of the ten books and in 5 per cent of the total pages presenting social lives thus underlining the near invisibility of Dalits in these books.

In fact, this was not the first time that biases in textbooks in India had come to the fore.

We can recall attempts undertaken by the then Vajpayee regime – more than two decades back – to rewrite school text books by depicting Muslims and Christians as ‘allien villains’ and the resistance which had come up to protest against these creeping biases in the curriculum.(23) Analysts had rightly pointed out then how a social studies text in Gujarat had glorified country’s caste system as an ideal way of building society. Talking of lower-caste people it had said: “Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise the importance of education in life.”

No doubt, today,  a holistic picture can better emerge about the rampant curricular biases against different strata of people – distributed between castes, communities, religions or genders – if similar studies with a larger canvas are undertaken in different regions, states or an All India Study of  curricula of various schools is undertaken.

Interestingly there are other studies available which can provide necessary inputs to any such effort.

NCERT’s own experiencing in censoring textbooks also tells us something, especially during Modi reign.

It was the year 2019 that NCERT had in a circular (24) had announced its decision to remove three chapters from its Class IX history textbooks under the policy of rationalisation of courses. Apparently the choice looked innocuous  : clothing and caste conflict, history of cricket and impact of colonial capitalism on peasants but on closer scrutiny it was clear that the powers that be were not ready to narrate the struggles waged by the Nadar women of Travancore in early 19 th century merely to be allowed to wear an upper cloth to cover up the top of their bodies or how caste discrimination had prohibited an extra ordinary talented dalit cricketer Palwankar Baloo born in 1875 to lead the Indian cricket team then.

It was a great learning experience for people concerned with caste, related atrocities and its annihilation,  about how NCERT feels about caste and how it plans to deal with it in today’s difficult situation.

One can also refer to a study of NCERT textbooks which have looked at how caste was communicated through them (25) which focussed itself on an ‘in-depth study of history textbooks between Class 6 and Class 10 to see how caste and caste violence are taught to students’

Here the author appreciates that unlike the textbooks twenty years ago these textbooks address caste in a more explanatory way and credits the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 or the draft Learning Outcomes for elementary education, a document prepared by the NCERT that came out in the year 2017, which talked about sensitisation of students towards issues of caste.

For him the key challenge lies in how NCERT frames caste. According to him here the focus is on vulnerable caste groups and their lived experience, whereas dominant caste identities or the logic of the caste system is not interrogated; a perception is also created that caste is an issue of the vulnerable only which supposedly indemnify the dominant castes from any discourse ; thirdly it thus allows the youth to claim “castelessness”, i.e., to say that caste has had nothing to do with their identity.

Definitely any such description / narration where the age-old phenomenon called caste – which keeps reinvigorating itself in the changed milieu – is taught as “history”, a thing of the past, which has no relation to or continuity to the practices in the present can lead to consequences. It allows the dominant castes to distance themselves from recognising that caste based exclusions, violence is an ongoing malady of the Indian society. It thus facilitates denial of lived experience of the dalits and perpetration of violence against them who experience it in their lived reality.

VII

When Goverment Peddled ‘Drona Mindset’ Unashamedly

It was Modi Kaal again which dumped the plan to fund scholarships for students keen to study Indian history or culture abroad.

The once-ambitious National Overseas Scholarship Scheme was launched in 1954 to empower underprivileged students by funding their overseas education.  The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which managed this Scheme decided to shelve it suddenly. (26)

In 2012, the UPA government led by the Congress revitalised the scheme by extending it to humanities students. Hundred-odd students from deprived and oppressed communities qualified for the scholarship every year, ,  a number which had increased to 125 by the time it was stopped.

The decision to axe the scholarship altogether for studying humanities was taken without consulting stakeholders. There was no hint into how this unique empowerment initiative will be negatively affected with this decision. The post-facto rationale of the powers-that-be remained unconvincing. It said Indian institutions have a rich repository of records and books and enough experts on Indian culture and civilisation. It argued that funding overseas education of the tribal and Dalit students is to divert resources away from science and technology studies.

Even if the government’s point could be conceded, are we confident that the existing institutional ambience and resources would welcome scholars from deprived communities? Would they recognise the needs of emerging talents from the oppressed and exploited sections of our society? Of late, the character and composition of institutions have come under the scanner for a wide prevalence of dominant and elite caste sections of society.

Reports spell out how higher education institutions are rife with exclusion and discrimination based on caste, gender and community. Despite constitutional provisions for affirmative action, academia is exclusive in most institutions.

Discrimination has led to numerous “institutional murders” of talented students from non-elite backgrounds. It did not begin (nor end) with Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s death at the Hyderabad Central University eight years ago. Payal Tadvi from a medical college in Mumbai, Fathima Latheef of IIT Madras, and so many others were sacrificed in institutions (27) all over the country.

Closing the doors of overseas education to deserving students from deprived sections interested in pursuing topics or courses related to Indian culture, heritage, history and society. compelling them to remain in India  for studying these subjects, was another way to shut the doors of improved prospects for them. The rigours of a PhD degree could propel scholars into elite institutions and circles. Achieved from a foreign university, it can leave the “lack of merit” argument with a bloodied nose. Even if they do not avail reservation, scholars from marginalised communities endure the insinuation (28) that they lack merit every day in India.

So how do we accept that scholars who wish to go overseas would unquestioningly gulp down the notion that India still does intellectual work? Remember that these students are from social backgrounds where class and caste-based deprivations and discriminations are first-hand experiences.

Last but not least, the end of this programme displayed the hiatus between the outwardly strong image of the ruling dispensation and its paranoid insecurities about addressing the faultlines of Indian society.

If the international academic world has a growing interest in India, it was also because of what is happening in the world’s largest democracy. The study of caste and its attendant asymmetries generally gets attention in the West, but, of late, India’s exclusivist hierarchies have drawn more attention. The California State University system added caste to its non-discrimination policy, prohibiting caste-based discrimination or bias across its 23 campuses. This rule would not have seen the light of day if Dalit activists had not campaigned (29) for it.

The ruling dispensation very well knew that the more students from Dalit, Adivasi and other deprived sections study abroad, the more its embarrassing moments will come to light. Better to invisibilise caste altogether, even club the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes and minority communities as a new acronym: SEDG or Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups. Never mind that the reality would continue to bite.

VIII

Who is a Dalit ??

The Hindu Social Order is based upon a division of labour which reserves for the Hindus clean and respectable jobs and assigns to the untouchables dirty and mean jobs and thereby clothes the Hindus with dignity and heaps ignominy upon the untouchables.

– Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Axing scholarships resonated with the belief system of the ruling dispensation.

Its overt concerns were evident in the New Education Policy, 2020, which talked about India as a Vishwa Guru and reviving ancient knowledge systems, all the while conveniently silent on caste and other discriminations.

The brutal majority of the current dispensation radically impacted humanity studies also. For example, there are allegations that the draft history syllabus of the University Grants Commission attributes (30)  the prevailing caste system to “Muslim rule”.

There is nothing surprising in this formulation.

With ascent of Dalit movement in this part of India, this claim is being peddled with much intensity. A cursory glance at the writings of earlier Hindutva scholars makes it clear that it is an ‘old claim’ which gets refurbished from time to time.

RSS leaders mostly attribute the reason for casteism and untouchability to Islamic invasions. In August 2019, RSS’ joint general secretary Krishna Gopal had blamed ‘Islamic aggression’ for casteism and untouchability.

This claim has been consistently propagated by the RSS over decades. In 2014, this assertion was officially endorsed in forwards by RSS functionaries in three books—Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Khatik Jati, and Hindu Valmiki Jati—written by BJP spokesman Vijay Sonkar Shastri and released by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

In a foreword for one of the books, Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi wrote,

“To violate the Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers, and beef-eaters forced them to perform abominable tasks like killing cows, skinning them, and discarding their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by assigning such tasks as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.”

All the three forewords by RSS leaders for the three books made similar claims.

Kancha Ailiah Shepherd a Dalit-Bahujan scholar has written an exhaustive article (http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article6008.html) critiquing the publication of these books.

” [R]SS chose to claim that caste-based untouchability is a creation of Indian Islam; hence this needs to be refuted with serious research.

Vijay Sonakar Shastri, one of the RSS functionaries, released his three books, namely, Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Khatik Jati and Hindu Valmiki Jati. The forewords of these books claim that ‘Shudras’ were never untouchables, according to the Hindu scriptures. It was only after the “Islamic atrocities “during the medieval times that the untouchables, Dalits and Indian Muslims emerged.(31)

Later in his article he talks about genesis of caste system and how RSS wants to pit dalits against muslims by invisibiling the age old oppression.

There is another important aspect of this attempt.

On the one hand the attempt was to tell Dalits that their situation had a direct bearing on the Islamic rule, thus invisibilising the age old caste oppression and the religious sanction to it and also manufacture an adversarial relation between the two ; whereas there were conscious attempts at the behest of the ruling dispensation itself how should Dalits describe themselves ?

We can understand very well in a democracy, it is a fundamental right, the right to describe oneself, to affirm one’s right to exist. This is a right closely held by oppressed communities, in India by Dalits and Adivasis. On 7 August 2018, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a circular that advised the media to refrain from using the word Dalit while referring to those belonging to Scheduled Castes. It said that the Constitutional term Scheduled Castes must be used in English and its translation in other national languages should alone be used for all official transactions. The Press Council of India said that such a ban was ‘neither feasible nor advisable’.

The decision definitely went against the fundamental rights of equality (Article 14), non-discrimination (Article 15) and the right to life and liberty (Article 21) guaranteed under the Constitution. Sriram Parakkat, an advocate who represented various Dalit groups, challenged the Centre’s circular before the Supreme Court.

The plea by Parakkat said that the term Dalit is self-chosen, a ‘positive self-identifier and a political identity’. The Court rejected the plea.

It was clear that the majoritarian understanding of democracy, as driven by the BJP, had no space for such self-expression. The entire process reminds one of what Jayant Lele wrote in 1995 (Hindutva: the Emergence of the Right) of the three essential characteristics of Hindutva – ‘hegemonic, homogenizing and pedagogic, all at the same time and in complex interrelated ways’. Hindutva seeks to dominate, it seeks to flatten and it seeks to convince even the oppressed of its worldview.

While Hindutva Supremacists wanted to define who is a Dalit, they were also keen to peddle image of a ‘Suitable Ambedkar’ as well.

IX

Towards a ‘Suitable Ambedkar’

It was Sir T. Madhava Rao who speaking of Hindu Society of his time said, ‘The longer one lives, observes, and thinks, the more deeply does he feel that there is no community on the face of the earth which suffers less from political evils and more from self-inflicted or self-accepted or self-created, and therefore avoidable evils, than the Hindu Community.’ This view expresses quite accurately and without exaggeration the necessity of social reform in Hindu Society. The first Social Reformer and the greatest of them all is Gautama Buddha. Any history of Social Reform must begin with him and no history of Social Reform in India will be complete which omits to take account of his great achievements.

– Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, The Untouchables and Pax Britannica, 1931

Does anyone still remember the ‘re-editing’ of Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi during National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-I period when demands were raised that it should to be scrapped and the original collected works should to be reinstated so that readers/scholars are made available the ‘most authentic version of writings and utterances of Gandhi’. Noted Gandhians had underlined then how the revised Collected Works and adjoining CDs (compact discs) issued during 2001 had ‘five hundred entries missing’ from the original one.

Thanks to the exit of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government in 2004, the original Collected Works could be restored and even published online so that henceforth no government — deliberately or inadvertently — is able to make any changes in the works.

Well, while the project to ‘re-edit’ Gandhi was undertaken in a big way, which could be exposed in time, what one observes that surreptitiously or not so surreptitiously, the project to edit other icons of the anti-colonial or social emancipation movement is on in very many ways. It has been quite a long time since both Gandhi as well as Ambedkar — who were once anathema to the Hindutva project — have been included as ‘Pratahsmaraniya’ (worth remembering in the morning) in the RSS shakhas. The emphasis seems to be on to present a more sanitised image of them which is more acceptable to the ruling dispensation.

A example from Gujarat illustrates how it is being achieved.

‘Educate, Organise, Agitate’ — a slogan synonymous with the Ambedkarite movement in India — which was the motto of Bahishrut Hitkarini Sabha founded by Babasaheb in 1924 — had a new ‘avatar’, thanks to the Gujarat government textbook board and its team of experts. The fifth standard Gujarati textbook replaced this with ‘Educate, Organise and Self-Reliance as true assistance’.

As expected, this tweaking of Ambedkar’s key slogan — which he had used in his inspirational speech addressing a meeting of All India Scheduled Castes Federation in 1945 as well — created an uproar in Ambedkarite circles and a demand was made to rectify it immediately. A layperson could even see that ‘Agitate’ being substituted with ‘Self-reliance as true assistance’ cannot be even attributed to printer’s devil.

A protest letter submitted by some Ambedkarite activists to the government rightly expressed why this ‘distorted presentation of truth’ is unacceptable.

“Any discretionary change in the slogan not only hurts sentiments of crores of followers of Babasaheb but will also be called distorted presentation of a historic truth,”

The protest letter also compared the slogan with the slogan given by Subhash Chandra Bose — Tum Mujhe Khoon do, Main Tumhe Azadi Dunga — and said, “Can we imagine a slogan like – Tum Mujhe Paisa do, Main Tumhe Azadi Dunga – in the name of our beloved leader Subhash Chandra Bose? And that too in a textbook for children?”

Looking at the fact that vetting of textbooks is a job of experts — who did not raise any objection to this editing of slogan– it would be rather difficult to conclude whether this was an inadvertent mistake or a deliberate move on their part. But, if past records can be checked, one discovers that there has existed a great hiatus between what the government claims about Ambedkar and what it does about it.

Remember, how the then Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government had withdrawn (2015) and later pulped the book on Dr Ambedkar commissioned by her government itself because it discussed Ambedkar’s radical thoughts on Hinduism and the 22-point pledges he took to convert to Buddhism in 1956. We should not forget that the author of this book was close to the government and a few lakh copies of the book had been prepared which were to be distributed in government schools as supplementary reading.

What were those pledges administered by Ambedkar himself to lakhs of his followers, which the government found ‘explosive’ enough to pulp the book itself? To summarise, the pledges talked of having ‘no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, no faith in Rama and Krishna, no faith in Gauri’, and resolved not to worship them. It also talked about not believing ‘in the incarnation of God’ and maintaining distance from a religious ceremonies that are part of Hinduism and performed by brahmins. While resolving to follow ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha, it also talked of belief in ‘the equality of man’ and one’s endeavour to ‘establish equality’.

The government made it rather explicit that it does respect Ambedkar but on its own terms.

Is it only the saffron camp in Gujarat that is more sensitive towards the real content of Ambedkar’s message or is this a pan-India phenomenon in their camp?

The experience of neighbouring Maharashtra can also be an eye-opener.

The year 2016 happened to be the year of Dr Ambedkar’s 125 birth anniversary and plans were afoot to celebrate it not only in India but in other countries as well. The state government had even planned to spend Rs 500 crore on a grand memorial for Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar at Dadar in Mumbai, and a statue at Indu Mills in Dadar. It was the same year when Dr Ambedkar Bhavan and the building next door that housed a printing press, in Dadar, Mumbai, was demolished in the dark of the night (June 25, 2016).

Whatever be the explanation offered by the government — when it had to go on the defensive because of this demolition — it cannot be forgotten that the Bhavan was situated on prime land and the BJP-led state government had made plans to erect a 17- storeyed building there. What was rather disturbing to note was that the Bhavan was built by Dr Ambedkar himself and ‘[t]his place was witness to many a movement of Ambedkar. ..the building was a treasure trove of documents and manuscripts of Dr Ambedkar, which now lie buried in the debris.”

One even noticed the cavalier manner of ensuring that Dr Ambedkar’s original documents, photographs and source material are preserved. When the Metro was to be built in a particular area of Mumbai where these documents were properly kept, the government overnight asked the people concerned to vacate it within 24 hours and shift the documents to another place where there were no proper arrangements to store them. According to experts “apathy may have led to rare drafts of his books, handwritten works, letters, documents and photographs being destroyed.”

What is the root of this ‘apathy towards the real Ambedkar?

Is it because in the early 1940s itself Dr Ambedkar had rejected the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and Hindu Mahasabha as “reactionary” organisations. The political manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation itself— the political outfit which was set up by him in 1942 had clearly stated:

The Scheduled Castes Federation will not have any alliance with any reactionary party such as the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS,”(32)

There are reasons to believe that formally the Right wing has declared Ambedkar as an icon and keep singing paeans to him but they have not moved far away from the assessment done by one of their ideologues way back in the 1990s. A few hundred-page monograph titled, Worshipping False Gods, which had come out in the mid-nineties spews venom against Ambedkar — an act for which one is yet to see any apology or self-criticism from them.

It was in 2017 when the nation celebrated the 90th year of ‘Mahad Kranti’, as it is termed in dalit folklore, when we were witness to a very disturbing spectacle. Billboards were put up across New Delhi railway station where Ambedkar was presented as an icon for cleanliness. It showed an Ambedkar look-alike leading a group of people towards a dustbin to throw garbage and the banner headline asked people to ‘Wake up the Spirit of Babasaheb Ambedkar and participate in this great campaign of cleaning rubbish (Áap ke andarke Babasaheb ko Aap Jagrut Karein . Gandagi ke khilaf is Mahan Abhiyan mein apna yogdan dein)

Who put up these billboards across the capital’s main railway station and who approved it? Definitely, higher-ups in the government would have vetted these billboards and had found nothing objectionable to this ‘reduction’ of Ambedkar’s image. Was anybody ever punished for this humiliating portrait of this real gem of India?

Was it an oblique way of communicating the understanding much prevalent among dominant castes that for them Ambedkar’s historic contributions in drafting the Constitution or his more than three-decade-long struggle for equity means nothing? Or did they want to reiterate the understanding that in their eyes this great scholar — whose personal library had more than 20,000 books — and who wrote extensively on various issues of immediate and long-term concern of Indian people, was no more than a someone who should remain bound by his ‘traditional duties’ sanctified by religion?

X

In Lieu of Conclusion

As we said in the beginning this does not purport to be a comprehensive listing of how the Modi regime has been undermining constitutional guarantees to Dalits.

We could not even mention how the year 2018 witnessed a mass movement of (33) by Dalits and other oppressed sections when the highest courts of the Country in one of their controversial judgements tried to dilute the SC ST, Prevention of atrocities act ( 1989).

The way in which a two judge bench of the Supreme Court had tried to issue guidelines over a law passed by the parliament was widely resented. The outrage of the Dalits was also directed towards the BJP led government which had not argued the case properly before the courts. Later it was forced to take a corrective action and restore the law to its original.

We also could not take up the much trumpeted Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which had tried to project a very samras (harmonious) picture of our society where cleanliness or the lack of it is connected with our ‘duty’ (Kartavya) towards ‘Bharat Mata’(Mother India) or how it failed to comprehend the larger complex reality and tend to perpetuate historical asymmetries, injustices and modern forms of  casteism. (34)


You could yourself add all the other things which were left unattended.

The idea behind this whole exercise is to remind the Dalit and other oppressed masses that though we have ushered into the one man – one vote system called as ‘political democracy’ around seventy four years back, we have yet to travel a long distance to usher into what Dr Ambedkar called one man – one value based system of what ‘social democracy’

It is time Dalits and other oppressed people comprehend that mere peddling of Dr Ambedkar’s names by all types of charlatans and demogogues should not blind them to their real motives. They should remember what Dr Ambedkar had said in historic monograph, Pakistan or Partition of India. He had reiterated his fears vis-a-vis the possible majoritarian turn at the hands of those who vouched for ‘Hindu Raj’

“If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”

 (Ambedkar, Pakistan or Partition of India, p. 358)

This is the 75 th year of India’s ushering into republic.

Challenge before all of us is how to ensure that the values and principles on which the Republic stands are not violated anymore

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative

Notes and references :

1. https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/rss-chief-mohan-bhagwats-comments-on-reservation-policy-stirs-controversy-264144-2015-09-21

2. https://www.thenewsminute.com/caste/from-strong-support-to-lets-debate-it-the-shifting-stance-of-rss-on-reservations

3. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/fatal-blow-713571.html

4. – Page 110, Bunch of Thoughts, M S Golwalkar, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, Oct 2000

5. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bihar-polls-lalu-prasad-refers-to-m-s-golwalkar-book-to-attack-rss-on-reservation/articleshow/49229906.cms?from=mdr

6. https://cpiml.net/liberation/2021/02/exposing-golwalkar-in-his-own-words

7.https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-politics/rss-mohan-bhagawat-reservations-8929452/

8. https://www.thenewsminute.com/caste/from-strong-support-to-lets-debate-it-the-shifting-stance-of-rss-on-reservations

9. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/ugc-removes-de-reservation-draft-guidelines-from-website-amid-backlash/articleshow/107269051.cms?from=mdr

10. https://countercurrents.org/2024/02/dereservation-whether-the-genie-is-out-of-the-bottle-finally/

11.  Indian Express, Delhi ; https://indianexpress.com/article/india/biased-assessment-keeps-sc-st-posts-vacant-in-educational-institutes-house-panel-9147747/#:~:text=Calling%20the%20government’s%20actions%20%E2%80%9Cbiased,to%20be%20part%20of%20faculty%E2%80%9D.

12. https://educationexclusive.com/news/education-news/parliamentary-committee-raises-concerns-over-sc-st-caste-in-indian-institutes , https://theprint.in/india/sc-st-candidates-deliberately-declared-not-suitable-for-appointment-in-edu-institutions-par-panel/1956342/

13. https://www.newsclick.in/how-make-caste-discrimination-disappear-universities

14. https://www.india.com/news/india/iit-suicides-mgahv-students-plea-to-president-for-rohith-vemula-act-5898865/ ; https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/committed-to-secularism-will-enact-rohith-vemula-act-if-voted-congress-123022600892_1.html)

15.  https://thewire.in/caste/darshan-solanki-suicide-iit-b-ignore-evidence-caste-discrimination.

16. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bihar-polls-lalu-prasad-refers-to-m-s-golwalkar-book-to-attack-rss-on-reservation/articleshow/49229906.cms?from=mdr 

17. https://indianexpress.com/article/political-pulse/rss-chief-mohan-bhagwat-quotas-8928819/

18. https://thewire.in/politics/upper-caste-reservation-bill-ps-krishnan

19.  https://thewire.in/government/the-10-reservation-is-a-cynical-fraud-on-the-constitution

20. Page 351, Mahad The Making of the First Dalit Revolt, Anand Teltumbde, Navayana, 2017

21. https://countercurrents.org/comm-gatade230206.htm

22. https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/half-lessons-caste-bias-in-textbooks/cid/1825937

23. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/jan/25/stephenbates

24. https://thewire.in/education/the-cuts-from-ncert-history-textbooks-are-symptomatic-of-a-larger-malaise 

25. https://thepolisproject.com/communicating-caste-invisibilizing-violence-an-assessment-of-how-ncert-textbooks-teach-caste/#.YRjlIRQzbIW

26. https://www.justicenews.co.in/centre-withdraws-scholarships-for-marginalized-students-looking-to-study-about-indias-history-culture-abroad/

27.  https://countercurrents.org/2019/11/why-have-indias-elite-institutions-become-murderers-of-dalit-adivasi-muslim-scholars/

28. https://www.justicenews.co.in/centre-withdraws-scholarships-for-marginalized-students-looking-to-study-about-indias-history-culture-abroad/

29. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/1/us-csu-dalits-hail-university-caste-discrimination-ban

30.https://thewire.in/education/ugcs-new-draft-history-syllabus-plays-up-mythology-faces-allegations-of-saffronisation

31. http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article6008.html

32. See Vol 10 of Dr BhimraoRamjiAmbedkarCharitragranth, a Marathi book by ChangdevBhavanraoKhairmode

33. https://thewirehindi.com/39182/sc-st-act-dalit-agitation-narendra-modi-government/

34. https://www.epw.in/journal/2015/44/perspectives/silencing-caste-sanitising-oppression.html

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