I am not an Ambedkarite, neither am I a staunch follower of his ideology, but I do strongly believe that he was a man with a clear vision. His contribution towards the upliftment of the untouchables, women’s rights and betterment of the socio-economic and political scenario of the country has been tremendous, which is why he has been given the place of god by many communities in the country. Yet, only a few know that the father of the constitution eventually wanted to burn it, the reason being the multiple amendments made to it by the subsequent governments.
Most of us celebrate Republic Day — a day that celebrates the fact that supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, rather than a monarch. But how valid are our celebrations when just 20 days ago, the country’s biggest city saw a protest in the name of caste? How right is it to commemorate the constitution when we aren’t allowed to exercise our fundamental rights, where freedom of speech and expression is denied and where dissent is not just censored but also threatened and silenced?
Whose Republic Day is it really? Is the country even a ‘republic’ anymore?
Perhaps, Ambedkar should have burned the constitution but aren’t our current ministers doing the same metaphorically? Here are a list of things we believe the father of the Constitution would want us to learn from, on our 69th Republic Day:
I. On Caste
What he said: Ambedkar in one of his most revered, undelivered speeches, The Annihilation Of Caste, rightly said, “The outcaste is a bye-product of the caste system. There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.”
He also went on to say that, “Caste is another name for control. Caste puts a limit on enjoyment. Caste does not allow a person to transgress caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment. That is the meaning of such caste restrictions as inter-dining and inter-marriage.”
The Current Scenario: Just two years ago, a Dalit youth was brutally assaulted and killed allegedly over his mobile ringtone, which was of a song on Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar. The victim of the vicious attack, Sagar Shejwal, was visiting his hometown Shirdi for a wedding, when he visited a local beer shop with his cousins. He was attacked by eight youths when his phone rang. In a police statement, the cousin described the song as ‘Tumhi kara re kitihi halla / Mazbut Bhimacha quilla’ [Shout all you want / Bhim’s fortress is strong], and an altercation ensued.
Sagar was hit with a beer bottle, kicked and punched, before being dragged out to a nearby forest and trampled brutally under a bike. His body was found in a naked state by his family members (there was no response from the police despite being alerted), and he succumbed to his multiple fractures the next day. The incident took place a stone’s throw from the Shirdi police station.
Caste-based violence is almost second nature to the country. They are as rampant in the urban areas as they are in the rural areas and they are perhaps the biggest problems plaguing our country today. Instead of concentrating on the annihilation of caste, leaders are actually talking about using it as a mark of one’s identity! Union Minister State for Employment and Skill Development, Anant Kumar Hegde, reportedly made a provocative statement while speaking at an event in Karnataka, saying that he wants people to identify themselves by their caste or religion, instead of saying that they are secular.
Though Ambedkar believed in the notion of inter-caste marriages and went on to say they were an effective way to destroy the caste system, the ultimate aim should be the destruction of belief in the Shastras.
Lessons To Be Learned: Unless our caste stops playing a dominant role in our everyday functioning, we may never be able to achieve complete secularism. Six decades after Ambedkar struggled for the emancipation of Dalits and the untouchables, they continue to fight for equal rights. Besides focusing on their upliftment, we should consider doing away with caste entirely. First, symbolically, till we see it trickle down into reality.
II. On Religion
What he said: Ambedkar had a great understanding of religion. He deeply criticized it but also felt that it was inevitable in public discourse. According to a report in ForwardPress, “He fought not for doing away with religion but perhaps arrive at a more righteous one.” He once famously quoted, “I tell you, religion is for man and not man for religion. If you want to organise, consolidate and be successful in this world, change this religion. The religion that does not recognise you as a human being, or give you water to drink, or allow you to enter temples, is not worthy to be called a religion. The religion that forbids you to receive an education and comes in the way of your material advancement is not worthy of the appellation ‘religion’. The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with its co-religionists is nothing but a display of a force. The religion that teaches its followers to suffer the touch of animals but not the touch of human beings is not a religion but a mockery. The religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant and the poor to be poor is not a religion but a visitation!”
The Current Scenario: Post the Modi Election, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are living in a political environment highly fueled by religious sentiments that has given rise to a form of Hindu right wing extremism, as is clear in the following case.
On Dec 08, 2017, 45-year-old Mohammad Afrazul was brutally hacked and burnt alive by a man identified as Shambhu Lal in Rajsamand, Rajasthan. Afrazul had reportedly migrated to the state from West Bengal where he had worked for the last 20 years and was a father of three. The entire attack and murder was filmed by Lal’s nephew (who sees nothing wrong in it) and then circulated on Whatsapp by the killer himself. The video clips are bone-chilling. Lal’s hate speech is only made worse by the confidence he exudes as he looks directly into the camera as he declares his act as a way to protect a woman from ‘love jihad’. The very fact that this video was made at all, and then circulated widely, is a terrifying comment on how little fear there is of repercussion. What’s more terrifying perhaps are some of the positive reactions his maniacal behaviour has gained in the form of comments on social media. While investigations have cleared Afrazul of any links to any Hindu girls, is this really what we’ve come to?
Lessons To Be Learned: Religion, whichever one you choose to practice is meant to better you as a human being. This cannot be our new normal.
III. On Dissent
What he said: When Ambedkar criticized Hinduism, saying that, “Hindu raj is a threat to liberty, equality and fraternity,” it offended many of his contemporaries, including Gandhi, because it appeared to be also a criticism of Indian nationalism. Connecting Hinduism to nationalism is something that can be observed even in today’s time in the form of Hindutva.
The Current Scenario: Hindutva may not be a religion but it is definitely an ideology that stems from right wing extremism and strong religious Hindu sentiments. Anyone who tries to speak against Hindutva, is simply labeled anti-national and is threatened, abused and even killed in many cases.
In December 2017, Humans Of Hindutva, a parody account aimed at right-wing fundamentalists was shut down. Featuring humorous commentary on moral policing, Hindutva hardliners, cow vigilantism, casteism and overall Hindutva politics, HOH gained enormous popularity on Facebook. Now, the page’s anonymous administrator has called it quits after stating that they have received a slew of insults and death threats against themselves and their family included. 2017 also saw the cold-blooded murder of a renowned journalist, Gauri Lankesh for her work that was pro-leftist ideology. Her assassination is not just a single, unfortunate, inhumane event but one in a series of incidents where great thinkers and voices of reason and rationale have been forever silenced in a similar manner. Silenced, with no impending justice to be met.
Lessons To Be Learned: Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right and state sponsored violence to curb it is an outright violation of the same. We live in a democracy and the ministers must understand that we are not entitled to share their ideologies.
4. On Hero Worship
What he said: On November 25, 1949, Ambedkar remarked that, “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequaled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
The Current Scenario: In a very chaotic India, where hero-worship is rampant, these lessons are frequently lost on us. Take the case of the Aadhar Card, where thousands of people are blindly entrusting the government with private information thinking of ache din or millions of rupees being spent on a Shivaji Statue being constructed in the middle of the sea, when that money can be allotted towards more pressing issues that need to be addressed on a priority basis.
Lessons To Be Learned: More than the ministers, the lessons here lie for us. We need to stop being blind followers and assess each policy rationally. Very few deserve to be heroes. It is, after all, an opulence not everyone earns, and certainly not the ones who do not have the qualities we have come to associate with heroism.
5. On Women’s Rights
What he said: There have been radical thinkers in our country that have been striving hard to change the jaded gender biases that exist through their carefully expressed voice and their work. Dr. Ambedkar was one of them. The Father of the Constitution introduced maternity leaves and even resigned as Minister for Law as a mark of protest when the government failed to pass the Hindu Code Bill that ensured property rights among other things to women. One of his famous quotes goes on to say, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress the women of that country have achieved.”
The Current Scenario: A country, ironically given the stature of a powerful symbol of womanhood, is, even today, bound by traditions where women have been subjected to ideas of brutal regressiveness. The cause of crime against women, which is on a rise, also stems from patriarchy, the horrors of which have even taken over most of our ministers’ minds.
In November 2017, there was reportedly another addition to shocking statements made by those in power — Karnataka Home Minister R Ramalinga Reddy told the legislative council that women have no “business” to walk on the streets of Bengaluru during wee hours. There have been previous instances wherein ministers have deemed women frivolous. Goa’s Art and Culture Minister Dayanand Mandrekar’s during one of his speeches in 2016 said that, “Women are so immersed in TV serials that they forget to make tea or inquire about their husbands, who return weary from work.”
Lessons To Be Learned: True women empowerment can be achieved only when our decision makers stop viewing females as the weaker sex. Ministers should focus on making laws and policies for a safer space and encourage equal opportunities that do not discriminate on the basis of sex.
6. On Vegetarianism and Beef Ban
What he said: One can understand vegetarianism. One can also understand meat-eating. But it is difficult to understand why a person who is a flesh-eater should object to one kind of flesh, namely cow’s flesh. This is an anomaly which calls for an explanation.
As Ambedkar put it best, “There is one taboo against meat-eating. It divides Hindus into vegetarians and flesh eaters. There is another taboo which is against beef eating. It divides Hindus into those who eat a cow’s flesh and those who do not. From the point of view of untouchability, the first dividing line is of no importance. But the second is. For it completely marks off the Touchables from the Untouchables.”
The Current Scenario: It’s been almost a year now since the President gave the nod to Maharashtra Animal Preservation Amendment Bill 1995, with the announcement in the government gazette cementing the ban on beef. Anyone found selling or even in possession of beef will now be fined INR 10,000 and jailed for five years.
The ban also spread to the state of Haryana, with a new act proposing penalty for cow slaughter that is equivalent to those charged with murder. ‘Gau Rakshaks’ (‘Cow Protectors’) have taken the law into their own hands and have been consistently making headlines ever since this new government came into power.
Akhlaqh was murdered on the suspicion of storing beef, women in Maundsar were beaten on the suspicion of carrying beef, and Dalits in Una Gujarat were flogged for carrying beef by cow vigilantes. Although the protection of women and children from sexual abuse and human trafficking remains abysmal, cow vigilantes have a reason to rejoice as they might just be able to met out their version of saffron justice with the law on their side now.
Lessons To Be Learned: Meat (and beef in particular) has been an important part of both the diet and culture for Christians, Muslims and even some Hindus in India. The ban has affected many industries and snatched away the livelihoods of many people, particularly the Dalit and the tribal communities. We are a secular country and the government must keep the cultural sensibilities of all its faiths in mind before making such a decision.
7. On Equality and Democracy
What he said: During a speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, B.R Ambedkar issued three warnings, worrying about the implementation of the constitution. While the first two were about the preservation of freedom and hero-worship respectively, the third one remains perhaps the most important in this context. Dr. Ambedkar said, “We must not be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.”
The Current Scenario: Almost 69 years later, not much has changed. While every citizen above the age of 18 is allowed to vote and there is some semblance of political equality — social and economic equality seem like a far-fetched dream.
Lessons To Be Learned: While certain mindsets cannot be changed when it comes to inclusivity and equal rights, we need to start from ground zero, initiate and introduce change at a grass root level, the foremost medium being primary education. The need of the hour is to celebrate our diversity rather than fight over it while letting go of all the backward traditions that continue to plague our cultures. Ministers have a lot to learn from Ambedkar, but even we as citizens need to be responsible and cautious. We make the nation, we elect our ministers. The foremost responsibility lies with us.
It always has.
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