Ambedkar's India and The Dreams Unfulfilled - Daily Current Affair Article

CONTEXT:

Recently released T J Gnanavel’s movie 'Jai Bhim' is amongst those few movies that engages with issues of identity and institutionalised discrimination with some sincerity. It is based on the true story of the struggle of Parvathi, an Irula woman, who fights against the whole system on her own for justice for her husband.

INTRODUCTION

When the nation is celebrating the 130th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, his role as a social reformer, chairman of the draft committee of the Indian Constitution, and first law minister of the country is repeated and recited innumerable times. But what's forgotten is the fact that he wore many hats — a distinguished economist, active politician, eminent lawyer, labour leader, great parliamentarian, fine scholar, anthropologist, orator, etc. The country has marked the beginning of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to commemorate 75 years of Independence. It is imperative to reflect on Ambedkar in all his facets to grasp the gravity of his ideas, his role as a nation-builder and actions taken thereupon, to strengthen the social fabric and build a just society and stronger nation.

AMBEDKAR'S ENTRY INTO THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE

  • Baba Saheb Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on 14th April, 1891 in Mahu in Madhya Pradesh. Born into a poor untouchable family, he was the fourteenth child of his parents.
  • Ambedkar spent his whole life raising his voice against social discrimination, bringing in changes and disregarding the system of Chaturvarna – the Hindu categorisation of human society into four varnas – and the Indian Caste System.
  • His entry into the freedom struggle started when he returned from London after his doctorate and PhD, and started movements and several steps against the caste system.

ORGANISATIONS SET UP BY HIM

  • In 1923, he set up the 'Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha' (Outcastes Welfare Association).
  • It was devoted to spreading education and culture amongst the downtrodden, improving the economic status and raising problems in the proper forums to solutions to the same.
  • The Hilton Young Commission’s recommendation, which considered Ambedkar’s guidelines laid out in his paper 'The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution', helped conceptualizing 'The Reserve Bank of India'.
  • As a labour member in Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to 1946, he evolved numerous policies in the water, power and labour welfare sectors. He helped in establishing:
  • Central Water Commission in the form of the Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission (CWINC),
  • Central Technical Power Board and integrated water resources management through the establishment of the river valley authority.
  • It actively worked upon projects like the Damodar River Valley Project, the Sone River Valley Project, the Mahanadi (Hirakud Project), the Kosi and others on the Chambal and the rivers of the Deccan region.
  • The Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956, and the River Board Act, 1956

HIS JOURNALISTIC CAREER

  • In 1920, Ambedkar entered into the world of newspapers.
  • He started his first newspaper, Mooknayak, on January 31, 1920.
  • It ran for three years before being closed.
  • Later, he went on to found three more newspapers –
  • Bahishkrut Bharat (1927-1929),
  • Janata (1930-56),
  • Prabuddha Bharat (1956).
  • He was directly involved in the editorial management of the first two newspapers, Mooknayak and Bahishkrut Bharat
  • One of the very fascinating aspects of Ambedkar’s journalism is manifested in his firm belief that journalism should not blindly cater to the masses. Instead, it should help in establishing democratic ideas.
  • He argued that newspapers should lead the way by setting examples for the people.

HIS EFFORTS AND ENDEAVOURS TOWARDS DALIT UPLIFTMENT AND EMPOWERMENT

  • In 1927, he led the Mahad March at the Chowdar Tank at Colaba, near Bombay, against the injustice by the higher classes to use public tanks for daily necessities.
  • He burnt copies of the 'Manusmriti' publicly.
  • This marked the beginning of the anti-caste and ant-priest movement.
  • The temple entry movement launched by Dr. Ambedkar in 1930 at Kalaram temple, Nasik is another milestone of his life which reflects his dedication and will to deliver justice to the depressed classes and bring equality.
  • During the Bombay Assembly’s Poona session in 1937, he introduced a Bill to abolish the Khoti system of land tenure in Konkan.
  • In Bombay, the historic peasant march to the Council Hall in 1938 was led by him.
  • He was the first legislator in the country to introduce a Bill for abolishing the serfdom of agricultural tenants.
  • As a member of the Bombay Assembly, Ambedkar opposed the introduction of the Industrial Disputes Bill, 1937, as it removed workers’ right to strike.
  • As a labour member, he advocated for “fair condition of life of labour” instead of securing “fair condition of work” and laid out the basic structure of the government’s labour policy.
  • He contributed to the reduction of working hours to 48 hours per week, lifting the ban on the employment of women for underground work in coal mines, introducing the provisions of overtime, paid leave and minimum wage.
  • He also helped to establish the principle of “equal pay for equal work” irrespective of sex and maternity benefits.
  • Ambedkar outrightly opposed the communist labour movements, their extraterritorial loyalties and their Marxian approach of controlling all means of production.

COMMUNAL AWARD AND THE POONA PACT WITH GANDHIJI

  • When Ramsay McDonald announced the 'Communal Award'. Gandhiji wanted to defeat this design as he knew that this was a part of the overall design of the British to divide and rule and, thus, went on a fast unto death to oppose it.
  • On 24th September 1932, Dr. Ambedkar and Gandhiji reached an understanding, which became the famous Poona Pact.
  • According to this Pact, in addition to the agreement on electoral constituencies, reservations were provided for untouchables in Government jobs and legislative assemblies.
  • The provision of the separate electorate was dispensed with.
  • The Pact carved out a clear and definite position for the downtrodden on the political scene of the country.
  • It opened up opportunities of education and government service for them and also gave them a right to vote, all because of Ambedkar's farsightedness.

ROLE IN ROUND TABLE CONFERENCES AND QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT

  • Ambedkar attended all the three Round Table Conferences in London and each time, forcefully projected his views in the interest of the 'untouchable'. He exhorted the downtrodden sections to raise their living standards and to acquire as much political power as possible.

VIEWS ON DIFFERENT CONCEPTS

Hinduism:

  • He was of the view that there was no future for untouchables in the Hindu religion and they should change their religion if need be.
  • He even converted to Buddhism on the line of his views and statement "Even though I was born in the Hindu religion, I will not die in the Hindu religion"
  • He believed that the Hindu religion foisted its weaknesses upon the shudras and turned them into utter slaves of the three Varnas. They turned their religious, social, political and economic life into such that it could not be described as human life.

Caste system:

  • In his speech in the last meeting of the Constituent Assembly, for instance, he had categorically said that the caste system and democracy cannot coexist.
  • That is why the Indian Constitution barred discrimination on the basis of caste and language.
  • He believed that any nation is formed by a coming together of its traditions, cultures, religions and languages. Therefore, nationalism has no place for parochialism.

Future India:

  • Giving importance to the land, its society and the best traditions for nation-building, he stressed that the nation is not a physical entity. It is the result of continuous efforts, sacrifice and patriotism.
  • He described nationality as “consciousness of kind, awareness of the existence of that tie of kinship”, as this is how people come close to each other and develop a sense of fraternity.

Women:

  • Ambedkar was also a pioneer in his thinking on women’s education and jobs.
  • He believed that the progress of a community ought to be measured “by the degree of progress which women had achieved”.
  • He was probably the first scholar who tried to understand the position of women in the caste structure.
  • That led him to advocate for rights and empowerment of women.

Politics and Religion:

  • An age where both politics and religion have suffered such an enormous decline, Babasaheb Ambedkar offers us an example to learn from.
  • For Ambedkar, the challenge of social revolution was inextricably bound to the art of inner transformation.
  • Ambedkar’s spirituality did not allow for a crude separation of the personal and the political.
  • Ambedkar’s insistence on a spiritualisation of human life constitutes the truly notable radicalism of his political struggle.
  • This is his most significant contribution but also his most forgotten legacy.

HIS ROLE AS CONSTITUTION'S DRAFTING COMMITTEE HEAD

  • Ambedkar drafted the Constitution with the vision that all the citizens of the country were Indians first; their other identities came later.
  • Ambedkar’s ideas had a unique confluence of politics, law, history and philosophy.
  • In November 1948, while proposing to consider the draft of the Constitution, he explained the decision to call India a “Union of States” and not a “Federation of States”. Ambedkar was concerned with the challenge of social separation in India, so he said, “If we want to build a democracy, we have to recognise the obstacles in our path because the grand palace of the Constitution stands on the foundation of people’s allegiance in democracy.”
  • Ambedkar was greatly influenced by the French Revolution and took three words as principles from there:
  • Liberty
  • Equality
  • Fraternity.
  • These words included in the core of the Constitution also deeply influenced his political and social philosophy.
  • That is why the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution enshrine the right to equality through Articles 14 to 18, the right to freedom through Articles 19 to 22 and the right against exploitation (Articles 23 and 24).
  • His advocacy for universal adult franchise ensured that women had the right to vote immediately after Independence.
  • His advocacy of the Hindu Code Bill was a revolutionary measure towards ameliorating women’s plight by conferring on them the right to adopt and inherit.
  • He contributed to developing federal finance.
  • It also needs to be understood that Article 370 was also added to the Constitution against his will.

ROLE IN POST-INDEPENDENCE INDIA

  • In 1947, when India became independent, the first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, invited Dr. Ambedkar (elected as a Member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal) to join his Cabinet as a Law Minister.
  • Though, later on, Dr. Ambedkar had differences of opinion with the Government over the Hindu Code Bill, which led to his resignation as Law Minister.
  • He worked as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution and made the most epic and divine Constitution of the world.

DALIT ASSERTION IN TODAY'S INDIA AND AMBEDKAR'S TEACHING

  • The only leader from the pre-Independence era who continues to inspire millions, has become an icon of social revolt and is being discovered by more and more Indians across castes and religions is Babasaheb Ambedkar.
  • But Dalit assertion in today's world brought both pros and cons of it

CONS:

  • The violence against the depressed classes increased vehemently.
  • As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, the total number of crimes against SCs in the country in 2010 was 32,643, of which UP accounted for 7,522 (23 per cent). The number of crimes increased to 47,064 in 2014, in which UP’s share was 8,075. Though its share in the national tally fell by four percentage points to 17 per cent, it continued to top the list. UP’s share declined because crimes against SCs increased in MP and Rajasthan.
  • This tendency shows shows serious hidden defects in the society
  • First, this reaffirms that caste constitutes the “basic structure” of Indian society.
  • The foul mindset is more dominant in the “cow-belt” states i.e. UP,Bihar, MP, Rajasthan; compared to the southern states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala
  • Second, the rationalist anti-caste Dravidian movement initiated by Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy in Tamil Nadu and Narayana Guru’s reformist movement in Kerala set the tone for social change in the south in the 20th century. The “cow-belt” states have not experienced any radical progressive social movement.
  • Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s Arya Samaj focussed on the supremacy of Vedic culture, which only reinforced the rigidity of caste-based hierarchy. This explains why cow vigilantism is largely confined to the “cow-belt” states.
  • Third, caste-based hierarchy, to use Ambedkar’s words, created “graded inequality” that gave a sense of caste superiority not only to the intermediate castes such as Thakurs, but also to many OBCs.
  • Though this is a pan-Indian phenomenon, it is more pronounced in the “cow-belt” states.
  • Fourth, caste remains the most influential factor in India’s electoral politics, particularly in rural areas, more pronounced in the “cow-belt” states’ rural locales.

PROS:

  • Until about four or five decades ago, the Dalits would meekly surrender to the wishes of the so-called upper-castes in social, economic and political matters. This is no longer true.
  • Access to higher and professional education has enabled horizontal and vertical social and economic mobility for Dalits.
  • It has led to the creation of a class of writers, professionals, administrators and entrepreneurs within the Dalit community. This new class has started to refuse the conventional social stigmatisation and subordination of the Dalits by the upper castes.
  • Ambedkar’s movement of Dalit liberation created a sense of confidence and assertion in the community, which in turn enabled it to overcome traditional feelings of defeatism.
  • Dalit literature played an important role in sharpening confidence.
  • Protests by students at the Hyderabad Central University in the wake of the suicide of Rohith Vemula, who faced caste-based harassment, Jignesh Mewani’s mobilisation of thousands of Dalits over the flogging of five Dalit youth for skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat, and now, mobilisation by the young lawyer Chandrasekhar and the Bhim Army at the Jantar Mantar in the national capital, are examples of Dalit assertion that seem to have upset casteist sections.

SOME FACTUAL POINTS:

  • In 1936, the Independent Labour Party was founded by Ambedkar.
  • During the Second World War in 1939, he called upon Indians to join the Army and fight against Nazism, which he said was another side of Fascism.
  • On 24th May, 1956, on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, he declared in Bombay, that he would adopt Buddhism in October. On October 14, 1956 he embraced Buddhism. On 6th December, 1956, Baba Saheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar attained 'Mahaparinirvan'.
  • The place where he was cremated according to Buddhist rites in Dadar is called Chaitya Bhoomi.
  • His death anniversary is observed as Mahaparinirvan Din.
  • His birth anniversary is celebrated as Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti on 14 April every year.
  • In 1990, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, was bestowed with Bharat Ratna.
  • From 14th April 1990 - 14th April 1991, it was observed as the 'Year of Social Justice' in the memory of Ambedkar.
  • The Government of India under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on March 24, 1992 established Dr. Ambedkar Foundation to commemorate Babasaheb's unending contributions for the unified development of India.
  • Important books by Dr. Ambedkar: The Annihilation of Caste 1936; The Untouchables 1948; Buddha Or Karl Marx 1956, etc.

WAY FORWARD

The development of Panchteerth — Janam Bhumi (Mhow), Shiksha Bhumi (London), Chaitya Bhumi (Mumbai), Diksha Bhumi (Nagpur), Mahaparinirvan Bhumi (Delhi) — are steps towards ensuring an appropriate legacy for Ambedkar, the nationalist reformer. The successful implementation of the Mudra Scheme for availing loans, Stand-up India for promoting entrepreneurship in the SC and ST community, the expansion of the merit-cum-means scholarship, the Ayushman Bharat scheme, PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojna, Saubhagya Yojana, the simplification of labour laws are among the several measures that display the government’s unwavering commitment to fulfil the dreams of B R Ambedkar.

His philosophy of “bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya” and its belief in equality and justice is relevant today and will remain so in the future.

The current pressures of politics and the resulting pragmatism may need the symbolic presence of Ambedkar, with Ambedkar being available for everyone.

Sources

  • The Indian Express
  • The wire
  • PIB
  • The Hindu
General Studies Paper 1
  • History