14th of April marked the 127th birth anniversary of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of Republic of India, the architect of Constitution of India. For scores of people, it is like a festival, a feast in commemoration of the birth of a great human, venerated as Babasaheb. Every year, this day is celebrated to signify freedom from ages of inhumane oppression and a jubilation over the vicious, barbarous and suppressive social rules enforced by the perpetrators holding the principles of Manu with divine esteem.
Dr B R Ambedkar is a towering social revolutionary, far more effective and successful in bring in rebellious social reforms, incomparable to what many social reformers before him could achieve, by virtue of his ability to decipher the social structure of India, his view point of an oppressed and more significantly his adept knowledge of the law. The word revolution also reminds me of another personality who continues to mesmerise and influence student politics in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and across India. On 14th of April, 1972, a revolutionary student leader ‘George Reddy’ a gold medalist in Physics, who inspired the character played by Surya/Ajay Devgan in the acclaimed Mani Ratnam movie Yuva, that dealt with students in politics, was murdered in a heinous state sponsored killing in collusion with right-wing communalists, a first of its kind after Independence. Being an alumnus from the same University, I would also sedulously pay floral tributes to the Che Guevara of student politics in India, whose struggle is more relevant with our times when student and youth leaders like Khanaiya Kumar, Sheila Rashid and others across the political spectrum from the left to the right through the center are making waves in the national discourse with their gumption and courage to question state sponsored hegemony.
Before going ahead to recall and remember Babasaheb for his far reaching contributions to India and “we the people” of India, I would like to draw your attention to a sequence of events in our country lately, and leave it to you, the readers to figure out and ponder if it makes sense as to why, Dr B R Ambedkar is still relevant and revered in a nation of more than half a billion poor and oppressed and marginalised working forces.
- Spurious but perennial attacks on the vulnerable, oppressed, specifically the women, Dalits, Muslims in the name of khaap panchayats, cow vigilantism and love jihad, what not
- String of statues of Lenin, Periyar and Ambedkar brazenly brought down in states where the influence of Hindu hegemonic forces grew with change in power
- The Supreme court’s ruling to dilute the SC & ST atrocities act in the pretext of improving the effectiveness. Of course, its debatable considering the Supreme court’s apparent good intent to slash down the surging number of false cases.
Public backlash, subsequent to the above perceivable oppressive tactics of the establishment, allegedly lead from behind by an organisation taking refugee in fundamental right-wing ideologues, ironically is trying to own up and appropriate the legacy of Dr B R Ambedkar. Be it the RSS celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti, or our honourable Prime Minister, as some claim symbolically inaugurating Dr B R Ambedkar National Memorial, built at a cost of ~100Cr INR, at Alipur Road in the heart of Delhi. These apparent acts of symbolism raise conspicuous suspicion, as they do not seem to promise or seriously curtail the anarchism, and violence perpetrated in the name of nationalism equated to Hinduism by those emphatically asserting to be foot soldiers of the ruling party and its leader.
Anyways, continuing with the subject on relevance of Dr B R Ambedkar and the reverence his followers shower on him, it can be clearly stated that his legacy has been carried forward by his followers with enthusiasm but without much direction, for most of the years after independence. It was only lately, in the last two decades, with the Mandal agitations at its peak, that non-dalits started acknowledging him, and there had been an organized shift in how he subsequently got projected and appropriated by various political and social groups. One can effortlessly understand that, it has always been an effort of mainstream political parties particularly Congress that ensured that the focus is just on a single family and media predominantly galvanized with Manuwadi mindset, to unethically limit the glory and efforts of Dr. B R Ambedkar unjustly to the Dalits and the oppressed. It is even more amusing now, to sit back and watch with a grin, how those who still endorse and chant Manu’s smrithi’s like the RSS, VHP and their ‘chele, chapate’, started to appropriate Babasaheb, who on the contrary opposed those very principles unequivocally by burning Manusmrithi on 25th December, 1937, in a huge gathering. He later, was instrumental in shaping up modern India based on an egalitarianism, humane and moral values, as is enshrined in the Constitution of India, that he passionately and painstakingly drafted. However, being modest to the BJP with whose support the Janata Party lead by V P Singh formed the government at center. It was during that period that Ambedkar alongside Nelson Mandela was conferred with the Bharat Ratna in 1990, much after other dynastic leaders of Congress like Indira Gandhi who was conferred during her tenure in 1971.
Ambedkar at the centre of social revolution, revolted and rebelled against the cruel and archaic practices of Manu being followed in India. He fought and mobilized against the atrocities on oppressed classes, women and other marginalized, and took inspiration from social reformers of his time that include the ‘true Mahatma’ Jyothiba Phule and his wife Savithri Bhai Phule, Sahu Chatrapathi the grandson of Chatrapathi Shivaji, Narayan Guru, Gadge baba. etc.
One worthy mention as part of the social awakening that he stirred up, should be the Mahad Satyagraha led by Ambedkar on 20th March 1927, to raise the voice against the discrimination of untouchables who were not allowed to use water from a public tank/pond. That day not many might be aware, is thus observed as a “Social Empowerment Day” in India. It might sound disgusting to know, that the fundamentalists amongst high castes, in the locality performed a shudhhikaran (divine purification) exercise in the pond, by dumping tons of cow dung, honey and milk to cleanse and purify the water from the touch of the untouchables. On that occasion Ambedkar also called for the Dalits to abandon the old customs that provided recognizable marks of untouchability and asked women to wear saris like high caste women. In this cause some radical high caste women like Lakshmibai Tipnis and Indirabai Chitre supported him by helping dalit women drape saris, covering the legs down to their ankles. It may also be noted, his style of dressing in western clothes and suit, is certainly a rebellion that remained a sore eye for those who believed and revelled in inciting suffering and issued dikhats on the oppressed, on how they should conduct themselves and dress. Trying to understand the recognizable marks of untouchability, reminds me on the extreme front, the plight of lower caste Hindu women, under the Kingdom of Travancore down south, who were not allowed to cover their bossoms in order to punctuate their low status. Breast Tax or Mulakkaram was imposed on lower caste Hindu women if they wanted to cover their chests in public, until motivated by the sacrifice of a Nadar women, the historic Channar revolt brought an end to the disgusting law. Its another matter to ponder, as to why the CBSE in December 2016 had to issue a circular to affiliated schools under it asking that a section ‘Caste Conflict and Dress Change’ – a chapter that included the Channar revolt – be omitted from the curriculum with effect from 2017.
Being the first Minister of Law and Justice, Babasaheb demonstrated his strong will to reform India society with special focus on Hindu society and make it more humane as he believed there was a necessity to clean up the evil practices prevailing still. He recommended the adoption of Uniform Civil Code, that is common to all religious practices. It is very interesting to note its relevance to the current times, when the incumbent government is trying its hand at it, apparently not with the motive to reform and cleanse malice in all religions but to allegedly target a certain religion. It would have been praiseworthy on the part of the government if they, not influenced by the right wing fundamentalists, would have committed to bring in reforms in all religions and indicate that it happened to start that process with the Muslim Marriage and Maintenance Act.
It is thought provoking and contradictory to popular narrative of Ambedkar being just a Dalit messiah, when one gets to know that he actually resigned from the Nehru led foremost government not for the oppressed, but due to stalling the draft of the Hindu Code Bill which sought to enshrine gender equality and the laws of inheritance and marriage. As a follow up to this, Ambedkar had done research on religious texts and considered the Hindu society structure flawed and brought in recommendations to reform it through the Hindu Code Bill, with many consultations with the women members of the constituent assembly. Nehru supported Ambedkar’s reforms concerning monogamy, divorce, women inheriting shared title and inheritance to daughter. However, alarmed and already knowing his stand on Hinduism, senior Congress Hindu fundamentalist leaders convinced so called men of stature like the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel to oppose the draft with the usual and oft-heard anti-Hindu and anti-Indian tirades and tactics. He tried passionately and vehemently to push the bill forward, in the interests of the women of the nation. Ironically Ambedkar received a setback when the women members who initially supported the bill and contributed towads framing it, backed off anticipating that it could lead to a backlash for them to oppose the stalwarts in the party while being part of a male dominated society. Babasaheb resigned on account of this development, which he thought is an illustration of a modern state’s efforts to accommodate and preserve the traditional interests of a patriarchal society. Nevertheless, he strongly believed in the women’s organizational acumen, their self reliance and maintained that they can improve the society if they are convinced. In his own words he stated, “I measure the progress of the community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”.
Another important event that needs mention is the only instance when Gandhiji declared and committed himself for fast unto death satyagraha. Stable minded folks would be baffled to know, that this fast at the Yerrvada jail in Pune hardly can be in the interest of the national or the freedom struggle. It was an immature reaction on the part of our “father of the nation” who was still evolving through his “experiments with truth”, to oppose the Communal award Bill that grants separate electorates for the oppressed classes. The separate electorates for the oppressed were in addition to the already existing separate electorates for Forward Castes, Anglo Indians, Europeans, Muslims and Sikhs, which Gandhiji never opposed. Gandhiji feared that this grant as a result of Ambedkar’s deliberations in the 2nd Round table Conference, would disintegrate the Hindu society, considering the significant population of the oppressed classes. The fast led to the Hindu groups targeting the oppressed communities and threatening to kill them, if Gandhiji dies while doing the fast. A culmination of all these events led Ambedkar to compromise with Gandhi in the now famous Poona Pact Agreement of 1932, in the presence of Madan Mohan Malviya and others.
A pertinent issue that is like a thorn in India’s skin is the Kashmir issue that revolves around Article 370. A scrutiny of Ambedkar’s stand on this unpopular Article in our constitution, which secures special provisions to Jammu and Kashmir and why he refused to draft Article 370, demonstrates the great man’s foresight and pragmatism that many leaders of his and our times lack. Ambedkar clearly told the Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah: “You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it.” Subsequently when, Sk. Abdullah approached Nehru and at his behest, it ultimately fell upon Sardar Patel who on being informed, what Nehru had promised Sk. Abdullah on special status to J & K, got the Article passed while Nehru was on a foreign tour. On the day the article came up for discussion, Ambedkar refrained from replying to questions on it but did participate on other articles. All arguments were done by Krishna Swami Ayyangar
Economics was Ambedkar’s primary subject of interest than law, social and political science that is well known. He was a prolific student earning doctorates from both Columbia University and London School of Economics. Very few know that Ambedkar is the first Indian to pursue a doctorate degree in Economics abroad. He is also the first Ph.D in Economics and the first double doctorate holder in Economics in South Asia. His thesis titled “The problem of the Rupee- Its origin and its solution” as presented to the Hilton Young Commission, helped conceptualize the Reserve Bank of India, established through the RBI Act 1934. The Finance Commission of India reports, and the provision of 5 years for the Finance Commission are based on his thesis “The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India”, written in 1923. This fact is little known by many Indians and those who know conveniently fail to acknowledge, as are many of his other contributions towards building a stable and stronger nation. Its another subject that, had Ambedkar not criticized the British economic policies in India, as part of his thesis, he would have been much renowned, acknowledged, awarded or rewarded by the British. Therefore, there is not an iota of exaggeration when a Nobel laureate of Amartya Sen’s stature, addresses Dr. B R Ambedkar as his “Father of Economics” or when noted Indian economist Narendra Jadhav calls him “the highest educated Indian economist of all times”.
A revolutionary that Ambedkar was, he is instrumental in safeguarding the rights of labours and rightfully is considered the saviour of labour rights, by those not hell bent to discredit him of his incredible accomplishments. As a labour leader and as the labour member of the Viceroy Executive Council between 1942 and 1946, he was instrumental in securing the rights of the labours and workers through Labour conferences, some of which can be summarized as below.
- The working hours per day in India had been fixed to 8hrs (reduced from 12 hrs) and it still continues even today. I find many of my friends in IT, amused at May 1 being declared a National holiday and as to why the so called white collar job folks have to celebrate it. With a silly grin, now I exclaim, that is due to the number of hours the white collar folks spend in air-conditioned factories.
- Subsequently, the Indian Labour Conference in its 7th session in New Delhi on November 27, 1942 unanimously adopted the principle of 48-hours week in Indian factories(extended to the air-conditioned IT hubs in the neo-liberal era)
- Fixation of minimum wages for labours through a legislation drafted on Nov 28, 1942
- To resolving industrial disputes, Babasaheb was instrumental in setting up the ‘Plenary Conference’ and ‘Standing Advisory Committee’, the two bodies that discuss on Labour welfare.
- The Labour Conference’s took up framing laws for women labours in India, that includes
- Mines Maternity Benefit Act
- Women Labour Welfare fund
- Women and Child Protection Act
- Maternity benefit for women labour
- Banning of women on underground work in coal mines
- Equal pay for equal work irrespective of gender. He established for the first time the principle of equal pay for equal work and women shall be paid the same wages as men.
- Ambedkar was also instrumental in bringing the establishment of employment exchanges and the Employees State Insurance(ESI) to help workers with medical care and medical leave.
- Dearness Allowance (DA), Provident Fund Act, Right to legal strike, Revision of pay scale
Ambedkar was categorical and clear that until and unless trade unions aim at emerging as the governing power, they will serve very little purpose and would only be a source for perpetual squabbles among trade union leaders themselves. In the context of Independence movement and its implication on workers and trade unions, he stated “Free independent nation-state turns to be the enemy of the working class under the hegemony of their masters”. It’s intriguing but also alarming that most of the laws pertaining to employment have changed so little since 1940’s.
Not many would probably know that Dr B R Ambedkar was instrumental in creating and outlining projects like Damodhar Valley Project in 1944, which is the first multipurpose river valley project in India and was in charge of it until 1946, Bakhra-Nangal dam, Hirakud dam. Take a note that, all this was being set up and laid just before Independence while most of the prominent leaders of the Nationalist movement were engrossed in their so-called direct struggle for Swarajya or Independence. And look who was laying the foundation for progress, growth and development in our very own backyard. Certainly, there is no doubt about the fact that Dr B R Ambedkar is an architect not just of our Constitution but also of Modern India.
Most facts about DR. B R Ambedkar are little known in public domain, even to those like me who can claim to be educated. To reason that, maybe we the people are so indifferent, partly because the facts were criminally hidden, partly because we may be prejudiced due to our own affinities rooted in caste, creed, region and religion. It could party also be, due to idolization, we the people are blown away by the charisma of the prevalent leader, a demagogue who is showered with unfounded adulation. Blinded by bhakti, there is a decline of rationality that leads to the creation of political icons out of people who should be serving us, and in the process, we have engaged ourselves in political servitude. The situation is no different to the present times when the current establishment takes unwarranted credit for anything commendable that occurs during their tenure no matter even if the foundations of those accomplishments were laid by the constitutional bodies and institutes during the tenure of the previous regimes. Be it the Mars mission, Chandrayan during the previous regime, our political leaders fail to duly acknowledge the contributions of the institutions of growth. Rather there is a scramble for petty politics to basket the glory for the government and the party that heads it. Appropriately, with regard to politics Ambedkar states, “Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”. This I affirm is also valid for so called Ambedkarities and parties formed in his name, who have reduced him into just a statue, a mere idol, with no serious emphasis to follow his ideology.
Ambedkar’s life and legacy is an inspiration for many in the world who believe that any discrimination whether its gender, caste, religion or region should end and building an egalitarian society is the only way to move forward. As someone who believes in one singular quote of Ambedkar amongst his many, that “I am an Indian first and Indian last”, this is my attempt to pay tribute and respects to Dr. B R Ambedkar. Ignoring the prejudiced assertion of some who believe that they are something else before being an Indian, and try to limit and brand him as just a messiah of few, I am certain his legacy is bound to carry on for a long time beyond just the sphere of the marginalized, as can be seen with many organizations appropriating his legacy now more than earlier. I hope people take some effort to know the facts about the great man, the architect of Modern India, before condescending his stature based on ill-informed facts. It was not by fluke that Dr Ambedkar was voted “the Greatest Indian” in 2012 by a poll organized by History TV18 and CNN IBN.