Ambedkar’s Work and Mission
Monday 14 April 2008, by
[(On April 14, 2008 falls the 117th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. To mark the occasion we are publishing the following article.)]
Some people are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them and some achieve greatness. To the last category, Bharat Ratna Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar belongs. Ambedkar was a great nationalist, political thinker, reformer and revolutionary and prolific writer with prodigious ideas. He stood for all scientific and social activities which enhanced the cause of human progress and happiness. His contribution in the making of the Constitution of India was phenomenal. He defiantly fought for the betterment of the oppressed classes. And in this struggle, he showed rare crusading spirit, carving out in the process an important place for himself among the prominent architects of modern India.
Ambedkar, the Cornerstone of the Constitution
DRAFTING a Constitution is by no means an easy task. It requires the highest statecraft, statesmanship, scholarship, intellectual acumen endowed with a flood of knowledge of the nation’s and world history, the working of Constitutions in the democratic, totalitarian and dictatorship governments. To Ambedkar, the Constitution was not just the basic law for the governance of the country. It was a vehicle of the nation’s progress, reflecting the best in the past traditions of the country, to cope with the needs of the present and possessing enough resilience to meet the needs of the future. At the same time he was of the view that it must be a living organ, not for one or two generations, but for generations to come. In that perspective, the provisions of the Constitution are couched in the language of generalities with pregnant contents of significance which vary from age to age and have at the same time transcendental continuity without any hiatus.
The heart of the Constitution is the Fundamental Rights given to every citizen and the Directive Principles to the executive and legislature for governance of the country. The idea behind them is to ensure certain basic rights to the citizens, so that they are not at the mercy of the shifting opinions of the legislators. The chapter on Fundamental Rights ensures the dignity of man as a human being and emphasises the creation of a casteless, classless and homogeneous society. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru remarked: “Dr. Ambedkar had played a most important part in the framing of India’s Constitution. No one took greater trouble and care over Constitution-making than Dr. Ambedkar.” He carved a unique and impregnable pride of place and honour in the history of the free Indian nation. So long as the Indian Constitution survives, the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar will remain immortal. He lives forever in the hearts of every downtrodden.
Political and Economic Thoughts
AMBEDKAR believed in a democratic system of government and power to the people had been a major concern for him. He was very clear that unless citizens have power in their own hands, there could be no democracy. That is why he says that democracy rests on four premises, where the citizen remains at the centre:
• The individual is an end in itself.
• The individual has certain inalienable rights, which must be guaranteed to him by the Constitution.
• The individual shall not be required to relinquish any of his constitutional rights as a price of any privilege.
• The state shall not delegate power to private persons to govern others.
The core of Dr Ambedkar’s political thinking is contained in two of his statements: (1) rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society; and (2) a democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society. Social conscience is the only safeguard of all rights, fundamental or non—fundamental. The prevalent view, that once rights are enacted in a law they are safeguarded, is unwarranted. The formal framework of democracy is of no value. Democracy is essentially a form of society, a mode of associated living. The roots of democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in the terms of associated life between the people who form a society.
Dr Ambedkar’s expertise as a constitutional expert went a long way in enshrining the concepts of political democracy in the Indian Constitution. To him, political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. Social democracy is a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life.
These principles are not to be treated as separate items but in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Unless there is social democracy, power to the people would remain a distant dream.
Ambedkar knew that mere adoption of a democratic system of government in the Constitution would not be sufficient. Equality in society, equality before law and administration, constitutional morality, lack of tyranny of the majority and developing public conscience are conditions for the success of democracy in India. The foremost condition for democracy, in Ambedkar’s opinion, is equality in society as equality is the foundation stone where the notions of liberty and fraternity develop. He remarked that equality is the original notion and respect for human personality is a reflection of it. If equality is denied, everything else may be taken to be denied.
Dr Ambedkar also recognised the fact that the lofty ideals expressed in the Constitution would remain as they were, given the nature of contradictions inherent in society. Absence of equality on the social and economic plane is a cause of contradictions. This has resulted in a society based on the principle of graded inequality on the social plane which means elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic plane there are some in society who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty. To deny equality in social and economic life would be putting political democracy in peril. If the contradictions are not removed, those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which Constituent Assembly has laboriously built up.
The observations made by Dr.Ambedkar on November, 25, 1949 are prophetic and relevant considering the present political situation in our country. However the good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turnout to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of the Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of state such as legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The factors on which the workings of these organs of state depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and policies. It is, therefore, futile to pass any judgment upon the Constitution without reference to the part which the people and their parties are likely to play.
AMBEDKAR was, par excellence, a spokesman of the ignored humanity—the workers, small peasants and landless labourers. He expressed the sorrows of the untouchables and tried sincerely to channel the activities of the depressed classes. In mobilising them, he created a sense of self-respect and pride in them. He dedicated his life to the cause of removal of untouchability and completely identified himself with the socially segregated section of the Indian society. He launched a life-long crusade for liberating them from their centuries-old enslavement and ostracism. It is this crusade which “lifted him up high from a mere ghetto boy to a legend in his own lifetime”. He was born an untouchable and therefore he had an intense yearning to see that the untouchables are better placed in social, political and economic fields. He rejected social reforms received as charity and accommodation. He wanted social reforms as of right. He was not so much for peripheral social reforms in Hindu society like widow remarriage and abolition of child marriage. He was for a total reorganisation and reconstruction of the Hindu society on two main principles—equality and absence of casteism.
The socially progressive values that Dr Ambedkar cherished were the basis of his social and political life. Though he was born in the Mahar community, he never represented his own community but represented all those communities which were socially and economically downtrodden. He has been variously described as a crusader for the rights of the depressed classes of India, a literary genius, an eminent educationist, a political philosopher and an able parliamentarian. He was an indefatigable activist who by virtue of his formidable intellectual attributes started a movement for attainment of self-respect for the untouchables as well as depressed classes. He carried on a relentless struggle against the social, political and economic segregation of these classes.
Ambedkar’s thinking arose out of his acute dissatisfaction with the anomalous treatment meted out to the people of his community. His mind was preoccupied with the social amelioration, political enlightment, economic well-being and spiritual awakening of the downtrodden. He had a deep faith in fundamental human rights, in the equal rights of man and woman, in the dignity of the individual, in the promotion of better standards of life and, above all, in peace and security in all spheres of human life. He was a champion of a revolution to be brought about by the dynamics of public opinion through a change in the laws of the land. He was not a Utopian, but a realist. He saw a vast difference between a revolution and real social change. A revolution transfers political power from one party to another or one nation to another. The transfer of power must be accompanied by such distribution of power that the result would be a real social change in the relative strength of forces operating in society.
Ambedkar was totally committed to the annihilation of the caste system. According to him, caste system is not merely a division of labour but a division of labourers. It is a hierarchy in which the division of labourers is graded one above other. This division of labour is based on neither natural aptitude nor choice of the individual concerned. It is, therefore, harmful inasmuch as it involves the subordination of man’s natural powers and inclinations to the exigencies of social rules. Ambedkar reiterated:
The caste system prevents common activity and by preventing it, it has prevented the Hindus from becoming a society with unified life and a consciousness of its own being.
Ambedkar’s great vision enjoined the abolition of casteism in every shape and form, since he was opposed to all divisive forces and aimed at strengthing the impulse of national integration. The greatly cherished ideals of “fraternity and equality were the cement with which he wanted to bind together a totally cohesive nation”. Ambedkar’s philosophy was that self-respect and human dignity were of paramount importanance in a free republic. He espoused the noble cause of equality of status and opportunity to every Indian, assuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the nation. He was not merely a learned man, but also an intellectual who sacrificed his life for the dignity and uplift of the poorest of the poor of the world. His aim was not communal and not limited to personal benefit, but it was essentially social and human, related to all who suffered from slavery, injustice, tyranny and exploitation. Dr Ambedkar’s principle was not to fight against the particular persons who created a frustrating situation for him and his fellow sufferers, because the cause of the situation was not these persons but the social philosophy which supported a social system of inequalities. His long-range response was a direct attack against the root cause.
It is pertinent to raise some questions to reflect on Dr Ambedkar’s legacy. Have his projects shaped out as he would have wished? Has India moved in the direction that he thought optimal? Have his inheritors embalmed his ideas in dogma, or extended them while confronting new predicaments? Dr Ambedkar’s vision did not end at the horizon of Dalit power; rather, he envisaged an India liberated from caste consciousness, a futuristic society no longer trapped in the feudal binaries of master and slave, privilege and privation. Ironically, again, this vision has been negated by the perpetuation of caste attitudes in an electoral democracy whose political dynamics are fuelled by group antagonisms. With group identitities and interests raised to a cornerstone of political struggle, India now faces the long-running scenario of a caste war fought out on various social and economic fronts, at varying intensities.
The conditions of the untouchables and depressed sections of Indian society have not changed much. Social and economic justice is still evading them. The pathetic condition of the depressed classes has not shown the expected improvement. Social and economic inequalities continue to persist. Ambedkar’s dream of a society based on socio- economic justice, human dignity and equality is yet to be realised. So we cannot stop with Ambedkar and his programme of social reform. We have to go beyond Ambedkar in our struggle to establish an egalitarian society. Dr Ambedkar’s legacy will have to be retrieved and extended by activists committed to the social and cultural renaissance he had envisioned; and not by the political purveyors of an exhausted rhetoric who claim to speak in his name.
THE core of Ambedkar’s philosophy of life hapened to be the basics tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity. To him, A great man must be motivated by the dynamics of a social purpose and must act as the scourge and the scavenger of society. These are the elements which distinguish an eminent individual from a great man and constitute his title-deeds to respect and reverence.
Indeed, he himself fulfilled all the conditions of being a great man. His title to this dignity rests upon the social purposes he served and in the way he served them. His life is a saga of great struggles and achievements. His message to the people was:
You must have firm belief in sacredness of your mission. Noble is your aim and sublime and glorious is your mission. Blessed are those who are awakened to their duty to those among whom they are born. n
1. Writings and Speeches, Babasaheb Ambedkar (BA WS), 1989, Vol. I, Maharashtra Government publication.
2. Writings and Speeches, Babasaheb Ambedkar (BA WS), 1982, Vols. I, II, III. Mahararashtra Government publication.
3. Writings and Speeches, Babasaheb Ambedkar (BA WS), 1987, Vol. III, Mahararashtra Government publication.
4. Constiuent Assembly Debates (CAD), Vol. VII, Government of lndia publication.
5. Ambedkar and Social Justice, Vol. I to Vol. II. Published by the Director, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi.
6. The Hindu dated December 10, 2006.
Dr C. Sheela Reddy is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, S.V. University, Tirupati.