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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Dr Ambedkar: A Titan Secularist, Educationist and Social Reformer of Modern India

Saturday 14 April 2018

by Ravindra Sharma

Tentatively, India’s anti-colonial journey (1858-1947) produced five mentors: M.K. Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Tagore and Bhagat Singh. While Gandhi is still the mentor of Modern India, Nehru is viewed as the architect of “secular and democratic India”. While Tagore is considered as the cultural icon, Bhagat Singh still arouses the passion of the radical youth. However, Dr B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956) is the most controversial thinker of religion and caste-ridden India. Politically, Ambedkar carries the most significant political value for the future of India.

Ambedkar as an Educationist 

Humorously Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore were not good students. However, Ambedkar was a brilliant, unusual and extraordinary child who had lust for knowledge, information, books and wisdom from the age of nine. Ambedkar was a voracious reader, prolific writer, wonderful orator, serious researcher, social reformer and party builder. The humanistic value of education led him to study economics, sociology, politics, law and finally Buddhism and Marxism.

He studied at the Bombay University, Colombia University and London School of Economics. He initiated several newspapers and journals to give voice to the “untouchables”, such as, Mook Nayak,Bahiskar Bharat and Equality. Ambedkar was convinced that the fate of the centuries-old “deprived class” can be changed only by promoting education. He coined a slogan for the downtrodden: “educate, agitate and organise”. He laid the foundation of Siddharth College, Milind College (Bombay) and many schools for the untouchables. He was also the Chairman of the Ramjas College of Delhi University. Ambedkar wrote and spoke against “caste-based pride” till his last breath.

Ambedkar picked up the secularistic and humanistic values from Buddha, Kabir, Mahatma Phule on the one hand, and democratic and liberatarian ideas from the Western thinkers on the other. Ambedkar was the principal architect of the secularist Constitution of Modern India. Ambedkar wrote many theses: such as, Ancient Indian Commerce, Dividend of India: a Historical and Analytical Study, Castes in India, their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, the Problem of Rupee, its Origin and its Solution. Ambedkar outrightly rejected the Aryan invasion theory arguing: ‘It is so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago.’ In his book, Who were the Shudras? Ambedkar argued that Aryans belong to India. Finally, he wrote a classic, titled Annihilation of Caste, lambasting Hinduism. He proposed the Hindu Code Bill which was rejected by the Hindu patriarchs in Parliament; in protest he resigned from Parliament.

Ambedkar as an economist had suggested a fine balance between “agricultural growth” and “industrial development” to improve the GDP and to advocate the material comfort for the working class. He had floated a political party, named Labour Party; as Ambedkar had suffered the pain and trauma of a big family (he was the 14th child), he passionately argued for the small family or family planning. Not many have pointed out, Ambedkar had suggested a nine-month maternity leave for working women.

Ambedkar as a Social Reformer 

Ambedkar was allergic to religion. After Buddha and Kabir, Ambedkar seems to be the most popular social reformer of Indian history. In 1935 he proclaimed: ‘I am not going to die as Hindu.’ Between 1936 and 1956, Ambedkar launched several movements against Hinduism and Islam as well. To humanise and secularise society, the conservative and backward ideas must be eradicated by the progressive ideas at the earliest—was the faith and conviction of Ambedkar. Ambedkar lambasted Hinduism by burning the Manusmriti (1936) and wrote against the maltreatment of women in Islam. “No words can adequately express the great and many evils of polygamy and concubinage especially as the source of misery to a Muslin woman,” her affirmed.

One strongly feels that something is deeply wrong in the evolution of Hinduism. Alas, as a school boy Ambedkar was segregated from upper-caste students and a separate peon was arranged to offer water: in the absence of the peon water was denied to him and this he revealed in one of his later writings: “No peon No water”. Ambedkar was more hurt and shocked in 1918 when a Professor of Political Science in Mumbai, and the other educated colleagues of the same college refused to share a “drinking water jug” with him. As a result, in the mid-1920s Ambedkar launched several movements of social reform—arranging drinking water for untouchables and vociferously arguing with Hindu priests to enter Hindu temples. Eventually, Ambedkar joined Buddhism discarding Hinduism (1956).

However, the cardinal point is: from Buddhism to Ambedkar, a series of radical reformers have invaded Hinduism but in vain. Caste-ridden Hinduism still influences the Indian mind, society and politics so much so that Hinduism has become a source of gaining and retaining power and wealth. I am sure that in his graveyard Ambedkar must be very disturbed and angry as well.

Ambedkar as a Secularist 

Briefly, despite serious differences “Secularism and Democracy” constituted the faith and conviction of India’s mentors. The word “secularism” shines in the Indian Constitution because of Ambedkar’s endeavours. Jinnah’s ”Two Nation Theory” was unacceptable to him. However, Ambedkar bemoaned over the quarrel with Pakistan. Ambedker had a soft corner for the other minorities but not for Hindu Rashtra. Let me conclude by saying that critically Indian Communists made a blunder by not taking Ambedkar’s thesis “Annihilation of Caste” seriously; caste is a peculiar propensity of Indian society which he wanted to remove. Indian Communists could neither mobilise the poor people around the category of “class” nor caste. On the other hand, Indian Socialists highlighted caste to snatch power from the Congress. However, caste-ridden RJD and JD(U) in Bihar and SP and BSP in UP failed to provide a viable alternative to the Congress. This is the reason that the fascist “Grand Hindu alliance” is trying to fill the political vacuum. Politically, from Indira Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party used “Dalits” as a vote-bank to retain power and the opportunist BSP failed to capture the imagination of the other castes, classes and minorities to provide a “clean administration”. Here lies the wisdom of Ambedkar to have argued till last breath that only a “religion, caste and corruption”-free India could march forward towards “Secularism and Democracy”.

The last point, that not many have mentioned yet: Ambedkar passed away on December 6, 1956 rejecting Hinduism and endorsing Buddhism. Exactly, after 36 years on December 6, 1992 the Babri Masjid was demolished for the “revival of Hinduism”. The demolition of the Babri Majid was the first step in the rise of Hindu fascism. The decision of choosing Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of UP is a clear-cut reflection of a unique combination of Hindu “religion and state” questioning the sacred principle of the Constitution. The liberals, democrats, Leftists, radicals must seriously ponder over the rise of the Indian brand of fascism.

Prof Ravindra Sharma is an eminent scholar of Chinese Studies. He also follows the developments in South Asia. He has published extensively on politics, history, literature and international relations. Currently, he is a Senior Associate Professor at the Doon University SOL, Dehradun. He may be contacted at radical_sharma[at]yahoo.com

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