Home > 2018 > What is in a name? Highlighting ‘Ramji’ in Ambedkar’s name!

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

What is in a name? Highlighting ‘Ramji’ in Ambedkar’s name!

Saturday 14 April 2018

by Ram Puniyani

Currently many Dalit leaders are up in arms and criticising the move of the UP Government of adding ‘Ramji’ in the official records of Bhimrao Ambedkar. It is true that Babasaheb signed the Constitution as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, but as such not too often Ramji is added to his name. The addition may not be challenged technically but it reminds one that this addition is a part of political symbolism, part of co-opting him for Hindutva politics. For the BJP, Lord Ram is the central figure for communalising the society, be it the Ram temple issue or violence unleashed on the eve of Ram Navami. With the coming to power of the Modi-BJP Government, one can clearly see two antagonistic trends at the same time. One is the rise in the atrocities against Dalits and the other is organising Ambedkar anniversaries on a grander scale with the show of public respect for him by the Hindu nationalists.

For almost four years, we saw the clamp down on the Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras, the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and anti-Dalit violence in the name of beef in Una. During the Saharanpur violence of May 2017, with Yogi as the Chief Minister of UP, there occurred the burning of Dalit households. Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Ravan, despite getting bail, is still in custody allegedly for the violence. This burning of Dalit households was in the aftermath of the procession taken out by a BJP MP, chanting slogans such as “UP mein Rahna hai to Yogi Yogi Kahna Hoga” and ‘Jai Shree Ram’. In Maharashtra the Bhima Koregaon violence against the Dalits was instigated. Dalits have been compared to dogs by V.K. Singh in 2016, and recently by Ramakrishna Hegde in Karnataka. In UP’s Kushinagar, when Yogi was to visit the Mushahars, the officials distributed soap bars and shampoos for cleaning up before the visit of Yogi.

Ambedkar was for Indian nationalism, for ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and attributed caste and untouchablity to the Hindu scriptures. In an attempt to distance himself from these values he went on to burn the Manusmriti. He also drafted the Indian Constitution which embodied the core values of the freedom movement. On the other side we see that the Hindu Mahasabha, which began with the Hindu Rajas and landlords, harping on ‘back to the glorious past’, which was dictated by the scriptures where varna (caste) is regarded as being of divine making. From here the concept of Hindutva was highlighted. The Hindutva or ‘Total Hinduness’, aims at a Hindu nation (as per Savarkar) with Aryan race and culture. This politics was taken up further by the RSS.

Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and most of the other Hindutva ideologues upheld the scriptures opposed by Ambedkar. Savarkar stated that Manusmriti is the Hindu law today. Golwalkar went on further to declare Lord Manu as the greatest ever law-giver, whose laws are relevant even today. He had said: “...Brahmin is the head, Kshatriya the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet. This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement, that is, the Hindu people, is our god. This supreme vision of godhead is the very core of our concept of ‘nation’ and has permeated our thinking and given rise to various unique concepts of our cultural heritage.”

In the wake of the Indian Constitution coming into force, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser wrote an editorial running down the same. The RSS, and even Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde, have publicly spoken of “changing the Constitution”. “Following Ambedkar’s putting forward Hindu Code Bill, there was a severe opposition to it. Ambedkar stood his ground and stated. ‘You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have the courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of caste.’”

What is happening currently? The caste is being upheld in various ways. The dilution of the anti-Dalit Atrocities Act and removal of the reservation clause for teachers in universities is a direct affront to the social justice credo, the central mission of Ambedkar.

Hindu nationalist politics is based on the values in which caste and gender hierarchy is the central part of its agenda. They have on one side to bypass the aspirations of the Dalits and on the other to woo them for electoral goals. The latter is manifest in their tokenism towards the issues of Dalits and especially paying obeisance to Babasaheb Ambedkar. At the same time the strategy of cooption of Dalit sections to their agenda is to be mixed up with their own core agenda, which is centred on Lord Ram, the Holy cow, stepping up religiosity by targeting the religious minorities.

There is an attempted running down of the principles and values for which Ambedkar struggled all his life, while on surface he is being eulogised. Now comes another dimension to the Hindu nationalist politics: to strengthen the politics of Ram by using the name of Ambedkar.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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