09 August, 2005
In June 2005, I saw a huge crowd of Madigas at the Nizam college ground sitting two days and demanding categorization of reservation meant for scheduled castes. There were rumors that the opposition Telugu Desham instigated this incident to divide the Dalit votes who have been supporting the Congress Party for long. Though, these charges may not be entirely ruled out yet those championing the cause of Dalits need to ponder over the situation as what has happened to the entire movement. Whether there was a Dalit movement or there were separate caste movement defending their own identities.
Dalit movement has a rich history of rationalism and humanism. In fact, the historical evolution took place with Buddha’s revolt against Varnashram dharma. Buddha not only rejected supremacy of Brahmins but also of the Shastras. Sanskrit was the language of the Brahmins and knowledge their sole domain and Buddha not only demolished their knowledge base of Brahmins but also popularized among the masses by sermonizing in Prakrit.
And this tradition of revolt continued at the later stage also. All the indigenous reform movement and religions in India had inherently revolted against the Brahmanical value system, which gave divine sanction to untouchability and caste system. After Buddha, Mahavir Swami rejected the notion of caste and violence in the brahmanical structure. Even the birth of Sikhism is related to the caste prejudices rampant in varnashram dharma system. In the 15th century Kabir talked of rejection of caste system and talked of one God. He attacked rituals and Shastras and talked of a society based on equality.
Yet the brahmanical system continued by hook or by crook. The brahmanical literature degraded Dalits and talked very cleverly about the pre-birth theory. They promoted Gita which in return promoted not only violence but also caste system. The Brahmin intellectuals carefully planted their own people among Dalits to justify their position.
One is ashamed that even today we have gurus like Dronacharya who supported Varna Vywvastha and denied Eklavya, a Dalit to become the number one arch of his time. Accordingly, Dalits were not supposed to learn arms and only the Kshatriyas had a right to learn military training according to Varna Vyawastha. We could have accepted such norms in the primitive time and forgot about it but in the post independence India, the government followed it and formed not only Arjuna Award for best sports person but Dronacharya award for best coaches, indicating nothing has changed the mindset of our rulers. The result is that we have coaches like Dronacharya today who differentiate between their subjects and the condition is that our sports are in the worst shape.
While Mughal rule in India was a status quoits one, the emergence of British power made a lot of difference for the downtrodden people. They brought a sense of liberty for the marginalized communities. Jyoti Ba Phule belonged to Mali ( fishermen) community of Maharastra. Pune’s Chitpawan Brahmin would not allow any Dalit and backward to join schools. Women and particularly of Dalit community could never dream of going to school. Phule realized that unless the community get educated they would not be able to emancipate themselves. So he started a massive work of education by starting various schools in and around Pune. The Brahmins opposed education movement among Dalits which they had denied for years. Phule exposed the brahamnical literature, wrote plays about the exploitation of the farmers and appreciated Christian missionaries for their noble work in school education.
Taking inspiration from Phule, Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar also talked the importance of education. But education must be rationalists and reasonable. Education agitate our mind. It gives us thought about what, is good and what is bad. Hence Education is root of every movement. Agitation on certain thing is a uniting factor. It became the famous word of Ambedkar ” Educate, agitate and organise’. Ambedkar was one of the tallest intellectuals of the country, a scholar who understood the crookedness of the Shastras. He was an iconoclast and questioned the very essence of Shastras. In his letters to Gandhi he says that we should amend Shastras because they talk of caste system. Gandhi said that we had to believe in Shastras if we want to call ourselves Hindu because if we challenge the very foundation of Hinduism, which is the Shastras, then we have no business in calling ourselves Hindu. In fact, this led to bitter dual between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Ambedkar not only said clearly that he was born as a Hindu but would not die as a Hindu.
Ambedkar read Gita and Ramayana and questioned the wisdom. He was among very few intellectuals of his time who never considered Rama and Krishna as idol for Indians. How can be a person who maltreat his wife, be considered an ideal man, he opined. Gita, he suggested, openly justify killing and Varnavyavastha. He cites example of Krishna’s sermon to Arjuna when the latter refuses to attack his own brotherns and relatives, “Oh Arjuna, you are not killing them.. You are just killing their bodies, for soul is immortal, ever present. It cannot be burnt, neither could it be dried.” Ambedkar wondered that if a person murder some one, if would be easier for his lawyer to make his presentation in the court saying my client has not killed any one. He just killed his body the soul is immortal. Are these arguments valid?
Ambedkar fought for the dignity of Dalits. The Hindu Varnavyavastha snatched the dignity from Dalits. It degraded labour. The person who works hard to earn his bred was considered lowest while the Brahmins with their narrow minded tainted vision became ‘Bhoodevatas’, gods on the earth. The bloodsucking Gods had inherently anti Dalit bias. So angry was Ambedkar with the Hindu law book, which he considered as the source of caste system and discrimination against Daltis in India that he launched a movement against it.
On December 25th, 1927, Ambedkar launched a Satygrah in Mahad town of Maharastra for the water rights of Dalits and against the Manu Smriti. He burnt Manu Smriti terming it a document of discrimination with a number of his supporters. It was an act of great courage to do so in the den of violent Chitpawan Brahmins in Maharastra.
It is interesting that Ambedkar fought for the rights of Dalits and had a broader vision forhis community. Unfortunately, when he started thinking of giving them a vision in 1955, he died. It was time when he embraced Buddhism and gave them an identity. Many people question Ambedkar’s motivation to embrace Buddhism. Ambedkar has his own definition of Buddhism. He wanted his people to give an identity so that they get out of Varna System. Whatever we say, as long as we are a part of the Varna Vyawastha, whatever we do reflect our caste identities. Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar, all, wanted their followers to be provocative and proactive. Reject caste system and for that complete break up from the Hindu social order and embrace a better system.
Ambedkar wrote many thing over a period of 30 years. Some time he was living in deep anguish, elsewhere working with the government or framing constition and at the end as a Buddhist. And on each of these occasions he had different moods. There was a time when he became frustrated with the Varnavyavastha and he tore the Shastras. Then a time came when Ambedkar’s main concern was to ensure fare participation of Dalits in political life of the country and he succeeded in getting separate electorate for them which he had to withdraw to ‘save’ the life of Gandhi, in 1932, known as Poona Pact. Then as a constitutionalist when he drafted constitution and later worked very hard to ensure fare deal for women in the Hindu Code Bill. In the last phase of his life when Baba Saheb embraced Buddhism, his main concern was providing a political alternative to Dalits.
It is also interesting to note that that Dr Ambedkar was a humanist to the core of his heart. Even when his so-called followers have converted him as a caste man or narrowly interpreted his ideologies and perception, Ambedkar could be termed an international humanist. A person who the persecuted all over the world today look to get inspiration. The narrow minded political fringes in the name of Dalit vision should think that Ambedkar first formed Indian Labour Party and later Republican Party of India and at no point of time he formed vision based on caste. Even on his ‘thought on Pakistan’ Ambedkar suggested that there should a party representing poor Hindus and poor Muslims, entirely secular, only that could save India. Muslim communalism only feed Hindu communalism.
Very unfortunately Dr Ambedkar’s untimely death paralyzed the entire Dalit movement. His followers went to different streams. There are so many Republican Party of India that it is difficult who can we call as original party. The Ambedkarite movement (if it ever was), remained confined to ‘Sarkari babu log’, who will throng the parliament street in Delhi or Diksha bhoomi in Nagpur on December 6th and April 14th every year. It looked Ambedkar never spoke beyond reservation and varnya vyavastha. His writings of 30s were used more then the writings in the later stage perhaps to gain political leverages but that had hurt the movement.
While there is no denying fact that Ambedkar’s popularity among the Dalits is not due to the ‘Sarkari Babu Log’ but the poor Dalits who consider him his emancipator. But hate campaign in the name of Ambedkar are uncalled for. There are many reasons for the same. Ambedkar is a uniting factor for Dalits. No doubt that he has become an icon from North to South from Hindi heartland to the southern Tamilnadu. To be frank, Ambedkar’s reach to areas beyond his traditional domain is not just spreading of his ideology but using him as point of entry to gain a separate political status by the elite
Dalit groups. The worst fact is the Ambedkar is mainly known among the working class Dalits and enlightened and numerically powerful communities like Mahars in Maharastra, Chamars and Jatavs in the North India, Namshudras in West Bengal, Malas in Andhra and a few others in Tamilnadu. While Mahars hold sway in Maharastra and the Jatavs and Chamars outnumber any other community in the north contributed fairly to Ambedkarisation process. That helped people under the banner of
Bahujan Political Party which used it as a vehicle to spread its wing.
When Mayawati became the chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh, analyists mistook it as a great revolution in the Dalits of Uttar-Pradesh. The fact of the matter is while it may be proudly said that a Dalit woman
became chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh and that every Dalit felt proud of her being there at the chair yet the fact of Mayawati’s ascendancy to Lucknow’s thrown are different then what we perceive. They have very little to do with Ambedkar’s movement and more to do with Mayawati’s Chamar caste. The Chamar consolidation behind Mayawati ensured that she has an important role to play in Uttar-Pradesh. While it gave Mayawati a substantial chunk of seats in Uttar-Pradesh and increased her bargaining capabilities, it made her vulnerable also. For the past two decade no government in UP got to work full terms of five years. Mayawati’s on tally in the assembly could never reached beyond 25% of the total seats of the assembly. Mulayam Singh Yadav has the same status quo situation. Both have realized that their respective vote bank remain in their pocket and will not ditch them however both now think to go beyond their traditional vote banks and are now flirting with the Brahmins and Thakurs. So the narrow Dalit politicisation in UP has also resulted in increasing power of the Brahmins and Thakurs being wooed by both the SP and BSP. This is an unfortunate trend being followed everywhere. The reason for this is the politics of power in the villages. BSP’s over dependence on
Chamars and a few other communities antagonized the other dalit communities, Mulyam Singh dependence on Yadavs and Thakurs also created problems for other backward communities and the need was to involve all the oppressed Dalits and backward together. This experiment of UP was sought to be taken elsewhere by disgruntled Ambedkarite who started crying foul on Periyar. Simply because the Dravidian parties are not taking them into consideration does not make a case to say that Periyar was anti Dalit.
This irony of the Dalits movement is that it has not resolved its own contradictions because Ambedkar is used as tool to hit at others and not resolve our own contradictions. Ambedkar’s use is condemning
brahmanical literature and values is no doubt useful in bringing people together but his positive writing for an alternative vision need to reestablished. It is easier to unite the communities on agitational mode against some one but very difficult to manage it when you get power or share in power. Dalits are facing it now. The elite Dalit groups who enjoyed reservation and power now refuse to accept this reality that those living in villages, living as landless, powerless without participation in political life are to be catered. They have no emotion other then selling Ambedkar’s portrait and their own self. Today, this growing chasm between different Dalit group is just not an upper caste ploy but their own contradiction. In politics every opponent is ready to hit you when you are weak. Dalit movement failed to resolved many issues important to it and now face flak from all over.
The politics of identity never helps. The Dalits vision is to fight against hegemonies but in this process of breaking hegemonies, if we create our own hegemonies then the movement will break. In our efforts to break brahmanical hegemonies we created hegemonies in our own self and therefore Valmikis ( Swachchkars), Madigas, Kuhmhars, Mangs and hundreds of other communities ask question for their fare representation. And a typical elite answer is that they have been allured by the upper castes. But the fact of the matter is that there is a wide gap between the numerically powerful communities in Dalits and the minorities.
The irony of the entire movement is that rather then working on the collective wisdom, the movement though claim to work for all communities, has by and large remain confined to a few individuals who used their community identity to gain the political clout. The Ambedkarite movement rarely talk of violence and violation of human rights. Their obsession with Manu Smriti and Hindu Gods to joke at took a perverted turn as one of the major problem that the Dalits face is to get acknowledgement from the caste Hindus. That a majority of Dalits despite all the facts, go the temples of the Brahmins and follow the same rituals. But these issues are seldom addressed in true sense. They are used as a rhetoric to lumpen the brahmanical system. The system will not go unless we want to get rid of it. The reason for not raising the issue of violence of Dalits is that many ‘intellectual’ feel ‘uncomfortable’ on this issue as they used their identity to get the entry into the media and would talk of ‘philosophy’. Today, the same intellectuals have left all the work of the brahmanical system and now target the backward communities. Why has the Dalit movement changed its track from anti brahmanical campaign to anti backward campaign?
And as I mentioned earlier, it has nothing to do with social movement which we all need to secularise and democratize our societies. The entire campaign is a power game. In this power game no body want to leave anything for others. In these power games we don’t talk of philosophy. No doubt the backwards have become radical Hindutva people and have physically hit the Dalits and there is a need to draw a line. Like a few Dalit powerful communities, there are few backward powerful communities. The fight between a powerful Dalit community and a powerful backward community cannot be allowed to create a permanent rift between two groups. It has to be seen that the categorization of castes into backwards and schedule castes had its own flaws. There are oppressed backward communities which should have been in the Scheduled castes.
The non ambedkarite groups, mainly the NGOs, self-styled civil society people don’t talk of philosophy. They bring a bundle of individual cases and weep all the time that Dalits are beaten up. One should remember that no movement can succeed without a philosophy and there would be no takers for a philosophy unless it is popularized in the movements. So issue of a broader secular democratic Dalit movement and atrocities on Dalits need to be worked at the same level. Narrowing Ambedkar’s vision to a limited people and communities will damage the entire Dalit movement. Dalit movement is at the crossroad and need various answers.
I for all purposes, consider Ambedkar one of the tallest intellectual, a human rights defender and a humanist. For all his life he never accepted the finality of the religious text, questioned them and even burnt them. Secondly, he was a truly democrat, not a caste-ist and worked over time to talk about labour and women. Ambedkar has been misquoted by every interest groups. The upper castes, the Muslims, the Christians and the Sikhs every one has quoted Ambedkar for their own purposes. He embraced Buddhism on his own interpretations and noton the interpretations of any religious guru. He redefined it and probably would have given it the new meaning had he survived some more
Ambedkar wonderfully exposed the religious myths attached to Dalits. He tore apart the fundamentals put forward by the Brahmins in their holy texts. But at the same point of time one need to understand Ambedkar fully when he decided to embrace Buddhism with millions of Dalits. Ambedkar’s genuine anti Brahmin or anti varna sentiments got exploited by the religious groups for the purpose of prosiletisation. Embracing any tradition or religion is the fundamental right of an individual but the fact remain that where does it help Dalits as an institution. When we challenge the institutions of holy religious text, question their finality and even burnt them when we feel they go against humanity, is it possible that we have the same elsewhere? Dalits have every reason to believe and tear apart the Hindu verna vyavastha but should they keep quiet when the other faiths also become tormentors? Should they not support those who are victims of their own faiths? If I like ‘ Why I am not a Hindu’, I am sure we should not forget the cry of legendary Bertrand Russell long ago who wrote ” Why I am not a Christian’ and a few years back another fellow came up with resounding ‘ why I am not a Muslim’. Faiths have always been like that. They thrive on miracles and mischief.
If Rama and his brothers were mocked by Ambedkar about how they were born, similar is the case of Christ. It is no point blaming one and keeping quiet on others. Today’s favorite things are blame game. A progressive Dalit movement cannot stand on the selective criticism of a few religious texts and conspicuously keeping quiet on other. A movement cannot be build on superfluous philosophy of negativism. It has to provide its own alternative to the people. Dalits have their own distinct identity and culture and those claiming to provide them an alternative God really misquote Ambedkar and kill their revolutionary spirit as suggested by many Dalit activists.
The high voltage of political power among Dalits in Uttar-Pradesh is due to its politicization process while the religious conversion has made them apolitical. The tribals in India became the victim of this
apolitical process by NGOs and religious groups going there and taking over the leadership. The result was the tribals remain isolated and exploited. Dalits on the other side remained politically mobile and hence their leadership took over and negotiated in their own terms and conditions. There is another fact that the number of so-called NGOs among Dalits in South is more then what we imagined in the north but the account of political power in the Dalits in the North is much higher then the South. And this is the process of turning them apolitical and more religious ultimately resulted in their exploitation. In the south the conversion process was higher then the North. The Chamars and Jatavs of Uttar Pradesh rarely converted. They always claimed to be Buddhists. In Maharastra, the Mahars became neo Buddhists and the awareness level among them was superb. Buddhism did not take away their politicization process initiated by Dr Ambedkar but the conversion to other faiths actually made them apolitical resulting in more exploitation.
Ambedkar’s legacy is very rich and need to be protected by us all. Dalit movement itself is a revolt against the obnoxious brahmanical values but at the same point of time, should express solidarity with all oppressed masses of the world. The movement should build bridges with likeminded groups, secular and democratic organizations, and avoid becoming another cult group. It should broaden its ideas and perception and reach those masses where it has not reached. It should avoid becoming politically correct. Identity will never work and those who have harped thesis of ‘ I ‘ only speak for them and nobody else has a business to speak for or on behalf of Dalits should resist such things. Nobody speaks for others. We all speak our own perception. We should avoid such hyperbole that I speak for my entire community. I speak for my philosophy and experience. Because if identities are our point of speaking then one should remember Dalits are not a homogeneous community. In fact no community in the world is homogeneous. They are as wide as any body else and hence these
identities fits in there also. So if this theory of Dalit speak for Dalit is used, then the why should we accept western whites to speak for the Dalits. What prompts the Christians and Muslims to speak for the Dalits after all they have their own history of exploitation everywhere. Why should a Chamar speak for a Valmiki or Mala speak for Madiga ? And above all, why should a Dalit male speak for Dalit
Tsunami discrimination against Dalits showed that how things take a dangerous if you make a community apolitical. Our political masters want them to be apolitical. But like them the agenda supported and furnished by the religious groups also end up in nothing. Dalits remained pitiable condition in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry. Their leaders were complaining outside India to the UN and to the Church while the ground level the higher ups among the backward communities ganging up against them. In fact the fishermen who happened to be Christians also refused to eat along with their fellow Christian Dalits. Why did the issue not become a hot issue accept a few headlines. We should have taken head on the prejudiced system. A religious community cannot fight a democratic battle. If we want to compare ourselves with the history of strong movements for civil rights by the blacks in the US, we will have to study the politicization process of the blacks, their fights for the right and broad spectrum of the movement. Moreover, the reach and ideological perspective of the movement were very clear. They revolve around more on the issues of human rights, civil liberties and attracted a very wide range of activists all over the US while the irony of the Dalit movement is that it remains more on the books, with the elite castes and with the organized sector and very little is done for the people sitting on the margin, in the villages.
These are dangerous and superficial ideas by those who have done little for their work. A movement based on negativism will never work. Identities have served the pocket of political masters and their ‘intellectual’ chums. They will not help the minorities among the marginalized. They are not based on democracy and participation. They are the collective ego of the powerful elite among them. A movement san respect for individual and without a corrective philosophy would not work. Dalits have their own cultural values and system, a system which need to explored and new values added to them. It is time for us to provide our own democratic secular progressive vision and rather then just work on an agitation mode forever. We need to introspect and bring the last man into our mainstream, otherwise these contradiction are powerful enough to destroy the legacy of a powerful man, named as Ambedkar. If we consider ourselves grateful to his legacy, time has come to redefine the Dalit movement .