Sunday, April 22, 2018
Justice Rajinder Sachar : A life dedicated to people’s movement, socialist vision and human rights
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
One does not remember Justice Rajinder Sachar when he was the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court in 1985 but it is a fact that a forthright person like him was never to the liking of those in power. As a judge in Delhi High Court, he was deeply disturbed and upset with the lack of seriousness and justification of brutal massacres of the Sikhs in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. He spoke against it, passed orders but an interference from the then prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, who had a massive mandate in Parliament, Justice Sachar was denied hearing the cases related to 1984 pogrom in Delhi. He had been openly critical of the emergency in 1975 and was transferred from Delhi high court. That a chief justice of Delhi high court could not make it to the Supreme Court then we should understand that the loss was of judiciary and not the other way round. The rest is history. His ‘punishment’ became a boon for the civil liberty movement in India. Perhaps the period post retirement were more fruitful for him and for all those who got associated with him and engaged with him on issues of public concern. It is a reality that anyone who challenged those in power became victim of the power politics.
The fact is that Justice Sachar’s name would come among the top three jurists of India for their remarkable contribution for the rule of law and standing upright to the power as well as defending civil liberties and human rights after they got retired from their ‘official’ work. In fact, they never got retired because all these legends did extraordinary work of service to public life after they demitted their office. They are Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Justice V M Tarkunde and Justice Rajinder Sachar. Interestingly, all the three might not be called the best in the legal profession yet their concern for human rights, human values and social inclusion put them at very high pedestal than those who might be called ‘constitutional experts’. All the three were actually political personalities and participated in political movements and hence the pro-people thoughts were part of their basic DNA. Justice Krishna Iyer was a Minister in the first left government in Kerala while Justice Tarkunde played a very important role during the emergency and was close associate of Jai Prakash Narain, though prior to that Tarkunde was part of the Radical Humanist party formed by M N Roy and Justice Rajinder Sachar came from a very illustrious family background as his father was Bhim Sen Sachar was the chief minister of Punjab and an important leader of the Congress Party yet in thoughts and practice Justice Sachar was deeply influenced by Ram Manohar Lohia and his socialist thoughts in his very young age. In fact, he associated with various socialist political thoughts and talked about an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP.
One of the pioneers of civil liberties movements in India, Justice Rajinder Sachar was a very humble person and easy to access. Unlike many other luminaries, Justice Sachar was more comfortable in sitting and talking with activists of the grassroots. He would stand in solidarity with all the secular liberal forces seeking justice and fair implementation of law. When the human rights organisations were putting pressure for a National Human Rights Commission, he was among very few involved in supporting initiative for it. He was well versed with International affairs and was appointed the UN rapporteur for the Housing Rights but his main concern was the issues of minorities in India and the growing hatred being spread by the Hindu right in India.
Justice Sachar became a household name after the famous Sachar Commission Report that he submitted to the Union government in the year 2006 on the Social, Economic and Educational status of Muslim community in India. Nobody was expecting a miracle from this report. Many were skeptical about the ‘Lahore’ club as upper caste upper elite ‘seculars because Sachar Saheb and others who migrated from Pakistan actually never really bothered too much about the caste discrimination. They were thoroughly secular and would go to any extent to defend the rights of minorities but would rarely speak about the caste discrimination as an issue but the Sachar report surprised many because it did admit unambiguously that Muslims are not a monolith group as being made out and caste system exists among the Muslims in India. Though the issue of the Pasmanda Muslims were already gaining momentum but after the open admittance by the Sachar Committee that there are backward Muslims and they need to be identified and provided protection, the movement gained ground. Till date, a large number of Muslim elite institutions too avoided speaking about the caste discrimination among the Muslims terming it a lie and suggesting that Islam does not permit it but now they have realized that conversion to other religion does not actually remove our caste identity and prejudices remain the same.
Justice Sachar was one of the most active members of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and was very pragmatic person. People would go to him to seek advice whenever there was a crisis and his words were like final for many. While human rights were his primary concern yet he was an active political activist whose concerns about growing isolation of minorities particularly Muslims in India was shared by many. Not many among his profession were that forthright as Justice Sachar when he spoke about the politics of intimidation and marginalization of Muslims. It takes a lot of courage of conviction when a man of his stature spoke as why did not government act against those Hindu dealers who are owners of the slaughter houses and export beef. At the time when beef and Muslims were made synonymous, Justice Sachar openly spoke how a majority of the beef exporters in India are Hindus which infuriated many in the Hindutva camp.
Very few people know that Justice Rajinder Sachar had actually suggested a change in our electoral system and switch to proportionate electorate system. He submitted this to Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission suggesting that vote percentage and seat one must be the same. He was worried about the low voting percentage. When Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India actually organized a National Conference in Delhi in 2012, I had gone to invite Justice Rajinder Sachar for the meeting as I had found out that he had given a written submission to Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission. To my surprise, Justice Sachar said that he does not hold the same view now because now the Dalits and OBCs are coming in fair number in our parliament and no one party has the monopoly in our polity. Justice Sachar came to the programme and so did Justice D.S.Tewatia, former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, who he recommended. Ofcourse, that day, both of them disappointed.
I was disappointed with the turn of event on part of Justice Sachar for not supporting the cause of proportionate electorate system. Like many others, he too felt it was a bit complicated. He wanted to focus on the other issues of electoral reforms such as corruption, criminalization of the polity and the most important part was that voting percentage must be above 50% if any candidate has to win. I feared that most of the ‘libertarians’ were afraid that the proportionate Electorate System would open a Pandora box and divide the already divided society and hence they wanted to keep it in cold storage.
One thing remarkable about him was his enthusiasm and friendly approach to people. He was much in demand in the conferences, Dharanas and seminars and gave his subjects utter importance. I have observed him on many occasions where he would have spoken extempore but he came with notes and full presentation. He was very comfortable speaking on the issues of Muslims and minorities in India and was fairly popular among them. Hailing from Punjab, he knew the Islamic culture and was well versed with Urdu language. This was the reason he felt at-home with the Muslim intellectuals and youths.
Partition created psychological scars in both the Hindus and Muslims. Punjab and Bengal were the most affected regions. The world saw the biggest migration of people, unthinkable hitherto from one place to other. Millions were killed. People saw brutalities of worst kind. The Hindu Right worked among these communities in India and the Muslim rights in Pakistan feeding them with all kind of rumours about Muslims and Hindus relatively. That resulted in the large number of refugees in both the countries developed virtual hatred against each other. Their narrative would give worst kind of picture of their ‘enemy’. The ruling elite also encouraged such and got strengthened on the fear psychosis of the people. As a young person he Rajinder Sachar must have seen and felt this and yet he did not succumb to all these narratives and stories that was being regularly fed to people. It needs strong conviction and courage to stand up and challenge these popular narratives when the atmosphere was thoroughly polarized. Perhaps, this was his biggest strength to stand up with the people suffering because of their identity. He has seen Pakistan and the failure of it because of the religious right dictated political system and therefore failed it. In India, thankfully, the first generation of the political leaders despite their differences, were secular and liberal democrats and hence we survived as a democracy and gave minorities equal rights unlike Pakistan. Therefore, it need big courage to stand up against the popular narrative and speak for the rights of all which he did all his life. Right from the issue of Kashmir to those dying in communal violence whether against Sikhs in 1984 or Gujarat in 2002 or Mumbai in 1993, he was always there standing with the communities marginalized by the bureaucratic and administrative structure because of pure communal polarization. He had seen it in pre-partition days, the division and hatred it created and that is why he knew the repercussion of it which made him a person championing the cause of minorities and their rights.
Justice Rajinder Sachar lived every moment of his life. There was never a dull moment for him. In fact he was very serious about socialist party and has been speaking to various people about its vision. At the age of 94 when most of his contemporaries avoided going to political protests, seminars and conferences, Justice Sachar was exception. The last time, we were at one platform was the huge public programme at the Talkatora Stadium organized by All India Milli Council where he spoke and defended the rights of the Muslims a citizen of India. His was the voice of sanity and for much authenticity too. At the moment when our judiciary is facing slumber and conspiracy theories are roaming around as the highest court of the land is under scrutiny, Justice Sachar’s voice would have been very sane and useful for all of us who believe in constitutionalism and rule of law. His death is a big blow to the civil liberties movement in India as well as to all the secular forces who looked upon him as a guardian. The country’s secular liberal democratic space will definitely miss him in these moments of national crisis when his solidarity and presence encouraged activists to fight their battle more vigorously.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
If you admire Dr Ambedkar, then deliver the Constitution in full and annihilate Caste, says Santosh Dass
Santosh Dass MBE, Vice Chair Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, President, Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK
Santosh is a human rights and equality campaigner living in London. She is an ex civil servant and held a number of senior roles at the Department of Health including leading on Better Regulations, Governance and Risk Management. Santosh is one of the leading figures in Campaign to outlaw caste based discrimination in the UK. She has taken up this issue and that of the rising atrocities against Dalits in India at the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Santosh is the Vice Chair of the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance and President of Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, UK. She is the founder of Caste Watch UK, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance and IndiaMatters UK. In 2014, Santosh put forward and pursued a proposal for purchasing the 10 King Henry’s Road, the House Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar lived in between 1921-1922 and turn it into a memorial. The House was finally purchased by the Government of Maharashtra in September 2015. Santosh was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services to Better Regulation at the Department of Health.
Santosh Dass in conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat
What are your initial reactions to the Bharat Bandh organized by various Dalit organisations on 2 April 2018 against the attempt to dilute the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act?
Total admiration! The solidarity and unity of the hundreds of thousands of men and women that day was breathtaking. It takes a lot of courage to come out on the streets and protest. People took to the streets knowing they would face repercussions afterwards – including physical violence and threats to life and limb and livelihoods. Those who died are true martyrs in the cause and challenging the shackles of Caste. That’s how they’ll be remembered.
Total admiration! The solidarity and unity of the hundreds of thousands of men and women that day was breathtaking. It takes a lot of courage to come out on the streets and protest. People took to the streets knowing they would face repercussions afterwards – including physical violence and threats to life and limb and livelihoods. Those who died are true martyrs in the cause and challenging the shackles of Caste. That’s how they’ll be remembered.
The 2 April protest was a culmination of the years and years of discrimination, social exclusion, human rights abuses and the erosion of basic rights to an education, healthcare, and employment. And, never forget the frightening abuse of Dalit women and girls. As far as crimes against Dalits are concerned we have the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Between 2006 and 2016, the crime rate against Dalits rose more than eightfold. In 2006, there were 2.4 crimes per 100,000 Dalits. By 2016 it had soared to 20.3.
The Judgment by the Supreme Court is an arrogant, brazen and outrageous attempt by the Indian Government to dilute the legislation. Protests like this one and that of Prakash Ambedkar’s Maharashtra Bandh in January following the violence against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon help to highlight the burning issues that the SC/STs face day-in, day-out.
Looking to the future from this protest and the ones before that, I’m reminded of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s powerful words: “We must stand on our own feet and fight as best as we can for our rights. So carry on your agitation and organize your forces. Power and prestige will come to you through struggle.”
How do you respond to Indian media’s allegation of violence instigated by the Dalits? And not reporting the failure of the state mechanism to protect the interest of the Dalits?
I have access to a few of the Indian television channels in the UK. Most appear to be little else but mouthpieces for the Indian Government spouting the party line. The sight of braying ‘experts’ vying for the camera and shouting each other down is a total switch-off. Discussion and debate goes out the window.
I was appalled at the TV channels’ coverage. Many stations repeated the same ‘bad news’ footage of, say, some car set on fire. It created the impression of hooligan behaviour rather than covering what was, overall, a very peaceful protest on 2 April. Nothing I saw broadcast dwelt on the nine Dalits killed during the protests. What did we see of the sheer numbers of people protesting across India or – and this really got to me – the absence of police protection for those marching in an orderly fashion. Since the protest, there’s been no reporting of police brutalities against Dalits. There’s footage circulating of police officers shamelessly knocking over motorbikes and auto rickshaws in attempts to pin the damage on the protestors – and worse including ‘slapping’ with their hands and long wooden batons. It’s all very disturbing and distressing to watch. I hope people are cataloguing these incidents and police provocations.
On 9 April NDTV saw fit to run the ‘Bhatoora fiasco’ instead of reporting on incidents of Dalits being targeted in UP or Rajasthan or the gang rape of an eight-year-old girl in J&K. Even the UP Government’s and the police authorities’ insensitive attitude towards the Unnae gang-rape survivor was ‘buried’ for many months. The poor girl had to resort to the extreme step of trying to commit suicide outside the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adiyananth’s residence this April to demand that the police at least register the crime. It had taken place back in June 2017! It was only when her father died in custody that the media took an interest. They’ve since been broadcasting images of the MLA implicated in the gang-rape strutting around cockily whilst the poor survivor and her family are under what is essentially house arrest. Where is the Beti Bachao campaign now?
Millions of people in India and around world are sharing news stories about the atrocities and hate crimes faced by Dalits and minorities in India. National and regional Government and the authorities are failing to respond to, or act against corruption and abuses. People are able to see and read about it in real time and form opinions like never before.
What do you think are the reasons of continuous violence against Dalits?
Caste divisions and Caste prejudice are social evils that have existed for thousands of years. It’s a fact that Untouchablity was abolished in the 50s. It’s also fact that people continue to practise the medieval ways of Untouchablity as if nothing ever changed and minds never moved on. This was confirmed in recent phone survey by Social Attitude Research India of 8,065 people. 50 per cent of respondents in urban Rajasthan admitted to practising Untouchability; as did 48 per cent of respondents in urban UP and even 39 per cent of the Delhi respondents. Even if somebody of a Dalit background makes progress, they are regularly reminded that their Caste and descent is inferior. It’s a form of mind control. Huge progress needs to be made on a number of fronts.
Sadly, successive Indian governments and authorities have failed to implement laws or take swift action when atrocities against Dalits have occurred. The current Government is successfully creating divisions. What is required is robust action against the dominant Caste perpetrators violating the human rights of Dalits and minorities. There must be no watering down of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. There needs to be an immediate and transparent investigation under the legislation to prosecute any Government and police officials who are found to have aided and abetted criminals. There needs to be robust implementation of the Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts mandated in the SC ST Act, 2015 for speedy trials. Government needs to take swift action to deal with the unacceptable shortage of judges that is impacting negatively on access to justice. And of course, media have a big role to play in highlighting the shortfalls.
What is your opinion on the Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST Act?
Very alarming. It’s such an unashamed act. For someone who’s worked on the need for clarity of laws that are implementable and enforceable on the ground, I believe the hurdles created by the Supreme Court Judgement for the victims are totally unacceptable. Let’s be clear, the ruling is essentially leaving the fate of a victim in the hands of someone in authority – likely to be so-called upper Caste – who will decide whether the case can even be registered.
Dr Anand Teletumbdeji recently summed up the mess beautifully: “What are the chances of a poor Dalit landless labourer taking recourse to this law? About 75% of the population, especially women and the marginalised, avoid reporting a crime as they feel frustrated and unhappy with the way cops behave with complainants. It is only following pressure from activists that complaints of atrocities get into the police register. Even after the registration of a complaint, it has to pass through prejudicial barriers – police investigation, the indulgence of the prosecution, and the judicial verdict.”
The crux of the matter is that in most of the cases the government officials can easily dismiss the case as false resulting in the penalization of individuals who file a case. It will further discourage the individual from filing the case for the fear of retribution or backlash. Look at the Unnae UP gang rape survivor’s experience of trying to file an FIR with the police. And this is before the recent SC Judgement. Imagine what it would be like in practice now! It beggars belief!
The Bandh was a spontaneous response to a campaign on social media.
Yes. That’s what I heard. Brilliant!
All the laws in India deal with the issue of violation of human rights at the individual level even when we see that the issue of the Dalits and Adivasis are not merely individual relationship but a social disorder which discriminates against them on the basis of their birth. You call it mass violence or mass hatred but it is time to call it hate crime as suggested by noted author Sujatha Gidla. What is your take on it. Will bringing out a specific law on the lines of hate crime be effective ?
I fully agree with Sujatha Gidlaji. In England, Wales, and Scotland we’ve got the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It makes hateful behavior towards a victim based on the victim’s membership or presumed membership in a racial group or a religious group an aggravation in sentencing for specified crimes. If there were the political will in India, this law could be replicated for Caste-related ‘aggravated crimes’.
What about Caste discrimination in the Britain?
It’s an incontestable fact that when somebody steps off the plane in Manchester or Montreal they don’t leave their Caste back in Mumbai. I borrowed that gem from Lord Eric Avebury, a great champion of social reform, in the House of Lords. Britain’s South Asian population exceeds four million. In the UK we saw very early on that if left unchecked, the profound Caste prejudices keep on continuing to get transplanted and take root here. Meaning, discrimination will be perpetuated.
For nearly 20 years now I’ve been involved with the campaign to outlaw Caste discrimination in the UK with such organisations as the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), CasteWatchUK, Dalit Solidarity Network, Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABOUK) and Voice of Dalit International.
The UK has robust equality of treatment and equality of opportunity laws. Laws we can be justifiably proud of. They are laws that have benefited and protected people in their place of employment and education or when they use public services like health and social care. There are protections on grounds of the colour of someone’s skin whether they’re originally from India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Manchester or Glasgow. There are protections for people on grounds of disability, sexuality and others. Yet if someone is discriminated against or harassed because of their Caste there’s no legislation in place to protect them.
When we invited people to tell us about their experiences of discrimination in the UK, the findings of which we published in our, the ACDA’s 2009 report A hidden Apartheid, two cases out of the many stand out for me in particular. The first was the case of a vulnerable elderly Indian woman in the East Midlands. She had faced discrimination and, as a result, neglect at the hands of her carer. The second had been a young personal secretary in the office of a radio station broadcasting mainly to the Punjabi diaspora. The discrimination in both cases had one feature in common the Caste divide of the people concerned.
The ACDA report was instrumental in securing Section 9(5) a of the Equality Act 2010 inserted at the late stage in the law by the then Labour Government. This gave the relevant Minister a power to outlaw Caste discrimination if a Government-commissioned study found evidence of Caste discrimination. The evidence was there. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s 2010 report confirmed Caste discrimination is no different to discrimination on grounds of disability, gender, colour, age or sexuality in the UK. But the Government did nothing but stonewall.
Parliament agreed Government must legislate to outlaw Caste discrimination in April 2013. This didn’t come about just like that. It followed an inspired amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (ERR Bill) following an ACDA meeting in November 2012 calling on the Government to act. This meeting was chaired by Lord Eric Avebury. A number of members of both house of Parliament including Baroness Thornton – the Labour Government Minister who had paved the way for legislative power in the 2010 Equality Act attended the meeting. Straight after the meeting Baroness Thornton tabled a very important and inspired amendment to the ERR Bill that was progressing through Parliament at the time. Since April 2013, the Government did all it can to delay implementation of the law.
What’s the latest on the UK Parliament’s direction to outlaw Caste discrimination?
Last year the Government finally launched the long awaited public consultation. Given Parliament expressed direction to legislate in 2013, the consultation should have been about how best to legislate. Instead, we got a significant lack of argument in favour of implementation of the law and a consultation skewed towards a case law option. This was supported with significant omissions and rhetoric - some of which had been peddled by the anti Caste law Hindu lobby. One red herring in the consultation was mentioning the Tirkey v Chandhok Employment Tribunal (ET) case as a way of getting legal justice. This case law offers no potential protection for victims of ‘everyday’ discrimination based on Caste. Furthermore, Government contradicted itself and acknowledged that that judgment was not a definitive assessment because each claim would need to show discrimination based on the claimant’s descent. That’s a legal minefield. Many features of Caste aren’t covered by descent. An ET hardly offers redress to a patient whose carer neglects them on Caste grounds. Furthermore, discrimination laws are not just about providing legal justice. They’re about prevention and changing behaviours too. The recent ET hasn’t changed the behaviours in the case of woman being abused on the factory floor on Caste grounds. Only when we have the clarity of law, will we have structures for redress that have preventative effects and educational benefits people of all Castes. The law would work in both directions. In the longer term this will help improve community cohesion. Continuing the status quo can only reinforce existing Caste consciousness and bias, and act as propaganda for the perpetuation of Caste and its heinous traditional prejudices.
The consultation closed in September 2017. They’ve had over 16,000 responses. The Government’s own independent Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for implementation of the law in response to the consultation that they recently shared with me. The Government said it would provide a response to the consultation in early 2018. We’re not holding our breath they’ll do the right thing. If they don’t, the campaign will continue!
Has the UK government surrendered to the Hindu right wing on the Caste law? Is it more with business interests in India?
Without a doubt, they’re lobbying hard to halt the outlawing of Caste discrimination in this country. They’ve voiced their opposition via their MPs in Parliament in private and public. They’ve peddled lots of misinformation about the impact of the law. They’ve created smokescreens. They’ve scare-mongered. They’ve denied that there could even be such a thing as Caste discrimination! Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? And, no surprise, those opposing the law have seen fit to stoop to personal vilification and insults. It’s what social media was invented for, right?
A lot of it is down to catching or guaranteeing votes and post-Brexit business deals with India. Successive Governments since 2010 including Mrs Theresa May’s have shown they’re influenced by religious factions on both those counts. Indeed Caste law featured heavily as an issue in both of the last two General Elections. For example, the body representing Hindu temples openly directed their communities to vote for the Conservative Party. Why? Because it believed that party wouldn’t legislate against Caste discrimination. By listening to the opposition to the Caste struggle is tantamount to saying, ‘Let’s not introduce legislation against race, disability or gender discrimination. Some faction might get huffy about it if they can’t perpetuate their old ways.’
What role do you see for the Indian diaspora in the Western World, particularly UK, USA and Canada towards the issues of the Dalits and marginalized in India. Hindu Council in UK and USA has been opposed to anything that ‘defames’ India?
I can speak for the UK position. I’m a member of the second-generation Indian diaspora living in the UK. My family still has links with family in India. Through my work on equality and Dalit issues here in the UK I have interacted with activists and NGOs working in this country, in India and around the world. We have a duty to highlight and raise issues in the media and other forums that are not in keeping with the values of equality and human rights. There must be no compromise in this regard. This does not make us anti-National! Caste should be recognised as a root cause of the misery of millions of Dalits. It’s the root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty. Unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits, nothing will change.
You have been very active with the Human Rights groups, anti-Caste discrimination organisations apart from Ambedkarite organisations. Do you think they can work together on a common agenda or you feel no need of it? Has there been any effort in this direction?
Absolutely. We have more in common than what divides us. There is a common platform from which we can all make a difference and have made a difference. This includes the many joint statements we have submitted on issues including about atrocities against Dalits and the need to outlaw Caste discrimination in the UK. We have stood shoulder to shoulder in public protests.
How do you find the issue of Women being addressed in the organizational structures of the various organisations in the diaspora?
I live in a patriarchal community. We have a generation of leaders in the religious institutions who do not surrender their executive positions to women – no matter how exceptional they are. They are quick to use women to do the work and take the credit. The same can be said of some NGOs. That said I have been able to make huge difference as the President of FABOUK and as a Vice Chair of ACDA. Women have so much to offer. Sometimes raising this issue falls on deaf ears but we must persist!
You have participated in the meetings of UN Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) in and presented reports. Do you think that UN platform can be effective in dealing with the Caste discrimination issue?
Yes I did in 2016 and 2017. And my colleagues at the ACDA also did so in 2011 to push for the implementation of the 2010 law on Caste. UN CERD is a very useful platform because it helps internationalize issues and the Committee makes recommendations. For example I was able to highlight at a UN meeting the erosion of fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in India’s Constitution; the plight of those who speak up for human rights and justice and call the Government to account on the social evils of Caste related atrocities and discrimination persecution, incarceration, and being labelled anti-National. I was able to use Mr Chandrasekhar Ravan, Soni Suri, Professor Siababa, Professor Kancha Illaiah Shepherd and Gauri Lankesh as examples. I was able to highlight incidents of Caste-related violence and social exclusion that includes the Saharanpur UP violence against Dalits. I was able raise the impact of open coalmining in Chhattisgarh India that’s causing mass relocation of tribal and Adivasi people that has to be seen as nothing short of ethnic cleansing.
One area I have continued to highlight is the violence against women in India and the experience of Dalit girls and women seeking justice in cases of rape. I was able to highlight recently the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report “Everyone Blames Me - Barriers to justice and support for sexual assault survivors in India”. We have chilling examples of local village Councils deterring women and girls from reporting cases of rape by a higher a Caste men or gang rapes; and of police delaying, or not even registering the First Incident Report. Some girls and women are further subjected to the humiliating two finger intimate examination by doctors. No civilized society should allow this abhorrent practice.
The recent gang-rapes of the 8 year-old in J&K and the minor in UP are a fraction of what’s really happening to some girls and women in India. It breaks my heart that they and their families are not getting the justice they deserve.
You did a lot of work in making the Ambedkar memorial a reality in London. It is historical and we are proud of the initiative taken by you in FABO. What is the status of it today ? How satisfied are you with the things happening there ?
Thank you. To be honest it’s a dream come true. Everything I wanted for the house and more has been delivered with thanks to Mr Badoleji at the Government of Maharashtra. I also thank Mr R K Gaikwadji, Mr Ramesh Katkeji in Mumbai, Mr Arun Kumarji, Mr Gautamji, Mr Ken Hunt in the UK, and Mr Sunil Kumarji at the India High Commission in the UK for their unflinching support. Of course there were others who lobbied for the House once I had submitted my proposal to GOM.
Dr Ambedkar’s short biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lists him as one of the men and women who have shaped British history and culture. This demonstrates his standing in the UK. 10 King Henry’s Road is highly important for followers of Dr Ambedkar and anyone who is interested in equality and human rights because it marks an important period in his life.
The Ambedkar House London has now been fully refurbished. It already has a The Blue Plaque on the outside of it. At the time of purchase in September 2015, the house was in total disrepair. Since then it’s been developed and refurbished. For example, the basement flat rooms have been merged into one; it’s had external repairs including repointing of bricks and making safe the front garden; it’s been rewired for electricity, re-decorated retaining the original features including fireplaces, ceiling roses and coving, wood staircase. A conservatory has been installed and the garden’s been landscaped.
We also now have a lovely library. Babasahab left a huge body of writings spanning forty years and covering a variety of subjects, amongst them history, economics, anthropology, politics philosophy and law. These writings are proof-positive of his prowess, his intellectual rigour and his clarity of thought. He got to the root of the problems that his community and the new nation were facing. In a culture that is largely oral, leaving so much written work – speeches, journals, books – are his gift not only to subsequent generations of Indians but also to anyone anywhere with an interest in human rights, the theory and practice of equal treatment issues and civil rights movements. We hope to have hard copies of Dr Ambedkar’s works sitting on the shelves soon!
I’ve been honoured to be a member of the Ambedkar Memorial Advisory Committee Mr Badoleji set up. It’s allowed me shape the house as I set out in my proposal to the Government of Maharashtra in 2014. I’ve been very hands-on with selecting the furniture and fittings and the redevelopment.
The house is a wonderful memorial to Dr Ambedkar and his remarkable legacy to the cause of social justice and social reform. I look forward to many people taking the opportunity to visit it - especially UK school children – and learning about the Father of the nation and his extraordinary achievements.
What is the future of India ? Do you think political will here to deal with the issue of Caste discrimination and untouchability. What would you suggest to activists, intellectuals and political parties in India particularly to those who claim to follow Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
It’s not enough to admire Babasaheb Ambedkar, say Jai Bhim or garland his statues around the globe. Dr Ambedkar was one of the finest academics of his generation, a prolific writer, a social reformer, an outstanding economist, an empowerer of women in India, and a nation builder. His initiatives as India’s Labour minister led to 8-hour working days – down from 14 hours a day. He was instrumental in the introduction of the Minimum Wages Act. Those are policies that the Trade Unions here in the UK would have been proud of. Those who value justice and equality must have the will and courage to follow his example and fight for the things he gave his life for.
I say to those in positions of power or able to influence, if you admire Dr Ambedkar, then deliver the Constitution in full and annihilate Caste. Implement and enforce the laws and funds designed to protect and uplift those who have been violated and marginalized for thousands of years. Provide swift and robust action against the dominant Caste perpetrators violating the human rights of Dalits and minorities. Don’t water down Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Take swift action to deal with the unacceptable shortage of judges that is impacting negatively on access to justice. Provide good education and healthcare and jobs.
The SC/ST legislation that is being watered down is helping social boycott victims challenge community corrupt and corrupting practices. The medial justice system, the local Panchayats must go!
Finally, don’t just share or chant slogans like Beti Bachao. Save, educate, protect, and empower all girls and women in India. They have a lot offer.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Vidya Bhushan Rawat in conversation with Mr Vijay Surwade
Vijay Surwade is a living encyclopedia of Ambedkarism in India. And it is not merely about his indepth and detailed knowledge of life and time of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar but also his passion to collect Baba Saheb’s original photographs of different events as well as his original documents and letters. His collection of these original documents related to Baba Saheb Ambedkar is a national asset. He worked very closely with Mai Saheb Ambedkar, wife of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. In this very important conversation, perhaps for the first time, an Ambedkarite speak in depth about how Mrs Savita Ambedkar faced all her life allegations about her maltreatment to Dr Ambedkar. Vijay Surwade ji’s documents prove categorically that a few of the Ambedkarites used their political ambition over the truth and for that Mrs Savita Ambedkar became an easy and soft target. We are placing some excerpts of the entire conversation of Mr Vijay Surwade with activist writer Vidya Bhushan Rawat, available on Lokayat channel at Youtube. This is just a very small portion of the entire conversation and we hope one day, we will be able to transcribe the entire script for the benefit of the viewers in English language.
VB: How did you come in touch with Ambedkarism? What inspired you the most?
VS: I was born in Jalgaon district. Right from childhood we had heard about Baba Saheb. My mother’s father was a Gardner in railways. He was illiterate but a staunch Ambedkarite. He used to go to attend the meeting of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. He used to tell me about the movement, about Baba Saheb and his vast knowledge. Hearing from him the curiosity increased day by day. So out of curiosity, I started collecting his photographs. I was three years old during the Mahaparinirwana of Baba Saheb in 1956 so no opportunity to meet him but now I feel if I were born a few years earlier, I would have definitely met him. The curiosity increased day by day, it was increasing as I was growing and learning. I passed matriculation and joined Siddharth College and I was staying in the hostel in 1970. I completed my graduation in 1974 and during this period I got to know many things, it was changing period for me. Dalit Panthers had started during the same period. Raja Dhale, Arun Kamble, J V Pawar and myself would sit together and discuss things. I was more attached to Raja Dhale. He had a different take on everything so he also liked me and the vice versa. We used to read and share. Fortunately, Siddhartha college library was so rich as all the original copies Baba Saheb’s work were there. I started reading them even when I did not know much English as upto 11th, I was studying in Marathi medium. Though English was there in 5th standard yet because it was not my first language hence could not do much in this but after college, the situation changed as Bombay University, right from the beginning is English medium. So, I started reading books of Baba Saheb. I bought an oxford dictionary English Marathi and started writing meanings of tough words in Marathi and that made me understand the meaning of the word that Baba Saheb had used in his books.
In Childhood, I had kept one note book and whatever photograph that I got, I would paste it in the notebook. There were photographs in wedding invites etc, I would put all the photographs in my note book. So to that extent my curiosity was there about Baba Saheb. When I came to Mumbai and saw original photographs of Baba Saheb, then I realize the difference between the original photographs and the artificial ones. Then I started searching original photographs. In the beginning, I would go to photo studios. I was living in Hostel, near Dadar that time. Then I started locating colleagues of Baba Saheb in the movement. Asking about how he looked like. If they had any papers or photographs. They would not give me photographs because of their bad experiences. Once Bhaiya Saheb Ambedkar organized a photo exhibition and he put a lot of photographs but people took it and lot of important photographs were lost. I used to pursue the case if they had photographs but people would insult me too. People would lie to that I have photographs even when they did not have. I did not have money as I was poor but I had to pursue that I would buy them. Even if I had photographs, I had to have negative. My father was an clerk in municipality and my mother died when was in 8th standard. My father used to send me some money.
Then my collection was becoming bigger. There was Dil studio in Dadar near Baba Saheb’s House. There was a number of photographs. Negatives were of bigger size. They were 10X12 inch It was difficult to find. I used to go there then he used to do. It was not easy to find. I went everywhere to meet individuals, organizations, institutions. I learnt so many things from these experiences but I learnt how to allure people to get the photographs that I would give you bigger size. Come along with me. But I learnt from my experiences.
VB: How many photographs?
VS: I have not counted but those are in thousands. Those are from all over India. I did not go to foreign countries but I have two photographs from round table India which Jabbar Patel gave me. But from India, I travelled everywhere. I joined Bank after graduation. I got married.
VB: Tell us about the conspiracy theories that Mai Saheb faced about Baba Saheb. All these need to be cleared as it is too much and people are using it for their own purposes. What is your impression?
VS: I have been hearing this since childhood. Some people said that she poisoned him in buttermilk. Other said she was giving him slow poison. Lokhande said that she killed him throttling him in the pillow. There were so many conspiracy theories. Was Baba Saheb such a small child to be done like that.
Baba Saheb wrote a preface on Decmeber 5th about her role. Most of the people like Sohan Lal Shastri and others used to feel bad when Mai Saheb would deny. So most of the friends of Baba Saheb would come him unusual time and without any preplanned visit. She was a doctor as well as a wife. So she had to play dual role. Today, doctors don’t allow people to meet even wife. Wives’ will have their own concern. She was a doctor and always concerned about his diet. She had written about his diet and was very particular about Baba Saheb. She was strictly going according to the time table required for Baba Saheb from the point of view of medicine, health, food and rest. If anyone comes in between why should she allow. He was doing such an important task for community, his time was important. How would a wife concerned so much allow people to disturb him. We were ultimately deceiving Baba Saheb. We are trying to tell as if Dr Ambedkar was fool. They had a love affair for over a year. She was Baba Saheb’s lover. My daughter has written a book on that.
VB: Tell us about Mai Saheb’s relations with Baba Saheb
VS: I came to her contact when I was a student in Siddharth College. She used to come to Baviskar’s house. It must have been around 1972. She knew I have been working on Baba Saheb and it was a passion for me. One day she called me and showed me all the letters between them. They were big letters. Each one letter of baba sahib to her are 18,20, 25 pages. They were in relationship for a year. She had written to Baba Saheb, huge bunch of letter she showed to me and said these are the ‘’motio ki mala’’. His hand writing was so beautiful. She said, just have a look, don’t read them. They were very personal letter. It was between 1947 and 1948. They wrote around 40-50 letters to each other during this period. All letters were lengthy. All the letters of Baba Saheb was in mid night as he was very busy. Her name was Sharda and Baba Saheb used to call her Saru and later named her Savita. Her letter-head mast was S and Baba Saheb was B. In one letter Savita wrote to him that she would like to come and take care of him as he needed a doctor to take care of his health particularly. Baba Saheb wrote to her that he would only love to bring her legally after duly getting married. He was advised to keep a nurse. He wrote to Mai too. Fortunately or unfortunately, my people consider me as their god. My opponents are afraid of my character, which he wrote to Mai.
VB: Did Baba Saheb ever speak to his son Yashwant about corruption?
VS: Mai wrote it. It was a story of two builders who wanted to influence Baba Saheb when he was labour Minister in Viceroy’s Council and CPWD was under him. It was related to some contract and Yashwant had come to Delhi. As soon as Baba Saheb came to know about this he got enraged. He asked Yashwant to leave immediately for Mumbai and need not to come to Delhi.
VB: Do you think that Mai never deserve how people behaved with her after the demise of Baba Saheb ?
VS: I was helping Dhanajay. He knew that I was close to Mai. Keer wrote what Nanak Chand Rattu gave to him. I can prove all this by document. Nanak Chand gave to Khairmudhe and Keer. He wrote that Baba Saheb was very sad during his last days. Baba Saheb was singing was a sign of happiness. It was a doha. He finished his thesis before going to bed. Kautslyayan said that the preface was on the table. The biggest credit he gave to Mai Saheb.. I was a dying flame by a doctor. Successful rekindling of this dying flame is due to my doctor wife and Dr Mavalankar. I am immensely grateful to them. She was an Ambedkarite, She was a Buddhist lifelong. Many people did not accept her. But this is changing. J V Pawar, Arjun Dangle says that we did not do justice to Mai. Shanti Swroop Baudh too was of the opinion formed by Rattu but later all of them changed due to my work. People did not inform us about Mai’s contribution. Baba Saheb married to Brahmin but she was a Buddhist. She became Budhist. I have seen her very closely. For Riddles she spoke passionately.
VB: What is her role in the Riddles movement?
VS: She was a leader. She went all over, spoke everywhere. She spoke against Bal Thackery. Mai Saheb was very particular about the unpublished work of Baba Saheb. And this is 1959, when none knew about her except Rattu. For unpublished work, she got Mr Jadhav. She did not get any Royalty though Prakash get it even today. I have the agreement. I was close to both Dhananjay Keer and Mai. I have the original copy of the letter. When he received that he admitted the contribution of Mai Saheb. He realized that a lot of injustice was done to Mai Saheb. In fact Keer wanted to write a book on her but Mai never wanted him to do so.
I asked her you killed Baba Saheb when I met her. I heard it from childhood. I felt she would be angry but she laughed. ‘What is the new thing that you are asking’, she said. ‘I have been hearing this for years’. Later Dhale discussed with me and we felt that Baba Saheb did all of the work because of her. It would have been impossible if she was not cooperative to him. She was with him at the most critical moment. She would have stopped him against Deeksha. Mai and Baba Saheb took deeksha May 2, 1950, at Birla Mahabodhi Vihar in Delhi by Aryawansh Bhante. Bhadant Anand Kautslyayan also wrote about this deekhsa.
I felt she should allow Keer to write about her life. I have the audio-recorded Mai’s original voice about herself. Mai was very active. She would go to meeting and conferences. Later Keer too got ill and died so the project remained unfulfilled. She would tell me so many stories. And I felt all those stories must come out. I used to think with that positive angle. When she would tell us her memoir, I felt Mai’s contribution must come out. Letters must come out at any cost. There are a lot of personal things, I removed them and decided to write. She used to speak Marathi but she had command over English. I would help you to write memoirs and then she accepted it.
I decided a frame about the book. Baba Saheb’s up and down must come out. What was his physical position when Mai came in his life? What work Baba Saheb did during the time when Mai came in his life.
So, I decided since 1930. All the health issues, I had. At one point of it became too critical. Nobody was there to help him. The stage when he had blood pressure. ‘’You are doing great work. I needed to help him. He need my help, it was saying my doctor inside me. I took up the decision’’, Mai said. It was Mai’s revolutionary step despite being Brahmin and that too a medical doctor from Grand Medical College during British from 1937 she decided to marry Baba Saheb. Sohanlal wrote about her that she was a nurse but fortunately I got the original certificate. I have the original certificate of Mai.
About Role of Nanak Chand Rattu
It has been dubious. I knew him from closely. Mai was too stubborn some time. Bhiaya Saheb was fighting with her on property issue so Shankaranand Shastri and Nanak Chand Rattu had sympathy for him. Many people would ask me how I could stay with her. She was blunt. She used to say, I am Ambedkar, hence it is my right. When I don’t take anything from any one then why should I be afraid?
The bungalow at 26 Alipur Road was on rent. It was owned by Sivai’s Maharaja. Baba Saheb had helped him through adjudication. They had two bungalows 26 and 27 and wanted to sale them to Baba Saheb for one lakh rupees each. Dr Ambedkar said he did not have the money. So they had the problem of staying in Delhi after he resigned from the government. So, the Maharaja gave it on rent. Mararaja died and the new legatees asked Mai to leave the place. She did not vacate it. She went to the court. She came to Mumbai to live with her relatives. People blamed her that she sold the property. Rattu used to assist Mai Saheb. He was continuously in touch with her. I have a letter in 2001 written to me seeking my cooperation to get help from Mai. One case, Mai could not go and court gave ex-parte order. The bungalow was sealed and the household items, precious books and belonging of Baba Saheb were thrown away. It was in 1967. It was raining so many things was left out. So it was distributed into three places to keep them safe among Rattu, Shastri and others. You will be surprised that Mai stayed a Rattu’s place. So Rattu was speaking against her outside but kept her inside her.
Shankaranand used to meet me whenever he used to come to Mumbai. We were travelling in Bus to Mazgaon. He told me Rattu was stooge of Mai. After Shankarnand told me, I felt it. He helped in selling the plot. I asked Mai and then she told me that he kept me at our house. He was just a typist. He used to do initial in whatever he typed. I told her the copy of his letters which she did not know. She was shocked. He has so many letters written on inlands to Mai.
Mai would call me around three to four times. She told me Rattu came and added, ‘’I asked him what has you written about me. He said, I have been helping you’’. Then she threw file at him and just asked him to leave the place. I think this is about 1990s. In 2001 he wrote to me. He gave much ‘’belonging’’ of Baba Saheb in Chichuli and Wolver Hampton. but many things are absolutely duplicate but most of the stuff was given provided by Mai. Many things I have heard that he ( Rattu) purchased from old market and gave them in the name of Baba Saheb. He died in 2002. Mai passed away in 2003. He knew that Mai has known it. He wrote to me in 2001. He said, you are so close to Mai. It is easy to get the things done. Actually the things donated to Chicholi was given to Mr Godbole. There was some misunderstanding. Godbole knew things. Rattu wanted a letter from Mai that the stuff that he has and given to Godbole belonged to Rattu. I typed it. By 2001 Mai’s conditions had deteriorated. Her memory was lost. My wife cleaned her many time. I had typed the letter. I felt it was not right to get signed. Rattu send me a letter send me a sample of letter head of Mai Saheb on her behalf. In 2002 he died and in 2003 Mai passed away.
This is an important part of Ambedkarite movement. Why should a woman who was dutifully and legally married to Baba Saheb Ambedkar is seen as conspirator and outsider. She was boycotted. It shows that caste system has so much in our blood that we could not give her justice. Baba Saheb gave us the path of Buddhism. How much have we succeeded? There are success stories. The dream of Prabuddha Bharat is yet to be fulfilled. There are very few examples. I would say sadly. Everyone is working according to his own agenda. We failed politically completely.
What is the use of joining hand with BJP. It is painful.
We do not want Dalit word but as a movement we needed Dalit Panther today. Mai Saheb used to say, don’t dissolve it. Let it like be an aggressive wing, fighting against injustice. She said in speech. Make it three wings: Political, religious and educational. Those who are interested should lead it so there would not be fight against it. So if Dhale was interested in religion so he should lead that. Ramdas was interested in politics so he should lead that. It was actually a very wise advice.
Today there are over 100 groups of RPIs. Everything has become opportunist. It is not going accordingly. They must unite. During the riddles movement, all people have got united. They were together fighting against ban on Riddles. I have heard Kanshiram saying that you worship anyone but just vote us. I heard it in Jabalpur and did not like it.
VB: What are you planning to protect this ‘national asset’ that you have which is of great importance as a history of Ambedkarite movement? Many stories people have not heard. They have remained unknown.
VS: I have not begged from any one. None want to become like Baba Saheb. People do not care. They are unable to bring real Baba Saheb. We are not bringing him to people. It is backstabbing with the movement. Baba Saheb became very sensitive when he saw and said if do not take this movement any further don’t take it back.
VB: Where is the movement?
VS: I don’t know anything of politics. I am not interested. Practically everyone sknows me personally. We lived together in hostel including Gavai, Kavade. I am not interested in their politics.
VB: An Ambedkarite you have lived your life. What are those things you won’t compromise?
VS: We can’t survive on our own politically but We will have to alliance with those who ideology with Baba Saheb. We can’t compromise with Hindutva at any cost. We can’t compromise with Psychology, philosophy which made us enslaved till date. It is not essential that they agree to everyone but you have to agree on complimentary ideas. He had good relations with M N Roy. Baba Saheb helped him and it was debated in Parliament. People have become selfish. How could an Ambedkarite be part of Shiv Sena?
VB: What is your vision and what would you appeal to Ambedkarites world over?
VS: I won’t ask anyone to help me. I have two options. First, we have a Foundation. Athawale has promised. Mai has done so much and we must do it for her. You make a trust and I will get the land. Mai used to give her ( my wife) saris, shawls, chashma, letters, photographs to my wife and we have kept them as safe. We have to preserve them but for that one need money. Athawale is saying that he would take me to chief minister. Athawale used to give me a lot of respect because of Mai. He gives respect to all. Second, fortunately, I retired as deputy general manager, IDBI. I have a flat in the society. If I get my possession then I will live there and leave this house as a memorial. Some body will be here. We will donate the material. WE need to preserve the material. Third option, Symbiosis is ready to do this. They have money, place and machinery including technology. If I give them then, they can preserve it. So these are three options. My son is in USA. I don’t know whether he comes or not. He reads but may not have the same interest. The way I have done, he might not have the same. This is property of Ambedkarite society. It is of Ambedkar Samaj. I don’t consider it for any one. I will donate it.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Sadanand Fulzele : An eyewitness to the historic celebrations of Dhammadeeskha in 1956
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
It is astonishing that not much is known about the man who was one of the prominent figures of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s historical return to the roots of Buddhism along with nearly half a million people at the Deekshabhumi ground in Nagpur on October 14th, 1956. Interestingly, Sadanand Fulzele was not an ordinary man in any senses during that period as he was the Deputy Mayor of Nagpur Municipal Corporation and that too with consensus. He was elected on Scheduled Caste Federation ticket for the Corporation in 1952 and won by just one vote to his nearest rival. A man dedicated to Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s mission for life long, I asked him as how did he get in touch with Dr Ambedkar and what was his involvement with Deekshabhumi function.
‘When I was Deputy Mayor that time the states got reorganized. Nagpur got merged in Bombay I.e Maharastra. We people, a deputation of corporation leaders, went to Delhi to meet Govind Ballabh Pant to demand Nagpur as the capital of Maharastra. In Delhi I stayed with our Member of Parliament Tahir Ali Saheb. That time Baba Saheb had written about Deeksha on 14th October to Mewa Ram Kawade and Godbole to come and meet him. Baba Saheb asked them whether arrangements could be made for the Deeksha. They said, yes it will be done as our own person was Deputy Mayor in the corporation. They told him that I was in Delhi. Then he asked me to come over. Then I went to meet Baba Saheb along with senior person in All India Radio at his residence 26 Alipur Road in the evening. We sat there near the gate. After some time Baba Saheb came with the help of Nanakchand Rattu and sat in front of us on the reclining chair. He said, Mewa Ram Kawade and Godbole came and we have now fixed on October 14th. Will you arrange the programme. I said yes. And that was the time Baba Saheb put the responsibility of the programme on me.
After returning from there, I, Waman Ram Godbole, Kawade and others started looking for a suitable place where deeksha ceremony could be organized and we found this place suitable as there was a big slope and even if the rains come the water would easily flow out. So, finally the selection of Deekshabhumi was done. Baba Saheb’s programme was also fixed. Now, the correspondence and other details were to be done and hence the entire responsibility of the programme fell on my soldiers.’’
It was a huge celebration he says. Photographs of the functions are well placed decorating his drawing room in Nagpur and each event reverberate his mind in passion. ‘’First Baba Saheb took Deeksha through Chandramani ji. He was so overwhelmed that he did not raise his head. Then Chandramani ji gave him panchsheel. Then he got up and said now I have become Buddhist. All those who want to have deeksha should stand up. Then baba sahib gave them trisharan and panchasheel.. and later gave them 22 bows. The people were there for two days. Baba Saheb spoke for nearly two hours. Later in the night Baba Saheb departed for Chandrapur.’’ ‘’Was there any opposition to Dhammadeeksha’’ , I ask
‘’What would have they done ? Many people felt that Baba Saheb should not take Dhamma deeksha and newspapers reported such stories, but Baba Saheb responded to all the quarries’’ as the programme went for two full days till October 15th evening and the number of people remained the same.
Sadanand Fulzele is not only witness to historical legacy of Baba Saheb but also part of the political party i.e. Republican Party of India and felt that If Baba Saheb had survived a few more years, perhaps the situation would have been different. Unfortunately within two months he passed away and things that would have happened never happened.
He felt that the fight for power was the real reason for disintegration of Republican Party of India. “It was for power. In 1957, RPI was established. Avade Babu wanted to become the Secretary. Dada Saheb wanted Barrister Khobaragade. But Avade Babu did not know it and hence next year Avade Babu, B C Kamble and other formed a different party.
I ask him that there was an allegation that Dada Saheb never wanted to Dhammadeeksha ceremony as he felt politically it would have been detrimental for the party. The charge was leveled none other than Bhau Lokhande, in a conversation with me. ‘No it is not true’, says Sadanand Fulzele and added that some people who wanted to be in the elections that we should not go for conversion. But according to Fulzele, Baba Saheb’s decision was ‘absolutely correct’.
After the Mahaparinirwan of Baba Saheb, Mr Sadanand Fulzele devoted his time and energy to strengthen the Republican Party of India. He was the Nagpur city president of it and later became Secretary of the state followed by All India secretary. I ask him that Baba Saheb has become so powerful that even the opponents are chanting Jai Bhim. Many Ámbedkarites’ have joined the Sangh camp. He says, ‘ There is nothing in the party today. It is almost finished. Athawale is there but he has also gone with BJP. Now people do not fear BJP and people have started going to BJP’. ‘Is it not wrong’, I ask. He think and perhaps the state of mind is of exasperation and absolute helplessness in the political front when he says, ‘What can be done. There is nothing now. Baba Saheb wanted that RPI should have people from different communities not exclusive to SCs. Unfortunately it did not succeed. After baba saheb’s passing away.’ In his last days, Baba Saheb was in touch with Samajwadis like Ram Manohar Lohia, S M Joshi, Atreji, I ask. Yes, he says, ‘ Baba Saheb had written a letter to S M Joshi and Atre about Republican Party of India. Since he was not there, things could not move.
He is happy that the movement is spreading everywhere especially in UP. He witnessed the huge gathering of nearly ten thousand persons predominantly the OBCs taking deeksha in Dhamma on December 25th last year under the spiritual guidance of Bhadant Nagarjun Surai Sasai. ‘’There were different communities and not one particular community’’, he says.
There were rumors about Baba Saheb was not from their community among the OBCs. How the annihilation of caste has become caste calculation, I ask. ‘’Jaati never goes. It is in our mind. Merely laws can’t eradicate it. Unless there is a change in heart in our mind, jaati cant go. We will have to work doubly hard. Can the Dhamma deeksha remove it, I ask.Y es, with dhamma, jaati would be able to eradicate it. When I ask, ‘What are the challenges before us’, he respond saying that ‘People are fighting. Some are joining others. There are changes. Situations are different. UP has powerful Bahujan Samaj Party today. How come a place where Republican Party of India was a strong political force once upon a time is completely without any cadre or leaders ? ‘UP has a strong RPI organization. Maruya sahib was MP. When Bahuguna was chief minister of UP. He gave allurement, power to all the others and they joined the Congress. The entire Republican Party got decimated. This was the best way of cooption and purchasing leadership through power. Hence, when Kanshiram went with Baba Saheb’s elephant then people supported him. Nobody would have gone to Kanshiram but because of our failure’, he responds.
He acknowledges the hard work done by late Kanshiram though suggest that BAMSCEF initially was not formed to be a political party and hence they separated when Bahujan Samaj Party was formed. ‘Kanshiram was first government servant. He worked very hard then he made BAMSCEF with the help of government servants, mostly Nagpur friends supported him. BAMSCEF leaders were not happy when they formed political party. But he got support in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab’ says Fulzele.
But what about other places particularly Maharastra where Maharastra’s Dalit Bahujan don’t have their own parties. Is it good to go with communal parties?, I ask.
‘What to do? Athawale’s group is powerful but he is with BJP. Prakash Ambedkar has a group but he has no follower. Right now Athawale, has found people support’. He feel that Dalits are not accepting all those parties as their own parties have failed them. Baba Saheb wanted an inclusive party and not an exclusively scheduled castes outfit but his dream was shattered after his sudden death. The Buddhist movement is helping socially and culturally but not politically. The cultural movement will bring more changes than the political party’ he says.
And finally, one of the things which I always pondered over and asked many Ambedkarites as why do they think Savita Ambedkar, the wife of Baba Saheb, was responsible for the death of Baba Saheb Ambedkar though many said it is wrong to blame the person who devoted her life for Baba Saheb Ambedkar and later for the mission, Fulzele has no straight answer though he does not blame her outrightly but says that, ‘About her Maharastra people had misgivings. They felt that she had given Baba Saheb slow poison. Once Athawale brought her on the dais of his party but people did not accept her’. Unfortunately, he did not feel it that the politicians should have taken it upon themselves to speak about this but at certain point of time the extreme voices look more legitimate while those talk of ‘reasoning’ are considered as betrayer of the cause.
Sadanand Fulzele is approaching 90s of his life. He is still active and aim to develop Deekshabhumi a much loved historical place of destinations for people interested in the Ambedkarite Buddhist movement. Born in 1928 he plunged into politics after completing graduation. He has three sons and a daughter.
Sadanand Fulzele continues to dedicate his time and energy to strengthen the Buddhist movement started by Baba Saheb Ambedkar. His life has been that of dedication and silently working towards his mission without much being in limelight. He says that he is not much into writing but we hope he would do so in the greater interest of the movement.
To listen to the detailed conversation with Mr Sadanand Fulzele please click to the link