Monday, July 07, 2014

Beyond Annihilation of Castes

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

In October 1956 Baba Saheb Ambedkar made a historic visit to Kathmandu to participate in the World Buddhist Congress, as he was deeply interested in the growth of Buddhism in the entire subcontinent. Dr Ambedkar had by that time embraced Buddhism in Nagpur along with half a million of his followers on October 14th, 1956.  Dr Ambedkar had finished his magnum opus ‘Buddha and His Dhamma’ and it reflected his thoughts and vision for society. It is important that we revisit the important point raised by Dr Ambedkar in the greater interest of freedom of choice and human rights.

It is a greater pleasure for me to speak on the historic day of April 14th here in Kathmandu. Truly historical because Ambedkar belong to the world and he deserve a place among the high echelons of world philosophers, thinkers and social revolutionaries. Yes, for millions of Dalits in India, he is their ‘father’ and ‘guide’ and definitely they would not like him to be used by any one else. There are two roles of Baba Saheb Ambedkar unambiguously. One, as an emancipator of Dalits in India and other as a political philosopher who was a humanist and thorough democrat all his life and believed in core values of humanism which are quintessential for survival of the world today that Buddha espoused over 2550 years ago.

Ambedkar is an international icon of human rights of the depressed and isolated yet his vision remains inclusive of all as he never ever believed in politics of retribution. Scholars have written a lot about whether he was against Marx or communism but Ambedkar was unambiguous about his faith in Buddha. It is important to understand what exactly Ambedkar wanted and why his perception and philosophy could become the ideology of human rights of 21st century.

Let me be clear here that Ambedkar never supported the idea of ‘controlling’ political ideologies and freedom of expression. He stood for the rights of absolute freedom of expression to the extent of even challenging the ‘Shastras’. Those who have seen his argument over ‘caste system’ with Gandhi will vouch how he demolished Gandhi with his argumentative skills and evidence based support.
Ambedkar never accepted the supremacy of the authority of Shastras while Gandhi said Shastras are written and dictated by God and those who do not believe in them are not Sanatan Dharmis. In his Harijan, Gandhi defend the Varnashram dharma and unsuccessfully try to differentiate between Caste and Varna. Quoted eloquently by Dr Ambedkar, Gandhi writes :

Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know and do not need to know for the satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do know that it is harmful both to spiritualand national growth. Varna and Ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with castes .The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling. it defines not our rights but our duties. It necessarily has reference to callings that are conducive to the welfare of humanity and to no other. It also follows that there is no calling too low and none too high. Ail are good, lawful and absolutely equal in status. The callings of a Brahmin— spiritual teacher—-and a scavenger are equal, and their due performance carries equalmerit before God and at one time seems to have carried identical reward before man. Both were entitled to their livelihood and no more. Indeed one traces even now in the villages the faint lines of this healthy operation of the law. Living in Segaon with its population of 600, I do not find a great disparity between the earnings of different tradesmen including Brahmins. I find too that real Brahmins are to be found even in these degenerate days who are living on alms freely given to them and are giving freely of what they have of spiritual treasures. It would be wrong and improper to judge the law of Varna by its caricature in the lives of men who profess to belong to a Varna, whilst they openly commit a breach of its only operative rule. Arrogation of a superior status by and of the Varna over another is a denial of the law. And there is nothing in the law of Varna to warrant a belief in untouchability. (The essence of Hinduism is contained in its enunciation of one and only God as Truth and its bold acceptance of Ahimsa as the law of the human family.):

(Text from Annihilation of Castes : Ambedkar Gandhi debate)

Ambedkar had mentioned that there are definitely good things in Shastras but if there are things which are against human rights and common goods of the people and which violate the principle of equality then we must abrogate them, delete them. Gandhi retorted to this with his typical style that Shastras are written by Gods and human beings have no right to amend it. In the modern day, such diktats are heard in the Islamic world who use every Quranic injunction whenever they want to dominate the minorities and women’s right. Caste are powerful bodies, autonomous and Hinduism is nothing but a ‘collection’ of castes, said Dr Ambedkar.

‘Whether the Hindu religion was or was not a missionary religion has been a controversial issue. Some hold the view that it was never a missionary religion. Others hold that it was. That the Hindu religion was once a missionary religion must be admitted. It could not have spread over the face of India, if it was not a missionary religion. That today it is not a missionary religion is also a fact which must be accepted. The question therefore is not whether or not the Hindu religion was a missionary religion. The real question is why did the Hindu religion cease to be a missionary religion ? My answer is this. Hindu religion ceased to be a missionary religion when the Caste System grew up among the Hindus. Caste is inconsistent with conversion. Inculcation of beliefs and dogmas is not the only problem that is involved in conversion. To find a place for the convert in the social life of the community is another and a much more important problem that arises in connection with conversion. That problem is where to place the convert, in what caste ? It is a problem which must baffle every Hindu wishing to make aliens converts to his religion. Unlike the club the membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of caste confines its membership to person born in the caste. Castes are autonomous and there is no authority anywhere to compel a caste to admit a new-comer to its social life. Hindu Society being a collection of castes and each caste being a close corporation there is no place for a convert. Thus it is the caste which has prevented the Hindus from expanding and from absorbing other religious communities. So long as caste remain, Hindu religion cannot be made a missionary religion and Shudhi will be both a folly and a futility.’

In India there have been lots of discussion about who can speak about Ambedkar and who owns him. Dr Ambedkar in his life time did not give these kind of ‘communitarian rights’ as he believed in individuals rights and in his interview to BBC, he said that India is still not a society as none care about others. We are not bothered about our neighbors. We are bothered about his caste first and hence how can we become a society when there is no man to man relationship, where we can not shake hands with an individual despite knowing him just because he happen to belong to another caste. He was bitter but he never lost reasoning and sanity. He was deeply influenced from that thoughts of Buddha and that is why believed that we can only be a great society if people follow human values democratically and a changing the heart happens after positive realization.

Many votaries of Marxism feel Ambedkar was the product of  ‘liberalism’ where individual matters the most and his faith was in strengthening democracy and not through the path of ‘revolution’ while the votaries of the ‘Right’ like Arun Shourie felt that he opposed Gandhi and hence was a British ‘plant’ to subvert our ‘freedom movement’.  I am using the terminology of Shourie which he used in his infamous book ‘Worshipping the false God’. I have time and again written that Shourie and his family are the biggest fraud of Indian middle class, a fraud which need to be unearthed by those who believe idealism is important. Shourie’s hatred towards minorities, Dalits and aadivasis is well known to be depicted here but why that is need detailed elaboration of a different article which I will deal at certain point of time. Ambedkar stood for human rights of all and never believed in ‘tit for tat’ theory. He was a ‘communist’ in his action but never believed in ‘communist’ form of ‘government’, which he felt would only perpetuate violence and injustice. His focus was social justice and not in retributive justice. It means he believed in an equalitarian society where human being believed in concept of equality not because of fear of law but because of principle of their faith in equality. This is an important part where Ambedkar differ with Communism and its whole theory of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat” as Ambedkar felt democracy is the only way out where untouchables would be able to get justice and politically united.

Ambedkar believed that State must owned all the land and nationalize it. It is here he had been influenced by the Soviet Module or the Chinese one where he felt that state must distribute the land according to needs of the farmers and those who do not till the land have no right to control it. Ambedkar had appreciated the communist thinking on land. He also promoted idea of cooperative farming for the better results of it in India particularly in the drought prone regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada in Maharastra.

If we just keen aside the differences, Dr Ambedkar’s main thought was the emancipation of Dalits and ensuring that they get justice in the new framework. So, he has definitely playing a double role for the community. One a community leader who is negotiating with the government for their rights and the other role is of a guide of the community telling them what should they do. The role of the guide of the community is very important as it is where Baba Saheb Ambedkar focused a lot the cultural changes in the community as he felt that without them there would not be a change. Hence he thought of ‘Prabuddha Bharat’ i.e. an enlightened India or enlightened world where people share common concerns of humanity and stand for the most oppressed together.

After realizing that the Varnashram dharma is full of hypocrisies, dogmas and rituals, Baba Saheb was unambiguous that Dalits do not need a religion for the sake of it. We must be clear that religion is for human being and not the viceversa.

In Buddha and Marx he mention clearly.

‘ Religion is important fact of life and must relate to it and not to speculation about God, soul and heaven etc.

It is wrong to make God centre of religion or universe.

The purpose of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and  not to explain the ‘origin’ of it.

If we analyse the above statements carefully then it is clear that Ambedkar is a humanist as he has not accepted the ‘supremacy’ of written texts and that he emphasizes on that the centre of ‘religion’ should be ‘human being’. It clearly reflect his mind how he envisaged religion. He did not want to engage with those who wanted to speak of ‘atma’ , ‘paratma’, ‘punarjanm’, ‘avatar’ etc as he felt these are brahmanical construct to keep their monopoly over religion and continue to misguide poor.  Hinduism for him was minus any ‘Karuna’ or humanity as it divide people on the basis of their birth.

It is essential to understand how Baba Saheb look at Buddha and his teachings.

Let us talk of the Eight Fold Path ( Ashtang Marg)

1.     Right view (freedom from superstition)
2.     Right Aims (high and worthy)
3.     Right speech (Kind, open and truthful)
4.     Right Conduct ( Peaceful, honest and pure)
5.     Right livelihood ( causing hurt or inury to no living human being)
6.     Right Mindfulness ( with a watchful and active mind)
7.     Right perseverance in all the above
8.     Right contemplation ( earnest thought)

According to him all the above are meant for the creation of Kingdom of righteousness.

The most important thing is how ‘means’ too are important for Buddha. He will not ‘achieve’ things by ‘any means. It means that you have to have right ‘mean’ to achieve your path.  So, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat will neither lead to democracy and will not be without violence.  The end of the dictatorship is to make revolution permanent but then you have only duties in communism and no right to criticize if you disagree.  It is the biggest point of disagreement of Ambedkar of communism.

He says,’ Buddha was against violence but in favor of justice’ who promoted democracy at every level in his Shakya world. There were 13 monarchies and 4 Republics among the Shakyans.

Buddha’s commune concept was nothing but communism where none of the Bhikkhus had personal possession.  According to Dr Ambedkar, Buddha established communism with out being violent and dictatorial.  So the changes, that Buddha wanted to bring was through mind and attitude. Whatever you do, do it voluntarily. According to Ambedkar, ‘We need religion, as we are human being, emotional and work to satisfy our spiritual need too’ but then his meaning of religion was based on concept of humanism and felt that it was needed to protect human values and should have focus on wellbeing of human being rather than an illusory ‘God’.

The Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangh was concerned withoudictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism I without dictatorship a miracle which Lenin failed to do.

The Buddha's method was different. His method was to change the mind of man: to alter his disposition: so that whatever man does, he does it voluntarily without the use of force or compulsion. His main means to alter the disposition of men was his Dhamma and the constant preaching of his Dhamma. The Buddhas way was not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. His way was to alter the disposition of men so that they would do voluntarily what they would not otherwise to do.

It has been claimed that the Communist Dictatorship in Russia has wonderful achievements to its credit. There can be no denial of it. That is why I say that a Russian Dictatorship would be good for all backward countries. But this is no argument for permanent Dictatorship. Humanity does not only want economic values, it also wants spiritual values to be retained. Permanent Dictatorship has paid no attention to spiritual values and does not seem to intend to. Carlyle called Political Economy a Pig Philosophy. Carlyle was of course wrong. For man needs material comforts" But the Communist Philosophy seems to be equally wrong for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Society has been aiming to lay a new foundation was summarised by the French Revolution in three words, Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. The French Revolution was welcomed because of this slogan. It failed to produce equality. We welcome the Russian Revolution because it aims to produce equality. But it cannot be too much emphasised that in producing equality society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty. Equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. It seems that the three can coexist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all.

(Buddha and his Dhamma)

Dr Ambedkar was highly impressed with French Revolution and its ideals of Fraternity, Liberty and Equality.  He loved and respected Voltaire and wishes if we had person like him India would have gained immensely in terms of knowledge and democratic spirit. 

He explain his respect for Russian Revolution too as it brought equality but he was not ready for the dictatorship of proletariat and felt that equality without fraternity is not acceptable to him. Society should be equal but not at the cost of sacrificing fraternity and equality, he emphasized. Any changes that the law enforces will be cosmetic and compulsory aversion and India is witnessing that humbug politically and administratively when the love for ‘Dalits’ is not in the heart but because of the constitutional promulgations, which result in falsifications and violation of their rights.  Ambedkar was absolutely clear that we need to change the heart of the people and that is why he embraced the guiding principles of Buddha. You cannot change people through laws but through their mindset and change of heart. We need to understand that Ambedkar was hurt but never bitter at the end as he found right path in the preaching’s of Buddha.

So in the context of today, we need to see what he should have been doing.

He was an iconoclast who demolished any myth woven around an individual. He challenged Gandhi when for every one the later had become a ‘saint’.  He felt that Shastras must be amended if there are things written in them which violate basic principles of civility and modernity. Gandhi for obvious reasons could not tolerate this and questioned of their being ‘Hinduness’ if someone challenges the supremacy and authenticity of Shastras. Obviously, his differences with Gandhi were sharp and ideological and he did not hide in sophistry of words to protect him.

Today, Ambedkar remain an icon beyond boundaries. He is finding his place in the history books among the historians and politicians as well as political philosophers who were the most influential in 21st century. He will be scrutinized and further critiqued. There will be people who have vilified him because he stood up against authoritarian Gandhi and for whom the ‘freedom’ of Dalits from the ‘servitude’ of caste Hindus was more important than the ‘transfer of power’ in India, as he felt British were far more justice loving people than the caste Hindus.

 There were questions raised as who can write on Ambedkar ? For me, we cannot decide about these things as who should write and who should not as such things cannot be and should not be decided by diktat of a few. As I mentioned earlier, none can seize the place of Baba Saheb Ambedkar from the heart of millions of Dalits in India. They love him, respect him and consider him their emancipator so in that way Dr Ambedkar place remain undisputed and unchallenged among the Dalit masses. Second thing is for the scholars and there are hundreds of non Dalits who have contributed immensely in the growth of Ambedkar literature and movement such as Gail Omvedt, Dr. Eleanor Zelliot, Bhadant Anand Kautyalyayan, Lokmitra to name a few. None can dispute their work and dedication to the cause of spreading Ambedkar’s work and ideals world over.

Now eyebrows are raised when Arundhati Roy wrote a book on Ambedkar or may be, I should say, wrote an introduction to ‘Annihilation of Castes’. I have been asked to clear my stand on this issue which I clearly indicated that those who oppose it are not alone the representatives’ o Dalits nor Arundhati Roy an Ambedkarite material for reference on Ambedkar but then her right to write on Ambedkar cannot be questioned. It is on the publisher as who he deemed fit to write an introduction on the famous work of Dr Ambedkar, which is called ‘Annihilation of castes’. For me, life has moved much beyond ‘annihilation of castes’ as Dr Ambedkar gave us a clear vision for our life and not merely ‘fighting with Hindus to ‘change’ their heart’. Fact is, if the Brahmin change their heart then annihilation of castes mean complete annihilation of Brahmin dharma. Will they do anything to demolish it?

Here, I want to caution every one. People have right to question particularly when someone decides to reproduce the book on Ambedkar and there are number of experts already available. Hence, my advised to everyone is to do you work and not spoil energy on why someone wrote. It is a pure business and publisher knew it well that he need a ‘famous’ name to sale the book. The protests by a few actually helped the publisher only.

Now, Annihilation of caste made a few things clear and we must understand that. That was Ambedkar in 1930, fighting with Gandhi, trying to improve Hinduism but he was disappointed with Gandhi’s approach and learnt his lesson. He moved away and decided that people need an alternative vision, a better one to guide their destiny. There is no time for ‘improvement’ but the best way is to walk out of the system and develop your own system. That is where he revitalized Buddhism in India, it is Navayana, a new way of life, much different than that of Dalai Lama and his superstitious ways of life. Let us see what does Ambedkar learnt from his entire altercation with Gandhi which has been produced in ‘Annihilations of Castes’.

1.     That Dr Ambedkar was not ready to accept the Supremacy of ‘God’s words’ and for that he was not just ready to take on to the high and mighty like Gandhi but also to Pope John Paul. We cannot ignore an important publication of Times when Ambedkar was invited for hearing in Rome by Pope. After initial introduction and the concern of Dr Ambedkar towards the untouchables, the Pope viewed that it will take a few centuries before the caste system is completely ‘eradicated’. Upon hearing this, Ambedkar just walked out of the meeting saying that he did not have time to wait for this much of centuries to liberate his people.
2.     Annihilation of caste was an attempt by Ambedkar to radicalize the Hindu system. He felt that if the caste Hindus change, it would be great. Till that period Ambdkar contended with claiming to be a ‘protestant Hindu’.
3.     The whole debate on the issue of ‘caste system’ with Gandhi made one thing unambiguously clear that the Hindus were not ready to change their attitude towards Dalit a bit. Caste system, as a Ambedkar said was a ‘graded inequality’ and divide oppressed too on the basis of ‘hierarchies’. It has made a false sense of pride among people. Hence the entire edifice of Hinduism is nothing but caste system and if caste system is demolished the entire system of varna will collapse like a castle of cards. No Hindu believing in the Varna system, would like to demolish his faith. Gandhi knew it well and hence created myth around everything so that uncomfortable questions are not raised and if they are then the answer should be wrapped in mysticism.
4.     Dr Ambedkar realized that Hindus are not ready to change. It is no point discussing with them to change when they are not ready to accept the fundamental of the problem. Caste system and discrimination are inherent part of Varnashram dharma and cannot be resolved by propagandist’s statement and patronizing attitude of Gandhi, suggesting that ‘untouchables’ are ‘Harijans’, son of God. Ambedkar considered it a virtual abuse as Harijan was a term used for the children of ‘Devdasis’ who were sexually exploited by the temple priests. Despite objections by Ambedkarites this term continued to be used in India portraying Gandhi as a ‘great’ emancipator of Dalits. It was only after 1991 when BSP’s fire brand politics threatened to agitate and the government finally ordered to remove the word from the government files.
5.     For Dr Ambedkar, saving Hinduism is nothing but saving Brahmanism and as all efforts to change it were countered by Gandhi under the pretext of Shastras, he decided that ‘ though I was a born Hindu, I would not die as a Hindu’.
    Gandhi was always claiming that untouchability was not part of Hinduism and a blot to it. Ambedkar on the other hand felt that discrimination and caste segregation are inherent part of brahmanical values defined by Manu. Hence, just speaking of untouchability yet protecting caste system reveal the greatest double speak. How can a person ‘condemn’ untouchability and decide to work for its removal but at the same point of time openly advocate work based on caste. Gandhi unambiguously said that caste are based on ‘divinity’ of Shastras and cannot be changed. Those who challenge the supremacy of the religious be text have to leave the ‘religion’ and can’t be called Hindus, said Gandhi. Actually, Gandhi was a deeply religious person who was ‘defining’ things according to his own concepts without challenging the authority of religion to dictate our lives. Ambedkar on the other hand was not ready to accept the ‘authority’ of Shastras if they violate the dignity and human rights of the people. Ambedkar was of the belief that every religion has good things too and bad things too but most important part of them should be to delete those which are wrong and change according to the time and need of human being.
      Prior to this, Ambedkar had led the temple entry movement in famous Kalaram temple of Nasik and was heavily objected by caste Hindus.
8.     On December 25th, 1927, along with his supporters, Dr Ambedkar burnt Manusmriti and drank water from Chavdar pond of Mahad, in Maharastra. It need to be reminded to people that Dalits were denied right to drink water from the village ponds and wells. Ambedkar challenged this and led the movement against such discriminatory practice.

Dr Ambedkar realized that Caste is a big ‘political’ power for the Brahmins and bring many privileges hence all their talk of working against it would be just humbug as at the end of the day we all would not like to do away with our ‘powers’ and privileges.

So for the humanists of the world, Dr Ambedkar is perfect example who challenged the religious supremacy and never accepted the finality of religious texts. He suggested that they should be amended as per needs of the time. However, many friends raised objection to his ‘embracing’ Buddhism in a traditional way ignoring the vital factor of 22 vows that he asked his followers to obey before joining Buddhism and in my opinion these are nothing but humanism. One must have a look at them as most of them guide people against superstition perpetrated by the Brahmins in the name of traditions.

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in ‘Gauri’, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
  4. I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
  5. I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
  6. I shall not perform ‘Shraddha’ nor shall I give ‘pind-dan’.
  7. I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
  8. I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
  9. I shall believe in the equality of man.
  10. I shall endeavour to establish equality.
  11. I shall follow the ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha.
  12. I shall follow the ‘paramitas’ prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I shall have compassion and loving kindness for all living beings and protect them.
  14. I shall not steal.
  15. I shall not tell lies.
  16. I shall not commit carnal sins.
  17. I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
  18. I shall endeavour to follow the noble eightfold path and practise compassion and loving kindness in every day life.
  19. I renounce Hinduism which is harmful for humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my religion.
  20. I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
  21. I believe that I am having a re-birth.
  22. I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.

Dr Ambedkar’s belief in Buddha was ultimate as he knew it is because of this vision that India and rest of the world would be an enlightened society. He was not taking his people to the path of darkness but to a place where exist the reasoning (tark) with humanity ( Manavta) and it is Humanism of modern day definition where human being is the centre of universe of philosophy.

Through his anti-caste movement, Baba Saheb Ambedkar wanted to change the Hindu society but he realized that it was not possible. As long as you believe in those dogmas and beliefs, you won’t be able to do justice to other people. Baba Saheb knew the futility of a casteless society through ‘reforming’ Hinduism or brahman dharma and that is why he gave a clarion call to embrace the path of Buddha. Therefore, annihilation of caste is not possible without making our way to new path. A debate on annihilation of caste must understand that by annihilating castes we, will be demolishing Varnashram dharma or what we call Brahman dharma. Are we ready for that? Baba Saheb knew it well that Hindus may say that they are against untouhability but as long as they believe in basic foundation of the same, they cannot really fight against it. That is why he called to his followers to leave the varnashram dharma and embrace a new way of life where your universe will be the philosophy of life and where you are treated equally. The Hindus must continue to fight against caste system but those who really follow Dr Ambedkar have really moved far ahead on the path shown by him which is the way of Buddha’s enlightened world of humanism. There is no other way. India and rest of the world cannot progress by fighting against an ideology but the only possible way is to give people a better alternative. Budddha gave to the world a big humanist way of life without engaging himself in ‘critiquing’ the follies of ‘others’. He learnt the lessons and ensures that all the evils of brahmanical value system do not come in his way and that is why Buddha’s way is the way of life for millions of people world over, it is the path of happiness and equality for all. It is a positive idea and Ambedkar knew well that negativity takes a toll and does not take us anywhere except many of us actually start following it. Therefore, it was important to give people a way of life, which was actually Buddha’s path of salvation, where they become decision makers of their ‘destiny’ rather than believing in some ‘Mahatma’ to guide them to ‘liberation’.

·       This lecture was delivered at the inauguration of World Conference against Untouchability, organized by International Humanist and Ethical Union London, on Ambedkar jayanti day, April14th, 2014, in Kathamandu, Nepal.


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