Monday, April 30, 2018
A few months back, I was introduced an Indian settled in the United States who worked with the American military and wrote extensively against Gandhi. One thing that I don’t like is that writing against Gandhi does not mean some body has become an Ambedkarite. We met in Delhi and there were lots of discussions. He was quite ‘rational’ till a certain point. Slowly, he said, that Ambedkarite are very aggressive when one talks about Buddhism and Dr Ambedkar and that they too need to be critiqued. I said, I would never hesitate in agreeing with you but both Buddha and Ambedkar have been critiqued by all. Then he pointed to me that Buddha was never born and that he is a mythological figure like Ram, Krishna, Jesus and Mohammad which disturbed me a lot. He said that Americans have done a lot of research about it. I told him, I have no issue with their research and it is not necessary for me to agree with that research. The second point which was very disturbing was his ‘’information’’ about Ambedkar having met a Christian priest in Bombay after his embracing Buddhism and admitting to him that it was a wrong decision on his part and he was disappointed with it. I was along with another friend and became very upset with such a futile allegation. I responded, Sir, Dr Ambedkar did not become a Buddhist all of a sudden. He has known about Buddhism for long and as our friend Vijay Survade ji informed me with document available with him that Dr Ambedkar had embraced Buddhism with his wife Savita Ambedkar about two three years before his public conversion on October 14th, 1956. Secondly, Dr Ambedkar participated in International Buddhist Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal and on December 6th, 1956, he passed away, so where was the time to be with the priest. I found out the book he referred and read the book in which the priest in Mumbai write about Dr Ambedkar but nowhere is this written that he was dissatisfied with his embracing Buddhism. A man of Dr Ambedkar’s character, who was actually a rationalist and explained Buddha and Buddhism in a very different way, can’t be victim of wrong choices. I am narrating this story here because so many people have been trying to malign Dr Ambedkar in different ways. I have no issue if somebody critique his policies but to doubt his integrity and put suspicion on his choices is very disturbing. Frankly, it was the dream of Baba Saheb Ambedkar to make India an enlightened society which was possible in Buddhism in real sense and his appeal for conversion to Buddhism was not merely to Dalits but to all including upper castes if they want to see India a better society.
Now, Dr Ambedkar’s Buddhism is essentially humanism and rationalism. It is more humanist because it has a compassion part in it and not merely a debating philosophy but an ideology or a way of life that has compassion in it and must be philosophically liberating for people. In many sense, Dr Ambedkar’s rationalism comes close to Marxian philosophy too except that he never believed in ‘dictatorship of the proletariats’. The one question which has debated largely among both Ambedkarite and left circles is about his relationship with the left, his thoughts about Marx and so on. Ideologies of individuals are product of their time and societies hence it is important for us to understand that we use the best of them which is suitable for us in the existing circumstances and leave the other. For millions of marginalized, oppressed and victim of brahmanical hegemony in India, Dr Ambedkar remain far more relevant and potent force than any other contemporary of his time. It does not mean we leave them aside or look down upon them in contempt but it means that any idea of theirs which compliment us should be taken to strengthen the movement and that we should not become victim of ‘ideologies’. It does not mean to make one compromising on things but the fact is Dr Ambedkar remained absolutely committed to his conviction but at the same time was not rigid to political alliances or formations.
In an interview to me Prof Kevin Brown from Indiana University in United States felt that Ambedkar was one of the greatest intellectuals of the world, simply extraordinary. As an African American, he felt sad why Martin Luther King remained unaware of the work of Dr Ambedkar. Had he known Ambedkar that time, the later would have been known world over and not Gandhi? Popularising Gandhi myth internationally, to a large extent, comes from Dr Martin Luther King’s acceptance of him as the icon of non-violence. Prof Brown says, ‘From an African-American viewpoint, Gandhi is connected to the non-violent protest movement of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend King often referred to the fact that he adopted his non-violence philosophy from Gandhi. Thus, when African-Americans think of Gandhi, we tend to think of him as a role model for Reverend King. As a result, Gandhi is held in high regard by African-Americans, despite the very racist views that Gandhi expressed about blacks while in South Africa. Unlike most of my people, I am very aware of the Gandhi-Ambedkar conflict. At the core of African-American culture is a struggle against racial oppression. From that standpoint, Gandhi’s stand on separate electorate for Dalits was most unfortunate. That move substantially undercut Dalit political power to this day. And political power has been a huge help to the African-American struggle for equality.’
At the same point of time Prof Brown says that Marxism did not appeal to blacks in United States because Marx failed to address their core issue of racism and slavery. It is not surprising that Marx’s way of addressing all the issue is through economic view point and he failed to understand or address, I am not sure whether it was a deliberate failure or out of ignorance, the issue of racial discrimination, segregation and slavery in the west as socio cultural subjugation. Many people in India blame Marx for not addressing the caste issue but how would he do when he failed to understand the cultural aspect of racism in the west.
It is not that Ambedkar did not know about Marx or any other ism that time but for him the most important thing of his life was to ensure justice to the vast communities of untouchables and other marginalized people. He did not have the luxury of claiming to be an ‘ideologue’ and sitting in his chamber rather he was with the common persons most of the time and used all the paths which he felt would get justice, for his people.
It is true Ambedkar belong to the world and he deserve a place among the high echelons of world philosophers, thinkers and social revolutionaries but, for millions of Dalits and Bahujans in India, he is their ‘father’ and ‘guide’. This is an unprecedented situation for an individual. Ambedkar as an emancipator of Dalit Bahujans but at the same point of time a philosopher, without reading him, you cannot claim to have understood Indian society. No studies of social sciences in India would complete without understanding Ambedkar. Scholars have written a lot about whether he was against Marx or communism but Ambedkar was unambiguous about his faith in Buddha because he wanted to enlighten people and never ever believed in retribution. 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.
I put Dr Ambedkar as a freethinker, a humanist whose world vision was of Equality, Fraternity and Liberty; a world where individual is supreme and could take decision about his life. 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’s‘ chaturvarna’ theory and shastras being sacrosanct, with his argumentative skills and theoretical evidences. 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 defended the Varnashram dharma and unsuccessfully try to differentiate between Caste and Varna. Dr Ambedkar writes in ‘Annihilation of Castes’ :
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 spiritual and 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 equal merit 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.
Baba Saheb Ambedkar said that there might definitely be certain good things in Shastras but if there are things which are against basic human dignity and common goods of the people and which violate the principle of equality then we must either delete those text or amend them, to which Gandhi responded with his typical contempt that Shastras are written by Gods and human beings have no right to amend it. Gandhi’s stand was not dissimilar to that of any other religious fanatic who considers their ‘holybook’ as God written texts and give nobody the liberty to challenge those verses or quotes mentions in these books. Castes are powerful bodies, autonomous and each one of them feel superior to other. They have no connectivity unless you do the work destined for you under the chaturvarnya philosophy. 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 remains, Hindu religion cannot be made a missionary religion and Shudhi will be both a folly and a futility.’
In a rare but candid interview to BBC in 1956 Dr Ambedkar 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 cannot 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 but not through the path of ‘revolution’ while the votaries of the ‘Right’ like Arun Shourie felt that he opposed or should I say, questioned, Gandhi and hence was a British ‘plant’ to subvert our ‘freedom movement’. As we have mentioned that retribution was never what Ambedkar wanted otherwise he would have been happier with Russian revolution but he 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 differed 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. For democracy to survive, we would need philosophers like Voltaire as Dr Ambedkar said who would question the state and society whenever and where they were wrong. So dissent remains Dr Ambedkar’s biggest strength.
Dr Ambedkar believed that State must owned all the land and nationalize it. It is here he had been influenced by the Soviet module 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 emphasis was towards the emancipation and liberation of untouchables and ensuring that they get fair representation in the new framework of governance. So, he had enormously difficult task for him. 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 they should 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.
Dr Ambedkar had realized that the vast masses of untouchables need to be delinked with the brahmanical practices and the religion they follow which have degraded them and put them in subhuman conditions. And he found that he it is not merely leaving Hinduism and following any other religion but returning to his roots. He never wanted people to become prisoner of religion and therefore after a big thought he embraced Buddhism which was not only native but redefined Buddhism from original Navayana perspective which is nothing but humanism.
In his book ‘Buddha and Marx’ Dr Ambedkar mention why and how is Buddha different than others.
‘ 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 he looked 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 or say communist form of governance.
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 without 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’.
Dr Ambedkar was impressed with French Revolution and its ideals of Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. He 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.
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.
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. 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’.
6. 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 hypocrite as at the end of the day we all would not like to do away with our ‘powers’ and ‘privileges’ but he also knew that there are good people everywhere who were ready to associate with him in this battle for Indian renaissance and therefore he made them partner in his struggle. One should not ignore the symbolism in how it was not Dr Ambedkar but Shahshrabuddhe, a Brahmin who burnt the Manusmriti in Mahad.
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.
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 people would be enlightened and engaged with each other in 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’.
Unfortunately the left in India never understood that and remained more dogmatic in its views. Dr Ambedkar remained a pragmatic person and was ready to cooperate and coordinate with forces who were there to support the cause of untouchables. Dr Ambedkar speaking in Rajya Sabha on 19th march, 1955 on Article 31 or Right to Property, he said, ‘I am prepared to pick and choose from everyone, socialists, Communists or other. I do not claim infallibility and as Buddha says there is nothing infallible, there is nothing final and everything is liable to examination’.
Even when the Congress played all the games to stop him winning election, the record of communist party of India is not fair in this regard whose tallest leader S A Dange contested against him. It is not that he was not trying to create a better opposition but he found caste arrogance of the political leaders of his too big to leave aside their farcical egos and support him. But it is also a fact that Dr Ambedkar was in close touch with many of the socialist leaders of his time. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Mr N G Gore, S M Joshi and Acharya Atre were among few with whom he was in touch to form a united opposition party to fight against Congress which was the most powerful political force during those days.
It need to be understood that as a politician both the Congress and the left could not shed their caste biases against Dr Ambedkar which definitely disappointed him if not made him bitter and ultimately he also realized that without a cultural revolution political changes in India would merely be cosmetic and therefore the Dhammadeeksha on October 14th, 1956 on Ashoka Vijayadashmi day was perhaps the most powerful expression of his vision for making India a prabuddha Bharat. He had more faith in common masses than ‘powerful’ politicians of his time who actually betrayed him.
The politicians who hated him, berated him, today acknowledge and bow before him but the threat are bigger. While a majority of the Ambedkarite intellectuals and political activists have felt the necessity of Buddhism as a uniting factor and breaking of caste barrier but the situation now is serious with petty political minds playing diverse caste games. The deras in Punjab and sub-casteism elsewhere are the biggest threat to the cultural change that Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar has brought. The mission Prabuddha Bharat will remain difficult as long as we continue to live in those identities given to us by someone else. The power of Ambedkarism is in the modern thinking and delinking from the past that segregated people and created a false sub consciousness among people about their superiority or inferiority of others. Definitely, those who assert their caste identities and want to congregate on that basis at the end remain in the varnashram dharma. We know political ambitions of people are the biggest impediment in the way to achieve a casteless humanist society. I always felt it that political power may be important but unless there is a cultural change, India will not grow. All our progressive constitutional provisions of equality, liberty and fraternity are being defeated by the regressive caste minds who have a duty to implement it and therefore it become imperative for us to work for the cultural revolution in India which is only possible through the liberated humanist path of Buddha and which Baba Saheb wanted us all to follow.
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.