Monday, April 26, 2010

M.N.Roy and his idea of Buddhism

M.N. Roy on Brahminical Religion and Buddhism

Vidya Bhushan RAWAT

“Societal violation of human rights is as serious, if not more than, state violation. And, caste divides, and divisiveness and dissension will always stand in the way of India’s progress. If we want India to occupy her rightful place in the comity of nations, we must recognize that the worst forms of human rights violations and infringements of civil liberties are caused by the ‘varnavayvastha’ directly or indirectly,’ say Dr R.M.Pal in his background paper of the seminar. There were a number of intellectuals in per-independent India who waged war on the system referred to here. M.N.Roy was one of them. This paper makes an attempt to analyze his views and philosophy.

The values of human dignity and human rights in India were recognized in ancient India despite the fact that the varna system looked down upon various sects which were considered not only untouchables but un-seeable as well. Right from the time of the Buddha there have been various movements against the cultural violation of human rights. The caste based Hindu society virtually looked down, with utter contempt, upon Dalits, women and working masses. They were relegated to the status of shudras and avarnas whose very sight could pollute a Brahmin, supposed to be the brokers of God.

Buddha was against the caste system. He desanskritised the education system, by preaching ‘pali” language which is voxpopuli of the time. For the first time education was allowed for even the outcastes. ‘Education for all’ was Buddha’s special gift to India. That women were allowed to become nun-monks was an extraordinary achievement in the circumstances and condition prevailing in India at that time. Mahavira was also a progressive intellectual and fought against orthodoxy. In the medieval period, Nanak, Shaikh Farid, Kabir and other Sufis fought against the caste system.

Since I am going to deal with M.N.Roy’s views on Buddhism I may refer to Dr Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. He said: “There are two aspects of conversion, social as well as religious, material as well as spiritual. Whatever may be the aspects or line of thinking it is necessary to understand the beginning, the nature of untouchability and how it is practiced? Without this understanding, you will not be able to realize the real meaning underlying my declaration of conversion. In order to have a clear understanding of untouchability and its practice in real life, I want you to recall stories of the atrocities perpetrated against you. Very few of you might have realized why all this happens. To me it is very necessary, that we understand it.” While deciding to embrace Buddhism, he said: “Three factors are required for the uplift of an individual. They are sympathy, equality and liberty. Can you say by experience that any of these factors exist for you in Hinduism? The Hindus can be ranked among those cruel people whose utterances and acts are two poles apart. They have this Ram on their tongues and a knife under their armpits. They speak like saints and but act like butchers”1. Citing his reason for embracing Buddhism in a broadcast on All India Radio on October 3rd, 1954, he said: “Every man should have a philosophy, for every one must have a standard by which to measure his conduct. Negatively, I reject Hindu social philosophy propounded in the Bhagwatgita based as it is, on the Triguna philosophy of the Sankhya philosophy, which in my judgment is a cruel perversion of the philosophy, which in my judgement is a cruel perversion of the philosophy of Kapila, and which had made the caste system and the system of graded inequality the law of Hindu social life. Positively my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my Master, the Buddha”2.

Apropos of Buddhism and fight against harmful theories of Hinduism on the philosophical and ideological plane, one Indian who stand out but who is not widely read, is M.N.Roy. Even a cursory study of Roy and Ambedkar would indicate how close their philosophical postulates are. Born a Brahmin, Roy worked with Lenin and Stalin and occupied the highest positions in the communist hierarchy, the Communist International. Subsequently, he gave up communism, went beyond communism and propounded his philosophy of scientific humanism. Roy was the only Marxist who came down heavily on the Brahminical social order of Sanskritic Hinduism and remained so until the last day of his life. Almost all his writings during the period 1930-36 while he was in jail are devoted to this aspect. Many of these were printed and reprinted during his life time.

One such treatise is Materialism in which Roy explains the rational Indian philosophy of Lokayata, Charvak Darshan and Buddhism. “The spiritual revolt represented by the Indian materialists eventually culminated in the rise of Buddhism which all but liquidated the Vadic natural religion and freed India from Brahminical domination for several hundred years. Internal evidence proves that Vedanta sutras were composed for combating Buddhism. Therefore, they could not be regarded as the direct outcome of the speculative thought recoded in the Upanishads. The composition of earlier Upnishads and Vedanta Sutras must have been separated by several hundred years, during which period the spiritual development of India, was in the direction of materialism, represented by Kanada, Kapila and many others, and of rationalism, represented by the Buddhists and Jains subsequently. The triumph of Buddhism and its supremacy for so many centuries, prove that the metaphysical school of thought, and rationalism. It was only after the defeat of the Buddhist revolution that Vedantist metaphysics and pantheism were revived as the ideology of Brahminical orthodoxy.”3

The idealistic deviation of Buddhist philosophy was caused by its having enlisted the patronage of the upper classes. “In order to refute Brahminical dogma of eternal truth the rebels expounded the doctrines of momentariness of everything. In course of time, the doctrine of temporariness was applied not only to the physical but also to the mental phenomena. When the more civilized Dravidians were subjugated by the pastoral Aryans, the latter imposed upon the former social laws which checked the growth of the trading class and consequently of free thought. As regards the happiness of material possessions, of the beef-eating and soma drinking, the vedic priests were not averse to it. But in order to retain the position of power and privilege they could not let the masses participate in that happiness. Hence the spiritual superiority’ of Indo-Aryan culture”4.

Commending the role of Buddhism towards a just and rationale society Roy writes: “As the composite outcome of all the positive elements in the whole pervious history of Indian thought, Buddhism shook the very foundation of the hoary edifice of Brahminical orthodoxy. It disputed the authority of scriptures, vigorously condemned the sacrificial rites and rituals of the Vedic Natural Religion, it denied the existence even of an impersonal First Cause (the Brahman of the Upnishads_, and it discarded the doctrine of soul. For the first time, there began to develop in India a system of truly philosophical thought, having for its point of departure the atomism of the Nyaya-Vaisheshikha system and rationalist-mechanistic conception of nature contained in the Sankhya system”5.

An original thinker much ahead of his time, Roy was an iconoclast. He writes in his book, Fascism: Its Philosophy, Professions and Practice, while in jail 1930-36: “Incidentally, it may be mentioned that the roots of the philosophy of Fascism can be traced in the divine philosophy of the Gita, according to which all power (bhibhutis) on earth are the powers of God. Thus, philosophically, Fascism has no philosophy. Fascist philosophy is the logical outcome of the spiritualist way of life. The logical connection between the doctrines preached in the Gita and the Fascist neo-Hegelian metaphysical conception of the state, is easily perceived. As a matter of fact, the philosophy of Fascist dictatorship results directly from the modern schools of mysticism and spiritualism which represent reaction against the scientific view of life. Its Indian ancestry can be traced through Schopenhauer whose disciple Nietzsche, was the father of the philosophy of Fascism”6.

Indian establishment intellectuals never thought that the nationalism, even the one preached by Gandhiji, could give rise to fascist forces in the country. What we are witnessing today is fascism in the form of invocation of Hindutva cult and cultural nationalism in our country. If we analyse the events of Babri Masjid demolition and Pokharan nuclear explosions and how the Hindutva forces were dancing in the street as a symbol of Hindu victory, we can see the fascist tendencies of Hindutva forces coming to the fore thus proving Roy correct after so many years.

In his book New Orientation about how fascism will enter India, Roy observes: “Fascism is not a platonic idea like cowhood or treehood or horsehood, for all actual cows or trees or horses to fit in. fascism is a socio-political manifestation of our time and its pattern is determined by the peculiarities of the country in which it grows. In Germany fascism was different from that of Italy and fascism in the East European countries were different from the both. Therefore, we should not have an a priori notion about our enemy. Neither will Subhas Bose return as Indian Mussolini, nor Patel be Hitler of India. To put the point straight: Indian Fascism will be cultural; it will be a cultural reaction. Therefore, violence may not be such a very outstanding feature of Indian fascism… the Indian people can be more easily regimented spiritually because thanks to our cultural tradition they are predisposed that way”7.

Roy’s criticism of Indian nationalism and the nationalist leaders including Gandhiji might be based on his analysis as a Marxist but the fact remains that many Indian leaders were admirers of Hitler and Mussolini. Gandhiji met Mussolini in the 1930s and wrote to Romain Rolland: “Mussolini is an enigma to me. Many of the reforms he has made attract me. He seems to have dome a great deal for the peasantry. Of course the iron glove is there. But allowing that force is the basis of western society, Mussolini’s reforms deserve an impartial study. His care for the poor people, his opposition to over urbanization, his attempt to bring about co-ordination between capital and labour seem to me to demand very careful attention. What strikes me is that behind Mussolini’s ruthlessness is the motive of serving his people. Even behind his bombastic speeches there is a ring of sincerity and burning love for his people. Its also seems to me that the bulk of the Italians like Mussolini’s iron rule.” (Gandhi’s letter to Romain Rolland on Dec 20, 1931, Romain Rolland-Gandhi Correspondence: page 241).8 (It is interesting to note that when Gandhi was praising a fascist dictator, M.N.Roy, sitting in jail, was writing against the philosophy and practice of fascism.)

Roy apprehended that cultural nationalism would be a dangerous thing for India and might be responsible for the rise of a fascist state violating all norms of a civilized society. Today a large number of Hindutvavadi outfits are thriving as cultural nationalists with hardly any opposition from secularists, not even the Royists, who seem to have forgotten the rational and radical message of M.N.Roy. Today, we must understand what actually is this Indian culture, which Roy wanted us to get rid of as this culture gives rise to an unjust hierarchical society” “Spiritual culture has taught the Indian masses to point out the difference in the size of the five fingers of the same hand when their attention is drawn to the social inequity and inequality to which they are subjected. They have taught to accept their position as befitting their merit. They have not only been taught to be reconciled to their hard lot but to look upon the established social order as an expression of divine dispensation. Nietzsche also argued that ‘there being much hard and rought work to be done, some people must be held down in conditions that make them fit for this sort of work’. The entire caste system-that creation of the special genius of India-was inspired by the Aryan spirit of caste when he suggested that ‘masses of Asiatic’ and African barbarians could be imported so that uncivilized world might constantly be at the service of the civilized. Why not? Did not the Aryan Brahmans with the help of their warrior allies, condemn the bulk of the aboriginal population of India to perpetual servitude”9.

Reference may also be made to Roy’s approach to the communal and the Hindu Muslim question, which has continued to be a major source of societal violation of human rights. The only way to solve this problem, according to Roy, was for Hindus to recognize the positive aspects of Islam, and for Muslims to adhere to real Islamic tenets. Roy wrote in the Historical Role of Islam in jail 1930-36: “A critical investigation of the internal as well as external causes of the Muslim conquest of India is of practical value today. It will remove the prejudice that makes the orthodox Hindu look upon his Muslim neighbour as an inferior being. Freed from preconceived ideas, the Hindus will be in a position to appreciate the constructive consequences of Muslim coquets of India. That will enable them to live down the hatred of the conquered for the conquerors. Unless a radical change of attitude is brought about by a sober sense of history, the communal question will never be solved. The Hindus will never be able to look upon the Muslims as integral parts of the Indian nation until they come to appreciate the contribution they made towards the emergence of Indian society out of the chaos caused by the breakdown of the antique civilization. Besides a proper understanding of history derived from a correct understanding of the successful advent of the Muslims in India, will enable us to ascertain and stamp out the deeper causes of our present misfortune”10. “In view of the realistic reading of history, Hindu superciliousness towards the culture and religion of Muslim is absurd. It insults the history and injures the political future of our country. Learning from the Muslims Europe became the leader of modern civilization. Even today her best sons are not ashamed of the past indebtedness. Unfortunately, India could not fully benefit by the heritage of Islamic culture because she did not deserve the distinction. Now in the throes of a belated Renaissance, Indians both Hindus and Muslims could profitably draw inspiration from that memorable chapter of human culture and a proper appreciation of the historical value of that contribution would shock the Hindus out of their arrogant self-satisfaction, and cure the narrow mindedness of the Muslims of our day by bringing them face to face with the true spirit of the faith they profess”11. Else where Roy writes (1948): “Nationalism, heavily tainted by Hindu orthodoxy, bred Muslim communalism. Therefore, the ideal of Hindu-Muslim unity, placed before the country by Gandhiji could not be attained. During his last days he staked his life for restoring communal harmony… communal harmony is not possible in the mediaeval atmosphere of religious orthodoxy and fanaticism.”

Roy waged war against Fascism during the Second World War. He maintained that if the fascists were not defeated, human freedom could not survive and in that eventuality, the question of Indian independence would not arise. India would remain a perpetual slave to fascist powers. It was war between fascism and democracy. So he took a strong stand in favour of full Indian support for British was effort. His main arguments in this regard were: (1) that fascism was the greater evil and all forces should be rallied against it, and (2) that the British would emerge from the war so exhausted militarily and economically that it would have to grant independence to India. Dr Ambedkar joined the Viceroy’s Executive Council as a Member of the Labour Department because he too like Roy and thousands of other Indian intellectuals and leaders wanted that fascism must be defeated.

I may refer to Mr. Arun Shourie’s blasphemous attack on Roy and Ambedkar in his book, Worshipping the False Gods, regarding war efforts in which the Government sanctioned, cleared by the Central Legislature, an amount of Rs 13,000 per moth to Indian Federation of Labour, of which M.N.Roy was General Secretary, for pursuing and organizing anti-fascist activities. Dr Ambedkar as Member, Labour Department disbursed the amount. Roy personally did not receive any amount. His colleagues received the amount. Some of these persons rose to very high positions in free India making immense contribution towards the human rights movement in India and preserving its secular heritage. Mr. V.M.Tarkunde waged war on the rise of fascism in India in was in jail, all anti-fascists fought against the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi. Yet Mr. Arun Shourie, who one of Mr. Tarkunde’s followers in those dark days has now attacked Roy and Ambedkar for aligning themselves with anti-fascist forces which included the British during the second world war. Mr. Arun Shourie, who is today a leading Hindutavavadi intellectual belonging to Sangh Parivar has written the book denouncing Dr Ambedkar, for among other things, fighting the anti-fascist forces and for Shouries’s attack on Roy and Ambedkar is that both of them were philosophically and ideologically opposed to the Brahminical religion; Mr. Arun Shouri, an intellectual leader of the Sangh Parivar, and members of the Sangh Parivar are passionately, emotionally and thoughtlessly attached to the Brahminical religion.

I may quote what Mr V.M. Tarkunde writes in this connection: “Before giving details of this episode, I must explain in short the attitude of M.N.Roy and his colleagues like myself towards the Second World War and its possible impact on India’s struggle for freedom. We were of the view that it was an anti-fascist war, that it was a war, not between fascism and British imperialism, but between fascism and democracy, that if fascism succeeded in the war the result would be that democracy throughout the world would be destroyed and the chances of India acquiring democratic freedom would be wiped out for generations to come, that if on the other hand the war resulted in the defeat of fascism, democracy would be strengthened throughout the world including Great Britain and British imperialism itself would be weekend, that defeat of fascism would thus bring India nearer to the attainment of freedom and that since the defeat of fascism was necessary for our own freedom, we must unconditionally support the Government’s war efforts. We knew that this line of thinking, although quite correct, ran against the anti British sentiments of our people and would be highly unpopular, but the war had created a highly critical situation and we had to tell the people what was in their true interest, however unpalatable the truth may be. We regarded unconditional war support as an essential and vital part of our struggle for freedom. Subsequent history has fully corroborated Roy’s war analysis. I was asked by M.N.Roy in December 1942 whether I could leave my legal practice in Poona and whether I an my wife would become whole time workers of the Radical Democratic Party and the Indian Federation of Labour. I readily agreed and left for Bombay with my wife in January 1943 to do a whole time trade union work. Shortly thereafter Mr. D.R. Pradhan, an I.C.S. officer called me to his office and told me that I would be receiving a cheque of Rs13,000/- every month and that the money was to be utilized for anti-fascist propaganda in the working class in India. I soon received a list of about 50 persons including myself working in different parts of the country who were whole time workers of the Indian Federation of Labour. As far as I remember, the list was given to me by my senior colleague and friend V.B.Karnik (the will known trade union leader). The monthly cheques given to the whole timers varied from Rs 75/- to Rs 150/- per month. Most of the monthly amount was spent in publishing anti-fascist literature and some for traveling expenses. The same system continued when I shifted to Delhi towards the end of 1943. No part of Rs 13,000/- was sent to M.N. Roy who stayed normally at Dehradun. We were, of course, collecting donations for our other expenses from the sympathizers of the Radical Democratic Party and the Indian Federation of Labour. Most of the nearly 50 whole time workers had left their jobs and professions and sacrificed a great deal of work for the pittance which we could afford to give them. I am still deeply moved by the sacrifice they committed during the war period. This is the substance of the grave ‘scandal’ described so vividly by Shri Arun Shourie.

“Mr Jamnadas Mehta (Jamnadas Mehta was an important office bearer of the Indian Federation of Labour to whom Mr. Shourie refers in this book) was not right when he said that Rs 13,000/- per month were not given to the Indian Federation of Labour and that he was not aware of it. I was working in our Delhi office at that time and I found a letter in our record signed by Mr Jamanadas Mehta which showed that he was aware of the grant of Rs. 13,000/- per month from the beginning and approved of the acceptance of the grant. I published a photocopy of the letter in the daily Vanguard which was produced and edited in Delhi by my friend the late Ram Singh. On Dr Ambedkar’s request I sent him a copy of the issue which reproduced Mr. Jamnadas Mehta’s letter. Mr. Jamnadas Mehta never denied his signature.

“Turning to other amount of Rs 13,000/- per month sent by the Government to the manager of the Weekly Independent India, which was then published from Delhi and was edited by M.N. Roy from Dehradun, I know the essential facts of the case because my wife worked as manager of Independent India. The Government of India had sent us a list of persons sot whom complimentary amounted to Rs 13,000/- per month. Independent India was always a non-profit journal. More subscribers did not imply any profit to the journal or to those who produced it. The journal had started much before the war (in April 1937) and continued after the Government subscription terminated. It is still being produced since about 1949 it was called The Radical Humanist and it became a monthly journal from April 1970”12.

Roy believed like Ambedkar that unless the Congress fought for a social revolution there would be no benefit of this so called political freedom. In his manifesto for the RPIWC, (Revolutionary Party of Indian Working Class) Roy expressed his deep resentment over Congress’s political resolution of political freedom. “The Congress failed to develop the popular anti-imperialist forces because its ideal of swaraj, even if this is interpreted as complete independence, does not represent the social revolution which is a historic necessity as the overthrow of imperialism is necessary as a prelude to the long delayed social revolution, (the) political freedom of India will be conquered by the forces making social revolution. The goal of national freedom abstracted from a comprehensive programme of social revolution will never be realizes. The congress has been endeavoring to lead the masses towards this goal of simple political freedom”13.

Emphasizing the need to work for social freedom first, Roy exhorted his followers: “Unless you are ready to carry though the historical necessary social revolution political freedom will never be attained. The oppressed and exploited masses being the forces irreconcilably antagonistic to imperialist domination the struggle for national freedom must coincide with the struggle for the social emancipation of toiling masses. A party that does not consciously stand for the welfare of the masses against the privilege of the upper classes and carry on incessant struggle to promote the welfare, is incapable of leading the movement for the national freedom to victory. The future of the nation as a whole will have precedence over the present fortunate few who constitute a vociferous minority of the nation. No nation can prosper and progress as long as the productive masses constituting its overwhelming majority languish in economic bankruptcy, social stagnation, intellectual backwardness and culture reaction”14. What Roy said long ago characterize the present situation, in all details, in our independent India today.

Roy was among those very few intellectuals who had the courage to disown the Vendanta theory as well as Karma philosophy of the Gita which violate the basic human rights. He studied the Lokayat Darshan of Indian philosophy and many other schools of Indian philosophy such as Charvak, Buddhism, Jainism etc. to put fourth his view points vigorously and in a forthright manner, at a time when people in the Congress party were hell-bent on communalizing the national movement and nationalizing the Hindu festivals. He had the courage to speak out and make himself unpopular.

I will conclude my paper with one more quotation from Roy’s writings. Roy, while narrating an ancient story, writes: “Barahmihir, for example, describes a conversation between two men in a sad plight. One voicing the spirit of revolt, naturally endangered by intolerable oppression says, ‘we are suffering for the ill-doings of our king.’ There upon, the not true; our suffering is the fruit of our own actions of past life.’ The doctrine of Karma, the belief in the transmigration of soul, here stands in its real significance. These doctrines of ‘spiritualist’ philosophy were expounded by the rishis of old with the object of making the masses feel themselves responsible for their misery and thus be reconciled to. The attitude of the second man exonerated the oppressor from all responsibility, and the established social order is guaranteed against the danger of a threating popular revolt”15. Hindutvavadis are today alarmed by the prospect of a revolt, hence some of their “theoreticians” have come down heavily on Ambedkar and his Dalit followers and on M.N. Roy.

Roy’s philosophy is of immense importance today at a time when the fascist forces of Hindutva are intoxicated by the heady wine, cultural nationalism. While Ambedkar, Buddha and Gandhi have become “pratah Smaraniya” for the Sangh Parivar-a clever way to assimilate their ideologies-in actual fact it is to misrepresent their ideologies.

It has been a great loss for the country that intellectual giants like Roy, Periyar and Ambedkar could not come to one platform and lead India towards the much awaited social revolution. It is time those of us who are working for the social revolution, initiate a dialogue among the followers of various revolutionaries for a better understanding of our social movements of the past and need for a common cause in the future, otherwise the political independence of India will have no meaning without realization of human rights of millions of the down trodden-the Dalits including the Adivasis and the Muslim minority, and now the Christian minority and women. (This is a revised version of my paper presented before the Seminar on human rights organized by Indian Social Institute, New Delhi on November 13th and 14th 1998).

1 Ahir D.C., The Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, B.R. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Page:21-22
2 ibid. chapter ‘Pilgrimage to Buddhism’ Page 154
3 “Materialism” in Selected Works of M.N.Roy, volume IV: 1932-1936, Oxford University Press, 1997,
edited by Sibnarayan Ray, Page 326.
4 Ibid. Page 343
5 ibid. Page 335
6 Fascism: Its Philosophy, Professions and Practice, in Volume IV, Selected Works of M.N. Roy, Page 432-
7 New Orientation, by Ajanta Publications, New Delhi, 1981
8 Romain Rolland – Gandhi Correspondence, Publication Divisions, Ministry of Broadcasting, New Delhi, Second Edition, 1990, Page 241.
9 Selected Works of M.N. Roy, Volume IV: 1932-1936, Oxford University Press, 1997, Edited by
Sibnarayan Ray, Chapter Fascism: Page 437
10 ibid under chapter “The Historical Role of Islam”, Page 400
11 ibid Page 401
12 Justice V.M.Tarkunde’s letter to the Editor of Asian Age (taken from Mr. Tarkunde’s personal
13 ibid. Page 215 under chapter “Manifesto of the RPIWC’.
14 ibid. Page 220 under chapter “Manifesto of RPIWC”.
15 ibid. “Crime and Karma”, in selected works of M.N. Roy, Page: 516-517

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ambedkar : an Argumentative Indian

Ambedkar’s idea of a humanist India

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

When we see the chaos in India and the flirtation of its political class with the fundamentalist forces, Ambedkar and his forthright views are always a reminder to us. The man one side took on Gandhi for his parochial views but on the otherside did not leave the Muslim leagues for instigating hatred. It is a man of Ambedkar’s stature who walks out of meeting with Pope just because he never liked the ambiguity of Pope’s argument. It was the time when Gandhi, and Pope were gods of their respective faith. Who could walk out of the meeting with Pope because he was the biggest man of Christian world? We know how isolated he was when he took on Gandhi, a Mahatma for upper caste Hindus as Ambedkar did not have that many people to defend him that time as he has today when every one try to prove his loyalty to him. Today, when the crisis in our forests zones have escalated and when some of us question the mode of fight, we are often told that there is no option except to pick up guns. The poor will always pick up guns, they say. Revolutions world over happened with guns they say though they do not say while they want this revolution from tribal only, why not uniting all the poor of India.

Well, I would not like to comment upon the revolutions elsewhere but I can definitely talk about the revolution in India which is silent revolution where millions of Dalits are now joining the mainstream of India. They are not just joining jobs but leading their respective political parties, doing business and writing their own stories. The fact is that the problems of Dalits were more acute and racial in nature than the issue of tribals. It is not to put down the tribal issues as nothing but the difference is clear that the Dalits were not fighting against state, they were fighting for their own space as they know if that is not ensured no state would do justice to them.

Ambedkar therefore concentrated on the social system first. It is very difficult to fight against the social order in the height of a campaign for ‘India’s independence’. Many might say that Ambedkar was a constitutionalists and that the Dalits have now forgotten to fight but the fact is that it is not just Ambedkar, but Jyoti Ba Phule, Chatripati Shahuji Maharaj, EV Ramaswamy Naicar and in later Kanshiramji, all believed in political solutions to the issue of Dalit Bahujans. And they mobilized people politically and definitely won their battles. The battle to change a system does not end with one revolution. It is a continuous process. No political leader, Mahatma or any body can claim that he or she would get all that she thought during the life time. The process of change is a continuous process.

The historic legacy of the Dalit Bahujan’s world was the world of freedom of ideas and expression. Ambedkar is central to this theme. He is the center of these ideas of modernity and change. Unlike those who fight against state with guns and weapons and condemn it for all their problems, Ambedkar challenged the non state actors and put the onus on state to implement modern laws that would help not only Dalits and others but respect their right to be an individual.

A supporter of individual’s right, Ambedkar had visualized that if the political constitution does not do justice to his people, they would blow it up some day. Ambedkar’s faith in the ideals of democracy and liberalism were extraordinary. His likes and dislikes were clear. He never like ambiguous answers to his questions. The fact is that after facing so much of discrimination could have easily picked up guns and provided that kind of solution but he did nothing of that short. He had essentially realized the condition of his community and so was fighting for a long battle.

He not only exposed the Hindu myths and its social order but also studied other alternatives. He was an argumentative Indian who was not just well read but well interacted person with his community. He was not just an academic but a leader of the mass movement. Today, it is time to understand why Ambedkar is important for us and revisit his ideals of freedom and democracy.

Many of our friends only remember Ambedkar of 1930s when he was fighting on caste system and articulating his views with Gandhi on caste and shastras. If the Shastras are not according to modern values we must change those texts, said Ambedkar which were virtually Jolted Gandhi and his faith. He could never imagine that somebody could challenge him to this level. That was power of Ambedkar’s love. He agitated for temple entry in famous Kalaram temple of Pune. He was the first one to take up the water issue in Mahad which was one of the biggest mass protests of Dalits.

The biggest change in Ambedkar’s thinking came when he declared that ‘ though I am a born Hindu which was not in my hand but I would not die as a Hindu’. He started studying Buddhism and had many more thoughts in his mind. He did not want to focus on Hindus and their caste system. He had mobilsed community against the caste system and brahmanical domination. He decided that this vast energy has to be channeled for positive purposes.

And that positive idea was the cultural changes that his work started bringing in the communities and areas he visited. In maharastra, women’s were inherent part of his movement. When I spoke to Baby Tai kamble about her involvement, her eyes sparkles about the involvement of women and how culturally they changed and became Buddhists. The Jatavs of Agara were also the ones who were quick to embrace his ideals. Cultural changes are more important before anything and Ambedkar had realized that and that is why his embracing Buddhism was not just a religious effort but providing the masses an alternative philosophy which would bring revolution in their life. The change has worked as today the Buddhists in Maharastra have proved themselves no less than any one in academics, cultures and achievements. They do not need government jobs as they are excelling in every field, in science, music, private sector, entrepreneurships and art.

My friend P.L.Mimroth had an interesting episode to narrate but I do not have any thing to verify this but because it is related to Ambedkar was the person who could have done it. When he was labour minister in Viceroy’s council, the department for PWD and New Delhi’s big builder started courting his son for this. They would call him for party. One day, Yashwant went to Baba Saheb and told him about his this particular builder but Baba Saheb realized that his son was not in the right direction and packed him to Mumbai.

Why it is important to take a lesson from Dr Ambedkar. All his life Ambedkar was very clear about his priorities and his action. He was a man of character. Making money as a lawyer or as a minister could have been easier for him but for him it was important that things should not be clean but also should also be seen as clean. And he never confined himself to the cause with in the community. Widely read as he was, Ambedkar understood the threat of Fascism on India and that is why during his stint as labor minister he not only supported M.N.Roy for his anti war efforts but also brought worked on many legislations for the benefits of the labor in the country.

Today, we jump up to fight if any one among our leaders is found corrupted. We start questioning the motives. We can not defend the indefensible. When he decided to embrace Buddhism, Ambedkar was in a different mode. He came out of the clutches of caste system and chose a different way. Now, once you are in that mode, you chose a new path, a path that leads to liberation. That is why, I firmly believe, Ambedkarism does not come to you automatically. You have to earn it. Ambedkarite perspective of the world is supporting all the social movements for change, for rights of individual, for questioning every religious text and defending the ideals of freedom and justice. You do not inherit Ambedkarism by just being born some where. Despite his ill health, enormous amount of work, the man work tirelessly and started many educational institutions including colleges and libraries. He not only spend time with people fighting their cases free of cost and providing them new ideas but also travelled large part of country to organize them. Ambedkar was in touch with many stalwarts of his time to provide a new alternative to the country. He sponsored a number of students for higher and professional education abroad. And we must understand he had limited capacity financially.

In Delhi people would come to his house in odd hours for consultation and with their grievances. And none went without hearing him. Some would come him to just see how he work. Such was his passion for work that he drafted Hindu Code Bill despite all his ailing health and was ready to draft a Uniform Civil Code with in 24 hours if all the members were ready. We all know how all kind of seculars joined hands in condemning him terming him as Modern Manu in the Parliament. Nehru could not fulfill his promise to get the bill passed and Ambedkar had to resign from cabinet.

We remember Ambedkar for his spirit, for his challenge to the system and for many because he gave us a new constitution. But definitely, he was much bigger than simply the drafter of our constitution. There are many things which he wanted to be part of the constitution but it could not happen. He wanted Land to be Nationalised and redistributed but that could not become part of our constitution. There were lots of constraints on him but he did succeed on many things. At the fag end of his life he demanded for proportionate electorate system to be implemented for the benefits of marginalized communities as they would be able to have their leaders of their choise and not coopted and corrupted leaders.

It is important to see the life cycle of Baba Saheb. Buddhism provided him a new path. And that path was forward looking with new ideals of democracy, freedom and liberty.
One of his endearing thoughts were of Karuna i.e. passion. Knowledge without passion is nothing but arrogance. Knowledge has to be useful to people and not just to your academics. A positive path is to look forward, giving new ideas and new support to the community. Government do not change system, it is people who change it. To fulfill the ideals of Ambedkar, we need to strengthen our links to community and work for it. And more importantly please support those who work in the community. Do not discount those who may not write on the internet but working silently on the ground. The best tribute would be to bring together all the forces of social justice together with the ideals of Dr Ambedkar. The ideals of Ambedkar are valid for all those who fight for human rights and social justice world over.

21st century could be the of the ideals of Dr Ambedkar only when we build up an Ambedkar Samaj where you leave your caste tag behinds and look positively forward with modern solutions to primitive value system. When the forces of revivalism are gaining ground and sympathy through media and political class, when the non state actors such as Khap Panchayats, and religious thugs refuses to accept the domain of our constitution, it is a big challenge to us. And we can not fight against them with just constitutional provisions. We have to shame them with our ideals, with our actions and with our arguments. When each of these religious fanatics want their own Manu Smritis to dominate us and guide our destiny then we have to expose them with involvement of masses as how dangerous these ideals of religious fanatics are? When the issues of gods become more important than human lives and human miseries, we need more like minded people and spread this ideals to more people as how religion and its dominant classes have killed people’s spirit, their ideals and will to work independently. If we confine Ambedkarism to particular set of people and stop spreading it, it will become redundant and ghettoized. Ambedkarism is an idea for all democratic struggle who are fighting for social justice and support equality, liberty and fraternity. Let the tribes of Ambedkarites grow and work for social change and human rights. Let it reach on every nook and corner of the country to develop it as ‘Prabuddha Bharat’, as Baba Saheb had visualized so that people do not pick up guns to counter any hegemony but arguments to demolish historical myths of the ruling elite. It is the right moment in our history and we have to accept the challenge and use Ambedkar’s thought to develop counter culture of democracy, freedom and humanism.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Tribal Question

The fall out of Dantewada: Need tribal voices for their rights to counter corporate propagandist nationalism?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Home Minister P.Chidambaram has offered to resign after the Dantewada massacre. He saluted the CRPF for their work, the poor cousins of BSF and armed forces. A CRPF recruit start living with tents and end up there only. That the war should always be avoided as it never resolve anything. It hurt the poorest of the poor and it is more masculine in nature. You see both the side of this patriarchical social order, the war create a new set of orphaned children who would never be able to live the same life after their fathers are killed. A whole lot of family is destroyed. In this scenario you only see grieving wives, mothers and daughters. They look completely helpless because our social system remain the same. It is easier to blame state for everything as you become revolutionary for the same but difficult to fight against our own notorious social order which create not only Maoists but all the feudal elements of society which Ambedkar defined as ‘graded inequality’. That most of these CRPF Jawans hails from poor peasantry communities, who serve our nation. They are the first generation of their families to serve in the forces and goes on to follow the order given to them by their command officers.

Hence the news of the killings of 76 Jawans of CRPF in an ambush by the Maoists in Dantewada district of Chhatishgarh naturally angered the entire nation. What is more shocking is the propaganda war unleashed by the media as how can they kill our Jawans without understanding the fact that in the war zones such situation will happen as suggested by Swarnjeet Singh, former DGP police of Andhra Pradesh who is claimed to be successfully curtailed the Naxal violence in his state. Yet, what hurt most is the grim faced anchors in the TV studios of Delhi start preaching the nation about possible action plan. In the olden days, we used to hear the national broadcast from the prime minister or chief ministers on such occasions whenever a crisis confronted the nation by addressing directly to the people on such issues and informing them about government’s policies and programmes. Mrs Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on All India Radio, prior to sending armed forces in Golden Temple in June 1984 while VP Singh spoke to the nation on Lal Krishna Advani’s arrest 1990 while Narsimha Rao promised the nation to rebuild the Babari Masjid after its demolition on December 6th, 1992.

But all that is history. With the mushrooming of hundreds of news channels, nationalism sales apart from sex, scandals, religion, cricket and corporate. Now, the PM does not speak on such incidents. Instead we hear an Arnab Goswami with his poked face and fascist statements about the situation. He says, ‘Today, this country has to decide, which side they are. Whether they are on the side of Indian state or with the Maoists? ‘These Maoists are terrorists, no less than Talibans. They kill people, extort money and have killed our brave Jawans’, he virtually shouted. With the right wing expert sitting on the table, Arnab and every other of his ilk is inviting a few ‘sympathizers’ for their chat show to hound them. The problem is with these so called sympathizers also who have virtually run out of ideas and romanticize an idea which can never be supported in the democratic system. Long ago, I wrote about Nepal that even the worst form of democracy is better than the most efficient autocratic regimes. Secondly when they know that Arnab and company will not allow them to make their point, why should they join in the debates. We all look for our own truth and information. So none of us are going to receive our information from Arnab and thankfully very few would watch him beyond Delhi and other metro- politan cities.

Let us first deal with the issue of Maoist violence and media portrayal. There is no justification of violence but frankly speaking Arnab, there is no justification in deviating the real issue of strategic failure of the CRPF as Mr Swarnjeet Singh, former DGP police Andhra Pradesh said. In the war zones, you can not think that the casualties would be only on the one side. It is bound to happen both the ways. Even Chhatishgarh DGP Mr Vishwa Ranjan pointed that out. We need to see why this desperation by our TV chatters. Do they want to ethnically cleanse the tribal regions so that our companies go there and grab their land? We all know that the Maoists, however stronger they are, can not win a battle against the state as mighty as India. They are actually ruining generation of tribal in this false exercise. India is simply not Nepal or Venezuela and a revolution can not emerge from just Dante Wada. Arundhati Roy often support tribal’s right to pick up guns to defend their sovereignty, making tribal and Maoists as easily interchangeable terms which is unacceptable. More over, we should also ask the question as do the Maoist fight war against this land grab or they want to fight against Indian state which they call as a fake democracy. What kind of democratic structure do they want to give us? We too are saying that our democracy need changes and it is becoming corporatized on American pattern. We do want proportionate representation for Muslims, for dalits, for tribal. We want their representation and not representation in their name which most of these revolutionaries and their ideologues seems to be doing. In 1975 Jaya Prakash Narain had appealed to forces to not to obey the order of the government. That was a democratic call.
In the historic Lahore Convention, Havildar Chandra Singh Garhwali refused to fire on the Congress workers terming them as fighting for the freedom of the nation. But why the Maoists consider the poor police men and tribal working in the government jobs ( pity, how many tribal are there in our governance structure) as state agents.

See the irony, most of the killings by the Maoists are rural poor or Jawans of police force. They join the forces for serving their families. Maoists and their sympathizers call them state agents. Hence the cycle of repression start. In the war zones all become become repressive and the biggest casualty in this is the voices of sanity and freedom. They are hounded by both the governments as well as Maoists do not want the other voices to come in between.

Unfortunately, those who pretend to be leading dissents or speaking for the Maoists too are well connected in the power structure and none dare to speak to them as how did they arrive at a Maoist camps. They have been using the media war to spread their own message to world over. But, I know if a local journalist in Chhattisgarh or Delhi, try to write any story on the Maoists, he or she would be hounded by the police and would face virtual arrest at the moment.

The problem here is that in the entire debate of illegal land grabbing, encroachment of forest by big companies, mining and threat to environment and ecology by state and non state actors have receded into the background as now it has taken an ugly turn between the Maoists and the government. Both of them seem to working on their own long term agendas. The Maoists and their sympathizers are living in their own dream world of a ‘people’s democracy which is even afraid of internet and Google surfing while the government wants to seize the land and distribute to the companies while Maoists are gaining because of government’s complete failure to understand tribal sentiments. How can you expect a tribal to respect our police when the very policemen is a ‘vardi walla gunda’ as remarked by a judge in Allahabad High court long back.

All is not well as there is systematic erosion of tribal rights in India. The Special Economic Zones, the mining companies, the big dams, the hugely built Ashrams, the cowsheds everything is being developed in India’s richest areas of Chhatishgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand which inhabit our poorest population. Is not it an irony that the reporters reporting from these places are adding extra masala to their embedded reporting as how difficult it is for the Jawans to fight the battle in the mosquito ridden area but then did they ever thought of how a tribal might be living in these areas for years. Did we care for them? Fundamentally, we feel that if the government can not improve their livelihood, it has no right to demolish their natural habitat.

But our desi nationalists who would like our jawans, who are sons of the soil, children of our peasants, kisans, die for their brand of nationalism by killing their own tribal people. It is an irony that our media which should have been more balanced in reporting and analyzing things become hysterical and start creating panics. Both the chief of Armed Forces General V.K.Singh and Air Chief Marshal Y.P.Naik have not shown interest in fighting an internal battle where the police forces are more than enough to tackle the situation arising out of the Naxal violence.

Now, the reports are coming in that there is little interaction between police and the local tribal community. How can there be an interaction if there is no governance. If the government servants did not venture into the villages and get their salary without working in the villages, then one can understand the relationship between the tribal and the government servants. How can a government servant who is suppose to help the rural poor treat them worst than their servant be expected to get information from the same people. The Maoists have won the imagination of a number of the tribals whether it is through their violence or whether providing instance justice to many of them, the fact is they have been getting local support. And it is therefore important to create environment where the tribal do not feel betrayed even when this is too late.

Unfortunately, the governments have only helped them as other dissenting voices who believe in democratic struggles are being produced as Maoists. There are movements against land acquisition all over the country. There are voices against illegal land grabbing, against displacement of the people particularly Dalits and tribal, for the forest rights and they are not Maoists yet all of them have been clubbed jointly as notorious human rights activism. Not just the government but mostly these irresponsible TV channels and newspapers have started making these arguments as if human rights have suddenly become the worst word. Yes, we claim our self to be the largest democracy only when this democracy enables the big companies to grab land and do whatever they wish to do. When the democracy gives space to the marginalized, then these non state actors try to bulldoze our voices through their TV channels and news rooms. Have we discussed the issues of tribal rights in our parliament? Why are our tribal leaders silent on all these issues? Where are they hiding? All those social justice wallahs who jump and stall parliament for their bills keep quiet on tribal issues. Have the Dalit, backwards, the minorities, have no voice on this national issue? Why this has become an issue between the upper caste leaders, parties and commentators.

Similarly, our intelligence agencies do not know the ideological stuff and hence every democratic protest for them become a Maoist strategy to gain ground which end up in goofing up the entire things. It is not just the fault of intelligence, when our media term every human rights defender as Maoists, then we can understand their quality of education and understanding of India. In the name of anti Maoist operation, the government should not annihilate an entire tribal population as well as all of us who are talking sanity and raising the issue of violence against forest and tribal.

The only way to curb this menace of violence is to respect democratic voices of dissent and not consider them as anti national. On an emergency measures, the government must declare moratorium on further acquisition of land in forest zones. The forest act must be implemented and land must be redistributed among tribal. The National Commission for Tribal must be reconstituted and given more authority so that it can play an active role in resolving some of the issues relating to tribal.

Hundred years of hierarchical based system was challenged by Dalits through democratic process. Ambedkar’s ideals brought a silent revolution in India, without any guns. Today, Dalits not only actively participate in democracy but also lead in many places. Of course, violence against them exists but then they have succeeded and produced leaders, writers and whole new breed of youngsters who look forward for a bright future challenging the Brahmanical hegemony which is crumbling. Similar situation lies with backward communities whose leadership is emerging despite all shortcomings. It is in this context, we need to look the issue of tribal as why their leadership has not emerged to speak for them. This is a crisis of tribal identity and their voices need to be heard.

Ironically, there is a commonality among those who claim to be working for tribal. It is the absence of tribal voices. You have seen commonality among Congress, BJP and CPM on the women’s reservation bill, all of them were together in saying that all women are same and that there is no issue of Dalit and Muslim women. That they are more than enough to represent them too. Now, you can add CPI Maoists too in the list as none of them have tribal voices at their top level and leadership to Bengal and Chhatishgarh being imported from Telengana region. All of them are claiming to represent tribal interest except for the tribal themselves. Where have the tribal leadership gone? Could this have been possible if the issue of dalits and backwards were concerned ? See how the backward castes and Dalits and Muslims are fighting against the combine onslaught of the brahmanical parties in this democratic structure for their right.

Many governments including that in Australia, New Zealand and Canada offered apology to indigenous people for their marginalization and isolation. That the modern development modules are displacing tribals and the natural resources for the benefit of a few who owned up big companies including big business houses and media companies. An elected government has every right to take control of the areas under its jurisdiction and react to the armed struggle. The only concern that all the civil rights activists feel is the victimization of innocent and the scuttling of the voices of social movements and dissent. In healthy democracy, political, cultural dissent is part of life and need to be respected with counter arguments and not by shunning their voices. Moreover, the government and Mr Chidambaram can well use media to launch their public relation offensive against the Naxals but it need more public relations of its image with tribal population and thankfully, none of them would be watching either Arnab Goswami or Barkha Dutt. Chidambaram would do well to communicate his message to tribal and send his officials to them and win their heart by their good will and a complete moratorium on the further acquisition of land would be a great gesture apart from some more efforts like returning of tribal land and providing new services to them would be the bigger counter offensive than a mere media exercise which simply talk of Maoists and completely ignore the tribal interest and virtually making the Maoists the sole voices of tribal which is unacceptable.