Sunday, April 14, 2013

Working towards Ambedkar’s vision of ‘Prabuddha Bharat’

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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’ : Dr Ambedkar speaking in Rajya Sabha on 19th march, 1955 on Article 31 or Right to Property.

A vicious debate started by some fringe groups about a month back that Ambedkar has not worked for the cause of Dalits and all his actions failed in its mission. Some said, he was influenced by American Economist in Columbia University and has depended too much on the state while other felt that it is time to call Ambedkar bluff as it has not done anything for the Dalits and time has come to ‘ideologically’ fight against it. It is not new for the ideologues of left, right and centre to denigrate Ambedkar as he is a challenge to their ‘intellectualism’.

There are many intellectuals who were shocked to see whether Ambedkar was anti-communist while the so-called communist leadership just blamed him as ‘agent’ of capitalism which emerge from his forthright debate on the issue of right to property and on the issue of Ceiling Surplus Land. Anyone who understands and if he or she is honest on the village system in India, would subscribe to what Dr Ambedkar said and suggested on the issue in the Constituent Assembly debates. We all know that Baba Saheb Ambedkar wanted nationalization of land and was against individual farming. In fact, he stated that though he was not a communist, he support the Russian model of state farming. A right winger author once write a book on him claiming he was a ‘British’ stooge while Gandhians have their own problem as Ambedkar rarely called Gandhi a Mahatma and trashed his formulations of India’s great culture and village republics.
Although, I am not a communist-the Russian system of collective farming is the only way by which we can solve our agricultural problem. To create peasant proprietorship and to handover land to peasant who have not got any means of production in my judgment would bring a complete ruination.’

In the backdrop of this, I wish to say that it is not necessary for Ambedkar to be a communist or a Gandhian or a socialist for being right or wrong. The attempt to fix Ambedkar in this fixed mode is nothing but belittling his contribution to the society. Countries and societies do not depend on ideological framework but work on pragmatism and local needs of the people. The intellectuals frame those positions to the benefit of their masses but if they become enslaved to a dogma then that perception is bound to fail. Today, one has to see who has won in India. Those who wanted revolution for the proletariat actually ensured that their caste brethren’s remain in safe heavens and rather than launching an anti-caste movement they started questioning others who fought against it and brought radical changes in society. The successful anti caste movement in India were never lead by the so-called champions of the proletariat. Rather people like Ambedkar, Periyar, Phule, Sri Narayan Guru, Birsa Munda , Sahuji Maharaj, Ayyan Kali and many others were never actually proclaimed communists though they were influenced by some of the traits of the communism and socialism as Ambedkar had mentioned many time, the issue of Dalits and other oppressed masses.

It was strange that the meeting did not discuss what failed communism in India and rather it focused more on Ambedkar’s failed mission and his ideology. It is normal practice for any group to discuss the issues related to their ideology and introspect about it as how much it has succeeded. It is therefore legitimate for the Ambedkarites to discuss how much they have succeeded and where they failed. Introspection of any ideology is an occasion for all kind of discussion without any hero worshipping and with an agenda on future of the ideology. One does not know as how many times our friends who initiated discussion in Chandigarh did that about Marxism. Why is Marxism failing world over and how can them make the labour movement a truly inclusive movement and not just event management on a certain date? How many times did we discuss as why Maoism could not go beyond China and why the Chinese governments have itself abandoned Maoism and its basic principles and why is china today focusing on the liberal principles of global economy ignoring the Maoist principles. Can they tell us as why Europe has adopted the name democratic socialism and not communism as most of the communist governments in Eastern European nation were deeply fascist in nature who denied freedom of expression and freedom to organize political dissent. It would be good for our Marxist friends to discuss the failure of Marx, Mao, Lenin and Stalin and think beyond them as why these legends are persona non grata in even in Russia today and no other Eastern European country want to listen about them?

Hence, it is unusual for the ‘revolutionaries’ to discuss on the issue which is not their own. They never considered Ambedkar their own so why is the problem? The brahmanical communists who love their ‘Janeus’ more than their ideology can never ever do justice to the issue of marginalized. Most of the communist leaders not only hailed from the upper castes but also upper classes. A number of times, we are asked question that Ambedkar always used caste as the main identity and we were told that communists believed in class system. I want to ask how many of the top leaders of the all the major communists parties hail from the so-called ‘proletariat’ classes. Despite my high respect for many of them, in terms of both class and caste, they hail from upper echelon of our society and betray the facts about classes which they claim. For years, we know that major communists’ parties in Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar were dominated by the powerful Bhumihar group which owned the maximum number of land. Similarly in Andhra Pradesh, they were led by powerful Reddy’s who were the biggest land owning community in their region and even today hold Andhra Pradesh to virtual ransom.  Why didn’t’ the issues of caste identities never came in the minds of our comrades when taking a political decision. Was not that an identity politics when power elite joined the parties? Where are proletariats in the leadership of the communist parties? All those who claim to work in the name of proletariat in these parties are either the too rich landed peasantry or the middle class bhadraloks of brahmanical variety who are expert in ‘articulations’ but their relationship with the Dalits and Shudras remain the same. Hence, ‘who failed whom’, is a question they should ponder over as how much they succeeded.

Ambedkar was clear about his mission. He knew every well what his people needed. It is not that he was not aware of Marxism but he knew that danger also in India. He did not want to talk in jargons and rhetoric as he wanted pragmatic and immediate solutions for his people. And he knew very well the hypocrisies of those who were talking about ‘international politics’ yet unable to focus on the hidden apartheid in the country. Is not it treacherous for the historians who never focused on the wide ranging discrimination based on caste and issue of untouchability in India?  Gandhi was speaking about foreign power but Ambedkar knew well that the transfer of power from British to Indian hands would be more dangerous if the interest of dalits were not negotiated. He had this fear of a Hindu Raj which he said would be a calamity if it comes to India and hence he was not much keen on buying Gandhi’s Swaraj which was being projected as end of ‘all kind of discrimination’ in India. Ambedkar said that ‘this view would be correct if it could be proved that with the disappearance of Imperialism all vestige of capitalism will also disappear from India.  But it does not require much intelligence to realize that even if the British depart from India, the landlords, the mill owners, and the moneylenders will remain in India and will continue to bleed the people and that even after Imperialism has gone labour will have to fight these interests just as much.’

Ambedkar was an iconoclast who never believed in hero worshipping. He exposed the holy text written in our religious books. He challenged them with greater articulations. He knew how Gandhi was being worshipped by the people and how any question to Gandhi was considered as a ‘challenge’ to loyalty to the nation. He cautioned India against hero worshipping. ‘For in India, ‘Bhakti’ or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part of its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other part in the world’. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti, or hero worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship’, warned Ambedkar.

Yes, some of our friends may be unhappy with Ambedkar’s constitutional-ism but one must understand what he meant for that and why.  He knew that now we have a constitution where negotiations are part of political process hence it was important to fight a political battle and not use the extra constitutional methods to get your thing done. Today, we have seen mass protests in India which actually are aimed at undermining its democratic process and bring the American model of corporate version totally in the hands of the caste Hindus. Today, with more and more participation of Dalits and OBCs in our power structure, we are realizing that democracy is being undermined by the same political class who sings ‘songs’ of ‘greatness’ of Indian democracy and who are afraid of such wide scale participation from India’s diverse marginalized communities.

‘We must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the methods of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was some justification for unconstitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives. These methods are nothing but Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned the better for us.’

I would again emphasise that we have to see Ambedkar in his true perspective who admitted in the Constituent Assembly debate that there was nothing final and things have to be decided based on situations according to time. That is why the constitution provides opportunity to amend our laws according to the needs of the time which changes with the passage of time. It is not that Ambedkar is saying that we must not engage in political protest. His warning was clear that there will be many forces who are afraid of democracy and they can always bring such huge crowd to the ground. We know the dangers of Anna and Kejriwal movements which threatened the very basic of our constitution. We need to understand as why such movement became popular with our middle classes as well as media because there was a feeling of disgust with participation of India’s Dalits and Shudras and Anna and Arvind, they thought, would undo all the ‘provisions’ meant for the Dalits and OBCs. All the right wingers in India hate our constitution. They want to continue shout that it has failed but they don’t know what they are going to give us. What kind of governance model the RSS or Hindu Mahasabha would like to give us? What is the structure that a Maoist can provide us?  Will that be like the ‘democracy’ in China? So, it is important to understand who the forces are talking about all these ‘changes’. In the name of change, we must not succumb to brahmanical lies, all those jargon of internationalism, imperialism and what not, that ignore the Hindu imperialism of India, its hidden apartheid, its caste structure.

Yes, Ambedkar never said that this constitution is the greatest. He felt that it was the responsibility of the constituent assembly to make it and there were lots of issues. He also said that if the constitution would not work well he would be the first to burn it but he always felt that it is not the constitution which will fail us but if the constitution goes in the hands of those people who do not respect democracy, it is bound to fail. For that he said that India’s political democracy will never succeed unless we have social democracy. And today, if we see India and its abject failure, we have to salute Ambedkar for his forthright thoughts as why India is unable to stand up as a society because religious thugs have made hell of this nation. Caste system, untouchability and discrimination is still order of the day. Ambedkar did what he could do and much bigger than his strength. He was all alone in his struggle and yet could change so much. If the constitution is failing, it is not the fault of Ambedkar. If the Dalit movement is not growing, it is not the fault of Ambedkar. It is not the time to find fault with Ambedkar. It is time to understand him well. Ambedkar is not just father of India’s constitution but father of modern India after renaissance which could be called as humanist India. Actually, we need all social churning so that the real leaders emerges who have vision to carry forward that legacy of Dr Ambedkar which he espoused for sure, without a social revolution, India’s political democracy will be at peril. All those ‘champions’ of ‘democracy’ are failing India who are feudal in their personal lives and using democracy a tool to push forward their retrogressive dubious religious agenda on the country.

Gandhi’s India is the nation that glorifies caste hierarchies and village communes. It is an India that believes in the finality of religious text and hence suitable to all kinds of religious thugs who promote Gandhism to fulfill their own religious agenda. Ambedkar’s India will be an enlightened India which does believe in freethinking traditions, where you can challenge the religious books and restore the freedom to individual to decide about his life and choices. Ambedkar’s India does not believe in the ‘sanctity’ of ‘dogmas’ whether political or religious. The centrality of Ambedkar’s India would be the restoration human dignity and human rights for all and without that all ideals and political philosophies would be clear humbug.  Clearly, Ambedkar’s India want to restore us to the values of democracy, social justice and equality for all and hopefully once we achieve that, India would find its place in the comity of nations which can claim proudly to be civilized countries. In the absence of that, we will head for anarchy and chaos and the forces of religious nationalism will take over and the only state then we will have the Hindu Rashtra, which would be the greatest calamity that India can have as Ambedkar said. It is time we heed his warning. It is time we work hard to achieve Ambedkar’s vision of Humanist India or what he termed as Prabuddha Bharat.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Relationship vs Ideology

Patriarchy verses Pragmatism

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Women’s struggle against unjust social order is hampered by the customs and traditions as they are deeply rooted in our psyche. We feel a sense of commitment to fulfil them. Exactly a month ago my mother passed away and memories that haunted me many times revisited again. My aim of giving a glimpse of a bit of my life is because these stories form part of a majority of families and yet we continue to keep them under wrap. It is time we stand up and speak against such evils. I am sharing this article in hope that it will clear dilemmas of many others who pass through the similar situations.

Listening to Women’s right without mention of patriarchy is impossible in India yet the latter continue to be dominating our socio-cultural lives and therefore need a scrutiny of our system as why patriarchy is still dominate despite so much of ‘abhorrence’. Many times we ignore the vast reality that women too live in their class, caste, cultural, society and religious confines apart from being secular and non-believers. Even being secular and non-believer happens according to our family relations and we are loved not because of our high idealism but because of our blood relations. The fact of the matter is that it is due to the blood relations the war against injustice cannot be fought and women to fall in the relations as men and therefore most of the time violence against women become victim of those relationships where your biological things matter more than your ideological moorings. India’s denigration into an anarchy and chaos is because of this blood relationship as it is such relationships that decide right and wrong and there would be very few people who challenged these traditions and came out of it. Nobody goes out of them as they are very useful and powerful tool to save yourself whenever you are in trouble. Those who challenge these notions face isolation and are further ostracized in society.

My mother passed away exactly a month back at the home of my sister who took care of her for nearly 20 years. I had left home in 1987 and was wandering like a nomad for all these years from one place to another in the hope that someone would fulfill my need for education. The survival was difficult as when I lost my father, I was just 7 years of age and from that day it was a difficult journey. Anyway, that is another subject on a different occasion as at the moment I want to discuss about a different thing which concern women. Even when the life was very tough for us as we neither had agricultural land nor any house of our own and my mother was a simple housewife who has only primary qualification in the name of education. So working or job was out of question for her and yet she ensured that each one of us get better education. Despite believing in girls’ education, she remained traditional all her life and always felt that her elder son has not taken care of her. I was her younger son and she had stayed with me in Delhi for some time but never liked the place. It was difficult for her to digest that she was living with my sister which is not consider great. Even when my sister was taking proper care somewhere in the heart of my mother it remained that she is not at her home.

When she was counting her last moments a number of visitors continued to visit her. My brother who was living just 500 meter away from my sister’s home never bothered and we had to request friends to bring him to see her at the last moment. He had all excuses of not coming there. My sister-in- law never bothered about her and did not even think it proper to visit my sister even after the death. People could be so sick and low even in death reflect the hollowness of our society. I informed my sisters much in advance that my elder brother would never ever come to see my mother but would always be there once she is no more. You never care for the person when one is alive but once she is dead you are there to capture the space, show your ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for the departed soul. And that happened. He was not there when the end came. We were all sitting together, two of my sisters, me, my brother in law and two of my cousins from village when my mother breathed her last. As a courtesy, I called to my brother within five minutes which he informed me that he would be here in next two hours. He wanted to check where will cremation take place etc. and he arrived on his given time. As we were preparing to take the body for cremation, he sat with me and suggested that the last rite would be performed by him and the ‘puja’ should take place at his home as he is the ‘eldest’ son. He was off the view that people should not say anything which affects our ‘reputation’. It was shocking to see the hypocrisy but I was clear in this even when we have a 10 year gap between us. ‘What is wrong is the ‘puja’ is performed here at my sisters’ residence, I said. After all, it was my sister who looked after my mother and there is nothing wrong. In fact, it would be highly wrong if she is denied in doing so. Though my sisters have remained patriarchical despite their strength, here they remained adamant that they will not allow my brother to do the take Centre stage as ‘ideal son’. He never cared for her when she needed and was desperate to see her grandchildren but now he want to show the world how obedient he is? I was wondering the level of hypocrisy in our society that you never do anything for the sake of the individual but worried about your ‘reputation’ and hence more interested in symbols and not in substance.

For me it was a very difficult situation as an absolutely non believer I have no faith in whatever was being performed. I used to joke with my mother that she should not expect me doing her last right as per brahmanical traditions as I have no faith in them and there is no point in doing things which you do not believe. I do not do things for the sake of symbols or society. By the age of 23, I was in Delhi and radical thoughts have changed me. Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s life and writing became my guiding source and therefore all the rituals and religious values evaporated from my heart. I never participated in anything which was done in the name of religion and in fact boycotted all the festivals and traditional activities at home. And when the issue of marriage came, that was contentious but I decided that would also happen without a priest and any rituals. So, all these decisions made by me were tough and many of them were not liked by my mother but she respected my sentiments and values and was solidly with me. Therefore, it became important for me to understand the sentiments that my sisters wanted to follow and which is absolutely patriarchical in nature but they were adamant for me to shave my head and perform everything for the ‘peace’ of my mother as they don’t want my elder brother to do so. I wished if they could take the lead and do it. I asked them why don’t they come but they did not. Who will take care of people if they come to our place, said my sister. But it is clear women are pragmatic too many things. They said, if I were not here and it was a great relief for them that I stood with them for nearly 7 days, they would have done it themselves. I found it interesting as these are stories everywhere. Even women perform rituals at many places but that does not challenge patriarchy but it give them a window as most of our rituals are male dominated. Our mindset are developed that way only that even when women perform everything they would want men get the lead. May be, it has a lot to do with division of work where women feel they do take care of other cores and religious rituals are left to men. I disagree but I know women know that they too have to live in society and they look for security and safety, family and tradition and hence use these windows only rather than breaking the big iron gate of patriarchy which has locked them up. For that, parents will have to take a lead and sanctity of such performances will have to be questioned. It is difficult in the rural India where death ceremonies are ‘all boys club’ while women’s role is confined to showing ‘helplessness’.

 When I came to Delhi in the 1990s with lot of rough ideas and do ‘something’ the radical thoughts had taken deep roots. May be because of my sufferings at the very personal level, I developed a hatred and I repeat hatred towards the brahmanical ritualistic traditions. There are various facts and I can claim I saw the dirty middle classes of Delhi, their hypocrisies and felt it is the values that they live in. I was compelled in my thought to convert. I felt everything is better than these brahmanical values. I attended theological classes, also got influenced with Islamic beliefs later. Many thoughts used to come in my heart but when I went deep inside no religion could attract me as free minds like me would find it difficult to adjust in those fixed atmosphere and realize that I could better serve humanity with my secular values. That way, the influence of Ambedkar in my life was tremendous and I owe to his writings and life which changed me.

Today, I feel that my secular values allow me to do what would have been impossible in any other way if I were a convert to any other faith. I decided to carry out what my mother wished. I did attempt to complete her wish by following all dictates of those in family. I felt and rightly so, I am a non-believer, a humanist but she was not and I cannot deny that relationship between us was that of a mother and son which is not based on much ‘ideologies’ but on relations. A mother would always defend her children come what they and will pray to protect them from evil eyes. Should our ideologies be that rigid which do not even allow us to perform the last rites of our parents? I have always opposed rituals and traditional practices but we know we cannot change our parents as they came from a certain sets of principles but we can always guide our children.

It is a coincident that a friend of mine in Delhi lost her father in the same week of March. He was a scientist and had already donated his body to the medical college. The daughter and mother fulfilled the last wish of the father and with heavy heart donated it but the relatives were not happy. Even when this friend of mine is a ‘God fearing’, she followed what her father wished and that is an excellent example of respecting the wishes of parents.

There were lots of issues which came in my mind when I performed those rituals for my mother which I never believed yet in ultimate analysis I felt I owe to her a lot. She gave me birth, suffered for me and at least for her sake and for my own sake, I felt it obliged to fulfil her last wish and I have no regret in performing those things against my own conviction. There is no bigger ideology or conviction than to fulfil the wishes of parents when they are no more.

There is also an appeal to all those who believe change should begin. Despite various changes, the marriage and death ceremonies in our society are pathetically patriarchical. It must go. Parents should encourage even daughters to take responsibility and the women should not shy away from taking up those jobs. One of the major reasons for crave for sons is the fear of last rites and its linkages to ‘punarjanm’. Let us build up a structure where girls get the same opportunity and not become show pieces perform the  task of ‘weeping’ and ‘crying’ on the dead bodies like helpless creatures. But it is not the rural folks where these patriarchical values dominate but also in our elite institutions. If you happen to be a girl and have to look after your parents or husband or any male ward at the hospital and if he is serious, the first thing doctors ask for is who is your Guardian? I mean a friend of mine faced this in Delhi when her father was admitted in AIIMS and she was the elder daughter and no brother. She was looking after her father but when he became serious they were all the time asking for the male member as they wanted to talk about the condition of the patient. It is story everywhere but then we will have to break these cycles through social renaissance as well as institutional reforms.

We must promote the idea of equality between genders from the very beginning. These rituals are absolutely paternal and big jokes and we must inculcate the spirit of humanism so that people look for alternative other than performing these rituals and investing huge amount of money afterwards. It is shame that many times we do not spend a single paisa on the person who need it and then give huge amount of money to Brahmins in his/her name when the person is no more. We must get rid of such hypocrisies. They are emotional blackmail of a system which continues to exploit us even today. It is time for us to get out of them and prepare our children to respect human being particularly their elders show your differences with them but at the same point of time do not develop a hatred towards your parents for ‘not doing’ enough for you. The question is why we should depend on them for everything. It is time the social structure change and for that we will have to start the process from our homes with humanist values and scientific temperament. It is also important for women to understand that being pragmatic is great but accepting illogical values and sticking to patriarchy out of compulsions or in the name of traditions would be dangerous and has harmed the cause of women and human rights world over. It might be possible that the ‘patriarchical’ society ‘respect’ you and acknowledge and appreciate those ‘work’ yet the larger cause of women is defeated. Let us not make values out of things which hurt women and make them suffer further in the name of traditions. My mother suffered all her life for those values and having seen them, I would only say that I would not adopt pragmatism as my way of life, instead even if I am out of that social system, boycotted, ostracised  I still feel, I am far better in my humanist and freethinking world free from those prejudices.