A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC
Ambedkar’s Relevance to the Global Democratisation Debate
Ambedkar’s Anniversary 2003
The work of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been very much influenced by the work of B. R. Ambedkar, who in recent history was the undisputed leader of the Dalits (formally called Untouchables) and perhaps the most far-reaching thinker about democratisation in South Asia. It is the latter aspect upon which we want to reflect on this occasion.
Ambedkar’s contribution to the thinking about democratisation consisted of many dimensions. Some of his most important contributions are that:
· democratisation can only be an internal process in which, through a process of self-critique, entrenched practices and habits of authoritarianism must be replaced with democratic practices;
· in countries where gross inequalities exist there can be no truce on equality;
· the poorest and the oppressed are at the centre of democratisation; and
· social philosophies without movements to support them cannot achieve anything.
These contributions are seen in his work and writings. In the area of democratisation, the value of his work far exceeds any of his contemporaries, including Mahatma Gandhi.
The reference to these fundamental aspects of thought and work are relevant at a time when the belief that democracy can be imposed from outside a country has become a dominant ideology as manifested in the case of Iraq. Attempts to write a constitution from outside the history and culture of a nation, attempts to represent people without a mass base or movements and the error of ignoring an effort to deal with inequalities as the central issue of democratisation in countries where the majority of people live in extreme poverty is not only naïve but also dangerous. It is seriously suggested here that those who are leading the democratisation debate in the United States should thoroughly study the work and thought of B. R. Ambedkar.
Today Ambedkar’s work and thought has a global relevance. Intellectuals, think tanks and universities ought to study his work thoroughly. Learning from him is likely to make all beings happy, which was his stated ideal, flowing from the thought and example of his master Gautama Buddha.
15 April 2003