Remembering Dr. Ambedkar
By R. M. Pal
For some years now all the political parties have been celebrating 14 April -Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday – in a big way; for most of them it is a ritual. This year too they performed the ritual.
Some of the major parties indulge in unalloyed hypocrisy in that they do two things simultaneously. One, their think tanks attack Dr. Ambedkar mercilessly; they are very angry that there are more statues of Dr. Ambedkar than that of Gandhiji, and that, too, of a larger size; angry because Dr. Ambedkar is called the father/architect of the Indian Constitution. They are dismissive of the perpetual suffering and unequal status of the depressed section of our population and Dr. Ambedkar’s fight for their right to be human. Two, on 14 April the leaders garland Dr. Ambedkar’ s “over-sized” statues, hail him as the architect of the Constitution and as one who sowed the seeds of social democracy and social equality.
The think tank – the ‘ideologues’ of ‘patriotic’ political formations – shed crocodile tears over Ambedkar’s disagreement with Gandhiji on a number of issues. They, however, conveniently forget what Gandhiji thought of Ambedkar: “If Ambedkar does not break our heads, it is an act of self-restraint on his part. Dr. Ambedkar has had to suffer humiliations and insults which should make any one of us bitter and resentful. Had I been in his place, I would have been as angry. We shall be unfit to gain swaraj so long as we keep in bondage a fifth of the population. In the history of world religions there is perhaps nothing like our treatment of the suppressed classes. Caste Hindu well-wishers of untouchables have no right to speak for them.”
Dr. Ambedkar was a revolutionary, rationalist-humanist, human rights intellectual-activist, a man who looked ahead of his time. He wondered “why the Hindus having traditions of charity and humanity – their regard for animal life -should behave so heartlessly towards their fellow human beings and in such unreasonable ways. The Hindu community is set in the steel frame of the caste system, in which one caste is lower than another in social gradation involving particular privileges, rights, inhibition and disabilities with regard to each caste. This system has created vested interests which depend upon maintaining the inequalities resulting from the system”. He, therefore, “unfurled the banner of equality”. He was not satisfied with the abolition of untouchability only, leaving the caste system along with “the inequalities inherent in the system”. Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism because the Buddhist dharma is based on scientific reasoning, it seeks to achieve human freedom, equality, liberty and fraternity. According to him Buddhism is the only religion which does not sanctify poverty and inequality: nirvana is the way “to remove injustice and inhumanity that man does to man.” Buddha taught “social freedom, intellectual freedom, and political freedom. He taught equality, equality not between man and man only but between man and woman. His concern was to give salvation to man in his life on earth, and not to promise it to him in heaven after he is dead”.
Many progressives whisper that Dr. Ambedkar accepted a cabinet post in Pandit Nehru’s government because he wanted, political, power. Like all political leaders he too wanted power, but unlike most of them he accepted a cabinet post to empower those who have remained depressed and deprived for centuries. But for him the progressive provisions in the Constitution might not have been incorporated. He devoted his whole life to the cause of human rights of the depressed; his mission in life was. to restore human dignity to those who have been victims of an ugly and unjust hierarchical social order which gave rise to injustice and ,inequality. “My hear breaks”, he said, “to see the pitiable sight of your faces and hear your sad voices”. To the Hindus he said. “If you say that Hindu religion is our religion, then your right and ours must be equal. But is this the case?” Dr. Ambedkar fought a relentless battle against this social order and was one of the very few Indian leaders who was forthright, and called a spade a spade: “I hate all injustice, tyranny, pompousness and humbug”. Dr. Ambedkar believed that if he succeeded in his struggle – struggle for a just social order – it will prove a blessing for all Indians, not merely any group or community. He wanted the dominating section of our people to adopt a strong position against the hierarchical social order. Regrettably, not many have taken a position.
Dr. Ambedkar will be remembered for all time to come as the architect of the Indian Constitution, specially for the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles Chapters which, aim at eradicating “all injustice and tyranny” and ushering in social democracy and social equality. He was however, disappointed that the dominating section of our society did not rise to the occasion and did not water the plants that he had planted. Our political rulers have failed Ambedkar and his vision. It is now for human rights groups and grassroots activists to make social democracy and equality a way of life in the absence of which political democracy will always stand on a shaky foundation. (21 April, 2000)