GANDHI: FATHER OF WHICH NATION ?

06/11/2011

DR. AMBEDKAR MEMORIAL LECTURE

India suffered by making Gandhi “father of the nation”

V.T. RAJSHEKAR SHETTY

[Speech delivered at the IT Seva Federation National Conference of the All-India Income Tax SC/ST Employees and Officers, on April 22, 2010 at the Birla Matushri Bhawan, New Marine Lines, Bombay, as part of the Dr. Ambedkar birth anniversary celebration.]

Jai Bhim,

I have made it clear to the organisers that I am not a political leader or film star. Nor do I belong to any VIP category. As the Editor of Dalit Voice for the past 30 years, I am essentially a journalist and writer and as such my assessment of Babasaheb will be like that of a surgeon who has to do merciless cutting with his knife to save the life of his patient.

So, as a writer specialised in the life and mission of Babasaheb — the only such person produced in this country after the so-called independence of India in 1947 — we have to examine the history — past and present — and mercilessly use the knife like the surgeon.

In the course of my speech I will have to pass some harsh judgements and make some critical remarks which traditional enemies of Babasaheb may not relish. But as a socio-cultural surgeon I cannot help it.

DR. AMBEDKAR AS “FATHER OF INDIA”

However, as the children of Babasaheb, I am sure you will appreciate my critical remarks on this historic occasion.

History is the best judge of men, matters and events. And history has already given its verdict. The verdict is Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is the “Father of India”. Highest position.

Somebody asked us: “What about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi?” What is often repeated in the “national” toilet papers, speeches of politicians and Brahminical history books is Gandhi is the “Father of the Nation”. To this our reply is like this: Did not Dr. Ambedkar famously say that “India is not a nation” but a subcontinent of several nations?

But the Hindus, our oppressors, go on calling Gandhi as the “Father of the Nation”. Fine. We have no objection. That is their opinion.

GANDHI: FATHER OF WHICH NATION ?

But we have a question. Gandhi is the Father of which nation?

Not our nation. Our nation, called the Moolnivasi Bahujan Samaj, comprises six sections.

Please take down the population figures of these sections.

SC 20% Muslim 15%
ST 10% Christians 2.5%
BCs 35% Sikhs 2.5%
Total 65% Total 20%
Total 85%.

This 85%, the overwhelming majority people of India, have said Gandhi is not the father of their nation. They say only Babasaheb fought and died for their liberation.

BRAHMINS HATED GANDHI

Gandhi helped only our oppressors — the 15% upper castes — and made them the rulers of India.

Brahmins constitute less than 3% of the country’s population. They form the cream of this ruthless Indian ruling class. But the wonder of all wonders is the Brahmins always hated Gandhi because he was not a Brahmin but a Bania born out of papa yoni.

Besides it is the Brahmin, Nathuram Godse, who killed Gandhi and RSS Brahmins distributed sweets all over the country and celebrated the death of Gandhi.

If these are the facts of history, which none can challenge, Gandhi is the father of which nation? None.

Yet the Brahminical national toilet papers go on calling him the “Father of the nation” — day in day out.

CHINA BECOMES SUPER POWER

Look at China. I led two delegations to China where Mao Tse-tung is called the Father of their nation. Yes. He was truly the father of its 1,500 million people.

He made China a super power. Today, China is next only to USA. Japan which was No.2 is demoted and China has taken its place.

The World Bank has said that in a couple of years China will become the No.1 power in the world.

Where does India stand? Of the 187 countries in the world, India is somewhere at 134. See the world of difference. China is No.2 in the world whereas India is 134. Year after year India is going down.

Mao gets the credit for taking China to the top of the world and Gandhi also gets the credit for taking India to the bottom of the world — because the ruling upper castes call him the “Father of the Nation”.

WHY “ABUSE” GANDHI ?

Some critics asked me:

“If you want to praise Dr. Ambedkar, do it. Why do you want to abuse Gandhi?”

Our reply is: History is like a weighing machine. If you put a weighty stuff on one scale the other scale must go up. Dr. Ambedkar is a weighty personality. Gandhi was a bogus fellow.

When the two are put on the weighting machine, called history, this is the judgement. Gandhi has proved to be bogus. This is the verdict of history.

This country ruled by the Brahmins and Banias— the two together do not form even 3% of the population— has become the “Sick man of the world”. And we see no chance of this Brahmin-Bania Dalal Street-ruled India ever recovering from this incurable disease.

Babasaheb had predicted all this. He had given us the clear road map but the Brahmin-Bania cut-throat gang rejected Babasaheb’s road map and converted India into a failed state. I don’t think India will recover. The children of Gandhi are doing their duty of killing India. Because they don’t love India.

VERDICT OF HISTORY

That is why the history has pronounced its verdict saying that Babasaheb is the “Father of India”. Not one nation inside India is ready to accept the Gujarat Bania as its “father”. Not even the Brahmins. They anyway hate him.

Yet the hypocritical Brahmin-Bania rulers with their Manuwadi monopoly media go on calling Gandhi the “Father of the nation”.

Let them get the pleasure by twisting the verdict of history.

Let this mere 3% micro-minority Brahmin-Bania rulers go on keeping this “Father of the Nation”. But our Father is different.

What is going on today in India is a violent clash between the “Father of India” and the “Father of the nation”. This clash is becoming more and more violent as days pass.

The verdict of history accepted by over 85% of India’s oppressed nationalities is Babasaheb is the “Father of India”.

I will now tell you how this verdict of history has proved correct.

Gandhi’s birthday comes on Oct.2 — called “Gandhi Jayanti” which is a national holiday. But the birthday of such a great man is dismissed with a one-hour celebration by holding bhajan. The singers of the song, Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, have to be paid to sing the song. Not more than 100 to 200 gather at such a ceremony attended by the so-called VIPs. Common people don’t attend Gandhi Jayanti official function. It is a purely upper caste tamasha.

DELHI’S MOST FAMOUS MONUMENT

But look at Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti. It begins on April 14 and the celebrations go on and on for 5-6 months in every corner of the country, every village of the country.

Even a small man like me will attend at least a dozen “Ambedkar Jayanti” functions. I have already attended three functions in Bangalore.

Kanshi Ram once told me after touring the Saurashtra region of Gujarat that he found more statues of Babasaheb than that of Gandhi. In Rajkot itself, the birth place of Gandhi, he did not see a single statue of Gandhi but plenty of Babasahebs. That means Gandhi is rejected by his own birth place.

“Gandhi Jayanti” is the one and the only event that the “Father of the nation” has.

But the “Father of India”, Babasaheb Ambedkar, is remembered by the poor, oppressed people of India on three occasions every year.

(1) Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14, (2) Babasaheb’s conversion to Budhism (3) His death anniversary.

A fourth event is getting ready when the bungalow on the No.26- Alipore Road, in Old Delhi, is turned into Delhi’s most famous monument. This is the place where Babasaheb died — killed by his own Brahmin wife, according to his biographers. When this gets ready it will be the capital city’s most important national monument, dwarfing the Raj Ghat.

RAJ GHAT TAMASHA

Once I was coming from Delhi to Bombay and the taximan said Cadell Rd., which touches the Shivaji Park Chowpatty, was blocked by the police as lakhs of people were squatting on the road. I asked him the reason. He said it was the day on which Babasaheb was cremated on the Chowpatty. At least 5 to 10 lakh would come to Bombay every year to pay homage.

I will tell you another interesting incident. Babasaheb is remembered on three occasions by millions of people but Gandhi is remembered by only a few as a ritual. That also once a year.

Once I went to Delhi’s Raj Ghat where Gandhi was cremated. This place is called a national monument and every VIP visiting India is compulsorily taken there. When I went there was a steady stream of visitors. But when I asked the gatekeeper of the Raj Ghat, why so many people came, he said:

“Sir, the govt. by an order has compelled all the tourist buses coming to Delhi to stop at the Raj Ghat. If the tourist buses stop coming there would be no visitors”.

Look at the difference between our “Father of India” and their “Father of the nation”. The millions who pour into the Deeksha Bhoomi at Nagpur and the Dadar Chowpatty every year do it voluntarily. They are all poor, unlettered people carrying their own chapatis. They come out of devotion, affection, respect.

Why? Because Babasaheb brought light into the dark dungeon of their heart. They consider him their liberator. They see in Babasaheb their own Father.

That is why history, has rightly called him the “Father of India”.

The Gujarati Bania is only the “Father of the nation” but nobody knows which is this nation.

This is the verdict of history.

Yet another important difference between Gandhi and Babasaheb.

Do you know that Gandhi wrote only one book, My Experiments with Truth, which is his own autobiography? Even this bok is collection of articles. That means Gandhi did not write a single book.

BRITISH LIBRARY INCIDENT

But Babasaheb had no time to write his autobiography. He wrote books after books, may be about 50 solid books, all world famous. The Maharashtra Govt. has published 21 volumes of his Writings and Speeches so far.

I will tell you one interesting experience I had at the world famous British Library in London, 3 years ago.

At the very entrance to the Library I found a portrait of Babasaheb and his two books on display. On seeing it, I went straight to the Chief Librarian. I introduced my self and asked him the rationale of keeping the picture and the books of Dr. Ambedkar at the very entrance. “Why you did not give the same honour to M.K. Gandhi?” I asked. The Librarian was taken aback by my question. He said:

“You must know that this is a library where we display the books of great writers and scholars. Dr. Ambedkar was a great scholar. Give me the name of one book written by Gandhi?”

Babasaheb is held in very high esteem even in Pakistan.

INDIAN RULERS HATE BABASAHEB

I am leading a delegation of Dalit writers and poets to Pakistan in May for the celebration by the govt. itself.

But in this Hindu India, Babasaheb is not given his proper place. The ruling class hates him because he was an Untouchable.

What is the reason for that?

This less than 15% ruling class of India is suppressing all of us and riding roughshod over us guided by their fake Gandhian doctrine that “India is a nation”.

No. This is a big lie. India is not a nation. And was never a nation.

Babasaheb was the first person to say that India is not a nation but a vast subcontinent of many warring nations — divided by numerous castes, subcastes, languages, customs, territories, religions, traditions, races etc.

Gandhi and his grand children are killing us by not admitting this historical fact and sociological truth which Dr. Ambedkar has propounded.

INDIA SINKING & STINKING

By ignoring — if not rejecting —Babasaheb’s concept that India is not a nation, the Brahmin rulers have created a serious situation in which different contradictory forces are constantly at war with each other — killing each other.

So much so, the governance of the country itself has come to a standstill.

The mere 15% upper caste rulers, who have looted all our wealth by sucking our blood, may go on shouting that India is a nation.

All other persecuted nationalities — children of Babasaheb — are shouting back saying that India is not a nation but a country at war with itself.

In this process India is sinking. Not only sinking. But stinking.

Even 3,000 years after entering India as nomads and barbarians these Aryan Brahmins are refusing to merge and mix with us — advancing their obnoxious theory of “merit”.

BRAHMIN MERIT

What is this “Brahmin merit” that has converted India into a beggar nation?

To hell with this Brahmin merit. I have written a book called, “Merit, My Foot”. All our books are kept outside for sale.

Now I will come to another “controversial” point.

The words that you so far heard from me must have made you proud and cheerful.

But what I am going to speak now may not be palatable to you.

GANDHI STABBED US IN THE BACK

Babasaheb is hailed as “one among the 7 best brains of the world”. India has not produced a person of his calibre after the Budha. He is our second Budha. We are his children. Over 85% of this country’s 1,300 million people — called the Moolnivasi Bahujan Samaj — are his children. A very big family.

Babasaheb never hated even the 15% upper caste rulers. Not even the Brahmins. His second wife was a Brahmin. In spite of the fact the Brahmins made his life miserable and he died a sad man, he hated none. It is the upper castes who hated him. Gandhi cheated him by going on his fake “fast unto death” on the issue of “separate electorate”.

Gandhi brought living death to our people, and the country as whole became a “sick nation”. This sickman is becoming more and more serious as days pass.

In the place of “separate electorate”, which would have automatically made Babasaheb our first Prime Minister, the Brahmin-Bania conspirators made the Gujarati Bania to go on his fake fast and blackmailed him to agree to his mischievous formula of “reservations” which killed us permanently and made us permanent beggars outside the doors of Brahmins and Banias.

POONA PACT MUST BE BURNT

The “Poona Pact”, which Gandhi forced Babasaheb to sign, not only killed the Dalits but killed the country itself.

The “Poona Pact” must be publicly burnt— on Ambedkar Jayanti. Next year if you invite I will burn it.

Only when you behave like a tiger, roar like a lion, the vegetarian Brahmins and Banias will be scared to touch you.

What sort of animals are sacrificed at yagnas and yagas? Only tame animals like the sheep, goat, buffalo etc. Have you heard of people killing ferocious animals like lion, tiger? No. Why? Because if anybody goes near, these ferocious animals will kill them.

In other words, our Brahmin, Bania upper caste oppressors will persecute us only if we behave like the tame animals. The moment they know we are like tigers and lions they dare not come near us. Look at me. To this day no Brahmin had the courage to touch me. He will not go alive.

You people sitting here are the products of this “Poona Pact” that brought reservations — the Hindu charity or the discarded, thrown out crumbs of bread.

By eating this discarded crumbs of bread, you have achieved this position.

Daily you are insulted, kicked, punished by the Brahminical officers. But you silently swallow all the insults and suffer as second, if not third-grade, citizens. Am I right?

Why you are silently suffering?

DALIT CHIEF JUSTICE BEATEN UP

A Dalit Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court was beaten up in his Court Hall No.1 itself by the Brahmin and other upper caste lawyers in Bangalore.

An unprecedented, shocking event in the history of India.

But the Dalits of Bangalore did not get angry. The upper caste charge is that Chief Justice Dinakaran is corrupt. Which Supreme Court or High Court judge is above corruption? Only when a Dalit is elevated to Supreme Court they find corruption.

EDUCATED DALITS FORGET BABASAHEB

Why are you silently suffering this step-motherly treatment? Why do you lack the courage and the strength to protest even to demand your legitimate constitutional rights?

The reason is simple: Because you the children of Babasaheb have forgotten your father.

It is because of our Father, all of you are here — drawing thousands of rupees salary every month but completely forgetting your own unfortunate blood brothers outside.

Not only you forgot your Father but you also violated every ground rule he set for us. Many of our highly paid Dalit employees have become Hindu — though our Father has told us that “Dalits are not Hindu and were never Hindu”. Our people worship Hindu gods, visit Hindu temples and become obedient slaves of Hindus. This is the beginning of your downfall.

Not only that. Quite a number of our people have married Brahmin girls —deceived by their fair skin. Those who got converted to Budhism have been trapped by the Marwari Goenka’s Vipassana fraud.

The SC/ST reservations are not implemented even to the extent of 10%.

That means over 90% of SC/ST, the children of Babasaheb, have not been touched by the reservations.

They are still uneducated, living in villages and urban slums and daily kicked, killed, burnt, raped, made beggars and prostitutes. About 50% of the prostitutes in the Bombay’s Red Light Area are Dalits and Tribals. Not a single Brahmin women is found there.

DALIT MOVEMENT IS DEAD

But you the educated and employed SC/STs, having been benefitted by Babasaheb’s sweat and blood, have forgotten your unfortunate blood brothers and sisters.

How can they forget and forgive your sins? Will the “Father of India” and our Father forget and forgive your sins?

Dalit movement is dead all over India. I am telling this as the Editor of Dalit Voice with circulation all over India and having travelled every part of India many times. In Maharashtra, Bombay in particular, where the Dalit Panthers was born everything is dead. The Maharashtra Govt. has stopped publishing Babasaheb’s books. Dalit political leaders are busy fighting with each other. They have all become corrupt. Many of them have married Brahmin girls.

Our Dalit professors, teachers are a big disappointment. We have no media of our own except Dalit Voice.

The Brahmin-Bania rulers hate the reservations. They have violated the constitution itself. The Supreme Court, packed with upper caste judges, is against the reservation.

Our MPs have no guts. Their powers have been drastically curtailed.

The power to rule has passed into the hands of the Brahminical bureaucracy, judiciary, media, Hindu religious crooks.

A mere, less than 15% of the population comprising the Brahmins, Banias and upper shudra castes are ruling India.

But the cream of the Scheduled Castes like those of you who are sitting here are not getting angry — though you are all silently suffering.

Our IAS, IPs officers are so scared of the Big Cat that they don’t like to associate with Dalit Voice. But when they are in trouble they rush to Dalit Voice with their complaint.

We have no pity on these cowards who have betrayed their own father and the Father of India.

All these betrayers will have to face the wrath of the 95% of the SC/ST people outside this charmed circle of beggars.

DALITS HAVE NO MEDIA

We don’t have a single media in the country to support the human rights need of SC/STs sanctioned by the constitution.

Only the Dalit Voice makes all the noise — for which we were badly punished. I was arrested half-dozen times, once put in jail in Punjab. Passport impounded, two attempts on life.

There are thousands of Dalit officers who have not even heard of Dalit Voice which is 30 years old and having India-wide circulation. Your president assured me that he will enroll lots of subscribers.

The Brahmin-Bania media has ruled that my name and that of my paper should not appear in any media. We don’t care. That is why you have not heard of the name of Dalit Voice or my name. We don’t care.

But what brings us so much sorrow is that our own blood brothers, the educated, employed Dalits, holding important positions, have forgotten their own Father.

For having committed this unpardonable sin, you are suffering today.

But you can certainly recover and make up for the lost time.

You are the architect of yourself.

But if you want to remain as the slaves of Brahmin, who love loyal servants, we have no objection. But remember even a loyal servant of Brahmins like Jagjivan Ram was finally kicked.

Please remember the fate of Jagjivan Ram.

Thank you for your patient hearing.

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Choosing Their Religion: Dalits Conversion to Buddhism

18/09/2010

Dalits Conversion to Buddhism

Rebelling against their baggage of birth, Dalits across India are converting from Hinduism to better their lives. Do they achieve their dreams? The answer is not simple.

About 30 kilometres from Jhajjar and exactly 20 days after five Dalits there were killed for “supposedly skinning a live cow”, a dark Diwali noon this week saw seething Dalit anger burn its bonds with Hinduism. Under a leafless tree in Haryana’s Meham district, 90-odd men, women and children took angry vows never to worship Hindu gods, perform Hindu rituals, celebrate Hindu festivals.

“I never formally converted to Buddhism. Conversion anyway is a misnomer as Hindus never saw us as Hindus, but outcasts.”—Namdeo Dhasal, founder, Dalit Panthers

They were converting to Buddhism, they said, in the hope that they will better their lives. “You value cows more than us, make us rake your latrines, never forget we are lower-caste even if we become president,” fulminated Ajit Dhaiya, a fortysomething irrigation department worker who had come from Bhiwani to attend the conversion ceremony. “You can keep your religion and your cows, we are off.”

The vigorous shaving of heads, lighting of incense sticks, and parroted chants—”We shall never worship Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar; we shall never think of the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu”—before a dull brass idol of a new god seemed less a pledge to be Buddhist and more a rejection of Hinduism. Till, Meham labourer-painter Satbir Budh, 38, spoke of his seven years of being a Buddhist convert: “From being known as a Chamaar, I am now called a Buddh. From being barred entry in the village temple, I am an annual pilgrim at Buddh Vihar at Nagpur’s Dikshabhumi; I was an outcast all my life, I belong now.”

To belong, to connect, not to be persecuted (or even killed) for being born “untouchable”, all of it is possible in this lifetime. But possible, a growing number amongst Dalits are saying, only by discarding Hinduism, the faith that weighs them weak with the baggage of birth. This rejection of their inherited faith occurs sometimes in quiet private ceremonies, at other times as loud political protests. Like the mass Dalit conversions that happened in Gurgaon in Haryana 14 days after the Jhajjar lynchings on October 15.

“Conversion is an ongoing process, that’s why in the beginning it will seem incomplete. Tangible benefits accrue over time.”—Gopal Guru, Delhi University professor

Or like the spurt of conversions Dalit outfits foresee occurring in protest against the new bill in Tamil Nadu that proposes to prohibit “conversion from one (religion) to another by use of force or allurement or fraudulent means”. But beyond the drama of such conversion politics, of religious propaganda and protest, are stories of people who have changed their faith to change their fate. To salvage self-respect and grab upward mobility outside the Hindu hierarchy. How have they fared on their chosen new paths?

“Becoming Buddhist made me realise that like others with good health and intellect, I too could achieve my potential,” says Keshav Tanaji Meshram, 65, one among the six lakh Dalits who turned Buddhist in the historic 1956 conversion rally held by Babasaheb Ambedkar. “Dalits were in intellectual bondage, believing we should be happy with whatever we received. But conversions have made no difference in the way upper-caste Hindus look at us.” A retired professor and acting head of the Marathi department in Mumbai University for two years, Meshram claims a Brahmin vice-chancellor held back his promotion despite the fact that he had authored 32 books: “I was told I didn’t have a doctorate but so

didn’t many other department heads. My caste was the main reason.” Adds Om Prakash Singhmar, 49, a junior engineer with the Delhi Development Authority who converted to Buddhism two years ago, “Most continue to look down on me as a Dalit, even though I have converted.” But the changes are internal, he insists: “I feel less frustration now, more equal.

“Even if you convert, caste remains a reality.”—P. Ambedkar, Babasaheb’s grandson

I am convinced that my children, who have started identifying themselves as Buddhists in all school forms, will reap the benefits of my conversion.”

Academic insight corroborates Singhmar’s belief. Says Gopal Guru, professor of political science at Delhi University, “Conversion is an ongoing process, that’s why in the beginning it will seem incomplete.Tangible benefits and changes accrue over time.” Activist fervour takes the point further. Says Udit Raj, India’s new “conversion messiah” and chairperson of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, “Dalits convert because they know its benefits. And even if there weren’t any benefits, they should anyway reject a religion that has people killing Dalits to protect a cow.”

All conversions, though, are not knee-jerk reactions to the latest caste atrocity nor the result of cynical manipulation by politicians. The Dalits of Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu discussed conversion for seven years before quitting Hinduism to free themselves from the practices of untouchability and police harassment. In 1981, 150 Dalit families in this sleepy hamlet in Tirunelveli district embraced Islam. Meenakshipuram was now Rahmat Nagar. Murugesan, now 45, was rechristened Amir Ali, little knowing that his name connoted wealth. He says he counts his blessings and monetary gains: “Caste Hindus stopped calling us dirty caste names. They had to call me Amir bhai. The wealth too came. I’ve been to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia three times, worked in the harbour there. All Muslims there ate from the same plate. I was no longer untouchable. Had I remained a Pallan (a Dalit sub-community), I’d have continued to drink tea from separate glasses kept for untouchables.” Ahmed Khan, two years old when the mass conversion happened, is a role model for the village youth today. At 23, he has already done a three-year stint in Dubai: “In the last 15 years, every Muslim family here has had two-three members working in the Gulf.”

Thousands of miles away, Delhi-based Trilok Singh, 30, loves to hear of Meenakshipuram’s affluence. It reaffirms his belief in the decision he took to convert to Christianity five years ago. A Jatav, Trilok lived in a Delhi slum cluster till a leap of faith taught him lessons in upward mobility. “I have learned manners after my conversion,” says he. “We always had a TV, vcr and fridge. But being treated as an equal in society has taught me how to put them in the right place in my house, so they look beautiful.” The first thing Trilok did after he converted was to move out of the slum and invest in a small flat in Vasundhara in Ghaziabad. He then married Anita Silas, a parishioner in the church he went to every Sunday. The couple now have two daughters, the eldest going to a neighbouring playschool. “My decision not to remain a Dalit has changed my life,” says Trilok.

But this tale has more twists than many others. Caste wheedles its way into most religions in India. Categories like Dalit Christians, Reddy Christians, Nadar Christians continue to matter. Syrian Christians are known to call themselves “originally Brahmin”. Moreover, there is discrimination even within the church: in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirapalli and Palayamkottai districts, there are separate pews and burial grounds for Dalit Christians. The nine-judge Supreme Court ruling in the Mandal case in 1993 recognised caste in Christianity. And Islam too has its hierarchies, like the Ashrafi Muslims and the Ajlafi (literally servile) Muslims.

“There are inequalities in other religions but not even near as stark as in Hinduism,” says Delhi-based advocate Rashid Saleem Adil, 57, who was Ram Singh Vidyarthi two decades ago. How else could a high-brow Syed family agree to give its daughter to him in marriage despite the fact that he never hid being a Dalit convert? They were certainly more tolerant than his first wife’s Hindu relatives, who, he claims, “schemed, plotted and poisoned” him when he converted. “I can only say this to Hindutva devotees,” he says, “if you think it’s hard being a Muslim convert, try living life as a born Dalit.”

However, dilemmas do plague decisions to convert.Dalits who turn to Islam or Christianity today risk losing the many privileges of reservations. Hence the appeal of Buddhism, since V.P. Singh ensured in 1990 that neo-Buddhists would not lose out on reservations. So why should a Dalit who has converted to another religion that doesn’t believe in caste still enjoy caste-based reservations? Says Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb and an MP since 1990 from Akola, “Because they hail from backward castes and are economically poor. Also, no matter what religion you adopt, your caste remains a reality.” Spokespersons of the Hindu establishment would call this a case of having your cake and eating it too, while the converts would call this their inalienable economic right.

There was a time, though, when there were no reservations, and when such quantifiable risk factors didn’t hold back those who wanted to renounce Hinduism to escape caste. From being an almost entirely marginalised community of toddy-tappers and coir-weavers who were not allowed into caste-Hindu temples and whose women were not supposed to cover their breasts, the Nadars of Tamil Nadu gained immense social and economic mobility by embracing Christianity in hordes. It began in the 1780s, when the Nadars had everything to gain and nothing to lose, certainly not reservations. There was repression though; houses of neo-converts were often set afire by the upper castes. “But missionary education and self-respect was something we gained,” says David Packiamuthu, a retired English professor and a Nadar Christian, And two centuries later, the community has thrown up achievers like former Tamil Nadu chief minister K. Kamaraj, super-cop Walter Thevaram, tennis icon Vijay Amritraj and Shiv Nadar, founder of the hcl group of companies. Significantly, all successful Nadars (like Kamaraj and Shiv) are not Christians. The mass conversions helped the upward mobility of even the non-converts. In other words, the threat of conversion itself is a powerful social accelerator.

But that’s in the long run. In the present, observe many critically, neo-converts seem to be grasping for meaning in their new belief systems. The late-fortyish Durgawati of Kaji-Newada village on the Jaunpur-Lucknow highway in Uttar Pradesh converted to Christianity three years ago. “They said it would change my life, but I was still treated as an outcast for being a Christian,” she says. Then came a monk, and she converted to Buddhism. But other than the belief that her chronic ailments have been cured by the Buddha, Durgawati isn’t sure what else has changed in her life.

Namdeo Dhasal, 53, founder of the Dalit Panthers, ironically pens a weekly column in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna now. His house brims with festive decorations and traditional food on Diwali. But these, he says, are only manifestations of the “cultural influences” of his Hindu neighbourhood. Because he is actually a Buddhist, “though I never formally converted to Buddhism, and in any case conversion is a misnomer as Hindus never saw us as Hindus but outcasts”. Though many Dalits are converting, adding to the contradictions is the fact that Article 25 of the Constitution lists Buddhists as Hindus. Neo-Buddhists also have few religious or cultural occasions to celebrate and feel a sense of community. Shanta Devi Wagh, a shopkeeper in Delhi’s Bhim Nagar slum, isn’t quite sure what she is supposed to do as a Buddhist convert: “We have to celebrate three days: April 14, December 6 and October 14 (Ambedkar’s birth, death and conversion days).” But she is certain of what not being a Dalit any more means to her: “My soul feels peace.”

Not all neo-converts, though, are too bothered by the burden of a new identity. In Rahmat Nagar, most neo-Muslims do not wear a fez cap, not one woman is burqa-clad, and for the men it certainly does not mean multiple marriages.”Even namaz is something they read only on Fridays,” says Dameem-ul-Ansari, hazrat at the mosque. But the Dalit-Muslims here have had no difficulty marrying among and socialising with ‘traditional’ Muslims from other villages.

And for those who still feel that Dalits like Durgawati convert to just about any religion that lures them with sham spiritualism, affected adoration and material motives, Professor Meshram recites a Hindi film golden oldie: “Pal bhar ke liye koi humein pyar kar le, jhoota hi sahi.” Roughly translated: “Let someone love me for just a moment, even if it’s a pretence…” There is surely a message here for all belonging to a faith which insists that God resides in every object, whether living or inanimate.


By Soma Wadhwa And S. Anand With Charubala Annuncio and Sutapa Mukerjee @ outlook magazine

NOV 18, 2002


What If Ambedkar Had Converted Earlier?

13/07/2010

It would’ve accentuated India’s very real internal social turmoil and to some extent robbed the freedom struggle of its powerful coherence…

MANU JOSEPH INTERVIEWS JABBAR PATEL

The Jabbar Patel Interview: Sometimes history wears the clothes of destiny . Man arrives at a moment in time apparently impelled by fate. Babasaheb Ambedkar came to such a pass on October 14, 1956. Two decades after he announced that he wouldn’t die a Hindu, he, along with over 5,00,000 passionate low-caste supporters, embraced Buddhism. It started an unstoppable rising among India’s long oppressed who joyously cast aside their Hindu identity.

Ambedkar used conversion as a last resort, when he saw that even Nehru was averse to pursuing the Hindu Code BIll.

But two months later, Ambedkar died….

What if Ambedkar hadn’t died so soon after the historic conversion?
It’s obvious the Dalit movement would’ve been strengthened infinitely. But Ambedkar himself knew that his body was failing, that he did not have too much time left. More important than what would have happened if he had lived longer is another more disturbing question….

…What if Ambedkar had converted 21 years earlier?
Yes. Had he converted in 1935, it would’ve accentuated India’s very real internal social turmoil and to some extent robbed the freedom struggle of its powerful coherence. But, at the same time, the Dalit movement may have had some natural problems. He had to prepare his people to eve ntually shed their religion. Losing the religion one is born into is not an ordinary affair. People had to be herded in that direction slowly while waiting patiently for glimmers of hope, exhausting all other options. Even before Ambedkar presided over the conversions, or considered losing his Hindu identity, low -caste Indians had sporadically converted on their own to Islam and Christianity. But there was no mass strength in that movement. More importantly, in 1935 those who chose to follow Ambedkar would have been from his Mahar caste in his home state, Maharashtra, and not the other castes and subcastes from the rest of the country.

What if Ambedkar had chosen some other religion?
This was something that worried several leaders. The Sikhs were wooing him, the Christian missionaries were wooing him. And had Ambedkar chosen Islam, as some Muslim clerics were urging him, it would have tipped the balance against the Hindus—with serious implic ations on all future developments in those eventful days. But I believe that even in 1935 if Ambedkar had chosen to convert, it would have been to Buddhism. He had been fascinated with Buddhism since his childhood because it offered happiness within a man’s own lifetime and not in the distant future of afterlife. As he once said: “All creators of religions claimed themselves to be saviours but Buddha was satisfied with being simply a guide.”

What if he hadn’t converted at all?
In my opinion, Dr Ambedkar used conversion as a last resort, when everything else failed to open the eyes of Indian society. He was an optimist. But when even a progressive man like Nehru—due to internal pressures from his party—became averse to pursuing the Hindu Code Bill (which gave greater rights to women) in 1952 keeping the coming elections in mind, it was a big jolt to Ambedkar’s optimism. The reasoning then was that Partition had hurt the Hindus deeply and Nehru did not want to inflict another blow through the Hindu Code Bill. But that reasoning was not good enough for Ambedkar. He understood that there was no point in waiting for society to change. The idea of shedding Hinduism grew stronger in his mind and when it transformed into a gigantic resolve, he took the extreme step and converted in 1956. If he had done it earlier, say in 1935, it is possible that the conviction of his followe rs may not have been as strong as it was in 1956.

crtsy: outlook magazine : AUG 23, 2004