Through his unique contributions, Babasaheb provided with new dynamics of socio-economic content to democracy & nationalism in Bharat
This year we are celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Bharat Ratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is appropriate to remember his contribution to the nation-building process on this occasion. He propounded a principle that unless the downtrodden sections of society do not rise with the spirit of self respect, nation cannot arise. A common man should have the feeling of self-confidence and self-pride. Each one should contribute to the society and nation.
With this perspective, the magnificent contribution made by Dr Babasaheb can be divided in two parts: First, how did he live for society and nation? Secondly, how did he think about unity, development, resources and security of the nation? His life was as good as walking on the fire. For the upliftment of a common man ‘education’ is a must, was his idea. When he was giving the message of ‘education’, it was not a verbal preaching. He himself had obtained the degrees like M A, Ph D, D Sc, D Sc, Barrister of Law, LLD etc. In my opinion, he awakened the common man from the most downtrodden section of the society, is the biggest contribution of Dr Babasaheb. The so-called backward castes of Hindu society did not have the common civic, social and political rights for thousands of years. They were leading a life of social slavery. This slavery was supported with the religious dogma. So this was religiously almost unalterable. A science of inequality was erected. Before the arrival of Babasaheb, the untouchable community itself was not aware that untouchability is a sin.
Our nation was a victim of Muslim aggression and ruled by foreign rulers time and again. This political slavery was analysed in the phase of renaissance in various ways, especially in Maharashtra. Agarkar, Lokhitvadi, Bhandarkar, Telang, Mahatma Phule etc was the first tradition while Justice Ranade, GK Gokhale, Tilak etc was the other. Dr Babasaheb’s analysis is different from all of them. He said, “If untouchables would not have been deprived of weapons, this nation would not have been ruled by the foreigners.” A person born in an untouchable community was disconnected from the national life and were the victim of the Muslim aggression. Many from these communities embraced the other religion on their own. They never felt that they also have a role to play in the nation building.
In this condition, it was not easy to inspire and agitate the common masses to break the shackles of social slavery after hundreds of years of suppression. This was the biggest national service of Babasaheb. What he did can be summarised as below:
- He compelled the oppressed sections to think and revolt against the system
- He ignited the spirit of self-respect. He taught them to live and die for securing honour and values.
Before 1920, nobody wanted to involve the people from the lowest strata of society and last ladder of the caste hierarchy in the nation-building process. Now almost after a century the things have changed considerably. A person from deprived sections of society can become President, Governor or Minister. Individuals from lower castes have also attained top positions in the fields of education, industry, literature, music, cinema, theatre, economic institutions, foreign services etc. What is the significance of this in nation-building? Is it limited to the rise of an individual or caste, or pertaining to the national problem? The way Dr Babasaheb carved out a system to ensure participation of crores of deprived and depressed sections in the national life is priceless.
When our country was struggling against a foreign rule a movement was going on to bring in the self-rule. Many sections of the Hindu society like so-called untouchables, nomads, Vanvasis and other backward classes were living a life of social slavery. Babasaheb started a movement for their independence from social bondage. What he has argued in his speech titled ‘Annihilation of Caste’ can be summarised as follows:
- The nature of Hindu society is based on incremental inequality;
- Caste is based on birth and cannot be changed;
- Caste has not only led to division of labour but also division among labourers;
- Caste has an economic dimension, the lower and untidy works were entrusted to the lower castes;
- There was no freedom of trade;
- A religious sanctity was provided to all these systems;
- Therefore, Varna system was considered as the creation of divine and resultantly, unchangeable.
Babasaheb bluntly asked a question to the Congress leaders that you are asking for political Independence but what will happen to our freedom and rights. For Babasaheb, Congress led by Gandhi as a Hindu party. Mahatma Gandhi himself was a Sanatani Hindu. Four Varnas and caste based businesses were acceptable to him. That does not mean untouchability was acceptable to him. Gandhi himself had his own struggle against untouchability but Babasaheb was not satisfied with that. His objection was on the principled position. How can we build an egalitarian society while defending the varna system and caste based businesses, was his fundamental question.
Babasaheb himself experienced social slavery many a times in his life. After getting highest level of education of that time, if he had to face this discrimination then what would have been the position of a person sitting in a village, deprived of knowledge, money and social status? How would be their pain and who would take care of it? Babasheb expressed their misery when he told Mahatma Gandhi that ‘I do not even have a motherland’.
To understand the importance of struggle raised by Ambedkar for social freedom, we need to have a look at the world history. In 1860, there were 40 lakh slaves in America. There was a North versus South civil war. It was the biggest struggle fought on the American soil. About 6,20,000 American soldiers were killed, almost the same numbers were injured. Total number of people affected by the war was more than 13 lakh.
During the French Revolution Freedom from political slavery was the core issue. This revolution was as violent as American Civil War. France, as big as of our states, lost 40 thousand lives in the year 1793-94. This was a hefty price paid to establish values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Dr Babasaheb compared the slavery of untouchables with slavery that was existing in Rome. He also compared it with the slavery of Blacks. With a logical argument he proved that the slavery in Bharat was much worse than any other slavery. “If a slave becomes aware of his slavery, he would revolt,” is a famous saying. Babasaheb awakened the masses about their slavery and organised them to struggle for their rights. What a miracle! There was no violent struggle. In March 1927, a tent of satyagrahis was attacked by the caste Hindus in Mahad. Satyagrahis could have resisted them physically. But as per the order of Babasaheb they did not opt for the violence. Babasaheb led a non-violent social revolution in the country. Though there was some bloodshed in the struggle there was no life threatening violence.
There was another noteworthy aspect of social independence movement of Babasaheb. The attackers on Satyagrahis in Mahad were caste Hindus and Babasaheb’s Satyagrahis also included people like Chitre, Sahasrabudhe, Tipnis etc who were aslo caste Hindus. Even during his Satyagrahas were participated by Brahmins. In his student life, Pendase teacher who used to feed Babasaheb from his tiffin was also a Brahmin.
A person who serves the society with full dedication, affection and care of mother, discipline of a father and knowledge of teacher only gets wider acceptance. Babasaheb experienced acceptability in his lifetime itself. A letter to send him in Assembly of the then Bombay Province was sent by Sardar Patel. The work of drafting the Constitution was given to him with the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi. In the Constituent Assembly, majority of the hindu members were present and all of them accepted his authority. This is a clear evidence of the success of social revolution led by Babasaheb.
His public life can be broadly divided in four parts. The first leg of his public activities in Bharat was of formative ideas and actions. Mahad Satyagrah, Temple entry movements of Kala Ram in Nasik and Parvati in Pune, Round Table conference, Representation before Simon Commission and Pune Pact are some of the important incidences. During this period, the ideological position of Babasaheb was to restructure the society on the three principles of abolition of untouchability, annihilation of caste from Hindu society and create the strong foundations for liberty, equality and fraternity. While leading the agitation for access to water at Mahad Lake, he released a declaration called “Declaration for the Rights of All Hindus”. While presenting the evidence before the Simon Commission he had made certain statements like, “We are not part of the Hindu Society. You can call us Protestant Hindus or Non-conformist Hindus.” We need to understand this statement in perspective.
The second phase of his life was 1935 – 1947. In 1935, he declared at Yeola, “I am born as a Hindu but will not die as a Hindu.” In the same period, he formed the Independent Labour Party. Dissolving that in 1942, he established the Scheduled Caste Federation. Independence of Bharat was in vicinity. Cripps Commission had given its recommendations. The process of Constitution making was initiated. Muslims were expected to get Pakistan and Hindus would get a divided Bharat. Babasaheb had his own views on Partition.
In this fast changing political scenario, Babasaheb established Scheduled Caste Federation. To ensure the representation of Scheduled Castes in the Constituent Assembly, there was no option but to form a separate political party of these castes. In Nagpur a Conference of All India Depressed Classes were held which was participated by 70,000 delegates. Three resolutions were passed. Babasaheb wanted separate representation and political rights for Scheduled Castes on the lines of representation for minorities. The third part of his life was of the Constitution making process. The forth part was from 1949 to 1956.
Thought about nation includes thinking about people, land and culture. While thinking about people Babasaheb has refuted the theory of Aryan invasion through his book Who Were Shudras? Babasaheb writes that there are two words in Rigveda, ‘Ary’ (A¹fÊ) and ‘Arya’ (Af¹fÊ). ‘Ary’ word appears as many as 88 times which means 1. Enemy, 2. Respected person, 3. Name of the country and 4. Owner. The word Arya has appeared 31 times but does not indicate any caste or ethnic connotation. Therefore,‘Arya’ does not denote any race. He also rejected the thesis of Lokmanya Tilak in which he propounded that Aryans came from Arctic. Babasaheb argues, “Horse was the favourite animal of Aryans….. is there any reference of horse in Arctic region?” Babasaheb concluded that the original place of Vedic Aryans must be Bharat and ample evidence of the same is available in Vedic literature. This proposition of Dr Babasaheb is fundamental in the context of Bharatiya Nationalism.
Babasaheb’s views on caste should be understood in the right context. He has elaborated the same in his book, Caste in India. Hindu society is constituted of innumerable castes is a fact. European historians, sociologists consider these castes as spate races, but Babasaheb did not agree with that. Babasaheb unequivocally stated, “We all are tied by a thread of same culture.” While embracing Buddhism at Diksha Bhoomi in Nagpur he declared that he had once told Mahatma Gandhi that though he differed from him on the issue of untouchability, when the time come, “I will choose only the least harmful way for the country, and that is the greatest benefit I am conferring on the country by embracing Buddhism; for Buddhism is a part and parcel of Bharatiya culture. I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition of the culture and history of this land.”
Dharma, social value system, life style and language are instruments in ensuring cultural unity. Dr Babasaheb was neither irreligious nor an atheist. Though he did not believe in the concept of God, it was his belief that there is a Supreme Power which runs this universe with certain rules. In his speech delivered at Deeksha Bhoomi he says that religion is as important as food as it provides optimism to human life. For him the centre of religion should not be between man and God but between man and man. Religion is personal but Dhamma is social. If there is only one person then there is no need of Dhamma. The moment two people come together, the role of Dhamma starts. Dhamma regulates the relations between human beings. He has elaborated the nature of this Dhamma in his book Bhagwan Gautam Buddha and His Dhamma. Nation and nationalism in Bharat cannot be complete without Dharma or Dhamma. It is instrumental in instilling morality and character among human beings. Therefore, as Basaheb was the architect of Constitution of Bharat, he was also a great sage of Bharatiya tradition. Babasaheb embraced Buddhism as the Buddhist sect is part and parcel of Bharatiya thinking. Bhagwan Buddha did not give a separate code, of marital laws and inheritance laws to his followers.
When the issue of Hindu Code Bill was in discussion he questioned that why there should be separate code for Hindus only. If Muslims, Christians, Jews, Parsis reside in Bharat, why there cannot be a Uniform Civil Code was Balasaheb’s pertinent question. The Constitution of Bharat ensures Fundamental Right to all the citizens. Babasaheb was fully aware of the contradiction between these Fundamental Rights and other laws. Muslim Personal Law was not acceptable to him. He was of the firm opinion that in a secular state, personal laws cannot be dictated by religion.
Like the culture and people, Babasaheb also thought of this land. In his article titled “Ancient Indian Commerce”, he describes Bharat as the prosperous land which became a victim of external aggression due to its prosperity. He had an independent opinion about the natural resources. He wanted agriculture to be nationalised by ending the private ownership. The production of agriculture is dependent on quality of land, human resource and fertilisers and not on the size of the land. To minimise the dependence on agriculture he emphasised the need for faster industrialisation.
Dr Ambedkar was the Law Minister in Viceroy’s Cabinet from 1942 to 1946. He also had the charge of water resources. During his tenure, Hirakud Dam was initiated on Damodar River. In that period he prescribed conservation and storage as the best options to deal with water shortage. He was the one to put forth the idea of connecting rivers. While discussing the same scheme today we forget that it was propagated by Babasaheb way back in 1944.
People, Land and Culture are the key ingredients of any nation but are they sufficient to make this Hindu majority society a nation. Babasaheb had an apt answer to this. He said that no one has the experience of Hindutva. Hindus have the sense of unity based on castes. This is the reason Hindu is not considered as a society or a nation. In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949 he says, “The castes are anti-national. In the first place, because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint”.
How to develop a sense of nationhood, was core to his thinking. In his words, due to caste differences there is no feeling of co-existence. On the one hand there is cultural unity, geographical integrity but at the same time there are castes and races to divide us. Though people, land and culture are universally accepted ingredients of nationhood, these three factors alone cannot make a nation. Babasaheb added a fourth dimension to it and that is ‘fraternity’. We all are one and inherits the same spirit from the same Supreme power. This idea can bring a sense of brotherhood. Babasaheb was a hardcore democrat. His concept of democracy was based on the trinity of liberty, equality and fraternity. When Nehru presented the Preamble to the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, there was no mention of fraternity along with liberty, equality and justice. Babasaheb did not agree with the definitions of democracy given by Western thinkers as according to him most of them were not applicable to the Bharatiya conditions. Most of the Western thinkers reflect about democracy as a political structure. Babasaheb did not agree with mere political interpretation of democracy. In his own words democracy is “a form or method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.” Democratic state should eradicate social and economic inequalities. He proposed the form of an ideal society. A society where there is no caste based differences, everyone has a freedom to find his own path of happiness, freedom of thought for all, equal participation of all in social life and all sections connected to each other with the spirit of brotherhood. Babasaheb used to suggest the participation and representation of all, reservation is one such method. This issue is generally discussed in a wrong direction. For the participation of all, political and administrative reservation is necessary. Till then there will be neither participatory democracy nor the feeling of nationhood. To reflect the expectations and aspirations of Scheduled Caste by securing their rights in the Constitution was a great challenge for Babasaheb. Therefore, its presence was critical in the Constituent Assembly. He wanted to address the problems of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes through Constitutional means.
After independence, Sadar Patel effectively dealt with the problem of 565 princely states to establish the principle of one nation-one state. Unifying Bharat as a nation-state was a very difficult task. Babasaheb provided a socio-economic content to it by presenting a constitutional and democratic nationalism based on social justice. This is gigantic contribution of Babasaheb in the nation building.
(This write up is an edited version of the speech delivered by the author as President of Samrasta Literary Festival, held at Kalyan on January 30-31, 2016)