The tragedy of Ambedkar's legacy

The tragedy of Ambedkar's legacy

The tragedy of Ambedkar's legacy

Long ago, Tolstoy acidly observed: “The abolition of slavery has gone on for a long time. Rome abolished slavery. America abolished and we did, but only the words were abolished, not the thing.”

Babasaheb Ambedkar, himself a mahar (untouchable caste), fought this malignant degradation and tried his best to set his brethren free as equal members of the Indian society. He battled and wrote into the Constitution purposeful provisions annihilative of caste victimisation and promotion of their socio-economic status.

The Constitution, however, uses the colourless terminology, “Scheduled Castes”, which hardly expresses the terrible lot and traumatic humiliation. Were they mere words, or calculated to catalyse a transformation, which would establish a dynamic human solidarity so necessary for a progressive nation on the march?

If they were really summons to action, how far have we succeeded? And if we have failed, what is the reason for this failure? What is the prognosis for a vibrant Dalit egalite?

Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life, which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity.

They form a union of trinity in the sense that, to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many.

Dalit identity, crushed for centuries, now re-asserts its right to be treated as human. No more subaltern submission but a chapter of goal-oriented democratic march! The marginalised shall no longer surrender. But there are two ways of achieving the end.

One peaceful, agitational and by converting the majority to their obligation to the lowly minorities: the other is the desperate and violent methodology whereby terrorist operations may be the only means of securing justice. In a democracy the peaceful means can win if only there is an inclination to listen and act on the part of those who command public opinion. It requires dissemination of information, presentation of views and appeal to the finer sensibilities of the people as a whole.

Untouchability is an offence and atrocities on the Dalits are grave offences. But the law in the books has no locomotion unless the bugle of battle demands justice through social movements and judicial action. India can have social stability and claim human justice only if the Dalit sector is guaranteed social and economic status consistent with an egalitarian ethos.

The pain, privations and frustrations of the Dalits in our country must make every sensitive citizen hang his head in shame. The tragedy is that not only have we not eradicated untouchability in the last 60 years, but also we have created newer and subtler forms of untouchability.

Ambedkar rightly believed political democracy without social and economic democracy is a double deception. Almost all political parties have showered only lip sympathy to the plight of the Dalits in order to get their votes, but with no intention of doing anything to ameliorate their conditions.

Leaders of Dalits must campaign to liquidate the lowliest castes among them and consolidate themselves into one united Scheduled Caste. Why tolerate sub-castes among “Harijans” themselves? The upper layers among the Harijans and Girijans swallow the jobs and admissions to professional courses.

The tragedy is that Ambedkar’s legacy, which ought to operate outside Hindu religion, has also not succeeded in breaking the status quo. Ambedkar felt that organisation, education and agitation would enable the Dalits to reverse caste prejudices. As it has turned out, Dalit political groups are totally disorganised.

Education has only led to the emergence of a Dalit elite class, which has slowly distanced itself from agitational Dalit politics. Dalit movements have been absorbed within mainstream parties or have degenerated into negative militancy.

The deitification of Ambedkar by building statues appears to have taken precedence over any fight for equal rights. What shall we do to ‘change this sorry scheme of things and remould it nearer to our Heart’s desire?’

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