Dr. Ambedkar and Nationalism
Dr. Ambedkar was an iconoclastic social reformer who at the very formative years of his career realized what it meant to be an untouchable and how struggle against untouchability could be launched. The social reform movement of the caste Hindus could not win him to its side because of his existential understanding of the pangs of untouchability. The issue of untouchability, for social reformers, was a mere problem. This problem was exterior to them in the sense that it affects only the untouchables. They themselves had never experienced the sinisterous blows of untouchability. Though they were sympathetic to the cause of Dalits, but they belonged to the camp that imposed this inhuman system of social segregation on the Dalits.
Baba Sahib analysis of the origins of the untouchability and his action plans for its eradication were different from the approach and practice of the caste Hindu social reformers. What distinguished Baba Sahib from the other social reformers was that he looked at the problems of the Dalits from below, from a vantage point of the deprived and oppressed. This perspective led him to think differently from the dominant stream of social and political thought of his time. His major works on: Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development; Annihilation of Caste; Who Were the Shudras; The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? are testimonies to his independent and original thinking. He smashed the mythological basis of untouchability and laid bare its economic roots.
He built a strong case against the "Janama" (birth) thesis of the untouchability which foreclosed all the ways for Dalit emancipation. He exhorted its victims to oppose it tooth and nail. He said, "It is disgraceful to live at the cost of one's self respect. Self-respect is most vital factor in life. Without it, man is a mere cipher. To live worthily with self-respect one has to overcome difficulties. It is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone that one derives strength, confidence and recognitionn". He drew a distinction between merely living and living worthily. For living a worthy life, Ambedkar said, society must be based on liberty, equality and fraternity. For Ambedkar, social tyranny is more oppressive than the political tyranny and "a reformer who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies government".
Ambedkar was one who defied society. In the beginning of his social reform crusade, he tried to get respect and equality for the Dalits by bringing reforms within the social set up of Hinduism. He continued his struggle for empowerment of the Dalits by seeking changes within the fold of Hinduism till 1935. When he realised that the salvation of Dalits was not possible while living within the fold of Hinduism, he started his scathing criticism and tirade against Hinduism and ultimately sought the emancipation of Dalits and its empowerment from outside the Hindu religion. Hence his conversion to Buddhism. For Ambedkar the issue of Dalit liberation was the foremost issue and he emphasized that Dalits themselves have to come forward for its realization. Thus, Ambedkar provided a subaltern perspective to see clearly the chameleon of Indian caste-ridden social set-up deceptively appearing in crimson colors and the ways to guard the interests of the Dalits.
Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar made stringent efforts to transform the hierarchical structures of Indian society for the restoration of equal rights and justice to the neglected lot by building up a critique from within the structure of Indian society. His was not a theoretical attempt but a practical approach to the problems of untouchability. He tried to seek the solution to this perennial problem of the Indian society not by making appeals to the conscience of the usurpers or bringing transformation in the outlook of the individual by begging but by seeking transformation in the socio-religious and politico-economic structures of the Indian society by continuous and relentless struggle against the exploitative system where he thought the roots of the untouchability lay. He thought that until and unless the authority of the Dharam Shastras is shaken which provided divine sanction to the system of discrimination based on the caste hierarchy, the eradication of untouchability could not be realised. He was of the opinion that untouchability emanated neither from religious notions, nor from the much-popularised theory of Aryan conquest. On the contrary, it came into existence as a result of the struggle among the tribes at a stage when they were starting to settle down for a stable life. In the process, the settled tribes employed the broken tribesmen as guards against the marauding bands. These broken tribesmen employed as guards became untouchables.
Dr. Ambedkar's views on Indian nationalism in opposition to the dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism as represented by Raja Rammohan Roy, B.G. Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Golvalkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on the one hand, and Communist-secular-socialist nationalism represented by M.N. Roy, R. P. Duta, T. Nagi Reddy and E.M.S. Namboodripad on the other, are not only distinct but also original. Hindu nationalism in essence aims at strengthening the Brahamanical supremacy in the post-colonial India. The communist-secular-social nationalism though based on abolition of class, its ideologues like that of the Hindu nationalism also belonged to the upper-castes and were myopic to the Dalits tribulations.
Dr. Ambedkar's conception of nationalism articulated and synthesized the national perceptions and aspirations of the downtrodden. Ambedkar's alternative form of nationalism, popularly known as ˜Dalit-Bahujan-nationalism's incorporated the subaltern philosophy of Jyotirao Phule and Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naicker. It constructed an anti-Hindu and anti-Brahamanical discourse of Indian nationalism. It aimed at establishing a casteless and classless society where no one would be discriminated on the basis of birth and occupation. Within the Dalit-Bahuhjan framework of Indian nationalism, Ambedkar built up a critique of pre-colonial Brahmanism and its asymmetrical social set up based on low and high dichotomy of graded caste system. This system of inegalitarianism led to the process of exploitation by the unproductive Brahamanical castes of the various productive castes.
Ambedkar's understanding of the question of the identity and existence of the nation was based on his incisive analysis of the oppressive character of the Hindu community. Since the dominant Hindu discourse of Indian nationalism remained indifferent towards removal of the caste system; and the economic analysis of the communist secular socialist school also failed to highlight the issue of caste in its mechanical interpretation of class, Ambedkar's himself an untouchable and victim of untouchability “formulated his own framework from the perspective of the untouchables for the understanding of the system of caste and untouchability. The foundations of dalit-Bahujan nationalism lie in this framework developed by Ambedkar. It aimed at restructuring the Indian society into a casteless and classless and egalitarian Sangha (Ilaiah 2001: 109). Annihilation of caste was its central theme. Caste for Ambedkar was nothing but Brahmanism incarnate. "Brahmanism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism" (Ambedkar 1995: 92). Ambedkar realised that any form of nationalism whose roots were steeped into Hinduism could not be a solution to the problem of dalits. Any discourse of nationalism bereft of annihilation of caste was just not acceptable to him. The agenda of annihilation of caste was so important to him that it became a central point of his struggle against colonial rule. In the first Round Table Conference, he minced no words in criticizing the British government for its failure to undo untouchability.
Swaraj without extinction of caste had no meaning for Ambedkar. In his undelivered speech to the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore, he said, â€œIn the fight for swaraj you fight with the whole nation on your side. In this, you have to fight against the whole nation and that too your own. But it is more important than swaraj. There is no use having swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending swaraj is the question of defending Hindus under the swaraj. In my opinion, only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery". Thus, it was Ambedkar's subaltern perspective, which distinguished his conception of swaraj from that of the protagonists of the various shades of the national freedom movement. In his editorial in the Bahishkrit Bharat, Ambedkar wrote on 29 July 1927 "If Tilak had been born among the untouchables, he would not have raised the slogan ˜Swaraj is my birthright", but he would have raised the slogan ˜Annihilation of untouchability is my birthright".
Dr. Vishwanath Bite