Remembering Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in the Times of Saffron Rule

April 14, 2015

April 14, 2015

By Devesh Khatarkar

The 14th of April this year arrives with the completion of 125 years of the legacy of the messiah who committed his life to the annihilation of the inhuman caste system and propagated values of justice and equal rights. Dr. Ambedkar’s activism not only broke down Manu’s ‘ideal’ Hindu society which exploited humans in the name of religion but also established the foundation of Indian democracy which flourished for decades.

The regime shifted to the saffron party in recent years and the Hindu fundamentalist organization RSS has now decided to appropriate Dr. Ambedkar in the same way they earlier attempted to appropriate other great Indian leaders. Recently in the Nagpur conclave, to exhibit its emphasis on an inclusive society, the Sangh restated its policy of ‘one well, one temple, one crematorium for all’ and aimed to project him as the unifier of people. The arguments and attempts to appropriate Dr. Ambedkar are based on the Sangh’s interpretations of his views on Pakistan, Islam and Article 370.

The unfounded interpretations of Dr. Ambedkar’s opinions coming from the RSS don’t qualify Ambedkar as a nationalist. These claims are utter nonsense and ironical since Dr. Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism has been widely known and recognized in academia and Dalit movements. While his intellect and arguments are unparalleled, his unimaginable determination raised such fundamental questions about the traditions and beliefs of Hinduism when Indian society was solely dominated by orthodox Caste Hindu social groups. His fundamental questions have been so far unanswered. The evident contradiction of RSS’s move to claim Ambedkar is that the latter willingly and powerfully attacked two mythological characters of Hinduism: Rama and Krishna in his classic works Riddles in Hinduism. Rama (and his temple) is known to be the focal ideological point of the Hindu nationalist groups. RSS is committed to propagate religious values of the same Hinduism which Dr. Ambedkar held to be a system of discrimination and atrocities, leading the untouchable masses to convert to Buddhism in 1956.

The Sangh Parivar has become exceptionally proactive and outspoken after the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in last general elections. Sangh being the ideological parent of BJP is leaving no stone unturned to saffronize Indian society. Lately two BJP led states, Maharashtra and Haryana, have banned the consumption of beef making a cultural imposition on indigenous groups – tribals and Dalits. A sizable population of tribes, Dalits and Backwards classes possessed the culture of beef historically. The anti-beef move of BJP is the Brahmanical agenda which began with the South Indian Brahmins and then spread to the North and featured during the Gandhian movement as well. This is how the BJP governments are imposing certain food culture on people to push the agenda of RSS. Dr. Ambedkar debated food issues during Gandhi’s campaign of vegetarianism. He said Dalits should give up eating dead cattle, but they shouldn’t give up beef because Buddhists have a culture of eating beef. Buddhism in China, Japan and Korea allows multicultural food. He wrote at length on the evolution of people’s food culture.

Historical facets of beef and Hinduism have been brilliantly discussed and explained by Dr. Ambedkar in his essay titled ‘Did the Hindus Never Eat Beef? ’ With evidence from ancient texts of Hinduism, he proved that “there was a time when Hindus, both Brahmins and non-Brahmins, ate not only flesh but also beef.” He mentioned the offerings of Madhuparka, containing cow’s flesh as an essential element, as the etiquette for welcoming important guests among the Aryans. He further writes “the scale on which the slaughter of cows and animals took place was colossal. It is not possible to give a total of such slaughter on all accounts committed by the Brahmins in the name of religion. Some idea of the extent of this slaughter can, however, be gotten from references to it in the Buddhist literature.” Buddha rebelled against this tradition because during his time there was a huge consumption of beef by the priestly class. Buddha asked people not to kill cows for sacrifice, not to kill beyond what they needed for consumption. From that stage to the modern period, most of the untouchables, for instance, the Dalits in south India sustained themselves on beef. Caste Hindus’ assertion on absence of beef-eating in Hindus falls short on logical grounds. The ban on beef is a device to create a monolithic Hindu community. The anti-beef agenda of BJP and RSS lies on illogical assumptions and misconceptions about beef and is an aggressive act to marginalize indigenous tribals and Dalits.

Another notable attempt of promoting the Brahmanical agenda was pressing for the government by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj to declare Bhagwad Gita as ‘Rashtriya Granth’ (national book). Gita is a Brahmanical text which fully supports the enslavement of Shudras and OBCs, a process initiated by the Rig Veda itself. Rig Veda formulated the caste structure in Purusha Suktha and the Gita upheld it. Dr Ambedkar argued that the Gita was no gospel and it was futile to search for a message in it. Bhagvad Gita is an instrument of Brahmins to defend certain dogmas of Hinduism on philosophical grounds. It offers a philosophical defense to Chaturvarnya (the caste system) and mentions that the caste system is created by God and therefore sacrosanct. But it doesn’t make its validity dependent on it. For Ambedkar, the Gita was a defense of Brahminism to deal with increasing influence of Buddhism in India. Buddhism challenged and broke down caste system as now a Shudra also could become a sanyasi. Hence, Brahmins tried to protect the caste the system by the Gita which stated that caste was created by God.

In the light of challenges posed by Brahmanical and communal character of BJP government it becomes difficult for Dalits to demand justice and equality in a society dominated by upper castes. Atrocities against Dalits don’t make it to newspapers and mainstream media. Several incidents of caste atrocities have been reported in Maharashtra state and other parts of the country. Dr Ambedkar’s life was marked by political and social activities aimed at improvement of lives of Dalits, downtrodden and marginalized communities. His commandments educate, agitate and agitate still echo in the Dalits youths and activists. When the character of government is more into communalism and Brahmanism and is unresponsive to the voices of Dalits against atrocities and discrimination, the writings and teachings of Dr. Ambedkar are the source of inspiration to rebuild the movement for equality and to fight the saffron forces. We salute him on his 125th birth anniversary!

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