Anand Ranganathan makes a case for why it is B R Ambedkar and not Mahatma Gandhi who deserves the honorific title of “Father of the Nation” for his indispensable contribution in the making of modern India, in drafting the Constitution, and more importantly, for his pivotal efforts to get the country out of the mire of caste-prejudice and untouchability.
Ambedkar not only sought emancipation of the ‘untouchables’, he went further – he fearlessly demanded the catharsis of Indians to atone for the ‘darkness of untouchability’.
Ambedkar’s genius lay in his towering intellect, his clarity of mind and his fearlessness of speaking it. He spared no one.
While his scathing critique of the Caste System and Hinduism is well known, his lesser-known but equally scathing criticism of Communism, of Islam and of the Mahatma and his role in the Khilafat movement leading to Moplah massacres of Hindus, bear testimony to a sharpness of intellect ‘forged with the fortitude of scientific logic’.
Anand Ranganathan explains why Ambedkar – a towering visionary, scholar, statesman, politician, thinker and reformer as well as a true liberal deserves to be the Father of the Nation in his Srijan Talk on “Ambedkar – The Real Father Of Nation”.
Transcript of the Talk: –
Before I begin, I have a promise to extract from all of you. The subject that I am going to speak on is not science; it is not exact; my conclusions can be questioned and rejected. And perhaps they will be at the end of the day. If I were to talk on science, I would have provided indisputable evidence – of experiments done in triplicate, of crystal structures, of results being reproducible on different days, different years, upon which I would then have based my opinion and conclusion. Of course, even then there would be a few in the audience who would have rejected my thesis, but at least I would have been on a much surer footing.
Well, I am not going to talk about science, and therefore I am prepared for stone pelting; metaphorical, of course. So, here’s my request. Have faith in me that I am not the sort of person who would speak for the next hour or so as though on high quality weed that I borrowed from a few communist friends who still love Che, Castro, and Mao and pray that one day India turns into Venezuela. Nor am I consuming meat of an animal grazing on even better weed. I am a vegetarian; lover of curd-rice and mysore pak – that Tamilian delicacy, as you know. Even if you feel that I am wrong, indulge in me. You can go home and later block me on twitter, but here I implore your indulgence.
For at the end of the day, nothing really matters; whether we are right or wrong, whether we are white or black, whether our ancestors were brilliant or not, whether our culture is ancient or not; whether our religions are better or not. Nothing matters. We are a bunch of cells, originated from Lucy the Ethiopian, and yes, we get angry and happy and feel we are right and get told we are wrong, but at the end of the day, this bunch of cells dies. And so before you get riled up at me after I am through with my talk, I want you to picture yourself on your death-bed, ideally decades from now, and I want you to imagine that I have come to visit you and that you are looking at me. What would you feel? Would you feel any anger? Would you even remember this moment decades from now?
Two, The importance that we give to a life is relative, and I not only want you to give me no importance, I request that you give yourself no importance as well. At least for the next hour or so. The subject is contentious, and to tell you the truth, a little provocative, even rhetorical. And I am well aware that when such contentious themes are chosen, the audience can get riled up, some may even get up and heckle like many of our news anchors do. Nowadays I have noticed that Arnab has begun to shoot up from his chair and poke his guests with his finger. Shouting is no longer enough; something new has to be done to catch attention afresh. Well, I want you to know that I won’t be angry at you if you do. It is not as though you are going to refute the existence of the double-helical DNA, or the theory of Evolution, or the second law of thermodynamics. In fact, I am happy to notice that our HRD Minister of State isn’t in the audience so I can talk freely of Evolution without being heckled.
No, this is the type of subject that, even though I would try and tackle it with the kind of care a student of science would take – systematic, with citations, evidence and verifiable proof, I know only too well that it still would remain subjective, and thus open to interpretation and debate. For truth be told, this is a subject of the grey. And I am not a fan of the grey. I prefer black and white. It is not that I absolutely hate the grey, but I know that this grey, and venturing into it, and believing in it, has given mankind only and only misery. It is because of the grey that there are people who still believe in religious books, or in Mao and Pol Pot and Hitler and Tipu and Godse and Churchill and Rhodes and Aurangzeb and Sir Syed and Allama Iqbal and Leopold, and hundreds of other men and women who have done terrible, terrible things, committed awful crimes, but the believers of grey have forgiven them because these men and women have also done some good. Grey has birthed cruel empires and believers of the grey have feted them. For me, a benevolent dictator is still a dictator; a kind criminal is still a criminal; a religious book that preaches hate in addition to kindness is still a hateful religious book.
Three, a believer in grey is a purveyor of Hypocrisy. And that is why he doesn’t even see it as hypocrisy. It comes naturally to him, because it stems from the core belief in the grey – that your truthful or brighter half will be remembered, and your lying and darker half will be forgotten. In one sense, you are static if you believe in the grey, because your intent always is to show your brighter side. And so you stop revolving. You don’t beget seasons. You are always, and proudly so, the same. Like Mercury. And that is why I’d much rather believe in the black and white than the grey.
I know of course that this isn’t always possible, because at the end of the day we are all humans and we all make mistakes and commit crimes for which we are punished or escape punishment. But somewhere along our life’s thoroughly needless, worthless journey, we have to make a decision – where do I get inspiration from; not who do I worship but who do I get inspired from. Again, even this doesn’t matter because life has absolutely no purpose whatsoever, and Darwin and Miller and Szostak and Stemmer have all proven this beyond any reasonable doubt. But we live and prosper in a society, we gain from it, we have our children gain from it, and so it makes sense that we contribute to its growth and wellbeing. And for that to happen, all of us need inspiration, either from religion or from man. And it is primarily for this reason that we install our fellow men and women as father or mother of the nation, or the greatest leader or the greatest scientist or the greatest journalist. Wait. Strike the last one out. Unless we are talking of Michelangelo.
Now we all know that Mahatma Gandhi is called the Father of our Nation. What does it mean, really – Father of the Nation. Who is a father, and what is a nation? I think, that for the purposes of our bombastic, emotional, worshipping self, we bestowed upon the Mahatma this title, [in fact, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose did] because we all thought that he worked most for our independence, and so he is the father of an independent India. And by nation we mean independent India, not the India that we know of since time immemorial. So yes, there is a strong case for Bapu to be endowed with the title of the Father of our Nation. Now, if we were to think a little deeper on this aspect, of calling someone a father, what do we understand by the very term, in a non-biological, not gene-transferring context?
Yes, Gandhi birthed India in 1947 and so technically, he is her father. But whom does one call a father when honors are bestowed in the abstract? Nations aren’t inspired through sharing ancestral genes; they aren’t shown the righteous path though gene-pool commandments. Nations need purity of the mind more than that of the heart. Nations need catharsis. I put to you that, if at all, we need to create a title such as The Father of the Nation, then that title belongs to BR Ambedkar and not Mahatma Gandhi. To put it bluntly, Mahatma Gandhi was a man of grey, Ambedkar of black & white. And history shows that men who prefer the black and white are hated by all, because, let us be honest here – this world runs on grey. Grey allows us to wash our sins after we have committed them. It allows us to be forgiven. Grey allows us to worship and be worshipped. It is not that we do not understand Ambedkar; it is that we fear him. The fear of Ambedkar is justified, for how can one man be so authoritative on every subject he ever professed a view on: Islam, Communism, Hinduism, History, Theology, Science, Economics, Politics, Society, Literature, Law, Foreign Policy, Education, and Journalism?
One may, admittedly, veer towards bombast and hyperbole while acknowledging this to be a non-human trait. After all, it is but a thin line that separates fear from worship. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is wrong at some point, or as the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell put it: ‘I would never die for my beliefs, for I might be wrong’. What, then, would one call someone who overwhelmingly defies these maxims? Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Yes. Ambedkar is the real father of our nation. Over the next hour, I would like to elucidate why this is the case.
And as I said, one may, in the end disagree with my thesis, one may refuse to be taken in a little by indulgence in grandiloquence and bombast, and if that is how it closes then so be it. The world won’t end over who is India’s father. India won’t suddenly prosper or grow economically or beget achche din once we have decided one way or the other. This is as much a speculative journey as it is academic. And for it to begin, one must begin at the beginning itself. One must understand not just the phenomena that is Ambedkar, but the man himself. And not just the man, but the child. For do they not say: Child is the father of Man? Science and scripture — both have it in them to not only alter the world, but also to destroy it.
In 1891 were born two men who understood this perfectly and who discovered, through life’s journey, this fundamental truth. This is their story. James Chadwick was born in a Britain scarred with class distinction, while Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, in an India damaged to its core by caste prejudice. Chadwick was the son of a railway storekeeper and a maidservant; Ambedkar, the son of a subedar and an uneducated mother of 13 children. Class and caste were the gatekeepers of human progress back then, as they had been for centuries. But 1891 was also a year of great intellectual upheaval. Ideas that would shape the future world had not yet gained general acceptance. Communism was yet to take root. Imperialism, on the other hand, had. The scramble for Africa was underway. Darwinism was gaining ground (even though it had its detractors).
The Descent of Man, published two decades earlier, was under the hammer – the very thought that man shared a common ancestry with apes or with other men had appalled the believers. The Theory of Evolution was threatening the religious sanction of slavery. Meanwhile, quantum science was still a decade away; Einstein, a little more. The atom had not yet been discovered. And while the electric bulb had just gone into mass production, India was still in darkness — a darkness that no light, natural or artificial, could penetrate. The darkness of untouchability. But first Britain, where was rising slowly a tower of babel built by the loot of the world, snatched from people who couldn’t understand what they were giving away, and could only gape in awe at the wonder that was this small island. It was the center of the modern world, the nucleus around which hovered like electrons dozens of colonies, supplementing the core, nourishing it selflessly. But what was inside this nucleus? Poverty. A quarter of Britain’s population lived below subsistence level. Those who were unemployed had to enter workhouses that came to be feared by the destitute. Disease, hunger, unemployment, low wages – this was not the glorious, opulent Raj that Naipaul once described as a fantasyland built to satisfy the conqueror’s itch. Rather, it was the ugly underbelly of the mother country.
Times were hard for those at the bottom of the social rung. Chadwick’s parents could not afford to send their son to a grammar school. Later, and undeterred, the young Chadwick won a scholarship to Victoria University, Manchester. At the university, so poor that he decided to skip having lunch altogether in the three years he was an undergraduate, he found recourse in his mentor, Ernest Rutherford. Together they would embark on a journey that would change the world. Only they didn’t know it yet.
Back in India, the young Ambedkar, whose family had moved to Bombay in 1897, was scaling unknown heights; unknown only because centuries-old barbarity had turned him into an unwitting pioneer of sorts. He became the first untouchable to enrol in Elphinstone High school, the first untouchable to graduate from Bombay University, the first untouchable to receive a scholarship to study at Columbia University. First Untouchable — an epithet used without knowing what evil lay within it, an epithet laced with unfathomable shame. Meanwhile, Chadwick won a scholarship to Berlin, where he would study under the guidance of Hans Geiger, just as Ambedkar was packing his bags to leave for America to study under the guidance of John Dewey at Columbia. The year was 1913. The next five years would prove to be the most tumultuous yet in the history of mankind. Chadwick was in Germany when the Great War broke. He was imprisoned. Ambedkar was in America. He was liberated, from the shackles put on him by his motherland, of caste prejudice and untouchability. Ambedkar later wrote: “My five years of staying in Europe and America had completely wiped out of my mind any consciousness that I was an untouchable…” I leave this sentence unfinished.
It has been cleaved in half and the half that contains within it a cry of despair, a cry so loud it rings still in the ears of those who have read it, that half would be quoted later. Back from Germany, Chadwick got down to business with Rutherford, first at Manchester and then soon at Cambridge, at the famous Cavendish laboratory. The coming decade was one filled with frustration and failure. They had the electron and proton pinned, but much as the duo tried to complete the jigsaw that was the atom, the one missing piece eluded them. Then, in 1932, came a lucky break. Ambedkar was not so lucky. His joyous years – joyous only because for the first time in his life he had experienced what being treated as a human felt like – at Columbia and then at London behind him, he returned to India.
He wrote: “…On my arrival I straightway went to Baroda…My five years of staying in Europe and America had completely wiped out of my mind any consciousness that I was an untouchable, and that an untouchable wherever he went in India was a problem to himself and to others, but when I came out of the station, my mind was considerably disturbed by a question, “Where to go? Who will take me?” I felt deeply agitated. Hindu hotels, called Vishis, I knew there were. They would not take me. The only way of seeking accommodation therein was by impersonation. But I was not prepared for it, because I could well anticipate the dire consequences which were sure to follow if my identity was discovered – as it was sure to be.”
In America, Ambedkar was in the company of some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, like John Dewey and James Shotwell and Edwin Seligman and James Harvey Robinson. But he left them all and returned to his motherland, where a familiar friend awaited him. Manu. Manu was at the railway station, at the boarding lodge, at the restaurant, on the road, in the park, at the market; Manu was everywhere, on the lookout for Ambedkar, chasing him, chasing even his shadow. Manu was omnipresent, Manu was that warning to the unsuspecting, to withdraw the hand that was about to touch Ambedkar, about to give him a glass of water, about to welcome him inside a home. Ambedkar wrote, “I had friends in Baroda who had come to America for study. “Would they welcome me if I went?” I could not assure myself. They may feel embarrassed at admitting an untouchable into their household. I stood under the roof of the station for some time, thinking where to go, what to do.”
Luck — it ran out for Ambedkar, but it turned for Chadwick. Time had come for him to stand on the shoulders of Frederic and Irene Curie and look further. Replicating their experiment where, using radioactive Polonium as a high-energy source for bombarding Beryllium and then employing the resulting radiation to in turn bombard paraffin wax, Chadwick discovered the released energy that ejected protons from the wax was in the form of uncharged particles. Neutrons. The contents of the atom had finally been deciphered. The atomic age was here and in this atomic age, the trials of Ambedkar were just beginning. Of all the blights this world has to offer, the vilest is the rejection of one man by another.
Nothing comes close to it in bloodthirstiness, of mind and of spirit; and no one who has not experienced it can even begin to imagine the horror of it. Ambedkar wrote, “It is difficult for them to understand how it is possible for a few untouchables to live on the edge of a village consisting of a large number of Hindus; go through the village daily to free it from the most disagreeable of its filth and to carry the errands of all and sundry; collect food at the doors of the Hindus; buy spices and oil at the shops of the Hindu Bania from a distance; regard the village in every way as their home – and yet never touch or be touched by any one belonging to the village.”
Can open wounds heal? Can there be reconciliation without truth; forgiveness without remembrance? Can there be justice without Nuremberg? When Ambedkar was nine years old, he travelled to Koregaon. His recounting of the journey can make one lose faith in humanity. It takes us to a place where the souls have turned to stone. “We told him [Stationmaster] that we were bound for Koregaon, and that we were waiting for father or his servant to come, but that neither had turned up, and that we did not know how to reach Koregaon. We were well-dressed children. From our dress or talk no one could make out that we were children of the untouchables.” “Children of the untouchables.” How smoothly ran the ink that wrote these words. Without irony or outrage, without quotes, without the crutches of human kindness that Ambedkar never received so he could pause and reflect, deconstruct this cruel cataloguing.
Ambedkar continues: “Indeed the stationmaster was quite sure we were Brahmin children, and was extremely touched at the plight in which he found us. As is usual among the Hindus, the stationmaster asked us who we were. Without a moment’s thought I blurted out that we were Mahars. He was stunned. His face underwent a sudden change. We could see that he was overpowered by a strange feeling of repulsion. As soon as he heard my reply he went away to his room, and we stood where we were. Fifteen to twenty minutes elapsed; the sun was almost setting. Our father had not turned up, nor had he sent his servant; and now the stationmaster had also left us. We were quite bewildered, and the joy and happiness which we had felt at the beginning of the journey gave way to a feeling of extreme sadness.” “There were many bullock-carts plying for hire. But my reply to the station-master that we were Mahars had gone round among the cartmen, and not one of them was prepared to suffer being polluted, and to demean himself carrying passengers of the untouchable classes. We were prepared to pay double the fare, but we found that money did not work. The stationmaster who was negotiating on our behalf stood silent, not knowing what to do. Suddenly a thought seemed to have entered his head and he asked us, “Can you drive the 10 cart?” Feeling that he was finding out a solution of our difficulty, we shouted, “Yes, we can.”
With that answer he went and proposed on our behalf that we were to pay the cartman double the fare and drive the cart, and that he should walk on foot along with the cart on our journey. One cartman agreed, since it gave him an opportunity to earn his fare and also saved him from being polluted.” Later, when it was time to sleep: “The bullocks had been unyoked, and the cart was placed sloping down on the ground. We spread our beds on the bottom planks inside the cart and laid down our bodies to rest. Now that we had come to a place of safety, we did not mind what happened. But our minds could not help turning to the latest event. There was plenty of food with us. There was hunger burning within us; with all this we were to sleep without food; that was because we could get no water, and we could get no water because we were untouchables.” No one touched him. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was untouched.
Ambedkar described this incident as one that left “an indelible impression on my mind”, despite the fact that it was not the first time that his caste identity had been impressed upon him. “Before this incident occurred, I knew that I was an untouchable, and that untouchables were subjected to certain indignities and discriminations. For instance, I knew that in the school I could not sit in the midst of my classmates according to my rank, but that I was to sit in a corner by myself. I knew that in the school I was to have a separate piece of gunny cloth for me to squat on in the classroom, and the servant employed to clean the school would not touch the gunny cloth used by me. I was required to carry the gunny cloth home in the evening, and bring it back the next day. While in the school I knew that children of the touchable classes, when they felt thirsty, could go out to the water tap, open it, and quench their thirst. All that was necessary was the permission of the teacher. But my position was separate. I could not touch the tap; and unless it was opened for me by a touchable person, it was not possible for me to quench my thirst. In my case the permission of the teacher was not enough. The presence of the school peon was necessary, for he was the only person whom the class teacher could use for such a purpose. If the peon was not available, I had to go without water. The situation can be summed up in the statement—no peon, no water.” No peon, no water. This isn’t fiction; this isn’t an attempt to rouse the reader, to make him dread closing his eyes in case he begins to imagine the horrors. This isn’t a pretender writing these words. This is a man who has lived them, every last one of them.
Does a parallel exist in literature, one may ask? Mulk Raj Anand’s intense first novel, Untouchable, comes to mind. So does Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, which is a deeply affecting, harrowing account of a black man in an America before Rosa Parks and Dr Martin Luther King. There is a passage in the book, early on, where the narrator – who begins the book with the words “I am an invisible man” – is promised a scholarship by his white benefactors, but on the condition that he boxes another black man, for show, and blindfolded. “The smoke was agonizing and there were no rounds, no bells at three-minute intervals to relieve our exhaustion. The room spun around me, a swirl of lights, smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. I bled from nose to mouth, the blood spattering upon my chest. The men kept yelling, “Slug him, black boy! Knock his guts out!” “Uppercut him! Kill him! Kill that big boy!” Ellison’s prose is harrowing to read, but not as harrowing as Ambedkar’s. One cannot but be ashamed of India, of Indians, of a people so deeply entrenched in prejudice and bigotry that their every pore sweats barbarism.
Ambedkar wears the reader down, his words pierce and jab and singe until they can singe no more, until you are gasping for air, and while you come up for it, you ask: how is this even possible? What was the point of human progress and science and culture if in the end it all boiled down to one human treating another as untouchable? What was the point of discovering the neutron when, in a village thousands of miles and a few dreams away from the Cavendish, a little boy of nine had to drive a bullock cart by himself and go thirsty the whole night because he was not allowed to drink water? The answer was given by none other than Ambedkar. His standing up, his fighting for his rights, his drafting the Constitution, his saving India from barbarism, his keeping India alive, was the answer. His life was the answer.
Chadwick won the Nobel Prize in 1935. He headed the British team in the Manhattan project, was instrumental in the making of the atomic bomb. He was appointed to the UN Atomic Energy Commission after the war ended, but quickly got disenchanted with his duties and returned to the lab bench. He did not sign the Russell-Einstein manifesto that said, “Remember your humanity, forget the rest”. He did not attend the Pugwash conference that called for a ban on use of nuclear weapons. He simply retreated. The man who discovered the neutron turned neutral. But not Ambedkar. No, not him. “To be neutral is to take sides.” When talking of human cruelty, one cannot at the same time talk of human genius. One cannot let anger subside; the veins must not lose their bulge. And so one cannot discuss the greatness of Ambedkar; his genius, his phenomenal role in the making of modern India, a nation that gave him nothing. Nothing.
The love he got was from those who also were never loved, by those who also were given nothing by Bharat Mata. And that is why nations are not mothers; they are but a landmass. Nations become mothers only when they are capable of giving love, which is possible only when their people are capable of giving love. It is a miracle that Ambedkar chose to stay in this cruel land. Many of those who now profess their unbound love for India wouldn’t hesitate to leave at the first instance of injustice or for a better career opportunity and a better standard of living. But Ambedkar stayed even though he was denied love, denied a touch, a simple human touch.
On May 10, 2015, one hundred years to the day Ambedkar delivered his landmark lecture, “Castes in India – Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”, the transcript of which 13 later became part of his remarkable book The Annihilation of Caste, in a small village in Ratlam a Dalit bridegroom arrived for his marriage on a horse. Only, there was something unusual about him. He was wearing a helmet. Why? No, it is not possible to understand Ambedkar. Ambedkar was not a mahatma (a great soul). Ambedkar was a great man. And therein lies the difference between the soul and the body, between religion and science, between fear and fearlessness. Ambedkar was not Gandhi – he could not touch that which we admire in those who can, this non-existent thing called the soul. Ambedkar touched something more important than the soul. He touched the mind. And because he touched the mind and not the soul, we cannot understand him, we cannot follow him; we can only worship him.
This we do, in granite, in newspapers, in parks, in conferences, in calendars, in the names of inert buildings. But he doesn’t live on there. He lives in his words. Ambedkar is the father of our nation because he wanted Catharsis, he wasn’t afraid of its consequences; he demanded it. It wasn’t a demand coming from a pretender, or an appeaser. It was blunt and straight and forged with the fortitude of scientific logic. It wasn’t grey. It was black and white. When your cupboard is full of skeletons, and you open it, what emerges first is just sound. Then, skulls follow. Finally, bones. We are experiencing right now the first stage after the opening of the cupboard. The skulls and the bones are yet to tumble out. But tumble out they will and tumble out they must. And when they do, we as a nation will have a catharsis that Germany experienced in the wake of the Second World War. We need it. We need the skulls to tumble out. There comes a moment in a nation’s life when the crimes it has committed mount, they collect, drop by painful drop, and form a giant trembling wave that, like Vonnegut’s 14 sequence, awaits a shore. India has escaped the moment of catharsis that Germany experienced.
After the war ended, the victorious Allied forces showed in batches to the Germans visuals of the concentration camps, and what was found in them. The Germans looked away. Why? Why did the Germans, most of whom had not participated in the holocaust, why did they look away? Because that was their moment of catharsis. They as a nation, they as a collective conscience, realized the horror Germany had perpetrated. The Germans held each other’s hand and stood up. They faced the wave. And it changed Germany. For the better. These cathartic moments come but rarely in a nation’s History. Spain, and Britain, and Portugal, and Belgium, and countless other colonial powers that subjugated millions, annihilated whole populations, destroyed continents, haven’t had them yet. Perhaps they never will. Collective conscious is impossibly hard to materialize. To stand and face the wave, to hear the shrieks of six million ghosts, to realise that one’s conscience has now amalgamated with the conscience of millions of others and must now answer as a collective, takes courage.
We as a nation need to face that wave. For too long, all we have done is tabulate the crimes against the Dalits. In 2009, 33,412; in 2010, 32,643; in 2011, 33,719; in 2012, 33,655; in 2013, 33,655; in 2014, 47,064; in 2015, 45,003; in 2016, 45,883. In 2017, the numbers aren’t out yet but we’ll slot them; and we’ll slot them again in 2018, and in 2019, and in 2020, and every year that follows, till eternity. Crimes under the United Progressive Alliance, crimes under the National Democratic Alliance, crimes under a central government, crimes under a state government. We see these crimes as drops, and drops they are and will remain so, because we haven’t allowed them to be pulled together into a wave. We aren’t brave enough.
Five rapes were committed against Dalits every single day in 2013. One rape every five hours. Drop.
A Dalit arrives for his wedding wearing a helmet because he is stoned by 15 people who have lined up along the marriage procession. Drop.
A Dalit digs a 40-foot-deep well all by himself because he is denied water by the village. Drop.
A Dalit is flogged. Drop. A Dalit is murdered. Drop. A Dalit’s shadow pollutes a passer-by. Drop.
A Dalit drinks from a separate cup. Drop.
These drops have collected, like they have for centuries, for millennia, but they never made a wave. The making of the wave is conditional upon our standing up to face it. The wave is our catharsis. And that it why is has never formed. We as a nation need to be hit by that wave. This is our moment of Truth, a moment that will define us and our future generations. But is it easy? No. Not at all. In the 1960s, Dr Martin Luther King fought for civil rights, and he got them because they didn’t exist before. But we have the laws, we have the rights – there is no law we can fight for that doesn’t already exist, that doesn’t already promise equality in every shape and size. What, then, must one do? You can fight for freedom that you don’t have; you can fight for laws that don’t exist; but how can you fight for something that is already guaranteed to you by the Constitution? And this is where the solution appears right before our eyes, for it has been provided by staring hard at the question: the absurdity of fighting for rights that already exist.
Crimes against Dalits will never stop just because we have laws to punish those crimes. The solution is to collect the drops, to form a wave, to stand, and to allow it to hit us. The solution is to seek inspiration from a man of Black and white. The solution is to have Dr BR Ambedkar’s books as an essential and binding part of school syllabus; the solution is to have a monthly lecture by a Dalit in every school, in every university, so Indian children get to hear and discuss what they never hear and discuss, at school or at home; the solution is to provide an incentive for a weekly swap of habitat for non-Dalit and Dalit families, in villages across the country; the solution is to have community lunches, feasts, festivals, outings; the solution is provide incentives, monetary or otherwise, for inter-caste marriages. The solution is to feel ashamed at seeing the cataloguing based on caste in matrimonial columns. Two communities can co-exist peacefully, but more often than not, they don’t – human instinct is perfunctorily tribal. For lasting peace, there needs to be just one community. Yes, it may not drive away the bigotry or the prejudice totally, but it is a start, a beginning, something to aspire towards. Vasudaiva kutumbakam.
It is astounding how inspiring and scientifically correct this phrase is. And equally astounding to find the civilization that gave us these magic words no longer believes in it. The solution is cultural. The solution is not religious or political or constitutional. The solution is to realise that we are all Manu’s children even without knowing who Manu was or what he wrote. The solution is catharsis, and catharsis is beautiful. Catharsis is to take pride in being shamed. How has it happened that India, an 8,000 year-old land blessed with so much wisdom, has spouted so much barbarity? Science can explain, through population Genetics, the abrupt stopping of the mixing of the Indian population 2,000 years ago, at the time of the appearance of Manu Smriti. But can Science explain our moral conundrum? Can it nudge us towards our catharsis? No. Science cannot do that. It can only tell us our History. And it has told us in no uncertain terms that we stopped mixing our genes 2,000 years ago. And, separately, it has told us that the mixing of genes lies at the heart of the survival of a species. The more diverse we are, the more successful we will be. There will never be another Ambedkar. But we wait for him.
An army of a billion people waits for one man to guide us, and we do this because we are afraid to form a collective conscience, perhaps because of quasi-religious romanticisation of ekla chalo, walking alone, or of one man paying for all our sins, absolving us. And we forget, we forget that in waiting for a messiah, in refusing to heed the logic of evolution, the survival of a species, we risk a dwindling of our strength, of our army, until it is reduced to one man. And an army reduced to one man is not the same as a one-man army.
To this thesis now, I bring something that is intrinsic. The fearlessness of Ambedkar. The fact that he criticized everyone, and everything, and he did it logically, with a sound rationale, and without being polemical. Something that Mr Arun Shourie could imbibe if he wishes to, if he has the time to get away from the NDTV studios, that is. Here is Ambedkar on Hinduism: The Caste System is in itself a degenerate form of the Chaturvarna, which is the ideal of the Hindu. How can anybody who is not a congenital idiot accept Chaturvarna as the ideal form of society? Hindu philosophy, whether it is Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, or Vaishashika, has moved in its own circle without in any way affecting the Hindu religion. It has never had the courage to challenge this gospel. The Hindu philosophy that everything is Brahma remained only a matter of intellect. It never became a social philosophy. The Hindu philosophers had both their philosophy and their Manu held apart in two hands, the right not knowing what the left had. Hinduism believes in social separation, which is another name for social disunity and even creates social separation. If Hindus wish to be one they will have to discard Hinduism. They cannot be one without violating Hinduism. Hinduism is the greatest obstacle to Hindu Unity. Hinduism cannot create that longing to belong which is the basis of all social unity. On the contrary Hinduism creates an eagerness to separate. Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavors to segregate itself and to distinguish itself from other castes.
It is quite true that Hinduism can adjust itself… It is true that Hinduism can absorb many things… But there is one thing which Hinduism has never been able to do — namely to adjust itself to absorb the Untouchables or to remove the bar of Untouchability. This is what he said on Communism: Why do the Communists condemn the Constitution? Is it because it is really a bad Constitution? I venture to say no. The Communist Party wants a Constitution based upon the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They condemn the Constitution because it is based upon parliamentary democracy. My party will not align with the Communist party for the plain reason that I do not believe in Communism…The Communist Party is mostly a bunch of Brahmin boys. The theory that Communism and free democracy can work together seems to me to be utterly absurd, for Communism is like a forest fire; it goes on burning and consuming like a forest fire; it goes on consuming anything and everything that comes in its way. The Communists say there are only two means of establishing communism. The first is violence. Nothing short of it will suffice to break up the existing system. The other is dictatorship of the proletariat. Nothing short of it will suffice to continue the new system. It is absolutely impossible for me to keep relations with the communists. I am an implacable enemy of the Communists.
This is what he said of Indian Journalism: Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty.
To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible. Indian journalism is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few, and their voice is never heard. Even though Ambedkar wanted state control in an independent India, because Socialism to him that seemed the fastest route to Dalit emancipation, this is what he thought of, on inserting the word Socialism in our Constitution. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organized in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organization of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organization in which they wish to live.
It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organization of society is better than the capitalist organization of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organization which might be better than the socialist organization of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar wanted India to be industrialized. Industrialization of India, he said, and I quote, is the soundest remedy for the agricultural problems of India.
The cumulative effects of industrialisation, namely a lessening pressure (of surplus labour) and an increasing amount of capital and capital goods will forcibly create the economic necessity of enlarging the holding. Not only this, but industrialisation, by destroying the premium on land, will give rise to few occasions for its sub-division and fragmentation. Industrialisation is a natural and powerful remedy…” Now I quote from his party’s manifesto: “The party believes that the fragmentation of holdings and the consequent poverty of the agriculturists are mainly due to the pressure of population on the land, and unless the pressure is relieved by draining off the excess population subsisting on land, fragmentation will continue, and the condition of the agriculturists will remain as poverty-stricken as it is today. In the opinion of the party, the principal means of helping the agriculturists and making agriculture more productive consists in the industrialisation of the province. The party will, therefore, endeavor to rehabilitate old industries and promote such new industries as the natural resources of the provinces will permit… The party accepts the principle of state management and state ownership of industry, whenever it may become necessary in the interests of the people.”
There is also one other subject on which Ambedkar wrote copiously. And it is very strange that our Historians have ignored his writings on this subject if not altogether, then certainly substantially. The subject is Islam. From the Aryans to Aurangzeb, from St Xavier to Shivaji, our historians have chosen what to hide, what to invent, and what to disclose. The singular reason for this is the craving for patronage – of an ideology, a government, an ecosystem, or a clique. And once our historians are done with their contortions, we the readers sit back and enjoy the inevitable fallout – the outing of Hypocrisy. The Left outs the hypocrisy of the Right and the Right outs the hypocrisy of the Left and great column-yards are churned out as a result of such skirmishes. But we forget – outing of hypocrisy is a virtue so long as it doesn’t turn one into a hypocrite. Well, it does; every single time. Villains are made into heroes and heroes into villains. We like it this way. Gandhi, Nehru, Savarkar, Patel – they are to be worshipped; they are to be made into Gods, into Atlases who carry the weight of our ideologies and our biases on the nape of their necks.
History as myth; myth as History. It conforms to what we really are – unsure of our present, fearful of our future. The Right wing doesn’t want to hear anything about Savarkar or Golwalkar that might put them in bad light; the Left-wing doesn’t want to hear anything about Nehru or Namboodiripad that might put them in bad light; and the Velcro Historians don’t want to write anything about anyone that might put them in solitary confinement, away from all light. Fear and trembling, that is what this is, and the whole nation chugs along on this dead yet simmering coal. A journey to nowhere; slow, halting, tiring; until you realize what the grand plan always is – to appropriate. And of all the great men and women we have had the honour to call our own, no one has been more appropriated than Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Ambedkar. A hero for all, the Left and the Right – out of genuine admiration, out of genuine fear.
This is to be expected, for here was a man like no other in modern world history, one who shone like a star with his intellect and understanding. The most un-Indian Indian. Wisdom so frightening and yet so rooted, that it appealed to all. Where he was allowed to, he never put a foot wrong. His writings have that rare quality of timelessness, and his quotes, if quoted anonymously, can be mistaken as comments on contemporary India. Ambedkar has aged well. In this, he stands alone, afar, above. But there is a side to Ambedkar that is not known, spoken, or written, out of fear by those who have appropriated him. Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism, as a religion, as a way of life – call it what you will, everyone is aware of. From his umpteen speeches and numerous scholarly works, we know Ambedkar as someone who fought and exposed the terrible ills of Hinduism, and we applaud him for it. That Ambedkar left Hinduism and converted to Buddhism is in itself a stinging appraisal of the former. Knowing him, nothing more needs to be said as a critique of Hinduism. Such is the trust one can put in the man.
What we don’t know, however, is what he thought of the other great religion of the world – Islam. Because this facet of Ambedkar has been hidden from our general discourse and textbooks, it may come as a surprise to most that Ambedkar thought frequently of Islam and spoke frequently on it. The cold and cruel India of the young Ambedkar, that shaped his views on Hinduism and Hindus – and of which I talked of previously – soon became the cold and cruel India of the old Ambedkar, allowing him, through a study of Islam and Muslims, to make sense of a nation hurtling towards a painful and bloody partition. A distillate of Ambedkar’s thoughts on Islam and Muslims can be found in ‘Pakistan Or The Partition Of India’, a collection of his writings and speeches, first published in 1940, with subsequent editions in 1945 and 1946. It is an astonishing book in its scope and acuity, and reading it one realises why no one talks of it, possessing as it does the potential to turn Ambedkar into an Islamophobic bigot for his worshippers on the Left.
Here, then, is Ambedkar on Islam: “Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast Islam is said to bind people together. This is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”
This scathing indictment by Ambedkar of Islam never finds a mention in our history books. But then this is India – a Hero must not be perceived as a Villain even though the misperception is entirely of our making. Well, we know better; he didn’t mean to say those things about Islam; perhaps he was misguided; let us look at the context; damn, no, that’s not of any help here; tell you what, let us gag him; for the greater good; for communal harmony; for the sake of IPC Section 295A and our peaceful future.
Selective reading of Ambedkar, by which it is meant reading only his damning (and entirely justified) criticism of Hinduism, has led to a prevalent view that only Hinduism is laden with cultural and religious ills. One can see this even today, when the Left and its ideologues point selectively to the social and religious evils pertaining to Hinduism. As a result, someone who isn’t well-versed with India may get the impression that it is only Hinduism and Hindus who are to blame for every ill and intolerance that plagues us. The reality, of course, is that social and religious intolerance runs in our veins, it always has and it always will, for none other than the holy scriptures of all religions have mainstreamed it. It is Ambedkar himself who, presciently and fiercely, points to this hypocrisy. He writes: “The social evils which characterize the Hindu Society, have been well known. The publication of ‘Mother India’ by Miss Mayo gave these evils the widest publicity. But while ‘Mother India’ served the purpose of exposing the evils and calling their authors at the bar of the world to answer for their sins, it created the unfortunate impression throughout the world that while the Hindus were grovelling in the mud of these social evils and were conservative, the Muslims in India were free from them, and as compared to the Hindus, were a progressive people. That, such an impression should prevail, is surprising to those who know the Muslim Society in India at close quarters.”
Ambedkar then proceeds to talk in scathing terms of child-marriage, intolerance, fanatical adherence to faith, the position of women, polygamy, and other such practices prevalent among believers of Islam. On the subject of caste, Ambedkar goes into great detail, and no punches are pulled. “Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans has remained. There can thus be no manner of doubt that the Muslim Society in India is afflicted by the same social evils as afflict the Hindu Society. Indeed, the Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more. That something more is the compulsory system of purdah for Muslim women.
“Those who rightly commend Ambedkar for leaving the fold of Hinduism, never ask why he converted to Buddhism and not Islam. It is because he viewed Islam as no better than Hinduism. And keeping the political and cultural aspects in mind, he had this to say: “Conversion to Islam or Christianity will denationalise the Depressed Classes. If they go to Islam the number of Muslims will be doubled and the danger of Muslim domination also becomes real.” On Muslim politics, Ambedkar is caustic, even scornful. “There is thus a stagnation not only in the social life but also in the political life of the Muslim community of India. The Muslims have no interest in politics as such. Their predominant interest is religion. This can be easily seen by the terms and conditions that a Muslim constituency makes for its support to a candidate fighting for a seat. The Muslim constituency does not care to examine the programme of the candidate. All that the constituency wants from the candidate is that he should agree to replace the old lamps of the masjid by supplying new ones at his cost, to provide a new carpet for the masjid because the old one is torn, or to repair the masjid because it has become dilapidated.
In some places a Muslim constituency is quite satisfied if the candidate agrees to give a sumptuous feast and in other if he agrees to buy votes for so much a piece. With the Muslims, election is a mere matter of money and is very seldom a matter of social programme of general improvement. Muslim politics takes no note of purely secular categories of life, namely, the differences between rich and poor, capital and labour, landlord and tenant, priest and layman, reason and superstition. Muslim politics is essentially clerical and recognizes only one difference, namely, that existing between Hindus and Muslims. None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of the Muslim community and if they do find a place—and they must because they are irrepressible—they are subordinated to one and the only governing principle of the Muslim political universe, namely, religion.”
The psychoanalysis of the Indian Muslim by Ambedkar is unquestionably deeply hurtful to those on the Left who have appropriated him. How they wish he had never written such things. They try their best to dismiss his writings on Islam and Muslims by taking refuge in the time-tested excuse of “context”. That’s right. Whenever text troubles you, rake up its context. Bring in the grey. Except that in the case of Ambedkar, this excuse falls flat. Ambedkar’s views on Islam – in a book with fourteen chapters that deal almost entirely with Muslims, the Muslim psyche, and the Muslim Condition – are stand-alone statements robustly supported with quotes and teachings of scholars, Muslim leaders, and academics. To him these are maxims. He isn’t writing fiction. The context is superfluous; in fact, it is non-existent.
Read the following statements: The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”
If you are hunting for a context to the above statements, you have just outed yourself as a hopeless apologist. Well, you are not alone. Some of India’s most celebrated hagiographers, commentators, writers, and columnists, that include Ramachandra Guha and Arundhati Roy – both of whom have written copiously on Ambedkar, through stand-alone chapters or books (The Doctor and the Saint; India after Gandhi; Democrats and Dissenters; Makers of Modern India) – are conspicuously silent on Ambedkar’s views on Islam and the Muslim psyche. Clearly, this is a story the apologists do not want to tell.
The one thing Ambedkar was not, was an apologist. On the allegiance of a Muslim to his motherland [India], Ambedkar writes: “Among the tenets one that calls for notice is the tenet of Islam which says that in a country which is not under Muslim rule, wherever there is a conflict between Muslim law and the law of the land, the former must prevail over the latter, and a Muslim will be justified in obeying the Muslim law and defying the law of the land.” Quoting the following: “The only allegiance a Musalman, whether civilian or soldier, whether living under a Muslim or under a non-Muslim administration, is commanded by the Koran to acknowledge is his allegiance to God, to his Prophet and to those in authority from among the Musalmans…”
Ambedkar adds: “This must make anyone wishing for a stable government very apprehensive. But this is nothing to the Muslim tenets which prescribe when a country is a motherland to the Muslim and when it is not…According to Muslim Canon Law the world is divided into two camps, Dar-ul-lslam (abode of Islam), and Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war). A country is Dar-ul-lslam when it is ruled by Muslims. A country is Dar-ul-Harb when Muslims only reside in it but are not rulers of it. That being the Canon Law of the Muslims, India cannot be the common motherland of the Hindus and the Musalmans. It can be the land of the Musalmans—but it cannot be the land of the ‘Hindus and the Musalmans living as equals.’ Further, it can be the land of the Musalmans only when it is governed by the Muslims. The moment the land becomes subject to the authority of a non-Muslim power, it ceases to be the land of the Muslims. Instead of being Dar-ul-lslam it becomes Dar-ul-Harb. “It must not be supposed that this view is only of academic interest. For it is capable of becoming an active force capable of influencing the conduct of the Muslims…It might also be mentioned that Hijrat [emigration] is not the only way of escape to Muslims who find themselves in a Dar-ul-Harb. There is another injunction of Muslim Canon Law called Jihad (crusade) by which it becomes “incumbent on a Muslim ruler to extend the rule of Islam until the whole world shall have been brought under its sway. The world, being divided into two camps, Dar-ul-lslam (abode of Islam), Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war), all countries come under one category or the other. Technically, it is the duty of the Muslim ruler, who is capable of doing so, to transform Dar-ul-Harb into Dar-ul-lslam.” And just as there are instances of the Muslims in India resorting to Hijrat, there are instances showing that they have not hesitated to proclaim Jihad.”
On a Muslim respecting authority of an elected government, Ambedkar writes: “Willingness to render obedience to the authority of the government is as essential for the stability of government as the unity of political parties on the fundamentals of the state. It is impossible for any sane person to question the importance of obedience in the maintenance of the state. To believe in civil disobedience is to believe in anarchy… How far will Muslims obey the authority of a government manned and controlled by the Hindus? The answer to this question need not call for much inquiry.” This view isn’t much different from the views of Jinnah and the Muslim League. Indeed, in the then prevailing climate, engineered or otherwise, these views could be seen as legitimate from the point of view of an anxious minority. However, the reason that Ambedkar gives for this predilection is not at all political but, rather startlingly, religious.
He writes: “To the Muslims a Hindu is a Kaffir. A Kaffir is not worthy of respect. He is low-born and without status. That is why a country which is ruled by a Kaffir is Dar-ul-Harb to a Musalman. Given this, no further evidence seems to be necessary to prove that the Muslims will not obey a Hindu government. The basic feelings of deference and sympathy, which predispose persons to obey the authority of government, do not simply exist. But if proof is wanted, there is no dearth of it. It is so abundant that the problem is what to tender and what to omit… In the midst of the Khilafat agitation, when the Hindus were doing so much to help the Musalmans, the Muslims did not forget that as compared with them the Hindus were a low and an inferior race.”
Ambedkar isn’t done yet. On the lack of reforms in the Muslim community, he writes: “What can that special reason be? It seems to me that the reason for the absence of the spirit of change in the Indian Musalman is to be sought in the peculiar position he occupies in India. He is placed in a social environment which is predominantly Hindu. That Hindu environment is always silently but surely encroaching upon him. He feels that it is demusalmanazing him. As a protection against this gradual weaning away he is led to insist on preserving everything that is Islamic without caring to examine whether it is helpful or harmful to his society. Secondly, the Muslims in India are placed in a political environment which is also predominantly Hindu. He feels that he will be suppressed, and that political suppression will make the Muslims a depressed class. It is this consciousness that he has to save himself from being submerged by the Hindus socially and-politically, which to my mind is the primary cause why the Indian Muslims as compared with their fellows outside are backward in the matter of social reform. “Their energies are directed to maintaining a constant struggle against the Hindus for seats and posts in which there is no time, no thought and no room for questions relating to social reform. And if there is any, it is all overweighed and suppressed by the desire, generated by pressure of communal tension, to close the ranks and offer a united front to the menace of the Hindus and Hinduism by maintaining their socio-religious unity at any cost.
The same is the explanation of the political stagnation in the Muslim community of India. “Muslim politicians do not recognize secular categories of life as the basis of their politics because to them it means the weakening of the community in its fight against the Hindus. The poor Muslims will not join the poor Hindus to get justice from the rich. Muslim tenants will not join Hindu tenants to prevent the tyranny of the landlord. Muslim labourers will not join Hindu labourers in the fight of labour against capital. Why? The answer is simple. The poor Muslim sees that if he joins in the fight of the poor against the rich, he may be fighting against a rich Muslim. The Muslim tenant feels that if he joins in the campaign against the landlord, he may have to fight against a Muslim landlord. A Muslim labourer feels that if he joins in the onslaught of labour against capital, he will be injuring a Muslim mill-owner. He is conscious that any injury to a rich Muslim, to a Muslim landlord or to a Muslim mill-owner, is a disservice to the Muslim community, for it is thereby weakened in its struggle against the Hindu community.”
Then, Ambedkar writes something that would surely confirm him as a certified Islamophobe and a bigot in the jaundiced eyes of those who have appropriated him.
“How Muslim politics has become perverted is shown by the attitude of the Muslim leaders to the political reforms in the Indian States. The Muslims and their leaders carried on a great agitation for the introduction of representative government in the Hindu State of Kashmir. The same Muslims and their leaders are deadly opposed to the introduction of representative governments in other Muslim States. The reason for this strange attitude is quite simple. In all matters, the determining question with the Muslims is how it will affect the Muslims vis-a-vis the Hindus. If representative government can help the Muslims, they will demand it, and fight for it. In the State of Kashmir, the ruler is a Hindu, but the majority of the subjects are Muslims. The Muslims fought for representative government in Kashmir, because representative government in Kashmir meant the transfer of power from a Hindu king to the Muslim masses. In other Muslim States, the ruler is a Muslim, but the majority of his subjects are Hindus. In such States representative government means the transfer of power from a Muslim ruler to the Hindu masses, and that is why the Muslims support the introduction of representative government in one case and oppose it in the other. The dominating consideration with the Muslims is not democracy. The dominating consideration is how democracy with majority rule will affect the Muslims in their struggle against the Hindus. Will it strengthen them, or will it weaken them? If democracy weakens them, they will not have democracy. They will prefer the rotten state to continue in the Muslim States rather than weaken the Muslim ruler in his hold upon his Hindu subjects. The political and social stagnation in the Muslim community can be explained by one and only one reason. The Muslims think that the Hindus and Muslims must perpetually struggle; the Hindus to establish their dominance over the Muslims and the Muslims to establish their historical position as the ruling community—that in this struggle the strong will win, and to ensure strength they must suppress or put in cold storage everything which causes dissension in their ranks. If the Muslims in other countries have undertaken the task of reforming their society and the Muslims of India have refused to do so, it is because the former are free from communal and political clashes with rival communities, while the latter are not.” History for us is either to be hidden or invented. We tell and retell what we like of it, and of what we don’t, we scrunch it up and slip it under the mattress, and then perch ourselves cross-legged over it to retell a little more. We are born storytellers. A lap and a head is all we need. As for truth? Well, it is not there; it vanished from view; and so it never happened. But it did happen. Ambedkar did say these things on Islam and Indian Muslims. In doing so, he gave a choice to us, for he knew us only too well. We could either discuss his views on Islam openly like we do his views on Hinduism, or we could scrunch them up like a plastic bag and slip it under our mattress. He did not live long enough to witness the option that we chose but being the seer that he was he had an inkling.
As a preface to his book, he wrote: “I am not sorry for this reception given to my book. That it is disowned by the Hindus and unowned by the Muslims is to me the best evidence that it has the vices of neither, and that from the point of view of independence of thought and fearless presentation of facts the book is not a party production. Some people are sore because what I have said has hurt them. I have not, I confess, allowed myself to be influenced by fears of wounding either individuals or classes, or shocking opinions however respectable they may be. I have often felt regret in pursuing this course, but remorse never. “It might be said that in tendering advice to both sides, I have used terms more passionate than they need have been. If I have done so it is because I felt that the manner of the physician who tries to surprise the vital principle in each paralyzed organ in order to goad it to action was best suited to stir up the average Indian who is complacent if not somnolent, who is unsuspecting if not ill-informed, to realize what is happening. I hope my effort will have the desired effect.” What words. What beautiful, forceful, tender words.
Here was Ambedkar, trying to goad us as a physician would paralysed organs. But he misjudged us. We remain fearful, indifferent, paralysed. Nations that fear their past, fear their future, and fearful nations worship, never follow its great men and women. Ambedkar is no exception. There is no other way of saying this. Mahatma Gandhi was frightened of Ambedkar’s intellect. We have all been there before, trying to hold our icy core before an adversary armed with a blowtorch – that awful, gut-wrenching moment when he smirks and decides not to embarrass you with the truth, that you were found wanting, that you have been defeated. Defeated, some retreat into humility, others into hubris. Gandhi chose the latter. Ultimately, greatness is judged not by how right you were but, rather, how wrong. Gandhi got it wrong more times than Ambedkar got it right, which was, in this author’s opinion, almost always.
Gandhi was a kind man, he was a good man, and therefore fallible. He was prone to vanity and narcissism. Ambedkar wasn’t. He wasn’t because every single day of his life he was made aware of the fact that the mediocre have inherited the Earth and control it. And on days he wasn’t made to feel worthless, his worth was patronised. Nothing came easy to Ambedkar, least of all his genius. Granted, comparisons between great men are odious at best, but in the numerous interactions he had with Ambedkar, Gandhi comes across as a sophomore arguing with his dean – sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes a playground bully, unsure and therefore disposed to bouts of arrogance; and then, as the last throw of dice, couching his ignorance with borrowed theological wisdom because it was underwritten by those as ignorant as him. These are not charitable words, but then an assessment of Gandhi is rarely charitable if it is to be ruthlessly objective. And who else but Ambedkar to have assessed Gandhi like no one ever dared to before or after him. Gandhi was not a liberal – his beliefs on societal structure, on economy, on a concept-state, on what Indians should eat or drink, would make even the most ardent of conservative’s blush.
His theories were based less on logic and more on a bizarre sense of faith-based entitlement that can only be described as an inseparable emulsion of homeopathy and spirituality. Gandhi was an intelligent and cunning god-man. He was made for India. He held her pulse, pumped her heart. Ambedkar, on the other hand, was the only true liberal this nation has produced in the last many centuries. Gandhi was a theologian pretending to be a politician; Ambedkar, a supreme scholar. Gandhi was a Social Darwinian; Ambedkar, a Darwinian. Gandhi said he would not “weep over the disappearance of machinery”; Ambedkar wanted an industrialized India. Gandhi could have ruled independent India had he chosen to for as long as he wanted; Ambedkar lost an election by some margin. Twice. Gandhi saw the village as India’s liberator; Ambedkar called it a cesspool and a den of ignorance. Gandhi’s self-confidence was buttressed by the blind devotion of his countless followers; Ambedkar’s stemmed from his ability to speak his mind, stand all by himself, and appease no one. Gandhi had an army of men; Ambedkar was a one-man army. Ambedkar saw through Gandhi. Worse, the Mahatma gauged this, but, like a stunned ostrich, pretended to hold fort, employing as bulwarks his minions who were also petrified of Ambedkar’s intellect. India has forever been a land of such tragedies. The one who truly was a Mahatma fought a man pretending to be one and lost. But he went down fighting. And how. That Gandhi was dealing with a different kind of man should have become obvious to him after their very first formal extended meeting.
The conversation, which took place on 14 August 1931, has been recorded for posterity and is revealing beyond measure.
“Gandhi: I understand that you have got some grievances against the Congress and me. I may tell you that I have been thinking over the problem of Untouchables ever since my school days – when you were not even born.
Ambedkar: It is true, Mahatmaji, that you started to think about the problem of Untouchables before I was born. All old and elderly persons always like to emphasize the point of age.” Gandhi 0, Ambedkar 1.
“Gandhi: The Congress has spent not less than rupees twenty lakhs on the uplift of the Untouchables.
Ambedkar: The Congress is not sincere about its professions. Had it been, it would have surely made the removal of Untouchability a condition, like the wearing of khaddar, for becoming a member of the Congress. No person who did not employ untouchable women or men in his house, or rear up an untouchable student, or take food at home with an untouchable student at least once a week, should have been allowed to be a member of the Congress. Had there been such a condition, you could have avoided the ridiculous sight where the President of the District Congress Committee was seen opposing the temple entry of the Untouchables. You might say that Congress lacked strength and therefore it was unwise to lay down such a condition. Then my point is that Congress cares more for strength than for principles. This is my charge against you and the Congress. You say the British Government does not show a change of heart. I also say that the Hindus have not shown a change of heart in regard to our problem, and so long as they remain adamant, we would believe neither the Congress nor the Hindus. We believe in self-help and self-respect.
Gandhi: It is really surprising that men like you should offer opposition to me and to the Congress.
Ambedkar: We are not prepared to have faith in great leaders and Mahatmas. Let me be brutally frank about it. History tells that Mahatmas, like fleeting phantoms, raise dust, but raise no level.”
It would be wrong to suggest that Ambedkar hated Gandhi. Hate cannot cloud the judgment of a man as rational and detached as Ambedkar, for if it did, he would no longer be the guardian of these virtues. What Ambedkar employed, instead, was logic, through which, slowly, methodically, year on year, decade on decade, he dismantled Gandhi’s sainthood. There was no hate involved, just the brute force of reasoning and judgment. Ambedkar was unsparing and unyielding, and the Mahatma was only too glad to oblige.
When the Great War ended with the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire, Gandhi persuaded the Congress to support the Khilafat Movement – a violent agitation for restoration of the Islamic Caliphate deposed by the victorious British. Before long, he pinched his nose and plunged into the murky waters of religious appeasement and terror rationalisation in the wake of the ghastly anti-Hindu violence perpetrated by the Malabar Muslims (Moplahs) in 1921.
Ambedkar, who saw Gandhi’s advocacy of the Khilafat Movement as a pernicious political stunt (“The movement was started by the Muslims. It was taken up by Mr Gandhi with a tenacity and faith which must have surprised many Muslims themselves.”), viewed the Moplah rebellion as nothing but jihad. The Muslim agitators, he said, “preached the doctrine that India under the British Government was Dar-ul-Harab [The Abode of War; a place where the Muslims are not in power] and that the Muslims must fight against it and if they could not, they must carry out the alternative principle of Hijrat”. Ambedkar continued, pulling no punches. “The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British Government. Knives, swords and spears were secretly manufactured, bands of desperadoes collected for an attack on British authority. On 20th August a severe encounter took place between the Moplahs and the British forces at Pinmangadi. Roads were blocked, telegraph lines cut, and the railway destroyed in a number of places.
As soon as the administration had been paralysed, the Moplahs declared that Swaraj had been established. A certain Ali Mudaliar was proclaimed Raja, Khilafat flags were flown, and Ernad and Walluvanade were declared Khilafat Kingdoms. As a rebellion against the British Government it was quite understandable. But what baffled most was the treatment accorded by the Moplahs to the Hindus of Malabar. The Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of the Moplahs. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction – in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by the Moplahs upon the Hindus until such time as troops could be hurried to the task of restoring order through a difficult and extensive tract of the country. This was not a Hindu-Moslem riot. This was just a Bartholomew [reference to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572].”
To Ambedkar’s horror, Gandhi laid the blame squarely on the Hindus. “Hindus,” said the Mahatma, “must find out the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. They have either treated him as a serf or dreaded him. They have not treated him as a friend and neighbor, to be reformed and respected. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or the Muslims in general.”
If such rationalisation wasn’t unpleasant enough, Gandhi went further, blaming everyone else for the Moplah barbarity but the Moplahs themselves. “The Government has thoroughly exploited the Moplahs’ madness,” he said. “They have punished the entire Moplah community for the madness of a few individuals and have incited the Hindus by exaggerating the facts. Malabar Hindus, like the Moplahs, are an excitable people and the Government has incited them against the latter.” The outbreak, said Gandhi, “would not have taken place if the Collector had consulted the religious sentiment of the Moplahs”.
That religious sentiment, as analyzed by Ambedkar, was jihad. Indeed, Muslim leaders themselves agreed with Ambedkar. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the eulogized freedom fighter and a friend of the Mahatma, and one who had coined the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad”, justified the massacre of Hindus by saying that this was Islamic jihad and that according to the rules of jihad, those who help the enemy become enemies themselves. Shockingly, Gandhi was conciliatory towards the Maulana. “I do not blame the Maulana. He looks upon the British Government as an enemy. He would defend anything done in fighting it. He thinks that there is much untruth in what is being said against the Moplahs and he is, therefore, not prepared to see their error. I believe that this is his narrowness, but it should not hurt the Hindus. The Maulana speaks what is in his mind. He is an honest and courageous man. All know that he has no ill will against the Hindus.” “In spite of his amazingly crude views about religion,” said Gandhi, “there is no greater nationalist nor a greater lover of Hindu-Muslim unity than the Maulana”.
So here was Gandhi, a Hindu, schooling a Maulana on Islam. He wasn’t done yet. He transmogrified next into a Maulana himself, quibbling on Islamic sanctions just so he could venture into the minds of the men who Ambedkar had called barbarians and rationalise their barbarity. “Their [the Moplahs’] notions of Islam were of a very crude type,” claimed the Mahatma. “Forcible conversions are horrible things,” counselled Gandhi. “But Moplah bravery must command admiration. These Malabaris are not fighting for the love of it. They are fighting for what they consider is their Religion and in the manner, they consider is religious.”
Then came the cruellest of blows – a plea to the Hindus to rationalise the bloodbath by taking recourse in dharma. “Even if one side is firm in doing its dharma,” said Gandhi, “there will be no enmity between the two. He alone may be said to be firm in his dharma who trusts his safety to God and, untroubled by anxiety, follows the path of virtue. If Hindus apply this rule to the Moplah affair, they will not, even when they see the error of the Moplahs, accuse the Muslims.” “I see nothing impossible in asking the Hindus to develop courage and strength to die before accepting forced conversion,” preached the saint.
“I was delighted to be told that there were Hindus who did prefer the Moplah hatchet to forced conversion.” “Even so is, it more necessary for a Hindu to love the Moplah and the Muslim more, when the latter is likely to injure him or has already injured him.” “Why should a single Hindu have run away on account of the Moplahs’ atrocities?”
This was sheer lunacy. The Mahatma was beseeching the Hindus to hold their ground even as they were being hunted down and butchered. One could quote more, much more, of this utterly reprehensible apologia from the Mahatma’s playbook were it not so tormenting. Of little comfort is the fact that the saint continued to hold such views despite condemnation by men like Ambedkar.
Decades later, while preaching to those affected by the pre-partition Hindu-Muslim violence, he said: “Hindus should not harbour anger in their hearts against Muslims even if the latter wanted to destroy them. Even if the Muslims want to kill us all we should face death bravely. If they established their rule after killing Hindus we would be ushering in a new world by sacrificing our lives. None should fear death. Birth and death are inevitable for every human being. Why should we then rejoice or grieve? If we die with a smile we shall enter into a new life, we shall be ushering in a new India.”
Ambedkar was incensed at Gandhi’s selectivity, more so of his stand on the Moplah Massacre. “Mr Gandhi has never called the Muslims to account even when they have been guilty of gross crimes against Hindus,” said Ambedkar. “Mr Gandhi has never protested against such murders [of prominent Hindus like Swami Shradhanand, Rajpal, Nathuramal Sharma]. Not only have the Muslims not condemned these outrages but even Mr Gandhi has never called upon the leading Muslims to condemn them. He has kept silent over them. Such an attitude can be explained only on the ground that Mr Gandhi was anxious to preserve Hindu-Moslem unity and did not mind the murders of a few Hindus, if it could be achieved by sacrificing their lives.”
Ambedkar next turned to Gandhi’s behaviour during the Moplah Massacre, a pogrom he had condemned in the strongest of terms earlier. “This attitude to excuse the Muslims any wrong, lest it should injure the cause of unity, is well illustrated by what Mr Gandhi had to say in the matter of the Moplah riots. The blood-curdling atrocities committed by the Moplahs in Malabar against the Hindus were indescribable. All over Southern India, a wave of horrified feeling had spread among the Hindus of every shade of opinion, which was intensified when certain Khilafat leaders were so misguided as to pass resolutions of ‘congratulations to the Moplahs on the brave fight they were conducting for the sake of religion’. Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of the Moplahs and the Khilafats who were congratulating them. He spoke of the Moplahs as the ‘brave God-fearing Moplahs who were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious’.”
Another incident around the same time brought to light the differences between Ambedkar and Gandhi, underscoring further the gap that exists between objectivity and selectivity, and how the latter is used to devastating effect in politics. It was the publication of a pamphlet called Rangila Rasool, written as a retaliation for Sita ka Chhinala, a book penned by a Muslim that claimed Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, was a prostitute. Ambedkar stood for Mahashe Rajpal, the publisher of the pamphlet who was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic, Ilm-ud-din, this while Muhammad Ali Jinnah defended Ilm-ud-din in court, and none other than Allama Iqbal carried Ilm-ud-din’s coffin at the funeral.
Ambedkar was outraged at what was done to Rajpal; Gandhi was outraged at what Rajpal did. “I am no defender of the author of Rangila Rasool,” said Gandhi, adding that the book gave him “deep pain”. He called the book offensive and its author a mischief-maker. He wanted the law changed. The law changed. In came the dreaded IPC section 295a, calling for punishing those who “hurt religious sensibilities”, and the India of the kind Ambedkar had imagined, an India proclaiming liberty and freedom of expression, changed forever. For the worse.
The dismantling of Gandhi’s sainthood by Ambedkar took a decisive turn in the late 1920s. It is revealing that of the 98 weighty volumes that make up the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar’s name doesn’t figure till the fifty-third. From then on, there is a veritable Cambrian Explosion and Ambedkar features regularly and copiously – the buildup to the Poona Pact, the Temple Entry Bill, the state of the so-called Depressed Classes and, tellingly, Gandhi’s anxiety that Ambedkar, and not he, was the true representative of Dalits.
Gandhi couldn’t stomach the rise of Ambedkar. Time and time again, he tries to show Ambedkar his place, is patronising to the extreme, displays uncharacteristic rudeness, and gets into banal contests as to who truly represented Dalits. And right through their duels, one cannot help but imagine Ambedkar eyeing the Mahatma with a wry smile while steaming his glasses and massaging them with his tie-end. The battle was over even before it had begun. Here is Gandhi, bristling with unease and envy. “I repudiate his [Ambedkar’s] claim to represent them [Depressed Classes]. I am the representative of the depressed classes. Get a mandate and I may not be elected but Ambedkar cannot be returned.” What Gandhi blurted out was true. He not only would have been elected, he would have been elected with a thumping majority, and on any seat he wished to contest. India was eating out of his hands. Ambedkar, on the other hand, would have forfeited his deposit. He lost two elections that he later contested. Fame and foresight are rarely bedfellows.
The Mahatma, meanwhile, was relentless. It was almost as though he was canvassing door-to-door. “I am speaking with a due sense of responsibility, and I say that it is not a proper claim which is registered by Dr Ambedkar when he seeks to speak for the whole of the untouchables of India.” When a delegation of Dalits asked him, “To what extent can we consider you as our man,” Gandhi replied, “Since before Ambedkar was born, I have been your man.” And here is Gandhi displaying cringe-worthy condescension when confronted on the subject of ‘temple entry’ by a cool and collected Ambedkar: “When you use derogatory and angry words for me, I tell myself that I deserved that. I will not get angry even if you spit on my face. I say this with God as witness. I know that you have drunk deep of the poisoned cup. However, I make a claim that will seem astounding to you. You are born an untouchable, but I am an untouchable by adoption. And as a new convert I feel more for the welfare of the community than those who are already there.”
Ambedkar was beginning to get used to such patronising fluff. “I have no interest in the temples being thrown open to us,” he told Gandhi. Things came to a head on the subject of untouchability, caste, and varna. Ambedkar’s views were well-known. He had honed them through decades of studying Hinduism. His thoughts weren’t meant to win political battles, but, rather, philosophical, even existential ones. The scholarship was astounding, as also seen later in The Annihilation of Caste and the Ranade Speech; each word a distillate of thoughtful reflection, each quote an exposition of philosophical depth. Gandhi stood no chance. “The outcaste is a by-product of the caste system,” Ambedkar told Gandhi. “There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system. Nothing can help to save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu faith of this odious and vicious dogma.”
The Mahatma’s responses exposed him wholly for what he was – an unintentional casteist bigot. “I do not believe the caste system, even as distinguished from Varnashrama, to be an odious and vicious dogma,” he asserted. “It has its limitations and its defects, but there is nothing sinful about it as there is about untouchability, and, if it is a by-product of the caste system it is only in the same sense that an ugly growth is of a body, or weeds of a crop. It is as wrong to destroy caste because of the outcastes as it would be to destroy a body because of an ugly growth in it, or a crop because of the weeds.” As for casual casteism, he spoke of Ambedkar thus, thinking he was giving Ambedkar a compliment: “His exterior is as clean as that of the cleanest and the proudest Brahmin.”
When asked by a Dalit delegation about his views on the varna system, Gandhi replied: “All occupations should be hereditary. Millions of people are not going to become Prime Ministers and Viceroys.” There was nothing sinful about the caste system. It was not a vicious dogma. It was wrong to destroy it. Said the father of our nation. 40 Indeed. Millions of people are not going to become prime ministers. A chaiwallah must remain a chaiwalah and his progeny must carry forward the family tradition of pouring a steaming cup of milk tea in a kullarh without spilling a drop.
Gandhi was an ardent, almost militant supporter of the caste system, not just early on in his life (when one could be forgiven for subscribing to uninformed opinions) but well into his mature political and spiritual avatar. “I believe that if Hindu Society has been able to stand it is because it is founded on the caste system,” he declared as late as 1921, by which time he had already anointed himself as the saviour of Dalits. “The seeds of Swaraj are to be found in the caste system. Different castes are like different sections of military division. Each division is working for the good of the whole. A community that can create the caste system must be said to possess unique power of organisation. Caste has a ready-made means for spreading primary education.
Every caste can take the responsibility for the education of the children of the Caste. Caste has a political basis. It can work as an electorate for a representative body. Caste can perform judicial functions by electing persons to act as judges to decide disputes among members of the same caste. With castes it is easy to raise a defence force by requiring each caste to raise a brigade. I believe that inter-dining or intermarriage are not necessary for promoting national unity. Taking food is as dirty an act as answering the call of nature. The only difference is that after answering call of nature we get peace while after eating food we get discomfort. Just as we perform the act of answering the call of nature in seclusion so also the act of taking food must also be done in seclusion. To destroy caste system and adopt Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation, which is the soul of the caste system. Hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder. I have no use for a Brahmin if I cannot call him a Brahmin for my life. It will be chaos if every day a Brahmin is to be changed into a Shudra and a Shudra is to be changed into a Brahmin. The caste system is the natural order of society. I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the Caste System.”
A few years down the line, Gandhi watered down his love for the caste system a little (without abandoning it) and bestowed his tenderness, instead, on the varna system. Except that now his views became even more bizarre and bigoted. “I believe that the divisions into Varna is based on birth,” he asserted. “There is nothing in the Varna system which stands in the way of the Shudra acquiring learning or studying military art of offence or defense. The Varna system is no bar to him. What the Varna system enjoins is that a Shudra will not make learning a way of earning a living. There is no harm if a person belonging to one Varna acquires the knowledge or science and art specialized in by persons belonging to other varnas. But as far as the way of earning his living is concerned, he must follow the occupation of the Varna to which he belongs which means he must follow the hereditary profession of his forefathers. The object of the Varna system is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war. I believe in the Varna system because it fixes the duties and occupations of persons. Varna means the determination of a man’s occupation before he is born. In the Varna system no man has any liberty to choose his occupation. His occupation is determined for him by heredity.” These, then, were the views of the self-anointed Redeemer of Dalits – that a Shudra could gain and dispense knowledge, fight in a war, do business, but he must earn his living through serving others. Reading, fighting, and doing business were to be his hobbies, nothing more.
One cannot but appreciate the herculean restraint Ambedkar would have had to exercise in the face of such theories. Gandhi had become the supreme test for ahimsa (non-violence) himself. There was no way out. The Mahatma just wouldn’t admit he could be wrong, that he was building a house of cards while tormented by a sneezing fit. Sadly, his crude, unscholarly churnings only increased in their ferocity and obstinacy with time, even as he could see he was on thin ice. Hereditary Varnashrama-dharma was Hinduism’s greatest gift to mankind, he said, while what Ambedkar desires, he complained, “is complete destruction of Varnashrama-dharma of his imagination. Varnashrama to him means the essence of superiority and inferiority. I admit that today Varnashrama does mean that, if it also means much more, but the evil of high-and-low-ness is represented by untouchability. When, therefore, the latter is demolished, Varnashrama will be purged of the very thing for which Dr Ambedkar abhors it.”
This was nonsense, and Ambedkar told him as much. “I shall have nothing to do with Varnashrama that would keep me and mine forever at the bottom of the social scale.” On caste and the cruelty of it, Ambedkar’s masterpiece, The Annihilation of Caste, remains unsurpassed in its literary distinction and sheer raw energy. It has the power to move mountains. But not saints. “I have questioned the authority of the Mahatma whom they revere,” says Ambedkar of his invitees in the opening pages of The Annihilation. “They hate me,” he laments. They hated him, alright. His invite was cancelled at the last moment. Step by step, page by page, Ambedkar lays out in astonishing detail the evil nature of the caste system and the ambivalence in Hinduism that propagated and preserved it.
Next, he turns to the varna system and demolishes its logic with stunning analytical precision, while emphasizing that “destroying Caste would not destroy Hinduism”. It is the work of a scientist-philosopher. Never has clarity of thought jumped out from every paragraph, every sentence, so effortlessly. Ambedkar understood, experienced, and witnessed that the varna system was inherently and irrevocably intertwined with the caste system. Only a congenital idiot would believe in the Chaturvarna as an ideal form of society, he once said. “The names Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra are names which are associated with a definite and fixed notion in the mind of every Hindu. That notion is that of a hierarchy based on birth. So long as these names continue, Hindus will continue to think of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra as hierarchical divisions of high and low, based on birth, and to act accordingly. The Hindu must be made to unlearn all this. But how can this happen, if the old labels remain, and continue to recall to his mind old notions? If new notions are to be inculcated in the minds of people, it is necessary to give them new names. To continue the old names is to make the reform futile. To allow this Chaturvarnya based on worth to be designated by such stinking labels as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, indicative of social divisions based on birth, is a snare.”
What Ambedkar says next is crucial for understanding the intertwining of the varna and the caste, a point missed by some who support the varna and not the caste, or others like Gandhi who support both the varna and the caste. “Chaturvarnya is based on worth. How are you going to compel people who have acquired a higher status based on birth, without reference to their worth, to vacate that status? How are you going to compel people to recognize the status due to a man, in accordance with his worth, who is occupying a lower status based on his birth? For this, you must first break up the Caste System, in order to be able to establish the Chaturvarnya system. How are you going to reduce the four thousand castes, based on birth, to the four Varnas, based on worth? This is the first difficulty that the protagonists of the Chaturvarnya must grapple with. Modern science has shown that the lumping together of individuals into a few sharply-marked-off classes is a superficial view of man, not worthy of serious consideration. Consequently, the utilization of the qualities of individuals is incompatible with their stratification by classes, since the qualities of individuals are so variable. Chaturvarnya must fail for the very reason for which Plato’s Republic must fail – namely, that it is not possible to pigeonhole men, according as they belong to one class or the other. That it is impossible to accurately classify people into four definite classes is proved by the fact that the original four classes have now become four thousand castes.”
Gandhi, true to his nature, hung on till his last in claiming there was a distinction between varna and caste, even though to him both were hereditary cohorts. No amount of brilliant, methodical, and detailed reasoning provided by Ambedkar could convince him to think otherwise. Gandhi’s rebuttal to The Annihilation of Caste was predictable and lacking in intellectual depth. “Dr Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism,” began Gandhi, and then tried to counter Ambedkar’s arguments on the need for forgoing caste and forgetting varna. It was secluded and patronising in tone. Ambedkar rebutted Gandhi’s rebuttal. “I am not in the habit of entering into controversy with my opponents unless there are special reasons which compel me to act otherwise. Had my opponent been some mean and obscure person, I would not have pursued him. But my opponent being the Mahatma himself, I feel I must attempt to meet the case to the contrary which he has sought to put forth.”
Yet again, Ambedkar was forced to channel all his energies into countering Gandhi, and yet again he did it with precision and aplomb, ending with words that continue to resonate long after they have been read. “The Hindus, in the words of Matthew Arnold, are wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. What are they to do? The Mahatma to whom they appeal for guidance does not believe in thinking and can therefore give no guidance that can be said to stand the test of experience. The intellectual classes to whom the masses look for guidance are either too dishonest or too indifferent to educate them in the right direction. We are indeed witnesses to a great tragedy. In the face of this tragedy all one can do is to lament and say – such are thy Leaders, O Hindus!”
Ambedkar’s dismantling of the Mahatma was not linear or chronological in the sense that his rebuttals and critiques were not always immediate follow-up responses to Gandhi’s arguments. But Ambedkar made sure he never missed an opportunity to critique them in the strongest possible terms even if years had lapsed since they were uttered. And it is then that one realises what Ambedkar was up to. He was preparing for posterity an enormous counter-balance resource against someone who, he knew only too well, was soon going to make the jump from a Mahatma to a deity, the keeper of truth and purity of thought, a messiah who could not err. The entire world would fall at this apostle’s feet and any criticism of him would soon be considered blasphemous. Ambedkar was preparing us for that day. He even wrote a big fat book and titled it What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables with chapter headings that were self-explanatory: ‘Beware of Mr Gandhi’; ‘Gandhism: The Doom of the Untouchables’. ‘Beware of Mr Gandhi’ contains 14,075 words and each one of them speaks a thousand pictures.
Ambedkar, as was his nature, charts out in piercing detail Gandhi’s political timeline beginning 1894, demonstrating beyond doubt that Gandhi was a fraud when it came to the Dalit cause. In the next chapter, ‘Gandhism: The Doom of the Untouchables’, Ambedkar unwearyingly peels away all vestiges of Gandhi’s remaining credibility and his principles, leaving the reader breathless. From caste to varna to economy to hamlet utopia to industrialisation to class war to coercion to starvation blackmails to appeasement – the point-by-point exposé is unnerving, to say the least. Stop, Babasaheb, stop for the love of god, cries the reader; this is our Mahatma you are taking on, the great soul, the father of our nation, the saint who adorns our currency notes, the apostle who cannot be faulted. Stop, Babasaheb, I beg of you.
What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables is one spectacular demolition of Mahatma Gandhi, just as The Annihilation of Caste was of the proponents of varna and the caste system. Indeed, it could so easily have been titled ‘The Annihilation of Gandhi’. Some claim that the Congress banned this book, although one could find no evidence of this. In any case, very few know of its existence and even fewer have read it. Just as well because after absorbing its contents chapter and verse, one is forced to reflect on who really was this man we call ‘Mahatma’ and the father of our nation. Ambedkar had, of course, reflected on this very question for decades.
In a rare radio interview to the BBC one year before his death, he explained the duplicitous core of the Mahatma with chilling lucidity. “I knew Gandhi better than most people because he opened his real fangs to me, and I could see the inside of the man. Gandhi was all the time double dealing. He ran a paper in English and another in Gujarati, and if you read them both you will see how he was deceiving the people. In the English paper he posed himself as an opponent of the caste system and of untouchability and that he was a democrat, while in the Gujarati one he supported the caste system and professed all the orthodox dogmas that have kept India down all through the ages. Someone ought to write his biography by making a comparative study of the statements he made in these papers. The West reads only the English paper. Gandhi never wanted real upliftment of the Dalits. All he cared about were issues of absolutely no consequence to us like temple entry. Gandhi was never a reformer.”
“However strong and however filthy be the abuses that the Congress Press chooses to shower on me,” said Ambedkar once, “I must do my duty. I am no worshipper of idols. I believe in breaking them. I insist that if I hate Mr Gandhi and Mr Jinnah – I dislike them, I do not hate them – it is because I love India more. That is the true faith of a nationalist. I have hopes that my countrymen will someday learn that the country is greater than the men, 46 that the worship of Mr Gandhi or Mr Jinnah and service to India are two very different things and may even be contradictory of each other.”
Ambedkar was not Gandhi. All his life he tried, but he could not touch in Indians that which Gandhi could, this thing called the soul. But Ambedkar touched something more important than the soul. He touched the mind. Why do you care so much about the sanctity and purity of texts written thousands of years ago? You care because it touches your soul. You don’t let your mind touch it for fear of negation and rejection of it. Who is your father? Is there such a thing as a father? Remove yourself from all the emotions that blood has given you possession of. Remind yourself that you are the creation of pure chance. That a sperm met an egg and then the cells divided, and then post-delivery, it just happened that you weren’t swapped with another baby whose sperm and egg carriers were of a different religion. 155 million infants aged less than 5 are considered religious in our country.
They have been catalogued as Hindu and Muslim and Sikhs and Christians. THAT, no one seems to mind. What we DO mind and care about is that Mahatma Gandhi must be the one and true Father of our Nation. What do you see on your death-bed? What is your legacy? It is, then, in summation, up to us, the inheritors, to decide, who should we draw inspiration from: the one who touched our soul, or the one who touched our mind. The one who touched our soul because in him we saw our own inadequacies and wrongs and selectivity and illiberalism and bias and hurtful eccentricities and discrimination and social Darwinism and appeasement and casteism and duplicity and ludditism and pettiness and acceptance of religious hatred and condoning of holy book bigotry and orthodoxy and all those ills that we want hidden away in some corner; or the one who touched our mind because in him we saw an anger and an urgency to reform and a cry in the wilderness to shun the grey. Let there be no doubt. There isn’t in my mind. The real father of our nation is Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.