Resist Saffronisation of Ambedkar

[The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, will visit Nagpur on 14th of April. Deeksha Bhoomi is also a part of his visit where he will pay tribute to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, on his 126th birth anniversary. This write-up is a compilation of inputs from various sources (blogs) by Tejaswini Tabhane to discuss the aspects of his visit through the eyes of an Ambedkarite.]

Modi paying respects to Dr Ambedkar

This visit has raised several questions which need to be answered by the Prime Minister who calls himself a ‘Bhakt’ (Devout) of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Modi has said the “iconic leader was a ‘vishwa manav’, not just the messiah of Dalits but someone who raised the voice for all the downtrodden and suppressed people (speech delivered at Ambedkar Memorial lecture).”

Now it is obvious to ask Narendra Modi who has written a book dedicated to Golwalkar titled Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak as to how come could he write such words of praise for a communal and anti-Constitution person and appreciate Ambedkar at the same time? Communal and anti-constitution, eh? Yes. MS Golwalkar disparaged democracy (as well as the Constitution) as alien to Hindu ethos and glorified Manu by calling him “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.” The same Manusmriti that Ambedkar burnt on 25th December, 1927. So our Prime Minister must be an exceptionally intelligent person to be a ‘Bhakta’ of two ideologically almost opposite persons!

I do not want to rest my claim merely on ideology but also on facts and figures. The vibrant Gujarat model which gave Modi a ticket to 7 RCR has a long history of Dalit oppression during his regime as chief minister of the state. The fact is that Gujarat has the dubious distinction of consistently ranking among the top five states in terms of incidence of atrocities on Dalits. In 2013, when Narendra Modi’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ mantra had reached the crescendo in the wake of ensuing general elections and his imminent coronation as the prime ministerial candidate, the number of atrocities per lakh population of the Scheduled Castes (SC) was 29.21, up from 25.23 in the previous years, marking it as the fourth worst state in the country. In 2014 (latest available data), only 3.4% of crimes against SCs in Gujarat ended in convictions, against 28.8% nationally. These facts speak volumes about the hollowness of Mr. Modi’s claims of following Ambedkar’s ideals.

Let’s talk about the ideological parent of Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is suddenly portraying Ambedkar as a ‘Hindu Nationalist!’ Strange that it took less than 70 years for RSS, an organization surviving on the precept of ultra-Hinduism, to recognise Ambedkar as a great son of India who always spoke about ‘annihilation of caste’ and never subscribed to the principles Hindutva.

Ambedkar is anything but a Hindu nationalist. It is indeed an example of classical paradox that an organisation which had severely criticised Ambedkar in various editorial of its mouthpiece Organiser are now laying claims on his legacy. In a democratic country, like any other organisation or individual, the RSS too has the right to change its mind and approach about Ambedkar and project him as its ideological maharishi. But it must have some rationale. Its words and deeds counter each other.

Behind this façade there lurks the dangerous design to saffronise the most secular and pluralist ideals and concepts. The RSS, and particularly the Modi government, has brought Ambedkar to the centre-stage of national conversation to curb various Dalit movements that echo the message of ending Brahmin hegemony, particularly after the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad. Their aim is to woo Dalit vote bank while holding the strong base of Upper Castes. That’s why the idea is to portray Ambedkar in a wrong saffronised way to suit their interest. The appropriation and deliberate misreading of Ambedkar’s life and vision will delegitimise his egalitarian ideas, demolish and demoralise the struggles to usher in justice and fraternity and lead to the continued enslavement of the marginalised groups. It is therefore important to protect Ambedkar from these saffron thugs.

As the Prime Minister is coming to Deeksha Bhoomi, the place where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and broke the chains of Hinduism forever, he must also read Ambedkar’s words and I quote him, “Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” “I will not believe in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Neither would I worship them.” Does the Prime Minister have the guts to reverberate these words in front of the whole nation?

Believe me these are some questions, the RSS and Prime Minister will find tough to answer.

Lastly to repeat Rohith Vemula, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.” They reduced Rohith to a number, they are trying to do the same with Ambedkar. We must resist this appropriation lest we lose the only thing that we have — the precious legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and his thoughts.

Jai Bhim!

(Reproduced with permission from Tejaswini)

Vitthal Liberated


Vitthal and Rukmini have been liberated!  In a recent Supreme Court decision, the tyrannous Badwes and Utpats, hereditary priests at Pandharpur, have been stripped of their powers.  This climaxes years of agitation and movement activity directed against the priests.

Vitthal (Vithoba, or Pandurang) is the favorite deity of Maharashtra. His Varkari cult is supreme.  Every year lakhs of devotees walk hundreds of miles on the “Vari” or pilgrimage to Pandharpur.  During the medieval period, for centuries a strong bhakti movement lived, centered on Vitthal, ranging from Namdev and Dnaneshwar to Cokhoba and Tukoba.

From Namdev and Cokhoba onwards to Tukoba there was opposition to the Badwes and Utpats controlling the temple rites and preventing untouchables from entering the temple, doing so-called religious rites of puja in a brahmanical manner.  From 1948, Sane Guruji, a socialist leader of the freedom movement, sat in an indefinite fast demanding the entry of untouchables…

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An Act of Appropriation?

Book Review: Hatred in the Belly

The book Hatred in the Belly may seem like a personal critique of Arundhati Roy for her introduction (“The Doctor and the Saint”) to B R Ambedkar’s seminal text, Annihilation of Caste. But it isn’t. It is actually a critique of domination of upper castes in Indian scholarship, their caste blindness and their refusal to engage with the issues of representation. By extension this book is a critique of Brahminism itself.

Hatred in the Belly

Navayana, a self-proclaimed anti-caste publishing house run by S Anand, published an annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste in 2015 with much fanfare. Arundhati Roy’s book-length introduction which castigates M K Gandhi for his racist and casteist views was the main attraction. When the excerpts from the introduction were published in the magazines Outlook and Caravan, Roy had expected a backlash from Gandhians and right-wing nationalists. But the criticism came from an unexpected quarter—the Ambedkarites. Most of this criticism was published on the website Round Table India, an independent media outlet analysing society from caste lens, and the social media profiles of anti-caste activists. Hatred in the Belly is a collection of such critical essays, viewpoints, speeches and interviews.

The major theme that runs in the book is that of representation and appropriation. The book takes Navayana to task for not recruiting a Dalit scholar or an Ambedkarite to introduce an important text like Annihilation of Caste. The publishing house instead approached someone like Roy who had no previous engagement with either caste or Ambedkar. Roy’s privileged status as a Savarna Hindu and Syrian Christian, her larger than life persona, her superficial engagement with various movements in India also come under scrutiny in the book. She is accused of appropriating a text which is central to anti-caste struggles all over the country, a text which was translated by anti-caste volunteers in many Indian languages and published and distributed at personal costs. Roy doesn’t take the pains to engage with this illustrious history of Annihilation of Caste‘s journey since its first publication in 1936, nor does she engage with the contents of the book beyond one paragraph. Instead, most of her introduction is an engagement with Gandhi’s writings. Also, her introduction is almost three times longer than the main text!

When the Hindu reformist group Jat Pat Todak Mandal took objection to Ambedkar’s speech and asked him to alter its contents before he could deliver it as presidential address at their event, Ambedkar refused to do so (saying he “would not change a comma”); it resulted in Ambedkar’s invitation being withdrawn. Ambedkar then published the speech as a booklet and distributed it himself. A number of editions of the book are available since then at cheap rates in various Indian languages; the electronic copy of the book is available for free on the website of Columbia University. Against this backdrop, Navayana’s annotated edition seems like a commercial project catering mainly to Savarna and western readership.

Navayana calls itself “India’s first and only publishing house to focus on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective.” But James Michael and Akshay Pathak make an astounding revelation about Navayana.

Out of the list of 61 authors published by Navayana and put up on its website, we could positively identify 37 authors as belonging to privileged communities—this includes 16 Whites and 21 upper castes [of which, 16 were Brahmins] (p 161).

Karthick RM makes it clear why this is deeply problematic.

In contemporary India, take the Indian nationalists, the central committees of the various socialist parties, postcolonialists, liberals, anti-modernists, anti-Eurocentrists, anti-Enlightenmentalists, anti-Colonialists, feminists–which caste defines the ideological paradigms in any of these different political/intellectual groups?

And further asks,

When the Brahmin determines what the philosophy of oppression is, the Brahmin determines what ‘neutral’ liberalism is, and the Brahmin also determines what resistance is, where is the space to counter ideology to emerge (p 188)?

The lack of diversity in Indian scholarship requires an honest introspection. Hatred in the Belly opens the space for a discussion around this issue, and it needs to be taken forward. There is a tendency in Indian academia and media to brush off marginalised voices questioning entrenched privileges as rants, angry outbursts or intellectual bullying. It will be in everybody’s interest if we avoid taking such prejudicial view and resorting to hasty dismissal of criticism. Hatred in the Belly is an important intervention which should be a necessary reading for anyone engaging with issues of social justice from a position of privilege. It will help scholars eschew from indulging in paternalism or, worse, epistemic violence. Navayana’s annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste should serve as a cautionary tale.


Hatred in the belly: Politics behind the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s writings by Ambedkar Age Collective, The Shared Mirror, 2015, ₹200.

Why Are Some People Hungry When There Is Enough Food for Everybody?

A friend once told me, “Begging is the easiest job in the world.” It took me a couple of seconds to recover from the insensitivity of that statement. I was really appalled. I retorted, “If that is so, do you mind mind working as a beggar even for a day?”

People have such stinking sense of entitlement. They believe that a person can be who they want to be. It is not the system which decides our fate but we ourself. तूच तुझ्या जीवनाचा शिल्पकार! (You are the sculptor of your own life!)

People are taught to celebrate their achievements. They are told, these achievements are a result of your immense hardwork and talent. The opposite is also true: if a person fails at something, the whole onus is put on their own shoulders. As if people operate in isolation. As if external factors don’t matter at all. As if capitalism is such a fair system that it rewards people commensurate to their hardwork/ talents/ skills. This false notion which is passed on from one generation to the next and accepted as commonsense by everybody, is insidious. It makes any critique of our unjust system impossible. It pits one person in competition with the other. And it is completely devoid of empathy.

This earth has enough food, water and clothes for 7 billion of us but some people are made to beg for these basic necessities. We do not find this revolting only because of the inhumane system that we have created for ourselves and now are made to accept as normal. We spend such a vast amount of resources and human labour on completely useless things like cigarettes, gutka, soft drinks, fireworks and beauty products. We have taken such great strides in science and technology; we have been able to send robots to the outer space. But we cannot feed the hungry on this planet even when there is enough food available for everybody.

I think this is because we are made to believe that one has to work to get their food. It does not matter if the work opportunities are simply not there, or that people are not paid as much as they should be for their labour, or that their livelihood options have been snatched away from them along with their land and forests and rivers by our “benevolent” state and the multinational corporations working in collusion. I wonder what will happen if tomorrow a rule is made that one can only eat what they grow in their own backyard!

आरक्षण कशासाठी रे भाऊ?

गुजरातमधील पाटीदार/पटेल समाज आपल्या जातीचा इतर मागासवर्गीयांमध्ये समावेश व्हावा ह्या मागणीसाठी रस्त्यावर उतरला. हार्दिक पटेल या २२ वर्षीय युवकाच्या नेतृत्वाखालील ह्या आंदोलनास हजारो लोकांनी पाठिंबा दिला. परंतु, जरी हे आंदोलन “आम्हालाही उच्चशिक्षण आणि सरकारी नोकऱ्यांमध्ये आरक्षण द्या” ह्या मागणीसाठी असले, तरी त्याचे मूळ उच्चवर्णीयांमधील आरक्षणाबद्दल असलेल्या असंतोषामध्ये आहे.

गुजरातमधील पाटीदार समाजाची तुलना महाराष्टातील मराठा समाजाशी करता येईल. गुजरातमधील राजकारण आणि उद्योगधंद्यांवर (मुख्यतः हिरे आणि कापड) ह्या समाजाचे वर्चस्व आहे. भारतीय जनता पक्षाच्या १२० आमदारांपैकी ४० आमदार आणि मंत्रिमंडळातील सात मंत्री पाटीदार समाजाचे आहेत. अगदी मुख्यमंत्री आनंदीबेन पटेलही ह्याच समाजाच्या आहेत. तसेच, ह्या समाजाचा एक मोठा तबका आफ्रिका, अमेरिका आणि इंग्लंडमध्ये स्थलांतरित झाला आहे. राजकीय आणि सामाजिकदृष्ट्या पुढारलेल्या ह्या समाजाने आपला “मागास” वर्गामध्ये समावेश व्हावा अशी मागणी करणे थोडे आश्चर्याचे वाटावे. पण ह्या मागणीचे मूळ आणि तिला मिळणारा इतका प्रचंड पाठिंबा हा “आरक्षणामुळे आम्हा अनारक्षित वर्गावर अन्याय होतो” ह्या भावनेत आहे. १९८० च्या दशकात आदिवासी आणि दलित तसेच इतर मागासवर्गीयांविरुद्ध आरक्षणाला विरोध करण्याऱ्या चळवळी उभारण्यात पाटीदार समाजच सर्वात पुढे होता.

Ahmedabad: Patidar community members display placards during their Kranti Rally for reservation at GMDC Ground in Ahmedabad on Tuesday: PTI Photo.

Ahmedabad: Patidar community members display placards during their Kranti Rally for reservation at GMDC Ground in Ahmedabad on Tuesday (PTI Photo).

“एकतर आम्हाला आरक्षण द्या नाहीतर आरक्षणाचे पूर्ण धोरणच खारीज करा” हे हार्दिक पटेलचे उद्गार बोलके आहेत. जातीव्यवस्थेने शुद्र आणि दलितांना शिक्षणाचा अधिकार नाकारला होता. जातीनिहाय ठरवून दिलेल्या व्यवसायाशिवाय इतर काम करण्याचीही कोणास मुभा नव्हती. शतकांपासूनच्या ह्या अन्यायामुळे बहुजन समाज राजकीय, सामाजिक, आर्थिक आणि सांस्कृतिकदृष्ट्या खूपच मागे पडला. जरी ब्रिटीश राजवटीने तत्वतः शिक्षणाची कवाडे सर्वांसाठी खुली केली, तरी बहुजनांना त्याचा प्रत्यक्षात फायदा घेणे शक्य झाले नाही. आजही बहुजन समाज मुख्यतः खेड्यांमध्ये वसलेला आहे जिकडे गुणवत्तापूर्ण शाळा-कॉलेजांची वाणवा आहे. सरकारने नुकत्याच प्रसिद्ध केलेल्या ‘सामाजिक आर्थिक जात गणना २०११’ नुसार ग्रामीण भागातील ८८.४ कोटी लोकांपैकी फक्त ३६% लोक शिक्षित आहेत, तर फक्त ५.४% लोकांनी माध्यमिक शिक्षण पूर्ण केले आहे आणि ३.४% लोक पदवीधारक आहेत. तसेच, जरी अस्पृश्यता संपुष्टात आली असली तरी वरच्या जातीच्या लोकांकडून खालच्या जातीच्या लोकांवर होणारे अत्याचार थांबलेले नाहीत. १९९० च्या दशकात रणवीर सेना या बिहारमधील भूमिहार जातीतील जमीनमालकांच्या संघटनेने शेकडो दलितांना क्रूरपणे मारले होते. भंडारा जिल्यातील खैरलांजी येथे २००६ मध्ये एका दलित कुटुंबातील चार जणांना जमिनीच्या वादावरून कुणबी समाजातील गुन्हेगारांकडून ठार करण्यात आले. मारण्याआधी कुटुबांतील दोन महिला, सुरेखा भोतमांगे आणि प्रियांका भोतमांगे, ह्यांची नग्नावस्थेत गावातून धिंड काढण्यात आली. मागच्या वर्षी अहमदनगर जिल्ह्यातील जवखडे गावातील एका दलित घरातील तिघांचा उच्च जातीच्या लोकांकडून निर्घृण खून करण्यात आला. उदाहरणादाखल दिलेले हे तीन प्रसंग जातीव्यवस्थेचे हिडीस रूप दाखवून देण्यास पुरेसे आहेत.

जातीव्यवस्थेची उतरंड अजूनही कायम आहे. उच्च-नीच भेद अजूनही कायम आहे. आंतरजातीय विवाह अजूनही निषिद्ध मानला जातो. उच्च जातींकडून उतरंडीमध्ये खाली असलेल्यांवर अजूनही प्रत्यक्ष-अप्रत्यक्षरित्या अन्याय/अत्याचार होतो. परंतु, जातिव्यवस्थेच्या ह्या वास्तवापासून मध्यम आणि उच्चवर्गीय शहरी तरुण बऱ्यापैकी अलिप्त आहे. त्यांचा जात ह्या संकल्पनेशी संबंध पहिल्यांदा कॉलेज प्रवेशावेळी येतो. त्यामुळे, ते जातीचा केवळ आरक्षणाच्या संदर्भात विचार करतात.

आपल्या देशामध्ये कॉलेजांची वाणवा नाही; वाणवा आहे ती गुणवत्तापूर्ण कॉलेजांची. जेव्हा तरुण आरक्षणाच्या धोरणामुळे प्रवेश न मिळण्याबाबत तक्रार करतात, तेव्हा ते मुठभर नावाजलेल्या कॉलेजांबद्दल बोलत असतात. आयआयटी–आयआयएमसारख्या संस्था जिकडे थोड्या जागांसाठी हजारो मुलांचा ओढा असतो, तिकडे त्यांना आरक्षणाची झळ तीव्रतेने जाणवते. १९९० मध्ये मंडळ आयोगाच्या अंमलबजावणीनंतर ‘इतर मागासवर्गीय’ हा नवा वर्ग निर्माण करण्यात आला आणि त्यांना २७% आरक्षण देण्यात आले. ह्या निर्णयानंतर आरक्षणाचे प्रमाण २२.५ टक्क्यांवरून ४९.५ टक्क्यांवर पोहोचले. तेव्हापासून आरक्षणाविरुद्धच्या असंतोषामध्ये खूपच भर पडली आहे. खुल्या वर्गातील मुले आणि आरक्षित वर्गातील मुले ह्यांच्या गुणांमध्ये बराच फरक असतो, हे सत्य आहे. जिथे खुल्या जागांसाठी अर्धा-अर्धा गुणही महत्वाचा ठरतो, तिथे एखाद्या आरक्षित वर्गातील विद्यार्थ्याला १०% गुण कमी असूनही जागा मिळत असेल, तर ते इतरांना अन्यायकारक वाटणे साहजिक आहे. उच्चवर्णीय विद्यार्थ्यांची आणखी एक तक्रार असते कि, आरक्षित जागा पटकावणारे बरेचसे विद्यार्थी सधन कुटुंबातील, शहरांत राहणारे असतात, त्यामुळे त्यांना आरक्षणाची गरज काय?

ह्या कारणांमुळे एका बाजूला ‘गुणवत्ता घसरतेय’ अशी ओरड होते, तर दुसऱ्या बाजूला जातीनिहाय आरक्षण बंद करून आर्थिक निकषावर आरक्षण देण्यात यावे अशी मागणी केली जाते. परंतु, आरक्षणाचा उद्देश ‘गरिबी हटाव’ नसून ज्या जातींवर शेकडो वर्षे अन्याय झाला आणि अजूनही होतोय, त्यांना समान संधी मिळाव्यात आणि त्यांनाही उच्चवर्णीयांप्रमाणे मानाचे आयुष्य जगता यावे व परिणामतः जातीव्यवस्था समूळ नष्ट व्हावी हा आहे, ह्याचा बऱ्याच जणांना विसर पडतो किंवा कल्पनाच नसते. तसेच, आरक्षित वर्गातील मुले कमी गुणांवर जागा पटकावतात असे म्हणण्यापेक्षा त्यांना मूळात इतके कमी गुण का मिळतात, ह्याचा विचार केला जावा. जर आपल्या संविधान समितीने आरक्षणाचे धोरण अंगिकारले नसते तर आपल्याला आज आयआयटी-आयआयएम आणि इतर नावाजलेल्या शैक्षणिक संस्थांमध्ये/ कॉलेजांमध्ये ९५ टक्क्यांच्या वर केवळ उच्चवर्णीय विद्यार्थी दिसले असते.