Friday, March 19, 2010

Dr. Ambedkar and Dalits of India

I was reading a Gujarati book on some of the great men of India and read some excerpts taken from the biography of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar . So thought to write something on this, Volumes can be written on the work done by him but this is just my thoughts on the subject.

I have heard a lot about this grate man, like he was the chief architect of our constitution, he had worked hard for upliftment of dalits in India….. But I was never sure what and how exactly he did all these (this may be because of my not being mentally present state in history and social studies class during my school days . I even don’t remember studying anything about him at all) . The only thing I knew for sure, before reading about him, was that he was responsible for introducing the caste based reservation in our society, which I always thought as bottleneck to our growth.

Dr. Ambedkar has fought whole of his life against the untouchablility, indignity and social injustice done to the people belonging to castes which are at the very bottom of ancient Indian caste hierarchy ( This is, again, a misinterpretation of Hindu scripture where the caste (varna) system had altogether different meaning). The journey of a boy from untouchable mahar caste to the Bharat Ratna was full of despise, ignominy and insult at the hand of caste establishment. Even after more than six decades of our independence we are unable to abolish untouchability completely, though the situation ,today, is slightly better than pre or early independence days.

The great dalit thinkers choose two ways to improve their situation in India. The first thing they thought of was to gain political power and play an important role in the decision making at the highest level and the other thing they did, and are doing, is to bypass the caste hierarchy completely.

Political power has not helped dalits in a way that it should have been. Dr. Ambedkar had provided few provisions in constitution to uplift the dalits, but like most of such provisions gets misused, by political parties for vote bank politics or by some people with vested interest, this provision also got exploited and as a result; instead of improving the life of dalits, by providing equal social status and protecting their basic human rights, people are fighting to label themselves as dalit !!! and dalit population is increasing year on year. Dalit politician, winning election, on dalit votes, and becoming rich (The latest example is, Kumari Mayawati , UP chief minster, felicitated with a gigantic garland made up of 1000 Rs. currency notes. That garland contained 21lakh rupee only ) without doing anything for dalits.

Moreover, millions of dalits, in India over the period of more than a century, have attempted to escape caste system by converting to Christianity or Buddhism (Dr. Ambedkar himself converted to Buddhism at the end of his life) but it has not helped, to majority of them, either. Earlier they were Hindu dalits and now they are Christan dalits or Buddhist dalits. No change in their basic standard of living.

But everything is not so gloomy for dalits in India. The caste based reservation introduced by Dr. Ambedkar and the government’s efforts to bring dalits in mainstream are paying off. We have number of examples where dalits are at the top positions; ex-president K.R.Narayanan was dalit, current Chief justice of India Balakrishnan is dalit, First woman speaker Ms Meira Kumar is dalit and it is very likely that we may have our first dalit prime minister as well, in the form of Kumari Mayawati . These are the examples of people who have made it to the top but there are thousands of people who are beneficiary of the collective efforts done by different governments and NGOs and have done much better in life, as a dalit, compare to their ancestors.

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