Readers of this column have had in the recent past an opportunity to read a brief review of as many as five books which have appeared during the past two years on various aspects related to the Shilpkars of Uttarakhand under the same head. A review of these books by way of my deep respect to the prime mover of these admirable essays Chaman Lal Pradyot, write-poet-thinker – made me interact with several readers who exchanged their views on the central theme viz., how equity issues are getting addressed these days, in India in general and in Uttarakhand, in particular. Also, catalytically a project on education, this writer happens to be leading for the past two years in the two hilly States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, has been instrumental in going through a considerable amount of literature on the issue of ‘discrimination’, in which India abounds, almost unabashedly, as it were.
The Annihilation of Caste
It is this relatively un-discursive reading that attracted his attention towards a recent interview published in Outlook ( March 10, 2014 ) in which Arundhati Roy says, ‘We need Ambedkar –now, urgently’. Ms Roy has written a 164 page essay titled ‘ The Doctor and the Saint’ as an introduction to the book. The Annihilation of Caste, brought out by Navayana, a New Delhi based publishing house, is a new annotated edition of Ambedkar’s text. Commenting on this interview Anand Teltumbde mentions that Ambedkar today certainly outshines every other leader in terms of public acceptance, however, the incidence of casteism also shows parallel growth and this paradoxical phenomenon can be best explained only by separating the real Ambedkar from the unreal one.( The Hindu, April 2, 2014 )
The re-print itself and Arundhati Roy’s 141 page long introductory essay, coupled with 276 annotations and an impressive bibliography makes it a ‘must read’ for every conscientious reader. In conclusion Arundhati writes, ‘Ambedkar was disillusioned with Hinduism, with its high priests, its saints and its politicians….After twenty years of contemplation, during which he studied Islam as well as Christianity, Ambedkar turned to Buddhism. This, too, he entered in his own, distinct, angular way. He was wary of classical Buddhism, of the way Buddhist philosophy could, had and continues to be used to justify war and unimaginable cruelty. Ambedkar’s Buddhism, called Navayana Buddhism, or the Fourth Way, distinguished between religion and dhamma. The purpose of the religion is to explain the origin of the world, Ambedkar said, something very much like Karl Marx, “The purpose of Dhamma is to reconstruct the world”. On 14 October 1956,in Nagpur, only months before his death, Ambedkar, Sharda Kabir, his ( Brahmin) second wife, and half a million supporters took the vow of the Three Jewels and Five Precepts and converted to Buddhism. It was his most radical act.’ ( Ms Roy’s, The Doctor and the Saint, p 139 ).
The Un-delivered Speech, 1936
The re-printed text has two Prefaces, first that of 1937 edition and second, that of the Third in 1944. The 1937 edition added two appendices, fisrt an article written by Mr Gandhi by way of review of his speech in the Harijan,a nd second his letter to Mr Sant Ram, a member of the Jat-Pat Todal Mandal, the Conference in which Ambedkar was to deliver his Presidential Speech, which ultimately never was. In his own Appendix Ambedkar printed his own views in reply to the articles of Mr Gandhi. Incidently besides Mr Gandhi many others had joined Gandhi to criticisr Amebedkar’s views but he felt that he should just confine himself to Mr Gandhi and he says he had done so, ‘ not because what he had said is so weighty as to deserve a reply, but because to many a Hindu he is an oracle, so great that when he opens his lips it is expected that the argument must close and no dog must bark’.
Ambedkar goes on to add, ‘ but the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible. I do not care for the credit which every progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realise that they arethe sick men of India, and their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians. BR Ambedkar.’( Annihilation of Caste, ibid, page 185).
In his Preface to the Third Edition, Ambedkar, discloses that it was his ‘intention to recast the essay to incorporate into it another essay ( that he had written ) called “Castes in India : Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”, which had already appeared in Indian Antiquary Journal for May 1917, but he could not find to do so. ( ibid, page 186 ).
The Prologue of the re-print setting out the very background of the invitation extended by Mr Sant Ram, the Secretary of the Jat-Pat Toak Mandal, Lahore on 12 December 1935 after the original invitation extended on 5th December, 1935 and ending with his letter of the 27th April, 1936 to Mr Har Bhagwan in which he advises the Mandal to cancel the Conference, throws very interesting insights into the dilemma in which the Hindu reformers found themselves, when dealing with a radical reformer of the stature of Dr B. R. Ambedkar.
Understanding Ambedkar and Phenomenon of Caste
Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the cantonment town of Mhow near Indore in Central India. He was the fourteenth and last child of Ramji Sakpal and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sakpal. His mother died when he was two year old; the same year his father retired from the army. Thanks to a British legislation ( ‘ No boy be refused admission to a government college or school merely on ground of caste’, 20 May, 1857, Ms Roy, page 158 ) he was allowed to go to a Touchable school, but he was made to sit apart from his classmate, on a scrap of gunnysack, so that he could not pollute the classroom floor. He did his Bachelor’s degree at Elphinstone College, helped by a scholarship given by progressive Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad. In 1913 he was admitted to Columbia University in New York. It was here that Ambedkar wrote his path-breaking paper on Caste, “Castes in India : Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development”, in which he has argued that caste should not be equated with either race or class, but was a unique social category in itself –an enclosed, endogamous class. When he wrote it he was 25 years old. He returned briefly to India and then went to London School of Economics and simultaneously take a degree in Law at Gray’s Inn in London – a degree he had to abandon halfway, but completed later. Ambedkar later joined as a Professor at Sydenham College, in Bombay.
On 14th April, the Ambedkar Jayanti Day, there is no better way to understand him, as a person and as one of the greatest reformers and builder of modern India, but to go through his master piece, his Presidential Address he was supposed to deliver at the Jat Pat Todak Mandal, an association of Hindu reformers of Lahore, but did not deliver because he was not prepared to affect certain changes with which the organizers were not too comfortable.
The flyer of this re-print provides us three nuggets which sums up best what this new compendium offers as take-aways :
‘ The Caste System is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of labourers.’
Dr BR Ambedkar
‘No Hindu who prizes his faith above life itself can afford to underrate the importance of this indictment’
‘Annihilation of Caste is a breach of peace.’
Aundhati Roy, in her Introduction
The best tribute that can be paid to this great thinker and reformer of modern India, if India is to be rid of the cancerous growth of the Caste System which is eating away the entrails of its body politic is to establish a Chair in every University of India to share his thoughts and reflect on the analysis provided by him and encourage every young person to work against the evil practice of ‘Untouchability’ in all walks of life.