By Sabzar Ahmad Bhat
On 14th April, 2018, the Indian nation celebrated the 127th birth anniversary of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. This is an opportune time to recall some facets of his life, which many of us are already familiar with.
In spite of being one of the worst victims of untouchability and having been denied basic human rights, Ambedkar rose to be a colossus as a jurist, constitution maker, and a defender of the unity of India. In the galaxy of political and social philosophers, Ambedkar occupies undoubtedly the most important place. He is a curious and rare combination of a thinker, scholar, leader, writer, legal luminary, champion of downtrodden masses, and constitutional expert. Ambedkar is one of the few leaders from the pre-independence era, who still continues to inspire millions of people. He has become an icon of social revolt and is being discovered by more and more Indians across religions and castes.
Ambedkar’s name has come to be synonyms with social justice for poor, downtrodden, and exploited people. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, considered Ambedkar “a symbol of revolt against the oppressive features of the Hindu society.” P.B. Gajendragadkar, the former Chief Justice of India, said, “Ambedkar is the law maker of the 20th century and modern Manu, but unlike old Manu this new Manu favoured human equality and social justice.” In the words of the late President of India, K.R. Narayanan, he was a “compassionate rebel”.
Ambedkar belonged to the Mahar caste in Maharashtra, who were treated as untouchables and were subjected to socio-economic discrimination. In such a society, not only did man hate man, but the caste Hindus kept themselves away from the shadows of the untouchables or downtrodden. Their residences, paths, temples, and wells were separate; even if one side had a great desire to talk, the other side discarded them. The untouchables could never muster the courage to come forward and raise their voice before the higher castes. The doors of the temples, like the doors of schools, were not open to them because of their birth in the lower caste. It was in such a caste-based society that Ambedkar was born and brought up. However, fighting all odds, he attained higher education and soon after completing his study, he launched himself politically, fighting for the rights of depressed classes and against the inequality practiced in the Indian society. He was a crusader for social justice and social equality, an uncompromising leader against social inequality and injustice. He worked relentlessly for the regeneration of humanity, for the well-being of mankind. He considered caste system in Indian society as the greatest evil of Hindu religion. According to him, Varna system is the root cause of all inequality and is also the parent of the Indian caste system and untouchability.
As a great socialist, Ambedkar developed a material analysis of Indian society. His main concern was the total emancipation of the servile class from the clutches of the privileged caste Hindus. His sole mission in life was that of man-making and the production of a new social order on the principles of equality, fraternity, and justice.
For Ambedkar, Indian social and political history is nothing but a glorification of upper castes and degradation of lower castes and the lower strata of society. He considered caste system, based on untouchability, as an artificial construct by the vested interests and their social and political philosophers. Therefore, Ambedkar’s main concern all his life was to fight the injustice by all possible and necessary means and establish an egalitarian society. In post-liberalized India, economic and social inequity have increased manifold. On the one hand, we have an abandon of riches; on the other, those who produce those riches live a hellish life in hovels and shanties. In such a situation, the thoughts of establishing an equal society appear like a dream.
In the end, we must remember that Ambedkar’s thoughts challenged social inequality and advocated empathy for the oppressed classes, so that a new India could be built on the foundations of equality, fraternity, and justice. Ambedkar will always remain relevant because of his perceptive and critical consideration of Indian economic and social realities. He understood the causes behind the plight of the most exploited and oppressed classes. Ambedkar will also be relevant as long as the concerns of the most disempowered sections of society remain unaddressed. He was and will always remain one of the pivots of Indian democracy.
If we want to usher in social and political change, we must adhere to his teaching: educate, agitate, and organize. That is the only way for the empowerment of the downtrodden.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, Ph.D. Research Scholar, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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