Skip to main content

Top Dalit rights leaders' call to go beyond Ambedkar, who "overestimated" urban middle classes' ability to deliver

Anand Tentumbde
By Our Representative
There appears to be a steady recognition among well-known Dalit rights leaders that the community, which continues to suffer from centuries-old oppression, needs to come out of the huge euphoria around considering India's topmost Dalit icon Dr BR Ambedkar as some sort of a demi-god. At least two of them -- Anand Teltumbde and Jignesh Mevani -- have openly declared that there is a need to look beyond Ambedkar.
In his new book, ‘Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva’, Teltumbde, a noted scholar and an Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad alumni, recognizes a major limitation of Ambedkar -- his urban bias. Calling villages a 'den of iniquity', Ambedkar had exhorted Dalits to migrate from villages to cities to escape the shackles of caste.
Teltumbde writes in his book, o be released early next month, "Although Ambedkar fully knew the importance of land in the emancipation of Dalits, he also knew it would not be easy to secure it for them." In fact, says Teltumbde, Ambedkar thought that representation of Dalits in the administration would help the community's advancement.
The "strategy", says Teltumbde, was that "if educated Dalits occupied important positions in the state structure, they would influence state policy and gradually bring about revolutionary changes. This was why he emphasised higher education for the Dalits and struggled for their representation in the power structure."
Pointing out that "even within his lifetime, he was to witness the failure of this method", Teltumbde regrets, "By the 1970s, a new middle class began emerging among Dalits, which found that it remained vulnerable to various kinds of discrimination. Contrary to Ambedkar’s expectations that this class would provide a protective cover for the Dalit masses, it needed to form its own SC/ST employees’ associations to protect its interests."
The scholar underlines, "Designed to be apolitical and physically detached from the rural masses, it could only work in the cultural field: by building Buddha Viharas, vipassana centres, the promotion of congregational activity, etc. which distanced it further from the material issues of the Dalit masses."
Jignesh Mevani
Pointing out that during his later days of his life Ambedkar recognized the importance to be given to the rural areas, Teltumbde notes, "Ambedkar expressed regret on this score... He said that whatever he had done benefited only educated Dalits in urban areas, but he could do nothing for the vast majority of his rural brethren. He asked whether they would be able to launch a struggle for land."
Taking the cue, Says Teltumbde, the first-ever satyagraha to get fallow land transferred to landless Dalits in Marathwada in 1953 was undertaken. "For this momentous satyagraha in which 1,700 people courted arrest, he received help from Dadasaheb Gaikwad."
He adds, "In deference to Ambedkar’s wishes, two more land struggles were undertaken following his death, both under Gaikwad’s leadership: the first in 1959 in the Marathwada–Khandesh region of Maharashtra, and the second in 1964–65 all over India... in Punjab, Madras, Mysore, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra."
Writing in the same vein, Jignesh Mevani, Gujarat's Dalits leader, says in a recent article that there is a need to prioritise the Dalit struggles "for the real, material issues of land and resource rights, instead of getting lost and entangled in the rhetorical cycle of politics." He adds, "We need to go beyond the politics of ‘Manuvaad-Brahmanvaad Murdabad’ to look at the rights of our working classes, farmers, and our access to land ownership."
Pointing out that this is where one needs to understand the role of "icons like Dadasaheb Gaikwad", Mevani says, "My fascination for Dadasaheb Gaikwad has its roots in the failures of our own land struggle... Such has been the grip of the upper-caste, upper-class hegemony on all the organs of the state that land reforms, a programme which is in harmony with the preamble of the Indian Constitution, could never materialise."
It is from Teltumbde, Mevani says, that he learned that Ambedkar "wasn’t able to do much for landless Dalits in his life", adding, he also learned much from Gujarat's Gandhian land-crusader, Chunnibhai Vaidya, who, "unlike most other Gandhians, even at 96, was willing to trudge the villages of Gujarat for the land struggle."

Comments

Santhi said…
Good analysis pointing to the limitation of academics debate. Thanks for sharing this
First try to look beyond Congress and then talk about Ambedkar

TRENDING

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Letter to friends, mentors: Coming together of class, communal, corona viruses 'scary'

By Prof (Dr) Mansee Bal Bhargava*
COVID greetings from Ahmedabad to dear mentors and friends from around the world…
I hope you are keeping well and taking care of yourself besides caring for the people around you. I’m writing to learn how is the science and the society coping with the prevention and cure of the pandemic. I’m also writing to share the state of the corona virus that is further complicated with the long-standing class and communal viruses.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.