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

Ganga world's second most polluted river, Modi's Varanasi tops microplastics pollution

By Rajiv Shah  Will the new report by well-known elite NGO Toxics Link create a ripple in the powerful corridors of Delhi? Titled “Quantitative analysis of microplastics along River Ganga”, forwarded to Counterview, doesn’t just say that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world, next only to Yangtze (China). It goes ahead to do a comparison of microplastics pollution in three cities shows Varanasi – the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is more polluted compared to Kanpur and Haridwar.

Madhya Pradesh tops India's 145 instances of 'anti-Christian atrocities' this year

Counterview Desk  A report prepared by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), founded in 1951 as the national alliance of evangelical Christians of the Protestant denomination, in its just-released report, “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India: Half Yearly Report 2021”, has said that an analysis of 145 cases of violence it has documented against Christians, mainly by non-state actors, “stems from an environment of targeted hate.”

Demolition drive: Why aren't high-end hotels, farmhouses treated same way as Khorigaon?

By Our Representative A public hearing, sponsored by the civil rights group National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) to hear the affected citizens of Khorigaon, off Faridabad, Delhi NCR, has seen local people complaining how their houses are being demolished even as the entire area was converted into a prison through heavy police deployment.

How real is Mamata challenge to Modi? Preparing for 2024 'khela hobey' moment

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  Third time elected West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee is on a whirlwind tour of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters within and beyond the government, the Prime Minister, the President, some Cabinet ministers, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, several other opposition leaders, et al.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How BSF, police, court turned Bangladeshi woman slave victim into accused in crime

Counterview Desk  Civil rights leader Kirity Roy has strongly objected to the manner in which the Border Security Force (BSF) , the police and the judiciary in West Bengal have treated a 35 years old Bangladeshi woman victim of human trafficking, who was subjected to sexual exploitation for 15 long years, has been declared guilty of violating the Foreigners Act, violating all human rights norms.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Khorigaon demolition: People being 'brutally' evicted, cops 'restricting' food, water

By Ishita Chatterjee, Neelesh Kumar, Manju Menon, Vimal Bhai* On July 23, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation told the Supreme Court that they have cleared 74 acres out of 150 acres. Despite the affidavit of the Municipal Corporation, the court, on the complaint of various litigants, that the arrangements for living, food etc. have not been made for the people. 

Covid impact on menstrual cycles? Young girls 'relapsing' back to unhygienic old-cloth rags

By Dr Sudeshna Roy*  Covid-19 pandemic has gripped the world in health and economic shock. Combating this public health crisis has diverted development resources earmarked for adolescents and the youth. India; having world’s second largest population; 1.38 crores as per UN mid-year 2020 estimation, also shelters the largest adolescents and young adult population, which at 243 million constitute 20% of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescent population.

Project launched to fight high malnutrition in Odisha's backward Malkangiri district

By Our Representative Odisha civil rights groups have launched a new project, which will cover 8,000 households under of Podia block in Odisha’s Malkangiri district in order to provide essential preventive medicine to the community through the trained village-based Swasthya Sathis (health workers) and fight malnutrition in the district’s rural areas.