Skip to main content

Arrest of Ambedkarites designed to silence critics of 'unequal Hindu social order'

By Abhay Kumar*

On February 21, Ratan Lal, an associate professor at Delhi University’s Hindu College, was granted bail by a Delhi court. He was arrested on the previous night earlier from his residence in Delhi for a post on a social media platform.
An FIR had been filed against him under IPC Sections 153A and 295A. Section 153A pertains to a cognizable offence of “promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language”. Section 295A concerns “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs”.
Ratan Lal has been trolled by hatemongers. He has received threats to his life, forcing him to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a gun licence. Ratan Lal’s post concerned what appears to be a fountain inside Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, which the right-wing Hindu groups claim is a Shivling. This has been dutifully brought into the mainstream discourse by a media subservient to the state.
Ratan Lal is a Dalit from Ladaura village in the Kurhani police station area of Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He worked hard for his academic qualifications and was appointed to the Department of History, Hindu College, in 2002. His late father Rambali Prasad worked at the Income Tax Department. Ratan Lal had come to Delhi in 1991 for higher education. In 2015, he also contested the Bihar Assembly Elections from Patepur constituency in Vaishali district as an independent candidate but lost.
Around 70 per cent of Dalits, the former Untouchables, either do not own land or have a very small piece of land. They are mostly agricultural laborers and workers. Even today, they are often treated as Untouchables and become victims of caste atrocities, despite there being laws against them. Dalits are stopped while entering temples and attacked for riding horses or wearing good clothes.
A small section of Dalits are intellectuals. Ratan Lal is one of them. They have been the beneficiaries of reservation in public educational institutions and, inspired by the works and struggles of Dr BR Ambedkar, are now challenging the upper-caste hegemony in society.
Ratan Lal’s PhD thesis was on the historian K.P. Jaiswal (1881-1937), who wrote a very influential book "Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times" (1924). By drawing upon Vedic and other classical literature, Jaiswal tries to argue that “sovereign assemblies” were held in the Vedic period. He even claims the existence of “The Hindu Republic” and “Hindu Imperial System” in the ancient period.
The PhD thesis of Ratan Lal was titled ‘KP Jaiswal: The Making of a Nationalist Historian’ and was supervised by Marxist historian KM Shrimali of Delhi University. He was awarded his PhD in 2014.
The work of Jaiswal was used by the nationalist leaders to counter the narratives of the British colonial rulers, who questioned Indians’ ability to self-rule. However, the limitation of Jaiswal’s work was that it built on James Mill’s communal periodization of Indian history as Hindu and Muslim. The work tends to glorify the “Hindu” period, feeding off the communal polarization since the 1920s. Ratan Lal’s work thus deals with such a critical phase of modern Indian history.
Is it coincidence that Ravikant Chandan of Lucknow University, and activist-politician Jignesh Mevani, also Ambedkarites, face court cases?
Apart from research and teaching, Ratan Lal is known for his activism and for running a very popular YouTube channel, “Ambedkar Nama”. On his channel, he holds discussions and conducts interviews on contemporary issues, particularly those affecting the lives of marginalized communities – the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. 
He takes a position informed by the Dalitbahujan ideology and confronts the Hindu right-wing and all those forces who want to preserve and strengthen the caste-based social order.
As a popular teacher at a prestigious college of Delhi University, he has a large number of admirers and followers. As an active member of the Delhi University teachers’ community, he is often seen at protests favouring progressive educational policies. 
An Ambedkarite intellectual like Ratan Lal problematizes the communal narrative of Hindus versus Muslims and it is not surprising that he has become a thorn in the flesh of the Hindu right wing.
The arrest of Ratan Lal is not an isolated incident. Is it a mere coincidence that Ravikant Chandan, who teaches at Lucknow University, and activist and politician Jignesh Mevani are all Dalits and Ambedkarites and are facing court cases, too? In fact, Mevani was put behind bars by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Assam government.
On the pretext of hurting Hindu sentiments, there is an elaborate design to silence all those who are critical of the unequal Hindu social order. The upper castes, who dominate the institutions of the State and the media, aren’t used to critical voices from the Bahujan community.
With their meagre resources, activist-scholars like Ratan Lal are beginning to shake this monopoly through various social media platforms. As is evident here, the attack on Prof Ratan Lal has little to do with hurting Hindu sentiments and more to do with bullying an Ambedkarite. By such an act of intimidation, he is being denied his fundamental rights of personal liberty and freedom of speech.
It is heartening that the court has granted him bail. But the real challenge to continue Ambedkar’s mission to democratize society amid an authoritarian State and frenzied communal forces has perhaps only begun.
---
*PhD, modern history, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Distributed by Dalit Media Watch, this article first appeared in Forward Press

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

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.

'Wedding of the century': What does Mukesh Ambani want to prove by such extravaganza?

By NS Venkataraman*  Mukesh  Ambani,   a renowned Indian industrialist who is said to be the richest person in India and  one of the richest persons in the world,   has just now conducted the wedding celebration of  his son in Mumbai,   with unheard level of lavishness in India.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

How US is using Tibetans to provoke conflict with China 'ignoring' India

By Lobsang Tenzin*  On July 12, US President Joe Biden signed the Resolve Tibet Act, and Tibetans cheered for it, believing that the law promotes a resolution of the dispute between Tibet and China. Is this true? First, let's look at the issue of the ownership of Tibet. 

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.