On October 14, 1956, along with his 5 lakh followers, Dr B R Ambedkar went to the refuge of The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Committed as he was to rationality and empiricism, he was attracted to Buddhism’s rational outlook tuned with morality and further strengthened by scientific temper. Its teaching of equality and solidarity, and its emphasis on transforming both the self and the world through self-effort attracted him.
Ambedkar was the brightest thunderbolt of intellect elicited from the darkest storm of casteism. Therefore, the followers of Ambedkar, the Ambedkarites, must emulate their leader and should give up the repeated labelling of themselves as suppressed class. By repeating such labels, they are giving an auto-suggestion that they are suppressed and therefore can do nothing except to look for help from someone up there in the sky or may be waiting for another Ambedkar or Buddha to arrive to relieve them.
Today we should reflect together on the predicament in which the Ambedkarites find themselves. On the one hand, they confront the exploitation they continue to suffer in a casteist society that refuses to acknowledge them as equals; on the other, they can be manipulated by an opportunist Dalit political style that has turned Ambedkar into an icon but betrays his ideals in practice of Buddhism. One is ready to take the political reservations earned by him but not his religion, Buddhism, when he himself has said that to serve Buddhism is to serve humanity.
Ambedkarites should have self-confidence and believe in self-effort to gain self-respect. Ambedkarites should try to be like Ambedkar — of high moral character, highly educated, self-confident and believing in self-effort.
One may ask why Ambedkar left Hinduism. To which Ambedkar himself says: “I thought for long that we could rid the Hindu society of its evils and get the depressed classes incorporated into it on terms of equality… Experience has taught me better. I stand today absolutely convinced that for the depressed classes there can be no equality among the Hindus because on inequality rest the foundations of Hinduism.”
Most of the Hindu leaders are hypocrites who profess to fight casteism while in reality are committed to its rules. Brahminical bureaucrats who claim to have democratic ideas wish to raise the backward castes but crave nothing better than an oligarchy for themselves. Untouchability and inequality cannot be removed if education produces only slavish and selfish-minded leaders. Moreover, how can we gain anything by staying in the caste system?
Buddhism has been in the service of the poor and the oppressed. The Buddha’s teachings are based on this fact called suffering, the cause for suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering. This is the reason why Ambedkar chose The Buddha. The Manuvadis want to keep the masses in the casteist religion so that they can go on exploiting them.
Ambedkar’s call for conversion to Buddhism has been ignored and deliberately marginalised by his own community leaders with few exceptions. It is interesting that Ambedkar fought for the rights of Dalits and had a broader vision, which couldn’t be inculcated by post-Ambedkar Ambedkarites. He wanted to give his people an identity so that they get out of the varna system but here, what we see is the stimulation of the culture of varna and caste among the Dalits.
If only constitutional guarantees would have been sufficient, Ambedkar would have rested in peace. He would never have spent years of his life even in bad health, digging out Buddhism from oblivion.
The segmented morality endemic to Hinduism is oppressive to those who suffer under it. Both uneducated and educated Dalits seems to vacillate between two discourses. On one hand they praise Ambedkar as the symbol of the Dalit movement for his conversion to Buddhism and on the other, they themselves stick to their old casteist life.
The writer is a Bahujan Ambedkarite associated with Alok Sangharam Mahavira.
Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column
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