“Hindu Raj” Single Greatest Roadblock to Progress of Dr. Ambedkar’s Caravan
Commemorating Ambedkar’s 131st birthday during dark days in India
Speech originally presented at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Jayanti Celebration hosted by Dr. Ambedkar Mission Society Europe (Germany) on 14 April 2022.
The middle of April marks some of the most monumental events in the struggle against caste, that insidious and poisonous, invisibilized but most potent form of oppression which has tormented so many throughout South Asia for so long.
We start with the 11th of April, which marked the 195th birthday of Jyotirao Phule. Along with his wife Savitribai, Phule founded some of the Indian subcontinent’s first modern schools for children — especially girls — from Shudra and Ati-Shudra backgrounds. Shudras being those from the lowest caste and Ati-Shudras being outcastes or those traditionally treated as “Untouchables,” these people had, historically, been actually banned from acquiring an education.
History cannot forget Phule’s passion for the downtrodden and his fury at how ignorance was imposed upon them in a devious attempt to lock them in mental slavery. Pondering on the results of that denial of education, he wrote, “Without education, wisdom was lost; without wisdom, morals were lost; without morals, development was lost; without development, wealth was lost; without wealth, the Shudras were ruined. So much has happened through lack of education.”
Notably, it was Phule who is credited with introducing the term “Dalit” for Ati-Shudras — a name, meaning “broken,” which both offered a sense of dignity for as well as a communal expression of the ancient pain of the people who adopted it.
While many in the anti-caste movement fondly commemorated Phule just three days ago, on this 14th of April many are also celebrating another birthday.
I speak of the 323rd anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa, that institution of the Sikhs established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. When the Guru called for volunteers to give up their lives for this institution, the first five who joined were from multiple different caste backgrounds, including three who were from so-called “low castes.” But the Guru stripped them of their old identities, baptized them all equally as “Singh” (meaning lion), and declared, “You have become casteless.”
“In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a brother,” he said. They were to be united, he told them, in a common calling to “serve the poor without distinction of caste, color, country, or creed.” Tying turbans on all their heads, he gave each one the symbolic headdress previously reserved only for royalty. “Recognize the whole human race as one,” he announced as he called all to sit and eat together, having abandoned every odious and nefarious restriction previously imposed upon them by their supposed castes.
Just under 200 years later, Bhim Rao Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891.
Today, we remember Dr. Ambedkar as the foremost champion of civil rights that the Indian subcontinent has seen — certainly, at least, in this modern age and, perhaps, in many other ages.
“Caste is a state of mind,” Ambedkar prophesied. “It is a disease of the mind.” And so he set about to change minds, above all through education. Never one to suggest to others what he would not do himself, he began to first acquire knowledge for himself, becoming eventually one of the most highly-educated people of his time. Applying that education, he emerged also as one of the world’s great renaissance men: a jurist, an economist, a politician and, above all, a social reformer.
Dr. Ambedkar set out to achieve the seemingly impossible: the annihilation of caste. Rising from birth into a Dalit family to become the leader and liberator of his people and, eventually, to chair the drafting committee for the constitution of independent India, he saw, as one of the chief fruits of his work, a Republic of India in which untouchability was constitutionally banned
Even at the end of his life, however, he knew that there was much work yet to be done. Untouchability was outlawed by the constitution, but its practice still continued. Caste discrimination was also banned by the constitution, but the caste system itself remained intact.
The struggle was unfinished. So, in his last message to the people, Dr. Ambedkar declared:
“Whatever I have done, I have been able to do after passing through crushing miseries and endless struggle all my life and fighting with my opponents. With great difficulty, I have brought this caravan where it is seen today. Let the caravan march on despite the hurdles that may come in its way. If my lieutenants are not able to take the caravan ahead, they should leave it there, but in no circumstances should they allow the caravan to go back. This is the message to my people.”
Today, that caravan has stalled. It is no longer marching on. It is stuck in the mud. It is so deeply mired in the mud that its wheels threaten to break off. The situation today is so dire that not only is the caravan at risk of going back, but the oppression against which Ambedkar’s people struggled so valiantly has now expanded and engulfed other communities in India.
Speaking prophetically in the late 1940s, Dr. Ambedkar warned that, because of the caste system, “Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially un-democratic.” His fear was, he said, that “it is quite possible for this newborn democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact.” And what would that “dictatorship in fact” look like?
Most probably a “Hindu Rashtra” or nation — that is, a “Hindu Raj” or kingdom. “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country,” warned Ambedkar. “Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
Unfortunately, it was not prevented.
In 2019, Dr. Anand Teltumbde, the grandson-in-law of Dr. Ambedkar, warned, “We find the country on the verge of a comprehensive collapse of whatever little it had of democracy, in the process of formally becoming a Hindu Rashtra, which Babasaheb Ambedkar so prophetically warned against.” Three years after his warning, the Republic of India, under the RSS-BJP regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has essentially become both a dictatorship in fact as well as a de facto Hindu Raj.
The dawn of a dictatorial Hindu Raj in modern India has brought dark days which are turning life for hundreds of millions of Christian and Muslim minorities into the same nightmare that Shudras, Dalits, and Adivasis (that is, tribals) had been forced to live in for many ages past. That Hindu Raj is also serving as the single greatest roadblock to the forward movement of Ambedkar’s caravan that the anti-caste struggle has ever witnessed.
As this de facto Hindu Rashtra threatens to undo all that India has achieved in 75 years of independence, the Sangh Parivar — that web of Hindu nationalist outfits springing from the RSS paramilitary — rightly understands that Dr. Ambedkar and his legacy serves as one of its supreme enemies. They must either reject Ambedkar or else co-opt him. And they must either win over the Dalit movement or else destroy it.
“Dalits constitute an important part of the Sangh Parivar’s game plan,” warns Teltumbde. He explains that the Sangh’s “strategic apple cart — meant to polarize the Indian population into Hindus versus others: Muslims, Christians and communists (i.e. those who do not agree with it) — could be toppled by the Dalits.” After all, as he notes, “It cannot be taken for granted that Dalits would identify themselves as Hindus anymore. With their historical, social, ideological and cultural profile, they have the potential to play spoiler for the BJP’s agenda for the nation.” Because the Sangh’s “formula turns on the deliberate alienation of religious minorities — who, along with Dalits, constitute up to 30 per cent of the electorate — not having the Dalits on their side would seriously impede their plans for a Hindu rashtra.”
Consequently, according to Teltumbde, “wooing Dalits” is a “crucial component of the strategy of the proponents of Hindu Rashtra.” Thus, he explains, the Sangh has — despite the fact that Ambedkar stands diametrically opposed to everything it represents — developed a “new-found love” for him which “stems from this political expediency.” Ambedkar has assumed “critical importance in the Sangh Parivar’s strategy” and yet, Teltumbde adds, “unless Ambedkar were adequately saffronized, the rejection of Hinduism by the Dalit masses under his leadership would continue to plague its efforts.”
Because Ambedkar cannot actually be saffronized, as the RSS-BJP continues to desperately attempt to entice Dalits to make the suicidal choice to join the Sangh’s cause, it is simultaneously doing everything it can to break the back of the Dalit movement.
We have witnessed this in the launch of the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case in 2018. That case ensnared 16 prominent intellectuals and activists from around the country, the majority of whom were known for two things: their steadfast opposition to the RSS-BJP and their dedication to the struggles of the Adivasi, Dalit, and Shudra communities.
Thus, as we commemorate Dr. Ambedkar’s 131st birthday today, we must also remember another anniversary.
Two years ago today, the Modi regime struck one of its greatest blows against the modern Dalit movement. On 14 April 2020, Dr. Anand Teltumbde was arrested on his grandfather-in-law’s birthday. He has been held behind bars ever since on trumped up charges.
Writing on the day of his arrest, Indian politician Jignesh Mevani and Indian poet Meena Kandasamy jointly explained: “Teltumbde belongs to that league of Ambedkarites who stands like a progressive intellectual wall against the neoliberal Hindutva [that is, Hindu nationalist ideology] of the RSS-BJP. It is important for the anti-people, RSS-guided Central government to breach this progressive intellectual wall for their forward march towards an unequal, regressive society of Hindutva ridden with caste discrimination, class inequality and patriarchal domination. They want to accelerate this time machine which will take us into the dark ages.”
Those dark ages are already upon us. But there is hope.
There is hope in the rising generation of young Dalit scholars who are walking Dr. Ambedkar’s path of education, agitation, and organization. Many of them have found that their greatest potential to survive, succeed, and thrive is through international studies and, thanks to Dalit and other communities pooling resources, some brilliant stars have been able to take advantage of opportunities to join the Dalit diaspora. Especially as they pursue social sciences and strive to become the best and brightest Indians in the fields of politics, media, and history, they may yet be able to set the story straight as they steer the narrative in the direction of truth.
And, as we all know, the truth sets us free.
Moreover, there are emergent movements throughout the Indian diaspora in which people from all backgrounds are coming together and unifying to take a stand against the Hindutva monster. Indian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and others are, more and more frequently, joining hands with the Dalit movement to struggle together. Without this unity, the Sangh’s monstrous agenda can never be defeated; and yet with this unity, perhaps — one day sooner rather than later — the far more ancient monster of caste can also finally be annihilated.
Although the path to paradise may first lead us through hell, we shall, no doubt, eventually see the caravan march on to its final, glorious destination.
As we remember Phule, celebrate the Khalsa, and commemorate Dr. Ambedkar, let the good doctor’s last message be an inspiration for us all to never give up. Perhaps, in our own little way, we too can hope to someday echo his words: “Whatever I have done, I have been able to do after passing through crushing miseries and endless struggle all my life and fighting with my opponents.”
May you find strength for the fight, endurance through the struggles, and joy to overcome the misery. Jai Bhim.