Babasaheb Ambedkar considered three great souls his ‘gurus’: Mahatma Buddha, Mahatma Kabir and Mahatma Phule. None of them was a Dalit. Ambedkar’s life was devoted to the endeavour of establishing democratic and republican ideals in the country so that every citizen enjoys equality, fraternity and liberty. But these days, he is erroneously described as a Dalit leader – that he worked only for the betterment of the Dalits and it was only the Dalits who were his supporters and followers. I smell a conspiracy in this attempt to limit the legacy of Ambedkar.
The burning of Manusmriti by Ambedkar on 25 December 1927 holds special significance. Manusmriti seeks to crush the Shudras (OBCs) under the Chaturvarnya structure of the caste system. Ambedkar opposed it and sought to replace it with the values of a society that gives equal status to everyone – whether Dalits, OBCs or nomadic tribes.
Two Satyashodhaks (Truth-seekers) joined him in this campaign. Both of them – Dinkarrao Jawalkar and Keshavrao Jedhe – were non-Brahmins. These two were a part of a trio that Ambedkar, then a young barrister, successfully defended in a case of libel against Poona’s Brahmins in October 1926. It is common knowledge that the Jotiba Phule-founded Satyashodhak movement was opposed to the Brahmanical system.
The purpose of underlining this fact here is to emphasise that Ambedkar opposed Manusmriti because it legalized the caste system, which, in turn, became the genesis of the inequality in Indian society. The book conditions our minds to accept the caste system. To erase Manu’s code from the minds and hearts of the people, Ambedkar forged a joint front comprising not only Dalits but also other non-Brahmins, especially Satyashodhaks, who mainly hailed from Shudra/OBC communities such as Maratha, Mali and Dhangar.
It was not without reason that Ambedkar had given Jotiba Phule the status of his guru. Posing a powerful challenge to the Brahmanical system, Phule had established the Satyashodhak Samaj on 24 September 1873. He held the religion-caste system responsible for our country’s enslavement. He tried to awaken the farmers, workers and other backward classes through his books such as Kisan Ka Koda, Ghulamgiri and Sarvajanik Satyadharma. He made it clear that the citadel of Brahmanical religion stands on the nonsensical tales rendered in the religious texts. He told the backwards that all human beings have been created equal by God (‘Nirmika’). “Embrace Mang, Mahar, Mohammed, Brahmin, everyone,” Phule said. He used akhands (lines of poetry) to convey his thoughts. He showed the Shudras and Ati-shudras the path of education as a means to build a society based on equality and fraternity. He said that only education could pull them out of slavery. Jotiba and Savitribai Phule established schools for girls beginning in 1848 and for Dalits beginning in 1851. Ambedkar took Phule’s work forward.
It was the thoughts and works of Phule that inspired Ambedkar to give the mantra ‘Educate, Organize, Agitate’ so that the non-Brahmins can throw off the yoke of slavery. Ambedkar considered himself a Satyashodhak. Even today, the OBCs and non-Dalit, non-Brahmin communities are not able to comprehend the significance of this inclusive role of Ambedkar. He never confined himself to any caste or castes and never founded any caste-based organization. He wanted to take everyone along.
Joint struggle with the Backward Castes
On 19-20 March 1927, he organized a Kulaba Zilla Bahishkrit Parishad at Mahad (Kulaba district, Maharashtra). In this conclave it was decided to launch a movement under which the Untouchables would drink the water of Chaidar lake to symbolically declare that they would henceforth have unhindered access to the water of the lake. Ironically, at that time, even Shudras, who were under the sway of the Brahamanical system, believed that the Untouchables did not have a right over public sources of water. (After Ambedkar’s campaign, the Brahmanwadis poured cow urine in the lake to purify it.) However, OBC Satyashodhaks supported Ambedkar in this campaign. The members of some other non-Dalit communities also joined hands with him because they felt that Ambedkar’s movement would help build an equitable society. Prominent among these were Bhai Chitre, Satyashodhaks Jedhe and Jawalkar (Maratha), S.G. Tipnis (a Kayastha like Bal Thackeray) and G.N. Sahastrabuddhe.
With the same objective of educating the people of the causes of their slavery, on 4 September 1927, Ambedkar established the Samaj Samta Sangh (Social Equality Association) and in 1929 launched a newspaper titled Samta. The members of the Samta Sangh included G.N. Sahastrabuddhe, R.D. Kavli, P.P. Tamhane, D.V. Naik, N.V. Khandke, G.R. Pradhan, B.V. Pradhan, R.N. Bhaindarkar, D.V. Pradhan and B.R Pradhan.
In the first issue of Samta dated 29 June 1928, N.V. Ghorpade, in his article titled ‘Hindu Sangathan aur Samaj Samta Sangh’ (Hindu organizations and Samaj Samta Sangh), said, “The people are now aware of the cowardly and hypocritical ways of the Hindu Sabha. Samaj Samta is working for the establishment of an equitable society by promoting inter-caste marriages and joint feasts. A scholar and helmsman of change is with us. We will build youth who believe in equality.” Ghorpade was a Maratha and a Satyashodhak. The editor of the newspaper, Devrao Naik, was also a Satyashodhak. Later, he edited another of Ambedkar’s newspapers, Janata. Once Devrao Naik used the example of Sant Tukaram to counter the claim of an arrogant Maratha, Shankarrao Kadam, that his caste was superior to that of others.
Thus, the members of backward castes were deeply involved in Ambedkar’s lifelong battle against social inequality. Ambedkar knew perfectly well that the Brahmanwadi Hindu Sabha members use concepts such as god, fate, caste and the caste system to enslave the OBCs. That is why, treating Phule and Shahuji Maharaj as his ideals, he always ensured that members of Satyashodhak Samaj were part of his every campaign. In Vidharbha, Dr Punjabrao Deshmukh, founder chairman, Shivaji Shikshan Sanstha, Amravati, was on his team and so was Sant Gadge Maharaj, a great saint belonging to the Dhobhi community.
On 24 August 1928, Samta carried a news item about a “family community feast” which was attended by the people of all castes. Among this motley gathering were Ambedkar, C.N. Shivtarkar (Chamar), Keshav Sitaram Thakre (Kayastha leader and father of Balasaheb Thackeray), N.V. Khadange (Shimpi, tailor), D.V. Naik (Brahmin), M.S. Chaudhary (Maratha), M.B. Deshmukh (Kayastha), Govindji Parmar (Mahar), K.M. Kalokhe (Matang), K.S. Kholwadikar, Gangavane, R.D. Bankar (Mali, Satyashodhak), Aasyekar (Maratha), Ram Murti Pratap Giri and his wife (Brahmins), and B.R. Kandrekar (Bhandari).
In the editorial of Janata dated 2 May 1936, Ambedkar wrote, “The organizational strength of workers-peasants cannot be built without annihilating social and religion inequality.” In the September of 1936, he launched an agitation against the ‘khod’ system of collecting land revenue from the farmers of the Konkan region.
Farming was the main occupation of the OBC community. Ambedkar had a very clear idea of what should be done to improve the lot of the farmers. He mooted the idea of nationalization of farming. He was one of the leaders who envisaged building of dams for irrigation. Ambedkar’s vision was behind the construction of Bhakra Nangal and six other dams that followed, after Independence. He was also the first to talk about linking rivers.
In 1935, Ambedkar established the Independent Labour Party. Through the party, he worked for securing the interests of the OBCs and other non-Dalit communities. In this campaign, Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh (Satyashodhak), a social activist and a farmer’s leader who became independent India’s first agriculture minister, stood by him. This party struggled against caste atrocities and the practice of social boycott in villages, and also for securing the rights of agricultural and industrial labourers. In September 1937, members of the Kunbi community, in tattered clothes and holding rotis in their hands, demonstrated demanding their right over their land. They had come from all districts of the coastal Konkan region.
In a move that was aimed at the welfare of women of all communities, Ambedkar talked of the need for family planning way back in 1938. However, the country had to wait till 1951 before his views were accepted. This revolutionary pro-woman idea was not meant only for Dalit women. On 19 April 1948, he moved the Hindu Code Bill in the Constituent Assembly. The bill had provisions that would have freed all Hindu women, regardless of caste, from the clutches of the Brahamanical system. However, despite his best efforts, the bill could not be passed and so, in protest, he resigned from the council of ministers in 1951.
What OBCs owe Ambedkar
Ambedkar made provision for reservations for SCs, STs, OBCs and women in education and jobs under articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution. This reservation is considered a fundamental right. It is not subject to review every ten years, as is the case with reservations in Parliament. It is under this Constitutional provision that OBCs got reservations as recommended by the Mandal commission. They got scholarships and jobs. There is a provision for the establishment of a backward classes commission in the Constitution. The OBCs, divided into around 6,000 Shudra sub-castes (jatis), were henceforth considered one class. After the exit of the British, in the 1952 general elections, 60 per cent of Congress’ candidates were Brahmins. Among the members of the first Parliament, 56 per cent were Brahmins while only 44 per cent came from the 6,000 other castes. This was the politics that helped Brahmins establish control over Parliament. Ambedkar was aware of this conspiracy and that is why he had sought a separate electorate for the Bahujans. This demand was not acceptable to Gandhi and, under the infamous ‘Poona Pact’ of 1932, a concession was agreed upon whereby SCs and STs would have reservations in Parliament. It is due to the democratic provision made in the Constitution by Ambedkar that, today, going by the number of reserved seats, at least 119 MPs and 1,050 MLAs are SCs and STs.
Today, we are passing through a phase that may end with the rule of the Brahmanical Peshwas being thrust upon us. We need to be vigilant. There is only one path for the Bahujan community – the path of Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar.
Published in the December 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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