Lost in translation: 25 years on, only half of Ambedkar’s ‘Writings and Speeches’ in Hindi

The central government announced its plan 25 years ago to translate the 21 volumes of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s writings and speeches into all the languages in the Eighth Schedule. However, this project is far from complete due to bureaucratic delays, non-payment of translators’ fees and even the long wait for the minister’s signature

Some time in the 1990s, the then Narasimha Rao government announced the plan to have the entire literary corpus of Babasaheb Ambedkar translated into all the Scheduled Indian languages. Until then, these writings existed only in English in 21 volumes. The Rao government had added Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali to the Constitution’s Eighth Schedule, so it was understood that the writings would be translated into these languages, too. Later, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government included Bodo, Dogari, Maithili and Santhali in the Eight Schedule.

The Ministry of Welfare, the predecessor of today’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, was made the nodal agency of the project. Dr Ambedkar Foundation, formed in 1992 with the incumbent minister as ex-officio chairman, was tasked with the implementation.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar

A quarter century has elapsed, but the project is yet to be completed. It is noteworthy that the foundation itself did not implement the project but delegated the job mostly to the state governments and other institutions. For example, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was entrusted with the translation of ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings & Speeches’ into Urdu.

 There is no standard format being followed in the translations. According to information provided on the Ambedkar Foundation’s website, the Tamil Nadu Government has brought out 37 volumes under the project, out of which Volume 31 of the series has two parts. So far, 22 volumes have come out in Kannada and 21 in Hindi. The 21 volumes in Hindi don’t correspond to the original 21 volumes in English; 10 volumes of the English original have been split into 21. This calls for a thorough review of the project’s status with respect to all the Scheduled Languages.

‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches’, Vol 4

Translation into some of these languages has fallen far behind. There are 10 volumes in Telugu but Volume 10 has been split into four parts. Only four volumes of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches are available so far in Punjabi. There is no information online on the translation of the writings and speeches in Assamese, Oriya, Sindhi and Urdu, as well as the seven languages that were added to the Eighth Schedule by the Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee governments. Further investigation revealed that there are only four volumes each in Assamese and Urdu.

Bureaucratic hurdles are the reason for this slow progress. The unspoken rule is to pay the translator after the particular volume they have translated has been published. This writer had submitted the Urdu translation of Volume V in 1998, but it is yet to be published. As for the remuneration, he got it 15 years later, in 2013, after much pleading by the managing editor for Urdu translation. The volume included Dr Ambedkar’s speech in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.

The current remuneration for translation is only a little higher compared to 25 years ago. This too keeps the translators away from the project. Yet another problem concerns the supply of paper. In publication industry, procuring paper is the publisher’s responsibility – in this case, Dr Ambedkar Foundation; legally, a printer can’t purchase paper from the market for any print job. But a printer told me, on the condition of anonymity, that he was supplied paper for a particular volume five odd years after it was finalized.

But the attitude of the ministers takes the cake. When a volume is published in any language, it has to carry a letter of commendation from the incumbent Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, who writes “I am glad to learn that …” and so on. The managing editor for the language concerned drafts the letter in the set format and sends it to the foundation’s member-secretary, who then takes it to the minister. However, even though the minister only has to scribble his signature at the bottom, the common complaint has been that the scribbling can take up to five years! Politicians and bureaucrats cannot care less about Babasaheb’s legacy.


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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