Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi might inaugurate the historic London residence of Bhimrao Ramji "Babasaheb" Ambdekar, one of the "founding fathers" of modern India. Rajkumar Badole, Minister for Social Justice in the State of Maharashtra, made the announcement today.
In cooperation with local authorities, the state government plans to restore the house. However, for Dalit activist Lenin Raghuvanshi, the decision is an “emotional ploy” because Ambedkar was radically opposed to the ideals embodied by India’s ruling Hindu nationalists.
As India’s first post-independence Law and Justice minister, Babasaheb was the main architect of the Indian Constitution. Born in a Hindu Dalit (untouchable) family, he led a lifelong struggle to assert the political rights and promote the social freedom of "untouchables" like himself.
Lenin Raghuvanshi, secretary general of the People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR), spoke to AsiaNews about Ambedkar's ideas, noting that they have nothing to do with Hindu nationalists, who are instead accomplices of the caste system that still oppresses Indian society. (Edited by AsiaNews)
The imminent opening of the historic London residence of BR Ambedkar is just an emotional ploy by the Government of Maharashtra. If the Prime Minister were serious about the figure of Ambedkar, he would oppose the ideas of Manusmriti, Manu’s Laws, one of the main Hindu texts codifying the caste system, and its adepts, like the Hindu paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Modern India embarked on the road of freedom, resolute to bring social justice and dignity to its millions of enslaved, downtrodden, and poor inhabitants, Dalits included. However, in 67 years of independence since the end of British rule, very little has changed.
On the contrary, atrocities against untouchables have become more blatant and bizarre in some parts of my country. This has shaken the confidence people might have in India’s ability to call itself civilised.
In the past, we told ourselves that if someone from a lower caste broke the unwritten law of the caste hierarchy, that person would be beaten in public. Now that person is shot, his village burnt down and the women raped.
If a groom dares to ride a horse during his marriage, if an ambitious farmer digs a well in his land, if a young man falls in love with a young woman – if they belong to the Dalit caste, they will be killed. Yet, we keep telling ourselves that the rule of law reigns in India.
The fight for Dalit rights in India has had a chequered history. At every turn, they have been betrayed and let down by their political masters. Only recently and reluctantly has some space been carved out for them in mainstream politics. However, so far, the main thrust of political action on their behalf has been job reservations (quotas) in government, without empowering them or providing them with a rightful and dignified place in society.
It is ironic that Ambedkar is considered the father of the Indian Constitution for he was a Dalit who fought against a caste-plagued society. The reason for this is the country’s Hindu fascist forces have conspired against lower castes. The destruction of statues dedicated to him, which has occurred in various parts of India, is one example.
In one incident, in the village of Piyari, Uttar Pradesh, lower caste residents tried to fight those who came to destroy the monument. To their surprise, they found police officers among them. They did tried to stop the destruction with sticks. However, in the end, they failed.
For its part, the police filed two cases: one against those who destroyed the statue and one against those who tried to stop them. Obviously, when the police registered the first case, they avoided mentioning the names of the agents involved in the incident.
The case ended up in a local court. But much to the surprise of those from the higher castes, in this case, the judge was from a lower caste, a rarity. Then, without warning, the case was transferred to another court. Only a decision by a higher court could have allowed the case to be moved. This means that superior courts collude with high caste people.
Nothing better can be expected in a place where a district judge recently conducted a religious ceremony to purify the chair used by his predecessor, a member of a lower caste, a ritual that involved washing it with water from the Ganges, which he believes will wash away all sins.
When a high caste person commits a crime, punishment follows the trial. However, when a Dalit does something wrong, the whole community is punished. Courts do not impose the penalty; members of the high castes do – even when the “crime” is not theft or murder, but anything, like “polluting” a village by using its water or bathing in (thus polluting) a pond.
Punishment is immediate, often carried out by high caste gangs who burn down Dalit homes, beat their residents and often rape or molest their women in public.
Indian society remains in a semi-feudal and semi-capitalist mode of production. The caste system serves this mode perfectly. The pyramid of Indian society stands on the shoulders of millions of Dalits, who forego their human rights so that some may say that India is shining.
However, 2,800 years ago Buddha took up the challenge to end the caste system. Similarly, in modern times, the Bhakti movement saw the emergence of figures like Kabir, Savitri Bai Phule and Bhimrao Ambedkar, who had the courage to shake it.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article.)