Understanding the importance of Mahad movement
Manusmriti need to be burnt not in its physicality alone but also from our hearts and minds
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Two sisters from scavenging community were burnt to death by an upper caste mob in Moradabad district of Uttar-Pradesh for an alleged murder committed by their brother who is still at large. The family requested the police to protect them yet nothing happened. Contrary to what the girl’s distraught mother is saying, the Uttar-Pradesh police already suggested that the girls committed suicide because of the regular humiliation by their neighbors regarding their brothers.
Uttar-Pradesh, people say, is the laboratory of the Dalit-Bahujan politics. Unfortunately, Brahmanism still remains as powerful in the state as ever though its functionality and strategies have changed drastically. The Dalit- Bahujan concept has taken a beating here and to the best now the new agendas of different caste identities have emerged in the state. Tragically, this assertion movement has some where drifted from what Baba Saheb Ambedkar charted for all the oppressed of the country, a new vision under Buddha’s liberating path. Uttar-Pradesh has seen empowered Dalit Bahujan politics but unlike Maharastra the efforts for a counter culture here have not worked well. In the absence of a counter culture, the Dalit Bahujan leaderships of different communities are targeting each other and in the end reinforcing brahmanical beliefs of supremacy and purity. As long as caste remains, Brahmanism will work to the benefits of the powerful and maintain hegemonies of a few.
It is therefore necessary to revisit the historic path of Baba Saheb Ambedkar in Mahad where he fought the rights of the people denied human dignity and access the natural resources. Water is a natural resource and none has right to control it and Ambedkar’s fight for water right for the Dalits is an example of how people’s movement can bring social change as he was not just breaking the brahmanical hegemony over water but also pointing that without equality of women and their effective participation no movement would succeed. He, along with thousands of his followers, predominantly women, burnt Manusmriti, the law book of the Hindus. It was not just symbolic but a strong rejection of racist Hindu social order which denied human being equality, liberty and fraternity. It was just not a political issue as he made an important statement in burning Manusmriti, which means that the rejection of old order based on racial prejudices of cultural supremacy must essentially be part of any movement meant for social justice. Hence, December 25th must be celebrated as a human rights day of the oppressed all over the world. We can not leave this symbolic day to the pages of history only but take it further to demolish Machiavellian politics of highest kind where people are marginalized through divine sanctions and subjugated further in the name of Gods and the books supposedly written by them. No book was bigger than human liberty and freedom and therefore they need to be questioned and formulated according to modern concept of rights for all.
For every student of social sciences and human rights in India must read and understand this historical event of December 25th, 1927, as this will give them ideas to learn and understand what Ambedkar stood for and what he revolted. That was the time, when Baba Saheb challenged the religious superiority of Manu Smriti and termed it a law book of injustice and burnt it with his supporters, it was a big event for millions of people were fooled to believe in a book which can not be changed yet which was responsible for their miseries and sorrows. A person like Ambedkar would not believe in tokenism as he countered each of these laws with his thought provoking critical analysis, yet it was important for him to do something symbolic which sends a positive message among the community.
This is Ambedkar’s century and his forthright views are now a challenge for all hegemonies. Today, the movement for social justice can not imagine anything leaving Ambedkar from the centrality of it. Yet, very unfortunately, many new things are coming up projecting Ambedkar as a person from a particular community, who married to a non Dalit woman and most shockingly, they alleged, he embrace Buddhism under pressure of Hindus. This is the outcome of the growing caste identities being used for individual leaders and their fancies to achieve ‘political power’. There is nothing wrong in attaining political power but how will it sustain without a common cause and common rejection of the Varnashram dharma. How can we challenge Brahmanism without a counter-culture, which is more humane, progressive and ideologically stronger and better than an order based on prejudices and stereotypes? As Dalit Bahujan movement further split into the caste and sub-castes identities hitting at each other, the power of Ambedkar’s cultural vision become more than relevant for all of us. Ambedkar as a challenger of hegemony, a free thinker and an iconoclast would answer to all the irrelevant manipulations of his formulations and ideological constructs being constructed by these prophets of religions who find it unacceptable as why he embraced Buddhism. Problem with these thinking is that all of them denigrate Ambedkar’s great moral courage and hence it is essential to understand Ambedkar in true spirit of his philosophy of life and mission.
Yes, those who feel Ambedkar embraced Buddhism out of fear and pressure from Sangh Parivar do not really appreciate his commitment and strength. A man who could walk out of an audience with Pope John Paul just because the latter could not respond to his questions properly must have been having the courage of conviction. One must understand that Baba Saheb Ambedkar clearly mentioned that Hindu Fundamentalists are the biggest threat and Hindu Rashtra would be a colossal tragedy for India. He talked against political Islam and its threat. It would be very difficult to find a man of Ambedkar’s vision and courage who single handedly brought change in the lives of millions of people in India.
Ambedkar is the name of Freedom, liberty and enlightened individual. And he is aspiration and hope of millions of people denied rights and yet by dint of their hard work, they have challenge the brahmanical superstructure. He was a man of great pragmatism yet never ever compromised on his principles. His pragmatism never ever reflected in politics of opportunism which is very much part of today’s politics and politicians. His thrust on individual is a landmark from any standard as even European society and Americans had not discovered that individualism that Ambedkar aspired for. For him individual was supreme and those who denigrate individual can not really build a healthy society? Our societies deny individual the basic liberty and that is why it can not be called a society.
Today, on December 25th, we must have the courage to be as courageous as Baba Saheb Ambedkar was to his thoughts and action, his creations, his thoughts, of his convictions and commitments. His fight for the fundamental right of access to natural resources, added by rejection of the racist brahmanical order should be part of our college curriculum. Those who believe in egalitarian society must understand the meaning of Ambedkar and his fight for social justice. Today, in the world where our governments and societies are hurting the individual liberty the most, when our political parties are compromising with religious fundamentalists, when our Khap panchayats are deciding what we should do and what should we think, Ambedkar’s ideas remains a beacon of hope. Ambedkar is the hope for all the oppressed. The women in India need to understand that Dr Ambedkar’s struggle for them was supreme. This day when we celebrate the Christmas as big day, it is a big day for millions of people all over the world for their dignity and human right. His ideas need to globalised and propagated internationally so that more and more people understand the enormity of his struggle and modernity of his ideas which changed our world. Let president Obama read Dr Ambedkar and his writings and he will understand the cruelty of Indian village system as well as how a giant like Ambedkar could bring hopes in the lives of million without using any violent methods but simply advocating through a counter culture to oppression and subjugation. The politics of identity is great but as Ambedkar himself said about his own ‘ I was born as Hindu which was not in my hand but I will not die as a Hindu’. It clearly indicates that he was out to create new identity and harp on it. The sacrifice of Baba Saheb Ambedkar was for all of us to live in an enlightened society. We can not have our vision by reasserting our identities created under the brahmanical construct. A new dawn need to be created which means a cultural change is prerequisite for making final assault on Brahmanism and Ambedkar has shown us the path. It is time we chose that identity charted by him and get out of this big brahmanical game of hurting each other. We all may have minor contradiction but we need to understand the bigger contradiction of our life is with the order created by Manu. Baba Saheb chose to hit at that bigger contradiction in Mahad and it is time we need to follow that again and again. We may burn Manu Smriti in public but let us throw it away in the rubbish bin of history and pledge to work for a humanist society as envisaged by Baba Saheb Ambedkar. When we shed our internal prejudices then the mother of the scavenging community girls who were brutally burnt Moradabad would not feel isolated with in the Dalit Bahujan politics and we will not raise an issue when there is a good political crop to harvest. That time every individual is important for us as Baba Saheb time and again maintained. It is tragic that like the Hindus we also prejudge things and confine ourselves in the realm of identity politics. Baba Saheb’s message was meant for all of us and we must come in solidarity of all who need us. It is here that Balmikis of Moradabad need our support. Even if, as some people assume that the brothers of these girls who were burnt, were criminals, that does not mean that the girls and their family should have paid the price for the crime they never committed. Blaming people on their birth identity and on the crime of some one else is brahanical and need to be challenged at all level including our personal and ideological discourse. The biggest defeat of Manu Smriti would be the social-cultural unity of victims of that order created by it, but in the absence of a concrete programme of action and because of conspicuous silence on matter such as these killings create further rifts in the people and make them fall in the hands of those who are actually the biggest offenders of our dignity and human rights. Unity will never happen with big jargons and rhetoric but is only possible with expression of solidarity and participating and being part of every struggle for human dignity and human rights. And message from Mahad is that intellectuals who write must ensure at least some time of their life to be participants of a social movement and struggle for change. How did Baba Saheb Ambedkar found time to write so many things and yet be part of all the major struggles. His writings and work had the conviction strongly inbuilt that unless we become part of social movements for change and unless we shed these brahmanical prejudices and values in our personality, we will always be carrying Manu in our heart and mind. Ambedkar did not have the patience to hear Pope that it will take so many centuries for elimination of caste system and walked out of him. Ambedkar has done his work, it is time for us to pledge that we will not sit ideally unless this notorious system is demolished and the best way to do so would be by taking further his path and creating an enlightened and equitable society, if not among all, at least among our own selves.