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Some Unknown facts about Dr. Ambedkar

Some Unknown facts about Dr. Ambedkar 

Some Unknown facts about Dr. Ambedkar on ‘MAY DAY’ also known as ‘LABOR DAY’…
Please Read the complete article.

If there any person who secured the rights of Laborers in India, the person was none other than “Father of Modern India” & Revolutionary Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Without Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, today the future of India Labors would have been in pitch darkness. He is the only leader in India who was multi-dimensional and a great visionary. After all he was born in the land of the most congenital casteist the nation we know as ‘India’. The staunch upper caste’s never give credit to Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution in building a great nation which today is one of the developing economies of the world. Thanks to his robust economic policies which have saved India even in the times of great Economic Depressions. Be it the founding guidelines of the RBI or the Principles of Free Trade, Dr. Ambedkar has given all the best for our Nation.

Here is some piece of valuable information to share about what Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did for Labors as a Labor leader and as the Labor Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council between 1942 and 1946. He was sworn as the Labor Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in July 7, 1942.

Brilliant contributions made by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

  • Reduction in Factory Working Hours (8 hours duty) : Today the working hours in India per day is about 8 hours. We do not know that how many Indians know, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was the Savior of Labors in India. He brought 8 hours duty in India and change the working time from 14 hours to 8 hours became a light for workers in India. He brought it on the 7th session of Indian Labor Conference in New Delhi, November 27, 1942.
  • Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar framed many laws for Women Labors in India :
  • Mines Maternity Benefit Act,
  • Women Labor welfare fund,
  • Women and Child, Labor Protection Act,
  • Maternity Benefit for women Labor, 5. Restoration of Ban on Employment of Women on Underground Work in Coal Mines,
  • Indian Factory Act.
  • National Employment Agency (Employment Exchange): Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was instrumental in bringing the establishment of employment exchanges. He created employment exchanges in India as the Labor member in Provincial government in British India after the end of 2nd world, so also the tripartite mechanism of settling Labor issues through trade unions, Labors and the government representatives and introducing skill development initiative in the government sector. Due to his relentless efforts ‘National Employment Agency was created.
  • Employees State Insurance (ESI): ESI helps the workers with medical care, medical leave, physically disabled during working injuries as compensation Insurance for providing various facilities. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar enacted and brought it for the benefit of workers. Actually India only brought ‘Insurance Act’ as the first nation among the East Asian countries. Credit goes to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
  • The original source of reference for all the 13 Finance Commission reports, in a way, are based on Dr. Ambedkar’s P.hd thesis, “The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India”, written in 1923.
  • India’s Water Policy and Electric Power Planning: The policy formulation and planning for the development of irrigation and electric power was the major concern. It was the Labor Department under the guidance of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who decided to establish “Central Technical Power Board” (CTPB) for power system development, hydro power station sites, hydro-electric surveys, analyzing problems of electricity generation and thermal power station investigation . Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar emphasized on the significance and need for the “Grid System”, which is still working successfully even today. If today power engineers are going abroad for training, the credit goes to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar again, who as a leader of Labor Department formulated policy to train the best engineers-overseas. It is a matter of shame that nobody credits Dr. abasaheb Ambedkar for the role he played in India’s water policy and electric power planning. [For more about ‘India’s Water Policy and Electric Power Planning’, Refer: Dr. Ambedkar’s Role in Economic Planning Water and Power Policy by Sukhadeo Thorat].
  • Dearness Allowance (DA) to Workers.
  • Leave Benefit to Piece Workers.
  • Revision of Scale of Pay for Employees.
  • Coal and Mica Mines Provident Fund: At the time, Coal Industry played a vital role in our country’s economy. Due to this, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar enacted the Coal Mines Safety (Stowing) Amendment Bill for the benefit of the workers on January 31st, 1944. On 8th April 1946, he brought the Mica Mines Labor Welfare Fund which helped the workers with housing, water supply, education, entertainment, co- operative arrangements.
  • Labor Welfare Funds: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar set up an Advisory Committee to advise on matters arising out of the Labor Welfare under B P Agarkar. Later he promulgated it on January, 1944.
  • Post War Economic Planning: When 2nd World war ended, there were many challenges for India, such as re-establishing the economy; including improvement in agriculture, development of industries, rehabilitation and re- deployment of defense services etc. For this, the Reconstruction Committee of Council (RCC) was established. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was a member of RCC and was assigned the role of the President of “Policy Committee for Irrigation and Power” of great significance but less well known among Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution to the nation was his direct participation in the formulation of objective and strategy of post-war economic plan & planned development of water and electric power resources in the country. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was directly involved in framing of the objective and strategy of economic planning and water and electric power policy though he made a substantial contribution to the economic planning and water and electric power resource development in this position, surprisingly, this aspect of his contribution has hardly been studied. [For more about ‘Post War Economic Planning’ Refer: Dr. Ambedkar’s Role in Economic Planning Water and Power Policy by Sukhadeo Thorat].
  • Indian Statistical Law: In 1942, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar passed the Indian Statistical Act. Later D K Paisendry (Former Deputy Principal, Information Officer, Government of India) said in his book, without Dr. Ambedkar’s Indian Statistical Act he could not formulated the Labor conditions, their wage rates, other Income, Inflation, debt, housing, employment, deposits and other funds, Labor disputes.
  • The Indian Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill: Indian Labor Act was enacted in 1926 . This only helped to register the trade unions. But it did not approved by the government. On 8 November, 1943 he brought the Indian Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill for Compulsory recognition of trade unions.
  • Creator of Damodar valley project, Hirakund project, The Sone River valley project: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar who started and Plan outlined, on the lines of the Tennessee Valley project, the Damodar Valley project. Not only Damodar Valley Project but also Hirakud project, The Sone River valley project were outlined by him. In 1945, under the chairmanship of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, then Member of Labor, it was decided to invest in the potential benefits of controlling the Mahanadi for multi purpose use. But almost were hiding and wrongly been attributed entirely to Nehru’s vision for industrialization through multi purpose river valley projects. It was Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar who in fact, as the then Member for Labor in the Viceroy’s Council, played the most central role in introducing large dam technologies into India . If you ask any school going child, where Damodar Valley, Hirakund and the Sone River Valley projects are, and who inaugurated these projects, they will tell you the names of Nehru-Gandhi family, although they have nothing to do with these projects. (Check out the wiki page giving details that Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, Dr. B.C.Roy, chief minister of West Bengal and Sri Krishna Sinha, chief minister of Bihar, took personal interest to ensure early success of the project). We have been taught in schools about these projects but we don’t find a word about Dr. Ambedkar’s prominent role and contribution towards all these projects. Since 1930 emphasis has been increasingly placed on engineering practices, on the hydrological unity of a river basin on treating the basin as the unit of development of its water resources. Credit for multi purpose project (irrigation and generating electric power together) goes to Irrigation and Power Department, under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Keeping in view the enhanced magnitude of such projects, it was keenly felt that the technical expert bodies available then at the center weren’t adequate. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar approved the Central Water way and Irrigation Commission (CWINC) in March 1944, and subsequently by the Viceroy on April 4, 1945. Thus Dr.Babasaheb helped build a strong technical organization for the development of India. If our houses are illuminated and if our fields are green, it’s because of Dr. Ambedkar’s stellar role in the planning of these projects, on which rests a major part of India’s economy today. If there is such a concept as water-management and development in India, then the credit goes to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar for ably using the natural resources to serve India. If it was not for Dr. Ambedkar’s vision, one can imagine the situation of electric supply, irrigation and development of India. [For more, Refer: Dr. Ambedkar’s Role in Economic Planning Water and Power Policy by Sukhadeo Thorat].
  • Health Insurance Scheme.
  • Provident Fund Act.
  • Factory Amendment Act.
  • Labor Disputes Act.
  • Minimum wage.
  • The Legal Strike. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar believe that caste is not merely the division of Labor but division of labourers based upon the graded inequality. Further in his ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Volume – I, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, “ In no other country is the division of Labor accompanied by this gradation of labourers. There is also a third point of criticism against this view of the Caste System. This division of Labor is not spontaneous; it is not based on natural aptitudes. Social and individual efficiency requires us to develop the capacity of an individual to the point of competency to choose and to make his own career. This principle is violated in the Caste System in so far as it involves an attempt to appoint tasks to individuals in advance, selected not on the basis of trained original capacities, but on that of the social status of the parents. Looked at from another point of view this stratification of occupations which is the result of the Caste System is positively pernicious. Industry is never static. It undergoes rapid and abrupt changes. With such changes an individual must be free to change his occupation. Without such freedom to adjust himself to changing circumstances it would be impossible for him to gain his livelihood. Now the Caste System will not allow Hindus to take to occupations where they are wanted if they do not belong to them by heredity. If a Hindu is seen to starve rather than take to new occupations not assigned to his Caste, the reason is to be found in the Caste System. By not permitting readjustment of occupations, caste becomes a direct cause of much of the unemployment we see in the country. As a form of division of Labor the Caste system suffers from another serious defect. The division of Labor brought about by the Caste System is not a division based on choice. Individual sentiment, individual preference has no place in it. It is based on the dogma of predestination.”
    * Volume 10 – Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as member of the Governor-General’s Executive Council (1942-46).
    * A Tamil article by Tamilmaraiyan.
    * Dr. Ambedkar’s Role in Economic Planning Water and Power Policy by Sukhadeo Thorat.
    * Volume 1 – Annihilation of Caste by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

    Compiled & Edited By
    CBA (Channel Babasaheb Ambedkar) Community Media


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Was Ambedkar Anti-Muslim? Read the Truth

Was Ambedkar Anti-Muslim? Read the Truth: Ambedkar, Muslims and Partition – By Asghar Ali Engineer


The Sangh Parivar keeps on raking up caste and communal issues since it has pro-people programmes. It thrives only on casteism and communalism and raking up issues pertaining to caste and communal controversies. After Gujarat carnage in which entire Sangh Parivar was involved now Mr. Katiyar of Bajrang Dal and president of U.P. BJP has raked up issue of Ambedkar and Muslims and that Ambedkar was anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan.

Shri Katiyar maintains that his contention is based on Dr. Ambedkar’s book on Pakistan entitled Pakistan or Partition of India. As all communalists basically perpetrate lies and falsehood and spread disinformation in order to establish their case, Katiyar is no exception. In fact Dr.Ambedkar was in no way against Muslims or Islam. But anyone can be quoted out of context to prove what one wants to. Ambedkar was no Muslim baiter as he was a very meticulous and careful scholar and would not indulge, like members of the Sangh Parivar, into community baiting.

Ambedkar’s book on Pakistan is a work of great scholarship. I have reprint of its 1946 edition constituting the 8th volume of his writings and speeches published by Education Department of Government of Maharashtra. The plea of the book is such that one can easily extract some statements to suit ones purpose. But an honest scholar has to read the book in totality to understand Ambedkar’s views on Muslims and on Pakistan.

Ambedkar has divided his above book into five parts. The first part deals with “Muslim case for Pakistan”. Second part deals with “Hindu case for Pakistan”. Third part talks about “What If Not Pakistan”. Part four deals with “Pakistan and the Malaise” and part fifth discusses with issues like “Must There be Pakistan”, “The Problem of Pakistan” and “Who can Decide?”

It can thus be seen that if one quotes Dr. Ambedkar say from first section in which he gives Muslim point of view on Pakistan one can prove that Ambedkar totally favoured creation of Pakistan and if one quotes Ambedkar from second section i.e. “Hindu Case Against Pakistan” one can prove that Ambedkar was against Muslims. What Katiyar is doing is quoting Ambedkar from second section of his book to prove that Dr. Ambedkar was against Muslims.

It is interesting to note here that Ambedkar maintains in the third section, chapter VII that “Strange as it may appear Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India – one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation.” Further he says, “They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations should be. Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr. Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for the Muslims and the other for Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution: that the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation to made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation.”

Thus it will be seen that Dr. Ambedkar has very fairly stated position of both the parties. He is not stating his own views in these two sections of his book. In fact Ambedkar is so fair and objective that he feels that one should not describe all invasions of India by Muslims as invasions against infidels or against India only. He says, “These invasions of India by Muslims were as much invasions of India as they were wars among Muslims themselves.” “This fact has remained hidden”, Ambedkar says, “because the invaders are all lumped together as Muslims without distinction. But as a matter of fact, they were Tartars, Afghans and Mongols. Muhammad (Mahmud?) of Ghazni was a Tartar, Mahommed of Ghori was an Afghan, Taimur was a Mongol, Babar was Tartar, while Nadirshah and Ahmadshah Abadali were Afghans.”

Continuing this line of argument Dr. Ambedkar says, “In invading India, the Afghan was out to destroy the Tartar and the Mongol was out to destroy the Tartar as well as the Afghan. They were not a loving family cemented by the feeling of Islamic brotherhood. They were deadly rivals of one another and their wars were often wars of mutual extermination.” This is very objective understanding of history and is not inspired by any communal attitude. However, one may differ from Ambedkar when he says, “What is, however, important to bear in mind is that with all their internecine conflicts they were all united by one common objective and that was to destroy the Hindu faith.”

But here Ambedkar is clearly contradicting himself. When Tartars and Mongols and Afghans were out to exterminate with each other and were not bound by the feeling of Islamic brotherhood how could they be united by any common objective to “destroy Hindu faith”. In fact these Muslim invaders had no such objective despite their rhetoric to the contrary. In fact many of them invaded at the invitation of Hindu rulers of India. But it must be said that Dr. Ambedkar is, on the whole, quite objective in assessing the history of Muslim rulers.

Dr. Ambedkar did not even support the Gandhian position that let the British quit India and then Indians would settle the matter among them and would sort out communal question. In fact in his introduction to the book Ambedkar says, “The British cannot consent to settle power upon an aggressive Hindu majority and make it its heir, leaving it to deal with the minorities at its sweet pleasure. That would not be ending imperialism. It would be creating another imperialism.The Hindus, therefore, cannot avoid coming to grips with Pakistan, much as they would like to do.”

Thus Ambedkar is quite categorical in his assertion that the communal or minority question should be properly settled before the British leave India. He feels that the minorities cannot be left to the mercy of “aggressive majority” as he puts it. Ambedkar has thoroughly examined the Muslim (or rather Muslim League) point of view in the first section of his book “Muslim Case for Pakistan”. Explaining Muslim League view he says, “?is it or is it not a fact that Muslims of India are an exclusive group? Is it or is it not a fact that they have consciousness of kind? Is it or is it not a fact that every Muslim is possessed by a longing to his own group and not to any no-Muslim group?”

And then he goes on to say, “if the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, then the controversy must end and the Muslim claim that they are a nation must be accepted without cavil.” Can one quote this passage from Ambedkar to maintain that he was advocating the cause of Pakistan? Oh, certainly not. Ambedkar is explaining Muslim League’s point of view, not his own.

Ambedkar had his own view of Muslims and Pakistan. He was totally opposed to the concept of Hindu Raj as well. In the section “Must There Be Pakistan” he says, If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
Still Ambedkar did not want partition. He says, “How have the French, the English, and the Italians succeeded in preventing the Raj of the majority community being established in their country? Surely, not by partition: What is their method? Their method is to put a ban on communal parties in politics. No community in Canada, South Africa or Switzerland ever thinks of starting a separate communal party.”

Ambedkar makes a very pertinent point in this respect and Indian Muslims should coolly deliberate over this. Ambedkar says, What is important to note is that it is the minority nations, which have taken the lead in opposing the formation of a communal party. For they know that if they form a communal party the major community will also form a communal party and the majority community will thereby find it easy to establish communal Raj. It is vicious method of self-protection.”

Thus it is very clear that Ambedkar was certainly not anti-Muslim nor in favour of Pakistan. He wanted a just solution to the minority problem in India. He gives his suggestions in the last section of his book i.e. part v. On page 359 of his book Ambedkar says that “Is not a fact that under the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in most provinces, if not in all, the Muslims, the non-Brahmins and Depressed Classes united together and worked the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937? Herein lay the most fruitful method of achieving communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims and of destroying the danger of Hindu Raj. Mr. Jinnah could have easily pursued this line. Nor was it difficult for Mr. Jinnah to succeed in it.”

And Ambedkar was convinced that “..Mr. Jinnah is the one person who has all the chances of success on his side if he had tried to form such a united no-communal party. He has ability to organize. He had the reputation of a nationalist.”

Thus a careful study of Ambedkar on the question of Pakistan makes it clear that he was far from being anti-Muslim as Shri Katiyar of BJP would like to project him. He was very balanced and just in his attitude towards Muslim question and suggested very constructive way out. One must read the full text of the book to understand Ambedkar’s attitude towards the communal question in pre-independence India. Likes of Katiyar have neither ability nor honesty to study Ambedkar’s writings before making public statements. He does so only to derive political mileage and polarise Hindus and Muslims on one hand, and Muslims and dalits, on the other, to monopolise Hindu votes.

Article Authored – By Asghar Ali Engineer 
Originally Posted on JANUARY 16-31, 2003


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Dalit News

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Dalit News

Unable to pay fee, dalit students in Faridkot village decide to boycott exam

Appoint special task force to probe Dalit killings: Governor to DGP

Dalit family alleges threat to life

Dalits Need True Representatives to Emerge Strong, Says Vundru

No breakthrough yet in Maharashtra Dalit family murder

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Daily Words of the Buddha

Daily Words of the Buddha 

Māvamaññetha puññassa, “Na mantaṃ āgamissati.”
Udabindunipātena udakumbhopi pūrati.
Dhīro pūrati puññassa, thokaṃ thokampi ācinaṃ.

Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.”
Drop by drop is the water pot filled.
Likewise, the wise one, gathering it little by little,
fills oneself with good.

Dhammapada 9.122
The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita

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A banner flashing the words ”Dalit Rights are Human Rights” caught my eye as I walked through the maple doors into the Central Secretariat of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) that is located in an area of Delhi called South Patel Nagar. Immediately next to the banner I could spot a large portrait of B.R. Ambedkar, the famous drafter of the Indian constitution, who had himself been a member of the so-called ‘untouchable’ community in India and coined the term Dalit (broken, suppressed) to refer to those who belonged to it.  Today, fifty years after his death, Ambedkar is still the incontrovertible hero of the ‘untouchable’ community and the champion of Dalit rights.  His photograph remains as ubiquitous in Dalit political institutions as the pictures of Gandhi elsewhere in India.
In fact, many contemporary NGOs, activist groups and even Think Tanks specialising in issues of Dalit discrimination and marginalisation, such as NCDHR or the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), continue to draw much of their inspiration, as well as specific strategies from Ambedkar’s writings.  Yet, there is also an increasing acknowledgment of the fact that new historical circumstances, the changing political and economic face of India, and processes of globalisation call for a more time-tailored type of Dalit activism; a kind of activism that can successfully tap into popular discourses and utilize new linguistic and conceptual tools. One notion that becomes particularly important and useful in this context is the idea of human rights.
This September I spent six weeks with the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights in Delhi, conducting fieldwork for my Masters thesis. Despite the fact that I had done a fair amount of background research on both Dalit activism and on the organisation itself, I was unsure what to expect. Working with academics, activists and policy makers alike NCDHR did not clearly fall into any institutional category, notably successful in its national but especially international advocacy efforts NCDHR is a registered NGO that uniquely combines elements of grassroots community organisation, policy lobbying on the state, as well as the national level and an awareness raising campaign.
The central office in Delhi coordinates four separate and clearly targeted sub-campaigns: The National Dalit Movement for Justice, the Campaign for Dalit Economic Rights, The Movement for Dalit Women’s Rights, and a disaster management initiative called National Dalit Watch. Each of these specialized sub-campaigns collaborates with state-level Dalit NGO’s, which in turn provide resources and capacity building to community advocates. In this way skills, as well as financial assets filter down to the grassroots, while, simultaneously, important insights from the community level are translated up the chain to the central office. There regular staff members, many of which hold Masters degrees or even PhDs integrate this information into their recommendations to Indian policy makers or their reports to international bodies, such as the UNDP.
During my initial days at NCDHR I focused much of my time and energy on the attempt to understand the precise institutional character of the organisation. Yet I soon realised that maybe I was asking the wrong question altogether. As I began to interview the campaign administrators in the central secretariat, attended meetings with grassroots activists and participated in debates on current issues of marginalisation it became clear to me that what NCDHR’s members were truly concerned with was contributing strategic innovation to an ancient struggle.
Over tea one day, Abhay Xaxa, the programme coordinator for the Dalit Movement for Economic Rights (Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan), frankly informed me that he thought I was missing the point. “You keep trying to figure out in what ways NCDHR is an activist campaign or a research organisation,” he said shaking his head. “We are all those things, but that’s not what’s important. What is important is how we differ. We try to beat politicians at their own game.  We are the new activists.”
Now we can all agree that self-assessment is a tricky thing, and even more so when it comes to an organisation with a clear mission in the fight against injustice.  Therefore, whether or not NCHDR’s work actually represents a uniquely new approach is questionable.  However it is undeniable that the organisation’s line of attack lives from the mobilisation of distinctly modern discourses, such as that of economic analysis and Human Rights. Mr. Xaxa’s campaign has set itself the task of addressing the issue government funding for Dalits and other marginalised groups like tribals (politically referred to as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively) by performing a meticulous investigation into the patterns of money allocation revealed in annual budget reports.
What is important is how we differ. We try to beat the politicians at their own game. We are the new activists.
Paul Diwarkar, the General Secretary of NCDHR summarised this strategy for me during a team meeting one day. “People tend to think about Dalit activism merely in terms of identity politics. You know, people demonstrating, talking about everyday untouchability and discrimination. While all these things are crucial we realise that many people across India prefer to be blind to the continued discrimination we face. Therefore we need to convince them with numbers and charts and reports. We need to present them with tools they are familiar with and believe in.”
It is for precisely this reason that NCDHR has chosen to frame its demands in terms of human rights. Although as an anthropologist I can confirm that there continues to be much discussion about the universal applicability or the ideal formulation of human rights, the idea that we need general moral guidelines of this kind has become widely accepted.  Through the ratification of various UN charters countries around the globe have made human rights their responsibility.  “By saying that Dalit Rights are human rights, we are making this everyone’s issue, and everyone’s responsibility,“ Beena Pallical, the National Convener for NCDHR told me. “It’s all about the way you frame it.”
It is difficult to assess the extent of NCDHR’s success as a human rights organization or even an awareness raising campaign after the brief time I spent working there this summer.  NCDHR is a young initiative, merely 20 years old and evaluating its work would require a close look at its achievements on the local community level, as well as in national and international advocacy over an extended period. Yet I am convinced that NCDHR has managed to tap into a crucial insight: even if certain demands for justice remain constant they need to be articulated in the political and linguistic tools of their time to be heard.
Making people see and acknowledge discrimination is not simply a matter of pointing it out but a question of how one points it out. In this sense activism is and always needs to be new.

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Wake up Dalit-Bahujans! Wake UP!

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The American Experience of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Jagesh: The American Experience of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Very few of India’s leaders have been educated in America. In the British period, England and to a lesser extent France and Germany were the focal points for overseas study. Even today, when Indian students flock to America, their education is generally in the field of technology or science, and they do not enter politics. As far as I have been able to find out, only three men well known in public life have been thoroughly exposed to an American experience: Jay Prakash Narayan; the late Chief Minister of the Punjab, S. Pratap Singh Kairon; and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. An American inevitably wonders what effect his country has had on the lives and thinking of these men.

It is clear that J. P. Narayan’ s direct contact with Amecican poverty during the Depression era and with American radical thinkers somewhat influenced the development of his socialist attitudes. It is possible that Kairon learned some of his expertise with mass politics from his interval in America. In the case of Dr. Ambedkar, the influence seems to be chiefly in developing his commitment to a pragmatic, flexible democratic system. Ambedkar spent the years from 1913 to 1916 at Columbia University in New York City. There is little material on his political thought from the pre-1913 period with which to compare his post-1916 writings, but even so I would like to suggest that the American experience did influence the thought and action of this unusually gifted and innovative son of Bharat.
B.R. Ambedkar entered the Graduate School of Columbia University in 1913 after graduating from Elphinstone College in Bombay. His patron was Sayajirao Gaikwad, Maharajah of Baroda. The Gaikwad was distinguished for his financial support of reform measures and had already assisted Ambedkar in securing his college education. Whose idea it was that Ambedkar should go to America is not clear. The Gaikwad was certainly amenable to sanctioning a stipend for Ambedkar’ s study in America through the Baroda state Education Department. However, Ambedkar was 23 at the time and he seems to have been intellectually mature, with his interests already established. From the time of Jotiba Phule, there has been a sense of appreciation among the leaders of the Non-Brahman Movement for America’ s effort to create an egalitarian democracy. Ambedkar was aware of this, and it is quite possible that he himself made the decision to go to America.

As a student at Columbia, Ambedkar explored as widely as possible the economic and social aspects of American development. He took an enormous number of courses ranging from the economics of American railways to American history, auditing what he could not take for credit. He seems to have exposed himself to as many of the top-ranking professors at Columbia as he could, whatever their field. Columbia at this time was in its Golden Age, and the list of men with whom Ambedkar studied represents a catalog of important early-20th-century American thinkers. John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, James Harvey Robinson, Franklin Giddings, and Alexander Goldenweiser were all men of great importance in the development of American thought, and probably nowhere else could Ambedkar have received such a broad and deep exposure to an optimistic, expansive, pragmatic body of knowledge.

Interestingly enough, Ambedkar’ s own original research at Columbia was concerned with Indian themes. In his primary field of economics, under the guidance of Edwin Seligman, he wrote a dissertation for his Ph.D. on The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India (published in 1925 by P.S. King and Company, London). His thesis was critical of the imperial British system and its harmful effect on Indian development. The other major publication coming out of the Columbia experience was a paper on “Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, ” given first in a seminar in Anthropology with Alexander Goldenweiser and published in May, 1917, in The Indian Antiquary. Both studies make it clear that although Ambedkar was gaining all he could from his educational opportunity in America, his attention was centered on using that knowledge to analyse the Indian situation.

Ambedkar’ s paper on caste was not a diatribe against the iniquities of the caste system but rather an effort to present a theory of the development of the system. His two main points are significant. First, there was a basic, unified Indian culture. He wrote, “Ethnically all peoples are heterogeneous. It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture.” Second, he denied that caste stratification arose through racial, color-related, or occupational factors. He stated that the caste system grew through a process by which other groups imitated the endogamy of the Brahman priest caste. There is no development of a theory of untouchability in the paper; that was to come late in Ambedkar’ s life. These two premises, however, remained constant in his thought. His later theory of the development of untouchability and his work for the eradication of untouchability were based on these theories, i.e. that Indian culture was basically unified and basically valuable, and that caste inequalities were a social development without a racial origin.

It is difficult to say what effect the study of anthropology and sociology under Goldenweiser and others at Columbia had on Ambedkar. Certainly he felt such systematic study of society was valuable, for he instituted a Department of Sociology at Siddharth College in a day when Sociology was not usually offered in Indian colleges. Also, the sociological vocabulary lingered, and perhaps some of the concepts behind the American jargon. Shortly after returning from his study abroad, Ambedkar testifed to the Southborough Committee on Franchise, the group which was preparing the election procedure for the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms instituted in 1921. Ambedkar’ s lengthy testimony before this body stressed the lack of “endosmosis&qu ot; or “like-mindedne ss” between Touchable and Untouchable – phrases evidently borrowed from American social analysis. Ambedkar’ s solution was to educate and politicize the disadvantaged group into full use of popular assemblies so that the new political institutions would not continue the “hardships and disabilities entailed by the social system.” Ambedkar may have observed the ethnic groups in New York, the Irish, Italians and Jews, gaining political power through unified political pressure. The early-20th-century American dream of social and political equality in the great melting pot was apparent in both academic circles and actual New York life during Ambedkar’ s time at Columbia University. Both Ambedkar’ s study and experience would have encouraged him to look beneath cultural differences for a basic national cultural unity and to look to the political process as the way in which different groups attained their proper place on the national scene.

A direct comparison between the Negroes of America and the Untouchables of India does not appear in Ambedkar’ s writings. This is natural, since Ambedkar denied that there was a racial basis for untouchability. In contrast to the leaders of almost all other Untouchable movements, he refused to claim that Untouchables were “Adi-Dravida, ” (the first Dravidians), or “Ad-Dharm, ” (the first religion, i.e. pre-Aryan), but stressed that they were of the same racial background as other Indians. His observation of the obvious racial differences between Negro and white Americans and the segregation based on race in America may have heightened his belief that the Untouchables&# 39; way to equality lay in asking for political and educational privilege because of social discrimination, not because of a separate racial background.

Ambedkar’ s understanding of the American situation was quite sophisticated. Jotiba Phule, as early as 1873, had dedicated his book Gulamgiri (slavery) to “the good people of the united States…for their sublime disinterested and self-sacrificing devotion in the cause of Negro Slavery.” But Ambedkar noted the political expediency of Lincoln’ s action in freeing the slaves. In his criticism of Mahatma Gandhi in What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables (2nd edition published by Thacker and Company in 1942), he compared Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, stating that both were concerned with freeing the depressed groups in their countries for the political reason of preserving national unity. This view of Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation now has currency among American Blacks, who no longer view the freeing of the slaves as “disinterested and self-sacrificing. ” Although Ambedkar did.not identify with the American Negro in words, he understood their position well enough to anticipate their criticism of Lincoln. Ambedkar’ s understanding of the reformer as politician was based on bitter experience, but it also reflects his grasp of comparative history. He did not borrow wholesale from the American experience, but he used his knowledge of American culture to analyze his own country’ s social situation.

Although the study of economics was Ambedkar’ s major interest in both the United States and in London, there was little scope for him to take action in his field in his public life in India. His stance was basically socialist, but he did not align himself with any socialist party except for specific election alliances. He admired a number of the economic measures taken by the Soviet Union to reform their economy, and at one time advocated state control of the land. But he also harshly criticized the political system of the Soviet Union, and he was not a Marxist. The theory that history was the result of economic forces held little meaning for him.

If Ambedkar had succeeded in becoming head of the Planning Commission (and it is probable that this was his wish), he might have developed some of his socialist ideas within the context of democracy. His chief economic measures, however, were limited to those taken while he was Member for Labour in the Viceroy’ s Executive Council in the years before Independence. While holding the Labour Portfolio, he instituted a Tripartite Labour Conference to consider such matters as a Joint Labour Management committee and an Employment Exchange, and he attempted to institute social security measures for industrial workers. In these matters, both American and British policies offered some guide lines.

It is in the basis of Ambedkar’ s politics that American influence seems strongest. Behind all of Ambedkar’ s seeming separatism – separate political parties for the backward classes, special reservation of seats in political assemblies and in government jobs – there was a strong, unwavering belief in the power of democratic institutions to bring about social equality. India’s case might demand special techniques not found in the West, but Ambedkar’ s basic faith was in representative political bodies. It is too much to say that Ambedkar’ s American experience created this belief, but it is clear that it strengthened it. John Dewey’s thought especially was meaningful to Ambedkar, for it offered encouragement that educated and politically aware peoples could work out their own political destiny in a pragmatic way, pruning the useless and preserving the useful in their societies. In his Annihilation of Caste Ambedkar quotes John Dewey, “who was my teacher, and to whom I owe so much”: “Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse. As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to conserve and transmit the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future society.” Direct references are few, but as late as 1954, Ambedkar wrote to a Scheduled Caste student then in London, asking him to go to the British Museum and copy out Dewey’s book on democracy, then out of print, for use in an essay on democracy.

All his life Dr. Ambedkar worked to further the education of the deprived. Not only was his achievement in terms of numbers of institutions great, but those institutions were innovative in a way that John Dewey would have approved. Siddharth College, founded in Bombay, was a “morning college” which allowed poor students to go to classes before their daily work. And it stressed a student parliament, which allowed untold numbers of students to experience all the intricacies and methods of parlimentary democracy in a mock version of national politics. Dr. Ambedkar College at Aurangabad was founded in an area that had no educational institution at the higher level other than a teacher training college. It offered not only Liberal Arts, but also Law and Commerce in an area totally deprived of any such opportunity, and I have been told that Dr. Ambedkar’ s wish was to add a department of Fine Arts so that Marathwada would not only have educational opportunity but a chance to develop the aesthetics of the long-dead but rich creative past revealed in the marvellously carved caves of Ajanta and Elora.

Another life-long belief of Dr. Ambedkar’ s may have been reinforced by his contact with John Dewey and his observation of the American scene. Dr. Ambedkar held the most optimistic possible faith in the power of democracy. In spite of the difficulty of welding adherents who constituted a small minority into an effective political party, in spite of the flaws in the democratic process he must have observed on the American scene, he never seems to have even considered a Communist structure or any sort of authoritarian government a possible cure for India’s ills. His belief that people could be educated into change, that total participation of all elements of society in the political process was essential, that parliamentary democracy was the only conceivable way for India to progress, seems to have been unshakable. In my opinion, his constant support of the democratic system greater strengthened India’s commitment to this path.

There are other traces of American thought in Dr. Ambedkar’ s philosophy. One that seems to me to be exceptionally important is his position on India’s cultural and ethnic unity. His first writing on this appears in the paper he wrote for a year-long seminar in Anthropology with Columbia Professor Alexander Goldenweiser, that was later published in The Indian Antiquary for May, 1917, under the title “Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. ” In this paper, as we noted above, he denied that color or occupation had determined caste; he was very clear that India had a remarkably deep cultural unity, and that caste divisions were not created by “the conscious command of a Supreme Authority,” but by “an unconscious growth in the life of a human society under peculiar circumstances. “
It should be remembered that in the 1920’s, when Dr. Ambedkar began his work, there were several movements among the Depressed Classes to separate themselves from “Aryans. ” A movement in the North was called Adi-Dharm (original religion), and one in the South was called “Adi-Dravida&q uot; (original Dravidians). Dr. Ambedkar’ s insistence on cultural unity overcame this thrust for separatism. He referred to religious ideas to support this idea, not to the works of Manu but to the idea of Brahman, the universal divine principle, which he felt should have produced the most egalitarian society on earth. Dr. Ambedkar carried this idea of cultural unity into action when he founded his schools, his reform organizations and his political parties – not a single one was ever limited to his own caste or bore his caste name, and only one was expressly for Scheduled Castes, and that for purely political purposes. From the beginning, anyone in need, anyone with concern, could be a participant. From the beginning, any special treatment was seen as temporary, as a way to raise the standards of the deprived group so that it could participate on an equal basis.

In this matter of cultural unity, it may be that America’ s influence was due to its own problems, its own separatism. Dr. Ambedkar must have observed the racial discrimination in America, and determined that India must avoid any such permanent separation. Here again, it seems to me that his stres on unity has contributed greatly to India’s ideal of cultural integration.

I have mentioned practicality and pragmatism, but I do not mean to imply by these terms that Dr. Ambedkar was a “practical politician.” He actually was far more statesman than politician, and I have felt at times that he could not pay enough attention to organization, to detail. As a statesman, however, his idealism, his vision, was mixed with a down-to-earth pragmatism that is the mark of any successful movement. As an example, he put aside some of his visionary ideas (government ownership of land, for instance) in order to help India create a viable, widely accepted Constitution. Anyone who reads his “draft constitution” written in the late 1940’s, and then traces his leadership of the process of writing a constitution and notes the final result, will be struck by the difference in what he first thought was right and what he finally approved as India’s need at that time. I have talked to Scheduled Caste leaders who felt Dr. Ambedkar was too much of a statesman, not enough of a politician. My own feeling is that leadership of his calibre is still needed, that his combination of vision and pragmatism will influence India’s direction long after the current generation has left the scene.

When I look at the new thrusts of India’s Scheduled Castes – the commitment of many to an ethical and inclusive Buddhism; the urge to write poetry and fiction and drama that communicates on a high literary plane to all men; the efforts, however ineffective they may seem at this time; to play a real role in politics; this effort of those who live in America to show commitment and concern for their homeland – and when I see how much of this pride and hope and dynamic can be traced back to Babasaheb Ambedkar, I am proud to honor the memory of a very great man.


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