“Gandhi shedding his clothes was not revolutionary, but Ambedkar wearing three-piece suit and holding a book (Constitution of India) was, as it symbolised the need to take up education, the only means towards emancipation and empowerment of the dispossessed ,” said Stalin Rajangam, prominent Tamil writer and lecturer, The American College.
Delivering a lecture organised by Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) to mark B.R. Ambedkar's 121st birth anniversary, Mr. Stalin said there were two forms of perception on Ambedkar — one was the symbolic form where his statues and portraits proliferated like that of no other leader in modern Indian history. “This provided the much needed psychological strength for the oppressed masses. But at the same time it is problematic when it becomes stagnant and loses its essence.”
“The other perception is an important one where we need to look at the ideological debates propounded by Dr. Ambedkar and the need to carry them forward. Dr.Ambedkar should not be reduced to a leader of a particular caste. He should be read widely and we need to engage ourselves in a symptomatic reading.”
“In the Tamil milieu, we had Iyotheethass Pandithar and R. Srinivasan MC Rajah. But they were more or less functioning from the regional level. However, it was Dr. Ambedkar who provided a pan Indian edge to the Dalit question for the first time and he was the reason behind the assertion of Dalits at the national level,” Mr. Stalin said.
A modern democratic republic was what Ambedkar dreamt of. Ambedkar's study on Castes in India, their mechanism, genesis and development, presented as a paper during his PhD at Columbia University, initiated him towards debates that saw the emergence of Dalit question as integral to the secular fabric of Indian nation. His other important works such as Annihilation of Caste, and Who were the Shudras, discussed a lot about caste.
Mr. Stalin said that an important point to note was that Ambedkar's struggles for liberation were not only aimed towards Dalits but for all the marginalised sections and he also believed and stated that others (non-Dalits) should also come forward and fight for Dalit liberation.
Caste was not a problem that plagued Dalits alone but was the problem of the nation. Ambedkar, in fact, quit his ministerial post in 1951 not fighting for the cause of Dalits but following the stalling in parliament of his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to expound gender equality in the laws of inheritance, marriage and the economy.
Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara left one nation to another to bring in socialist revolution. He was received well and supported. But in the case of Ambedkar's struggle, it was more or less a battle waged alone as it was caste that he was fighting against which was an uncomfortable zone for everyone.
Ambedkar perceived caste as a pre-modern phenomenon and strived for a casteless society based on modern democratic values. He countered the ancient law giver Manu Dharmasasthra by drafting the Indian Constitution based on modernity with freedom, liberty, equality and fraternity. The ancient / modern binary was always present in his arguments.
Ambedkar deconstructed Brahmanism completely. He stated that capitalism and Brahmanism as the inveterate enemies. He also reiterated that caste rule was something which was not confined only to Manu but functioned in its own way in different local conditions.
Speaking earlier, Ponnuthayi, joint general secretary, TNUEF, said that the Front was carrying forward the legacy of B.R.Ambedkar by following his footsteps in fighting against untouchability and caste atrocities. M. Thangaraj, secretary, spoke.