Ambedkar on Whatsapp

Dr. BR Ambedkar handing over the draft constitution of Republic of India to President Rajendra Prasad on 26th Nov. 1949. *** Local Caption *** Dr. BR Ambedkar handing over the draft constitution of Republic of India to President Rajendra Prasad on 26th Nov. 1949. Express archive photo

Vajra pushed down the lid of his laptop, gulped down a bottle of water, and hastened to his bed with his cellphone. It was 11.30 p.m. and he had to finish sending a few replies on his phone before calling it a day. There were 120 messages flooding his inbox from friends and groups. The most noisy of all the groups he was part of spoke of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar incessantly.

While positive conversations weren’t uncommon, the members bickered most of the times over the lectures and writings of Ambedkar and their interpretations. There were members who kept posting Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism and there would be a set of people who would invariably get offended. When the group was created by a friend of Vajra, it was intended to disseminate those ideas of Ambedkar which could be implemented and the society could be helped. So many joined the group thinking of Ambedkar as the great person they had seen in their General Knowledge textbooks – the image of a lawyer with a book in his hand or the image of the leader who drafted India’s constitution. While these were the kinds of people who had not read Ambedkar, there were also people who had completely (mis)appropriated Ambedkar’s ideas and had been trying to establish a marriage between Marxism and Ambedkarism. It wasn’t that they didn’t know Ambedkar’s dislike for Marxism and Communism. They thought others wouldn’t know if they shrouded all of his ideas in the rain of red. There were also people who were there just to receive and observe the conversation, drawing their own conclusions on the issues Ambedkar had spoken or written about. Vajra was one of those.

He went through the conversation trail in the group –  Ambedkar & His Relevance. There was a member who quoted profusely from Annihilation of Caste to criticize the Hindus. Noticing the length of the trail, Vajra took some time to reply to his friends before returning for the long haul in Ambedkar group.

A member with the name Sachchidananda ‘Agyeya’ had written thus –

“You cannot hide history from us. The Hindus of this country have always throttled the peace of the nation by discriminating against the lower castes, other religions, and even within their own sects. This country runs at the will of the majority and hence we see that the minority has been pushed to the fringes. The struggle continues and we have Dr. Ambedkar to lead us. Dr. Ambedkar is absolutely right when he says that the outcaste is a bye-product of the caste system. There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.”  It is true. I, for example, am an outcaste. Freedom of speech is throttled. I am not allowed to speak. Every time I speak of the minority rights on social media, I am bombarded with abuses of the trolls. Please tell me if this is democracy. Tell me if this is how Ambedkar envisioned democracy and the institutions of our country.

Shyam Chakradhar had quipped – “But Sir, Hinduism didn’t invent social media!”

Agyeya had replied –

“This is the great bane of our nation. When we speak of rights of humans, of the backward specimens of our civilization, we are reminded of such trivialities. Do I not know that Hinduism didn’t create social media? But isn’t it true that social media is just a projection of the real media and the real social construct? Does the majority not rule us online as well? In temples, in societies, in business board rooms, it is the majority that rules and it is the majority that threatens. How difficult it is then to extrapolate the same culture for the online world? I do not understand how this simple fact is lost on you. Majority today, has become the synonym of everything evil, everything sickening.”

Shyam Chakradhar had replied –

“But Ambedkar was the one who drafted the constitution. A party has to achieve two-thirds majority in the Parliament. Is that not again tantamount to imposing the majoritarian opinion and liking on the rest of the country? Did Ambedkar make a mistake according to you?”

Agyeya had ignored his message and had continued his tirade against the majority –

“The Muslims of the country have always lived in fear. They are targeted selectively and put to long years of torture behind the bars for crimes they have not committed. Isn’t it true that it is easier today to frame false charges against a Muslim than a Hindu? Aren’t they soft targets of all law enforcement agencies? There are Hindutva-forces today who are trying to appropriate Ambedkar forgetting that he left Hinduism to become a Buddhist.”

It seemed that he had been interrupted there by Shyam. He had written –

“Doesn’t that show that Hindus are accommodating in general and would even respect and adore somebody like Ambedkar who criticized their religion? Isn’t that the ideal case? I don’t’ think Ambedkar had malice against the Hindus. He was against the ill customs and practices which had degenerated the society of his times. To infer that he hated the Hindus would be injustice to the great man. ”

Agyeya had answered –

“There you go. I think you are blinded by the majoritarian politics. Who are you to accept Ambedkar? That smells patronizing enough. You have the same sentiment for Muslims too. You think they should be thankful that you have let them be here in spite of the fact that you are the majority. To my Muslim friends in the group, hear hear, they think you should be thankful for their wholeheartedness. They think that you should kiss their feet because they let you live in their country. I ask you, where does this high-handedness come from? Who told them this country is theirs? Do we not have equal rights over this country?”

Saddam Khan
who was a student of History completing his graduation had sent a few smiling emoticons to the group after this. He didn’t speak anything but extended his mute support to Agyeya. Another Muslim member of the group had differing thoughts. Nawaz Warsi had written –

“I think we are being more volatile than we should be. This group has a different purpose and that must not be violated. Agyeya Sir, we understand what you are trying to impress upon us but let us not take things toward hatred. Also, it will be proper for the Mussalmans of the country to fight their own battles. We have a lot of wars to fight internally first to overcome the illiteracy, poverty, and mean mindedness. That battle you can’t fight for us. We will have to wage that war ourselves.”

Saddam Khan seemed to have a problem with this –

“This is not appropriate. He has the right to speak about our problems too. Don’t you think so? We should be together in condemning the discriminatory practices of the majority of this nation.”

Agyeya had resumed from there –

“I concur with you Saddam. So what if I am not a Mussalman. Mussalman is my brother. I will speak for the Mussalman as and when I feel I should.”

Shyam had not let it go –

“Will you only speak of Mussalman or would you also like to speak of Mussal-woman? Nothing for their rights?”

Saddam had sprung up to retort –

“That’s our internal matter. Please leave it out of the group topics. Our women shouldn’t be discussed here.”

Almost all the members were incensed. Many attacked Shyam for intruding into the personal laws of the Muslims. Many tried to corner Saddam Khan by accusing him of hypocrisy. Violent exchanges ensued. After a lot many messages that Vajra chose to ignore, he read a message from Agyeya. He had quoted a tweet from somebody who had hurled abuses at him. Quoting the deplorable statement, Agyeya had mentioned –

“This is the modus operandi of the majority of this country. When they can’t debate, they abuse. When they can’t reason, they troll. I don’t give two hoots to such goons. I will not rest till the minorities of this country get equal status as that of the majority. ”

The group was quiet after that. No words. It was the silence of a war zone after one side had been annihilated. It was already 12.00 a.m. by the time Vajra finished reading all the messages and comprehending the entire situation.

At this time, Vajra’s friend pinged him –

“You don’t want to say anything in the group? It looks like a riot-marred zone right now.”

Amenable, friendly, and easily agreeable if presented with facts and reasons, Vajra had played the part of a balanced moderator many a times in the group. He would routinely check the group every night and heal the wounds its members had inflicted upon each other. Vajra had already dozed off by the time his friend had pinged him. When the friend’s message arrived, it was 2 a.m. and the alert woke him up. On opening his eyes, he realized he had slept off while reading the messages in the group without switching off the lights or even shutting the doors. He stood up, felt the floor below his feet and on gaining complete whereabouts of his legs, walked out to the wash and knocked himself out of the slumberous hangover with splashes of water against his face. He sat at his study desk and looked at the group conversation again. He zoomed in to the twitter snapshot Agyeya had shared and read the so-called troll’s reply to one of the so called ‘offensive’ tweets of Agyeya –

“You anti-national prick. Go to Pakistan. Back-stabber of this country at every historical turning point.Pig you are”

Vajra was still looking at the snapshot. He was thinking about the internal dynamics of a troll’s mind. What goes within it? Why did he need to add Pakistan and Pig there? If not for those two words, his observation would have had gained some credence and Mr. Agyeya would have to indulge in an academic discussion with him. Why do they weaken their own case by bringing in unnecessary words?

He decided to dig a little deeper. Could it be that there is nobody in the reply trail who would have asked a nuanced question to Mr. Agyeya? How’s it that people like Mr. Agyeya only find trolls thronging their twitter accounts? He didn’t have to labour much. Just below the troll’s reply, there was a question by another user – “Mr. Agyeya. Have you read Pakistan or the Partition of India by Dr. Ambedkar?” He looked for Mr. Agyeya’s response. He couldn’t find any answer. This reminded him that the same book had been lying in his own bookshelf for some time and he had not picked it. It was a present from a friend who had recently visited Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur and had bought a book-set for him .

Vajra got into reading the book at once. It took him two days to complete the book. On completion, he switched on his phone and started to write in the group. There were no messages exchanged in the last two days. He wrote –

“The social evils which characterize the Hindu Society have been well-known. The publication of  ‘Mother India’ by Miss Mayo gave these evils the widest publicity. But while Mother India served the purpose of exposing these evils and calling their authors at the Bar of the world to answer for their sins, it created the unfortunate impression throughout the world that while the Hindus were grovelling in the mud of these social evils and were conservative, the Muslims in India were free from them, and as compared to the Hindus were a progressive people. That, such an impression should prevail, is of course surprising to those who know the Muslim society in India at close quarters.”

This was the first message in the group in the last two days. Members started to come in and see the message one after the other. Vajra had everyone’s attention. He continued.

“To quote an Egyptian Moslem leader –

“Islam has set its seal of inferiority upon her, and given the sanction of religion to social customs which have deprived her of the full opportunity for self-expression and development of personality.”

No Muslim girl has the courage to repudiate her marriage although it may be open to her on the ground that she was a child and that it was brought about by persons other than her parents. No Muslim wife will think it proper to have a clause entered into her marriage contract reserving her the right to divorce. In that event her fate is ‘once married, always married.’

“Mahomedan Law allows a Muslim to marry four wives at a time. It is not unoften said that this is an improvement over the Hindu Law which places no restrictions on the number of wives a Hindu can have at any given time. But it is forgotten that in addition to the four legal wives the Muslim Law permits, a Mahomedan to cohabit with his female slaves. In the case of female slaves nothing is said as to the number. They are allowed to him without any restriction whatever and without any obligation to marry them.”

At this point, Saddam left the group.

Vajra continued unaffected –

“Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. While the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends to the abolition to this curse.”

“But if slavery has gone, caste has remained. As an illustration one may take the conditions prevalent among the Bengal Muslims. The Superintendent of the Census for 1901 for the Province of Bengal records the following interesting facts regarding the Muslims of Bengal :-

“The conventional division of the Mahomedans into four tribes- Sheikh, Saiad, Moghul, and Pathan – has very little application to this Province (Bengal). The Mahomedans themselves recognize two main social divisions, 1. Ashraf or Sharaf and 2. Ajlaf. Ashraf means ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners and converts from high caste Hindus. All other lower Mahomedans including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terms, ‘Ajlaf’, ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’ : they are so called Kamina or Itar, ‘base’ or Rasil, a corruption of Rizal, ‘worthless’. In some places, a third class, called Arzal or ‘lowest of all’ is added. With them no other Mahomedan would associate, and they are forbidden to enter the mosque or to use the public burial ground.”

“Within these groups there are castes with social precedence of exactly the same nature as one finds among the Hindus.

Ashraf has – Saiads, Sheikhs, Pathans, Moghul, Mallik, and Mirza. Ajlaf has 1. Cultivating Sheikhs, 2. Darzi, Jolaha, Fakir, and Rangrez, 3. Barhi, Bhathiara Chik, Churihar, Dai, Dhawa, Dhunia, Gaddi, Kalal, Kasai, Kula, Kunjara, Laheri, Mahifarosh, Mallah, Naliya, Nikari, 4. Abdal, Bako, Bediya, Bhat, Chamba, Dafali, Dhobi, Hajjam, Mucho, Nagarchi, Nat, Panwarin, Madaria, Tuntia. Arzal has Bhanar, Halalkhor, Hijra, Kasbi, Lalbegi Maugta, Mehtar.”

A few more left the group after this. Agyeya had seen all the messages but hadn’t replied yet. The latest message was more than he could take and he wrote agitatedly –

“What are you talking about? Where are these from? What are you trying to prove?”

Indifferent to the questions of Agyeya, Vajra continued –

“There can thus be no manner of doubt that the Muslim Society in India is afflicted by the same social evils which afflict the Hindu Society. Indeed the Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more. That something more is the compulsory system of Purdah for Muslim women.”

“The existence of these evils among the Muslims is distressing enough. But far more distressing is the fact that there is no organized movement of social reform among the Mussalmans of India on a scale sufficient to bring about their eradication. The Hindus have their social evils. But there is this relieving feature about them – namely that some of them are conscious of their existence and a few of them are actively agitating for their removal. But the Muslims on the other hand do not realize that they are evil and consequently do not agitate for their removal. On the other hand they oppose any change in their existing practices. It is noteworthy that the Muslims opposed the Child Marriage Bill brought in the Central Assembly in 1930, whereby the age for marriage of a girl was raised to 14 and of a boy to 16 on the ground that it was opposed to the Muslim cannon law. Not only did they oppose the bill at every stage but that when it became law they started a campaign of  Civil Disobedience against the Act. Fortunately the Civil Disobedience campaign of the Muslims against the Act did not swell and was submerged in the Congress Civil Disobedience campaign which synchronized with it. But the fact remains that the Muslims are opposed to social reform.”

Agyeya was furious and he wrote –

“This is utter disrespect to the members of the group. A few have already left the group. This group was created for constructive discussion, not for the monologues of one egotist individual.”

Vajra – “The ones leaving the group are allergic to truth. Is it not true Sir that you were doing the exact same thing two days back? Or do you think your monologues should be by default considered as dialogues. You talking to you becomes a dialogue. No?”

Agyeya – “You don’t make sense. What are all these Islamophobic statements? What business do you have talking about the Mussalmans?”

Vajra – “Be cautious with your choice of words Sir. You are calling your chosen deity – Dr. Ambedkar, an Islamophobic man!”

Agyeya – “What nonsense! These can’t be his words.”

Vajra – “Not only these but there are many more such words. If you had taken care to read only the next reply to the one you quoted here in the group and made huge tamasha over, you would have known. Or did you deliberately leave the other reply unanswered on Twitter?”

Agyeya – “”What question are you talking about?”

Vajra – “The troll who you had quoted and spent so much time in wailing over, just below that, there was another person who had asked you a question – ‘Have you read Ambedkar’s ‘Pakistan Or The Partition Of India’? Why did you choose to ignore his question and expend all your energy in promoting a troll’s tweet and beating the drum of majority politics in the country? Is it not true that you in complete knowledge and consciousness pick only the abusive tweets to counter and to discuss? Do you not deliberately choose weaker oppositions so that you can quell them with your finesse over the language and carry out a social lynching powered and driven by your fans and disciples? Do you not enforce a social encounter of such a person? Are you not yourself a troll then, a troll who doesn’t use cuss words but happens to breathe divisiveness and fragmentation of the society through his toxic outpourings and virulent statements?”

Agyeya – “You are out of your mind. You must be a Bhakt! You are a right-wing fanatic. Even if I consider your point, do you really think I have time to look into all the replies given to me.”

Vajra – “Truly so. you have time only for these trolls who do not know how to frame their view in a cultured language but you don’t have any time for the serious thinker, for the student of truth who would perhaps like to have a constructive academic discussion with you. All such people are Bhakts to you. That’s one more scheme you have in your arsenal. Force the mask of Bhakt on the ones you can’t debate with and then keep punching it to your heart’s contentment.”

Agyeya – “I have read the book but that doesn’t prove anything otherwise.”

Vajra – “Isn’t it unfortunate that you have read the book but do not remember even one of the quoted statements? Though you are not alone there. Edward Thompson’s statement saying that ‘If anything by Ambedkar comes your way, read it, and you will understand why he often makes orthodox Hindus hopping mad’ has been cunningly used as the blurb for the book. It becomes transparently clear that there are people out there to fragment the society and who exhibit a vulgar selective amnesia. You are no different. Quotations without context are dangerous things. I hope I have proved that with all the quotes I have given of Ambedkar. Selective quotes are produced only with the intention of malice towards the opposing camp. Your intent is to pit Hindus and Muslims against each other for eternity and hence you will never quote what Ambedkar speaks about the ills of the Muslim society and the path to their regeneration because you want to portray him as the friend of Muslims and an enemy of the Hindus. I understand that the major responsibility lies on the shoulders of the majority but can the minorities shrug off their responsibility? What have you done so far to bring about a change in the evil customs of the Mussalmans? Are you any better than that parasite then that wants its host to be alive enough to be able to feed on it and sustain its own life. Tell me what differentiates you? Do you want to read a couple of more quotes? I am sure you will appreciate them.”

The condemnation of the Constitution largely comes from two quarters, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. Why do they condemn the Constitution? Is it because it is really a bad Constitution? I venture to say no’. The Communist Party want a Constitution based upon the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They condemn the Constitution because it is based upon parliamentary democracy. The Socialists want two things. The first thing they want is that if they come in power, the Constitution must give them the freedom to nationalize or socialize all private property without payment of compensation. The second thing that the Socialists want is that the Fundamental Rights mentioned in the Constitution must be absolute and without any limitations so that if their Party fails to come into power, they would have the unfettered freedom not merely to criticize, but also to overthrow the State.” (Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent  Assembly on Adoption of the Constitution.)

Vajra wrote – “If you have to go by what he says and if you really mean to follow the words of Ambedkar, you should quit your attempts to bring about a marriage between Communism and the ideals of Ambedkar. That’s a futile exercise. Ambedkarism can stand alone and can still do good to the society. It doesn’t need the favoritism of Communism to do its work.”

Agyeya was trying to frame an answer. However, it was becoming exceedingly difficult for him to complete his answer. On seeing the ‘typing’ status, Vajra waited for about ten minutes. No answer came.

Vajra wrote –

“To the members of the group, let’s not allow factionalism to grow within this group. Let’s not allow the further fragmentation of the society. One may express their opinions but hatred should have no place in any civilized society. We must quit the brute tendencies of fighting amongst ourselves. The majority and the minority have to work together on this path to progress. By constantly second guessing one another, we will only be strengthening the violent voices. As for Mr. Agyeya, let me quote one more from his favorite work of Ambedkar (Annihilation of Caste) –

Whether you do that or you do not, you must give a new doctrinal basis to your Religion—a basis that will be in consonance with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, in short, with Democracy…. For such religious principles as will be in consonance with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity it may not be necessary for you to borrow from foreign sources and that you could draw for such principles on the Upanishads. Whether you could do so without a complete remoulding, a considerable scraping and chipping off the ore they contain, is more than I can say. This means a complete change in the fundamental notions of life – it means a complete change in the values of life. It means a complete change in outlook and in attitude towards men and things. Ambedkar wanted to reform the society and see that Indian society guarantees complete equality. He condemned social evils and also condoned the positives. Was Ambedkar perfect? We do not know, we need not know! Even the most bitter opponent of Ambedkar will have to agree with him on a lot many issues and even the most blinded supporters and hero worshipers who are trying to appropriate him through the communist lenses will have to make peace with the fact that Ambedkar was a staunch nationalist and condemned anything that would go against the cultural and social unity of the nation. It is time we stop these self-congratulatory clubs and start working on the social regeneration of this country.  Tomorrow is Saturday. I propose that the sincere members of this group sit for a meeting and work upon a plan to open a school that would educate the children of the construction workers in our neighbourhood. The school must charge only a nominal fee and in needful cases, nothing from these workers. If we are sincere about Ambedkar’s dream of an egalitarian society, we must quit such mouth-warming sessions of deceitful discussions and jump into action before it’s too late and Ambedkar gets confined to the general knowledge textbooks for eternity.”

At this point, Agyeya left the group. Vajra inhaled a long gush of air and sighed while switching off his phone. He needed to sleep but his mind was too alert to incline towards the bed. He picked up another from the book-set his friend had presented and turned a few pages for a cursory glance. The page he happened to turn read thus –

There are two criticisms which have been levelled against Vedanta. It is said that Vedanta is piece of impudence. For a man to say “I am Brahman” is a kind of arrogance. The other criticism levelled against Vedanta is the inability of man to know Brahman. ‘I am Brahman’ may appear to be impudence. But it can also be an assertion of one’s own worth. In a world where humanity suffers so much from an inferiority complex such an assertion on the part of man is to be welcomed. Democracy demands that each individual shall have every opportunity for realizing its worth. It also requires that each individual shall know that he is as good as everybody else. Those who sneer at Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman) as an impudent utterance forget the other part of the Maha Vakya namely Tattvamasi (Thou art also Brahman). If Aham Brahmasmi has stood alone without the conjunct of Tattvamasi it may have been possible to sneer at it. But with the conjunct of Tattvamasi the charge of selfish arrogance cannot stand against Vedanta. (Riddles in Hinduism, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar)

Heavy eyed already, his head dropped on his study desk by the end of the paragraph. 




References –

Pakistan Or The Partition Of India (Chapter X. Social Stagnation) – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
Enlist India For Freedom – Mr. Edward Thompson