Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 3): Philosophy of Hinduism, Buddha or Karl Marx and Other Unpublished Writings
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), or Babasaheb Ambedkar, was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile Dr. Ambedkar’s complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist, author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee it decided to procure and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
state’s Education Department started to publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out this
third volume (consisting of five parts) in 1987. The series was re-printed by the Dr.
Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social
Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
This volume is significant as it contains of Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished books and essays (parts I-IV). Part V contains the outlines of books that Dr. Ambedkar had planned; the chapters he was able to finish have been included in this volume.
In this essay, Dr. Ambedkar investigates the ‘Hindu scheme of divine governance’, which, he says, is enshrined in the Manu Smriti. He examines the place of religion in ‘savage’ and ‘civilised’ societies; the latter, he says, are can be further divided into antique and modern societies. According to Dr. Ambedkar, the concept of right or wrong in antique societies was based on ‘social utility’, while in modern societies, it was based on ‘individual justice’, that is, equality, liberty and fraternity.
Dr. Ambedkar says that central to the social organisation of Hinduism is a system “in which different castes are placed in a vertical series one above the other.” Inequality, for him, is the soul of Hinduism, and the religion supports and sustains the rights of a class of ‘supermen’ – the Brahmins. The caste system, he adds, divides labourers, dissociates work from interest, disconnects intelligence from manual labour, prevents a person from cultivating interests, and prevents societal mobilisation. Thus, in Dr. Ambedkar’s view, Hinduism fails the test of social utility and individual justice.
Part II: India and the Pre-Requisites of Communism
In Dr. Ambedkar’s papers, the Committee found three chapters from the unfinished book India and Communism, which are included in this part of the volume.
The first chapter – ‘Hindu Social Order–Its Essential Principles’ – discusses whether the Hindu social order is free. According to Dr. Ambedkar, a free social order is based on equality, liberty and fraternity, while Hindu society, because of the caste system, is inherently unequal and cannot accommodate these ideals. Among its tenets are ‘graded inequality’ (castes existing in an order of precedence), the fixity of occupations and the fixation of people within their class. He concludes that the Hindu social order is based on classes, not individuals.
The second chapter lists
the Hindu social order’s unique features. Among them is
the worship of a class of ‘supermen’ (the Brahmins), the denial of the right to
rebel due to restrictions on the ‘oppressed castes’, and that the order is divinely
ordained and inviolate.
The incomplete third chapter discusses various historical descriptions of caste
provided by foreign travellers like Megasthenes (350–290 BC) and Alberuni (973-1050 AD). Dr.
Ambedkar says that while caste has changed over time, it is still highly
organised with rigid groups that have involuntary membership, and individuals
are completely subordinated to their castes.
Part III: Revolution and Counter-Revolution
This part has 13 incomplete chapters from Dr. Ambedkar’s proposed treatise titled Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India, which, too, was unfinished. Dr. Ambedkar considers the rise of Buddhism as a revolution, and the ‘counter revolution’, pioneered by the Brahmins, as the cause for its decline.
In a chapter titled ‘The Triumph of Brahmanism: Regicide or the birth of Counter-Revolution’, Dr. Ambedkar says that Buddhism brought about a change in the status of Shudras and women – they had social mobility and freedom – as compared as to the Vedic Regime under which they had ‘a very low position’. In Brahmanism’s subsequent triumph over Buddhism, the former brought about ‘a complete demolition’ of the high status that the latter had accorded to Shudras and women. Dr. Ambedkar contends that graded inequality, whereby castes benefit differentially due to inequity, is the reason there has been no revolution against Brahmanism.
In ‘The Woman and the Counter-Revolution’, Dr. Ambedkar discusses the rights of women in the Manu and pre-Manu eras. For Manu, women should not have the right to property, divorce or education. In fact, Manu’s scheme of enforced widowhood or Sati and early marriage for girls was a way to establish endogamy within caste groups.
Part IV: Buddha or Karl Marx
In this essay, Dr. Ambedkar compares the doctrines of Buddha and Karl Marx. Even though they are separated by 2,381 years, Dr. Ambedkar says they agree that the function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world, classes are in conflict, private property gives power to one class and sorrow (through exploitation) to another, and sorrow’s abolition is necessary for the good of society.
But they differ on the means to achieve these ends. For Buddha, it is a person’s voluntary change of moral disposition to follow the Eight-Fold Path. For Marx, it is violence (to break up the existing system) and ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, succeeded by the formation of a Communist state. But Dr. Ambedkar asks how long such a dictatorship will last and is instead in favour of a parliamentary government. He says that the Communist theory of State as a ‘permanent dictatorship’ is weak, and although Marxists have an aversion to religion, they should closely study Buddhism, which promises liberty, equality and fraternity.
Focus by Oorna Raut.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited
by Hari Narke
The first edition was
published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in 1987. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an
autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.