Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 5): Unpublished Writings on Untouchability
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 Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The 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 fifth volume in 1989. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
Volume 5 brings together Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished essays on various aspects of untouchability in India.
Book I: Untouchables or The Children of India’s Ghetto
In the first chapter of this book (which has 14 chapters), Dr. Ambedkar says that Hindus defended untouchability by insisting that it was not worse than slavery – and that they had never upheld slavery. However, he points out that slavery is a very ancient Hindu institution recognised by Manu and elaborated on by writers of the Smritis after him.
In a chapter titled ‘Outside the Fold’, Dr. Ambedkar talks about how touchables lived inside the village and untouchables, outside it. Untouchables had no rights because they were outside the ‘village republic’ – and the Hindu fold. In ‘Untouchability and Lawlessness’, he illustrates, through cases reported in the newspapers, how untouchables were not allowed to worship Hindu gods or take water from wells used by Hindus.
In Part IV of this book, Dr. Ambedkar writes about the Administration’s antagonism towards untouchables, and the discrimination and isolation they face. He argues that whether or not the principle of equal justice is effective depends on the civil services, which must administer it.
Book II: Social
In ‘Civilization or Felony’ (one of the book’s five chapters), Dr. Ambedkar says though untouchables observe Hindu religious rites and festivals, they are segregated and shunned because Hindus believe that physical contact with them causes ‘pollution’.
The chapter ‘The House the Hindus Have Built’ has extracts from the writings of Greek explorer Megasthenes (350–290 BC), Iranian scholar Alberuni (973-1050 AD) and Portuguese official Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521; he served in India from 1500 to 1517). Dr. Ambedkar says these ‘foreigners’ did not provide a detailed picture of caste but mentioned the caste system. Caste has a religious sanction, Dr. Ambedkar emphasises in a chapter titled ‘The Rock on Which it is Built’, and provides quotes from the Rig Veda that explain caste’s origin.
In ‘Touchables v/s Untouchables’, Dr. Ambedkar says that the ‘Shanti Parva’ – one of the Mahabharat’s 18 books – supports the fact that Shudras could at one time read the Vedas. He also mentions that Max Muller drew attention to two instances in the Vedas which show that Shudras too enjoyed the right to perform sacrifices.
Book III: Political
This book has seven chapters on political issues. In ‘The Revolt of the Untouchables’, Dr. Ambedkar writes about the movement of untouchables against the injustice of the Hindu social order. In ‘Their Wishes were Laws unto Us’, a long chapter on Dharma and Adharma (or not Dharma), Dr. Ambedkar explains why Hindus believe that untouchables, by trying to live a respectable life, are violating Dharma as prescribed by the Vedas, Smritis and Hindu customs.
In ‘Under the Providence of Mr. Gandhi’, Dr. Ambedkar criticises Gandhi’s presentation at the second Session of the Indian Round Table Conference in London in 1931. He quotes from newspaper reports which document that, on Gandhi’s return to Bombay, an enthusiastic crowd came to greet him at the pier along with the untouchables of Bombay who held up black flags. The latter were protesting Gandhi’s opposition to the demand for a separate electorate for the ‘Depressed Classes’. Dr. Ambedkar expresses his views on Gandhi’s opposition to the representation of the Depressed Classes in the Legislature as well, and the failure of the Gandhi-Muslim Pact. Dr. Ambedkar also documents how ‘constructive programme’ for the untouchables by Gandhi and the Congress came to an end at the Congress Working Committee meeting in April 1923.
Book IV: Religious
This book has seven chapters from a scheme (for a book) titled The Conversion of the Untouchables. In a chapter titled ‘Christianizing the Untouchables’, Dr. Ambedkar observes that Christianity has a ‘natural appeal’ for the poorer classes because it preaches brotherhood, which leads to equality among human beings. He says that the Christian missionaries in India saw the futility of pursuing Brahmins because they would not give up the power and prestige afforded to them by the Chaturvarna system. So they started to ‘win over the lower classes’, who became India’s Christians.
In ‘The Condition of the Convert’, Dr. Ambedkar expresses surprise over Gandhi’s objection to the conversion of untouchables to Christianity but not to Islam. He also quotes from a memorandum of the Christian Depressed Classes of South India to the Simon Commission, which stated that the “Depressed Class converts [to Christianity] remain in the same condition as the Hindu Depressed Classes.” Further, he considers the question of why Christianity had not been successful in raising the status of the untouchable convert and provides some answers. Finally, he tries to understand why the Indian Christian community did not actively participate in the struggle for Swaraj and what the reasons for this may be.
Focus by Revathi Ram.
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 1989. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
01 Jan, 2014