Why many statues of Dr Ambedkar in India?

10Jun09

“Learning the use of symbolic means: Dalits, Ambedkar statues and the state in Uttar Pradesh” is a nice paper written by french scholar Nicolas Jaoul which explains the social theory and rationale behind the ever increasing no of statues of Dr Ambedkar in India. Nicolas Jaoul is a research fellow at the Centre d.Etudes de l.Inde et de l.Asie du Sud, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 75006, Paris, France. Email: nicolas.jaoul@wanadoo.

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The Ambedkar statue stands as a major feature of the Dalit movement. In the media, the Dalit emphasis on symbolic politics has been dismissed as mere tokenism, and the Ambedkar icon has been denigrated as Westernised. Despite attempts at studying Dalit politics since the BSP became one of the key players in Uttar Pradesh, there has been a lack of scholarly attention to the deeper social changes involved in the Dalits. relationship with the state. This study of the Ambedkar statues in Uttar Pradesh tries to fill this gap by taking three dimensions into account: the iconography, the way in which the statues have spread historically, and the meanings and stakes involved for those who mobilise around them. The assumption is that the Dalits. struggles for the imposition of their symbol in public places can contribute to an understanding of the manner in which Dalits have imagined the state and engineered strategies towards it. These statues seem to be the focal point for renewed aspirations towards democracy, while the eremonies organised around them have provided these deprived citizens the opportunities to build some support within the state.
I

Introduction

Political symbols play a major part in the way a nation is depicted andfed into the imagination of its citizens (Anderson 1983). This symbolicwork manates generally from the official realm but, as this study willshow, it may also derive from the initiatives of political parties and cialorganisations. Thus, different actors involved in the public sphere insiston particular symbols or .great men. that express their different ideologies,different ideas of the nation and identity struggles. These political symbolsappeal to people at a more private level, reflecting the internalisation ofa political imaginaire that contradicts the usual notion of fixed boundaries between state and society. Indeed, as this article seeks to show, it testifiesto the circular influence of both in the realm of popular culture (Fullerand Harriss 2000).The Ambedkar icon, which has become the symbol of Dalit identity,provides an interesting case study of the understanding of and strategiestowards the state by the unprivileged in India. Attention to the meaningsassociated with symbols like the Ambedkar statues by those who mobil­ise around them thus assists our understanding of grassroots perceptionsof Indian democracy. In the context of poverty and illiteracy where theyoperate, such symbolic means have profound political implications, pro­moting ideals of citizenship and nationhood among the politicallydestitute where the state has partially failed. This article seeks to em­phasise the instrumental importance of the Ambedkar icon and its con­tribution to what Khilnani has called the .deep politicisation. of indiansociety (Khilnani 1997).In a recent study on the politics of a Muslim brotherhood in Senegal,Donal Cruise O.Brien goes beyond the conventional opposition betweenethnicity and nationhood to consider the way .symbolic confrontations.by ethnic organisations sustain participation and thus deepen the feel­ing of nationhood among illiterate citizens. Such increased participationimplies fundamental changes in the way the disadvantaged perceive andrelate to the state:Ideas of participation include the idea that one can organise in makingdemands of the state, that one can bring the state to act on one.s behalf.In this deep process of social adjustment the symbolic confrontationhas a central role, promoting sectional interests, yes, but in a dialogue with the state, engaging people.s loyalties, in the long run probably strengthening the state, as an institution with its place in the citizens.imagination (O.Brien 2003: 29). The author emphasizes the pedagogic dimension of the symbol, whichis part of the emergence of a political language, enabling larger numbersof people to define themselves in relation to the state, if you will to makesense of the state. (O.Brien 2003: 26). O.Brien.s argument can be extendedto other post-colonial contexts, where the politicisation of the lower orders and the use of religious symbols often go hand in hand. O.Brien takes the example of the Indian struggle for freedom, in which Gandhi used Hindu symbols to appeal to the rural masses and bring them together with the Congress against the colonial state. He also notes how this pol­itical pedagogy alienated Indian Muslims who were unable to find themselves reflected in a nation defined by Hindu symbols, thus contribu­ting to the communalisation process that led to Partition. This argument can also be applied to the case of radical .Untouchables./Scheduled Castes, led by B.R. Ambedkar (1891.1956), who distrusted Gandhi’s charitable attitude towards them. The latter.s reformed Hinduism was still too close to caste hierarchy to be acceptable to those who suffered from untouch­ability, and whose leaders feared for their future in an upper caste. dominated independent India (Ambedkar 1945).

Ambedkarss relentless and bitter struggle against Gandhi on thequestion of the recognition of the .Untouchables. as a separate minorityleft its mark on their collective destiny at several levels. At the sociallevel, the policy of positive discrimination that resulted from the com­promise between the two leaders (known as the Poona Pact, 1932) en­ couraged education and social mobility. At the political level, Ambedkar.snomination as the head of the Constitution Drafting Committee was areconciliatory act by Gandhi, designed to involve the Scheduled Castesin the process of nation-building and thereby to sustain national inte­ gration (Zelliot 1988). However, despite this momentary and partial reconciliation with the Congress, Ambedkar.s struggles against Gandhileft their stigma on Dalit politics. Even though they were depicted nega­tively in mainstream Indian historiography, these struggles were rem­
embered in Ambedkarite circles as a landmark episode, because of whicha distinct Dalit political identity could be kept alive and nurtured afterIndependence.

Although Ambedkar had warned his admirers against making a cultof his personality, a move that had started in his home state of Maharashtraeven before his death (Tartakov 2000), the statue, perhaps inevitably, became a tool for political mobilisation after he died. The little bluestatues of Ambedkar wearing a three-piece suit and holding the IndianConstitution have indeed become a common sight in contemporary slumsand villages in many parts of the country. This article narrates the history of these statues in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a political outfit led by AmbedkariteDalits, has formed several governments since the mid-1990s. The caseof Uttar Pradesh is especially interesting as far as Ambedkar statuesare concerned. First, the statues have played an instrumental role in theBSP.s successful mobilisations, confirming the popular appeal ofsymbolic politics in a state where the Ayodhya campaign had alreadyhelped the BJP to power in the early 1990s. Second, once in power theBSP put great emphasis on the official installation of statues, which inturn motivated Dalits to install more statues in their villages. The waythe state and society have emulated each other brings an interesting per­spective to bear on symbolic politics and on the evolution of relationsbetween Dalits and the state. That is, the influence of the official Ambedkariconography on the popular statues, along with the imitation of officialceremonies in villages, reflects a process of popular learning of symbolicskills.

II

From Parliament to village: Ambedkar.s official image and its appropriation
The practice of setting up statues of political leaders on public sites wasintroduced into India by the British, who installed statues of soldiers andcivil servants of the Raj. After Independence, the practice was continuedwith the installation of statues of Gandhi and regional figures of theindependence movement, as well as historical figures such as Shivaji inMaharashtra. The first official statue of Ambedkar was set up in Bombayin 1962, at the Institute of Science crossing (the former ProvincialAssembly) (Tartakov 2000). Ambedkar was represented as an orator, dressed in a three-piece suit, his right arm and finger upraised as .a greatman lecturing the nation. (ibid.: 102). According to Tartakov, the messagewas both to the nation.on the dangers of caste and inequality.and tohis fellow Dalits, whom he urged to organise democratically to securetheir rights. In 1966, another statue made of bronze was set up in front of theNational Parliament in New Delhi and unveiled by the President of India,Dr S. Radhakrishnan. This national recognition of Ambedkar was a sig­ nificant move, as the .Untouchable. leader, despite having chaired theConstitution Committee, had been identified more or less as a traitor inthe dominant political stereotype of the ruling party ever since his oppos­ition to Gandhi at the Round Table Conference. In the new political context of the mid-1960s, the decision to honourAmbedkar was an attempt by Indira Gandhi to woo the Ambedkariteconstituency of the Republican Party of India (RPI). At the Ahmedabad convention of the party in 1964, the RPI had adopted a charter of demands,focusing conspicuously (five out of ten points) on problems of poverty,minimum wage and landlessness. This emphasis on the economic  demands of the landless peasants, which was designed to build an allianceof the rural poor across castes, is characteristic of the RPI.s socialistic emphasis, but the party.s first demand was for the installation of .a portraitof Dr Ambedkar as .Father of the Indian Constitution. in the central hall of Parliament. (Zelliot 1970). Taking up these demands, massivemobilisations took place in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra inDecember 1964, when 300,000 demonstrators were arrested (Duncan1979: 246).

According to L.R. Balley, who was the Punjab leader of the RPI atthat time, Parliament officially voted to raise the statue around 1964.65,thanks to the support of the Speaker, Hukkum Singh, who had chairedAmbedkar.s welcome committee during the latter.s visit to Punjab in1936. The Sikh politician thus wished to give Ambedkar the national re­cognition that he felt he deserved as one of the nation-builders. Even ifAmbedkar.s image did not make it to the Central Hall of Parliament, amassive bronze statue was set up outside the premises, representing himin his three-piece suit with the Constitution in one hand, the other armpointing to the sky. The statue was made by the same official sculptor asthe one in Bombay, and its main novelty was that he added the Con­ stitution, probably to emphasise Ambedkar.s contribution to the nation. That is, the Parliament House statue insisted upon Ambedkar.s conformityto the national agenda rather than recalled his hostility towards Hinduism, which he saw as the essence of caste. While the Constitution thus fitted Ambedkar into a secular mould, it is interesting to note that the Consti­tution was given a radical meaning by Dalits. As Pauline Mahar-Mollerhas shown in a monograph on a village in western UP, Untouchables inter­ preted the Constitution as a new law replacing the .Hindu laws of caste.(Mahar-Moller 1958). This attempt at bringing Ambedkar within a nationalconsensus in the name of .secularism. did not prevent Ambedkaritesfrom emphasising their own radical understandings of Ambedkar. Onthe one hand, they took this official recognition as a welcome step thatgave them legitimacy; on the other they continued to publish biographiesof Ambedkar and other vernacular political pamphlets in which hisideology was unfolded more uncompromisingly.

(ibid:1 Different terms are used to refer to those segments of the population treated as .Untouchables., according to Brahminical standards, because of their .unclean. occupationssuch as leather-work, sweeping and scavenging, weaving, cremating the dead, and so on. The term .Scheduled Castes. is an official category, framed by the colonial state in 1935to implement special policies towards the Untouchables following the Poona Pact agree­ment between Gandhi and Ambedkar. The term .Harijan. (.People of God.) was inventedby a Gujarati poet of the 17th century and popularised by Gandhi after 1932 in order topromote the acceptance of Untouchables by other Hindus as members of their religion. The term .Dalit. (.crushed. or .oppressed.) is a less euphemistic term which has been in usesince the 1910s. In fact it was used by the Arya Samaj and later by Jagjivan Ram. (Bothare considered as representing the non-radical reformist approach to Untouchability, whereupper castes took the lead in promoting reform, though of course both were seen as radicalcompared to conservative upper-caste Hindus.) The term .Dalit. became associated withradicalism when it was re-popularised in the 1970s by radical Ambedkarites such as theDalit Panthers and later by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Today the use of .Dalit. has become widespread in many parts of India, including UP. In this article I use different terms, according to the historical context.
2 Tartakov also informs us that Ambedkar statues had been installed in Maharashtra, atnon-official functions, by Ambedkar.s own Mahar followers since the early 1950s.evenbefore Ambedkar.s death.
3 I would like to thank Gary Tartakov for providing me with this important date.www.ambedkar.org/images/movement1/target292.html.
4 The formation of this party was announced by Ambedkar during his Buddhist conversion gathering (14.15 October 1956). It was eventually launched by his followersafter his death.
5 Other demands concerned the implementation of quotas, checking harassment of Untouchables, implementation of the Untouchability Offences Act, maintaining quotas for Untouchables converted to Buddhism, and full implementation of quotas in government services.
6 Interview with L.R. Balley. )

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Download Entire article : Learning the use of symbolic means

Courtesy: Sage Publications



19 Responses to “Why many statues of Dr Ambedkar in India?”

  1. 1 kumarpushp

    We equate Dr Ambedkar statue with Hindu temples where hindus are worshipping congenital abnormal gods and godeses where dalits are worshipping Dr Ambedkar who was born as human and died as human.

    • 2 nick

      my dear bro we dont worship babasaheb but show our gratitude towards him

  2. 3 Gurudrinha

    Most of the ambedkar statues are in Slums other than the ones near the state assemblies. Many Dalits now associate Ambedkar with poverty rather than an emacipation from their condition. A dalit trying to escape from the ghettos of slums would rather choose a better symbol to come out of the condition than to stick on to old ones which have never worked.

  3. 4 kumarpushp

    Dear Gurudrink,you go and drink cow urine cola and eat shankra charya shits which is being sold by RSS and their umblical links BJP.dalits donot give any shits to hindus or their gods and godeses.

    • 5 shrikant

      good reply.
      But the fact is our people are resonsible for such.
      I have seen jay bhim on many autoriksha but not on any mercidies Benz.

      I want to see it on many mercidies benz

      • 6 Kumarpushp

        Dear Srikanr,We are moving inch by inch towards the self determination by keeping Dr Ambedkarphoto in one hand and Buddha and his dhamma in other hands.We will have Mark,Volvo,BMW with Dr Ambedkar photos.I have seen hundreds in Punjab and we will have in Maharasthra and UP soon.

    • 7 rahul

      rightly said @ brother Kumarpushp

  4. 8 HARSH VARDHAN

    I Think the statue of baba shaheb dr.b.r.Ambedkar is the symbol of freedom,education,encouragement,energetic and enlightenment.A statue of baba shaheb provide the safety and unity to dalits which can neither be achieved by other hindus nor goverment of india.a standing statue of baba shaheb provide a message to the harsh people of india that dalits will never go in the past time of indian history.

  5. 9 Rajendra Gaikwad

    Thanx Bhai HARSHVARDHAN 4 good rply to Mr.kumarpusp…iN MY WORDS Dr. saab is my God who has given best way to our society for longlife struggle.rg

    • 10 B. P. KUMAR

      JAI BHEEM ….. RAJENDRA GAIKWAD

      On sep-7 you replied to HARSHAVARDHAN that DR. BABA SAHEB AMEDKER is a god for you, its better to say WAY OF LIFE than to say GOD. Because god is not in existance so try to understand.

  6. Jai bheem.
    Jai bheem.

  7. 12 Rajendra Gaikwad

    More than Thousand sc/st commonman lodging in jails…Nobody asking them for legal assistance/aid etc.

  8. 13 vinit

    NOW I AM NOT A DALIT.I HATE THE WORD DALIT.NOW I HAVE BECAME AN AMBEDKARITE BUDDHIST.FEEL VERY VERY PROUD.I AM A STUDENT OF STD 12.I ALWAYS TELL THE REAL HISTORY OF BABASAHEB,LORD BUDDHA,BRAHMINS TO MY NON BUDDHIST AND BUDDHIST FRIENDS.THEY ARE GETTING INSPIRED AND HATING BRAHMINS(MANUWAD).SOME ARE REQUESTING ME FOR AMBEDKARS BOOKS,BHIMGEETS.
    JAYBHIM.

  9. 14 BACCHU SHINDE

    I AM ‘BHIMSAINIK’ .DR.BABASAHEB IS OUR GOD AND MASIHA.
    i think babasab situted in every village and city
    the word’DALIT’ is end with the end of ‘BRAMHANSHAHI’ and we are not dalit we are buddhist

    • 15 nick

      yo bro we r nt dalits from 1956 keep it up jai bhim

  10. HONOURABLE DR.BABASAHEB BR.AMBEDKAR is a great leader in all over the world he is the only person to argue for the below poverty peoples ,am born belongs to mbc there is no differents between peoples we are all the human beings so we dont want to hesitate each others ,our country will reach the developed stage when we are accepting we are all the INDIAN’S.WE CAN’T FORGOT DR.BABASAHEB BR.AMBEDKAR HARD WORKS FOR OUR COUNTRY ,he is the only person to talk about poverty peoples ,we have less aamount of statue for DR.BABASAHEB, we want to increase it he gave to all indian “social justice “

  11. 17 Sunil

    I like him because he was the first women & Dalit freedom giver, dreamer of caste free & equal Society Unfortunately ruler of did not wants to change the system. They honestly did not want caste free society. Due to narrow thinking of hindus India is developing country not developed country.
    There are so many problems in india due to the Hinduism.

  12. i reply only who person those criticisms the baba saheb ,they are selfesh and they are not belive in poor human right,they belive only his rich and good life,they are not udestand many of thousand year high cast rular on dalit,but when dalit turn they are comfused what they do,because they are not rul on dalit persent time,because all dalit cast are reserved in constution act,remember it is only 66 year has gon any many other high cast blast angery of reserve act,why they are not fell how can lived many thousand year dalit like a animal life,….and other word ambedker is not a only god of dalit,he was a first law minister,he was a very high educated in all india in past time,he is great economist.,one time he was helped the R.B.I.,so why we are critesems ambedker,he was gives all indian liberty right,…..so plese respect dr.b.r.ambedker

  13. and my friend i am not a dalit i am pandit in dixit cast,but i know that respect our country men,especialy our greatest history man..like a bhagt singh.gandhi,subhas chander boss,cander sekher azad


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