Atrocitynews Special:Interviewing Bhagwan Das Part II


A lot has been written about Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Many Dalit intellectuals interpreted it as his anti Marx philosophy. Where does Ambedkar Stand on Marx?
 He was not anti Marxist but against dogmatic people because the books written by Dange and other upper caste elite Marxists did not appeal to him. But he studied Marxism seriously and also the labor movement of UK. He was much interested in modernizing India and that is why he introduced this thing when he was labor minister. If you go to his writings in parliament, it has inclination for progressive and modern thinking and that is a common link between Nehru and Ambedkar and which writers have not highlighted, as they have not done independent research. They had much respect for each other. Ambedkar was not a great admirer of Nehru when he joined the government but when he had opportunity to interact with Nehru he opinion was very much different.

So Dalit movement became a movement of a few enlightened castes. When I started Ambedkar Mission movement, I asked in writing that one member of the family must marry outside his /her parental caste. That is the only way to show that you work against casteism. In my case, I have relationship with 67 communities including Malas, Dhanuks etc. If you do not do it and then what is the use of saying that you want to break it?

What has conversion changed for the Dalits? One great Dalit cultural icon blamed conversion for taking away the revolutionary spirit from the community.

It is good to break and bad to continue in the tradition that has subjugated you. It is also important to understand whether it take away the revolutionary spirit or not. It is lack of understanding. Look at this way, if you continue to divide on caste lines you can never become a strong force. All Shudra castes are divided. And atishudras are hopelessly divided because of reservation as it gave opportunities only those which one enlightened made use of reservation and not others. In western UP, it was Jatavs who were the business and lay out number of educated people actually monopolized the jobs. What about others?   In case they continue to remain in their communities/cast and not broaden their base, there is no hope. Second, here you are strengthening Hinduism, a religion which has exploited you because in ceremonies such as marriages, cremations, festivals, Mundans, you are following them and strengthening it.   You are not strengthening yourself. In case the Dalit embrace other religion what will happen? They embraced Christianity but maintain caste. They embrace Islam and maintain caste because Islamic society is divided into three main castes Ashraf, Ajlaf and Afjals. Ashrafs are Shaikhs, Syed, Mughals and Pathans who came with invaders and they looked down upon people who converted here who were Ajlaf. And the third category people were the working class people; the lower castes and untouchables who converted to Islam were termed as Afjals. Today Butchers ( Khatiq) converted and claim that he is a Quraishi because they came from outside. Julaha is an untouchable caste but after conversion he claims himself as Ansari who came from Ansar. This fact remains despite all claims that Muslim society remains divided into three castes and there is no inter marriages. Christianity, Islam and Sikhism have failed because they were sticking to the originality of religion, presence of God and a book, which was allegedly created by God.

If people continue to be divided on caste line then what is the future? Religion is nominal or little value for the people. They stick to it mostly for political reasons, not because it gives them identity and history but majority of people who are forced into different religions, they only use it for marriages and burial. Nothing wrong with it. Dr Ambedkar thought, we need a revolutionary change and for that religion has to be changed. It needs to be on reason, compassion and brotherhood. He studied Buddhism and as Lord Buddha said towards the end of his life that there is no place for God. He wanted happiness of the people too. Unfortunately, the leaders of Buddhism were not able to carry that message. They maintained caste and at the same time call themselves as Buddhist.

What is the status of Dalit movement today?

Unfortunately, the movement never reached the agrarian communities. Dr Ambedkar chalked out a programme to reach 70% of our population, which lives in villages and was treated by the dominant communities very badly.   If it is Marathas, Kunbis in Maharastra, it is Jaats and Gujjars in UP. He thought that Bengal is different. IN Bengal land went to Dalits because of reforms. Unfortunately, the leadership of the movement came from the urban areas. Educated, semi educated people took over the leadership of the movement. The movement did not go beyond that. Some people tried to educate people in the villages but working in the villages is very different, because society there is horizontally and vertically divided and land holding community is the worst enemy. What Ambedkar did was that he gave a call to the people to migrate to the cities. So the people who could not face situation in the rural areas migrated to urban areas but then the situation differs in every state.

In southern states the situation is slightly better in the sense because land was owned by the Brahmins and they have been thrown out in South but in the North India the land was not owned by the Brahmins but by the other people. They are the middle communities and became Hinduised. The village movement of landless people has not been initiated by RPI. They had it in their programme but it was never promoted because most of the leaders came from cities who were interested in winning reserve seats and used poor people for winning elections only.

 Scavenger remains the lowest among the Dalits. How do you describe their condition today? What are the impediments in their development?

It is not a community itself. It is divided into 12-14 castes. But in South the division is not that bad. In Andhra Madigas who are basically Chamars but 7 castes among them work as scavengers hence the division is not that strict and harsh as in North India. Most of them are employed under the municipality, cantonment boar, and station staff offices. They have long traditions of people exploiting them and promoted as Jamadars in their department.   Inspite of the fact that it is a lowly paid occupation, people pay bribe to get jobs even in Delhi you have to pay bribe to get job under MCD.

Unfortunately, efforts have not been made to unite the sweepers. Why? Because you took up the cause of one particular area and you choose a leader from these quarters. Others are working as private quarters in Mohallas under the bridge system. In this system you work under several masters, get left over food, old cloths, food on marriage or any other festivals so it is not but several local masters.

If they unite for economical weakness, they do not remain so for long. That is why the sweepers and scavengers even today remains to be one of the poorest and backward communities. One reason is leadership, second is economic and third is your locality. And this job does not need hard work. It is definitely a dirty work and looked down upon by every body. These factors resulted in many problems, like drinking and wasteful expenditure. Hindusiation has weakened them as they imitate. Efforts have not been made by different people and leaders to unite different castes and make them acquainted with the programmes of the government. Even the commissions have not been able to do that. Educationally, they are backwards because drop out rate is very high. Efforts have not been made to spread education in these classes.

I have been associated with the movement from the age of 16. I have also been associated with labor movement. Unfortunately ambitious political people take benefit of ignorance and backwardness of these people. Right kind of people are now training the Dalits and giving leadership but unfortunately ‘illterate’ people with little knowledge are long in the way and I think there is hardly any organization free from these accusations- Congress, BJP and others.

I am happy with the new youngs writing about the movements. When I meet them in conferences and seminars, I feel there is hope, though it is not easy. The population of right thinking people is taking an upward trend. Could you ever imagine that the sweeper of Punjab would hold mass conversion for Buddhism. New trends are coming up. New kind of leadership is coming. Unfortunately they do not have the mean to support them.

Political Power is the Master Key?

Well, there was time when Baba Saheb Ambedkar said that.  When you speak to different kind of audience’s particularly political leaders, it makes sense. But you will also have to get rid of the weakness with in the society. He also said promotion of education. What is being done on that side? It is wrong to say that he laid emphasis on political power. Political power with out right kind of ideology means nothing. I think people are misquoting Ambedkar that political power is the master key. He might have been speaking at Scheduled Caste Federation and with political leaders. But why we not talk about his other work. It is not enough.

Globalization has banged on our door. There are movements against it in various parts of India. Many of our friends have written positively on it suggesting that it would benefit the Dalits. Your take on it.

 This government would have different complexion, if we had the 10% people in the civil services. Now with the judgment of the Supreme Courts they are going to suffer more. in the years to come.   This globalization does not get attraction by the weaker section, at the moment. But then if in the globalization, the international movement on the issue of Dalits is properly handled, then even here in globalization they can have a share, if it is correctly done. Globalization has a political model and an economic model and it leads to empowerment but behind these ideas are people who want to solve their problems, find the market, create new market and create new classes. In western countries people are trying to create consciousness and awareness in the down trodden communities to develop leadership.

Dr Ambedkar was a truly humanist leader of our time but it look different castes have made him look like as if he was a caste leader. How do you describe Ambedkar?

He was a rationalist in thinking with the interest of SCs in mind. He never considered British to be the friend. But he got an opportunity because British wanted to expand the elected council but they elected other progressive people also. I think he was the most capable and learned person among his contemporaries. He had economic programmes which he could implement through Ministry of labor which was considered as orphan Ministry and through that he tried to promote industrialization of India and tried to create a class of the technically trained people. No body had done that earlier.

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