Ambedkar: What the Dalit icon wrote of Hinduism

Published: Saturday, Apr 14,2012, 13:07 IST
Ambedkar, Dalit icon, Hinduism & Islam, Dalit politics, Geeta, IBTL

Today’s the 121st Birth Anniversary of Dr. B R Ambedkar, known as the father of India’s constitution, and an icon of Dalit politics. B R Ambedkar has been the demigod who every politician striving to project him/herself as the sympathiser of Dalits and a champion of their rights, invokes. With that comes the word, ‘Manuwadi’, a supposedly derogatory term implying those who support caste discrimination. In this article, we explore through Ambedkar’s writings, his views on both Hinduism and Islam.

Part 01 : Ambedkar on Hinduism

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It is a very well known truth that Ambedkar had renounced Hinduism and had adopted Buddhism as his mark for protest against the prevalent Caste system in Hindu society, which he believed was the original religion of his ancestors. In fact, he even paved way for many of the Dalits to adopt Buddhism as well. But was that all? Unfortunately, reading his writings, particularly, “The Philosophy of Hinduism” reveals not just his protest against caste system, but his immense hatred towards Hinduism as a whole.

While it’s a sad truth that Hindu society had, over the centuries, distorted the profession-based Varna System into an abominable birth-based caste hierarchy, the glimpses of which can be traced back to as early as during the Mahabharat era when Dronacharya refused to offer education to Karna, and he was, at multiple occasions, ridiculed for apparently being a low-caste person, but even in Mahabharat, Duryodhan was the one to stand against this ill-practice. Not just that, at one instance, Yudhishthir ruled maximum punishment to the Brahmin, and minimum to a Shudra for the same crime, because while the former was learned, the latter was not, and the former’s crime therefore, had been more impactful.

As the centuries elasped, different people in different parts of the country stood for the same cause. The examples for Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jyotiba Phule etc. come handy. They stood with because of their love for Hindu society, and their intention to bring reform to it. The living epitome of valiance and fortitude, freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar, who had spent several years in Andaman prison (Kala Pani) had also started his battle against casteism coming back to his hometown. Gandhi, however, had a different attitude towards this problem. When Sawarkar had pleaded to Gandhi to completely do away with caste system, Gandhi had termed the system to be one of the fundamentals of Hinduism, not just an obsolete facet, that could be done away with. He coined the term Harijan for those lower castes, but in effect, that compartmentalized the victims of casteism, paving way for separatist identity politics.

But there is a difference in fighting for unification and equality and fighting for a separate identiy. Unfortunately, while Ambedkar led his fight against Casteism, his writings only reveal his hatred against Hinduism and Islam both. For example, in “Phisolophy of Hinduism”, Ambedkar writes how Manu Smriti categorically advocates inequality and caste system. In fact, he even writes that Bhagwad Geeta and Vedas also promote inequality. However, while driving his point home, that Hinduism intrinsically promotes inequality, he does that with his in-built prejudices and well-nurtured hatred as we’ll soon see.

He mentions the Purush-sookta of the Vedas, and writes that Purushasukta recognises the division of society into four sections as an ideal and that the ideal relationship between the four sections is inequality. However, he doesn’t quote the exact meaning of Purush sukta which envisages different classes as different parts of human body. It compares Brahman to the head, Kshatriyas to the chest and arms, Vaishyas to the belly and thighs, and Shuras to the leg and feet. Yes, the four Varnas are unequal, but that doesn’t mean one is inferior to the other! Can we say that legs are inferior to the arms, or chest and heart are inferior to the head?

In fact, the translations that Ambedkar has given, tell an entire story of how he perceived Bhagwad Geeta. Below is the translation that he’s given for one shloka to drive home his point that in Geeta, God himself created inequality and casteism.

"Oh, Arjun ! Whenever this religion of duties and occupations (i.e. this religion of Chaturvarna) declines, then I myself will come to birth to punish those who are responsible for its downfall and to restore it” —Geeta 4/7-8

Now, anyone can open the Geeta and locate these verses. Well, they are nothing but,

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम्‌ ॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्‌ । धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥

Surprised at how the learned Dr. Ambedkar translated these famous verses to look like they promote casteism!

We saw how Ambedkar literally distorted even the most well known verses to come up with a translation that suits his point. It’s interesting to note that while Ambedkar makes all these allegations against Hindu scriptures, not sparing even the Bhagwad Geeta, he even comes up with an explanation for this. He writes, “The Brahmins who were the authors of the whole body of Hindu Religious Literature—except the Upanishad Literature—took good care to inject the doctrines formulated by them in the Smritis, into the Vedas and the Bhagwat Geeta. Nothing is to be gained in picking and choosing between them. The Philosophy of Hinduism will be the same whether one takes the Manu Smriti as its Gospel or whether one takes the Vedas and the Bhagwat Geeta as the gospel of Hinduism.”

After making such remarks on the Bhagwad Geeta and the Vedas, which as we saw, are completely rooted in his own prejudiced and translations off by miles, where he introduces words that suited his theory, he has gone to criticise Upanishads, the same Upanishads which scientists like Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein upheld in high regards. Since Ambedkar could not find anything even remotely ‘worldly’ to be manipulated as casteist, he quotes colonisers and atheists to reject the entire Upanishadic philosophy as worthless. He writes,

“Of what use is this philosophy of the Upanishadas? The philosophy of the Upanishadas meant withdrawal from the struggle for existence by resort to asceticism and a destruction of desire by self-mortification.”

In the same book, he quotes Lala Hardayal, “This quest for 'the absolute' is the basis of all the spurious metaphysics of India. The treatises are full of absurd conceits, quaint fancies, and chaotic speculations. And we have not learned that they are worthless. We keep moving in the old rut; we edit and re-edit the old books instead of translating the classics of European social thought... Indian pundits and graduates seem to suffer from a kind of mania for what is effete and antiquated. .. What a false move in the quest for wisdom ! .. Young men of India, look not for wisdom in the musty parchments of your metaphysical treatises. There is nothing but an endless round of verbal jugglary there. Read Rousseau and Voltaire, Plato and Aristotle, Haeckeland Spencer, Marx and Tolstoi, Ruskin and Comte, and other European thinkers, if you wish to understand life and its problems."

Ambedkar concludes chapter 5 of his book by saying, “It is therefore incontrovertible that notwithstanding the Hindu Code of Ethics, notwithstanding the philosophy of the Upanishads not a little not a jot did abate from the philosophy of Hinduism as propounded by Manu. They were ineffective and powerless to erase the infamy preached by Manu in the name of religion. Notwithstanding their existence one can still say "Hinduism! Thy name is inequality!"

How absurd it is that someone who claimed to have interest in Buddhism’s spirituality, which is a direct descendent of Sanatan and Upanishadic wisdom, writes such things about the same Upanishads!

In this same book, he writes, “I hold that in Hinduism there is no distinction between legal philosophy and moral philosophy. That is because in Hinduism there is no distinction between the Legal and the Moral, the Legal being also the Moral.” It’s indeed a true observation. But, Ambedkar again indulges in sophistry and he asserts, “Hindu is social but not moral in the strict sense of the term. A Hindu takes no responsibility for the ends he serves. He is a willing tool in the hands of his society, content to follow. He is not a free agent afraid to differ. His notions of sin give remarkable proof of his unmoral character.”

Some of the subsequent remarks Ambedkar makes in the final chapter of the book, read,

“Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. The morality of Hinduism is only social. It is unmoral and inhuman to say the least. What is unmoral and inhuman easily becomes immoral, inhuman and infamous. This is what Hinduism has become.”

“The only answer is that Hinduism is overwhelmed with the fear of pollution. It has not got the power to purify. It has not the impulse to serve and that is because by its very nature it is inhuman and unmoral. It is a misnomer to call it religion. Its philosophy is opposed to very thing for which religion stands.”

“The Philosophy of Hinduism therefore neither satisfies the test of social utility nor does it satisfy the test of individual justice.”

“Is there any wonder that the sentiment of fraternity is foreign to the Hindus? With a complete refusal to share the joys and sorrows of life how can the sentiment of fraternity take roots?”

(Compare it with what Hinduism actually says, Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, endorsing Universal fraternity).

“The Hindu Civilisation... is a diabolical contrivance to suppress and enslave humanity. Its proper name would be infamy. What else can be said of a civilisation which has produced a mass of people ... who are treated as an entity beyond human intercourse and whose mere touch is enough to cause pollution?”

This is just a glimpse of what Ambedkar thought of Hinduism and led his followers into believing. He rooted among Dalits the root of identiy separation. When Congress was a nationalist force fighting against the British, Ambedkar was playing caste politics by making a “Schedule Caste Fedration” instead of bringing Dalits to the mainstream politics of Congress. A direct consequence of it all is observed today. Dalit politicians have used Ambedkar to abuse the Brahmins and so called upper caste. Mayawati’s slogan in late 90s, “Tilak, Taraju, aur Talwar, inpe maaro joote chaar” was a burning example of this attitude. This feeling of identity separatism has also been abused by Christian missionaries, having the ‘harvest of faith’ - who take ultimate plesure in converting the Dalits to Christianity. Not just that, how much the situation has deteriorated can be seen by the example of Osmania University, where last year, Dalits had celebrated Raavan, as their icon, who stood against the “tyranny” of Shri Ram, an ‘upper caste’ icon, without realizing that Raavan was essentially a brahmin, until he became an Asur by his actions. Now, the same Dalit students are off to celebrate Beef festival in the university. This just shows how Dalits have been made antagonised to Hindu culture, to which they very much belong themselves.

What an irony of fate it is that a person who nurtured such views about Hinduism and the Hindu culture of this country, framed the constitution under which we’re governed today. No wonder, so many things in this supposedly secular constitution are inherently anti-Hindu. On the contrary, the forces that are unifying Dalits with other Hindus appear to be the RSS and VHP. VHP got the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Janmbhoomi Mandir of Ayodhya performed by a Dalit, thereby sending a strong message that Ram belongs to all Hindus, and Dalits are as much Hindu as a brahmin, and the days when Dalits were not allowed in Hindu temples were an abominable practice which must be disapproved of. The unifying efforts of Hindus, from Swamy Dayanand to Veer Sawarkar to Vishwa Hindu Parishad are abused by those who proclaim themselves as the champions of Dalit rights and secular polity. They even called Sawarkar a ‘Hindu Jinnah’, thereby exposing their evil design. These so called secular politicians who have ensured that Hindus remain divided among caste so that they can thrive on their respective votebanks, are the same people who invoke Ambedkar to discredit Hinduism, at the same time, cunningly hiding, what he had to say about Islam. And it is precisely where the periphery of the coin lies.

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to be continued at " Part 02 : What the Dalit icon Ambedkar on Islam " ...
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Note: Click to read “The Philosophy of Hinduism

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