As statues of B.R. Ambedkar get vandalised across the country, Video Volunteers asks people across India if the architect of the Indian constitution is still relevant.
On April 10, a statue of BR Ambedkar was installed by government agencies in Dungraiya village, Uttar Pradesh to replace one that had been vandalised a few days ago. In what has been called an act of ‘playing politics of colour’, the statue showed him wearing saffron clothes. A colour that represents Right-wing Hinduism for many, and one that Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, has a penchant for.
The clothes on the statue were quickly painted blue by the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party. In most statues across India, the architect of the Indian constitution is shown wearing a blue suit. For Dalits, blue represents equality and emancipation from the shackles of caste-based discrimination, which Ambedkar paved the way for.
“He gave primacy to the idea of citizenship in the constitution, and to people’s rights. He made sure that people who had been disenfranchised, those who were different, who had been oppressed, would have a better future,” says Neetu a school student from Delhi.
he painting and repainting of the statue is the latest move in a game of appropriating Ambedkar being played between the political Right and the Left. Though many have tried to lay claim to his ideas about creating an India that is free of discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste and gender, it has been loudest from the current BJP-led government. This conveniently ignores the inherent contradictions between the ideas of their political predecessors like Savarkar and Gowalkar and those of Ambedkar. The latter had criticised Savarkar’s nationalism in his book “Thoughts on Pakistan”.
Even as the government’s plans to develop memorials dedicated to Ambedkar are underway, the country is currently witnessing an unprecedented expression of frustration from many fronts. Looking at the news just between January 2018 and April 2018 shows that all isn’t right.
The four senior-most Supreme Court Judges of the country called a press conference to raise concerns about the operations of the court. Farmers from Maharashtra marched for miles highlighting their lack of access to land rights and financial support. School students have had to protest the injustice of leaked exam papers; college-students have had to demonstrate to make campuses safe and accessible for all. There have been several attacks on people belonging to minority religions, scheduled castes (SC) and tribes (ST). The dilution of measures under Prevention of Atrocities against SC & ST Act has resulted in Dalit protests across India.
Successive governments have attempted to delegitimise people’s protests by branding them as ‘anti-national’ or ‘threats to security’. Jail sentences, lathi charges, water canons, and pellet guns are among the choice rewards they get for upholding Ambedkar’s vision of making India a democratic republic.
Understanding Ambedkar’s vision in its entirety is another challenge. For the privileged few of the country, his policies of affirmative action for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (‘reservation’) rob deserving candidates from getting into colleges, and getting government jobs. School textbooks rarely dedicate more than a few lines to his tireless efforts to bring a rational temper to India as we know it. In the larger public eye, Ambedkar’s image is confined to being a Dalit leader rather than a national leader. To appropriate him as such opens up a potential vote-bank that can make or break governments.
As Favita, from Goa, puts it, “I studied sociology and we never studied about Ambedkar when we read about caste-discrimination. We learnt about [GS.] Ghurye and [MN] Srinivas but never about Ambedkar…He was never given that status, not as a Dalit leader and not as a national leader.” She adds that it is imperative to study Ambedkar in far greater detail to understand the current problems that India faces.
Away from the political arena, many do genuinely understand Ambedkar’s views and carry on the light of his legacy. “He believed that every citizen of India has equal rights. There can be no two points of view that this idea is still relevant today. There is still a need to implement his idea that marginalised communities should be aware and educated, and empowered,” says Pradeep from Madhya Pradesh.
There is even a fervent hope that the elected representatives of the people will do a better job of maintaining the integrity of constitutional provisions. “If the young leaders of this nation were to understand and do things keeping Ambedkar’s vision in mind, I think India could get back on track. We can eradicate communal differences and untouchability,” says a respondent from Kashmir.
If the people of India are the ones who give legitimacy to a government, then it is natural that they should also be guardians of the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as envisioned by Ambedkar, and enshrined in the Constitution. Had Ambedkar been alive, he would have urged us to be vigilant against empty rhetoric and hate-mongering. His relevance and legacy will survive only if it is rescued from becoming just another pawn in the endless game of politics.
Video by Community Correspondents Abid Salam, Alka Mate, Biswanath Patra, Jahanara Ansari, Jyoti Kadam, Neelam Jajoriya, and Satyanarayan Banchor.
Article by Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, a member of the VV Editorial Team
This story has been co-published with Newslaundry.