(This article was first published on 12 April 2018 and is being republished to mark the day when Dr B R Ambedkar, the Indian Untouchable caste leader, converted to Buddhism along with 385,000 of his followers.)
The 2 April Bharat bandh has the BJP and the RSS still shaky in the knees. This bandh by the Dalits was in protest of the Supreme Court judgment which weakens the SC/ST Act. The Dalits were angry that after suffering atrocities for thousands of years, the one law made to protect them had also been weakened.
Reverting to Brahmanical Hinduism
They are also angry about the Modi government not defending the Act properly in court; the arguments put forward by the government actually undermined it. Thus the widespread outrage. There was violence across the country. In its wake, the Modi government has been taking many initiatives to woo the Dalits. For instance, BJP MPs and MLAs will be going from village to village on Babasaheb’s birth anniversary, telling Dalits that the BJP is their true well-wisher.
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However, this method of wooing Dalits isn’t new. Recently, Amit Shah went to the homes of a few Dalits, ate with them and brainstormed. Yogi has also done a round of Dalit homes after coming to power. Right now, Modi is worried about Dalits sinking his boat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, because they are the same ones that voted for him in 2014.
The atmosphere has changed a bit now, and that is why in the coming days, the BJP, the Sangh and the government, with the intent of reducing some of that anger, will sing Babasaheb’s praises and bow down in front of his devotees. The RSS has been trying to do this for years; they have even attempted to adopt Babasaheb as their own.
In reality, Dalit society is the biggest headache for the RSS. The more you try to suppress it, the more it struggles. The biggest reason for this, which the Sangh will never admit, is that it is a Brahminical organisation, and in the name of the Vedic era, it wants to once again establish Brahminism in the country. It also believes that the downfall of Hinduism is due to its deviation from core values.
The first blow (to Hinduism) came from Buddhism, followed by Islam and Christianity. That is why to restore and strengthen Hinduism, the RSS wants to take society back to the past.
And when it tries to do that it finds Babasaheb standing in the way, with Dalits protesting against Brahminisation of the Hindu religion which made their lives hell and forced them to live a life worse than slaves. It is then that the RSS tries to assure them that it indeed is looking out for the welfare of Dalits.
Sangh’s Efforts to Portray Ambedkar as a True Hindu
The Sangh uses another scheme and tries to tell Dalits that even though Babasaheb converted to Buddhism, he was a still a true Hindu and believed in the values of Hinduism. To this end, it even publishes booklets regularly and has them distributed among scores of people.
With regard to the Bhagavad Gita, Babasaheb had said, “In the context of satyagraha, we take the support of the Gita. Satyagraha is the main theme of the Gita. Lord Krishna told Arjun not to just sit around but to fight the Kauravas who snatched his kingdom. Arjun asked, what kind of satyagraha is this? Krishna’s answer to this question is the text of the Gita itself. The Bhagavad-Gita is a theoretical reflection on satyagraha. The ‘untouchables’ insisting on obtaining the same rights as the upper castes is satyagraha.”
Referring to this remark, the Sangh tries to establish that while Babasaheb was angry, he still believed in Hinduism, otherwise why would he have cited the Gita while talking about satyagrah? The fact is that Ambedkar himself said that he did not believe in the Hinduism of the Gita because it propagates the caste system.
Babasaheb used to say that there is no place for equality, freedom and fraternity in Hinduism. Hinduism is based on the principle of hierarchy, in which Shudras and Dalits are considered lower than animals. A religion that does not see human beings as humans cannot talk about humanism.
He used to say that while the Constitution gave Dalits the right to equality and freedom, the upper castes still treat them with disdain. The Sangh parivar has no answer to this assertion of Babasaheb.
While the Sangh Parivar says that untouchability is wrong and everyone should get an equal status, they never talk about agitating on the streets to eradicate untouchability, like they do for the Ram Mandir, for example.
The Sangh simply says that it is not in favour of language of confrontation in society, and that agitation will only hurt Dalits and serve to make the lines of division deeper. To bring Dalits to the mainstream, they need to talk about “harmony”.
Sangh Parivar’s Propaganda Will Fall Flat
The Sangh also publicised that Babasaheb, while studying in New York, had quit Hartley Hall hostel because they cooked cow meat there; essentially another ‘proof’ of his being a true Hindu. While is true that Babasaheb left Hartley Hall, the reason for the same has been manipulated by the Sangh.
Babasaheb had said that beef, which used to be served at Hartley hall, was not cooked properly and wasn’t edible. Which means he had no issues with beef itself, he had a problem with it not being cooked properly. Dalit thinker Kaval Bharati says that Dalits should be wary of the RSS’ conspiracy to make Ambedkar appear to be a 'cow protector’.
The Sangh doesn’t simply stop here in its propaganda. It also says that Babasaheb was anti-Muslim. To support this claim, they quote an article he wrote in 1940. The statement is – “The same social evils exist among Muslims as in Hindus, and some more. Like the purdah tradition in Muslims. Seeing these burqa-clad women on the streets is the worse sight.”
Babasaheb further says that this purdah also separates Hindus from Muslims.
Another incident the Sangh constantly recounts is that in 1936, Babasaheb went to a Sangh event, where he discovered that 15 percent of the swayam sevaks were Dalits, everyone intermingled and ate together and there was no segregation — apparently an incident which touched Babasaheb deeply.
But did this incident really change Babasaheb’s mind? Did he start praising the Sangh? It doesn’t seem like he did.
Babasaheb believed that the Sangh’s ideology was dangerous for the country. He used to say that the Sangh’s dream of creating a Hindu rashtra should be opposed and impeded completely.
So... Why did Ambedkar Convert to Buddhism?
The only question the Sangh needs to answer is – why did Babasaheb leave Hinduism and convert to Buddhism? They don’t have an answer, because the Hindutva the Sangh advocates has no space for social reform. It does not attack its evils. It views Dalits as a vote bank only.
By trying to prove that Babasaheb was a true Hindu, the Sangh won’t win the favour of Dalits, it will only provoke them further.
It will be better if the RSS understands this sooner rather than later.
(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This piece has been translated by Mariam Shaheen. This article was originally published on QuintHindi.)