Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dr BR Ambedkar

6 December is also the death anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar (1891–1956), the architect of free India’s Constitution, and messiah of the Dalits, India’s former untouchable communities. Today is his 50th death anniversary.

If Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation in a spiritual, moral and emotional sense, then we are also Dr Ambedkar’s children in a legal, institutional and civic sense.

In a nation recently ravaged by Hindu-Muslim carnage following the partition of India and the birth of Pakistan; in a nation defined by the millennia-old caste system and its notions of purity and commensality and the practice of untouchability, where some human beings were considered non-human, in one fell stroke it was declared in the Preamble of the Constitution of India:

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation ...

If the Muslim question is something India must resolve or perish, then a similar fundamental question which cannot be ignored is the Dalit question. And the Adivasi question (of India’s indigenous peoples).

The Sachar Committee report on Muslim backwardness has been presented (this is available for download here). The last week saw violence erupting in parts of north India following the desecration of a statue of Dr Ambedkar and protests by Dalit activists. And the rights of indigenous and forest-dwelling communities is also a serious issue of public policy debate right now, with some environmentalists raising questions about the supposed negative environmental implications of this. Industrial and mining companies are being given over lands belonging to indigenous communities. And the Maoists-led insurgency in different areas of India where indigenous peoples live has been declared by the Prime Minister to be free India's most serious security threat.

Globalising India is only further marginalising India’s Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.

Remembering Dr Ambedkar serves to remind ourselves of the grand vision of India’s Constitution and how far we still have to go to realise that vision.

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