How often do I face this question, “Are you an ambedkarite?”! How often you do?
I have always answered affirmatively. So must have you all, if you are dalit. I know most of my readers are. But dalit is also a heatedly contested identity. But that’s for another time/person. We do say we are ambedkarites at first (emphasis added), at least I do, because I want to fit in, to belong to those of my communities, to the groups. Belongingness plays an important role is our identity formation, interpersonal relationship, our world-view. It also once drove me to Oriya groups, informal Runners’ league, unsatisfied-frustrated-researchers, single & stalkers etc.
While “you are a dalit, an SC or ST, a mulnivasi or bahujan” is heaped onto you, whether or not ‘you were meted out discrimination, you did actually have any caste certificate, you spoke impeccable English with/without that funny Indian accent or you often found yourself in minority in your views and opinions’ and nobody questioned that, you might often find yourself accused of not being an Ambedkarite.
“To be an Ambedkarite you must be a follower of Ambedkar”. It does not explain much except the faint idea that there is a path. There is, of course. But it’s equally obvious and elusive. The obvious part is the 22 vows that Ambedkar sworn to the biggest self-motivated congregation for religious conversion. It turns out, from the 22 vows, that you have to be a Buddhist to be an Ambedkarite. It is certain that, for a lower caste, to remain Hindu, is carrying the excreta of the theo-philosophical Hindu scriptures that the purists left behind or won’t bother about. I wish I was declared non-Hindu the day my apostasy was confirmed. Taslima Nasreen was declared “kafir” after alleged blasphemy of Lajja. I am not that creative but I could pee on an idol for sure. Another famous Bengali went to his grandfather and said, he didn’t believe in the religiosity of Hinduism, his grandfather said, welcome to the Lokayata sect of Hinduism. “Neglected, hated even terrorized but still find place in Hinduism”. For those who are not Buddhists, there is the elusive part.
The elusive part is “understanding the philosophy of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar”. It involves studying and distlillating the essence of the huge work he has left behind in the form of 18+ volumes of “Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar writing and speeches”. It is a daunting task, demanding not only leisure, luxury and labour, but a considerable depth of knowledge in, lets just say, almost all fields including a flair for English. Have not you seen the trail of degrees after Dr. Ambedkar’s name! Now, these are the people, who truly deserve my respect for being Ambedkarite, I am equally happy and afraid to speak to them. I have been trying it for a long time now, I don’t think I have comprehended fully yet. There are always academic commitments, other enticing literatures, besides my youthful affairs that keep me from it. Of course you are flooded with several books in vernacular or mainstream language that offer a solution. They present you Ambedkar philosophy, brief and articulated.
So if I fail on both counts, am I still a follower of Ambedkar? Yes, I am. I am on a learner’s permit, but I am trying to see the world I live in through the prism of Ambedkarism, as well as by my own naked eyes. And when I see a contradiction, I reason with myself and with others, to see if my experience is too limited. I hope I will be an ambedkarite eventually.
But I say “yes, I am an ambedkarite”, for reasons you know now. And they ask me, “why did he finally marry a Bhramin woman”, “what was his relationship with the foreign lady/ladies”, “what is your answer to arun shourie’ (funnily though, I had asked this to my Bapa once). And I feel like resisting, squelching such questions. Sometimes I try to rationalize his decisions, but then your guess is as good as mine, just a bit more informed or less. Sometimes I scream in frustration, “How the hell I know”. But all these, keep me on guard. Although I hate religion, I try to understand its importance on a society, its power of change. Even if I held high respect of the educated, I listen to the people who face the reality. When I am in the theatre to watch a comedy movie, I feel uncomfortable by its “political incorrectness”. When I pick up a newspaper, I scan it from cover to cover for caste atrocities, almost impulsively, so much that I now forget if I hoped not to find one or to find ‘em. I singularly and unwillingly find myself as spokesperson of my caste.
I think I am a follower of Ambedkar on my way to become an Ambedkarite and I think if you have some reaction to it, you are or you will be an Ambedkarite too. Lets keep trying.