It is a privilege to be able to speak to you on this historic occasion to commemorate the centenary of Dr Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s association with this prestigious institution, London School of Economics. As you know after finishing his masters at Columbia University in the United States, Dr Ambedkar came here for his Masters in Geography in 1916 as he wanted to complete his research here but was not allowed to do so. Finally, he registered as Ph.D student in 1920 and finished his doctoral thesis on ‘The problem of the rupee’ in March 1923 which was not accepted of reasons unknown though several experts feel that it was too revolutionary and anti ‘Empire’ that time to get accepted but finally it was resubmitted in August 1923 and accepted in November 1923.

For millions of people in India, who follow Dr Ambedkar, consider him as their ‘friend, philosopher and guide’, London School of Economics is a holy pilgrimage, an institution which it must be proud of, for the man changed destiny of millions of Indians, hence today, I bow to the institution and to Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar whose fight for human dignity and human rights must be made part of curriculum of Human Rights education world over. Today, at this iconic institution, it is important for us to ponder over as what would have Dr Ambedkar been doing and thinking about the major issues confronting our country. Isn’t it an appropriate moment to do it when the entire South Asia is on the verge of ‘tyranny’ of ‘religious’ majoritarianism where minorities are being considered as ‘obstacles’ and freedom of expression being challenged by the extra state actors who are running their campaign against all the dissenters and intimidating them?

At the moment when ruling elite is singing ‘hosannas’ about Dr Ambedkar and using his differences with other contemporaries for their own ‘political purposes’, it is important to ask whether those who want to ‘worship’ Ambedkar really accept his ‘riddles of Hinduism’ or ‘riddles of Rama and Krishna’? How can riddles go along with those who want to build a grand ‘Rama temple’ at Ayodhya. They were these people who were offended with his work that they called for a ban on his book when it was published by Maharastra government.

It is not for unknown reasons that the Gujarat government withdrew the booklet published on life of Baba Saheb Ambedkar for the students of secondary classes as a committee later found that the 22 bows by Baba Saheb were not suitable to ‘certain’ communities and ‘threaten’ the ‘social harmony’ in the state. We know well that the Hindutva ideologues always feared Ambedkar though they just want to use his differences with Gandhi and Nehru.

Today, our campuses are on fire. There is student unrest. The government has not given any serious thought on how to improve quality education in our schools and colleges. We are a country of illiterates and the quality of education is highly substandard and this is the first time when we saw how officially attempts were made to discredit institutions, which have some standing. SC-St students are not getting scholarships and rather than inducing openness and freethinking the academia is made to behave like the ‘acharyas’ or ‘dronacharays’ of the old Gurukul days where ‘Eklavya’ who could offer his ‘thumb’ to the Guru to facilitate a Kshatriya student to be the best archer of the world. Teachers who are sympathetic to Dalit OBC students are being suspended as has happened at Hyderabad Central University recently. Dr Ambedkar said he wanted a Voltaire in India who could question the wrongs of power, he wanted honest intellectuals who have the strength and courage of conviction to stand up against wrongs of society whether institutional or individual. How will the universities and academic institutions promote such ideas when the openness is considered to be anti national and where we shy away from debating the controversial issues? How can we bring thought provoking debates in our institutions when we want every one to think like primary class students memorizing their favorite quotes to impress others. Haven’t we become habitual of ‘impressing’ people through misquoted ‘quotes’ as if the serious issues could be resolved through one liners or two liners and at the same point of time not ready to go into the details of those issues.

A society, which does not allow freedom to speech, free thought is a society, which is afraid of getting exposed. We have seen this in the past few years the attempt to shun all debates and distort history. One side, we blame all those who questioned the mainstream thought as ‘left’ ‘historians’ as if they were responsible for all the challenges to brahmanical hegemony. The fact was the real challenge to brahmanical hegemony in India did not come from the ‘so-called’ left but Dalit Bahujan cultural stream and Dr Ambedkar remain the central figure of those revolutionary thoughts. In the brahmanical left, many of them, did not even bother to consider Ambedkar as an intellectual, leave aside, his monumental contribution to our nation’s freethinking intellectual traditions and building it a modern nation through an egalitarian constitution.

Is not it a shame that even after 70 years after our independence, we still have over 18 million ‘modern slaves’ as pointed by an International organization which said that many are compelled into this virtual slavery under stressful conditions of migration. There are however, other forms of slavery too in India which include manual scavenging too, a practice where a particular community is ‘divinely tasked’ to clean human excreta of the fellow human beings. Our government has failed in getting the exact number of the people. It has no plan to honorably rehabilitate him. Many suggest, why don’t they leave this work and engage in other. I can answer this. Who would like to go into deep stinking holes and hits? Can any one go into these hell out of their ‘choice’ ? It is not merely question of their choice? People want to get out of it but the caste does not allow it? Can a person from manual scavenging community start a ‘chai shop’ in his village as a plan to rehabilitate him? If yes, will the local Brahmins or any other caste Hindu come and drink tea with him? Can Bindeshwari Pathak put a stamp of ‘made by Balmiki women’ or those engaged in manual scavenging in his ‘masala’ or papad products and then sale it in Indian market ? No, it wont be possible to do so which exposes the highly casteist culture of Indian society.

How would Baba Saheb react to what was happening in Vidarbha and other parts of the country where people are suffering for water and farmers committing suicide? His first battle in 1927 was for the water rights of the people who were denied drinking water from the Chavadar pond at Mahad. At the same place Baba Saheb with thousands of people irrespective of their caste burnt Manu Smriti. Yes, many few people understand that it was not Baba Saheb but his Brahmin friend Shahshrabuddhe who burnt the Manusmriti, a document of discrimination.

We need to understand why Baba Saheb chose a Brahmin to burn the Manusmriti and we will come to understand that he wanted people to know, every one to know including Brahmins that it was a document of discrimination and violates basic human rights. It is not that he did not know that burning a document of discrimination will not resolve the crisis but the symbolism was much bigger. Those were the years when you cant speak anything against religion and burning a ‘holy-book’ was blasphemous but Ambedkar did it. It was a challenge that nothing sacrosanct and all written text could be challenged. It is a great example for today’s political leaders who are charging everyone disagreeing them as anti national. What could be a bigger ‘anti national’ act than burning and rejecting the ‘holy-book’ of the manuwadis ? Yes, if fight for equality and dignity is being anti national then we all are as we are asking to get our republican constitution implemented in letter and spirit but those who have the duty to implement it have no ‘faith’ in it. It is a document of convenience for them. In their heart they owe allegiance to Manu Smriti but they have to pretend to respect the modern constitution. It is this reason that the atrocities on Dalits, aadivasis, and women continue unabated and constitution being violated daily. If those who are trusted to implement the constitution in letter and spirit do so with their heart, I can guarantee, a huge number of cases of violence and violation will reduce in India. Baba Saheb had warned that a good thing can turn bad in the hands of bad people. Our constitution is being made ineffective as the many changes have been brought, many important acts are being diluted and we don’t even know which is most threatening and disappointing to say the least.

Today, Hindutva has become the biggest threat to our modern thoughts. It is determined to glorify our past when it was not so. History is being distorted. Let me very clear here. All our academic institutions are under the threat because the Dalit Bahujans have now started questioning all these myths. The JNU incident was not merely a Kanhaiyya Kumar shouted something anti national but most importantly it was that the demographics of our universities are changing. More and more Dalits, OBCs, Aadivasis and Muslims are coming up in our institutions despite all hardships and challenging the very notion of merit as defined by the brahmanical institutions. The knowledge, which was denied to vast majority of our people is now becoming their asset then we create such situation. Every time, Dalits, OBCc, aadivasis assert, ask for their rights, we will find a new monster being created in the form of communalism to polarize the people. Uttar Pradesh is going to poll next year and we are witnessing attempt to create divisions among people so that they are polarized between Hindus and Muslims.

It is a big challenge; as they eulogize Ambedkar one side to befool us and the other side curtail all our rights. Dr Ambedkar was a proclaimed socialist and the constitution he drafted directed the state in the form of Directive Principles of State policies. Where have we honored these principles? Education is being privatized, health is privatized and who is going to impact most is not a question of great ‘guess’? Aadivasis are hounded out of their forests as big corporations are vying for those beautiful places to fill their coffers and large part of India suffering from water particularly in zones like Marathwada in Maharastra where Baba Saheb Ambedkar had launched his struggle for water rights of the people.

Very few people know how Dr Ambedkar worked towards uplift of the agrarian workers. He led the largest strike of the agrarian workers in Konkan region, which went for over 7 years, and people still remember him as many old veterans can verify this.

Baba Saheb Ambedkar was an iconoclast who never succumbed any big ‘personality’ or any empire. Today, when we remember him at this great institution, we must remember that Ambedkarites and all those who believe in equality of human being and free thought must stand up and speak. If we keep quiet and do not speak for our brothers and sisters who are fighting for their rights, against distortion of history, against religious bigotry and against privatization and corporatization of our public resources, we will only be called opportunists. Dr Ambedkar faced threat to his life, humiliation and intimidation but he remained unfazed, as for him the welfare of the people was the most important task. We need to remember him that way that today we will speak against all forms of violation of human rights of our people and stand with them in the hour of crisis, which is the historical need of the hour.

This presentation was made by VB Rawat at the London School of Economics recently.

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