From Babasaheb to Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
This article has been written by Abhishek Asha Kumar (Batch of 2020). It's the first of a series which aims to commemorate Dalit History Month by chronicling the lives, lived realities, ideologies, and ruminations of persons belonging to the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi Community. This article specifically is an introductory piece to a survey currently being carried out by the author on the presence and relevance of texts by Dr. Ambedkar in Law School curriculum. That will be published soon on Quirk as well.
Where does an oppressed find strength? Does an oppressed look at their history and try to look for their ideals and their representation in text? As a young Dalit Bahujan person, I asked these questions as I started to become aware of my identity as a member of the community. It was then for me that Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar became the beacon of hope, strength, knowledge, and non-violence. It is then that I looked for him in different places.
The core question that one must ask is when and how individuals were introduced to Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Being a Dalit man, Babasaheb was one of the figures I looked up for inspiration. He was introduced to me at a tender age of 7 or 8. For my father, a policeman, Babasaheb was the only figure of Dalit representation in a crowd of savarnas like Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, and Naidu. He was never able to read the works of Babasaheb because of his lack of fluency in English and the fact that his job never accorded him the time. However, for him, Babasaheb was alive through songs, nirguns sung by the performers in our villages or in the speeches of Mayawati and Manyavar Kanshiram.
It was in this background I was introduced to Babasaheb: on Ambedkar Jayanti- the 14th of April- in Siddharth Nagar, the land of Buddha. 14th April is celebrated across the nation and the world as an auspicious day by the Dalit Bahujans. My father had taken me to this designated area cordoned by a small boundary where several Dalit Bahujans had gathered. One would find a tiny statue of Babasaheb, standing firm and pointing at the privileges of Caste Hindus. We celebrated his birthday with absolute joy because ‘we are because he was’. I heard the songs written and performed by the performers, sung at an impressively high pitch, resembling Late Vilas Ghogre. It is only now that we have the likes of Naveen Kumar, The Casteless Collective, Dule Rocker, Sumeet Samos, Ginni Mahi, and Arivu who are bringing the stories of Dalit Bahujans into mainstream entertainment industry. I heard that such songs don’t have boundaries of states or nations. We celebrated his birthday with absolute joy because ‘we are because he was’.
Nonetheless, some things irked me about how Caste Hindus treated Babasaheb.
It took me some time to understand that Dr Ambedkar was not widely accepted by the society that I lived in, while the Caste Hindu social and political thinkers had a greater level of acceptance. Anurag Bhaskar, in his paper on Judicial acceptance of Dr Ambedkar, writes that the judiciary began citing Ambedkar only in the latter half of the 1990s. I saw, heard and experienced a lot of anger towards Babasaheb coming from Caste Hindus. One of the most prominent reasons cited was because of the provision of affirmative action that he enshrined in the Constitution through Article 15 and Article 16. With time, I realised the anger was not towards the articles but towards the power that Babasaheb held and then transferred to all the oppressed persons over time through law.
What is important to understand is that a Dalit person can have pretty different ideals in their lives than Caste Hindus. My ideals ranged from Sachin Tendulkar, Babasaheb, Savitri Bai to Kumari Mayawati, Manyavar Kanshiram and Ramesh ‘Chamar’. Ramesh Chamar was this local politician from Siddharth Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, whose idea of protest towards casteism was to announce his identity by his name itself. "Take my name and discriminate against me, be transparent about it", he used to say. It helped me gather the courage to be open and proud about my identity. While Mayawati had been criticised by many for her act of erecting statues of elephants, Late Journalist Kamal Khan points out in one of his segments that Mayawati has also taken Babasaheb, Jyotirao Phule, and Savitri Bai out of textbooks and writings and has placed their statues as a symbol that gives strength to all the members of oppressed castes. Finding Babasaheb at every juncture of my life - through statues, books and speeches, has not only empowered me to think beyond the caste boundaries but also pushed me to uphold his teachings of ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’.
When I joined Law School, I came with a positively biased mindset that both streams of courses i.e., Humanities and Law shall contain the writings of Dalit Bahujan Adivasi social and political thinkers. It was here that I expected to find Babasaheb in a new role - as Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, as a social and political thinker. I expected, at the very least, the writings of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar to be present in these courses as his contribution has not only been in Law, but also in Economics and Sociology. It was to my surprise I found none - not even a single original text of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar prescribed as a reading in any of these courses. The reading on the concept of caste in the course of Sociology-I offered by Prof. Sriramakrisha AKA SRK was by Louis Dumont from his book ‘Homo Hierarchicus’ and not ‘Annihilation of Caste’ by Dr Ambedkar.
I was too young to stage a protest or engage directly with my professor. I was not in a position to tell that if a first-year student can understand the concept of ‘Dalit persons talk differently’ than a French Anthropologist, how can a qualified professor not understand this issue? Seven years later, students have raised these pertinent questions of inclusion of the writings by Dalit Bahujan Adivasi writers in meetings with the administration. The answers provided range from the suggestion that ‘the course teacher knows best’ to ‘we are in process of reviewing the course outline’.
Why is it important to read Dalit Bahujan Adivasi writers in your courses?
Let’s be clear that there are ample writers from the community who write, express, draw and create the history. The young chunk of the likes of Baby Kamble, Bama, Shantabai Kamble, Urmila Pawar, J.V. Pawar, Anand Teltumbde, Late Omprakash Valmiki are bringing out the perspectives of Dalit Bahujans through their writings. It becomes important for a young person who enters the University to find their history in these places of power. An institution that is going to be one’s home for a span of half a decade should provide my history to me without fail. When I read about my history as a Dalit Bahujan Adivasi person in our courses, when I find the representation of the people from my community in academia and course structure, it gives me hope: to read more, to write more, to compile my history, to go beyond the shackles of caste and to write about law, to excel, to speak, to cry out loud and say, "I will not write only about caste but also about the concept of ‘Lifting of Corporate Veil’ and other such topics."
When there is an absence of such writings from the Dalit Bahujan Adivasi writers, it gives me an indication that this can never be the place where my writings as an academician will ever exist. No matter how much I write, if the institution itself, being the most powerful, doesn’t ensure my presence, where do I publish? Who will read my texts?
This journey from Babasaheb to Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar has brought me closer to the understanding that this person didn’t just work for one section of society but catered to every section. He should be accepted as one of us and not as a Dalit Bahujan Icon, and his ideologies should be equally made popular and known to the masses, at least to the students.
With this idea to find Ambedkar in my books and courses, I circulated a survey in the University to be filled by the students from B.A. LL.B., MPP and LL.M. courses. The survey aims to see the trend that has existed in the courses offered by the University in introducing the writings of Dr B.R. Ambedkar to the students. I will try to bring forth the relevance of the writings of Dr B.R. Ambekdar in core subjects offered at The University. Beyond this survey, efforts have also been made to consult the Vice-Chancellor of the University to hear their side.
 Vilas Ghogre was one of the prominent poets from Mumbai, Maharashtra. He sang shahiris conveying the stories of strength, empowerment and uprising of Dalit Bahujan Conscience. In the wake of 1997 Ramabai Nagar violence and killing of Dalit Bahujans by State Police, Mumbai, Vilas committed suicide after witnessing rise of caste cruelty, a way similar to that of Late Rohith Vemula. He wrote on one wall of his home, with blue ink: Ambedkari Ekta Jindabad (Hail Ambedkarite Unity).
Anand Patwardhan, the film maker, has captured his life and the 1997 Ramabai Nagar violence in his documentary named Jai Bhim Comrade available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FBqpP6Z_jM .
 Naveen Kumar, Kab Tak Sahengey, available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qec4wPedc54> accessed 15th May, 2022. One of the lines from the song refers to the Constitution of India stating - “Jo Bhim Lekay Aya, Yeh Vo Haq Ki Kitaab Hai!” Naveen is from Delhi.
 The Casteless Collective, Jaibhim Anthem, available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhYRz-v6fTc> accessed 15th May, 2022. The band talks about how Babasaheb helped the oppressed to gain access to their rights. The chorus lyrics reads - “பாபாசாகேப் என்றொருவர், பாரத நாட்டின் தந்தை அவர் , பாபாசாகேப் என்றொருவர், உரிமையை வாங்கி தந்ததவர்” meaning “Babasaheb is the one, the Father of Nation; Babasaheb is the one, got us rights, when we had none. The Casteless collective is from Chennai.
 Dule Rocker AKA Duleshwar Tandi. Read his story at < https://scroll.in/article/999218/annihilation-of-caste-kalahandi-rapper-dule-rocker-plans-album-to-take-forward-ambedkars-legacy >.
 Sumeet Samos, Caste 101, available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hUTKnINnYk>. Sumeet writes- “Looting for 1000 years, still blaming reservation. Provisions in the Constitution, given by Babasaheb for the oppressed representation. This ain’t your charity, no poverty alleviation.”
 Ginni Mahi, Baba Saheb Di, available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZqAFfzub5A >. Ginni writes- “Main thi Babasaheb di, jinne likheya si samvidhaan. Main fan aisi soch di, tere saat liye balidaan”, meaning I am the daughter of Babasaheb, who wrote our Constitution. I follow the man who fought and made sacrifices for our rights.
 Arivu, Jaibhim Thalaimurai, available at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf6qd1oL35w >. Arivu writes about Ambedkar in this song - “Manuval kuditha nam rathathai, arivaal thoduthar avar yuddthai” meaning “They drank our blood in the name of Manu, He waged a war with his intellect.”
 Anurag Bhaskar, Ambedkar’s Constitution’: A Radical Phenomenon in Anti-Caste discourse? available at < https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3831777 >.
 Gopal Guru, Dalit Women Talk Differently, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30(41/42), 2548.;
Gopal Guru writes in this article critiquing how Dalit men and Savarna Women provide no space to Dalit Women to speak, that Dalit women talk very differently and their voices are not heard or are suppressed.
 Baby Kamble writes about the lives of Mahars from Maharashtra in her autobiography named “The Prisons we broke”. The Prisons We Broke provides a graphic insight into the oppressive caste and patriarchal tenets of the Indian society, but nowhere does the writing descend to self-pity. With verve and colour the narrative brings to life, among other things, the festivals, rituals, marriages, snot-nosed children, hard lives and hardy women of the Mahar community.
 Bama writes about the life of Dalit Christian Woman in Tamil Nadu. Karukku is an elegy to the community Bama grew up in. She writes of life there in all its vibrancy and colour, never making it seem like a place defined by a singular caste identity, yet a place that never forgets, and is never allowed to forget its caste identity.
 Shantabai Kamble was the first Dalit woman writer. She penned her seminal autobiography ‘Mazhya ]alamachi Chittarkatha/The Kaleidoscopic Story of My life’ which was serialized in a magazine in 1983 and is considered the first autobiographical narrative by a Dalit woman writer.
 Urmila Pawar wrote The Weave of My Life, We Also Made History and Motherwit. Pawar's short stories including "Kavach" and "A Childhood Tale" are widely read and form the part of the curriculum at various Indian universities.
 J V Pawar wrties ‘Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History’. The book deals with the unaccounted history of Dalit Panthers in different regions of Maharashtra.