Ambedkar’s Ideological Journalism in a Brahminical Republic – 100 years of Ambedkar’s journalism
Indians today are governed by two different ideologies. Their political ideal set in the preamble of the Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their social ideal embodied in their religion denies them.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Exactly 100 years ago Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar started his first newspaper named Mooknayak on 31 January 1920.Once Ambedkar entered into the world of newspapers as a journalist in 1920, it continued over the period of next 36 years with some breaks in between. Mooknayak ceased publication in April 1923 due to financial crisis and a dispute between Ambedkar and Gholap. Closure of Mooknayak, didn’t prevent Ambedkar from pursuing his journalistic fervour. He went on to establish three more newspapers – Bahishkrut Bharat (1927-1929), Samta which was later renamed as Janata (1928-56), and Prabuddha Bharat (1956). Both Bahishkrut Bharat and Janata were fortnightly, while Prabuddha Bharat was a weekly.
Through journalism Ambedkar stood up to uphold the basics of humanist principles based on Justice, Equality, Liberty, Justice and Fraternity. These principles need a close study to understand the ideological battle he fought though his journalistic pursuit not just against the Brahminical republic that existed but also in carrying forward these principles to a logical conclusion.
Caste system as an order came into existence by abhorrently subverting two critical components of human life.The first is the material component while the second is the ideological-cultural-spiritual one. Before the advent of varnasham dharma, the material base had a strong principle of egalitarian among the communities. This egalitarian base was toppled by caste system due to which four key shifts happened.These are (a) systematically taking away the control over property (the entire resource base); (b) operationalised division of labour and labourers, (c) income distribution and (d) surplus appropriation. The second part is a combination of three things. Indigenous groups across the world and more specifically in India hold their spirituality very high which is an expression of their cultural way of life. In a more philosophical format this cultural life is the ideology that they hold and follow. In the ideological-cultural-spiritual part the geo-centric culture, history, ideology and spirituality was replaced with an alien one consisting of slavery, subjugation, dehumansation, forcing the indigenous communities to accept that their indigenous culture is substandard and they should follow the doctrines of Hindu codes. Thus the indigenous masses became subjects of inhuman oppression. Their birth in any particular jati (caste) destined and determined as the social space and status. Therefore everything was centred on ‘birth’. Thus the indigenous communities were culturally, ideologically and spiritually forced to apply all energy and efforts on the revival of their ‘birth’ from the present lower caste background to a higher ladder. This elevation of status – as per the ‘shastras‘ – was only possible through tireless service of the upper caste lords in the present birth thereby avoiding the traumas in the next birth (George, 2011).
This order was not merely an ideological construct but an economic and political structure too. It articulated and encapsulated an entire system of production that later existed over centuries with only minor alterations within its confines. The economical and political realities of inequalities were justified, defined and glorified through divine religious pronouncements based on the purity-pollution divide. Traditionally, ritualistic compulsion and coercive oppression ensured their compliance in providing virtually free labour for the upper caste land owners. The fact that they had been denied right over land or territory only compounded the matter by making them completely dependent upon their caste owners, who had complete control over knowledge, power, production and livelihood (George, 2011).
These two historical components have been continued throughout the history of Indian psyche that has come down to the present along with its venomous fangs, mechanism, operations, strategies and coalition with similar forces.Historically, this has led and will continue to lead the society to a state of social oppression, political exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination, class isolation, and deliberate exclusion. Therefore as responsible citizens and human being one is bound to work towards the creation of a casteless, classless, patriarchy-free, just and peaceful society, beyond the strings of caste, class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. is indeed the first step towards just, egalitarian, and harmonious society. Such a process would not just be the struggle of one’s individual identity, rather it is the struggle for the complete liberation of mankind. A society of equals, neither unequal nor more-equals!
This is where today it is an historical compulsion that we go back to Dr. Ambedkar’s battle against Brahminism. In the current historical juncture, Ambedkar and his ideology have an indefatigable and unmalleable prominence, particularly for those who come from the oppressed, suppressed, marginalised and exploited humanities of the world. While involving with the current problems and reflecting back on Ambedkar’s times, it is essential to address the present context in its complexities and crises that has and is crippling India and what adverse impact it has on people at the lowest rung. How Ambedkar responded to some of these aspects during his own time through journalism. Without this it would be strategically problematic to discuss or debate the relevance of Ambedkar’s journalism and writing, it challenges, how did he cope up with the situation, identified friends and foes, and what strategies did he adopt.
Ideological confrontation with Caste and Hindutva
Ideological upsurge of caste consolidation and strengthening of Hindutva has got a definite periodicity and it could be easily figured out from nineteenth century. It arouse as a system to put a break on the increasing reforms within Hindu religion of advocating freedom to women like the abolition of Sati, child marriage, opening the arena of education to women and to certain extend abolition of restriction in education to untouchables. Until now the world had only known of the debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi on the questions of caste, Hinduism, untouchability and related matters. However the phase that Ambedkar lived and responded was not limited to Gandhi’s contradictory affection for varna and ashram, rather it was a much stronger upsurge of Hindutva as an ideology that has never been there in the history. It is to be noted that there are clear differences with both the usages such as Hindutva and Brahminism. While Brahminism refers to the religious views and ideology of Hinduism historically promoted by the priestly class of Brahmins in India, Hindutva (meaning Hinduness) is one step ahead where it is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism – an ideology that seeks the establishment of Hindu nationalism over others through cultural homogenization and hegemony of those in higher ladder of social order.
The ideological formulation in the Indian context could be seen much before the advent of Ambedkar in three different phases − first is the sowing of seeds, second the consolidation of ideological ‘Hindutva’ and third is the delving and devising of programmatic part of it. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhayay sowed the seed of communalism first in that era with his novel ‘Anand Math’. This novel is popularly known as the foundational text of Indian Nationalism, which in fact was Hindu Nationalism. Yet! Hindutva was not established as a political ideology neither in theory nor in practice until early 20th century. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar carried strings from Bankim Chandra. The interpretation that India is the land of the Hindus is the underlying assumption of the Hindu religious texts was first instigated in the writings of Savarkar. Hindutva became an ideology through his writings when his book viz. ‘Hindutva’ had come into the public in 1924.
V D Savarkar, writing in the 1920s, stated that an Indian could be only that person who could claim that the land of his fathers, pitribhumi, and the land of his religion, punyabhumi, both lie within the territorial boundaries of British India. Furthermore, there had to be a commitment to a common Indian culture, inevitably defined by Hindutva. Thapar (2004) criticises it ‘these qualifications automatically led to Muslims and Christians, being regarded as foreigners. Subsequently, Communists were added to this list! Issues of race and language that dominated contemporary European fascist movements were introduced as further qualifiers. And, as we know, in periods of confusing change, the preference is for a theory that simplifies the social world into “ëusí and ëthemí.”‘
It is with this intention that the Hindu Mahasabha was also formed. Further Savarkar was the inspiration behind the formation of Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh (RSS). Dr Hedgewar, an Andhra Brahmin settled in Maharashtra, a disciple of Balkrishna Shivram Moonje and a close friend of Savarkar, established the RSS in 1925 in Nagpur. Hedgewar was sent to Kolkata by Moonje in 1910 to pursue his medical studies and unofficially learn the techniques of terror from the secret revolutionary organisations like the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar in Bengal. He became a part of the inner circle of the Anushilan Samiti to which very few had access. In 1915 after returning to Nagpur he joined the Indian National Congress and engaged in anti-British activities through the Kranti Dal. He was also a member of the Hindu Mahasabha till 1929 (Ramaswami, 2003).
In his book Pakistan or the Partition of India, Ambedkar lambasted Savarkar in strong words saying he (Savarkar) wants his Swaraj to bear the stamp of being a Hindu Raj.Savarkar wanted that India should have the appellation of Hindustan, which was rejected by Ambedkar. Babasaheb went on to say:
‘This definition of the term Hindu has been framed with great care and caution. It is designed to serve two purposes which Mr. Savarkar has in view. First, to exclude from it Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews by prescribing the recognition of India as a Holy Land as a qualification for being a Hindu. Secondly, to include Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, etc., by not insisting upon belief in the sanctity of the Vedas as an element in the qualifications.Such is the scheme of Mr. Savarkar and the Hindu MahaSabha. As must have been noticed, the scheme has some disturbing features.One is the categorical assertion that the Hindus are a nation by themselves. This, of course, means that the Muslims are a separate nation by themselves. That this is his view, Mr. Savarkar does not leave to be inferred. He insists upon it in no uncertain terms and with the most absolute emphasis he is capable of‘ (Ambedkar, 1990A: 141-42).
Dr. Ambedkar strongly dismissed any scope of India being converted into a Hindustan or a land of Hindutva. He says:
‘If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost‘ (Ambedkar, 1990A: 358).
He found clear parallels between the Hindu Raj of Savarkar and Ramraj of Gandhi. In his book and had strongly criticized both being the byproduct of Brahminical Hindutva. He strongly advocated for an alliance of all non-Brahminical forces, which included depressed classes, non-Brahmins and Muslims.
‘Once this consummation, which we so devoutly wish, takes place nothing can stand in the way of a party re-alignment, of the Congress and the Maha Sabha breaking up and of Hindus and Musalmans forming mixed political parties based on an agreed programme of social and economic regeneration, and thereby avoid the danger of both Hindu Raj or Muslim Raj becoming a fact. Nor should the formation of a mixed party of Hindus and Muslims be difficult in India. There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends than they would with the high caste of Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries. To pursue such a course cannot be called an adventure. The path along that line is a well trodden path. Is it not a fact that under the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms in most Provinces, if not in all, the Muslims, the Non-Brahmins and the Depressed Classes united together and worked the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937?‘ (Ambedkar, 1990A: 359).
One could also understand why Ambedkar wanted to prevent the formation of a Hindu Rashtra. Through his critical thinking and writings, he proved that Hindu Rashtra is not just a Hindutva paraphrase but it stands on clearly irrational and unethical edifice. He takes a case of anyone from other religion would wish to covert what would happen to him or her.
‘Hinduism perforce ceased to be a missionary religion after the time when the Hindu society developed its system of castes. For, caste is incompatible with conversion. To be able to convert a stranger to its religion, it is not enough for a community to offer its creed. It must be in a position to admit the convert to its social life and to absorb and assimilate him among its kindred. It is not possible for the Hindu society to satisfy this prerequisite of effective conversion. There is nothing to prevent a Hindu, with a missionary zeal, to proceed to convert an alien to the Hindu faith. But before he converts the alien, he is bound to be confronted with the question: What is to be the caste of the convert? According to the Hindus, for a person to belong to a caste he must be born in it. A convert is not born in a caste, therefore he belongs to no caste. This is also an important question. More than political or religious, man is a social animal. He may not have, need not have, religion; he may not have, need not have, politics. He must have society; he cannot do without society. For a Hindu to be without caste is to be without society. Where there is no society for the convert,how can there be any conversion? So long as Hindu society is fragmented in autonomous and autogenic castes, Hindu religion cannot be a missionary religion‘ (Ambedkar, 1990A: 130).
Ambedkar was well aware of the dangers of disintegration under the pretext of independence movement and upsurge of Hindutva. He considered both as a big threat to the anti-caste movement that would further fragment the growing unity between the untouchables, backward classes and religious minorities and the scope for a better India. As he said Hindu society being moulded in the cast of the Chaturvarna, wealth has, from very ancient times, been most unevenly distributed. It is only the Baniya who is the heir to wealth and property among the Hindus. Dr. Ambedkar was of the firm opinion that Hindutva was nothing but a ploy by upper caste Hindus to maintain control over society and its resources, while caste was the operation mechanics. He wrote:
‘They have a trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others the good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth, and with wealth and education they have captured the State. To keep this monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life. Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power. This attitude of keeping education, wealth and power as a close preserve for themselves and refusing to share it, which the high caste Hindus have developed in their relation with the lower classes of Hindus, is sought to be extended by them to the Muslims. They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus. This trait of the high caste Hindus is the key to the understanding of their politics‘ (Ambedkar, 1990A: 123).
Ideological Journalism Against Hindutva’s Brahminism
In the journalistic world, Ambedkar has been one of the most complicated persons, ever in the history of India and perhaps the world, in terms of critically bringing in his ideological perspective in journalism. In all his journalistic endeavours, he at one end proposed a broader principle for the liberation of humankind from various forms of slavery particularly the caste while at the other end as a pragmatist Ambedkar worked hard on building a practical formula for it’s materialisation. For him journalism itself was a huge struggle and part of his mission to emancipate India from all clutches of bondage. The life long struggle of Ambedkar for justice is to be understood in relation with his struggle towards equality and liberation, which could be understood in his expression that no forms of human slavery and discrimination could be justified under any code – such as social, religious, cultural, economic or political. His journalistic efforts were not just to write his mind and propagate his political ideology, but it was one of the most sincere endeavour to liberate the Indian media itself from the clutches of casteism and Hindutva politics.
The ideology of casteism along with the institution of caste attain absoluteness in the fulfilment of Hindutva. That is why Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the chief of RSS, praised Manu as the greatest lawgiver. Ambedkar led the burning of same lawgiver’s law-book Manusmruti on 25 December 1927 in Mahad. Irrespective of all the pressure from the Brahminical sectors, it was only due to Dr. Ambedkar’s effort that independent India was framed into a secular-democratic India.This new India though constitutionally rejected the ideology it was kept alive through the ideological indoctrination in multiple ways and forms.
In all his journalistic writings Ambedkar categorically and critically decoded all forms of discrimination and disparity based on any of these codes. He primarily started with the so-called ancient scriptures on the foundation that these texts emphasised Brahmanical hegemony as the governing force of human interaction and exchange in a hierarchical order.Secondarily he went on the challenge his contemporary proponents of casteism and Hindutva. Such decoding exercise led to a new awakening among the untouchable masses, who in turn had strongly opposed many political moves by the upper caste sections.This awakening he notes in the editorial of the first issues of Mooknayak:
‘The untouchable communities have also realized that now the upper caste Hindus taking advantage of their easy access to the British Government in India misrepresent the case of the untouchables to the Government. The untouchable communities have demanded that since casteism and caste hatred prevail in this country in the highest degree in practice, for the realization of genuine Swarajya (self-rule) the untouchables must have a share in country’s political power through their independently (separately) chosen representatives. Therefore, the untouchables have complained to the Government over the stand taken by the upper caste Hindus who in their stand have opposed the demand made by the untouchable communities. The untouchable have now understood the tactics of caste Hindus who by gaining political power, it is likely,would use that power to perpetuate the social inequality. This agitation of the untouchables against the design of the caste Hindus is a sign of growing awakening among the untouchables‘ (RTI, 2015).
His conclusion on Hindutva Brahminism was not just based on certain superficial propositions rather it was based on a concrete study of the Hindu texts, literature and scriptures. He establishes the fact that the Hindu scriptures were not only developed to control the dormant social groups – particularly the Shudras and untouchables – but at large to construct the notion of ‘being worthless’ in their minds. This worthlessness has entered into every spheres of life to the extent that one has stopped thinking of anything other than what the shastras propound. Ambedkar scientifically broke down this spiritually impermeable spell of scriptures through his crystal clear thoughts and principles. Thus he dispels the historical perspective of citizenship based on Brahminism and the documents that upheld it. He writes:
‘Right or wrong these Shastras have made enormous impact on the minds of the innocent masses. That the masses are worshipping their enemies as gods on earth, who will accept this? It is easy to understand why the masses have clung to the harmful slavish religious practices worshipping their enemies as their benefactors.
The Brahmins, thinking that if the masses are kept ignorant they can be driven out to any directions, have kept the knowledge confined to them alone making it as their sole monopoly, and the masses thinking that this is their own real religion are following it. there are enough examples of Brahmins during their rule punishing those non-brahmins who inspite of the Brahmins warning that acquiring the scriptural knowledge is not their profession, tried to acquire that knowledge either openly or secretly.
The stigma of untouchability has restricted their freedom of profession and therefore, their efforts to remove their poverty are not fructifying. In professions like trade and commerce they are very rarely found. As they can find no place to try for their fortune they are constrained to remain as manual labourers. Seeing these untouchables, nay the out-castes, who are living in wretched conditions, the 33 crores of gods but again these are Hindu gods, at least Allah manybe be taking pity of them‘ (RTI, 2015).
Thus his ideas and principles of human emancipation laid the foundation stone of the development of a new social, economic and political structure of India that culminated in the encapsulation of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar invoked the notion of self-respect against the clouds of slavery and oppression. This we could find from the Mahad Satyagrah that it was not just a fight to access water; rather it was a means to establish the human rights of Dalits. Similarly the Kalaram temple entry movement in Nasik was not based on faith in Hindu religion and its philosophy rather it was an attempt to establish one’s right to enter temple as a human.
Most of his valuable works are published in the form of research articles and books are found both in India and abroad specifically in the countries and universities where he studied – particularly in England and United States of America. As a journalist he wrote his mind in journals like Mooknayak, Bahishkrit Bharat, Samata, Janata and Prabudha Bharat, which challenged all parameters of caste based Hindutva journalistic ethics.
His fight against untouchablity was only one of the many symbols he fought against to expose the inequality inherent in the caste system which he called as ‘graded inequality’ in its right perceptive manner (Ambedkar, 1989: 101-2). In Untouchable or the Children of the India’s Ghetto, he contrasts it with other varieties of inequality, which were not so difficult to abolish or correct (Jaffrelot, 2009: 1).
His fight against caste system was at large an epistemological and methodological way in order to help the untouchables acquire an alternative identity to regain their self-respect and overcome their divisions.In his book The Untouchables, who were they and why they became Untouchables?Ambedkar (1990B) critically examines the existing theories of untouchability based on racial difference and occupational origin. He completely refutes these theories of hierarchy of caste.His interpretation is strikingly complicated. He explains that all primitive societies have been one day or the other conquered by invaders who raised themselves above the native tribes. In breaking up, these tribes as a matter of rule gave birth to a peripheral group that he calls the Broken Men (Jaffrelot, 2009: 2).
Therefore beyond the question of invasion in its literal sense, the continued legitimisation of invasion led to the construct of the permanent institution of domination leading to perpetual slavery. Against this backdrop Ambedkar brings in a new identity based on a different argument with a revolutionary transformation in the entire settings. This in particular for the oppressed untouchables and other downtrodden engaged with the paramount question of upward mobility through affirmative action has turned out to be the key of the transformation.
Thus Babasaheb’s ideological journalism could be understood only in a process.He is already metamorphosed into a symbol – a symbol for expressing the collective aspiration, an icon for the of human emancipation and a vision of a new India and world.He played a major role in reforming the vertical hierarchical Brahminical social order and establishing humanitarian social order based on the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1979). Caste in India. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1989). Untouchables or The Children of India’s Ghetto. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1990A). Pakistan or The Partition of India. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 8. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1990B). The Untouchables: Who were they and why they became Untouchable? In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 7. Bombay: Government
George, G.M. (2011). Caste Discrimination and Dalit Rights over Natural Resources. Theme Paper of the National Convention onCaste Discrimination and Dalit Rights over Natural Resources organised by Dalit MuktiMorcha on 17-18 September 2011 at Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Retrieved on January 5, 2020 from https://www.countercurrents.org/goldy310811.pdf
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Sharma, K. (1992). Ambedkar Indian Constitution. Ashish Publishing: New Delhi.
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This article first appeared in countercurrents.org