On December 6, 1956, Babasaheb Dr B.R. Ambedkar died, leaving behind his mission of annihilating caste and making a just society. He left behind a document in the form of the Indian Constitution, which if implemented in letter and spirit, could have gone a long way towards eradicating the inequality prevalent in society.
Commemorating the 61st Death anniversary of the Father of the Indian Constitution, Bezwada Wilson, National Convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan and a practitioner of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's Thought and Philosophy, spoke to Newsclick discussing implementation of the Constitution and the Dalit movement.
Dr. Ambedkar is remembered on this day, and lakhs of followers pay homage to him throughout the country. What do you think is his most important contribution towards bringing equality in this country?
Wilson: BR Ambedkar took the 3,000 year old problem of caste and dealt with it in a scientific manner. He has given tools for all of us. Indian Constitution is one such tool. We are here to see that the provisions ofthe Constitution are implemented. The problem today is that people (the government) are turning their backs on the values and spirit of the Constitution. They have their own interpretations. That’s why, we have to look through the lens of Dr. Ambedkar. He was one of the pillars of the Constitution. Although many have contributed, but his views on the Constitution were very clear. Each person and each Prime Minister has had their own dreams (for the country), but those dreams have to fit into the constitutional framework. If something (government programme) does not fit into the constitutional framework, then that should be viewed as anti-national. Constitution should be the scale to measure if something is for the country, or against the interests of the country. Ambedkar stressed on the conditions of Dalits, Adivasis, women, and other minorities and marginalised groups. But their situation has not changed much. Each government report shows the lack of development of these groups. Even the NCRB crime data documents the increasing attacks on the marginalised. We are not bridging the gaps between the rich and the poor. Article 38 of the Indian Constitution states very clearly that the state has the responsibility to strive to “promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” But we are not doing that.
We should not regress and start struggling to implement the Constitution again. We have to come back on track.
If one building is constructed, we say we are contributing to the legacy of Ambedkar. No! Ambedkar does not require any building. His main aim was implementing the Constitution for social change. Social change is the path of Ambedkar. If we are not going in that direction, that means we are going against Ambedkar’s philosophy.
Dalit movement has always operated within the democratic framework, but the backlash has been in the form of violence, which can be seen in all caste atrocities.
Wilson: Dominant castes and power coming together is dangerous for the country. From the beginning, dominant castes have been violent. Otherwise, they can’t downgrade any group or person to the status of untouchable … they take power into their own hands. These dominant castes also constitute non-state forces and use their power to suppress the voices demanding equality. That is not good for democracy.
How should the Dalit movement strive for equality when the state has not brought in the equality as envisaged in the Indian Constitution in 70 years?
Wilson: We have to put pressure on the state to bring in equality. The government is elected to implement the Constitution. They have no other business. But now, the government gives all its support to corporates by giving thousands of crores as subsidies. And when it comes to the poor, the government says they have no money.
The Dalit movement and other marginalised movements should put pressure on the state. It is the responsibility of the state to look after the interests of these groups. ‘We the People’ constitutes the entire population of the country, not just the big corporates, the military or the Prime Minister’s Office. The government, or the ruling party which comes to power for five years, has the responsibility for building a just society.
But the problem is that from day one, they have no clear understanding about what they are supposed to do. What the ruling parties are doing now is furthering their own hidden political agenda. They claim to be working towardsdevelopment, but whose development is not clear.
The state is not actually bridging the gap,there is no economic equality, no cultural equality, or social equality. Only politically we can be considered equal[one person one vote.
Like Ambedkar said, we are “a society of contradictions”. Instead of addressing these contradictions, we are actually institutionalising them. That is why inequality in the society is rising. There is glorification of the rich without questions, even though their money was made by exploiting workers. Now the rich talk about charity, but they made their money through exploitation. The state conveniently forgot Article 38 of the Constitution that mandates it to ensure that the gap between the poor and the rich is bridged.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar stated, “I feel that the constitution is workable ... Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.” How do you see this in the present context?
Wilson: 31 percent of people voted for the present government. That does not mean there is no opposition. The 69 percent are the others who can make the Constitution workable, and bring justice.
Worshipping the constitution, or memorising the constitution is not enough, one has to implement the constitution. Ambedkar’s values in the constitution have to be taken forward.
Getting a little self-introspective, how do you see the Dalit Movement as a whole taking up the issue of manual scavenging?
Wilson: The wider Dalit movement has been supporting the issue but they have not put their heart into the eradication of manual scavenging. The electoral system also has been such that the Dalits are dependent on the majority for getting elected. Hence, a person who strives for the issues of Dalits would not be elected.
What about the autonomous Dalit movement?
Wilson: They are doing their bit. But there are certain issues, such as -- Devadasi, Jogini, manual scavenging, and concerns of the people who are employed at crematoriums to dispose dead bodies -- which are not on the agenda of the mainstream Dalit movement. The Dalit movement needs to come together as one and address these issues, like Dr. Ambedkar did. The whole Dalit community must speak out in a unanimous voice. These issues must be a priority and we should seek the whole nation’s help in eradicating them.