<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">Ambedkar Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

Challenging the Metanarrative Of Indian Independence Struggle.

A historian ought to be exact, sincere and impartial; free from passion, unbiased by interest, fear, resentment or affection; and faithful to the truth, which is the mother of history the preserver of great actions, the enemy of oblivion, the witness of the past, the director of the future, says Ambedkar.

The function of historian is neither to love the past, nor to condemn the past, nor to be free from the past, but to master the past in order to understand its bearing on the present. Therefore, let us re-look into the significance of 15th August 1947 for our country and its citizens. And also what we as Indians technically achieved on our most celebrated and glorified National holiday.

What India got on 15th August 1947?

  • What is a Dominion? Dominion means colonial self-Government.
  • Was the Total independence achieved from the British rule?

The late 19th century till the mid of twentieth century is very crucial in the evolution of Republic of India, as it stands today. This period marks the rise of political conscious and ambitious Indian nationalism. This is the period when the Indians started voicing out their political demands to the British Government. The politics of this time is described by the nationalist historiography as India’s Independence Struggle. This description is hitherto not challenged. Nationalists will not challenge this description is natural and can be easily understood. The Hindutva ideology also does not counter this description and in fact makes an attempt to locate itself within this framework in order to picture themselves and their leaders as ‘freedom fighters’ as it serves their task of Hindu Nationalism. The Ambedkarite Movement, the leftist Marxist movement, the Kanshiram pioneered Bahujan movement seems to disagree with this nationalist description though it cannot be in anyway regarded as countering the fundamental basis of the description and hence cannot be regarded as a challenge to the nationalist description. Their objection is mainly to the title of ‘Freedom Struggle’ and they want to merely describe it as ‘Transfer of Power from B2B i.e. From British to the power hungry Brahmins’. They do not question the fundamental assumptions of this description namely the ‘struggle of Indians against the tyrannical British rulers’, ‘the Congress Nationalism as the only nationalism’ etc. Their complain, being merely over the title and as it does not challenge the nationalist paradigm in any way, hence not fundamental and does not have any major bearing on the nationalist historiography. Thus their disagreement in fact is no disagreement.

Dr. Ambedkar described the Indian politics of his times as having two different aspects, namely –

  1. Foreign politics i.e. Quit India or the Transfer of Power Politics and
  2. Constitutional Politics i.e. the Communal Deadlock or the struggle between the Hindu Communal Majority against the Minorities.

Below is the sequence of events that took place around 15th August 1947, technically:

  1. What India got on 15th August 1947?
  2. On 15th August 1947 India got the Dominion status under the Indian Independence Act, 1947.
  3. Dominion is defined as a British colony with a responsible local self government. This means that India was a British colony even on 15th August 1947.
  4. The below excerpt from the Constituent Assembly debates would serve as the best evidence to understand the significance of 15th August 1947:

The confusion in the Constituent assembly:

Thursday, the 14th August 1947

(2) the Constituent Assembly of India has endorsed the recommendation that Lord Mountbatten be Governor-General of India from the 15th August 1947.

and that this message be conveyed forthwith to Lord Mountbatten by the President and Pandit Jawaharlal.Nehru. (Cheers.) I take it the House approves it.

The motion was adopted.

Friday, the 15th August 1947

The wishes from many countries started pouring in to India for achieving the Dominion status. None of them mentioned  “Republic of India” but just “Dominion of India” in their wishes.

Few messages could be read as below:

Message from Dr. Soedarsono on behalf of the Republic of Indonesia:

“On the eve of the establishment of the Dominion of India it is a great pleasure to the Republic of Indonesia to express her feelings of heartfelt joy, sympathy and friendship.”

Message from the President of the United States of America:

“On this memorable occasion I extend to you, to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and to the people of the Dominion of India the sincere best wishes of the Government and the people, of the United.States of America. I wish to avail myself of this opportunity of extending my personal congratulations to Your Excellency on your assumption of the post of Governor-General of the Dominion of India and at the same time to convey assurance of my highest consideration.”

H.E (His Excellency), the Governor-General: Mr. President and members of the Constituent Assembly:

“From today I am your constitutional Governor-General and I would ask you to regard me as one of yourselves. I am glad to announce that "my" Government (as I am now constitutionally entitled and most proud to call them) have decided to mark this historic occasion by a generous programme of amnesty.”

 

HOISTING OF THE NATIONAL FLAG

Mr. President: His Excellency will now give the signal for hoisting the Flag.

(The sound of a gun being fired was heard).

H.E. The Governor-General: That is the signal for hoisting the flag over this roof.

Mr. President: The House now stands adjourned till 10 of the Clock on the 20th.

Honourable Members: Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.

Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki jai.

Lord Mountbatten ki jai.

The Assembly then adjourned till 10 of the Clock on Wednesday, the 20th August 1947.

 

  1. On 15th August 1947 what was achieved was not Independence (Swatantrya) but Home Rule (Swarajya).
  2. The Constitutional head of India was the British Crown till 26th January 1950.
  3. On 26th January 1950 after all the provisions of the Constitution were made effective, India became a Sovereign Republic and Democratic country.
  4. From 15th August 1947 to 26th January 1950 India was governed according to the provisions of amended Government of India Act, 1935.
  5. Only on 26th January 1950 all the ties with the British Crown were broken and India was politically and constitutionally free country with all the privileges related to military and foreign relation powers.
  6. Therefore, India became free and got Total Independence (Swatantrya or Purna Swarajya) only on 26th January 1950, at least in technical sense.
  7. More so because even the date of 26th January was chosen for the implementation of Constitution because on this very day in 1930, the Congress passed the resolution of “Poorna Swaraj” in Lahore.
  8. Therefore, 15th August is therefore just a Dominion Day and not the Independence Day.
  9. The below illustration explains the political entitlements and progress India achieved:

 

India before the advent of British Raj

We must remember that what we now see as "India" was originally a collection of petty rajas, and kingdoms. It's the invaders who unified the subcontinent into a country called India. So let's be truthful about the facts and teach history as it happened and notoriously though thank those invaders for the present unity and diversity we enjoy. Myths also have played a major role in India attaining independence. The political movement of the Indian National Congress which started from the demand of ‘Home Rule’ i.e. ‘Dominion Status’ and matured into the demand of ‘Total Independence’ under the pressure of extremist movements outside and within the Congress is referred as the movement of Indian Independence is a point in case. The significance of 15th August 1947 must be seen in the light of these demands. Dissenting voices, if any, are raised only in the academic intellectual circles and are deliberately confined within the closed walls of universities, academic institutions and history congress.

The ‘Secularist’ and ‘Hindu-Nationalist’ Narratives concurrent apparently contradictory but part of the Same Grand Narrative, namely which camp is more patriotic.

 Civic Nationalism (New India) and Anti-colonial Nationalism (Quit India):

Nationalism is not an end but just a means for the individuals to reach the highest stage of Human development. An Individual is an end it itself. To create the social, political conditions in the world where each individual could spread the wingspan to its maximum potential. Nationalism which reformists like Phule and Ambedkar vouched for did not just object to the external domination but also the internal oppression, i.e. their brand of Patriotism deals with both the above progresses namely, Foreign politics as well as Constitutional politics which India as a country was heading towards. Unfortunately, the glorification of 15th August as Independence day which is confined to the mere idea of Foreign politics clearly subverts the latter progress, namely, the Constitutional politics which was also moving forward in parallel with the Foreign politics. Mere celebration of the freedom struggle movement against the British rule, invokes a limited sentiment of Anti-colonial Nationalism. The period of late 19th century till the mid of twentieth century has been also remarkable in resolving the age-old feuds among Indians. The people, now citizens, were nothing but warring camps. The Hindu-Muslim issue. The caste inequalities. The princely states vs their subjects, now citizens. The Zamindars vs the landless.

This period has been instrumental in finding a safe ground plan to address innumerable such issues among Indians for a safe and sustainable democracy after the British rule would end.

Social reform must precede Political reform. Alteast the political reformists must consider Social reform as an integral part of the political reform. But the subversion of Social conference of Ranade by Tilak is the best example of the undermining of Social reform in context of Indian independence struggle. Be it through right from Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, to the working and contribution of Indian intelligentsia in the works of various commissions, the Round table conferences that followed likewise in the making of India. And then ultimately at the remarkable and exhaustive Constituent assembly debates.

Like Anti-colonial movement, the Constitutional politics involved even more herculean task of bringing all the warring groups on board. All of these efforts involved a series of conflicts and struggle among the Indians to achieve the position of dignity in free India. The biggest example of the conflict among Indians manifested into partition and blood bath that followed soon after 15th August 1947. The constitutional politics was addressing this very problem. It was indeed talking about New India and the new order.

The significance of this period is more relevant in today’s times of continued struggle among Indians. If it is true that Political democracy cannot sustain without Social democracy, then this period of Constitutional politics must be indeed celebrated as Freedom struggle movement. It was the century of the Making of Present India. The test of patriotism therefore does not lie in participation in the Anti-colonial movement. The contribution towards the Constitutional politics is more apt in today’s times of continued struggle.

The constitutional politics plays an instrumental role in defining the present form of India as a Nation-in-the making. Therefore, at least in technical sense, India became free and got Total Independence (Swatantrya or Purna Swarajya) only on 26th January 1950.

The results of glorification of 15th August as Independence day therefore subverts the much needed Constitutional morality which is already lacking among Indians.

Like they say in New Zealand, Happy Dominion day !

 

References

[1] Swatantrata din ki Paheli - A research paper by Sumedh Ukey

[2] Constituent assembly debate proceedings.

[3] http://www.international.gc.ca/department/history-histoire/dcer/details-en.asp?intRefid=10567

[4] http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/dominion-status/symposium

[5] The Modern Law Review,Volume 12, Issue 3, Article first published online: 18 JAN
[6] Conditions precedent for the successful working of democracy, Dr. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 17 , Part THREE, page 480

[7] parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/debates.htm

Hindu festivals and dilemma among the Ambedkarites.

It's a festival season. Time for celebrations, get-togethers, delicacies and wait, *rituals*. Here begins the confusion among some groups. What do they mean by rituals. When the word *rituals* gets attached to all the fun, another word must be added. Yes the rituals are indeed *Hindu rituals*. In Marathi, the same can be called *Karma kaand.*

images-for-diwali-2016

Here the confusion begins among the Non-Hindu groups viz: Muslims, Atheists and Ambedkarite Scheduled caste groups.

These groups are often fine with the celebration and fun part of the festivals. While they even participate with extra-zeal  and enthusiasm in these Hindu festivals, there has been a long-run dilemma among the Ambedkarite groups in particular about the Hindu festivals.

img_9046
Exploitation of the gullible becomes easy in the Name of Religion
img_9043
Ritual/Religion is often an Economic enterprise.

The educated Ambedkarites who have read Ambedkar find it very difficult to explain and convince their fellow Ambedkarite friends, relatives etc who still follow - some superficially and some in full-fledged manner- not to follow the Hindu rituals. It is indeed not that difficult to convince the fellow Ambedkarites that the giving away of the Hindu rituals is not a forced or coerced act. With an argumentative discourse, it could be easily explained to them that this giving away of the Hindu rituals or the Spiritual transformation of the Ambedkarites is not out of some hate but has a sound logic, reasoning and good conscience associated with it.

img_9037
Human being's fears and insecurities are misused in the name of Metaphysics
img_9047
A disciple (Bhakt) is not supposed to reason. Hence, so long as you are in the Hindu religion, you cannot expect to have freedom of thought” - Dr. Ambedkar

The enlightened groups among the Ambedkarites anyways don't give a damn about the Hindu festivals. But there are some not-so-aware groups who still follow the rituals of the Hindu festivals. And as a paradox they also do not deny that they are Ambedkarites.

The root of this dilemma arose when Ambedkar in 1956 along with lakhs of his followers denounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur. The conversion was one of a kind. The peculiarity of it was that only adults above 18 were allowed to participate in the conversion ceremony. Which clearly indicates that it has to be a sanctioned act and not a forced or coercive conversion.

After the conversion, Ambedkar pledged 22 vows for all those who converted to Buddhism. Some of the 22 vows included vows like:

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna, who are believed to be incarnation of God, nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus, nor shall I worship them.
img_9058
The exploitation and oppression continues till date
img_9053
Rituals often replace Humanity, Free-thinking and Conscience

It is amptly clear from these three vows that the Ambedkarites shall not worship the *Hindu gods* thereon. Though the idea sounds radical, it was an obvious gesture of the group exploited for generations in the name of religion. In the name of Gods. In the name of the worshipping  the Hindu gods in particular.

Chaturvarna has been a religious code sanctioned by the gods. Through various codes and mythologies, the institution of the caste system and inequality perpetuated for thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. The inhuman Laws of Manu which treated Shudras and Women to the level of animals enjoyed the religious patronage until the implementation of Constitution lately.  And all of this perpetuated in the name of worshipping gods and performing the Karma kaand.

Some Elite and learned Ambedkarites who have not read and understood Ambedkar still argue against this 'that being liberals we should not be aloof and separated from the fellow-Indians'. Therefore they still do not hesitate in celebrating the Hindu festivals.

How does not following the rituals the others follow would make a group aloof from another group? If only the group which follows these rituals is *not intolerant to boycott the people with a different view in matters of following rituals and customs*. Therefore, if the majority has mutual respect for the views of the minority, the argument of turning aloof doesn't hold true.

Some argue 'that religion and beliefs are private matters and nobody else has any right to interfere into ones personal beliefs'.

The mostly *elite* Ambedkarites or for that matter the Hindus also argue that the relation between an individual and God is a private affair and nobody has a right to intervene into ones in individual beliefs. Sure, that's a sound argument. Ambedkar has been one of the outright liberals the Indian intelligentsia has ever produced. How can Ambedkar therefore talk of interfering into an individual's personal beliefs.

When we properly examine the 3 vows mentioned above, Ambedkar is not addressing the question of Atheism or Theism. Of whether to believe in *existence of God or not*. Ambedkar clearly mentions the names of the Hindu gods (Read, Brahminical). And pledges to refrain from worshipping the Hindu Gods. Another name of worshipping Hindu gods is Karma kaand. In the name of which, these people have been exploited for generations. Therefore the question of interfering into ones person beliefs doesn't hold in this context. If it does,the spirit of it is questioning the belief of following a custom of Caste, Inequality and Male chauvinism.

img_9031
Discard the Santum Santorum to achieve Social freedom.
img_9055
Discard the Sanctum Santorum to establish Egalitarian and Just society

 

 

Reasoning and Conscience obviously remain one of the important aspects of Ambedkar's teachings. However in context of worshipping Hindu gods through the vows, his idea and duty was to make the people aware about what is good and what is bad for them. In fact once Ambedkar also appreciated Jews for their belief in God which according him created a plus condition of mind and body which ultimately won them a war. In the context of the vows however, Ambedkar is not talking of believing in God or not. Ambedkar is talking about *whom not to believe as God*. His exhaustive works like Philosophy of Hinduism, Riddles in Hinduism and Revolution and counter revolution in Ancient and Medieval India justify quite in detail his stand.

Therefore while arguing on this matter, we must understand the difference between an Open mind and an Empty mind. In Rohith Vemula's words, Being an Open Mind and vouching for Individual freedom does not mean following an atrocious religion (at least for a large group) and the rituals attached to it. Therefore, it is only safe for these people to keep away from atleast the the Rituals/Karma kaand associated with the festivals. For the following of the rituals and Karma kaand has been the primary pretext under which these groups lost the status being humans. Being suspicious about the cause of slavery is only wise and there is no reason to observe it as some hatred.

-Pratik Tembhurne