Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dalits and "izzat"

I had a delightful long leave recently which resulted in a few key changes in me. A key experience during this leave was watching this scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, where Amitabh advises his son about how he should earn/maintain "izzat" and not merely "paisa" - a message which his father gave him many years ago and which he is passing on to his son. It reminded me of multiple conversations with my father on similar lines. My father choice of expressions in communicating these messages were rather more colourful than Amitabh's sophistry, but I recognized while watching this scene that the essence of those messages was universal and eternal.

This message and reminiscing about my father was important because I had occasion during this leave to debate the legacy of my father Pandurang Ganpat Tambe as well as the father of dalits, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. I have recorded my view of this legacy in various articles (1, 2, 3). I was discussing this again with a friend today and how the above scene from Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gam relates to this legacy. Let me explain.

The dalit community has less "paisa" and "izzat" compared to non-dalits. Given that Dr. Ambedkar's constitution has changed the rules of the game, there are many routes to progress available and being followed by dalit individuals. Some are not ethical and do not give "izzat". Others give "izzat", but do not challenge the basis of how "izzat" is awarded  in Indian culture (due to hidden pre-assumption that higher castes have in-borne "izzat" and lower castes do not). Following Ambedkarite Buddhism and the 22 vows given by Ambedkar is one way of beginning the process which will eventually challenge and change this assumption. More importantly even if one is ethical and follows Ambedkarite Buddhism, does that mean that "izzat" and "paisa" will come easily. In this world "izzat" and "paisa" can hardly be given. They have to be earned. For dalits, they have to be earned by doing good kamma and working against the legacy of the "system" (prejudices, vested interests, etc). Denied the route of politics to obtain re-distribution of national wealth and positions, the short and simple manifesto of the common Ambedkarite is to earn wealth and position by moral means. The specific choice of each common Ambedkarite may vary. Some may be wage-laborers, some public/private sector employees/executives, others businessmen. It is only through stellar achievements based on moral means that "izzat" and "paisa" can be earned together. Each common Ambedkarite needs to choose a national bastion and scale it through moral (non-violent, ethical, legal) means. This is a war that every dalit needs to fight every day and everywhere. There is nothing else needed to create the India that the constitution exhorts us to.

Dr. Ambedkar accumulated wealth through moral means and left a monument to his views in this matter in terms of his large house in Dadar. Some people find creative means of interpreting Ambedkar and find short-cuts justifying running away from fighting this war, denying the dalit movement of much more potent contributions and satisfy themselves with token contributions away from the real battlefields of the modern world. But the rest of us will fight this war with our lives and careers until our dying breaths. So my message to young dalits is to join the Ambedkarite tribe and live the manifesto of the common Ambedkarite by fighting this holy war by moral means.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, May his tribe increase (A la Abou Ben Adhem)


Pratap Tambe
A common Ambedkarite
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