[WSF-Discuss] How Not to Recall an Icon

Umakant uk4in at yahoo.co.in
Mon Apr 18 08:02:00 CDT 2016


DearFriendsGreetings!Please read an interesting opinion piece by Prof. Upendra Baxi on how not torecall an icon called B. R. Ambedkar.  Dogive it a wider dissemination in your circle/network.   WithRegardsUmakant,Ph. D NewDelhi  ---------------- How not to recallan icon UpendraBaxi, Opinion, The Indian Express, April 18, 2016 http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-not-to-recall-ambedkar-2758030/ India has not matched Ambedkar’s poignant urgency forswift action against social apartheid  Thepolitical appropriation of an icon is scarcely a new happening; nor is thecollective amnesia of a founding figure. But when appropriation occurs by a thousandunkind cuts, the assassins of memory triumph, merely realign a past figure tothe needs of a contemporary times, and choose to bypass urgent messages from arecent past. Manymessages of BR Ambedkar, fondly called Babasaheb, are now unforgivably forgotten.While extolling worship (bhakti) in religion as a “road to the salvation of thesoul”, Babasaheb decried hero-worship in politics as “a sure road todegradation and to eventual dictatorship”. A sincere constitutional tributewill avoid degradation to national life by acts of routine political sycophancyand instead put in practice what Babasaheb said and struggled for. He was adoer, not a sloganeer. AlthoughIndia has at last produced a Dalit bourgeoisie, it has yet to produce apostcolonial intellectual like Ambedkar who felt haunted (to borrow the wordsof Jacques Lacan) by the “schizoid-paranoid… murmur” of a million “anonymouspersecutors”. But he developed the ability and the courage to ask questionsabout the ubiquitous injustices of social, political and economic orderings. Arestless and dynamic politician, reformer, crusader and thinker, Ambedkarwished to “annihilate the caste” system, “restore the title deeds of humanity”to untouchables, and to liberate India from “Dalit-hunting” — rape, arson,stripping and parading, plunder, killing, and massacre of untouchables. Theconstitutional order that he sculpted, he thought, would deliver us from thatevil. We have now a system of reservations, a civil rights act, an atrocitiesact, and an abolition of manual scavenging act as late as 2013, and a plethoraof statutory agencies and administrative devices. Surely, India reckons highfor its GLP (gross legislative product), regardless of its GDP. Exuberant innormative law but feeble in real-life enforcement, a 66-year-old republic hasnot matched Babasaheb’s poignant urgency for swift action against the socialapartheid of the caste system and politics of production of socialindifference. The constitutional duties under Article 51A now require allcitizens to be at least indignation-entrepreneurs. To takebut just one example: As late as end of March 2014, the Supreme Courtwitheringly bemoaned the unconstitutional plight of increasing numbers ofmanual scavengers and required the states to take appropriate statutorymeasures. On September 23, 2015, the Delhi High Court had to order the “firststep” to survey the plight of untouchables in the municipal corporations andDelhi cantonments! Thenationwide 125-day Bhim Yatra (Dibrugarh se Dilli tak) culminated in Delhi onApril 13, 2016, with a stark message: “Stop killing us”. The Safai KaramchariAndolan has documented 1,268 reported instances of death in sewer cleaningbetween March 2014 and March 2016. The untouchable right to be and to remainhuman has to be protected at all costs: Live and let others live is theconstitutional summons, not live so as to condemn others to die or suffer aliving death. Ambedkarshared the perspective of Jawaharlal Nehru; somehow to combine the best(creative) elements that will compose an “organic whole” — some forms of“nationalism and political freedom” and “social freedom” and the dream of a“classless society”. He also agreed for expeditious removal of “all invidioussocial and customary barriers” impeding “the full development of the individualas well as of any group”.  But, forAmbedkar, the leitmotif of Indian constitutionalism was a war oncontradictions, which we are fated to endure but also must combat.Hisoft-quoted observation is: “On the 26th January, 1950, we are going to enterinto a life of contradictions… In politics we will be recognising the principleof one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, weshall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny [thisprinciple]… How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?” Hesummates life under the Constitution as a series of lived and embodiedcontradictions. What is liberal (and now postliberal) democracy if not a seriesof structural contradictions that are lived and embodied by each and everycitizen, party and leader? However,Babasaheb did not enunciate any theory of contradictions. Were theseaspirational/ institutional, normative/ institutional, material/ symbolic, (inMao’s binary) antagonistic/ non-antagonistic, cultural/ civilisationalcontradictions? What mattered for Ambedkar was not living in denial andpauseless struggle for freedom from a new normal of lawlessness and the socialpathology of rightlessnes. Neither normlessness (anomie) nor passive nihilism,which, as Nietzsche said, represents a situation of “devaluation of all values”provided an answer. Babasahebalways urged that should we “wish to preserve the Constitution… let us resolvenot to be tardy in the recognition of the evils that lie across our path”. Evenwhen “new ideologies” everywhere move people away from the “government ofthe people and by the people” and towards “governments for the people”,evils of untouchability persist, which should be effectively destroyed notby homeopathic doses but through a radical chemotherapy of the bodypolitic. Babasahebwas not merely the architect of the Indian Constitution but also remains atowering voice of its living Constitution. His vision has guided generations ofappellate justices in interpreting both the legal and social meaning of theConstitution. He has been quoted in interpretation of fundamental rights anddirective principles, and even in election and taxation situations. His mostcited Constituent Assembly debate words are the “degradation of the politicalenvironment of the country”. The Supreme Court in the Bommai decision revivedhis famous observation that Article 356 (president’s rule in states) is andmust remain a “dead letter”. He is all pervasive in social actionlitigation (still miscalled in India as “publicinterest litigation”), justifying the assertion that activistjustices are the lineal descendants of Babasaheb. Theadoption of the Constitution may have, as Eleanor Zelliot reminds us, beengreeted by “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai” and he outlived the ultimate insult of beingdescribed as a “modern Manu” but Ambedkar’s legacies of justice as emancipationshall endure as aspects of collective memory and the histories he shaped. --------------  (Thewriter is professor of law, University of Warwick, and former vice chancellorof the Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi.) 





  My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality. 
B.R.Ambedkar
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