When I read that Round Table India is asking for essays on the theme of 'what Babasaheb Ambedkar means to me', it made me ask this question to myself:
Is it about his thoughts? Is it his image of standing firm, holding the Constitution in his hands, and always dressed impeccably? Is it about his education? Is it about the odds he faced? I realised that it is all of this, and maybe much more.
Owing to family circumstances, it was impossible to study in High School. It was only due to the schemes for SC/ST that my fees could be paid. This same continued till my post-graduation. I don't even know what I would have done if not for the rights that Babasaheb had secured for me.
There were several odds that I had to face, but whenever I used to feel demotivated, I would think of him. How much difficulties he had to overcome! Coming to think of it now, Babasaheb lived in the era of no technology, social media, etc., but he still could share his ideas and thoughts to people. He wrote more than 50 books in his lifetime. If this can't provide inspiration then nothing else can.
When I am happy, I look up to him. When I am sad or depressed, I look up to him. I remember the story when he had to go to the Round Table Conference in London. His son had passed away a day before. Some people requested him not to go. But he responded by saying millions of my people need me and this is my chance to do something for them. This is what Babasaheb meant to people.
He also taught us to fight against all with knowledge. He rarely indulged in public debates with anyone, but let his writings speak for himself. That is a great quality to imbibe. Far too many times, we try to indulge in fiery debates- either written or verbal with Savarnas that end up wasting our efforts and time.
Babasaheb taught us also to share sorrows and not just happiness and dreams. Only that will lead to nation building. No amount of laws can help in sharing sorrows of people. The sorrow of a Rohith Vemula or a Delta Meghwal needs to be shared, and only then will we be real citizens.
For far too many times, the culture in schools tells us to never challenge what teachers are telling. Never challenge what elders or relatives are telling. This leads most children to blindly follow stuff like rituals, history, religious beliefs. The necessary skill of being able to constructively challenge is thus lost. Following the ideals of Babasaheb has ensured that we don't get stuck in this rotten habit. It made me develop the art of constructively challenging beliefs, rituals, processes, etc. That has held me in good stead in my working capacity.
Some people scoff at Dalit-bahujans when they see Babasaheb's portraits in their houses. The person might be rich or poor, but real Ambedkarites always have some photo of him, small or big. It's a sign of assertion. It's a sign of hope for the future for a society that has been ruthlessly crushed since centuries. One cannot expect any Savarna to understand the feeling that Babasaheb evokes. For many, there is no parallel to that feeling, even with their families. This is what Babasaheb means to many us, something that cannot be put into by words.
He wants me to stand up for my community. He wants me not to malign any of my fellow community person in public as that is what this Brahminical society would want us to do.
I don't believe in the concept of God. But when I think of Babasaheb I feel astonished at the amount of work he managed to do throughout his lifetime. From writing on anthropology to organizing revolutions for equal rights, from studying economics to founding 4 newspapers. And it is this massive body of work that has brought emancipation and liberation to millions like me. Thus, if I ever were to think that there may be a God, for me it could only be Babasaheb Ambedkar!
~ His most important advice was that we need to have political power in our hands. Now, this may not necessarily mean power only in Parliament. For me, it meant in terms of having a say in decision-making any place that I may be a part of. This could be school committees, Student Bodies, or even my place of work.
~ Another important thing that was taught is for every protests or demands, it has to go to the right authority. Any candle-light marches or demonstrations have to submit the Charter of Demands (CoD) to someone with relevant authority in the Government. Else, the protests serve very little purpose.
~ He taught us to think about the long term. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen calls Babasaheb his 'Guru' in economics
~ We need to generate our own revenue rather than depending on Brahminical government or society to do that.
~ He taught us to stand by the community in both good or bad times.
~ He wanted us to gain strategic positions where we work that will enable progress.
~ He told us to educate the community and bring about social awareness. What I have also learnt is people in the community are at different stages in their awareness of Babasaheb and his vision. I have accepted that I need to engage in discussions at different levels of consciousness accordingly.
~ The term "social justice" is based upon equality, liberty and fraternity of all human beings. The aim of social justice is to remove all kinds of inequalities based upon Caste, race, sex, power, Position, and wealth. The social justice brings equal distribution of the social, political, and economic resources of the community.
For me, understanding Babasaheb means not just celebrating his birth anniversary or remembering him on his death anniversary (which is important, of course), but looking into larger goals of his missions. For example, I hope that by next year the Caste Census is released. I hope a stricter act is passed in Universities to stop discrimination against Dalit-bahujan students. I hope my OBC friends understand how the Brahmins have been using and brainwashing them, and they should come out openly and support Babasaheb. I wish there are no more cases like Rohith Vemula or Delta Meghwal.
Babasaheb makes me be like him. I feel a part of Babasaheb in me when I do my bit for annihilating Caste and building this nation. I feel strong and purposeful. He means hope for a meaningful future. He makes me feel like every morning I am born again, and what I do today matters the most.
With this I would like to wish everyone best wishes for Ambedkar Jayanti again and request all to read more of our literature. There is an ocean of our books and resources out there so we can never complain that there aren't enough books of Babasaheb or Dalit literature available. With the advent of technology, it has become easier than ever. Remember our icons and remember Babasaheb! Jai Bhim!
Vinay Shende is currently working as Senior Manager-HR in Johnson & Johnson and is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Illustration courtesy: Nidhin Shobhana