Arguing for ‘Feminist Ambedkarism’


Mahipal Mahamatta

I am very glad to introduce to you an important work from Maharashtra, "स्त्रीवादी आंबेडकरवाद" (Feminist Ambedkarism), written by renowned activist Dr. Dhammasangini RamaGorakh. Though the book has been written in Marathi, it has immense importance in regards to Ambedkarite discourse.


 You must be familiar with terms such as 'Liberal Feminism', 'Marxist Feminism', 'Socialist Feminism', 'Radical Feminism', 'Black Feminism', 'Dalit Feminism' etc. If we observe these words, one would find that feminism is the universe and the prefix is the subset of it. However, there is an inverse way of looking at it: like the title of this book where feminism becomes a subset and Ambedkarism is the universe. Yes, this is the crux of the book where the author is trying to bring a theoretical intervention into the discourse, proposing no binary, no conflicting relation between Ambedkarism and feminism, rather arguing that gender is the core of Ambedkarism.

The book consists of three chapters along with an introduction. The first chapter is thematic, more comprehensive, and theoretical and deals with how feminism is an inherent part of the Ambedkarite ideology and 're-correcting the discourse' from what are called as Dalit Feminism and Ambedkarite Feminism. The second chapter deals with various perspectives on gender in the pre-Ambedkar era. The last chapter critically examines the feminist perspective on Eight Gurudhamma for Bhikkunis (Buddhist nuns) in the Sangha order.

Nullifying Ambedkarite Feminism. In the first chapter, she has discussed elaborately on the development of feminism in the world; under or parallel to established ideologies at that point in time. Liberalism, Marxism, socialism, black discourse etc. were established ideologies. In and around the 1970s, various shades of feminism emerge and develop under these ideologies by using their core principles, concepts and theories. At the same time, there were conflicting relations with established ideologies as they had out-casted women from getting practical benefit from the ideologies. Some ideologies might have noted women's exploitation but have not gone beyond that. Activists bound to gender equality revolted against established ideology/ies and developed parallel ideology/ies. Liberalism in France had given political rights to men but not women. Women in France started demanding political rights for themselves using 'everybody equal before the law' framework of liberalism. Marxist ideology underlines that 'class' is the root cause of all type of exploitation. It shows dreams of emancipation to women in destructing capitalism, as it is responsible for women's exploitation. When women came out of from the dream, and started proposing women as 'proletariat class' in regards to patriarchy and capitalism, just as workers are to capitalism. This is how Marxist feminism develops.

The author argues that when we talk of the frame of working Ambedkarite Feminism, one needs to see the overall development of feminism in the world and check ourselves. She asks the important question, 'Does Ambedkarism as established ideology, sideline women's issues or neglect gender like other established ideologies in the world?' and says that those scholars who claim to be Ambedkarite Feminist have not come up with a relevant critique of Ambedkarism through a feminist perspective. Rather this discourse has been developing by questioning Brahmanical and Marxist feminism for neglecting Ambedkar's contribution to the women's emancipation in India. There were noteworthy attempts by scholars like Saroj Kamble, Urmila Pawar, Pratima Pardeshi, Sushila Muljadhav, Sharmila Rege, Indira Athawale, Pratibha Ahire, to challenging mainstream feminist discourse by upholding Ambedkar's work for women's emancipation but still there was no attempt to highlight Ambedkar's limitation in regards to gender. Though Pratima Pardeshi has tried showcasing Ambedkar's limitation in understanding caste and gender by quoting his speech at Kamathipura, it cannot be considered as a limitation of ideology by quoting merely the speech of a person. The author says further that many times Dalit scholars, Dalit feminists referred speeches of Ambedkar as his theory. Marxist and mainstream feminists purposefully uses Ambedkar's speeches to point out his limitation and neglect his theoretical framework. The same kind of modus operandi is not applicable to Marx and Gandhi. This is the biggest lacuna in understanding Ambedkarism holistically according to the author.

Another important question she raises is that: what will be the relevance of Ambedkarism if we draw out gender from it? And says that Ambedkarism will be nothing if it does not address the gender question. Gender and women's question is an intrinsic part of Ambedkarite Ideology.

Finally, she comes up with the conclusion that Ambedkarism itself incorporates feminism in it. It is very interesting to read how she enhances Ambedkar's argument 'caste is division of laborers' to strict division of reproduction. Without division of women and reproduction, there cannot be a division of labor. Division of reproduction is enforced with strict control over women's sexuality leading to the enslavement of women. Hence she says, it is proven from Ambedkar's writing that caste is based on the enslavement of women. This is why women's emancipation is the primary condition of annihilation of caste. Then one has to say yes, Ambedkarism really does incorporate feminism in it.

Along with this debate, she has discussed the cultural struggle of the country by referring texts such as 'Who were the Shudras,' 'Revolution and Counter-Revolution', 'Riddles in Hinduism' and scholars such as Marija Gimbutas, Indologist Com, Sharad Patil etc in the quest for a society based on equality. There is much more than what I discussed here and everything cannot be detailed here. One could sense the culmination of both activists as well as academics while engaging with this chapter.

The second chapter helps us in understanding various perspectives to look at the women's question before Ambedkar and more specifically in the 19th century. It has a neatly drawn classification of four ideological currents looking at it from different perspectives. These currents have been classified as 1) Romantic Reformist, 2) revivalist religionist, 3) Liberals, and 4) A-vaidic reformist. Jotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Mukta Salve, Tarabai Shinde's contributions come in the fourth category. Along with abovementioned ideological currents, there were scholars such as Kelusakar Guruji, Rahul Sankrityayan and Dharmanand Kausambi who engaged in the revival of Buddhism in the same era and were attracted toward Buddhism as a solution and alternative to gender, caste, and hindu culture. This chapter is full of historical facts and developments of discourses centered on the women's question.

The last chapter deals with Eight Gurudhamma of Bhukkunis in the Sangha order and the feminist discourse around it. There were many attempts by scholars to label Buddha as anti-women, upholder of women-men inequality, patriarchal etc. Ambedkar has considered Budhha as the greatest upholder of equality. In his essay, 'Rise and Fall of Hindu Woman' Ambedkar had refuted all claims against Buddha and had pointed out interpolations in the Pali texts. As a reader, one would feel then why discuss the same topic again. Nevertheless, Marxist scholars such as Ramvilas Sharma, feminists such as Uma Chakravarty still consider Buddha as Patriarchal. There are many other scholars as well who think on the same lines. Th author has tried to refute all these claims with brilliant articulation in this chapter.

According to Dhammasangini, the purpose of this article or chapter was not to support Eight Gurudhamma or to interpret its relevance to contemporary times. But the purpose was to bring to the attention of scholars that Buddhism is not infallible like other religions. It accommodates change easily. Hence, it is not scholarly to criticize Buddha, consider him patriarchal by considering Eight Gurudhamma as infallible. Rather they should try to put forward emancipatory interpretations of Buddhism for a better world.

As a reader, it takes time to establish the relation between last chapter and first two chapters if we don't go back to the introduction where the author has revealed her affiliation towards Buddhism as cultural politics and as a useful means to achieve transformation. Then it becomes clear why the third chapter has been discussed in-depth. At the same time in the third chapter, the author has a highly limited discussion restricted to Eight Gurudhammas. There are many references in the Vinay Pithaka, that are derogatory to women and showcase gender biases. The author has not discussed anything about that. When I hint regarding this, she accepts the criticism and was willing to bring the remaining part to the focus.

Dr. Dhammasangini is a renowned activist in Maharashtra. Since her under graduation, she has been part of the Ambedkarite movement working with various organizations extending it. Currently, she is working as assistant professor of women studies in RTM university Nagpur. This book can be considered a combination of theory and practice.

When I was looking through the various bookstalls at Dikshabhumi on 14th of October, I found this attractive book having 'Panchasheel' stripes on the cover page with "स्त्रीवादी आंबेडकरवाद" title over it. Merely title, and cover page produced strong hunger to read. I feel it can happen with you as well.

Title of the Book - स्त्रीवादी आंबेडकरवाद
Author's Name - Dhammasangini RamaGorakh
Publication - Radical Ambedkarite Mahila Associaltion Indapur (RAMAI)
Pages - 70
Price – 100 rupees for those who got benefit from the seventh pay commission; grassroots activists in the movement and students will get discount and in critical situations, free of cost. Collection will be used as fund to develop Mukta Salve Women Studies and Development Center Nagpur.



Mahipal Mahamatta is from Maharashtra and has done Media and Cultural Studies, TISS.

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