Two Lessons from Ashoka and Ambedkar

Shiva Shankar

(Talk presented at the conference on 'Dr.Ambedkar and the Modern Buddhist World', Nagaloka, Nagpur, October, 2006)

Dear Friends,

We all learn early that in 250 BC the Mauryan king Ashoka waged and won a cruel war with the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga, yet when he went to inspect his spoils, it was not triumphant glory that was his chief emotion, but a great sorrow for the misery that he had wrought on all living things. So profound, we then learn, was his compassion for people he had just earlier considered his enemies that he converted to Buddhism, promoted Buddhism as the state religion, and ushered in a graceful period of our history to go down as Ashoka, the Great King.


I wish to point out two lessons that must be learnt from this historic event on the fiftieth anniversary of the equally historic event of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's Fourth Turning of the Wheel.

One, why did Ashoka consider it necessary for himself, and for his subjects, to convert to Buddhism? Could he not have accomplished as much remaining 'Hindu'?

Clearly Ashoka himself felt that he could no longer remain in the folds of the faith he had earlier followed, given that he with missionary zeal promoted Buddhism as his State religion. This glaringly obvious message seems not to have been grasped by most Hindus however, which leads me to the second lesson:


The Cartoon, the Classroom and the Idea of India


Dr. N. Sukumar

The cartoon controversy has exposed the deeply divided faultlines in the sarkari academia which has gone into a damage control mode. A brief glance through all the news (both electronic and print), blogs, facebook chatter etc reveal the deep anguish at the frittering away of "academic freedom". One appreciates the immense labour to make social sciences textbooks more child-friendly, to inculcate critical and creative thinking rather than promote learning by rote. In this context, images play a crucial role.


However, reading against the grain, certain questions need to be pondered over. Is the dialogic space within the classroom value-free? An Emphatic No. Despite the provisions of the RTE Act, many leading public schools in Delhi refuse to admit Muslim children. How many SC/ST children are into CBSE, ISCE, International Baccalaureate, and other elite schooling systems? The documentary, 'India Untouched', reflected the state of education in Bharat. Hailing from a small village wherein caste was a lived reality, the constitutional provisions enabled me to access higher education in an 'eminent' academic institution. All sorts of 'progressive' theories were discussed from Plato, Marx to Gandhi but Ambedkar was the missing ideology. This is the academic freedom which nurtured and continues to operate in the classroom for many decades.


The cartoon controversy: Inside the mind of one 'fanatic' Dalit - I

Anoop Kumar


'I have an open mind, though not an empty mind. A person with an open mind is always the subject of congratulations. While this may be so, it must, at the same time, be realized that an open mind may also be an empty mind and that such an open mind, if it is a happy condition, is also a very dangerous condition for a man to be in. A disaster may easily overtake a man with an empty mind. Such a person is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder. It can have no direction. It may float but may also suffer a shipwreck against a rock for want of direction.' - Dr B. R. Ambedkar, while concluding the preface of his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'

It was more than a month ago that some of my Dalit friends brought this NCERT cartoon to my notice. One even sent the entire NCERT text book in PDF format through email calling the cartoon derogatory to Babasaheb Ambedkar and the need for Dalits to protest against it.

The whole issue didn't interest me at first. I had faith that people at NCERT would not do something like including a cartoon in their text books to denigrate Dr Ambedkar now, at a time when Dalit assertion is so strong and visible. So I just had a very cursory glance at the cartoon.

To be honest I didn't notice the whips. I didn't notice even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. So there was no question of reading the cartoon as 'Kashmiri Brahman whipping Dr. Ambedkar'. [There are many commentators who are mockingly suggesting that this is how Dalits who are opposing this cartoon 'misread' it. At least I didn't read it that way.]


Response to 'Notion Of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde

Vaibhav Wasnik

[The article 'Notion of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde can be found here. Vaibhav's response expresses a belief in electoral democracy and the transformative potential of the Indian constitution. Round Table India shall continue to welcome all shades of Dalit and Bahujan opinion]


The article by Mr Teltumbde starts off with genuine grievances, talking about the democratic values of ' Justice-social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation' as the advertised driving forces behind the constitution and compares that to the state of affairs in India as a nation by highlighting 'neo-liberal reforms' as the ultimate blunder.


Dalits must embrace a Metanarrative

Comments on Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (Part II)

Continued from here.

P. Dayanandan

(Paper presented on 10th April, 2012 on the occasion of the release of the Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing)


• In this Anthology M. C. Rajah makes reference to the claim that 'disabilities of 'untouchables' spring from deep-rooted social prejudices...' (p.225). But then he is writing in English, and it is not any translation of a Tamil word. (By the way, in this 175th year of Madras Christian College we may want to recall that M.C. Rajah, and another great leader recalled by Anbu Ponnoviam in this Anthology – P. M. Maduraipillai – were old students of MCC. But you may not find their names in the list that is used to boast of great alumni of the College, call it prejudice or elitism!).


Buddhism as a social, democratic doctrine: a liberation ideology

Karthik Navayan


In 1935, while addressing the Yeola Conversion Conference, Dr. BR Ambedkar declared 'I am born a Hindu. I couldn't help it, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu'. He said: 'Hindu civilsation.. is a diabolical contrivance to suppress and enslave humanity'. It was created by Brahminical parasites to enslave people and perpetuate their control over all the power and wealth of the nation. Hindu Brahmanic religion, which is responsible for the caste system of graded inequality, untouchability, exploitation and oppression, had introduced the theories of Karma and rebirth to justify them. And to perpetuate all those social evils it created the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. The Hindu religious system is continuing its repression in all fields even today.


Freedom, dignity, happiness, or simply, life!

Comments on Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (Part I)

P. Dayanandan

(Paper presented on 10th April, 2012 on the occasion of the release of the Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing)


• I congratulate Ravikumar, Azhagarsan and Mini for bringing Dalit thoughts to English language readers at large. A quick look at Ravi's writing, speaking and publishing record gives you some inkling of how Iyothee Thass must have managed his time to accomplish all his outpourings. Many folks gathered here, from the writing and publishing professions, defy time. I am grateful to all of you for this honor to receive a copy of the Anthology containing your precious writings, and make some observations on them.

• If we spend 3 minutes on each of the 78 selections it will take 4 hours. How then can we do justice to the 41 authors, translators, editors and the publisher? I will not attempt that. Neither will we discuss, at this stage, about the selection of themes nor authors, nor quality of translation and editing. I will not discuss if the segments selected from the books truly represent the whole. Plenty of that will follow as reviewers examine this Anthology.


Mayawati: Caste Anxieties and Patriarchal Fears

Continued from here.




Her roofless abode gives her a clear view of the fields and the village she guards over. She is my paternal family's deity, revered as a force of nature as are the scores of female gods of the Shudra, Atishudra and Adivasi cultures. Her free spirited nature echoes the attitude of another goddess in Siddalingaiah's narrative of village deities: one who refuses a temple with a door, saying, 'I would like to go and come as I please.' Within the timeless non-brahamincal world, female iconography is rendered in ways whereby it is 'her gaze' which is anxiously worried over, as it could mean, protection, forgiveness and peace.

From the 10th and 11th centuries AD onwards, with the onset of large scale temple building activities, female iconography begins to appear on temple panels. Here the female form is rendered through the brahmanical male gaze, though the imagery itself is not inspired by brahmin women. From Multan to Somnath, from Konark to Hoysala to Thanjavur temples, all of them bear sculptures that have been inspired by the temple-women, drawn almost exclusively from the shudra and atishudra castes. These visuals radiate the highly disciplined intellect and body literacy of these subjugated, ancestral dalitbahujan women. Throughout the ages, the collectives of temple-women were known to be rigorous knowledge producers, surpassing the productivity of the best universities, bequeathing to the subcontinent, civilization-sustaining bodies of knowledge. Yet, for us, the images are life size portrayals of women manacled by caste and patriarchy. Contemporary dalitbahujan women are often ambiguous about celebrating these images as immortal style icons of amazing grace and ability. This visual history highlights an ancient struggle in progress-- against caste, the father of all hegemonies.


There will never be another man like him

Karthik Navayan

(We thank Karthik for this moving tribute to the great Telugu poet, Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideologue, Dalit leader and social revolutionary K.G. Satyamurthy, who passed away on April 17, 2012-- Round Table India)


You have to decide on your own how you wish to understand Satyamurthy, but he was a man who everyone should try to understand. If efforts to understand him are marked by sincerity, poets will understand him as a Mahakavi, (radical left) revolutionaries* will understand him as a great revolutionary leader, thinkers and philosophers will understand him as a great thinker. To understand a man, it might be enough to read his writing, but to understand Satyamurthy, one needs to understand his life too.

Satyamurthy had little interest in the many comforts easily accessed by traditional upper caste, middle class revolutionary leaders and poets. It was not that he could not have earned them, but he chose to live by the ideals that informed his writing. There was no contradiction between his life and his writing. After he became a revolutionary, several decades ago, the last three years of his life were the only time he actually spent with his children, whom he had left long ago. Until 2009, he was constantly engaged in one kind of activism or another, constantly traveling, especially in Telangana where he still has a lot of admirers. There were many occasions on which he developed health related issues while traveling and had to face his daughter's anger. His life itself was poetry; it was not a poet's life. We cannot separate his life from his poetry. He lived by the politics he believed in, and lived among the poor and the people he trusted, all through his life. That is the main difference between Satyamurthy and other poets.


Mayawati or Hatshepsut: Her place has to be shown



A handbag. A false beard.

Two seemingly innocuous objects which transform into fearsome symbols, when they adorn the statues of Mayawati and Hatshepsut respectively. These women statues have unleashed unprecedented amounts of societal outrage. Is the cause for outrage the engravings themselves, or the depicted demeanor, or is it the act of consecrating one's own statue? The answer would be all three reasons and more. The intensity of the backlash alludes to the kind of transgressive power that Mayawati and Hatshepsut have come to signify.




Ambedkar and Media


V. Ratnamala



The history of the press in India is the history of the freedom movement in the country. To a great extent, the Indian National Congress owed its popularity and position to the Indian press (Mazumdar, 1993). The history of the freedom movement happened to be the history of Congressmen. Hence the history of the press in India is the history of the newspapers run by Congressmen. The history of the oppressed community is being neglected and the history of the upper caste is celebrated in India. The majority which accepts Mahatma Gandhi as a great journalist declines to speak about the journalism of Ambedkar or the newspapers run by Ambedkar. It is important to identify the different interpretation of history of the freedom struggle as well as the press in India. This paper will look into the experiences of Ambedkar with media.

Its aim is to *explore the newspaper initiatives of Ambedkar, *study the representation of Ambedkar in media and *recognize his views on media. The paper will discuss the data observed using desk research. This is done by summarizing published sources - a form of secondary research.

Ambedkar's Journalism

Dr. Ambedkar was also a successful journalist. He provided a platform for social revolution through his papers. It is important to note that Gandhi started Harijan in 1933 to propagate the cause of untouchables. He started that only after the Poona pact. The Indian media which admires Gandhi's efforts to start a newspaper for the untouchables never addresses Ambedkar's labors that are responsible for running four newspapers for his people. As the pro-Congress media refuse to speak about the oppressed people, Ambedkar's struggles, his ideology, Ambedkar required a media, a mouthpiece. Ambedkar strongly believed that newspapers could bring about a change in the lives of the millions of oppressed people. Dr. Ambedkar's Marathi newspapers announced a new politics and ethics and anticipated a just social order ( Pandian, 2005). Ambedkar published a series of newspapers namely Mook Nayak (weekly newspaper), Bahishkrit Bharat (half-monthly newspaper), Janata (weekly magazine).


Dalit Assertions and Violence in Odisha

Nilesh Kumar

nilesh_1_copyAn article published in The Hindu (dated January 14, 2012) written by Harsh Mander is an eye opener for many of us who enjoy our private comfort zones. We feel safe and protected around our family, friends and acquaintances. There are many who do not have access to these secure environments and live in contested spaces. If the riots of 2008 (in Odisha) were not tragic enough, the massacre of Dalits and Adivasis that followed, by the upper caste Hindus was nothing but inhuman. Harsh Mander writes about 'the systematic creation of hatred against religious minorities by Right wing organisations, rigorous planning of the carnage...often targeting women and girls'.

The rape of a nun in Kandhamal was reported in newspapers on 6th of January, 2012; the report also said that despite her being able to identify all the five culprits, the magistrate reported that the victim was able to identify only two accused persons. After her plea got rejected by the High court the case was transferred to the Cuttack court where it has met the same fate as thousands of other similar cases: that of being stuck.


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