The Radical in Ambedkar: Critical Reflections edited and introduced by Anand Teltumbde and Suraj Yengde, establishes B.R. Ambedkar as the most powerful advocate of equality and fraternity in modern India. This remarkable volume seeks to unpack the radical in Ambedkar’s legacy by examining his life work from hitherto unexplored perspectives.
Read on to learn why Ambedkar is one of the most significant advocates of equality.
His belief in moral and ethical behaviour of people, not only the state, to achieve liberty and equality
“Aside from rationality, Ambedkar felt that democracy required ethics, or what he called morality. One aspect of this is the importance of ‘constitutional morality’, that is, of abiding by the spirit of the Constitution and not just its legal provisions. Going beyond this, Ambedkar felt that morality, in the sense of social ethics, was indispensable for the realization of liberty and equality. In the absence of morality, he thought, there were only two alternatives: anarchy or the police.”
His emphasis on international solidarity in combating social inequality
“Ambedkar explained that he had been a ‘student of the Negro problem’ and that ‘[t]here is so much similarity between the position of the Untouchables in India and of the position of the Negroes in America that the study of the latter is not only natural but necessary’.”
His vision of democracy and a ‘good society’
“Ambedkar’s vision of democracy was closely related to his ideal of a ‘good society’. He was clear about this ideal: on many occasions, he stated that he envisaged a good society as one based on ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ (today we might prefer to call this ‘liberty, equality and solidarity’). Democracy, as he saw it, was both the end and the means of this ideal.”
His struggle for basic human rights in civic law and practice
“Dr Ambedkar continued to build up a civic notion of rights to challenge both religious democratization and a colonial order rooted in custom and identity. This is clearly demonstrated in his leadership in the Chavadar Tank agitation in the late 1920s. In 1927, Dr Ambedkar led a satyagraha to gain access to water from the tank, exercising a right to the public resources maintained by the state, which was guaranteed by the Bombay legislature but not enforced due to social sanction. The satyagraha was met by violence, and upper-caste Hindus filed a court case arguing that the tank was private property.”
His path-breaking legal argument for the independent agency of sex workers
“The Bombay Prostitution Act of 1923 did not abolish prostitution but sought to end its organized version and criminalize those who brought women into prostitution. In this case, the accused owned a house where the prostitute in question had met clients for a few hours. Ambedkar attempted to argue that the prostitute was an independent agent as evidenced by her short stay at the brothel and that the accused merely kept a brothel and was not a procuress. While Ambedkar’s own views of sex work are complicated, in the court he did make an argument for the independent agency of sex workers.”
His efforts to include oppressed communities across the spectrum in the Dalit struggle for justice
“In the Bombay Presidency, the differences and inequalities among Dalits came frequently in the way of Ambedkar’s struggles. Ambedkar, being a visionary with a strong support base of Dalits across India, particularly the Mahars in Maharashtra, attempted to address the issue of intra-caste conflicts. He also tried to build a broader platform for all Dalits by attempting to include non-Mahar Dalit castes into his organizations, the All India Scheduled Caste Federation, the Independent Labour Party, etc.”
His delineation of the government’s role in eradicating inequalities and in safeguarding the fundamental rights of citizens
“True to the basic principles he had publicly upheld for over two decades, Ambedkar proposed that the Constituent Assembly proclaim a set of fundamental rights ensuring equal civic rights and the right to vote of all citizens, freedom of religion, and the legal prohibition of discrimination and forced labour or involuntary servitude. He also suggested that the new Supreme Court be given adequate powers to protect these fundamental rights of citizens.”
An extraordinary collection of immense breadth and scholarship that challenges the popular understanding of Ambedkar, The Radical in Ambedkar is essential reading for all those who wish to imagine a new future.