Remembering Ambedkar

News Excerpt:  

As India pays homage to Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar on his birth anniversary, this article explores the ecological dimensions of Ambedkarite philosophy as well as remembers Mahad Satygraha.

Ambedkar and his environmentalism:

There are three important pillars of Dr Ambedkar’s ecology, 

  • First pillar: He looked at humans and nature from a democratic perspective. He perceives democracy as a ‘mode of living’. If democracy is defined as a mode of living, then there has to be a democratic principle in the distribution of natural/ecological resources to humans.
  • Second pillar: Ecological crises were essentially social crises. 
    • He believed that social hierarchy was responsible for the disproportionate appropriation of ecological and natural resources by privileged sections of society, while underprivileged sections could not gain adequate access to resources.
  • Third pillar: How to handle such ecological crises. Ambedkar’s ecological thought has a wonderful scheme for the democratization of natural resources in the case of the Indian subcontinent.

Ambedkar’s ideas:

  • Ambedkar advocated for the redistribution of natural resources through constitutional morality, public policy, and the democratic apparatus in India to make the distribution of ecological resources more egalitarian and equitable.
  • He believed that a strong society is possible when the entire populace develops by gaining more equitable access to natural resources.
  • Ambedkar's ecological thought had a moral dimension, as reflected in his work "The Buddha and his Dhamma," where he contemplated the notion of 'biocentric equality,' which means equality among all species.
    • The work says that it is not enough to have equality and liberty. There should also be fraternity.
    • By quoting the Buddha, he mentions that human beings should not just be restricted to equality among themselves but should go beyond that.
  • Unlike Gandhi, who used tradition as an agency for defining the relationship between humans and ecology, 
  • Ambedkar saw ecological conservation as being rational, scientific, and moral, in addition to considering tradition.
  • Ambedkar represented a unique voice within Indian environmental thought, stating that to address socio-ecological problems
    • We need to consider tradition, rationalism, science, and morality, all together.

Contemporary use of his ideas:

  • Ambedkar challenged the neo-orientalist view that Indian ecological thought is essentially traditional, spiritual, or metaphysical. 
    • He highlights the vibrant material and moral aspects of Indian environmental thought
    • He argues Indians value the conservation of natural resources as a moral duty, not just a spiritual obligation.
  • He advocated for a formidable ecological governance based on democratic principles, realizing that attitudinal change was necessary for effective governance.
  • Ambedkar's Neo-Buddhist philosophy promotes a new eco-value system that emphasizes the judicious and sustainable use of natural resources to ensure continuous access to resources.
  • The ongoing climate crisis can be addressed through Ambedkarite principles like democratic governance, equity (at the international level), and moral-spiritual humanism that focuses on the concern for fellow humans rather than supernatural powers.
  • His views discourage excessive consumerist culture, which aligns with the need to mitigate climate change by reducing overconsumption and waste.
  • Attitudinal change and a spiritual dimension, not in a normative sense but rooted in moral humanism can help support the effective implementation of public policies for ecological resource management.

About Mahad Satyagraha:

Context of the Satyagraha

  • In August 1923, the Bombay Legislative Council passed a resolution by the social reformer Rao Bahadur S K Bole, allowing untouchable classes to use public water sources, wells, dharamshalas, schools, courts, offices, and dispensaries.
  • Despite the resolution, upper-caste Hindus did not allow lower castes to access public water sources.
  • Ramchandra Babaji More, a Dalit political leader from Mahad, approached B.R. Ambedkar to preside over a conference of untouchables in Konkan.
  • Ambedkar at the time was helping Dalits fight against the social evil of untouchability through the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha, founded by him in 1924.
  • Ambedkar agreed More’s proposition and oversaw the preparations for the conference, in Mahad town in the Konkan (now in Maharashtra’s Raigad district).

What happened at the Satyagraha?

  • Around 2,500 delegates, workers, and leaders of Depressed Classes from Maharashtra and Gujarat attended the event.
  • Ambedkar delivered a speech emphasizing the need for awakening among the untouchable communities.
  • It was decided to march to the nearby Chavadar tank, where untouchables were not allowed to draw water.
  • On March 20, Ambedkar and attendees marched to the tank, shouting slogans of equality.
Ambedkar entered the tank and picked up water, followed by others who drank the water.
  • A local priest claimed Dalits were planning to enter the temple and instigated a clash, injuring around 90 people.
  • Upper-caste Hindus conducted a purification ritual of the tank by emptying 108 pots of cow urine into it.
  • Undeterred by the backlash, Ambedkar announced another conference, consciously calling it a Satyagraha, on a larger scale on December 26, 1927, at the same venue to showcase the resolve of the Dalit community.
  • On December 12, upper-caste Hindus filed a case against Ambedkar and his followers, claiming the tank was private. On December 14, the court issued a temporary injunction barring Ambedkar and Dalits from accessing the tank until further notice.

Mahad Satyagraha, December 1927:

  • Despite a court injunction against the Satyagraha, around 4,000 Satyagrahis from various villages gathered in Mahad with a resolve to continue the protest.
  • On December 24, when Ambedkar reached the spot, the police informed him about the lawsuit and asked him to postpone the Satyagraha.
  • Deliberations were held on whether to go ahead with the Satyagraha in the changed circumstances. Most people wanted to continue, but it was suspended on Ambedkar's advice.
  • Unlike the previous occasion, no water was drawn from the Chavadar tank during this Satyagraha.
  • Ambedkar argued that their struggle was against caste Hindus, and their objective of demonstrating unity and determination was fulfilled. He advised against directly confronting the state by defying the court injunction.
  • In a powerful symbolic rejection of the caste system, Ambedkar and his followers ceremoniously burnt a copy of the Manusmriti, sending shockwaves through Hindu society.

Significance of Mahad Satyagraha:

  • The Mahad Satyagraha is the "foundational event" of the Dalit movement, marking the first collective stand against the caste system and for human rights. Earlier anti-caste protests were localized and sporadic.
  • The Mahad Satyagraha was to become the blueprint for organizing future movements against the caste system and its practices. 
  • It marked an important point in Ambedkar’s political journey, catapulting him to the leadership of the downtrodden and oppressed classes in the country.

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