IIMS Study Camp in Mysore on Ambedkar's Writings

IIMS Karnataka organised a study camp on Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on 21 April 2019 at Mysore. The intention behind the study camp was to encourage comrades read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s writings more closely, to take forward the class struggle and the struggle to annihilate caste. Along with the party comrades, members of IIMS, PUCL and Friday Forum also participated in the study camp.

Com V Shankar, CPIML Politburo member, inaugurated the study camp.  Shankar explained the need for communists to read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He elaborated that as the followers of Marx, we need to understand all the progressive thoughts and identify common grounds.

Com Rati Rao, national President of AIPWA made introductory remarks and explained the role played by Ambedkar in contrast to many other leaders of his period on the caste question and on the question of patriarchy through his critical analysis of Manusmriti.

4 books/papers were presented and discussed during the workshop. Comrade Clifton, CCM and Karnataka State Secretary of the party presented the book “Annihilation of Caste”. Comrade Dr. Laxminarayana, IIMS State Convener and party SCM presented the book “What Gandhi and Congress have done to Untouchables”. Comrade Mani, SCM, presented the book “Buddha or Karl Marx” and Comrade Maitreyi, SCM, presented the book “State and Minorities”.

Presenting “Annihilation of Caste”, Clifton highlighted that reading this book is more relevant today when communal and caste politics are at centre stage and reason gets minimal space. Some key highlights as explained from the book are:

  • “Annihilation of Caste” was a talk that was never delivered since the organisers, Jat Pat Todak Mandal, did not quite agree with the speech Ambedkar was to deliver, and which was sent to them before hand. They also felt that it attacked the reasonableness and morality of the Vedas and other religious texts instead of focusing solely on Brahmanism. Therefore, Ambedkar printed the speech in book form for public consumption.

  • Initially Ambedkar’s understating of social reform is articulated and he states that there are two critiques of social reform, namely political reformists and socialists.

  • While discussing the critique of political reformists he outlines the argument as to whether social reform should precede political reform. Here he goes back to the history of the Indian National Congress (formed in 1885) and its social arm, Social Conference (formed in 1887) and concludes that the Social Conference could not sustain itself since it was solely focused on the reforms in the family and not on the reorganisation and reconstruction of the Hindu society. Going through history, Ambedkar concludes that political revolution has always been preceded by social and religious revolution.

  • Insofar as the Socialists are concerned, Ambedkar decried that their approach was solely focused on economic reform and failed to recognise that religion, social status and property are sources of power and authority and at different stages any one of them predominates. He essentially makes out the case of their failure to grasp caste and he poses the question as to whether there could be economic reform without social reform, and concluded it was not possible.

  • Ambedkar then engages with the defence of caste including that it is a ‘division of labour’ and debunks this notion by concluding that it is a ‘division of labourers’ into the water tight compartments that are hierarchical.

  • Some conclusion that Ambedkar makes here is that caste is a social system that embodies the arrogance and selfishness of a perverse section of Hindus and that the Hindu society is a myth and there is no Hindu consciousness. He states that it does not constitute a ‘society’ and is merely an assortment of castes where there is a conscious prevention of the lower castes from raising their cultural level.

  • Ambedkar then engages with the probable notion of an ideal society if one did not want caste wherein he rejects the vision of some reformists including the Arya Samajists which propagates division not by birth but ‘guna’ on various grounds including that this is vicious system which is basically slavery. Instead he argues that this society ought to be based on liberty, equality and fraternity.

  • In its concluding part Ambedkar focusses on the probable ways of bringing out reform of the Hindu Social Order and abolition of caste. Here he argues that abolition of sub-castes is the wrong remedy, inter-caste dining is an inadequate remedy and inter-marriage as the real remedy.

  • Thereafter Ambedkar delves into the reasons for people to practice caste and concludes that Hindus observe caste not because they’re ‘bad’ but because of the Shastras. That is caste is being followed because the people are deeply religious (following puranas, sastras and vedas); there should be emancipation from sastras. Thus the real remedy lies on the destruction of the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras and advocates ‘freedom from Shastras’.

During discussions it was noted that Gandhi was critical of this book by Ambedkar. It was also noted that caste is not just a state of mind; the social and material basis of caste should be deeply understood. It was also pointed out that we need to further read Lohia’s expositions on the role of caste in parliamentary politics. It was also suggested that our comrades should read Manusmriti and create awareness on that among people about the need to identify and resist Brahminical patriarchy.

Presenting the 2nd book “What Gandhi & Congress have done to untouchables”, Comrade Laxminarayana stated that Ambedkar is more popular today than his lifetime. In connection with this book Comrade Laxmi introduced another work by Ambedkar, “Revolution and Counter Revolution”. Buddhism as a revolutionary philosophy shook the world and can be compared with the epochal revolutions namely French Revolution, American Independence and Russian Revolution. Buddhism promised Moksha to everyone and talked about equality to all human beings. As a counter revolution to Buddhism, Brahminical forces promoted Manusmriti which was construed as a social law defining which caste should do what work. Comrade Laxmi also briefly touched upon Ambedkar’s write up “Ranade-Gandhi-Jinnah”. Comrade Laxmi analysed how Ambedkar criticised Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj as being opposed to all modern civilisation.

Talking about the book “What Gandhi and Congress have done to the Untouchables”, Com Laxmi explained that for Ambedkar, constitutional morality was critical. In this book, Ambedkar talks about Brahmin-Bania nexus which disarmed Shudras and untouchables and their right to property. The same nexus was also responsible for the subjugation and repression of women. According to Ambedkar, Gandhi justified caste system and was against modern education and industrialisation. Ambedkar was in favour of leisure after hard labour with which Gandhi was not in agreement. Gandhi called untouchables as Harijans and wanted them to continue their traditional work and die as Harijans. Through his adamant stand and emotional blackmail through Pune Pact, Gandhi did a great disservice to Dalits.

Presenting the 3rd book “Buddha or Karl Marx”, Comrade Mani explained why Ambedkar chose Buddhism over other religions and his perspective about Marxism. Ambedkar renounced Hinduism on 13 Oct 1935 stating that roots of caste system lay inside Hindu religion. He was in search of a religion which gave equality of status and treatment for dalits and found Buddhism. Through mass conversion, Ambedkar embraced Buddhism on 14 Oct 1956. However, Marxism remained the 2nd best option for Ambedkar after Buddhism. In this book, Ambedkar ponders on ‘what can Buddha teach a Marxist’ when Buddha (563 BC) and Marx (1818 AD) are divided by 2381 years.

Presenting the 4th book “State and Minorities”, Comrade Maitreyi explained the path breaking definition given by Ambedkar on who constitutes a minority. According to Ambedkar, the majority/minority question should not be seen from religious point of view. Minority sections are the ones that are discriminated by the majority in the society. Hence, Dalits should be considered as minorities as they are discriminated by the majority sections among Hindus. Ambedkar advocated that the State should be more inclusive and democratic from the perspective of minorities. The State should ensure fundamental rights and individual rights to people including freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Ambedkar talks of the role of the State in ensuring life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and the State should ensure freedom for people from want and fear. Ambedkar also advocated nationalisation of Insurance and Agriculture sectors.