Nearly a century ago, a great man did the impossible. He stood his ground and challenged the existing social order of India and he won.
Well, almost. At the very last minute, when victory was assured, the great saint betrayed the good doctor and shut the door on a caste-less India.
But despite all that, Dr BR Ambedkar’s shadow looms large over Independent India. If today we can sit in university classrooms and not know or care about the caste of the person sitting next to us, it is because of the work done by the lowly Mahar who became the architect of the Indian Constitution.
Ambedkar fought for the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. As such, the Left should have been his natural allies and yet this was not the case. Ambedkar considered caste struggle to be paramount while the Communists, blinded by their European Marxist ideals, refused to see the importance of anything but the class struggle. And so it has been for decades that the voices that fight for equality have been splintered and un-unified. It doesn’t help that the only time communists united caste and class struggle, it was in the form of the violent Naxal uprising.
Now, more than 80 years after the publication of his controversial speech, “The Annihilation of Caste”, we find ourselves at a crossroads. A capitalist and brahminist party running the government. A cleric who openly hates minorities running the largest state of the union. Dalits being murdered and raped for not toeing the caste line. The rich getting richer and the poor being written out of the account books. The once mighty socialist and secular powers reduced to a shadow of their former glory.
In many ways we have been thrust into a war; a war for the soul of India. Is India the Hindu nation that it is depicted as by the RSS and other communal forces? Is it nothing more than a Hindu Pakistan? If so what right have any of us who do not fall in the Hindutva ideal of nationality to live here? Are we or are we not Indian?
The answer, to me, lies in the constitution that forms the foundation of our nation. We, the people of India, took an oath to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. To try and turn it into anything less would be nothing short of a betrayal of that oath.
This is the country that fought for freedom from an oppressive foreign power. That struggle is still very much alive. We sit in our comfortable middle-class homes and talk about the freedom we won. But what about the freedom of the Dalit who is lynched for daring to use the public well? We praise and glorify the sacrifices of our soldiers who die on the battlefield but what about the sacrifices of our farmers who die in the paddy fields? What is freedom but privilege extended if it is not attainable for one and all?
Till every last man, woman, and child is free, we are all enslaved.
The path forward is clear. Nothing short of a united resistance can bring down the oppressive regime that we now find ourselves in. That means both caste struggle and class struggle. Both Socialism and Liberty. Jai Bhim and Lal Salaam.
The Left cannot apply the principles that worked in Europe to India. We need a socialism that draws on the needs of the Indian people. And the Ambedkarites cannot restrict themselves to mere identity politics because the fight for the dignity of the dalits is also the fight for the dignity of the poor. The Red flag must fly with the Blue. This is our only hope for freedom; to ensure that the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity shall never fade from this fair country.
I may have been born into a system that justifies the oppression of the masses but I will not die in it. This is a call to action, to fight for the very soul of our nation. We must resist to our last breath, until this communal regime comes crashing down. Until the freedom of one is the freedom of all.