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Ambedkar Would Be Shattered To See How The Constitution Has Failed Dalits

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Re-imagining the Part III of the Constitution in the light of Ambedkar’s contribution is a difficult exercise to do given that he was hardly allowed to make a contribution. He was given the office sans power. On many occasions, Ambedkar himself complained about the same. On the eve of his resignation from the cabinet, October 10, 1951, Dr. Ambedkar said: “…knew the Law Ministry to be administratively of no importance …. We used to call it an empty soap box, only good for old lawyers to play with … During my time there have been many transfers of portfolios from one minister to another. I thought I might be considered for any one of them. But I have always been left out of consideration …”

Again in 1953, Ambedkar said, “People always keep on saying to me, oh! you are the maker of the Constitution. My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.”

Did Ambedkar Lack In His Contribution?

Political equality is a formal equality. Equality can exist only in the society of equals, but in a society where economic equality lacks; there will always be haves and have-nots. A statement which captures this smokescreen of equality is:

“Formal equality of rights becomes the decorous drapery for a practical relationship of mastery and subordination.”

M.J. Audi, the author of ‘Ambedkar’s Struggle For Untouchables: Reflections’, has argued that Ambedkar was very well aware of the importance of economic equality for freedom of depressed castes. However, he got lost in the rights and did not focus on the economic equality. I disagree with this argument because mere economic equality is not enough to secure a decent life for the untouchables in the society. Audi in his work states that Ambedkar had personally felt the brunt of the caste-based discrimination. Given this fact, in my view, Ambedkar was very much aware that chief requirement was social equality as mere economic equality wouldn’t pass muster. It would be wrong to call social equality formal only because it lacks the economic element. Ambedkar’s Mahad Satyagraha is ubiquitous in Article 15 of the Constitution. It repeatedly stresses on the fact that ‘without access to basic necessities of life, freedom in all its connotations is a phoney one. A glaring example is Ambedkar himself. He went all the way to reputed educational institutions like Columbia. He served under the king and certainly wasn’t economically downtrodden. Still, he was not allowed to live within the bounds of the kingdom that he was serving, owing to his caste. Here the question was very much of equality but could not be solved with an economic solution.

Have The Promises Been Kept/Altered/Broken?

Term “Depressed Classes” used by Ambedkar meant untouchables. More often than not Ambedkar used to refer ‘untouchables’ as ‘untouchables’ so that they remember their plight and the barbarized state they had been relegated to by the social orders. Babasaheb used the term “depressed classes” and “untouchable” interchangeably, this he made very clear when he was putting his case forward to Simon Commission. Today this term has taken the form of “Schedule Castes” working as “catch-all” terminology employed to impart protection, asseverated by Babasaheb, to the “untouchables”. However, under this category constitution ends up giving protection to even those who weren’t intended to be the recipients of the same in Babasaheb’s books. He was very vocal of his denial of the term “Depressed Classes” at various occasions like, during the Second Round Table Conference, he said that a term which is more revealing of the situation of the untouchables is, ‘exterior castes’. In his conniption he said that the terms “depressed classes” and “untouchables” weren’t facsimiles, the former rather defrocked the effort of those who are thronged under the latter and must be rather referred to as ‘protestant Hindus’. Babasaheb’s acrimony, if it was to be today against the language of fundamental rights, would not be a blue-sky assertion, given the violence that the constitution is inflicting on the untouchables by clubbing them along with other groups of individuals. To draw an analogy it is like the difference between triple oppression and intersectionality, i.e. not seeing how different individuals are facing violence but rather making them a group facing the violence of certain kind. He would be utterly shattered by witnessing the constitution breeding the violence that Ambedkar died fighting against. Today the term “Schedule Castes” (SCs) is used as a derogatory term for not only the ones who get compensated under this category, but also towards the ones who do not benefit under this category but are bearing the violence because of the term.

To bridge the difference between rhetoric and reality, Ambedkar left back a legacy. But it is important to see if these tools that he left back for “Dalits”, who are the most socially victimised of all the bottom level groups of the Indian society, are still sharp enough or have the oppressors succeeded in making them blunt. Various constitutional safeguards that Ambedkar included in the constitution were both in the form of swords and armours. For example, Article 17 which makes untouchability punishable and Article 13 which declares void any new law and eclipses any old law which contravenes fundamental rights (Part III) of the Constitution, is armour for Dalits that Babasaheb left as a legacy. Looking at not just Part III but also at other constitutional provisions like Article 330, 332 and 335, it is amply agreeable that Babasaheb left whole weaponry for the amelioration of the Dalits. But the data collected suggests that upper caste men dominate the “State”. In 1955, Untouchability Offences Act came into being, but the total numbers of convictions in the cases under this act were 1779 out of 6778 cases registered until 1970. The act was then amended to be Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. But even today untouchability exists virtually in all the states, even in Ambedkar’s home state, Maharashtra.

Conclusion

In a way, fundamental rights are very much a reflection of Ambedkar’s ideology. The reason behind the inclusion of Part III of the constitution was to promote social justice. According to Ambedkar, social democracy must consist of liberty, equality and fraternity. If any of these pre-conditions are missing, then the other two also fail.

A close reading of Part III reveals how strongly it can be used by the Dalits to improve their conditions. Article 17 of the constitution prohibits the practice of ‘untouchability’ in any form, but the constitution nowhere defines what untouchability. Even the courts have noted that ‘it would not be in the benefit of the untouchables if untouchability was rigidified. It should instead be understood as the practice that has been breeding in various forms according to different locations be it geographical or social and should be eradicated accordingly.’

Despite the anti-untouchability law being there since 1955, untouchability persists in society. Various groups that fall under Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes/ Backward classes are indeed getting the protection under protective discrimination policies, but the need is to see the reality of the untouchables who do not fall under this category and face discrimination in the society. The solution to this is that the scales used, to identify the Dalits, must be made more sociological so that they can capture the reality in a better way. Impeccable reason for the adoption of such a measure is Babasaheb himself who stayed with the king but couldn’t live in his kingdom. Therefore, a caste might appear to be improved, but there’s a stark difference between ‘appear to be’ and ‘be’. Therefore, the question – ‘Has the condition of Dalits really improved?’

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