'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Rajmohan Gandhi - Independence and Social Justice: The Ambedkar–Gandhi Debate
In 1936, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was invited to deliver a lecture
in Lahore – then very much part of India – by a Hindu group opposed to
untouchability. When the group saw an advance text of the lecture, which was
entitled Annihilation of Caste, they cancelled the invitation because towards
the lecture’s end, the author had declared his intention of leaving the Hindu
fold. In a riposte to the cancellation, Dr. Ambedkar published Annihilation of
Caste. Its contents elicited an immediate comment from Gandhi in his journal,
Harijan, to which Ambedkar issued a rejoinder. A major text from India’s recent
history, Annihilation of Caste has been republished many times and has been
translated into several languages, often with the Ambedkar–Gandhi exchange
added to the main text.
In March 2014, a new edition was published in Delhi by
Navayana. In this new edition, Annihilation of Caste is preceded by a 153-page
text by Arundhati Roy, entitled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’, which is presented
as an introduction to Ambedkar’s classic ‘undelivered’ lecture. This little
book is a response to Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Doctor and the Saint’. However, it
also bears an indirect connection to the historic debate between Ambedkar and
Gandhi, which took place during a period well removed from our times.
While Gandhi’s assassination occurred nearly seven decades
into the past, Ambedkar died in 1956, almost six decades ago. The two were
involved in a positive, if impersonal, relationship during the 1920s. Though
they did not meet each other in this period, Ambedkar appreciated Gandhi’s
concern for the plight of Dalits, and he also welcomed the method of satyagraha
that Gandhi had introduced.
However, the 1930s saw sharp, and from a historian’s
standpoint revealing, exchanges between the two. The exchanges help our
understanding not only of two powerful individuals in history, but also of
continuing flaws in Indian society and the tension in the first half of the
twentieth century between the goals of national independence and social
justice. The first face-to-face meeting between Ambedkar and Gandhi took place
in Mumbai in 1931, shortly before their piercing verbal encounters. Begun in
the autumn of 1931 in a well-lit London arena (the 1931 Round Table Conference
on India’s political future, convened by the British prime minister), these
encounters continued in 1932 in a dark Pune prison, where the British had
incarcerated Gandhi, and where a successful negotiation resulted. Robust
exchanges were, however, resumed before the Indian public in the mid-1930s,
mainly via the press.
The Ambedkar–Gandhi debate was interrupted by Gandhi’s
frequent imprisonments, resulting from his struggles against British rule. From
1932 to 1934, and again from 1942 to 1944, Gandhi was behind bars. In contrast,
Ambedkar, who believed that the battle for social democracy was more important
than the fight for national independence, was not only never jailed by the
British, he was also included in the Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to
1945… read the full essay: