Dr. Ambedkar’s rich legacy: The Leaflet’s attempt to cull out form and substance

TODAY is Ambedkar Jayanti, which is being celebrated across the country, and indeed over much of the world, to look back upon the memory of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, so as to inspire the current generation to follow the ideals he stood for in his lifetime.

Dr. Ambedkar was a remarkable man, a true pioneer, who contributed significantly to the making of our Republic, and will be rightfully exalted by political leaders, commentators and ordinary citizens in the press and on social media today. Unfortunately, most of the tributes will be hollow and hagiographic, venerating a two-dimensional symbol that Ambedkar’s rich legacy has seemingly been reduced to in contemporary political discourse.

Through our special issue to commemorate Ambedkar Jayanti, we at The Leaflet have curated a collection of previously published as well as new writings to attempt to understand different aspects of Dr Ambedkar’s legacy, and its significance today.

Through his life, Dr Ambedkar wore several hats, but one that stayed with him almost constantly, was that of a lawyer. He was one of the brightest legal luminaries of his time. Legal academic, Dr. Nitish Nawsagaray writes for us about Dr Ambedkar’s career as a lawyer, and discusses some of the prominent cases he had argued. Through his analysis, Dr Nawsagaray shows that Dr Ambedkar valued his legal practice a great deal, and never gave up on it even as his political profile and commitments grew in the years immediately prior to independence. His legal career reflected his staunch commitment to defending human rights and marginalized groups.

Dr Ambedkar is perhaps the most prominent figurehead of the anti-caste movement in India. However, is the anti-caste movement in India today faithful to Dr Ambedkar’s vision for annihilating caste, and his overall worldview? Scholar, writer and civil rights activist Dr Anand Tetumbde reflected on this question in an address titled ‘Contemporary Challenges to the Anti Caste Movement’ delivered on Ambedkar Jayanti in 2019 at an event organized by The Leaflet, which we are re-publishing in full. Dr Teltumbde’s address presents significant food for thought for all those who are opposed to the pernicious caste system, and paints a comprehensive picture of how the Bharatiya Janta Party-led regime is at loggerheads with what Dr Ambedkar advocated.

Dr Teltumbde, unfortunately, has been in detention for two years now. He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on Ambedkar Jayanti in 2020 in the spurious Bhima Koregaon case. His wife, and Dr Ambedkar’s granddaughter, Rama Teltumbde Ambedkar, in her article we are publishing today, provides a moving and intensely personal look into her travails in the past two years since her husband’s arrest, and how both of them have dealt with their bruising encounters with an insensitive, Kafka-esque legal system with indomitable grace and dignified courage.

Advocate and law professor Disha Wadekar uses Dr Ambedkar’s writings on communities that rejected Brahminist subjugation and embraced Buddhism to provide, in her article for our special issue, an analysis of the colonial and post-colonial criminalization of lower castes, tribes and the transgender community. Through this Ambedkarite framework, she demands that the civil liberties discourse in India question and counter the fascist nature of not just the State, but of our society as well.

An aspect of Dr Ambedkar’s voluminous writings and advocacy that does not get enough attention is his position on women’s rights. Activist and writer Pratima Pardeshi had written in Marathi, a text called ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Question of Women’s Liberation in India’. We re-publish the English translation of this text, first published in 1998, in three parts, which sheds light on Dr Ambedkar the feminist, and outlines the path that the non-Brahmanical position on women’s liberation, which he represented and developed, has traversed.

As a polymath, Dr Ambedkar has also written texts tracing the history of the shudra varna and untouchables in India. Dr Ambedkar had a sharp understanding of history, and was one of the first to discuss the role of history in shaping identity and power structures in Indian society. We republish a piece written by Ph.D. scholar Urvi Desai for us on Ambedkar Jayanti last year to look at Ambedkar, the historian, and how his approach to historical writing raises enduring questions about methodology and whether it can or should be de-linked from ideological motivations.

As multiple individuals and groups, all with their own vested interests and agendas that are either antithetical to, or have no connection with Dr Ambedkar’s politics, engage in competitive misappropriation of his legacy today, join us in our humble effort to try to better understand a brilliant man, one who is absolutely, as well as so much more than, a Dalit icon and the architect of our Constitution.

We also use this occasion to appeal to our Supreme Court through the Chief Justice of India [CJI], N.V. Ramana, to commemorate this jurist in an appropriate manner every year to educate generations to come. That will be a significant contribution to make for any CJI, in their limited term in office.

The Leaflet