On the eve of 128th birth anniversary of Dr Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, The Leafletorganized a public meeting with Dr Anand Teltumbde on the “Contemporary Challenges to the Anti-Caste Movement”.
Senior Advocate Ms Indira Jaising, the founder of The Leaflet, said practising lawyers had to be aware of the writings of Dr Ambedkar as it helped to understand the Constitution better.
Recollecting Justice Krishna Iyer statement that Gandhi, not Maxwell, should be used to interpret the Constitution, Ms Jaising said: “And to this, I might add that Ambedkar’s writings must be used for the interpretation of the Constitution of India”.
She regretted how untouchability continued to be practised in different ways in India, recalling her own experience in the Supreme Court, where an attendant in the women’s bar room hesitated to give her a glass of water because she cleaned toilets. “Nobody will accept water from my hands, I clean the toilets in this bar room,” the attendant said.
“Article 17 in the Constitution owes its origins to untouchability in the caste system, however that untouchability cannot be abolished by the magic wand of Article 17 alone. It still exists and is flourishing even in the Supreme Court of India,” she said.
The anti-caste movement is dead
Addressing a packed hall, Dr Anand Teltumbde said he believed the anti-caste movement was dead today.
“A section of Ambedkarite or hardliner Dalits do not want the annihilation of caste because caste serves their purpose. Today I don’t see any anti-caste movement, the anti-caste movement is dead today. This may be provocative, but this is what I think.”
Larger Dalit issues being ignored
He said except for reservations, which seek to address the economic marginalization of Dalits, there was no concern for the other larger issues which had plagued the Dalit community.
The three main issues, according to him, which remain unaddressed by the movement include livelihood, education, which is critical for social and political agency, and healthcare. The Dalit community needs to be more vocal about these three issues to shape a national debate.
He said one of the biggest challenges to the Ambedkarite movement was understanding Dr Ambedkar’s legacy itself, which according to Dr Teltumbde could be defined as one word – democracy.
“Now, what is Ambedkar’s legacy exactly? Very difficult to summarise as this could not come down to one single thing. But whatever Dr Ambedkar said in the Constitution, his thoughts and philosophy which expressed in his writing are all distinctive but also can be defined in one word, i.e. democracy. Dr Ambedkar wanted equality, liberty and fraternity simultaneously.”
Speaking on the issue of reservation, he said the successive government had enlarged its ambit to include other communities. “Dr Ambedkar is responsible for reservation. During colonial times, it was only for untouchables. After the transfer of power, they played with it very skilfully. It was extended to Scheduled Tribes. … They replaced caste by the tribe”.
He said successive governments had extended the policy of reservation to the Other Backward Classes “without knowing who these people were. …Now every community wants reservations. When public jobs are going down, talks about reservation are reaching a crescendo”.
Caste consciousness on the rise
Dr Teltumbde said while he truly believed that the caste system was collapsing, caste consciousness was getting stronger. “Would you say that caste as a unit is gaining momentum with so many atrocities happening? Has the caste system collapsed?” Yes, the caste system is collapsing but the consciousness isn’t,” he asserted.
Dr Anand regretted how despite all his professional achievements, the media only referred to him as a “Dalit activist”.