ambedkarIntroduction

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the tempo of the world has been accelerating forward at a breathtaking speed. However, in India, an indigenously created caste-based segregation, our version of racism, a minute and comprehensive form of discrimination and oppression that has existed for millennia, has been at work with the same speed, but unfortunately in the opposite direction. For the section classified as the Depressed Classes, day-to-day life is in itself a grave struggle, a manifold fight for survival.

In every modern, democratic nation, people want to feel fully alive rather than merely survive. In order to for them to do so, the polity is required to imbibe a sense of socio-economic and political equality, as well as liberty. However, in India, this is not, and has never been, the case, and there is no way to know how long, in the ongoing civilizational process, this human greed for adoring and enjoying certain privileges over others is going to last. But as long as inequality and discrimination exist, a struggle to get rid of this yoke by the deprived masses will certainly continue to be part of the socio-political fight for generations to come.

The nature of the struggle by the sieged population fighting to annihilate these caste fortifications has always been defensive rather than offensive. The credit for this civility goes to  Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of the tallest, yet most neglected and often misunderstood intellectual-political leaders in the mainstream socio-political discourse of modern India. Perhaps because he fundamentally challenges the iniquitous Hindu social order, he has been rendered the most controversial of the mass political leaders in India. However, the fact remains that his key text, The Annihilation of Caste, contains persuasive arguments, heavily supported with solid facts, as well as a sophisticated, logical tone. This seminal book on the one hand depicts a rebellion against caste and untouchability and wants to destroy it; and on the other, it advocates non-enmity with coercion towards the tormentor, implicitly advising that there are always other practices available to push forward a struggle for justice responsibly rather than indulging in punitive violent measures. So the epoch-making approach Ambedkar adopts, though corrective and hence confrontational, is both a peacemaking as well as peacekeeping one.

Ambedkar  and Gandhi

Ambedkar was the pioneer intellectual in the study of caste and untouchability. He delved into such details that with all their possible and conceivable dimensions, he fought caste discrimination at all given levels: social, political, economic and educational. His Annihilation of Caste is both an illuminative as well as a redemptive text. Ambedkar used his writings and lectures to confront a world of indifference and betrayal in order to pursue his reformative agenda, equal in dimension to that of Gandhi’s. The power of his reason was such that Gandhi described him as a ‘challenge to Hinduism’. But unfortunately he did not receive the attention, the critical acclaim, or the adulation he deserves, the way Gandhi did. Ambedkar was of the view that political safeguards for Untouchables were necessary as the Untouchables constituted the largest minority, and that without these safeguards they would not be able to enjoy political and social freedom. This was viewed as a direct challenge to Gandhi’s unchallenged leadership and therefore the conflict between the two was inevitable.

Being a multifaceted personality—an economist, a sociologist, a barrister, an editor, a constitutionalist of the first rank, a professor, an able parliamentarian, an educationist and a commentator on Buddhism—Ambedkar was predestined to engage himself beyond personality conflicts and look into the problems of India from both a macro as well as micro perspective.

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By Aminah Sheikh

malika

Born to Communist parents Amar Shaikh and Kusum Jaykar, Malika Amar Shaikh was raised in an inspiring environment at a time when history was being staged – Maharashtrian politics of the 1960s. Cushioned by her father, a legendary Marathi folk singer and trade union leader, Malika, who was an ailing child lived the world through books. And, her only outlet was her poetry.

Hirve, hirve gawat, phule bhovti jamat

Jaate mi, maaghaari yete mi…ramat, gamat

(In the green green foliage, the flowers dance

There will I follow, there will I prance.)

She had written her first poem at the age of seven. Riding on the loving shoulders of her father, a respectable man, Malika floated through the art, cultural and political circles as a school-going girl, observing and silently soaking in all that was on offer.

Published by Speaking Tiger, I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir by Malika Amar Shaikh, translated from Marathi by author, poet and translator Jerry Pinto, tells a tale of despair. The original autobiography Mala Udhhvasta Vhaychay was published in 1984. The book takes the reader on a journey of a girl, from being young, self-aware and with dreamy eyes, to a woman choking under the burden of her own choice. The choice of following her heart and loving a man who she believed would be her true companion.

When the man of her dreams Namdeo Dhasal, co-founder of the radical Dalit Panthers, is introduced to the reader, you are bound to fall in love just as she did. So honest is her memoir that it will jolt you and leave you wondering – how did she pull through!

I Want to Destroy Myself has been beautifully crafted by Malika as she shares some intense experiences in a matter-of-fact manner. From loving the rain as a girl, sitting with her family with a book in hand, to wading in almost waist-deep water with her husband during her menstrual cycle and ending up at a friend’s doorstep for shelter — one of the many moments when she swallows her self-respect — the book tells many stories. She arouses raging emotions in the reader that make the book a heavy read.