Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Unconstitutional Methods and Democracy

The Indian democracy, in its adolescence after 65 years of adoption of the constitution, seems to be in danger, if one goes by the
prevailing political and social environment in the country. The increasing intolerance in general and increasing tendency to adopt unconstitutional methods to articulate or register ones point of view, of late, have become order of the day. It is an anti-thesis of democracy. President Pranab Mukherjee had to pin-point and observe repeatedly that these growing tendencies were not good for the democratic edifice of the polity and social fabric of the society. He candidly and rightly said on October 7, 2015 while releasing a book at Rashtrapati Bhawan, “We must remain true to the core values of our civilization” and reiterated it in Birbhum on October 19 and expressed apprehension whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent were on the wane. He said, “Humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance.”

Ever since India became Independent in August, 1947 and a Republic in January, 1950, one of the major failures in the polity of India, to my mind, had been that polarization of political forces could not happen on the basis of ideology or political agenda, the very basic requirement for the functioning of democracy. Society could not be transformed on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, the lofty ideals enshrined in the constitution. The much needed casteless society could not be established, as envisaged by our fore-fathers, especially father of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. On the contrary, it seems, the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The recent incidents and happenings pertaining to the behavior of
Shiv Sena to stop the concert of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali in Mumbai, to protest the release of the book of Pakistani leader Khurshid Mahmud Kasturi in Mumbai and blackening the face of a renowned columnist and intellectual Sudhendra Kulkarni and barging into the office of the President of BCCI, Shashank Manohar, in Mumbai to protest against the visit of his Pakistani counterpart, Sharayar Khan are the latest examples of undemocratic behavior of the political outfits. These are the “unconstitutional methods” referred by Dr. Ambedkar in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949. He termed these methods as “Grammar of Anarchy” and said, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social objectives.” 

The second biggest problem is increasing social and personal intolerance. It is the very negation of democracy and healthy society. The recent incident at Dadri in UP in which a Muslim was lynched to death at his home on rumours that the family had consumed beef. A  J&K MLA, Engineer Rashid, was beaten by the BJP MLAs in the Legislative Assembly on the allegations that he flouted the “Beef Party” he hosted. Again at the Press Club in New Delhi, the face of Engineer Rashid was darkened and was not permitted to hold his press conference by his fundamentalist Hindu opponents.  Punjab is again on the boil on the issue of desecration (Be-adbi) of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. Though atrocities on dalits are a common feature of our social attitude yet the recent incident in which a dalit home in Faridabad was set ablaze and the family burned alive, has added fuel to the fire. The issue of reservation for the SCs, STs and OBCs has not been handled correctly by the successive governments and the society at large. The upper castes stand against these empowering provisions without understanding the issue and the sensitivities of the under-privileged and socially marginalized. The political and social outfits have no will-power to address the issue and educate the upper-castes who felt, though wrongly, cheated and harmed. The society is totally polarized on communal lines though India is supposed to be a secular state as stipulated in the preamble of the constitution and the often repeated pronouncements from the high-tables of various fora that India stands for universal brotherhood on the basis of “Vasudevkam Kuttumvakam” – the whole world is one family as enshrined in our scriptures. These lofty pronouncements do not hold good any longer. We have proved ourselves otherwise and it is a pity. The politics of hatred has taken over. It is evident from the treatment meted out to prominent thinkers like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. Kalburgi in the recent times.Dr. Ambedkar in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly explained how India lost her independence and expressing his anxiety said, “Will history repeat itself? It is the thought which fills me with anxiety. The anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of caste and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

It is time to sit and ponder over these ground realities, if India is to remain a country of our liking.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Diksha Day at Jalandhar

The Diksha Day, October 14, is the day Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the messiah of dalits and the under-privileged, embraced Buddhism by renouncing Hinduism which he considered a religion of graded inequality. Several lakhs of his followers followed him and embraced Buddhism as they were tired and tormented of the social tyranny of the Hindu society. The aim and purpose of Dr. Ambedkar was not only to save the dalit communities of the unjust social order but also to transform the entire Indian society to a just and egalitarian order conforming to the cardinal principles of Buddhism – Equality, Liberty and Fraternity which also was the soul of the Indian constitution.

The Diksha Day was celebrated at the Ambedkar Bhawan at
Newly installed Buddha Statue at Ambedkar Bhawan
Nakodar Road in Jalandhar by the Ambedkar Bhawan Trust in co-operation with Ambedkar Mission Society. The chief speaker at the function was a renowned Bhikshu, Dr. Rahul Bodhi of Sarvodya Buddh Vihar, Mumbai. It was a well attended function. The audience, comprising of mostly the Neo-Buddhists, listened to Dr. Rahul Bodhi with rapt attention and reverence. The high-light of the function was inauguration of a big Statue of Lord Buddha in the Bhawan complex. The white marvel statue will adorn Ambedkar Bhawan as an invaluable asset emanating the message of peace and compassion. In the evening the Diksha Day was observed at the Buddh Vihar at Sidharath Nagar at Bootan Mandi
Diksha Day at Buddha Vihar at Sidharath Nagar
in Jalandhar. This Buddh Vihar is run by my fellow BootanMandians and Hum-Umar friends, inter alia, Hussan Lal Baudh, Ram Lal Das, Darshan Boddhi and others who have embraced Buddhism formally like good and staunch followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

It is a pity that unfortunately Dr. Ambedkar died almost immediately on December 6, 1956 after embracing Buddhism on October 14. He wanted to make Buddhism the religion of India, in its pristine glory, with a difference. The 22 vows he listed and adopted in this regard would have made the desired difference as the “Navyana” or the Neo-Buddhism - The religion of rationality and compassion.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Buddhist Renaissance in India

Buddhism is one of the oldest religious and spiritual streams of India with a history of more than 2500 years. Due to several reasons, Buddhism declined and almost became extinct in India by the advent of the 19th century. But its high-priest and master, Gautama Buddha, remained a permanent hallmark on the spiritual psyche of India. The Buddha and his Dhamma, somehow, remained as a living legacy in the Hindu ethos and philosophy as an integral part of Indian tradition. It will remain so. Buddhism is evergreen and all-time relevant in these days of religious bigotry and hatred which is increasing every passing day.

The incidental provocation to write on the subject of Buddhist
Diksha Bhoomi
Renaissance in India is the Diksha Day, October 14, the day Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and one of the greatest social reformers of India, embraced Buddhism at Diksha Bhoomi at Nagpur in 1956. It was an epoch-making event in the social and spiritual life of India when along with their leader Babasaheb Ambedkar almost a million people renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. It was a big decision with far reaching implications for the society and polity of India. Babasaheb Ambedkar took this decision to leave Hinduism after considering all aspects of the issue including the much needed dignity and respect of his fellow brethren of dalit communities.

It took almost 20 years to come to this stage on October, 1956 after Babasaheb took the vow to leave Hinduism in October, 1935 after he utterly failed to reform and transform Hinduism to make it a religion of human dignity and equality. Babasheb declared that he was born a Hindu but will not die a Hindu. The mould was cast. The leadership of Muslims, Christians and even Sikhs (who has its origins in Hinduism) considered it an opportunity to invite and entice Dr. Ambedkar and his followers to join their respective faiths. But Babasaheb was not an ordinary human being and was visionary with a gifted foresight. The Maha Bodhi Society of India and one of the known Buddhist monks Ven. Lokanathan approached Babasaheb and tried to persuade him to embrace Buddhism. Knowing the mindset of Babasaheb and his love for and inclination towards the teachings and philosophy of Lord Buddha, they remained in touch with him. But Babasaheb’s priorities were different. He purposely decided to go slow. His first priority was to liberate the poor masses from the “socio-economic thralldom” as stated by a renowned author D.C. Ahir in his book the Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. He did his best to help the suffering masses as a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive from 1942-46 and later undertaking the first onerous work after India’s independence in 1947, framing and writing of the Constitution of India. The imprint of the Buddhist thought and philosophy of which Dr. Ambedkar was a constant but silent follower, may be seen clearly in the Preamble of the Constitution itself. The very essence of Buddhism i.e. Equality, Liberty and Fraternity is the soul of the Indian Constitution. The slow but steady journey towards Buddhism had already started and was getting visible. By 1950, it was almost clear that Dr. Ambedkar had decided in his mind to embrace Buddhism, a true Indian religious and spiritual stream which will liberate him and his followers from the dogmas of Hinduism, a religion of graded inequality. He asked his followers to celebrate Buddha Jayanti and himself participated in the celebrations in Delhi. He wrote an article in the Maha Bodhi, a monthly journal of the Maha Bodhi Society of India under the caption “Buddha and the future of his Religion” In this article, he compared Buddha with the masters of other three big religions namely Jesus of Christians, Mohammed of Muslims and Krishna of Hindus. Jesus was the son of God. Mohammed was the messenger of God. Krishna was God himself. Buddha never claimed any such status for himself. In this elaborative article, Babasaheb concluded that three steps need to be taken if Buddhism is to be spread in India – i) to produce a Buddhist Bible ii) to make changes in the organization i.e. aims and objectives of the Buddhist Sangha and iii) to set up a World Buddhist Mission. He said that Buddhism was the only religion which suits the world at large because of its rationality, morality, liberty and fraternity. In May, 1950, Babasaheb went to Kandy (Sri Lanka) to participate in the First Conference of World Fellowship of Buddhists. Kandy is a picturesque hill station where the ‘Tooth Relic of Buddha’ is kept at a Buddhist Temple called Dalda Maligawa. While speaking at the conference, he said, “I am an interested observer, not a delegate. I came here with some very specific purpose. You probably know that there are people in India who thought the time had come when an effort might be made to revive Buddhism in India. I am one of them.” Babasaheb further said that he was interested in knowing and studying the Buddhist ceremonies, whether Buddhism is observed in its purity as stipulated by Lord Buddha or superstitions and hollow rituals have crept in negating the Buddhist philosophy and to find out to what extent the Sangha work in the service of community as established by the Master. The intentions of Dr. Ambedkar were becoming clear by every passing day. He spoke at the Japanese Buddhist Temple in Bombay on September 29, 1950 and declared that he would devote the rest of his life to the revival and spread of Buddhism in India. Again in May, 1951, Buddha Jayanti was celebrated with gusto under the leadership of Babasaheb. Addressing the congregation at Ambedkar Bhawan in New Delhi, he said, “change of religion from Hinduism to Buddhism was a sure cure for India’s numerous ills, social and economic.” as quoted by D.C. Ahir in his book. Dr. Ambedkar made it clear and said, “If rest of the Hindu Society does not cooperate, then we, the members of the Schedule Castes, will go on our own and try once again to bring back Buddhism to its former glory and prestige in this country.” It may be observed from these uttering’s of Babasaheb that he did not plan or want only dalits to convert to Buddhism but the whole Hindu society to transform the entire Indian society in the spirit of “Bahujan Hitai; Bahujan Sukhai”. Speaking on All India Radio in October, 1954, he said, “Every man should have a philosophy of life for everyone must have a standard by which to measure ones conduct.” In the broadcast he negated Hinduism and said that the Hindu philosophy had made the caste system and the system of graded inequality the law of Hindu social life. Referring to Buddhism, he said, “My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my Master, the Buddha.” Babasaheb went to Rangoon (Myanmar) in December, 1954 to participate in the Third Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Addressing the conference, he said, “I have to say this with great anguish that in the land where the great Buddha was born, His religion has declined. How such a thing happened is beyond anyone’s comprehension” and gave details of his plans to revive Buddhism in India.  Babasaheb met and stayed with Dr. R.L. Soni a great Buddhist scholar and founder of World Institute of Buddhist Culture. D.C. Ahir has written in his book “The Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar” that “The historic decision to come to Buddhism in 1956 was taken by Dr. Ambedkar at Mandalay after prolonged discussions with Dr. Soni on the merits of coming formally to Buddhism.” It is a small co-incident that recently I reviewed a speech of Dr. R.L. Soni, published in the format of a booklet “Buddhism and the World Today” in my blog.  Meanwhile, Dr. Ambedkar made all related arrangements for his conversion to Buddhism. He fixed October 14, 1956 for the big and historical event which would become the day of the Buddhist Renaissance in India. This day has a special significance in Buddhist history – The day of Dhamma Vijay, the day on which Ashoka the Great embraced Buddhism in 262 B.C. Dr. Ambedkar gave final touches to his much awaited book “The Buddha and his Dhamma” – The Buddhist Bible which he considered as one of the three important requirements for the spread of Buddhism in India. On the Buddha Jayanti Day on May 24, 1956, he announced at a public meeting in Bombay that he would embrace Buddhism in October at Nagpur. Explaining why he chose Nagpur for embracing Buddhism, he said, “It was the Nagas who spread the religion of Buddha throughout the world. These people were predominantly living in and around the ‘Nag’ river of Nagpur. This was mainly the reason for selecting Nagpur for the great occasion. For this historic ceremony a vacant plot, near Vaccine Institute at Shardhanand Peth, was selected which later became “Diksha Bhoomi”.  Venerable U. Chandramani Maha Thera administered to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his wife Savita the Tisarana (Triple Refuses/Jewels) – Buddham Saranam Gacchami, Dhammam Saranam Gacchami, Sangham Saranam Gacchami and Pachsila (Five Percepts). With this the conversion ceremony was over. The vow he took 21 years ago that he will not die a Hindu was fulfilled. Addressing a mammoth gathering as a Buddhist, Dr. Ambedkar said, “I started the movement of renouncing the Hindu religion in 1935 and since then I have been continuing the struggle. This conversion has given me enormous satisfaction and pleasure unimaginable. I feel as if I have been liberated from hell.”  After that the first step to revive and propagate the gospel of Lord Buddha in India started in right earnestness. The vast sea of humanity gathered at the ceremony became Buddhists at one go after taking the Tisarana and Panchsila after Dr. Ambedkar. In addition, Dr. Ambedkar administered to them the 22 vows which he had specially prepared to renew and transform Buddhism to meet the needs of common people. On the next day, yet another conversion ceremony was conducted with lakhs of people embracing Buddhism. Dr. Ambedkar made a long and elaborative speech, as summed up by D.C. Ahir, ‘tracing the history of the suffering of down-trodden people through the ages, his life log struggle to mitigate their sufferings and as to why he had chosen Buddhism of all the religions.’

Dr. Ambedkar was fully committed to propagate and spread of Buddhism as the true religion of India. Immediately after becoming a Buddhist himself, he went to Kathmandu (Nepal) in November, 1956 to participate in the Fourth Conference of World Buddhist Fellowship. The world Buddhist community was eager to listen to Dr. Ambedkar after the historical events of conversion at Nagpur in October, 1956. Sensing the mood of the delegates at the conference, Dr. Ambedkar spoke on the theme “Buddhism and Marxism or Communism” with insight and thought provoking presentation. Concluding the speech, he said, “I am quite confident that, if we will become one-tenth as enlightened as the Buddha was, we can bring about good results by the methods of love, of justice and of goodwill.” In spite of his not so good health, on his way back from Nepal, he visited holy Buddhist shrines in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, Kushinagar and addressed many meetings with a view to spread the message of Buddha.

His message to follow the Buddha was well taken by the people of India. But his untimely death on December 6, 1956 changed the pace and course of the journey. Dr. Ambedkar, as I understand, was not a traditional Buddhist. He was a liberated Buddhist and desired to make his followers and the suffering masses such liberated Buddhists. He wrote the Buddhist Bible in form of “The Buddha and His Dhamma” in a simple and an educative style for the benefit of all. He added 22 vows to the already existing Three Refuges and Five Percepts to meet the challenges and needs Buddhists of the contemporary times. Dr. Ambedkar desired to make Buddhism functional and dynamic and asked his followers not to get entangled in the existing branches of Buddhism i.e. Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana etc.    and called his views as “Navayana” or “Neo-Buddhism”.

The Buddhist Renaissance in India brought about by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is a fact which will be recorded in the annals of history with much appreciation and gratitude.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram

Today, October 9, is the death anniversary of Babu Kanshi Ram
Babu Kanshi Ram
(March 15 – October 9, 2006) leader of the down-trodden and the under-privileged – the Bahujan Samaj in the contemporary times. His followers rightly called him Manyawar or Sahib. He earned and deserved these salutations by sheer dedication and tireless efforts towards safe-guarding the interests of dalit masses and the under-dogs of the society. Babu Kanshi Ram was born in an ordinary dalit family of a village in Punjab with no political background and interest. Like any other young man, he joined Government service as a junior scientist in 1957 after his studies. He was fully engaged in his scientific work in one of the laboratories in Kirki till he got attracted towards Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by reading books gifted by his colleagues. He slowly, consciously or otherwise, started taking interest in community and political activities in the late 1960s. Further developments engulfed him fully and he resigned his plush job. Babu Kanshi Ram devoted himself to the issues related to the dalit communities and weaker sections of the society.

His agenda and mission was dalit empowerment and to get their equal participation in power structures. He believed in aggressive politics, prima facie blended with pragmatic approach to gain access to state power. On the one hand he propagated the idea of powerful retaliation and said, “Ek Eet Ka Jawab Do Pathron Se (two stones for one brick)” and on the other cobbled up governments with the Congress Party, BJP and Samajwadi Party at his will and convenience. Babu Kanshi Ram was a master strategist and a visionary. In the run up to his ultimate goal to grab political power, he launched an outfit of dalit employees, backward and minority communities in 1978 called BAMCEF. He floated yet another organization of dalit and socially exploited communities in 1981 and named it DS4 and graduated to form a full fledged political party on April 14, 1984 (birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar) and named it Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). M.J. Akbar, a known journalist and columnist, summed up the arrival of Babu Kanshi Ram and said, ‘He has come but yet to reach.” He reached too during his life time and transformed the BSP to a ruling party in UP, the biggest state of India, under the stewardship of his protégé Mayawati not once but four times. BSP sent a good number of MPs to parliament and a number of state legislatures. BSP became one of the several national parties under the arrangements of the Election Commission.

Babu Kanshi Ram became synonymous with dalit empowerment. He stood against status quo in politics and wanted fundamental change by gaining access to power with equal share. He criticized the system of reservation as started with the Poona Pact in 1932 signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Babu Kanshi Ram said that these arrangements of reservation, in place of separate electorates for Scheduled castes as stipulated in the Communal Award of PM Ramsey MacDonald, have created a gap between “genuine and counterfeit” leadership of the depressed classes and termed them as Chamchas (stooges) of the political outfits they represent.

Coming to the legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram, let me quote from one of his speeches and it will set the matter in its perspective. He said, “I will never get married. I will never acquire any property. I will not visit my home. I will devote and dedicate the rest of my life to achieve the goals of Phule-Ambedkar mission.”  He proved himself true to his word till his untimely death in 2006 leaving a rich legacy for the politics and social set-up of India. He proved that dalits could become a ruling class, if they recognized their own inherent strength and acted accordingly. He established without doubt that political power and social equality would not come by begging but by asserting. He showed during his life time that sheer dedication and selflessness in public life is certainly recognized and rewarded by the masses. He was a leader of sterling worth without any bank balance and property. He sacrificed the comfort of family life and devoted himself fully to the common cause of poor people. One of the important and relevant aspects of Babu Kanshi Ram’s legacy is his effort and success in instilling a sense of confidence among the youth of the marginalized sections of the society. He will be remembered for his immense contribution to the social and political transformation of the Indian society and polity.

I conclude this as a tribute and homage to the memory of one of the greatest leaders of India on his death anniversary by an Urdu couplet of Allama Iqbal:

हज़ारों साल नर्गिस अपनी बेनूरी पे रोती है;
बड़ी मुश्किल से होता है चमन में दीदावर पैदा !

PS: I wanted to post this yesterday, October 9, but due to a technical hitch could not do so.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Postal Stamps on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

The Postal Department of the Government of India issued on

September 30, 2015 yet another postal stamp in commemoration of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the greatest son of India in the contemporary times. According to the information gathered from the internet, it is the 7th postal stamp issued in honour of the great leader. The title of the recent stamp is dedicated to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the Constitution of India with a view to remember Babasaheb’s contribution in framing the constitution of India which was the first onerous task after Independence of India in 1947. An official statement said, “It is aimed at making the world aware of his work
as a champion of the under-privileged.”

The Postal Department of India, which issued its first stamp on November 21, 1947 depicting the flag of India after independence, issued various stamps on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar with specific backgrounds and mottos. The September 30, 2015 stamp is dedicated to Dr. Ambedkar as the father of the Indian constitution. The official citation of the stamp issued in April, 1973 stated, “Dr. B.R. Ambedkar belonged to the traditional progressive social thinkers in India – the tradition of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Phule and other.” The stamp issued in April, 1991 showed yet another facet of Babasaheb’s struggle – the satyagarha of Chowdar Tank. The official citation termed the great leader as, “Dr. Bhimroy Ramji Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian constitution and Champion of Human Rights.” With a view to
observe December 6, 1956, the Mahaparinirvana (death) of Dr. Ambedkar, a stamp was issued with the background of Chaitya Bhoomi where Dr. Ambedkar was cremated.

With the release of the stamp, the programme to celebrate and commemorate Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his 125th anniversary has been set in motion. There will be many more events in the months to come. Let us hope that these events and activities do not remain hollow gestures. Dr. Ambedkar’s life and mission is so important and potent that we all Indians should learn and join in the task of nation building. That will be the correct homage and tribute to the great leader, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar