Jul 192011

Penguin had brought out an entire series of books last year (14 to be precise) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Indian Republic. Called Words of Freedom – Ideas of a Nation - the series covers a number of luminaries who were at the forefront of the freedom struggle. When I chanced upon this one by Dr.Ambedkar – last week when i placed my order, I wasn’t aware of the other 13. The rest have gone onto my wishlist.




The Ambedkar volume is a collection of speeches. In this post i will quote extensively from the first of these speeches. If Democracy Dies, it will be our Doom – is an Address by Dr. Ambedkar at the All India Depressed Classes Conference held at Nagpur on the 18th of July 1942 – 70 years to date… and the issues he writes about resonate even today.

It is a matter of immense satisfaction that the Untouchables have made great strides along all sides. I will particularise only three. They have acquired a degree of political consciousness which few communities in India have acquired. Secondly, they have made considerable progress in Education. Thirdly they are securing a foothold in the institutions and in the public service of the country. (pg5 &6)

Progress in the competition of communities is the result of power. The power may be economic, it may be social or it may be political. Have we the power to sustain our progress? Have we economic power? I am sure we have none. We are a class of serfs. Have we social power? I am sure we have none. We are a degraded portion of humanity. The only thing, therefore, we can depend upon for our continued progress is the capture of political power. I have no doubt that is our only salvation, and that without it we will perish. (pg. 9)

Let me begin by telling you what has been the keynote of my politics. … The basis of my politics lies in the proposition that the Untouchables are not a sub-head or a sub-section of the Hindus, and that they are a separate and a distinct element in the national life of India. (pg.10)

He then goes on to discuss his issues with Mahatma Gandhi on the inclusion of Dalits as a sub-section of Hindus. He says that though he signed the Poona Pact to save the life of Mr.Gandhi, he believed that Gandhi played unfair by never giving his true and honest consent to the principle underlying the Poona Pact.

He then talks about the Muslim League and his opposition to them and in particular the new equation of values set up by them. It also gives a glimpse of why the talks between the Congress and the Muslim League failed – repeatedly. Jinnah, possibly, didn’t want an agreement.

The Equation says that the Muslims, whatever their numbers, are just equal to non-Muslims and therefore, in any political arrangement the Muslims must get fifty percent. To this equation no one can consent. Not only it is against arithmetic; it is also against the interest of all non-Muslim including the Untouchable. (pg.18 and 19)

He then goes on to give advice to his audience:

…you must insist on being recognized as an independent and separate element in the national life of India. The theory that they are only a sub-section of the Hindus must be fought tooth and nail. Failure to get the Untouchables recognized as a distinct element, separate from the Hindus, will keep them submerged and lead to their suppression and degradation. (pg 20)

He also says -

We suffer from bad administration and not from bad laws. The administration is bad because it is in the hand of the Caste Hindus, who carry their social prejudices into administration and persistently deny to the Untouchables for one reason or another the principle of equal benefit to which they are entitled. Good Laws can do you no good unless you have good administration and you can have good administration when you have persons belonging to the Untouchables holding high administrative posts from which they could watch how other Hindu civil servants are behaving towards the Untouchables and to check them, control them and prevent them from doing mischief. (pg. 21)

And for those of you who say reservation – here is the GoI figures on reservation in the administrative services :


Secy Addl. Secy Joint Secy Director
Total No. of officers 149 108 477 590
No. of SCs - 2 31 17
% age of SCs - 1.85 6.49 2.88
No. of STs 4 2 15 7
% age of STs 2.68 1.85 3.14 1.18

( The number of officers presently working as Secretary, Additional  Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director level posts, in the Government of India and the number of SC and ST officers on these posts and their percentage, as  on 14.3.201)

And the almost prescient Dr.Ambedkar has this to say

“It is, however, not enough to ask for mere reservation. It is necessary to insist that such reservation shall be given effect to within a stated period. This is far more essential than mere reservation. For, unless you fix a period, the reservation will not come. It will be evaded on one ground or another and of course on the usual and unfathomable ground that no suitable candidate was available. We all know to a Hindu, if he is the appointing authority, no candidate from the Untouchables would be a suitable candidate. “(pg.21)

And finally in this speech he talks about the solution. He ends by talking about the support for the British war effort against the Nazis.

This is a war between democracy and dictatorship – not an enlightened dictatorship but a dictatorship of the most barbarous character based not on any moral idea but on racial arrogance. If any dictatorship needs to be destroyed it is this vile Nazi dictatorship. Amidst all the political dissensions that one witnesses in this country …we are likely to forget what a menace to our future this Nazism, if it wins, is going to be. What is more important is that its racial basis is a positive danger to Indians. (pg.26)

Looks like people flirted with the Nazi ideology even then.

He continues:

…There lies on us a very heavy duty to see that democracy does not vanish from the earth as a governing principle of human relationship. If we believe in it, we must be both true and loyal to it. We must not only be staunch in our faith in democracy but we must resolve to see that in whatever we do, we don not help the enemies of democracy to uproot the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. …. If democracy lives, we are sure to reap the fruits of it. If democracy dies, it will be our doom (pg.27)


Such vision. Such clarity. Such empathy. Still relevant after 70 years ..


And in case you are wondering, i reject Dr.Swamy’s ideology – it goes against everything I believe in. Everything that I believe to be sacred.

I may support his right to express, but i will fight his ideology with all that I can and all that i have.
And finally, the photograph for today.

It was raining cats and dogs and buffaloes and cows – almost for a week. The lakes are full, and the roads have become the moon crater. I couldn’t bear driving any more so I took a rick yesterday. This was the view through the wind screen. The “Ram” is a sticker – the two red lights belong to cars stranded ahead of the rick. It is almost like giving me a glimmer of hope on a dark and stormy day…

30 day Project Day 14 - red2

  6 Responses to “The Thirty Day Project – day 14 – Reading Dr Ambedkar”

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  3. Have you read Ram Guha’s “Makers of Modern India” ?

  4. Read his view about Hinduism and Varna..