Millennium Post

Ambedkar as a prophet

Ever since I characterised Ambedkar as a prophet, in the context of the lampooning cartoon on him in the XI class NCERT text book, there has been an attack on my positioning of him as prophet: that I am trying to take him out of a rational debate. Several critiques, who attacked me in the mainstream media, were of the view that such a positioning of him not only takes him out of the classroom discussion of his work and deeds but it closes all possibilities of problematising him. Those who are saying this never were seriously engaged with his writings and deeds. Most of them are either Gandhians or Marxists or Lohiates or Westernised liberal seculars but were never anti-casteists. They were born into a certain caste but refuse to accept that as a reality. Many of them did not even write a serious newspaper article on Ambedkar’s contribution to Indian society. Now suddenly they started lamenting that they cannot engage with him because he has become prophet. This is laughable to say the least.

Do not they know that a prophet is not a God? Much less a prophet is not a mythical God like Rama or Krishna, who emerged out of texts like Ramayana or Mahabharata, as characters. The prophets could not be just put as idols in temples into which some can enter and some (untouchables) cannot. All prophets are real human beings and lived like anybody else. They ate, drank, walked, worked and slept. They have a time frame in which they lived, a location where they lived and a set of people they dealt with. They have known philosophical positions. They have strengths and weaknesses. All of them are subject to critical scrutiny.

The difference between mere thinkers and prophets is a prophet would stand for justice and equality of all human beings, irrespective of caste, race, gender, class and region. No prophet supports inequality in any form. Most important of all is a prophet stands by the poorest of the poor and the  weakest of the weak, at least in the area where one lived. A prophet works for the liberation of the suppressed and oppressed, throughout one’s life and faces all hardships but never gives up the fight for equality of all human beings. A prophet not only works for social, economic and cultural equality but more fundamentally for spiritual equality. This means a prophet is a rationalist not in an atheist sense but in a spiritual, philosophical and social sense.

Let us look at the life of some of such prophets (about whom the world has some understanding) in history and see whether Ambedkar shares, at least, some basic characteristics with them. The first is Gautham Buddha. Buddha opposed the Vedic inequality and the most oppressive caste system that was taking definite roots in his own lifetime. Unlike the Hindu gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, whose worship was prevalent in his time, he established Sanghas that preached and practiced social and cultural equality. He seriously worked for establishing dhamma that was responsible for socio-spiritual and legal and social justice of all human beings. Though he did not believe in idol worship later on his followers worshipped his idol, and that is a problematic in itself. He cannot be held responsible for that. Indian universities could have taught his social, political and economic thought but they never did that. Instead they teach Kautilya and Manu, who are Brahminic and negative thinkers.

The second major prophet of the world is Jesus Christ. Jesus fought against the brutal oppressive system of Pharisees (they were equivalent of Indian Brahmins). The major sufferers of that suppression were tribals, Samaritans (equivalent of Indian Dalits) and Gentiles (equivalent Indian Sudras) of Israel. The Pharisees were also active collaborators of the Roman imperial rulers. He liberated the Israelites by establishing a theory of spiritual individualism, social equality and abolished social untouchability. He also fought against Roman imperialism. He was crucified for all that. His life has been problematised and several universities debated his ideas. We all know that Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard were established only to discuss and debate the theological, social ideas of Biblical prophets – mainly of Jesus.

The third is Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad as man lived an ordinary businessman’s life. His wife Khatija was also a business woman. The Arab tribes then were not only very backward but self destructive. Like the Indian Hindus they were primitive idol worshippers. He infused the idea of abstract allah in to Arab life, transforming them into people who not only pray to a philosophically constructed Allah but evolved them into very organised anti-idol worshippers. It was he who finally constructed a spiritual book – Quran – for them and also transformed them into people who worship the letter. He opposed slavery and celibacy (which was a norm in all religions by then). He was also a great political mobiliser of Arab masses. He had political philosophy of his own. In India non-Muslims were never taught about the transformative role of prophet Mohammed, neither at school level nor at the level of the university. Indian secularists debated Gandhi, who was a Hindu political saint. But the difference between a prophet and saint is that a saint a is seeker of
of self but the prophet is sees one’s own self in the self of the society. Further no saint made the socio-spiritual equality as his goal. Gandhi’s life goal was never socio-spiritual equality of all India. Prophet Mohammed’s life goal was equality. Yet why do not we teach him?

In my view Karl Marx is the fourth prophet. Materialism could be his methodology but human development was his primary goal. He also stood by the poorest of the poor ( the working class of Europe) of his times. Equality was his main goal. He constructed a visionary world of the equal and developed life of people. For an Indian Marxist it constructs a faith of its own.

Finally, let us see Ambedkar in this light. He shares many qualities of Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and Marx: that he stood for abolition of all inequalities, including the last wastage of the world –human untouchability. Buddha tried for that but he could not succeed. Jesus worked for abolition of similar Samaritan untouchability and he succeeded. The Jews became people of one identity after his death. Ambedkar has put Indian society on tracks of equality in all spheres. He never compromised on this issue till he died. If Gandhi is a politicised Hindu saint who had no agenda of equality, Ambedkar is a politicised prophet whose agenda was human – that too Indian human –equality in all spheres – spiritual, social, political, economic and cultural. Let our schools colleges and universities problematise, discuss and debate him more and more.

Kancha Ilaiah is an activist and writer.
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