The 125th anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar is upon us, and so is the Dalit History Month. Everyone is clamouring to pay respects to Babasaheb and profit from him. At Navayana, we are raring to go with an annotated edition of Ambedkar’s explosive critique of Hindu scriptures, Riddles in Hinduism. But first, some news of other major initiatives that likely slipped past many of us.
The shrewd Chandrababu Naidu has said he would build a 125-foot statue for Ambedkar in Amravati, the capital of the newly separated state, Andhra. A deft move it seems. Amravati was one of the most important Buddhist centres in South India. This was where one of the finest philosophers from the subcontinent, Nagarjuna, came up with his reflections on sunyata, emptiness, and wrote Śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness). Naidu’s future Amravati city looks like a glass and steel monstrosity from a dystopic sci-fi movie. What will Ambedkar be made tolook likein such a city? And why is Naidu doing this? Is it to atone for casually sayingwhat he felt in his heart, that “given a choice nobody wants to be born into a Scheduled Caste”. After which Babasaheb-loving Congressmen took to cleansing his shining statue in Tirupati (the holy city) with pots and pots of milk—were they from cows or buffaloes? Does Babasaheb need such cleansing? Can he be so easily polluted? Is not the ritual milk bath—as if he were some vile Hindu god who’d punish those who do not pay him obeisance—the real insult?
On 26 January at S.V. University in Tirupati, a few Hindus vandalized vinyl posters of Dr Ambedkar outside a hall where there was a photo exhibition of him underway. This report on a local TV channel has been viewed merely 30 times on youtube last checked. We all protest only when an ‘incident’ triggers the right kind of affect in us, or has the right SEO so to say. For in the pecking order of ‘burning’ Indian universities, S.V. University ranks lower than HCU and JNU.
In ‘Hindu India’ Ambedkar and his children are insulted every day and yet the 125th anniversary will present itself as open season for all kinds of brazen appropriations and ritual acts of cleansing. People will pay respects vacuously as they mutter curses under their breath. Like Modi calling himself the Bhakt of Babasaheb, forgetting that his ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerji vehemently opposed Ambedkar’s Hindu Code Bill, and the RSS had organised 79 meetings in Delhi in 1949 and burnt the effigies of Nehru and Ambedkar. In Bombay, Modi has ‘liberated’ the Indu Mill in Shivaji Park for a grand Ambedkar memorial that will cost 425 crore; inLondon, he inaugurated the home where Ambedkar lived for a few years; in Delhi he spoke of making Ambedkar’s last known earthly address, 26 Alipur Road, among the most iconic buildings of the city; in Mhow, near Indore, where Ambedkar was born, another monstrous building shall come up. See the Congress did nothing, he says. But they all said ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ when Modi delivered his Ambedkar speech.
Now that these memorials seem inevitable, we must be concerned about what they will inscribe on the statuary. Perhaps that Babasaheb was one of India’s proudest sons, a crusader for social justice, and such platitudes? They may even deviously describe him as ‘the great reformer of Hinduism’, for that is what the RSS wants to reduce him to, just like they seek to coopt and tame the greatest anti-Brahman to tread this part of the earth before Ambedkar, Siddhartha Gautama. But in a year in which Navayana too proposes to stake its own rightful claim on Ambedkar, we propose that under each statue of Ambedkar the following message be written:
The Vedas are a worthless set of books. There is no reason either to call them sacred or infallible…. The time has come when the Hindu mind must be freed from the hold which the silly ideas propagated by the Brahmans have on them. Without this, the liberation of India has no future.
This, of course, is inspired by what is written on the plaque of every Periyar statue in the Tamil country: “There’s no god. He who created god was a fool; he who spreads his name is a scoundrel and he who worships him is a barbarian.”
Ambedkar terms the Vedas worthless in his introduction to Riddles in Hinduism, one among many important books he could not publish in his lifetime. At Navayana, we are issuing an annotated critical edition, with an incisive introduction by Kancha Ilaiah titled: “The Riddle of Ambedkar: Why did he say he was born a Hindu?” At a time when the state and the Sangh parivar are painting Ambedkar as a ‘Hindu’ figure, this fierce critique shows us how and why Ambedkar had no love for Hinduism. Ilaiah tells us why Hinduism is facing its biggest ever challenge from Dalitbahujans. Ambedkar was one; today there are a million Ambedkars.
The story behind when Ambedkar wrote Riddles and how he feared that it may be lost, burnt, or destroyed is revealed in this annotated edition. You can pre-order this book exclusively at Navayana now for Rs 200 (and receive it by 14 April). All our other books are selling as part of the Dalit History Month offer at a whopping 50 per cent discount. We have some sharp quills that can blunt their trishuls.