6th December & 14th April were always viewed with contempt in my friends circle. Not because we had anything against Dr Ambedkar as such but because for a week around these dates, our favourite Shivaji Park was a mass public urinal, traffic was bad and there were far too many hooligans for us to even think of venturing out. So we cursed the day that the man who created the rule book by which our country is supposed to function instead of celebrating him.
As a 14 year old, a small excerpt from a Marathi biography enticed me into reading the entire book. This biography of Dr Ambedkar changed my life.
We seldom realise how valueable education is. I grew up in a home filled with books. I never had to fight, save or struggle to own a book. Children like me often take this for granted. Reading about the early life of Dr Ambedkar, his family’s struggle to get him into a school, his struggle to keep studying despite the insults and discrimination at the hands of his teachers, I realised that I deserved a slap across my face for crying about going to school each day. This man went to the end of the world to keep studying, read
extensively and developed his intellect with the solid backing of knowledge and education.
Even though he came back to India a learned lawyer, he still continued to face discrimination in all walks of life. An acquaintance who once dined at the residence of a prominent writer and a contemporary of Dr Ambedkar’s told me that the said writer’s maid was a Brahmin and she refused to clear Dr Ambedkar’s plate. This was a stand alone incident. It might infuriate me, a child of the 1980s but apparently back in the 1940s it didn’t raise an alarm at all. What changed in those 50 years? Our attitude. This attitude change didn’t come by automatically. Dr Ambedkar designed the system to bring scheduled castes up to date with the larger society. He realised that unless his people got a solid education, they would forever remain down trodden.
In these 50 years, Dalit children went to schools and enjoyed a reservation in colleges.
But an education might prepare you for the world, but it is knowledge that one needs to grow above average. And while education can be acquired at a school or a college,
the pursuit of knowledge is voluntary and it occurs in everyday life. Since it went hand in hand for him, probably he assumed that this would happen to the young of his community too. To an extent it did. Dalit literature (I still hate calling it that) blossomed and poets and writers came to the fore. In fact in the last ten years, there have been a sizeable amount of entrepreneurs that have come out of the community. That said, I cannot help but wonder why the throngs at Shivaji Park still continue to live regressive lives.
No, I don’t have a problem with the traffic jams. I have a problem with their hooliganism. I have a problem with the fact that this hooliganism leads to a mass outrage amongst citizens and this hooliganism gets associated with Dr Ambedkar. True, they pour in from
all corners of the state or perhaps the country, to pay your respect and express gratitude towards the man who attempted to bring social equality. But is this the right way? Some political powers want to use these occasions to demonstrate their political might. And in doing so the tamam janata of Mumbai dreads Ambedkar Jayanti or Ambedkar Punyatithi.
However, they are not to be blamed. In the villages they come from, they are still discriminated against. They still live in isolation. Their children might go to the local school, but the other kids stay away from them. In the year 2010, reservations for scheduled castes still remain. But it has slowly changed over the years. We see cases of an office being purified after a Dalit collector is transferred but then lets not ignore the fact that we have come a long way in shunning the caste system over the last six decades. It is a conditioning of thousands of years and it will take time, but the wheels are in motion. And it is Ambedkar who gave the first push.
I want to take a moment and thank this man for creating this nation. I want to thank him for being an inspiration. At the convocation where I received my MA, Sir Richard Attenborough (the then Chancellor of Sussex University) spoke of how we, in the modern world, do not understand and appreciate the value of education. I thank Dr Ambedkar for engraving the value of an education deep into my soul. Thank you.