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For Ambedkar, The Nation Came Before Matters Of Faith
Prafull Goradia
May 2012

To protest discrimination against Dalits, Ambedkar decided to embrace a different religion. He chose Buddhism because of this religion's Indic origin

Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was above all a patriot. He did resent discrimination against him and his community by the upper caste Hin- dus. He had, therefore, thought to himself that although he was born a Hindu, he shall not die as one.

Comparatively late in life he considered the various religions to which the Dalits could convert. His thinking began by rejecting Christianity and Islam because these religions were founded overseas. Conversion to either of these faiths would result in denationalising his community. He confined his choice to a faith that originated on the soil of Hindustan.

In his own words: "Conversion to Islam or Christianity will denationalise the depressed classes. Moreover, if they go to Islam the number of Muslims will be doubled and the danger of Muslim domination also becomes real. If they go to Christianity, the numerical strength of Christians becomes five to six crores. It will help to strengthen the hold of the British on this country." The reason why he chose Buddhism is thus lucidly explained by him.

British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in 1932 gave what is well known as the 'Communal Award'. This decree conferred the right of separate electorates on the 'depressed classes', the British expression for Dalits. On Mahatma Gandhi's persuasion he agreed not to accept this privilege of a separate electorate. He remained satisfied with the Congress conceding reservation of electoral seats, a system which remains even today. The Mahatma's appeal was for the Dalits to remain in the Hindu fold to which Ambedkar consented. Incidentally, the Muslims were delighted at taking the privilege of separate electorates which in due course led to India's partition.

On March 23, 1940, the Muslim League passed the notorious Pakistan Resolution. By September Babasaheb Ambedkar brought out his views on Pakistan in the book entitled Partition of India. In his view, the defence of the country and ensuring its unity were the most important factors. Ambedkar more or less agreed with Mohammed Ali Jinnah that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist and, therefore, a division of the country was not only inevitable but also advisable.

The Khilafat Committee presided over by Gandhi had endorsed the contention that if a Muslim invaded India, an Indian Muslim cannot participate in resisting the invader. In the 1940s and even earlier, the preoccupation was an invasion by Afghanistan. Those were the days when over 20 lakh Muslims undertook hijrat or emigrated to Afghanistan. Some five lakh of them actually settled in that country. The motivation was that a momin cannot lead a full life unless he resides in darul-Islam as distinct from darul-harb. Maulana Muhammad Ali, a Khilafat leader next only to Gandhi, died suddenly in London but he left behind a will saying he should be buried in Jerusalem and certainly not in India which he did not consider to be sacred enough for his burial.

But Ambedkar pointed out that the Indian Army had more Muslim soldiers than members of other communities, which made the defence of India even more problematic. Moreover, Babasaheb's submission was that most of the taxes were paid by Hindus across the sub-continent but the larger part of the Army was Muslim, which was the beneficiary. As figures quoted in his book on Partition, Punjab, NWFP, Sindh, and Baluchistan together contributed a little over Rs 7 crore to the Central exchequer. The remaining Provinces of undivided India contributed nearly Rs 52 crore.

Of the Rs 121 crore revenue of the Government, Rs 52 crore was spent on the Army. Why should Hindus pay for, as it were, a 'Muslim Army' which was not prepared to fight for the defence of the country? This was a major argument used by Ambedkar as a reason for allowing the country to be divided. He summed up the chapter with a brief sentence : "A safe Army is better than a safe border." In another chapter of the same book Ambedkar enumerated the number of riots and those killed between 1920 and 1940. "It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a record of 20 years civil war between the Hindus and the Muslims in India, interrupted by brief intervals of armed peace," he said.

In the light of such a civil war, how can the country be united, was his question. Which then convinced him that India's partition was preferable to a land afflicted by so much internecine fighting. He summed up this contention by stating, "The Hindus have a difficult choice to make: To have a safe Army or a safe border. In this difficulty, what is the wisest course for the Hindus to pursue? Is it in their interest to insist that Muslim India should remain part of India or is it in their interest to welcome its separation?"

(BR Ambedkar's birth anniversary was be observed on April 14. He was born on this day in 1891.)

Courtsey : The Pioneer 12.04.2012

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