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Following his destiny

No Government has ever genuinely worked for the Dalits. Had they done it, the situation would have been different by now, says Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B.R. Ambedkar.

PRAKASH AMBEDKAR, grandson of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, has been leading a movement of landless farmers in Maharashtra since 1982 and has been working for the betterment of nomadic and criminal tribes. He is also associated with Bharatiya Republican Paksh and the Bahujan Maha Sangh.

While he has been involved in grass root politics, he has held important positions in India politics. He was member of the Rajya Sabha between 1990 and 1996, and is currently member of the Lok Sabha, re-elected in 1999. The man who has varied interests and who is one of the few serious voices in Indian politics, was in the City recently. He shares his views on where the Dalit community stood in India's current socio-cultural scenario. Excerpts from an interview:

What are the major problems faced by Dalits today?

There are several problems, some of them age-old. The lack of economic means is a major one. The other is social equality and dignity. Whenever they try to reach a certain level, the system changes. And they again have to begin from square one.

Formerly, they fought for means of production and the ownership of resources to be in the hands of the Government. But with liberalisation, the means of production and ownership are now being transferred to private individuals or the corporate sector. They struggle with one system and find that they are confronted with another.

So, what is the future?

Confrontation. And this confrontation will divide the society between those who have the means of production and those who do not. In the Indian context it is not the class it is always the caste. We are heading for a caste war based on who has the means of ownership.

Does this mean that there is no peaceful solution?

There is a peaceful solution. I don't say no. During Independence when everybody agreed that the means of ownership should be with the Government, we had a peaceful solution that lasted 50 years. Now there is a situation that necessitates a change. And that is only for greed and for maintaining the caste hierarchy. If you go back to the old system we have a peaceful solution. But if this agenda is taken forward there is a path of confrontation.

The Dalit movement started way back before Independence. How far do you think it has been successful?

The movement is successful. You take the census figures of education. The average level of literacy has reached up to 60 per cent. The level of resisting power has increased. The movement overall has gained a lot. As for achieving the goal, it is near but at the same time, it is far.

How much have the previous Governments worked for the cause of the Dalits?

No Government has really worked for the Dalits. Had they really worked, the situation by now would have been different. If each Government had properly utilised the funds that are budgeted for the Dalits, even if they had been given only monthly wages, each family stood to gain anything between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 2,500. By this fund alone the family conditions would have improved.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar fought for the cause of Dalits, but his name is being used by many Dalit leaders to draw political mileage. What do you feel?

Why Dalits? Everybody is using it, even the so-called nationalist parties. At times they keep him only for the Dalit masses but when these political parties are themselves threatened they project him as a true democrat and a nationalist leader. I don't find anything unpleasant in it. Only consistency is missing. When it comes to individual liberty he is glorified and accepted, but when it comes to social reforms, he is condemned.

Ambedkar fought the Congress tooth and nail, yet he joined it under Nehru's prime ministership and accepted the post of Chairman in the Constitutional Assembly, at a time when the Dalit Movement was at its peak. Do you think it was a wrong move on his part?

He did not join the Congress Government. In fact, the Congress party did not have anyone who would draft the Constitution. It was looking for foreigners to draft it. And, these foreigners pointed out that India had a constitutionalist who can draft a proper Constitution. It was then that the Congress approached him to draft a Constitution, which he readily agreed.

And since he was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, the Constitution had to be piloted by the Law Ministry. After he drafted the Constitution, he waited in the ministry for the passage of Hindu Code Bill. Once he found that the Hindu Code Bill was not passed he opted out of the ministry.

What is your opinion on conversion? Do conversions in any way help Dalits in gaining the social status they have been deprived of?

Conversion is absolutely necessary. There is no reform in the Hindu religion and there is no doing away of the caste system, and as long as it is going to remain, the concept of higher and lower, the concept of superiority is going to remain. The only way for salvation is to join another religion, which promises equality, brotherhood, and dignity of life. Whatever bills the Government might bring and whatever methods they might adopt, conversions will continue.

What do you feel about the reservation policy? Don't you feel that more funds must be allocated to develop human resources instead?

The question is why is there a reservation policy? Is it because there is no development or is it because there is discrimination in the society? The basis of reservation is discrimination and not development. So, as long as discrimination is there reservation is going to continue. That is the only method through which the discriminated lot can be empowered. Reservation is one way of empowerment. Therefore, it can't be done away with.

PAWANPREET SINGH

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