- It’s time they remembered Ambedkar’s Agra message
The story of a Dalit child named Navneeta hailing from a small village in Ranga Reddy District, whose suffering is proof for the insensitive character of our society. At a tender age of 12 she toils for the sustenance of her family. Afflicted by abject poverty, Navneeta’s family could not even afford the cost of treatment for her father even at government hospital. Her father later succumbed to tuberculosis. Navneeta’s family of five, her parents, an elder sister and one younger brother was shattered on this day completely devastating her childhood. Her mother became insane from grief and her married sister later got afflicted by the same disease that took away her father. This made Navneeta the sole provider for her family. She quit her education and became a labourer in cotton fields in her village. This was a report published in Sakshi daily. There is no end in sight to stories such as Navneeta’s. But the bigger picture that we miss in this context is the increasing apathy in our everyday lives. If at any point our so called advanced community had taken some part in the lives of Navneeta’s family, she would not have had to quit school and become a labourer.
Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar foresaw this situation in 1956 itself. On 18th March that year in a public meeting at Agra he spoke with great concern for the future of the downtrodden community. Some members of the community had by then become employees in various government organizations, have been elected to political posts through reserved constituencies and have been students because of reservations but showed no interest to work for the welfare of their own community.
“There is some progress in education in our society. By acquiring education some people have reached higher positions. But these educated people have deceived me. I was hoping that after acquiring high education they will serve the society. But what I am seeing is that a crowd of small and big clerks have gathered around, who are busy filling their bellies. Those who are employed in government services, it is their duty that they will contribute willingly 20 percent of their salary to the cause. Then only the society will progress. Otherwise only one family will improve. When a boy is educated in a village, the entire society has expectations from him. One educated social worker can prove a boon for them.”
Dr Ambedkar spoke with grief that he could not secure land for the landless labourers in the rural areas. On that day he pledged to fight for this cause. To this day his cause lies abandoned by all those who benefited from his struggle for equal education, employment and reservations. To this day it is an appalling fact that 70% of rural Dalit population are landless labourers who depend on seasonal jobs and migrate from place to place for survival. Those who are in power because of Dr. Ambedkar’s work have forgotten their cause, and are acting as puppets in their respective party’s propaganda, and under the leaders belonging to upper castes. Our system of election probably is a cause for this behavior.
The Dalit members may have feared that working only for Dalit welfare would cost them the votes of other communities as a result of which their parties might not even give them an opportunity to contest again. Dr. Ambedkar in his Agra address also spoke out to leaders and urged them to be a part of the community that paved a path for their political stature.
“If somebody invites you to his palace, you may go willingly. But you must not go there by putting your own hut on fire. If that king quarrels with you some day and drives you out of his palace, where will you go? If you want to sell out yourselves you may do so but not at the cost of your organization. I do not fear any dangers from others, but I fear danger from our own people.”
Though harsh, Dr. Ambedkar did speak the truth. He addressed the general population and warned them, “For the past thirty years, I am struggling to secure political rights for you people. I have got for you reserved seats in Parliament and in State Assemblies. I have got for you proper provisions for the education of your children. Today, we can progress. It is now our duty to continue the struggle unitedly for removal of educational, economic and social inequality. For this purpose, you will have to be prepared for all sorts of sacrifices and even to shed your blood.”
He urged the youth with positive hope, “My appeal to the students is that after acquiring education, instead of doing some clerical job, they should serve the village or locality people, by which, exploitation and injustice arising out of ignorance can be stopped. Your emancipation lies in the emancipation of the society.
Today, my position is like a big pole supporting a huge tent, I am worried about what would happen when this pole is not there. I am not keeping good health. I do not know when I will go away from you. I am not finding any young man, who will protect these crores of helpless and hopeless people. If any young man comes forward then I will go away peacefully.”
It might be wrong to say that there was no one who took the baton from Dr. Ambedkar after he passed away, but it is the hard reality that one after another his ambitions and aspirations are becoming harder to achieve and the apathy of people from his own community for the cause is today’s harshreality.
Laws and legislations passed to help realise Dr. Ambedkar’s goals have bred contempt in the upper classes, discrimination slowly graduated to this contempt and harsher arguments against reservations and affirmative laws in favour of Dalits.
The rate of Dalit employees has grown exponentially since 1956, but there is a small margin of them who show concern for the cause championed by Dr. Ambedkar. A society in which the middle class educated employee demographic lives in silence and subordination, that society will have stalled its own progress. This is true with the Dalit community, with several of the population landless, having no part in business and financial institutions and no part in industries, the only capital in the Dalit community’s hands are the educated people.
A society like our village should serve as an example to our community, where neighbours and people of the community reach out and help each other in times of happiness and grief. They work together, struggle together and play an important role in each other’s lives. When someone gets married, everyone joins hands and helps out so that there is no difficulty in the celebrations. When someone dies the entire ceremony is handled by friends and neighbours, they contribute to prepare food so that the grieving family does not need to prepare food in the house. But the advanced community of employees and officers tend to forget that they hold a responsibility towards their less fortunate counterparts. And on this day it is important that we remember the message Dr. Ambedkar delivered in his Agra address and internalize it, and those who were benefited by the affirmative provisions that Dr. Ambedkar fought for help the community in return and follow the path laid by him.