The seminar on “RSS ideology versus Ambedkar’s ideology” organised by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism on the 18th November 2016 was chaired by Advocate Prakash Ambedkar and attended by almost 200 individuals belonging to various organisations. People of prominence such as father Myron, Mr Dolphy Dsouza, Ms Shama Dalwai, cultural activists, students and dalit organisations were present at the event.
The seminar also saw prominent speakers such as Shehla Rashid Shora, Ex Vice President of JNUSU and a student leader in JNU, Dr Sukanna who was one of the five students suspended in HCU along with late Rohith Vemula, Dr Ram Punayani, a leading figure in the secular movement of India, Advocate Irfan Engineer, the director of CSSS, Ms Vidya Chavan, a prominent Dalit activist and Dr Vivek Korde. The entire panel started with expressing solidarity for Mr Jignesh Mewani from Una Dalit athyachar ladat samiti who couldn’t attend the event on account of being taken into arrested in Ahmedabad.
A book “Ambedkar and Hindutva politics” authored by Dr Ram Punayani was released at the hand of Advocate Prakash Ambedkar. The book elaborates on appropriation of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar by the Hindutva politics and the need to combat this appropriation. Dr Punayani emphasised on the fact that religious fundamentalism and the politics that surround it are detached from the basic tenets of religion itself. While on the periphery, religious fundamentalists seem to be sworn enemies of each other, they share a unanimous value consensus on violence, injustice and intolerance. During the freedom struggle in India, there one side that propagated a democratic, secular nation, while on the other hand there was religious nationalism. Religious nationalism manifested itself in the ideologies of Jinnah and muslim league, while Hindu nationalism can be seen through the ideology of Hedgewar, Savarkar etc. The use of Babasaheb Ambedkar by people to promote values of communalism and fascism can’t be justified and Dr Ambedkar fought his entire life against these ideologies. The religious fundamentalist forces appropriate Ambedkar without an understanding of his work and often as an anti-thesis to his teachings. Mr Punayani strongly emphasised on the culture of India being an amalgam of various cultures that have influenced and entwined with the customs, traditions, food habits and languages of our country to make it the diverse nation we see today. The attempts of many fundamentalist forces to appropriate history to claim that particular communities have natural citizenship of India while others are invaders or outsiders is dangerous and baseless.
Dr Sukanna, while addressing the audience about the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, emphasised on the various ways in which educational institutions contribute to the appropriation of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar while leaving behind the essence of his teachings. Dr Sukanna expressed through his speech the journey from being expelled from the Hyderabad central University along with Rohith Vemula till date. The political pressure that was built on the HCU administration to take action against the five dalit students for confronting the ABVP president for name-calling shows their intent to socially exclude any Dalit voices that rise against the prevalent power structures. The issue then was shifted into the debate of nationalism and anti-nationalism with state agencies emphasising a film screening that Ambedkar’s Student’s Association had organised in the university. Adding to Dr Ram Punayani on religious fundamentalism and religion being largely mutually exclusive, Dr Sukanna quoted Savarkar on Hindutva “Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.” Dr Sukanna called for an intersectional Dalit and Muslim movement against fascist right wing forces. He emphasised on raising a collective voice against fascism to protect and preserve the vision for India Babasaheb Ambedkar dreamed of.
Shehla Rashid Shora continued the discussion on student politics and condemned the tokenism offered to Babasaheb Ambedkar in educational institutions by Hindutva forces. She opined that the teachings of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar have to go beyond being skin deep. She called for a unity among various marginalisations for a strong and unanimous struggle for social justice. The tactics that are used by Hindutva forces to curb social movements which demand their democratic and constitutionally mandated rights are highly unethical. With the examples of Rohith Vemula and Najeeb being categorised as “mentally unstable” by Hindutva forces is a pittance of an argument to support the crucial role they have played in both these unfortunate incidents, Ms Rashid concluded.
Advocate Prakash Ambedkar concluded with a call for movements to strive to reach the masses and cater to their needs and understanding. In the process there is a need to vernacularize academics and academic language. We need to trust in the capacities of the common people and let them understand and make informed decisions by diffusing the knowledge we create in accessible forms. Fascist and undemocratic forces and ideologies such as Hindutva need to be engaged with and exposed in front of people, Mr Ambedkar opined. He opined that it is important for us to also make concepts such as cultural nationalism relatable for the common people. We need to address not just macro policy discourses but also talk about and popularise the manifestations that fascist laws and policies will have in the lives of people. The claims of nationalism followed by an eligibility being defined for the same is unacceptable for a country such as ours which has historically had various views and methods of materialising their idea of a nation, Mr Ambedkar stated while concluding.