The sixth of December is a day that is remembered by very large numbers of people all over our country for very different reasons and in very different ways. There are those, mostly poor and oppressed, who mourn the sixth of December as the death anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, his ‘Nirvan Diwas’. The word ‘Nirvan’ was earlier associated with the passing away of the Buddha and is now used to honour the passing away of Dr. Ambedkar soon after his historic conversion to Buddhism, along with several of his followers.
During a recent session of Parliament, held to commemorate the Constitution and pay homage to Dr. Ambedkar; and again, during the Parliamentary debate on ‘Growing Intolerance’, Babasaheb’s name was mentioned repeatedly. It was recognized by all that he had made the greatest contribution to enshrine the principles of Democracy, Equality and Fraternity in the Constitution and fulsome praise and accolades were bestowed upon him, speciallyby members of the NDA II (read BJP) Government. No one, however, except for Sitaram Yechury (CPIM, General Secretary) referred to his conversion to Buddhism or the reasons for this.
Despite the enormous and significant role he played in drafting the Constitution, Babasaheb had to, eventually abandon the religion of his forefathers. Throughout his life he made untiring and valiant efforts to bring about a change in the attitude and thinking of high caste Hindus through argument, writings, historical research and continuous appeals to reason, humanity and compassion. The drafting of the Constitution and Hindu Code Bill were, of course, the most important of these efforts.
Unfortunately, the bill did not bring about any real change of heart, mind and outlook. Every one of his efforts had aroused the most vicious opposition and calumny. Every promise that the Constitution made to bring about equality between all citizens was opposed tooth and nail during the Constituent Assembly debates by conservative elements determined to thwart all efforts to legislate equality into the existing unequal social hierarchies that they were determined to preserve.
The Hindu Code Bill was met by such howls of protest both inside the Constituent Assembly and outside on the streets that it had to be abandoned. Babasaheb resigned as Law Minister saying in protest that, “The Hindu Code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the legislature in this country. No law passed by the Indian Legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance.
To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code.” (quoted from Dr. Ambedkar’s speech when he resigned from the first Indian cabinet of ministers).
The failure of his repeated and untiring efforts to bring about a change in the hearts and minds of his opponents was not unforeseen as far as Dr. Ambedkar was concerned. As early as 1935, he had announced to his followers that although he had been born a Hindu he would not die as one because he was determined to abandon a belief system that refused to accept the principle of equality. Finally, on the October 2, 1956, he embraced Buddhism along with many hundreds of thousands. Tragically, within two months, on December 6, l956, he was no more.
On the same day, 36 years later, the Babri Masjid was destroyed by members of the Sangh Parivar. This event is also commemorated, across the country, by some as “Shaurya (Valour) Diwas” and by others as a day of mourning.
There are also those, however, who feel that the choice of the date for the destruction of the mosque was no co-incidence. They believe that it was Dr. Ambedkar’s Constitution that was the real target of the attack by the Sangh. This is based not only on the choice of date but on the fact that the Sangh Parivar members who destroyed the mosque owed allegiance to the same RSS that had been in the forefront of the opposition to both the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill.
The most uncompromising opposition both to the Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill came from Shri Golwalkar, head of the RSS. Along with his supporters, he held fast to the view even after the Constitution was passed, that it was the Laws of Manu, the Manusmriti, alone that could be accepted as Law by Hindus.
As far as the Hindu Code Bill is concerned, Golwalkar castigated it by saying that it would reduce Hindu men to puny weaklings. His views have never been repudiated by the Sangh Parivar. Today, Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s speech in Parliament is significant because while he heaped praise on the Constitution and Dr. Ambedkar, he also sharply criticized the later inclusion of the work ‘secular’ to describe the Republic that brought the Constitution into existence.
The reasons he gave for this criticism should be examined seriously by all Indian citizens. He said “‘Secularism’ is the most misused word in the country… India’s religion itself is dharma nirpeksh. ..”Does the Constitution permit India to have a religion? If India has a religion then can it continue to abide by its Constitution? Is it a co-incidence that the Home Minister who has now made known his commitment to a Religious State or a Hindu Rashtra was present at the site of the demolition of the mosque (Babri Masjid) on December 6, 1992?
Even at the time of its passage, Dr. Ambedkar feared for the future of the Constitution because he did not believe that the soil of India which had given birth to the worst forms of inequality would readily accept the seeds of democracy and fraternity. Those who had opposed him then have given notice, time and again, that they continue to challenge the writ of this foundational doctrine.