Monday, May 29, 2023

Ambedkar and Gandhi — They Couldn't Have Been Friends

For plenty of reasons, Ambedkar never considered Gandhi as "Mahatma". And "naturally", Gandhi rarely understood Ambedkar. In my experience of understanding how my privileges influence how I act, I believe that I've been able to appreciate where the difference between Ambedkar and Gandhi arise from. This is perhaps obvious to many scholars. But it was a shower-thought for me.

Gandhi comes from privilege. Gandhi's thoughts and ideas are all related to those privileges. That Gandhi chooses to wear lungi is because Gandhi wants to shun those privileges to be able to be able to feel right. I had/have the same thought process when it comes to clothing. I don't like dressing up smart. Because I think from the privileged position of Gandhi. For me, losing my privilege is what gives me mental satisfaction. 

When mfc was organizing the annual meeting on discrimination in healthcare, there was this debate on whether to put "Dr" prefix on people's names. The philosophy that drives mfc is mostly Gandhian. They consider calling each other by first name and stripping titles as natural. I also think like this. I never put "Dr" next to my name. Shunning privileges.

In another group, in Dalit History Month, there was a poster shared about an event related to remembering Ambedkar. It referred to Ambedkar as "B. R. Ambedkar" and not as "Dr. B. R. Ambedkar". And some people rightly pointed out how stripping Ambedkar of the "Dr" title is a deliberate act. Ambedkar has to be referred to as "Dr". And Ambedkar will always appear well dressed with a suit and a tie. These are revolutionary acts with immense meaning to Dalits.

When there is no privilege to shun, what point is shunning privilege going to make?

The same philosophy appears in a few other places too. At the mfc meet Anoop Kumar spoke about their life journey and gave incredible examples on how to change things for Dalits. Among the questions posed was a mediocre one as to what his thoughts on "Dalit Capitalism" were. Anoop brushed the question aside saying how not every battle can be fought at once and how Dalits should also get a chance to oppress now — obviously exposing the caste insensitive framing of the question.

On the next day, the moderator of the concluding session, out of nowhere, made a comment saying how they disagreed with Anoop's point. And Gandhi was quoted for assistance — "An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind." Setting aside the fact that this was a misrepresented position being argued against, one can look critically at non-violence as Gandhi professed.

Fasting, one of the most used "weapons" of Gandhi, makes no sense to people who are already starving. Imagine people being denied PDS through Aadhaar going on a fast unto death! They're already starving to death. In non-violent methods, essentially, one can see people with privilege converting the every day violence faced by others into a method of protest.

Non-violence also requires infinite tolerance of the status quo. If you're frustrated with the way things are and lash out, that's not Gandhian. If you are tired of the bullshit and call out the crap, you're being violent. Again, the methods of patience are easier for those who aren't mentally or physically affected by the problems.

Ambedkar and Gandhi could never have been friends. Because Gandhi spoke the language of privilege. And Ambedkar spoke from the lived experience of oppression. If Gandhi would acknowledge privileges and own up the influence of those in the Gandhian methods, Ambedkar might have been okay to be friends. But Gandhi's insensitivity towards caste would never make that possible. And neither would Ambedkar's methods be okay for Gandhi. And that's why they couldn't have been friends. Because of Gandhi's ignorance.

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