It was fortuitous that a man who burnt Manudharma Shastra was architect of India’s modern constitution

DrAmbedkarDrRajendraPrasad
Dr Ambedkar submitting the first draft of the Indian constitution to Dr. Rajendra Prasad in February 1948

By Kancha Ilaiah*

The Constitution of India was adopted on January 26, 1950. The life of the Indian Constitution is 65 years. I am two years younger than the constitutional life of India. In other words my entire life has been spent under the modern democratic constitutional system of India. But there are several other living Indians who were born before India adopted the modern constitution and they lived through the British legal system and also under the Hindu Manudharma. During British rule the Manudharma was surviving in various ways, and the rules of caste inequality, untouchability and women’s oppression were part of Indian life. The British did not interfere, preferring to interpret these inequities as part of Hindu customary life.

Even in earlier periods Muslim rulers did not in any way dictate against the Manudharmic laws that were governing the non-Muslim populations of India.

Dr BR Ambedkar submitted the Constitution to the then president of India Dr Rajendra Prasad on November 25, and the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution the next day, on November 26, 1949. The Constitution however came into effect from January 26, 1950. It was fortuitous for modern India that a man who burnt the Manudharma Shastra and replaced this with a modern constitution, a man who also laid down some philosophical and ideological guidelines to abolish Brahminic institutions from Indian soil, was its architect. He left Hinduism, which was the mother of many inequalities and oppressions in India, and embraced Buddhism.

Our prime minister, Narendra Modi, a product of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has had a long historical wish list that he publicly expresses, never mind that this is laden with embarrassing bloomers. One such oft repeated refrain has been the question “What if Sardar  Vallabhbhai Patel had been the first Prime Minister of India?”  Here is my answer.

Even though born a Shudra, Patel would not have allowed Ambedkar to draft the Indian Constitution. That Patel’s had a political proximity to the Hindu Mahasabaha, which was responsible for establishing many Hindu fundamentalist organizations, including the RSS, is a matter of record. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, happened to be a progressive Kashmiri Brahmin. Thus it was the Ambedkar and Nehru combine that saved this country from the disaster of India becoming a Hindu theocratic state.

The Constitution of a nascent nation is not merely a legal and political document; it is also a cultural document. The Indian Constitution in fact is much more.

India as a nation has been living under the legal, political and cultural regime of human equality, irrespective of caste, creed, race, gender and religion, only for the last 65 years. In these six and a half decades the writ of the Indian Constitution has faced many a challenge mainly from the Hindu right wing forces. Their thinkers, like Arun Shourie, attempted to denigrate the role of Ambedkar in drafting a world class constitution for a country whose people faced multiple oppressions and inequalities. Many Brahmin pandits hate the present Constitution because it aims at human equality. Even the untouchables, whom they despise as unequally created people by God, have been given rights as equal citizens. This very Constitution was proposed to be reviewed by the NDA Government when it was in power between 1999 and 2004. Such a danger looms large even under the current dispensation, NDA II.

Hindutva forces, through a shared cultural commonality with Mahatma Gandhi, whom they also killed, managed to push for the cow as an animal to be protected by a constitutional provision within the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 48 of the Constitution states that the Government will protect and breed cows. No democratic Government of India will work against this directive principle.

The Constitution of a nascent nation is not merely a legal and political document; it is also a cultural document. The Indian Constitution in fact is much more.

It is this directive that has created a food and cultural crisis in past months. Forces aligned to the ideology of Hindutva (a Hindu theocratic state) have been attacking minorities and Dalits on the illusory belief that only minorities eat beef. It was an irony that the Constitution mentions only the cow but not the buffalo as the animal that needs protection. This is simply because Hindutva respects the cow as it is seen racially as a white and superior animal, while the buffalo is seen as a black and inferior animal.

Now invoking the same Constitution  (that they otherwise reject when it comes to equality of citizenship) Hindutva forces have been passing very retrogressive laws against the historical food culture of Indian people. Beef is and has been the cherished food of Indian Adivasis, Dalits and several OBC communities. Of course during the anti-British campaign Gandhi used his own vegetarian culture, misrepresenting this as ‘Indian’ culture. Forces of the political Hindu right, including the RSS, which found him anathema when it came to composite nationhood and communal harmony and therefore killed him, have cleverly used his cultural campaign as theirs too. Somehow, Ambedkar did not see this danger and allowed the cow protection into the Constitution. This article, in my view, should be either removed from the Constitution or through an amendment; the buffalo must be incorporated as an animal that requires protection too. Discriminating against the buffalo over the cow is an extension of human discrimination manifest in the caste system.

Those who argue that Hinduism is different from Hindutva must understand that the major agitation for cow protection was conducted by Hindu sanayasis like the Shankaracharyas in 1966.   Shankracharya Niranjandev Tirth, Swami Karpatri and Mahatma Ramchandra Veer observed a fast against the killing of cows. Mahatma Ramchandra Veer fasted for 166 days at the time. At that time Congress regimes did not allow the cow protection issue to get out of hand. But now the very same issue has created countrywide havoc. Both Brahminic Hindu organizations and political Hindutva outfits are responsible for creating a major crisis in India’s agrarian sector and food sector.

All social forces must fight to defend the basic Constitutional right of Indians to eat what they like to eat, to pray to whichever God they want to pray, to dress in whatever manner they want to dress, and marry whoever they choose to marry. As of now the multi-culturalism of India is in great danger.

Let us fight to together to save India from the danger of Hindutva onslaught and it anti-Constitutionalism.

*Professor and director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Source: https://www.sabrangindia.in/

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