By Aniruddha Babar
Concerns for social justice and social equality have been central to the writings and speeches of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. It has been argued that the situation of the minorities in India had encouraged him to consider social justice as the central concern. He believed that justice preceded everything else including democracy and had argued in his various works that to promote justice for everyone, it is significant that democracy should be just. His book States and Minorities (1945) is a significant example of his belief and values regarding the promotion and implementation of equality and justice for every citizen of India.
Ambedkar submitted States and Minorities, which had been published in 1945, as a standalone book to the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly in 1947. He was also a member of the Sub-Committee and the Assembly had asked him to prepare a list of all the fundamental rights to be included in the Constitution of India. The preparation of the States and Minorities was the result of a request made by the Schedule Caste Federation of which he himself was the founding member in 1940. Although the main purpose of the Federation was to put forward the fundamental rights of the people from the schedule caste community, his work in States and Minorities moved beyond that.
States and Minorities can be identified as the mini-Constitution, as it also contains a Preamble, and the draft articles related to the inclusion of the states into the Union and the fundamental rights of Indian citizens. This document is one of its kind that strongly proposes the fundamental rights of the minorities and Schedule Castes in India and suggests ways for their protection and empowerment in the country. Some of the general fundamental rights that have been offered to all citizens including the right to free speech and right to exercise freedom of religion and religious beliefs come from this book. These rights could also be identified as the precursors of establishing a secular democracy in India. His work argues that social, economic and political inequalities must be removed and people should be provided with better opportunities.
The first ‘Proposed Article’ informs regarding the inclusion of the disqualified Indian state in the Union. However, the Article in his work talks about the fundamental rights of every citizen. His work proposes that every citizen of India should be protected against any kind of discrimination, economic exploitation and unequal treatment. His work has been described by many scholars, as being ahead of its time. He envisions what the future India should look like and what socio-economic reforms must be undertaken to remedy the country damaged by the British Rule. His work has been described as progressive, as it includes every individual and group, that has been separated from the mainstream Indian society and development and growth opportunities.
His progressive ideas enshrined in the subsequent Articles in States and Minorities reflect the development of the Directive Principles of State Policy that are integrated in the Constitution of India. The Partition of India had caused many social, political and economic difficulties in the country and the main problem was seen in the form of a “hegemonic paternalism of the dominant religious groups.” The marginalised people were denied their rights and the power to exercise their fundamental human rights. Therefore, this book echoes the need of protecting the minorities and the Schedule Castes through the development of appropriate legislative procedures.
For securing the rights and equality of the minorities in India, Ambedkar prepared a memorandum that defined the fundamental rights of every citizen, rights of minorities and safeguards for the Scheduled Castes. His attempts to secure the rights of every citizen including the Scheduled Castes were not because he considered Scheduled Castes to be the minorities, but because he wanted to protect and safeguard their rights in the Hindu society, where they were considered untouchables. He had proposed in his work that the Scheduled Castes must be seen as a minority and the protection that is given to the minorities and other citizens of the country must also be given to them.
Ambedkar understood that the Scheduled Castes in India suffered from social, economic and educational underdevelopment more than other minorities and citizens of the country. The level of discrimination and inequality that the Scheduled Castes experienced was much higher than other minority groups. His proposition to safeguard the rights of the Scheduled Castes could also have been derived from the most significant social problem of ‘untouchability’. Such social practices had increased the level of discrimination and without eliminating such discrimination, an integrated and secular India would have been impossible.
Through his work in States and Minorities he had made a significant effort in providing two different interpretations about the Scheduled Castes. First, he believed that the protections that were proposed under the memorandum for the minorities should also be applied to the Schedule Castes. Ambedkar proposed a special ‘Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes’ in Article II, section IV. Second, he identified that people could interpret that the Scheduled Castes were not equal to minorities and, thus, they should not be provided with the protections that were given to minorities. However, he disregarded this second interpretation and identified that social status of every individual in the Indian society should be equal, regardless of their caste or religion.
In States and Minorities, he drafted the memorandum in the form of Articles and provisions of the Constitution, so that they could be more helpful in drafting the original Constitution of India. Apart from informing about the basic and fundamental rights of the minorities and Scheduled Castes, this book also talks about the various remedies in the case of discrimination and the invasion of the fundamental rights. He advocated the role of the Supreme Court and the legislatures and what steps could be taken if the rights of individuals were threatened. Some of the significant features of his work could be identified as his ability to see a progressive future, in which he didn’t envision a common integrated community on the basis of similar cultural and religious identity. Nor did he believe that a nation should be based on a common religious or cultural identity.
Ambedkar believed in the spirit of unity within the framework of a multicultural nation. He envisioned a unified India free from the caste and creed-based differences and wanted to promote social amalgamation. He believed that political ambitions of the authoritative Hindu castes had resulted in the rejection of the presence of the minorities and the Schedule Castes. He advocated for the natural human rights that have been fundamentally awarded to every individual by virtue of being a human. Thus, he placed the rights of the minority and the Schedule Castes at the centre of the political discourse of India.
States and Minorities also reflects on state socialism and economic democracy that was required to be ingrained in the newly born India. Ambedkar can also be identified as a pioneer in proposing the theory of state socialism in India. He proposed that it was the responsibility of the state to ensure that every citizen of the Union of India received the right of living anywhere in the Indian territory with a right to vote and no citizen should be disqualified from any right on the basis of the race or birth or social, economic status. The concept of state socialism is also enforced in order to abolish the supremacy or the dictatorship of any individual, who could interfere with the fundamental rights of citizens. He believed that political democracy could only be promoted through the centralised control of the state.
While for Karl Marx, socialism was based on a class struggle, Ambedkar’s socialism was based on the peaceful and constitutional methods identified under the supreme law of the land. The main motivation behind States and Minorities was to expose the exploitation of the down-trodden classes of India and discriminations against them. This was why he recognized the significance of parliamentary democracy for promoting equality in India. He believed that the constitutional, political and legal principles were mainly concerned with the political structures within the country, while there was a significant need for identifying the social and economic structures for the growth and development of all.
Ambedkar believed that the problems of the minorities and the Scheduled Castes were not only related to the social and political atrocities but also to various economic issues. Marx also identified that the main problem of the proletariat class (in case of Ambedkar they are minorities and Scheduled Castes) was economic. Therefore, for making a progressive future, it was important that their economic rights should be protected by providing various fundamental rights. The caste system in the Indian society had resulted in the rise of a specific nexus of superiority and inferiority as well as graded inequality between man and man. Ambedkar illustrated that the problems of the down-trodden classes were mainly social and economic, rather than political. States and Minorities embodies his beliefs that the ideal of social justice would be achieved only by providing the social and economic equalities to these classes.
Rights to representation in the services had been the provision that had specifically focused on providing economic equality to the minorities and the Schedule Castes. In India, a discriminatory social system rejected the rights of the Scheduled Castes and minorities to attain education and gain meaningful employment. Ambedkar himself experienced the caste-based tyranny of the Indian society. Therefore, he sought to protect the right to education for the minorities and the Scheduled Castes in order to promote equality. He had also believed that spatial and social segregation in the Indian society had resulted in hindering the progress of the country and prevented the growth of nationalism. Ambedkar’s work on state socialism, his provisions and propositions have been significant for bringing about a radical social, political and economic change in the Indian society. This was the reason why he proposed state control in the matters related to agriculture, industries and property rights. State socialism was also identified by him as a need for rapid industrialisation of India.
Ambedkar believed that nationalisation of the insurance industry was a significant step for protecting every citizen. His work can be identified as the small locus of tightly-knit social, political and economic provisions to promote integrity, democracy and equality in India. Through his memorandum in States and Minorities, Ambedkar highlighted that discrimination and inequality were the main threats to the spirit of socialism and nationalism. Through his work, he aimed at destroying all forms of discriminations and atrocities that are committed against minorities and the Schedule Castes. Ambedkar believed that the prevailing economic, social, political and moral situations in the country were not suitable for the establishment of an integrated and socialist country. In States and Minorities, Ambedkar laid down a strategy for India’s economic development and proposed a model of economic development that he himself described as ‘state socialism’. The strategy placed “an obligation on the State to plan the economic life of the people in lines which would lead to highest point of productivity without closing every avenue to private enterprise and also provide for the equitable distribution of wealth.”
States and Minorities does not limit itself to ‘safeguards’ but also talks of the danger of majoritarianism, incompatibility of Hinduism with any change which Dr. Ambedkar considered as the greatest threat to the democratic process, constitutional liberty and natural justice.
Dr. Aniruddha Babar, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Tetso College, Dimapur, Nagaland. The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.