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Indian Minorities Call Hanging of Ambedkar Beside Gandhi an “Unspeakable Insult”

April 3, 2014 | By

Sacramento, United States (April 03, 2014) After learning of possible plans by Indian diplomatic missions to jointly recognize Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Mohandas Gandhi, some Indian minorities suggest the Indian State is deliberately working to undermine the Dalit civil rights champion’s legacy by linking him with Gandhi, whom Ambedkar described as “an opponent” and others call “diametrically opposed” to and “mutually incompatible” with the Hindu mystic.

According to Dr. Muni Subramani, a neuroscientist, a Buddhist, and an advisor to U.S.-based rights group Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), one of the earliest evidences of this claim occurred in 2004. “When a professor at Columbia University, Dr. Ambedkar’s alma mater, tried naming an independently-funded chair after Ambedkar, he was refused, but six years later, when the Indian State offered to fund a chair, the path was cleared. With Indian State funding comes control of the dialogue and so, within two years of establishment of Columbia’s Ambedkar Chair, it hosted a widely-broadcasted lecture about reconciling Gandhi with Ambedkar. As the Good Doctor himself stated repeatedly, Ambedkar and Gandhi advanced mutually incompatible views. Now there is talk in some circles that Indian consulates are considering hanging Dr. Ambedkar’s picture beside that of Gandhi, which would be an unspeakable insult.”

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar [File Photo]

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar [File Photo]

Frustration of attempts by E. Valentine Daniel, an anthropology professor who is former director of Columbia’s South Asian Institute, to establish an Ambedkar Chair were reported by The New York Times in 2004, which said Valentine “told of the resistance he faced among upper-caste Indians on an academic committee when he wanted to name an endowed chair in Indian political economics after a noted untouchable, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.” [1] Dr. Atul K. Biswas, former Vice-Chancellor of B. R. Ambedkar Bihar University, noted the disturbing irony, writing: “The man who scripted the very Article of the Constitution of India abolishing untouchability was himself targeted for brazen discrimination at the altar of his own Alma Mater.” [2]

After plans for an independently-funded chair were stymied, Columbia Law School Magazine reported, in 2010, “a significant milestone in Columbia Law School’s longstanding relationship with the government of India” when Meera Shankar, then India’s ambassador to the U.S., announced “that the country would endow… the new chair, the B. R. Ambedkar Professorship in Indian Constitutional Law.” [3] In 2012, The New York Times published an article entitled “Reconciling Gandhi and Ambedkar,” reporting that Columbia’s Ambedkar Chair hosted a lecture of the same name at which keynote speaker Ramachandra Guha, an Indian historian, argued “both Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Ambedkar fought against the caste system.” Guha stated: “They should both be heroes. Why must we diminish one figure to praise another? India today needs Gandhi and Ambedkar both.” [4]

Last year, Pieter Singh, an advisor to OFMI, spoke at a conference organized at Columbia University to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar’s arrival in America. At the conference, India West reported:

“Pieter Singh rebutted recent attempts by Columbia Law School’s Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Chair (an Indian-state funded enterprise) to reconcile Gandhi and Ambedkar, stating, ‘Ambedkar and Gandhi mix as well as oil and water, sand and fire, cats and dogs, or snakes and babies. In other words, they don’t go together. They are irreconcilable.’ He gave as a key reason Gandhi’s promotion of racial segregation in pre-Apartheid South Africa and lifelong defense of the caste system, adding: ‘On the one hand, Dr. Ambedkar stood for the annihilation of caste. On the other hand, Gandhi stood for the perpetuation of caste.’” [5]

Emphasizing his disgust at the idea of mutual recognition of the two Indian personalities, Dr. G. B. Singh, author of two books on Gandhi and an advisor to OFMI, said: “It is a bold-faced lie by this Mr. Guha to say Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar both opposed caste. Dr. Ambedkar wanted to liberate the downtrodden peoples of India who are divided into thousands of castes but Gandhi supported the fundamental divisions of the caste system. What kind of historian is Mr. Guha if he thinks Gandhi fought against the caste system even though Gandhi said with so many words that he would defend the division of Hindus into four castes?”

Dr. Ambedkar was a contemporary of Gandhi who was educated at the University of Mumbai (1912), Columbia University (1917), and the London School of Economics (1923), called to the bar at Gray’s Inn, London (1923), served as India’s first Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice, and chaired India’s Constitution Drafting Committee. Throughout his life, his chief pursuit was exposing and opposing the practice of caste, a mission he began in 1916 in New York when he presented the paper “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development,” in which he argued: “Caste is an enclosed class.” [6]

In 1936, after announcing in April before the Sikh Mission Conference that he intended to renounce Hinduism, Dr. Ambedkar published in May a seminal book, “The Annihilation of Caste.” In this work, he explained his view that caste is absolutely degrading to all social values, writing:

“The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste. Virtue has become caste-ridden, and morality has become caste-bound. There is no sympathy for the deserving. There is no appreciation of the meritorious. There is no charity to the needy. Suffering as such calls for no response. There is charity, but it begins with the caste and ends with the caste. There is sympathy, but not for men of other castes.” [7]

Not only morality, but also necessity, demanded, in Ambedkar’s view, that Hinduism must abandon the practice of hereditary division of humanity. He denounced its adoption by other faiths, writing:

“Caste is no doubt primarily the breath of the Hindus. But the Hindus have fouled the air all over, and everybody is infected—Sikh, Muslim, and Christian…. It is only when Hindu Society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself.” [8]

Mohandas Gandhi, meanwhile, staked his legacy on preservation of caste, declaring in 1920: “I am certainly against any attempt at destroying the fundamental divisions. The caste system is not based on inequality. I am prepared to defend, as I have always done, the division of Hindus into four castes.” [9] So convinced of the benefits of caste that, in 1932, he promoted its expansion across the globe, saying: “Caste is necessary for Christians and Muslims as it has been necessary for Hinduism, and has been its saving grace.” [10] In fact, as Dr. Biswas wrote in 2013:“Gandhi portrayed caste as the natural order of society. He believed that caste was prevalent in other countries also and taunted them saying: ‘Those countries have not derived from the caste system the same degree of advantage which India has derived’ because India applied a ‘religious coating’ to it.” [11]

Gandhi favored a religious coating for caste, but seemed to view science as an even stronger argument in favor of the system of social stratification. In 1933, for instance, he wrote: “The caste system, in my opinion, has a scientific basis. Reason does not revolt against it. It has disadvantages. Caste creates a social and moral restraint — I can find no reason for their abolition. To abolish caste is to demolish Hinduism.” [12] In 1947, having argued that caste has a legitimate scientific and religious basis and that Hinduism is inextricably linked with the practice of caste and should be adopted by other faiths, Gandhi, who was then near the very end of his life, advocated outright Hindu supremacism, declaring:

“It cannot be said that Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are separate religions. All these four faiths and their offshoots are one. Hinduism is an ocean into which all the rivers run. It can absorb Islam and Christianity and all the other religions and only then can it become an ocean. Otherwise it remains merely a stream along which large ships cannot ply. [13]

At the end of his life, Gandhi advocated the takeover of the world by Hinduism. In the middle of his life, Gandhi insisted caste’s “fundamental divisions” are intrinsic and essential to Hinduism. And at the beginning of his life, during the 21 years he spent in pre-apartheid South Africa, Gandhi promoted racial segregation of blacks from Indians and argued the racial superiority of whites. In 2008, South African journalist Sentletse Diakanyo wrote about this, concluding: “To continue to honour and celebrate this man is to insult humanity!” The reason it is an insult, according to Diakanyo, is because of Gandhi’s “pathetic racism,” elements of which he described as follows:

“He conspired with the oppressive white government in promotion of segregation of black people and elevating the importance of Indians above them. Indians believed in their false sense of superiority in that they frequently complained of being mixed in with black people in railway cars, lavatories, pass laws and in other regulations. They demanded special treatment and loathed being considered in the same regard as black people. He protested that, ‘we are classed with the natives of South Africa — Kaffir race.’

“Gandhi ensured that Indians received their elevation above black people and helped entrench segregation laws against black people. His major achievement was the creation of a separate entrance for Indians to the Durban Post Office who previously had to share with black people.

“Gandhi wrote: ‘In the Durban Post and telegraph offices there were separate entrances for natives and Asiatics and Europeans. We felt the indignity too much and many respectable Indians were insulted and called all sorts of names by the clerks at the counter. We petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.’

“There is a growing tendency to try to portray Gandhi as some messiah who also advanced the cause of black people. He cared less about the plight of black people and his sole purpose was to see Indians receive preferential treatment and laws be amended to that effect; while laws governing black people remained in force. He endorsed the ridiculous notion of white supremacy probably in the hope and belief that it would assist his cause for Indians.

“In 1903, Gandhi remarked, ‘we believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do, only we believe that they would best serve the interest, which is as dear to us as it is to them, by advocating the purity of all the races and not one alone. We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.’” [14]

Nevertheless, despite Gandhi’s racism towards blacks at the outset of his career and his promotion of caste at the close of his career, the Indian government constantly publicizes him for reasons that, in the words of Bhajan Singh, “can only be explained as a public relations move to advance a construct — a false image — to improve the international view of Gandhi.” The result, Singh says, is, “Brahminism is perpetuated by the Indian State through its advertisement of Gandhi. He was a racist and a casteist and yet, instead of jettisoning him and promoting a true civil rights champion like Dr. Ambedkar, India advances Gandhi, portrays him as a symbol of diversity instead of division, and works to destroy the legacy of Ambedkar by tying Gandhi around his neck.”

India makes no secret of its intentional promotion of Gandhi as symbolic of the country. The 1982 Gandhi film produced by Richard Attenborough, which won eight Academy Awards and popularized Gandhi for a Western audience as an unparalleled paragon of nonviolence, “was co-funded by the Indian government,” as Indian progressivist Arundhati Roy recently noted. [15] In fact, in an article about his production of the film, Attenborough wrote: “Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, was re-elected as India’s prime minister, and provided unstinting support. Not only would her government put up a third of the funding, but she miraculously opened doors that had previously been shut.” [16]

India’s systematic construction of Gandhi’s popular image has only grown more involved over the years. In particular, India focuses on installing state-funded statues of Gandhi throughout the world. In 2010, India’s Ministry of External Affairs admitted to actively seeking installation of Gandhi statues throughout the world, reporting that, since 2001, it had funded production and transportation of 65 statues to Indian diplomatic missions, including at least 4 in Canada and 5 in the USA. [17]

Indian diplomats use installation of these statues to push a popularized image of Gandhi. For instance, at the unveiling of a Gandhi statue in Houston, TX in 2004, then Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen stated: “Mahatma symbolises India’s unity in diversity and, for the world, he was an embodiment of peace and non-violence.” [18] In 2007, India’s Ambassador to Russia, speaking at a Gandhi statue unveiling in Moscow, said: “The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi cover all aspects of human existence: from your personal life — how to deport yourself, how to conduct yourself without violence, without harm to anybody in your personal affairs — to the level of society and the level of countries.” [19] In 2008, at the unveiling of a statue at James Madison University in Virginia, Ambassador Sen said: “Gandhi in himself embodied the principles which James Madison and the founding fathers envisioned for the United States.” [20]

Remarking on India’s international promotion of Gandhi, Pieter Singh said, “Like its campaign to dot the world with statues of Gandhi, India’s funding of Columbia University’s Ambedkar Chair, which was immediately used as a platform for trying to reconcile Gandhi with Ambedkar, is another example of the Indian State’s agenda to popularize a fabricated Gandhi it can use to cover up the state’s systemic human rights abuses and the continued widespread cultural practice of caste. So-called historians like Ramachandra Guha insist both Ambedkar and Gandhi are heroes, yet logic dictates that because they held diametrically opposed ideologies they cannot be simultaneously promoted. If one stands, the other must fall, which is why equating Gandhi with Ambedkar will always mean lynching the latter’s legacy.”

Dr. Ambedkar himself professed his fundamental disagreement with Gandhi. For example, in 1955, the year before he died, Ambedkar told a BBC interviewer:

“I always say that, as I met Mr. Gandhi in the capacity of an opponent, I’ve a feeling that I know him better than most other people, because he opened his real fangs to me. I could see the inside of the man, while others who generally went there saw nothing of him except the external appearance which he had put up as a Mahatma…. He was never a Mahatma and I refuse to call him Mahatma. I’ve never in my life called him Mahatma. He doesn’t deserve that title, not even from the point of view of his morality.” [21]

More succinctly, Ambedkar summed Gandhi up with the biting evaluation: “If a man with God’s name on his tongue and sword under his armpit deserved the appellation of a Mahatma, then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Mahatma.” [22]

“Not only is the Indian State besmirching Ambedkar if it promotes him alongside Gandhi, but it’s really shooting itself in the foot by introducing his name into the dialogue,” concluded Bhajan Singh, Founding Director of OFMI. “If India wants to talk about Dr. Ambedkar, then let us remember his remarks in Rajya Sabha where he rejected the Indian Constitution. He volunteered to be the first person to burn it just as he took the lead years before in burning copies of the Laws of Manu, the religious text which set the parameters of caste practice.”

Ambedkar’s remarks were made on the floor of the upper house of India’s parliament in 1953. While condemning “the tyranny, oppression, and communalism of the majority,” he spoke with regret about the final draft of India’s Constitution, stating: “People always keep on saying to me, ‘Oh you are the maker of the Constitution.’ My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.” When another Rajya Sabha member challenged him by pointing out that Ambedkar himself chaired the drafting committee, he replied forcefully:

“My friends tell me that I made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody. But whatever that may be, if our people want to carry on, they must remember that there are majorities and there are minorities; and they simply cannot ignore the minorities by saying: ‘Oh, no, to recognize you is to harm democracy.’” [23]


[1] Berger, Joseph. “Family Ties and the Entanglements of Caste.” The New York Times. October 24, 2004.

[2] Biswas, A.K. “Untouchable Ambedkar—the Saga of his Discrimination in America.” Mainstream Weekly, Vol. 48, No. 17. April 17, 2010.

[3] Staff. “India Endows Chair and Fellowship at Law School.” Columbia Law School Magazine. Fall 2010.

[4] Khan, Sarah. “Reconciling Gandhi With Ambedkar.” The New York Times (India Ink Blog). March 21, 2012.

[5] Staff. “Ambedkar’s Resurrection as Icon of Liberty Resonates at Columbia University.” India West. July 9, 2013.

[7] Ambedkar, Dr. B. R. Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis, and Development, 1916, part 31.

[7] Ambedkar, Dr. B. R. Annihilation of Caste, 1936, section 26, parts 3 and 4.

[8] Ibid., section 13, part 1.

[9] Gandhi, Mohandas. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Vol. 22, p. 67-68.

[10] Gandhi’s 1932 speech at Trivandrum, cited in “The bleeding wound: Being a most up-to-date collection of Gandhiji’s speeches, writings and statements on untouchability,” edited by Ramnath Suman.

[11] Biswas, A.K. “Great Britain under the Spreading Fangs of Caste.” Mainstream Weekly, Vol. 51, No. 35. August 17, 2013

[12] Gandhi, Mohandas. The Harijan Magazine, 1933.

[13] CWMG, Vol. 97, p. 465.

[14] Diakanyo, Sentletse. “On Mahatma Gandhi, his pathetic racism and advancement of segregation of black people.” Mail & Guardian (Thought Leader Blog). October 17, 2008.

[15] Roy, Arundhati. “The Doctor and the Saint.” The Caravan Magazine. March 1, 2014.

[16] Attenborough, Richard. “Richard Attenborough: The film bosses wanted Gandhi to be sexy – and be played by Richard Burton.” Daily Mail. September 3, 2008.

[17] Government of India Ministry of External Affairs, Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 379, Answered October 11, 2010: “Unveiling of Mahatma Gandhi statue.”

[18] Staff. “Mahatma Gandhi’s statue unveiled in Houston.” October 3, 2004.

[19] “Indian ambassador unveils Gandhi monument in Moscow.” October 3, 2007.

[20] Mitchell, Christina. “JMU unveils Gandhi statue: India gives gift to university’s Gandhi Center.” The News Leader. October 3, 2008.

[21] BBC Radio: “Final Interview with Dr. Ambedkar.” 1955.

[22] Singh, Dr. G. B. Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity. New York: Prometheus Books, 2004, p. 243.

[23] Keer, Dhananjay. Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 [1954], pp. 449-450.

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