Before the Hindus complain of the destruction of the unity of India, let them make certain that the unity they are harping upon does exist.
-Dr. Ambedkar, in the text we are about to discuss
I have observed some bad faith quoting of Babasaheb’s writings and wanted to set some records straight. If you read his writings correctly and the given citations, you can discover the truth by yourself. But since you are here, let me do the favours. I will split this series into two parts, they are each incomplete without the other.
The first part of this series will focus on my observation that his criticism of Muslims in India is quoted selectively to push various agendas. They are either
- That his critique of Muslims in India justifies the atrocities meted out to them collectively. This is often a Sanghi trope.
- That he was an Islamophobe and thus not worthy of guiding the very people he emancipated. This is a trope used by left-liberals, especially communists and sometimes privileged class Muslims to suppress the anti-caste political activities & use that as a point to shut the voices from assertive Dalits.
- That his analysis of Muslims in India was done in bad faith.
Allegations of Islamophobic “verdict” on Muslims
I don’t buy these arguments for issues mentioned in 2) and 3). As a victim of the ruling classes composed chiefly of Oppressor castes Hindus and Muslims, he had every right to criticize their impact on the communities they headed. I will need proof of his actions and not criticism. Did he, by any of his actions or decrees or statements, invoke violence on any Muslim, especially marginalized Muslims?
If you contend that Dr Ambedkar, as an outsider, should not have made his analysis on the Muslim community I will insist that you turn back now. As per my reading, it is one of the most needed analyses and needs to be discussed more often and taken seriously by Muslims in India. The right-wing Brahmin/Savarnas at least learned from his analysis about the weakness of Hindu society and worked on selectively and superficially addressing them. But also because Dr Ambedkar represented a marginalized section of society and thus had every moral authority to introspect the impact of Hindu and Muslim ruling classes on respective communities. However bitter it is, the pill prescribed by the doctor needs to be swallowed.
One more thing, a social and political analyst of his calibre must not be compared with hate mongers who selectively use quotes from this book for their agenda. It only shows a lack of wisdom on your part when you label him or portray him to be an Islamophobe. In all his writings, I only understand him to be deeply in love with humans and want to free them from shackles imposed by oppressive systems. I know criticism at this juncture, when the Muslims have been cornered by the regime and painted as trouble, sounds very much like the language of oppressors. But it is wise to remember that Dr Ambedkar wrote this in a very different era for a different audience. If it provides any solace, one must remember his criticism of Hindus and Hinduism is enormous due to the oppressive structure it supports. It helps to read it and orient yourself to his world before passing a judgment on him. It might also help arm you to deal with the problem described in the next section.
Selective Quotes to Justify Sanghi Tropes
Now let us focus on the more significant issue mentioned in point number 1)
When a Brahmin/Savarna approaches me with “selective” Babasaheb’s observation of Muslims in India, my typical response to them is to share Babasaheb’s quote on Hinduism. Usually, this is enough to shoo them away.
But we need to engage with the material to support Muslims who get bullied with such tactics. It is a shame that our education system, which Brahmin/Savarnas control, does not make us aware of his writings to understand how Babasaheb built his arguments and the compassion he held for people while analyzing the socio-political systems that made them suffer.
The favourite text for Sanghis and Brahmin/Savarna communists are his quotes in “Pakistan or Partition of India“. A book about which he already warned us :
“The reader may complain that I have been provocative in stating the relevant facts. I am conscious that such a charge may be levelled against me. I apologize freely and gladly for the same. My excuse is that I have no intention to hurt. I had only one purpose, that is, to force the attention of the indifferent and casual reader to the issue that is dealt with in the book. I ask the reader to put aside any irritation that he may feel with me and concentrate his thoughts on this tremendous issue “
Let me use one illustration; the first quote that is rampant from right-wing Twitter accounts is
“But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other.”
According to Brahmins/Savarnas of explicit kind(RSS), that is a justification for their “love jihad” narrative. The bigots don’t tell us that he explicitly discusses the issues that Purdah(especially Burqa) creates.
Let us see what this section is trying to discuss?
The main concern he is trying to address in the 1940s is the “Social Stagnation” of the Muslim community. The lines immediately preceding this quote above reads
“The evil consequences of purdah are not confined to the Muslim community only. It is responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far-fetched, and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other.“
He is still blaming the unsociability of Hindus for lack of social contact, especially the dominant caste Hindus who would not even allow Muslim friends in their home or eat food made by them. But given how he was aware of problems caused by the segregation of men and women, he goes a step further and accepts that it is not wrong to admit that purdah has hindered the social mixing of the two communities.
His Strong Opposition to Purdah Among Muslims
The second quote that shocks many Muslims who do happen to read more around the quote is
“These burka women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India. Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women. They are usually victims of anaemia, tuberculosis, and pyorrhoea. Their bodies are deformed, with their backs bent, bones protruded, hands and feet crooked. Ribs, joints and nearly all their bones ache. Heart palpitation is very often present in them. The result of this pelvic deformity is untimely death at the time of delivery. Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels, with the result that they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.
They lag behind their sisters from other communities, cannot take part in any outdoor activity and are weighed down by a slavish mentality and an inferiority complex. They have no desire for knowledge, because they are taught not to be interested in anything outside the four walls of the house. Purdah women in particular become helpless, timid, and unfit for any fight in life. Considering the large number of purdah women among Muslims in India, one can easily understand the vastness and seriousness of the problem of purdah”
But is this really him making this up or was it the consensus of the Feminist movement of his times? In the citation given we discover he is discussing recently published literature. A big part of the quote above comes from there.
For the various health effects discussed, indeed, for a few decades in his time, the research on the burqa and its hand in causing rickets had been a topic of discussion. Some good research is noted here, and a snapshot from a book discussing these studies is here.
Hutchison , H. S., and Patel, P. T.: A preliminary study of the etiology of osteomalacia in the city of Bombay. Glasgow Med. Jour., 1921 , Xcv, 241 .
Hutchison , H. S.. Rickets in India. Glasgow Med. Jour., 1922, xv , 145.
Hutchison , H. S., and Stapleton , G.: On late rickets and osteomalacia . Brit . Jour. Dis. Child. , 1924, xxi , 18 . Hyatt, T. P.: Dental work as a proph
Whether these studies still stand, I cannot say, but the fact is that Dr Ambedkar was not picking things out of thin air and had some credible research to back it up. One must also remember the deplorable conditions of Indian society during Raj, with poor infrastructure, sanitation, and housing.
To be concluded in next part….
Follow this link to read the second part of the article Dr Ambedkar’s Analysis of the Muslims in India
Author Prashant Nema is a writer and an Anti-Caste Activist.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, also known as Maulana Azad, was an eminent Indian scholar, freedo…