Manash Bhattacharjee

Author's Introduction:

Babasaheb Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), was a man of many talents: a jurist, a critical scholar of Hindu religion, its history and practices of discrimination, a radical reformer who campaigned for the legal, social and moral rights of the untouchables (Dalits), of women and of labour and the most fierce campaigner against the Hindu caste system. He earned a law degree and various doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He was Independent India's first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India. Having converted to Buddhism in his later life, he spearheaded the Dalit Buddhist movement. 

Ambedkar summed up the Kafkaesque nature of Hindu caste system with this pithy observation of its social policy: "Some closed the door, others found it closed against them." As his political role as a leader of the Dalits grew, he came into sharp confrontation with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Ambedkar stand-off became marked not only in the political battleground but also in the way they viewed history, politics and ethics.  Ambedkar believed in ‘absolute non-violence’, where he endorsed violence for just ends in the fight against inequality and oppression. He found the materialist and non-violent character of Buddhism to be evoking another thinkable historical version of a Marxist society. Ambedkar had once made a distinction between the “learned”, limited by class interests, and the “intellectual”, emancipated from class considerations. Among the many learned Indian nationalists, Ambedkar was a rare intellectual. As years go by, the immense scope of his intellectual importance is only beginning to be perceived by the intelligentsia. 



To Babasaheb Ambedkar on his 124th birth anniversary 


You donned the suit
Like a new surname 

The coloniser gifted 
What Manu* denied 

Law’s door was shut 
Till you got the keys 

You donned ironies 
Instead of eulogies 

The tie on the chest 
Threaded – sacredly 

You found cowardice 
In the story of valour 

In scripts of the holy 
You chewed – insults 

Religion was a meal
Served untouchably 

The history of caste
Hurt – like fish bone 

You tore the shadow 
From Brahmin bodies 

They reeked – of filth 
In their fear – of filth 

You busted their lies 
With the edict of fire 

You drank the water 
Of Buddha’s sorrow

*Manu: Hindu law-giver

Manash Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, translator and political science scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University. His poems have appeared in The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, The Fortnightly Review, First Proof: The Penguin Books of New Writing from India (Volume 5), George Szirtes' Blog, The Missing Slate, The Little Magazine, and Coldnoon. He has contributed essays, articles and reviews to Los Angeles Review of Books (forthcoming),Guernica, Huffington Post, Democracy Now, Economic and Political Weekly, Outlook, The Hindu, Biblio, among others. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib's Tomb and Other Poems (2013), was published by The London Magazine. He is currently Adjunct Professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.