Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ambedkar on religion

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the head of India's constituent assembly, and, in many ways, the father of modern India's democratic Constitution, was a Dalit and an outspoke critic of the oppression faced by his people in Indian society. The following comes from a pamphlet (written in his native Marathi in 1936), Kon Pathe Mukti (Which path freedom?), which is a blistering denunciation of religion (Hinduism in this case) that denies human dignity to such a vast number of people. It may give some insight as to why so many Dalits -- despite the obstacles, and often a very mixed response by "higher castes" and worried religious authorities of the religion they convert to -- continue to seek out liberation in Christianity (and to a lesser extent, in Islam).

Ambedkar himself considered both Islam and Christianity as alternate religions for Dalits, but rejected both because they had both adopted caste and practiced caste discrimination. He ultimately chose Buddhism -- one main reason was that it was Indian in origin, egalitarian, and did not survive in India, so, in a sense, avoided getting co-opted by caste. Many Dalits are neo-Buddhists, and the Constitution provides for legal protection of converts to Buddhism, but does not to converts to Islam or Christianity.
Religion is for man; man is not for religion.

If you want to gain self-respect, change your religion.
If you want to create a cooperating society, change your religion.
If you want power, change your religion.
If you want equality, change your religion.
If you want independence, change your religion.
If you want to make the world in which you live happy, change your religion.

Why should you remain in a religion that does not value your manhood?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not let you enter its temples?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not give you water to drink?
Why should you remain in a religion that does not let you become educated?
Why should you remain in a religion that bars you from good jobs?
Why should you remain in a religion that dishonours you at every step?

That religion which forbids humanitarian behaviour between man and man is not a religion but a reckless penalty.
That religion which regards the recognition of man's self-respect as sin is not a religion but a sickness.
That religion which allows one to touch a foul animal but not a man is not a religion but a madness.
That religion which says that one class may not gain knowledge, may not acquire wealth, may not take up arms, is not a religion but a mockery of man's life.
That religion which teaches that the unlearned should remain unlearned, that the poor should remain poor, is not a religion but a punishment.

Do not say that men who treat animals with more respect than humans and who respects all Brahmans as Gods are religious.
Do not say that men who feed ants with sugar and let men go hungry religious.
Do not say that men who embrace another religion and push their own far from them hate society.
Quoted in Heradia, Rudolf. Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India. Penguin India, 2007, 235-236.

1 comment:

angelmeg said...

Powerful statements. One could do a lot of lectio with this text.