Ambedkar is a unique voice. His contribution is timeless, as a political intellectual. The Essential Ambedkar is a collection of some of his major works that delve deep into the issue of casteism in India. Edited by Bhalachandra Mungekar The Essential Ambedkar stands as a uniquely relevant introduction to the large body of works by Ambedkar.
The Essential Ambedkar has fourteen essays in it. Each essay unravels the problem of caste in a new light. What I found fascinating is that the book also contains references to the complete works and original texts in cases where the complete essay is not given. This begs the question if The Essential Ambedkar is essentially a complete collection of Ambedkar’s works. It isn’t.
The works that appear in this volume are edited for their breadth and structure in order to express an innate harmony in the total theme. The theme that binds The Essential Ambedkar is casteism and its varied nuances.
In his detailed introduction to The Essential Ambedkar, Bhalachandra Mungekar summons comparisons between Ambedkar and Gandhi. In his point of view, both are intellectual stalwarts of Indian history. However, the reader may find a sense hidden in the introductory lines that perhaps, Ambedkar has a taller significance than Gandhi has.
The operational energy of the book is derived from the life experience of Ambedkar. His transition into a practicing Buddhist unravels the cruelty in the caste system within the Hindu society.
The inaugural essay in The Essential Ambedkar is titled “Caste and Untouchability”. Apparently, this essay works as an apt introduction for the remaining essays. The essay, “Caste and Untouchability” puts into perspective, the remaining pages of this highly readable volume.
This book is published around the time of the 125th birth anniversary off Ambedkar. The publisher, Rupa Books deserves a special applause for taking such a timely approach.
Examples of the keen observation of Dr. Ambedkar are available on each page of the book. For example, he juxtaposes the notion of endogamy and exogamy in order to locate the origin of the caste system. The argument he raises is that “the superposition of endogamy on exogamy means the creation of caste” (6).
This example stood out as a striking sample of the need for reform in Indian society. Recently, I watched an episode of Satyameva Jayathe in YouTube on the so-called “Love Commandoes.” The service these people render towards the progress of Indian society spiritually, psychologically as well as politically, is phenomenal. There are occasions when a physical help is required to save two people in a relationship not favoured by their society. Otherwise, they could be killed or molested for the honor of the family. Strange as it may sound, this reality is only one of the many inhuman practices that still find their space in India.
For those individuals who are in need of an intellectual support for the cause mentioned above, Dr. Ambedkar’s essay on the origin of caste would be of great help. This need not be considered a belittling of the great legacy left by this legend, which has only been addressed in the political realm yet. The political process to dismantle caste system from India, our own version of racism, must begin with a change in perspectives. This should not be limited within the world of political interaction. Personal, social, cultural, and spiritual interactions must also stimulate the larger body of thought process towards the direction of an active discussion of the same.
A deeper and more compassionate stand is a necessity in order to tackle issues of caste-based discrimination. In this regard, The Essential Ambedkar is an essential book to hold on to.
Author(s): Bhalchandra Mungekar
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: October 2015
Genre: Non Fiction / Anthology
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