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How Reading Ambedkar Made Me Understand Feminism Better

Posted: April 19, 2020

Reading Ambedkar leads one to the profound realisation that the principles given to us by Babasaheb help us fight every form of discrimination.

Feminism is a constantly evolving ideology, keeping pace with the issues that need to be addressed at every given time.

Over the centuries, there have been innumerable demands that were at the forefront of feminist movements, which evolved over time depending on the changing demands and developments in society. This can be best understood when read in conjunction with the demands fought for in the first wave feminism, until contemporary times.

Some demands, even if claimed to have been achieved, are still not accessible to all women around the globe. This ‘evolution’ is what makes feminism a more inclusive lens to be associated with and to understand discrimination, rather than any other lens. Thus ‘Intersectionality’ has become a key component of feminism.

The fundamental concept of intersectionality is that the struggle for freedom should be powered by minds that are deprived of freedom – those that know the value of freedom more than anyone else. Hence feminism has evolved over time as an inclusive platform to fight for the demands of myriad marginalised groups.

In other words, it can be safely said that women were the most oppressed among all discriminated groups, hence the inclusiveness was much needed.

Reading Dr. Ambedkar, one cannot help but draw parallels between his views on Dalit reformation and Women’s equality. Babasaheb himself is a great feminist and was very vocal about the issues faced by women and the need for women’s empowerment.

In his book, Castes in India, Dr. Ambedkar emphasises the sorry state of Shudra women as compared to Brahmin women saying, “A Brahmin woman after childbirth is up to reclaiming her day job whereas a Shudra woman has no place to go.” (caste names as used in the book).

However, one should not mistake him as being oblivious to any segment of women. He was just stating the obvious that the women in the top echelons of society are well off when compared to those at the bottom, which is very much true even today. However, he has time and again captured the sorry fate of upper-caste women too in his writings. He had come down heavily on the much revered Manusmriti for its pivotal role in discriminating against Shudras and women of all castes. He says that the venom injected through the Manusmriti in the form of graded inequality had cost women heavily as they were banned from a life of self-respect – it was not just unequal but unjust.

Some of the ‘gems’ from the text of the Manusmriti when looked at briefly illustrate the miserable position it allots to women within the Hindu religion:

“Na asti strinam…” – 9/18: Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women as they are impure and represent falsehood.

“Trinsha…” -9/93: In case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

“Bharataram……” – 8/370: In case a woman, proud of her greatness, violates her duties towards her husband, the king shall arrange to have her thrown before dogs at a public place.

Reading Ambedkar teaches us to stop victim-blaming

It is generally said, “Women are women’s best enemies”. Though it is yet another gimmick by the male population to derail the feminist movement and divert the attention from the more dangerous perpetrators i.e men, the situations where women are not supportive to fellow women cannot be ignored.

The patriarchal mindset is so ingrained that some women, sadly, are misogynists. But one must also care to look behind the reasons for women holding those ideologies. That is what they have been taught from childhood and that is the ‘normal’ for them in the male privileged world. Though some women have had the opportunity and exposure to come out of it, the ones who did not have the privilege cannot be held wholly accountable.

Dr. Ambedkar while advocating separate electorates for Dalits, does not shun away from stating, “Dalits will not vote for Dalits over Hindus, for they have a strong belief that Hindus are superior and more eligible than the untouchables.” Though the ignorance within the community was for him a problem to be eliminated, it could not be held as the only and foremost problem. The grounds on which this ignorance is based is the unearned privilege and manipulation from time immemorial.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who has relentlessly worked within the community could clearly see the root of the problem. He showed us the need to uproot the evil without passing blaming the victims as an easy way out to thwart corrective measures. Similarly, it is important for feminists to not get discouraged by the ignorant acts of misogynist women but keep moving forward on the path of Babasaheb.

In his book, Waiting For A Visa, Dr. Ambedkar lists a few incidents of discrimination that happened to him and others. He reiterates the fact that untouchables are considered untouchables across all religions, that even those from Parsi or Muslim communities think of an untouchable as ‘low’. Similarly, women are considered ‘inferior’ across all religions and every religion has its own way of discriminating against women. The only principle that unifies all religions in the world is the fact that they have all failed women miserably.

Dr. Ambedkar, the reformist has left his life and acts as an open book for interpretations. His advocacy for reservation still holds as valid grounds for advocating Women’s Reservation. He cannot be put in a box as a Dalit leader alone, but a visionary who lived for all the marginalised.

Whatever be the grounds of discrimination, reading Ambedkar helps us take a leaf from his book to fight against it untiringly.

First published at author’s blog

Image via Wikipedia

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