Ambedkar, Gandhi and Justice

April is the month when Ambedkar was born, and it is time to revisit
development paradigms from both Ambedkar (less known) and Gandhian
lens (better known).

The UNDP web page on Millennium Development Goal states “Goal of
cutting in half the proportion of people in the developing world
living on less than $1 a day by 2015 remains within reach. However,
this achievement will be due largely to extraordinary economic success
in most of Asia. In contrast, previous estimates suggest that little
progress was made in reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Western Asia, poverty rates were relatively low but increasing. And
the transition economies of the Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS) and South-Eastern Europe were still recovering from the rise in
poverty in the early 1990s” (UNDP, nd. Are we on track to meet the
MDGs by 2015?,http://www.undp.org/mdg/progress.shtml)

But are the path ways to growth followed by Asia just and sustainable
across generations? China and India are growing fast, but as pointed
out by Kemal Dervis (Dervis, nd. Unique Economic Growth in India and
China, http://blip.tv/file/4652766) the pathways to growth adopted in
China are leading to massive disparities between urban and rural
sectors, and in India to a spate of farmer suicides (en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Farmers'_suicides_in_India). One could add suicides of weavers,
dalits, landless households and poor women who have borrowed from
profit oriented micro finance institutions (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-
south-asia-11997571). The phenomenon of increase in missing girls in
both countries (with spread of dowry as a strategy for equalization
and combating poverty by households with sons) needs to be looked in
this larger context. The rate at which agriculture land is being
converted for other purposes is high in both countries, as well as
usurpation of nature for corporate interest and elite consumption.
There is tremendous restlessness amongst the 36.3% in China living in
less than $2 per day (PPP) and 75.6% Indians living with less than $2
per day as of 2005 (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.2DAY).
The failure is not just of these two countries, but global neo-liberal
model of development. One does not want a pathway of development where
MDG 1 of Eradicating Poverty is achieved by eliminating the poor and
socially marginalized groups and but by effective poverty
reduction.

Post collapse of USSR there is a crisis in development theory. As
observed by Dervis, one needs to go beyond unfettered capitalism and
communism and look for non violent solutions to just poverty
reduction. While Gandhi’s concept of non violence, Swaraj (people’s
self rule) and trusteeship (people are trustees of what they own, and
beyond that meet the needs of the poor) are globally relevant, history
has proved that it needs to be combined with ideas of Ambedkar,
wherein he asked for separate electorate for the marginalized so that
they could constitute the majority in Parliament, land to be
distributed to dalits, and other landless household (with equal rights
to women), questioned casteism, patriarchy, and anti minority
sentiments and converted to Budhism (not that it is fool proof today,
but at that time looked just) and raised the concept of Dominion (see
Penguin, 2010, Words of Freedom: ideas of a Nation B.R Ambedkar,
Penguin, New Delhi). He observed that in a Dominion the government
cannot step in when constitutional government has failed to maintain
law and order. If he was alive today, probably he would say that the
uprisings that we see in India and quelled in China are not just a
result of state failure but inter-state institutional failure too (in
particular the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade
Organisation, global public-private partnerships and and I would say
even the UN for it has not put in place mechanisms to make these
interstate organizations accountable). In fact, the UN Security
Council structure itself would look different if low income and lower
middle income countries had a greater say (in particular those who
have followed just pathways to poverty reduction and eradicating
injustices) and oppressed were called for UN-NG0 meetings in equal
numbers with NGOs who represent them.

Ambedkar saw the inter-connection between the culture, economic and
political subordination of dalits, tribals, women, minorities and
laboring class in India. Let us combine his concept, with that of non-
violence, Swaraj (self governance), and trusteeship of Gandhi and move
development debates beyond capitalism and communism. Self governance
without addressing the material and cultural basis of subordination of
oppressed groups is pointless as was revealed in a public hearing of
women and men local government leaders by a coalition of organizations
in Tamil Nadu, wherein even when dalits were majority in self
governance institutions, dalits were proxies for upper caste on whom
they were dependent for livelihood, centuries of caste hierarchies
prevailed and dalit women where proxies for dalit and upper caste men.
At the same time Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship is extremely relevant
if the paths followed are not to be violent. Gandhi believed that
those who own money now should behave like trustees holding their
riches on behalf of the poor. As observed by the organization Mani
Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya trusteeship is not just a legal fiction. If
rich people in the world meditate over it constantly and try to act
up to it, then life on earth would be governed far more by love than
it is at present (www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/
philosophy_trusteeship.htm). One could add rich nations too. Are they
acting non-violently, in trusteeship and following Ambedkar’s
paradigm? Are they leaving things for next generation not only in
their own countries, but through their investments and invasions on developing
world?

Ranjani Kamala Murthy
can i take intellectual property rights when several dalits, tribals,
minorities, unorganised workers have struggled towards justice who
could have written this article if not for the privileges that i
received. I do not mind if the ideas floated here are used by anybody with or without quoting me.