Ambedkar’s “contribution to the making of modern India is possibly more substantial than that of any other leader of his generation.” Uniquely among leading national figures, Ambedkar not only overcame enormous personal odds (caste humiliation, poverty, the deaths of four of his five children), he also pioneered a critique of Indian society based on Enlightenment values of liberty, equality, and fraternity—values that he situated in India’s own ancient traditions, most notably in Buddhism. He was more of a secular rationalist than even Nehru, with a far more sophisticated sense of history, economics, and philosophy. This aspect of Ambedkar—rooted in a worldly, inclusive, scrupulously reasoned, secular and radical egalitarianism, coupled with a bracing focus on equal dignity and social justice as foundations for civil rights—still hasn’t received its due in mainstream scholarship and opinion. Which other leader of the 20th century is as relevant to every dream of a just, modern, liberal, secular, humane, and democratic society in India today?
Author: Namit AroraNamit Arora is an essayist, humanist, travel photographer, and former Internet technologist. He moved back to India after two decades in Silicon Valley. He often volunteers his time for the Dialogue and Development Commission, an advisory body of the Delhi Government tasked to find innovative solutions to civic problems, where he led the drafting of Delhi's solar energy policy and worked on the problem of air pollution. Namit’s essays have appeared in numerous publications worldwide, including four college anthologies in the United States. His videography includes River of Faith, a documentary on the Kumbh Mela. He is the author of The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities (2017). His web home is at shunya.net
We’re far from liberal as a group, except on issues where being liberal helps our survival. Like many other immigrant groups, we’re opportunists and political chameleons. Isn’t it time to dispassionately ask what the term ‘model minority’ should really mean, and whether we Indian-Americans deserve that label?
Indeed, if men or Whites or Brahmins or heterosexuals have long used whatever power and knowledge was tied to their identity in order to define, judge, and subjugate others (is this not identity politics?), can the latter fight back without politicizing those definitions, judgments, and subjugations? As long as socially constructed race remains a vector of discrimination, wouldn’t it also remain a source of social identity, around which people organize to reclaim their dignity and rights? If racism didn’t exist, would we still have our modern idea of race—or the identitarians’ preoccupation with it?
Our nationalists simply do not have a judicious sense of proportion and priorities, largely because they live in a bubble of inflated fear, paranoia, and delusions of grandeur. So much of their love for “the nation” betrays so little love for those who live in it and the egalitarian spirit of the constitution that defines it.