Educate, Agitate, Organize
Rising to the Clarion Call of Dr. Ambedkar
By Dadasaheb Tandale |
MAY 12, 2021
Since the year 1999, I’ve been on a journey to discover a call that transcends political necessity and, instead, calls on our inner humanity. In my oral history of the Ambedkarite community, I have been able to explore the significance of one such clarion call, expressed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar at the All India Depressed Classes conference in July 1942 in Nagpur, India. His call to his followers was: Educate, Agitate, Organize.
Dr. Ambedkar believed that caste-based marginalization had led millions of Dalits into abject mental and physical poverty, and stripped them of their humanity. The three pillars of the clarion call guide the way towards emancipation, freedom, justice, equality, fraternity, and liberty as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
Through his call, Dr. Ambedkar called upon the oppressed community to reach out for the education of the next generation, which they had been denied by the dominant castes on the basis of spurious religious, social, and cultural reasons. He asked them to agitate because Dr. Ambedkar believed in peaceful mobilization for the rights of the most marginalized. Finally, there was the call to organize, which Dr. Ambedkar emphasized in order to bring all sections of the depressed classes together.
The call could not have been any more relevant and actionable for marginalized communities and its lessons ring true for all of us who are advocating for social justice today.
Today, many U.S. organizations work from an Ambedkarite philosophy, towards causes in American communities as well as against caste atrocities happening in India. Organizations like the Ambedkar International Mission (AIM), Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA), Ambedkar International Center (AIC), and Boston Study Group (BSG) share the common goal of spreading Dr. Ambedkar’s (lovingly called Babasaheb) philosophy.
I was able to interview Awsarmol and other Ambedkarite leaders between January and March of this year.
“What came to me as an inherited identity, was actually claimed by me by reading Babasaheb,” reflected Awsarmol, who grew up in a traditional family in Bhandara, Maharashtra, in India surrounded by the images of Dr. Ambedkar and Buddha. His family converted to Buddhism along with Dr. Ambedkar and so he claims to have inherited the identity. However, his understanding of Ambedkarite philosophy came from his own efforts to read Dr. Ambedkar’s texts as an adult, creating an active and dynamic identity for himself. “It was an awakening for me,” he says. According to Awsarmol, being an Ambedkarite is an evolved state of mind, one that anyone can achieve, irrespective of their caste. It is about the logical anti-caste approach towards humanity. This education into the pillars of Dr. Ambedkar’s clarion call is our own effort.
The call to “agitate” is more complex we might at first assume. This “stirring” or “shaking” of the marginalized communities, whether in India or in the U.S., is meant for them to realize their own bondage in the caste system and struggle to overcome it. However, the key aspect of this struggle is a peaceful mode of agitation. “Making sure to raise our voice against the silencing of caste atrocities; the lie that caste does not matter anymore—all of this is a part of the movement,” said Mahesh Wasnik, one of the senior members of the Ambedkar Association of North America (AANA). Talking about a recent case of caste discrimination in CISCO, Wasnik mentioned that such cases come up in every sector, including the IT sector where he works.2 “The idea is to not fear repercussions and reach out to the law,” he told me.
As a country which professes to safeguard the rights of all its residents, the U.S. holds hope for many communities who are marginalized due to caste, class, and gender. This hope remains alive for the Ambedkarite community: the hope of experiencing a casteless society with dignity and respect for all human beings. This agitation is vital to counter the generations of silencing of the Ambedkarite community in India as well in the U.S. by dominant caste communities that do not acknowledge that Dalits exist.
“One of our first goals in the diaspora was to connect to communities in India who are still suffering,” explained Ravi Mahey ji, an Ambedkarite based out of New York. This connection was an important aspect of the work that early Ambedkarites in the U.S. wanted to achieve. Reiterating a similar thought, Awsarmol mentions that their small group of Ambedkarites reach out to other members of the community on important events like Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary through social media. This is a way for them to connect to Ambedkarites irrespective of organizations or geographic location.
Offering a similar sentiment, Awsarmol said, “The basis of Ambedkarism is being anti-caste; there cannot be any lax in that. Either caste was glorified or denied in the U.S. before, now Ambedkarites are building a new narrative.” Here we are, telling ‘the other story’ about caste: that caste exists and affects communities wherever they live. And that caste needs to be annihilated in order for all human beings to co-exist, not simply for the most marginalized.
“Being Ambedkarite is also being a feminist,” said Maya Kamble, for whom Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of social justice is also gender justice. Kamble (name changed at her request) is a senior member of an Ambedkarite organization based out of New York. Dr. Ambedkar is known for having said, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved,” which shows his commitment to bringing women into the forefront of the society. “I see Babasaheb beyond gender. He is like a mother to us; caring for us, feeling our pain. You can understand this from the non-patriarchal nature of his writings which disconnects him from the rest,” she explained.
As an Ambedkarite, I define Ambedkarism as a socio-economic-political transformation of society to annihilate oppressive structures without any bloodshed. This sentiment has been reflected in the oral histories I have conducted thus far as well. Filled with emotions of respect, dignity, equality and gratitude, these oral histories have allowed me to get in touch with my own feelings of pride in being an Ambedkarite and refocused me on the path of following Dr. Ambedkar’s clarion call of “Educate, Agitate and Organize”—in word and deed, flesh and blood.
1. Chawla, S. (n.d.). 15 powerful quotes by India’s freedom fighters that we should never forget. Retrieved from https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/quotes-of-indias-freedom-struggle/
2. Arthur, D. (2020). California workplace discrimination system sheds light on caste system. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/10/12/922936053/california-workplace-discrimina...
Dadasaheb Tandale (he/him) is an advocate for social justice and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at School of Global Inclusion and Social Development at University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is a part of the Board of Directors in Boston Study Group, a U.S. based Ambedkarite organization. The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation