Need for feminists to reclaim Ambedkar seen

Babasaheb Ambedkar. File Photo: The Hindu Archives
The Hindu Babasaheb Ambedkar. File Photo: The Hindu Archives
A thriving corpus of literature and music pertaining to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thought has been integral to the Ambedkarite or Dalit movement in Maharashtra. “Dalit feminism” has drawn copiously from this pool. However, feminist discourse at large has remained ignorant of the rich and complex interpretations of caste and gender as conceptualised by the architect of the Constitution, Sharmila Rege, director, Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at Pune University and a leading feminist sociologist, said during the 6th Ambedkar Memorial Lecture she delivered at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) here on Saturday.
“There is an urgency for feminist discourse to turn to Ambedkar. A category of women undifferentiated by caste does not exist for feminists to mobilise. Now the pressure is not to talk about gender in isolation, but to include class, caste and other factors. Therefore, there is a need to reclaim Dr. Ambedkar’s writings as feminist classics,” she said.
Ms. Rege said though feminist academics had been late in turning to Ambedkar, a culture of booklets and music of Dalit movement has had a much longer history.
The inseparability of caste and gender in Dr. Ambedkar’s conceptualisation and his interpretations of history and the place and role of marriage in social construction of graded inequality, provided an important understanding of the issue of women’s emancipation in the Indian context. “As Ambedkar said, Caste is endogamy and endogamy is caste. He also brought out how the origin and reproduction of caste rested on gendered violence.”
Giving a real-life example in recent times, Dr. Rege referred to a Brahmin Parishad held in Pune last year. It passed a resolution to marry within the caste in “nation interest.”
The Hindu Code Bill, as conceived by Dr. Ambedkar, and the intense opposition to it also offered a great deal of insight into the governing forces and ideas at play in the wake of struggles for women’s emancipation.
Dr. Rege pointed to a political design of belittling Dr. Ambedkar’s scholarship as a historian, by terming him a political leader and avoiding any reference to his theories in academics, even though later sociologists had arrived at similar conclusions. “I have learnt about Ambedkar not through academics, but by my interactions with the Phule-Ambedkarites,” she said.