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Ambedkar’s religious connect

11 Apr 2017 11:17pm IST

Report by
Seema P. Salgaonkar

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11 Apr 2017 11:17pm IST

Report by
Seema P. Salgaonkar

Yogi Adityanath’s swearing in as the new chief minister in the strategically significant state of Uttar Pradesh has once again revised the debate of the kind of secularism the 42nd Amendment has bestowed on the people in India. The sporadic colored remarks made by saffron and non-saffron leaders time and again add fodder to this debate. On one hand we have the party representatives, our great politicians and the intellectuals creating a jargon of tolerance and intolerance myths, on the flip side the common man finds himself in a bundle of confusion regarding what is right to eat and to dress and to talk and to believe as supported by his/her religion…… only to find a sense of helplessness overpowering him and feeling literally like a puppet pulled in different directions. Accepted that religion will continue to play an indispensible role in our lives; couldn't we work towards having a right perspective on religion? And one way to do it is to understand and adhere to the ideas of great thinkers who have left behind a treasure of them from antiquities.

Our best reverence to Dr B. R. Ambedkar, the Bharat Ratna, on his 126th Anniversary could be to comprehend his concept of religion and its practical application in our daily life. His ideas on religion are an eye opener and answer most of the questions that chase us; such as what constitutes religion, why is religion important to us, and if religion is binding force why should the people be at war with each other in the name of religion? Ambedkar’s ideas have intense educative value and if followed could guide us to bring in religious harmony and coexistence we are aspiring for. His thoughts on religion unfold through his works like ‘Annihilation of Caste’, ‘Buddha and Dhamma’, ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’ and ‘Riddles in Hinduism’.  

What is religion in true sense? Ambedkar explains this concept in a lucid manner. According to him a true religion should have the following three features; firstly it should recognise an individual as a human being and promote equality, liberty and fraternity among all, secondly it should be of utility to human kind and thirdly it should be based on scientific rationalism and not on rules, customs, or taboos. Religion, if it is to survive, must be in consonance with reason, which is another name for science. Ambedkar refused to believe in traditionally conceived notions such as rebirth, karma and moksha. He opined that man and morality were the centre of religion and the function of religion was to reconstruct the world and make it happy, and not to explain its origin or its ends.

Ambedkar was very clear that social evils can have no justification whatsoever in a civilised society. Today in spite of the fact that the literacy rates are very convincingly rising in India, and the country is developing at a faster rate, one cannot but get disheartened by the varied social evils, from sacrifices to honour killings, which are surfacing every time in the name of religion. These social evils should not and cannot be justified on the grounds of religion. A true religion should respect the dignity of man because religion is to ennoble man and not to degrade him. To quote Ambedkar, “it is disgraceful to live at the cost of one’s self respect and it is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone one derives strength, confidence and recognition”. He strongly believed that one should follow only that religion in which one will get equal status, equal opportunity and equal treatment. He commented that man is not for religion but religion is for man. He opined that the religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant and the poor to be poor is not a religion but a visitation. 

Studies across India to understand what people actually do in the name of religion, reflect that all that the people do is obey certain sets of rules, and many of these rules are result of habits which have been passed on through generations. And not surprisingly a sizable of these rules are of discriminatory nature, i.e., gender discrimination where women are not allowed at religious places, leading to denial of fundamental rights and mockery of democracy to this important component of society. Ambedkar clearly distinguished between religion that was guided by rules and a religion of principles, and emphasised that the rules of life which were unjust had to be annulled and its place had to be taken up by a religion of principles. He rightly pointed that any religious act may not be a universally correct act, but it must be at least a responsible act. He evaluated religion with the twin tests of justice and utility. 

Ambedkar’s ideas on religion are not only enlightening, but also are of contemporary relevance. Even after sixty nine years of India’s Independence, our society remains a caste based hierarchy with all anomalies. We have segregation on lines of religion, class and gender. We witness terror, poverty deaths, atrocities against women and cruelty to downtrodden. There is a blind race among the self proclaimed religious leaders to prove how ‘their’ religion is better than that of ‘others’. It’s high time that we set our perspective on religion right. It is necessary that we free ourselves from the slavery of usage, customs, meaningless rituals, ceremonies, superstitions and traditions. We should inculcate rational inquiry into understanding things and should not fall victims to selfish politicians who are politicising religion to get their selfish ends meet. We need to replace religion of rules by the religion of principles, the major principles being equality to all and peaceful co-existence. We can atleast attempt to follow and also imbibe in our children, religion which is based on reason and rational humanism, and let this be our squirrel’s share to promote harmonious living. 

(The author is Associate Professor of Political Science, Government College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Khandola – Marcela)
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