Sunday, Oct 02, 2022
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An Untouched History

His stature as a social actor often obscures the value of his scholarship

An Untouched History Illustration by Sorit

When Gandhi and Ambedkar met in 1931, soon after the first session of the Round Table Conference, they had a fierce disagreement about Congress initiatives regarding untouchables. It is significant that Gandhi thought Ambedkar was an intemperate Brahmin who took interest in ‘Harijan’ matters. This misassumption on Gandhi’s part provides a historic clue about the incredibility of an untouchable’s entry into national consciousness.

In the years to come, the Gandhi–Ambedkar stand-off became marked not only in the political battleground but also in the way they viewed history, politics and ethics. For Gandhi, politics was a means to escape the violent traps of history and embrace a non-violent condition of ‘truth’. The mode for the attainment of such a truth formed the impetus behind Gandhi’s experiments with ahimsa. Ambedkar was more interested in the violence of history as a reliable source for understanding the truth of politics. In contrast to the centrality of ‘self’ in Gandhi’s schema of politics, Ambedkar emphasised 'caste' as the cardinal category for understanding Hindu identity and Indian history.For Gandhi, if ‘truth’ was outside history, for Ambedkar that truth was untouchability.

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