Ambedkar's "States and Minorities": A Critical Overview

Risha Shah

The text of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities, was submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the All-India Scheduled Caste Federation on March 15, 1947. This was presented to the Fundamental Rights Committee of which he was a member. The memorandum has been drafted in the form of Articles of the Constitution, for, in the words of Ambedkar, it maintained point-wise discussion and precision. The articles have been extended to sections and parts for better understanding. Ambedkar has also prepared explanatory notes and other statistical information for the benefit of the Working Committee of The Scheduled Castes Federation. The memorandum contains a total of 64 pages including the Preface to the text which is prepared by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar himself. My goal in this paper is to bring out the nature of the Draft Constitution about which the text is written, i.e., the Fundamental Rights of the Citizen, Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes, Minority Rights and State Socialism.


In States and Minorities, Ambedkar argues whether one can hold the view of the scheduled castes being a minority. In the words of Ambedkar, "Anyone with a fresh and free mind, reading it as a general proposition, would be justified in saying that it is capable of double interpretation. I interpret it to mean that the Scheduled Castes are more than a minority and that any protection is given to the citizens and the minorities will not be adequate for the Scheduled Castes" (1).

(In Pic: Cover Page of the 2017-edition of State of Minorities. Image Courtesy: Kalpaz Publications) By these lines he meant that the socio-economic conditions of the Scheduled Castes were very low as compared to the majority of Hindu citizens and other minorities; and to revive it, special safeguards would be required against the tyranny and discrimination of the majority. Later, in the memorandum, Dr. Ambedkar has provided the safeguards for the Scheduled Castes (in Article II Section IV), sanction for safeguards, and amendment of safeguards in Part III, and protection of Scheduled Castes in the Indian States in Part IV. Ambedkar says that to say that the Scheduled Castes are not a minority is to misunderstand the meaning of the word ‘minority’. In this purview, he says: "Separation in religion is not the only test of a minority. Nor is it a good and efficient test. Social discrimination constitutes the real test for determining whither a social group is or is not a minority. Even Mr. Gandhi thought it logical and practical to adopt this test in preference to that of religious separation. Following this test, Mr. Gandhi in an editorial under the heading" (Ambedkar 21). He has also thrown light into Fundamental Rights and Minority Rights. He briefly points out that India faces the problem of minorities and the problem of the Indian States.


Fundamental Rights of Citizen

In States and Minorities, the Fundamental Rights of Citizens is recognized in Article II- Section I. The Fundamental Rights that are included in this article are borrowed from the constitutions of various countries. In the Draft Constitution, the Fundamental Rights that were prescribed by Dr. Ambedkar were justifiable in the court of law. Ambedkar observed ‘Equality of Opportunity’ as the most important amongst all the other rights. Fundamental Rights meant the establishment of equality and liberty to reform the social system of India. But they were full of inequalities, discriminations that conflict with our Fundamental Rights. As he saw it, if social and economic inequalities remained, Political democracy, too, would be in-ground. According to Dr. Ambedkar, full democracy is possible where there are relatively high levels of living and literacy and a fair amount of equal opportunity. ‘Gender Equality’ is another important aspect that Dr. Ambedkar held. For him, women of the community shall be subjected to progress only then, a whole community becomes progressive. He has reflected his major concern for women of society, not only Dalits but also elites, in areas concerning inheritance and divorce in his proposed, ‘The Hindu Code Bill’ approaching gender equality. Ambedkar placed social and economic equality alongside political and civic equality in contrast to the use of these principles in the French and American declarations though equality and non-discrimination are clearly at the centre of his conceptual framework of human rights.

Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes

In the memorandum, States, and Minorities, Article II, Section IV guarantees the safeguard for the Scheduled Castes. The Right to Representation in the Legislature is conceded by the Poona Pact and focuses on these points: 1. Quantum of Representation, 2. Weightage, and 3. System of Electorates. In Clause I, Quantum of Representation is allowed to the Scheduled Caste.


The proportion set out in the Pact was fixed out of the balance of seats which remained after 1. The share of the other communities had been taken out; 2. After weightage to other communities had been allotted and, 3. After seats had been allocated to special interests. This allotment of seats to the Scheduled Castes has resulted in great injustice (Ambedkar 21). According to Ambedkar, Weightage has become a double controversy; one is between the majorities and minorities and, the other between the minorities. There is an unequal distribution of the weightage among the minorities, some get access to the more of it whereas, some untouchables have none. He says that this wrong must be rectified by distributing it on some intelligible principle.


The method of electing the electorate is guaranteed in the Clauses (2) and (4) of the Poona Pact. In the opinion of Dr. Ambedkar, if the minority wants a joint electorate, the majority must abide by them and cannot refuse to grant them. Also, whether the electoral system should be the joint electorate or separate electorate must be left to the wishes of the minority. “If it is large enough to influence the majority it will choose joint electorates. If it is too small for the purpose, it will prefer separate electorates for fear of being submerged,” says Dr. Ambedkar (19). In A scheme of Political Safeguards for the Protection of the Depressed Classes in the Future Constitution of a Self-Governing India, he tried to do in law what he dreamt of working in areas of society and politics. This document was an early draft that Ambedkar managed to put into the Constitution of post-1947 India. This memorandum gave the untouchables the right to access all public places. The document went on declaring social boycotts a criminal offense by prescribing measures on how the Untouchables would be protected from social boycotts. The memorandum demanded a system of positive discrimination within the electoral system as he doubted if the universal adult franchise alone could secure equal rights for Untouchables. In this memorandum, he also suggested being given a separate electorate so that there would be no obstacle, namely Hindu orthodoxy, to restrain them from developing a political constituency with the leadership of its own.

Minority Rights

The provisions for the minority rights have been guaranteed in Article II Section- III, Clauses 1,2,3, and 4 of the memorandum. Clause 1 of the text takes the American form of Executive as a model and adopts it to the Indian Constitution especially to the requirements of minorities. This form of an executive is far from getting objected on the ground that it is against the principle of responsible government. Regarding this Dr. Ambedkar is of view: "There is also nothing objectionable in the proposal that a person should not be qualified to become, a Minister merely because he is elected to the Legislature. The principle that a member of the Legislature before he is made a Minister should be chosen by his constituents was fully recognized by the British Constitution for over a hundred years. A member of Parliament who was appointed a Minister had to submit himself for election before taking up his appointment" (22).


In Clause 2, there seems to be ‘the best remedy against tyranny and oppression’ by a majority against the minority which is an inquiry, publicity, and discussion. The Sapru Committee had also published a report which dealt with similar causes of resolving issues about minorities on December 1, 1945. A non-parting conference was appointed in November 1944 and the report was prepared by the committee, the first meeting of which was convened by Tej Bahadur Sapru, a renowned lawyer. Clause 3 of the Minority Rights dealt with the social boycott. The Government of Bombay appointed a committee in 1928 to investigate the grievances of the depressed classes and the effects of the social boycott were extracted which is mentioned in the memorandum. The Committee came up with some grave issues that were in veil for long time-open violence against the Untouchables by the orthodox classes, the depressed classes did not possess any economic independence in most parts of the Presidency. Ambedkar mentions that:

Some cultivate the lands of the orthodox classes as their tenants at will. Others live on their earnings as farm laborers employed by the orthodox classes and the rest subsist on the food or grain given to them by the orthodox classes in lieu of service rendered to them as village servants (18).


Thus, he suggested that a social boycott be made nothing but a crime. The provisions relating to boycott are taken from the Burma Anti-Boycott Act, 1922. While Clause 4 guarantees the power of governments to spend money for any purposes connected with the Government of India including purposes beneficial to the minorities. This provision already existed in Section 150 of The Government of India Act, 1935.


State Socialism and Economic Democracy:

Dr. Ambedkar was influenced by Buddha and his teachings, thus he sought to ascribe a similar agenda and wanted to redefine India and her states. He wished State Socialism to be the basic structure of the Constitution. He was reserved with the doubts of how to establish state socialism. It was resolved by advocating a system of parliamentary democracy based on state socialism-state ownership and state management of key industries in the economy; state ownership of basic industries, state monopoly in the insurance sector; subsisting rights in the state industries; state ownership in agriculture, levying charges on the production of the firm; imposing penalties on those who violate the agricultural contract. As Dr. Ambedkar wished this scheme of state socialism would operate only for ten years starting from the very day when the Constitution would come into force. But, his program of state socialism was never adopted. Sardar Patel and J.B. Kripalani rejected his idea of socialism. Later, he approached Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru to include his idea for state socialism in the Fundamental Rights section of the constitution, being denied by both he was upset with Nehru’s Objectives Resolution which he considered to be a retirement from the idea of state socialism. He felt that the Resolution failed to advocate the nationalization of land and it might not ensure social, political, and economic justice.

Ambedkar thought of democracy as an ideal that would bring a positive change. He had great faith in democracy. However, he focused more on economic democracy in his text, States and Minorities. Dr. Ambedkar’s principle of economic democracy was-one man one value. At the time when the Indian National Congress had no program about the economic structure of India, it was Dr. Ambedkar who came up with his principle of economic democracy which was more in political terms. In reality, it failed to translate into economic terms. He blamed constitutional lawyers for not looking ahead of Fundamental Rights and Universal Adult Suffrage. He was of the idea that the constitution should not shy away from describing a particular form of economic structure it wishes the state to follow. He was also of the thinking that the countries who are latecomers in the field of Constitution should not copy the faults of other countries.


Commentary

States and Minorities is a book for all poor and marginalized groups, not only Dalits because it deals with the economic system, political system, social protection against the discrimination of former Untouchables of India. It was, rather, a solution to the problems of India and her states. After this, there are no more additions to any further concerns of the state. This is called the last statement because the book stated what economic system, political and social programs we should have concerning our country. When he wrote this document, he studied the whole situation of the Dalits right from the 1920s to the 1950s, and thus, he was able to provide us with solutions to the problems that the people of India faced. He started arguing for certain policies for the Dalits from the 1990s. He advocated for a responsible government that was to be formed by the representatives of the people. Dr. Ambedkar believed that the opinions of common people mattered and wanted them to be accepted because he did not want to impose a Constitution on the Indians. He wanted a democratic government and thoroughly examined its functioning based on stability and responsibility. For Dr. Ambedkar, democracy was the best political form to bring about the kind of change he envisioned. He argued that in this view, the government required people with different social notes which could be even anti-democratic. He wanted Indian democracy to be different, unlike the West as he said that the very nature of Indian society was against the individual-it was a society constituted by its communities. He even thought that democracy alone cannot guarantee the protection of the rights of minorities. He tried to make several safeguards for the minority groups in India. Dr. Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, was familiar with the situation of the Dalits, Untouchables, and other minorities of India. Many of his efforts were tried to push down for making him settling only for reserved seats for Dalits in government under the Poona Pact of 1932. This is still an area of concern as to how minority groups to be protected from discrimination.

States and Minorities, is even relevant today as it gives the reader all the information regarding the minorities of the states; their status, how oppressed they were, how they were dominated by the orthodox Hindus, what steps were taken for, and against them, what safeguards were prepared for their protection. We get an idea about the current situation of the minority groups in India. The book also throws a question of whether the Scheduled Castes should be considered as a minority. We find that Dr. Ambedkar holds an excellent argument over this question of minority and provides us with a clear answer to the question. He talks about the ‘United States of India’ and the admission of states into the Union. According to him, every State which is a part of the Union on its own identity requires the capacity so that it can bear the burden of modern administration to maintain peace within its borders and to possess the resources necessary for the economic advancement of its people; or else the country will contain weaker states which would add to the burden of the Central Government. Thereafter, he gives remedies to avoid such a situation. Thus, in this book, we get various productive ideas to make up a puissant country.


Works Cited

Ambedkar, B. R. States and Minorities: What Are Their Rights and How to Secure Them in the Constitution of Free India. Kalpaz, 2017.

Kumar, Kamal. “Indian Constitution: The Vision of B.R. Ambedkar.” IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 19, no. 3, ser. 4, 2014, pp. 29–36. 4, http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol19-issue3/Version-4/F019342936.pdf.


Author Information


Risha Shah studies English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is interested in Dalit Studies.



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