-Periyar E.V. Ramasamy
Translated by Karthick Ram Manoharan and Vilasini Ramani
Ambedkar belongs to the world of great scholars. What is the reason for him to become such a great scholar? His education, talent etc. come only secondary. There are perhaps people who are more educated and more talented than him. So the reason why Ambedkar is a great intellectual is not only because of his education and talent, but also because we the people reap benefits from his intellect, while others use their learning for their own benefits.
Ambedkar is an atheist. Not just today, he has been an atheist for a very long time. Let me tell you one thing. All those who are true intellectuals in the world are all atheists. And only those who are atheists can research and be scientific and live as shining individuals. They are the ones to put their knowledge to use.
Dr. Ambedkar is a great scholar. And because of that he is a great atheist. He uses his original intellect to talk boldly about what he observes. In our country, those who are considered to be scholars are afraid of talking the truth. But Dr Ambedkar is nothing like them, he talks very boldly.
Recently there was an incident that the entire world watched with awe. That is Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. He has formally joined Buddhism now, but he has been a Buddhist for quite some time.
Dr Ambedkar has rejected Hinduism for the past 20-30 years. When he talks about Gandhi, he says, ‘Gandhi is a staunch Hindu. He wants to protect Varnashrama and Manusmriti. What can he do for the Adi Dravidars?’ He thus attacked Gandhi, rejected the slokas of Varnashrama, and said that Gandhi is behaving this way only because he is a devout Hindu.
Ambedkar was into propagating the annihilation of caste from 1930-35. In Punjab they have created a forum for caste annihilation (I think it is called Jat Pat Todak mandal). They even added me as a member of it. The group had arranged for a meeting for eradicating caste and asked Ambedkar to head it. Ambedkar also agreed to head the meeting and wrote about 100 pages in English to be read out. Using facts, he has mentioned at many places that to annihilate caste we should reject Hinduism. Hearing about this, the members of the group had asked him to give the paper to them before he presented it. In the text, he had written categorically that Hinduism should be rejected. After reading it, they requested to him that, ‘Your keynote address is not appropriate to be read in our meeting. This is an organization that works for caste eradication and not for the removal of religion. So please remove the chapter in which you have mentioned about the rejection of Hinduism.’ Ambedkar replied, ‘Rejecting Hinduism is crucial to the annihilation of caste. We cannot exclude that in the talk. Hence, I cannot remove the chapter.’ Malaviya had tried to convince him. To which Ambedkar responded, ‘Let me talk what I have to talk in the keynote address. You can condemn my talk in the same meeting if you want. You can even make a resolution about it. I will address that in my endnote.’ The meeting never happened.
I asked Ambedkar to give me that speech and published that as a book in Tamil with the title Saathiyai Ozhikkum Vazhi. He was very committed to this idea for a long time.
When we were only talking about Ramayanam in 1932, he had already burnt it. N Sivaraj was the head of that meeting. All of this has been reported in Kudiarasu.
When he visited Chennai once and talked about The Gita, he said that it was nothing but gibberish. On hearing this, people like C.P. Ramasamy Iyer made noise saying that, ‘Talking ill of The Gita is atrocious. If Ambedkar as an individual had said this, it could be excusable. But not as a council member and not when visiting Chennai.’
I had invited Ambedkar to a meeting on social reform in Erode. RK Shanmugam Chettiyar gave the opening speech at the meeting. Ambedkar could not come for unknown reasons. MR Jayakkar had come instead. He spoke some words of appreciation and left. Had Ambedkar come, it would have been much better.
Around that time, Ambedkar said that he wanted to convert to Islam. S Ramanathan and I immediately sent him a telegram from here. ‘Please don’t make a hasty decision. You should have at least one lakh people following you to get respect even there. Else, you might have to dance to the tune of the Maulanas. They claim that Islam is a perfect religion. Just doing prayers and other rituals will be like being in jail for you. If you go alone, there will not be any respect. If you are attacked, don’t you need support?’ we said in the telegram. Many other people also went to his house and had requested him not to convert. It was published in newspapers. He was very serious about converting to another religion. Finally, he chose Buddhism.
But he was already a Buddha.
I met him in Burma when we went for the World Buddhist conference. I was supposed to give a speech as per the program. But they had not informed me about it. I attended the meeting. But instead of me they asked someone else to give a speech. During this visit, Ambedkar said to me that we should formally convert to Buddhism today.
‘Mysore Maharaja is very fascinated by the doctrine of Buddhism. Even I would like to settle down in Mysore. He has also agreed to give many acres of land. With all the resources that we have we could start a university instead of just talking until we die. Shouldn’t we do something significant before we die?’ Ambedkar said this and many other things. And he is living his words now. He has now boldly converted to Buddhism. And he made a statement after that.
‘I will no longer accept Rama, Krishna, Siva, Indra as my gods anymore. I will not accept their incarnations as my gods. I do not believe in idol worship. I do not believe in caste, moksha, hell etc. I do not believe in rituals around death, offerings and oblations. I will not perform them anymore.’
Whatever we reject or condemn today, he has already spoken about it.
Ambedkar is a guide for the people. He has always been very outspoken in his criticisms of caste and religion. He worked for others selflessly. He is well known throughout India. He has shown a way to his people by converting to Buddhism. There is a chance that people from here might also convert. He has helped his community to attain education and employment. He has secured 15 percent reservations.
He is a great leader by himself. There will not be another leader like him in future. He was a natural leader, anticipating an egalitarian time. After Ambedkar, there can be no other leader like him.
Periyar’s talk at Velore Municipal Council on 28-10-1956. Published on Viduthalai on 7-12-1956.
Source: Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. 2010. Periyar Kalanjiyam 10: Jaathi-Theendaamai, Paagam (4). [Periyar Repository 10: Caste-Untouchability Part (4)]. Second Edition. Chennai: Periyar Suyamariyathai Prachaara Niruvanam, 190-194.