Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Fraternity

(Excerpted with Permission from Dr. Aakash Singh Rathore’s Ambedkar’s Preamble: A Secret History of the Constitution of India).

Need ‘Never Greater than Now’

On 21 February 1948, Dr Ambedkar packed up the working draft Constitution created by the Drafting Committee since it first met on 30 August 1947. Sending the completed draft to the president of the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar enclosed an important cover note explaining the Drafting Committee’s methods and decisions, and a clear and forthright confession of its departure from the Objectives Resolution, along with its justification. That note read in part: The committee has added a clause about fraternity in the Preamble although it does not occur in the Objectives Resolution. The committee felt that the need for fraternal concord and goodwill in India was never greater than now and that this particular aim of the new Constitution should be emphasized by special mention in the Preamble. In other respects, the Committee has tried to embody in the Preamble the spirit and, as far as possible, the language of the Objectives Resolution. This was the right decision and would prove to be universally recognized as such. The ‘fraternity’ clause was met with enthusiasm across all the spectrums represented in the Constituent Assembly, and as the clear brainchild of Dr Ambedkar it certainly played a role—augmented by his formidable charisma, oratorial skill, dexterous wit and encyclopaedic knowledge—in building upon his already enhanced reputation and profile within the Constituent Assembly itself. Dr Ambedkar’s note to the president of the Constituent Assembly mentioned that the need for fraternal concord was never greater than now, an obvious allusion to the ongoing tragedies in the wake of Partition. But there was another underlying discord in Dr Ambedkar’s mind as he wrote this note: the contentious and divisive omnipresence of caste. And given the battery of assaults on Brahmanism and Brahmanical patriarchy that were inscribed into the body of the enclosed Constitution, as well as being unleashed in the form of the Hindu Code Bill, now being rewritten by Dr Ambedkar, ‘the need for fraternal concord and goodwill in India was never greater than now’. For, as Dr Ambedkar would soon pen down in Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India, Brahmanism was divisive to the core: By the denial of education to the Shudras, by diverting the Kshatriyas to military pursuits, and the Vaishyas to trade and by reserving education to themselves, the Brahmins alone could become the educated class—free to misdirect and misguide the whole society. By converting Varna into Caste, they declared that mere birth was a real and final measure of the worth of a man. Caste and Graded Inequality made disunity and discord a matter of course. The long march towards the annihilation of caste and its inauguration through a radically egalitarian assault, by means of nascent constitutional law, on the ubiquitous and millennia-old social law of graded inequality was not going to be free of violence, bloodshed and tragedy. And so again, ‘the need for fraternal concord and goodwill in India was never greater than now’.

Fraternity in Ambedkar’s Thought

But ‘now’—21 February 1948—was not the first time that Dr Ambedkar spoke of fraternity. While all of the available source documents that either formally or informally came to bear upon the form and content of the Constitution of India were silent on the concept of ‘fraternity’, it was of frequent and indeed continuously evolving usage in Dr Ambedkar’s own writings and speeches. The centrality of the idea of fraternity to Dr Ambedkar’s thought cannot be overestimated. He not only appealed to it in the Drafting Committee and the Constitutional Assembly Debates, or roughly the period from 1947–50, where Dr Ambedkar took recourse to ‘fraternity’, he made judicious use of the term even in Annihilation of Caste (1936) and through essays like ‘The Philosophy of Hinduism’ and the ‘Hindu Social Order’, probably written during the period that he began working on the Hindu Code Bill (1947–51). It also appeared in books like Riddles in Hinduism (composed somewhere between 1951–53), a later important interview (on All India Radio in 1954) and a late speech on ‘Buddha and Karl Marx’ (an oblique reference, speaking of ‘love and justice’ in 1956), right up to his final, posthumously published masterpiece, The Buddha and His Dhamma (written between 1953 and 1956, published in 1957 after his death). With such frequent use in so many different contexts, it is difficult to pin down one specific definition of the term that Dr Ambedkar consistently used over the twenty years that he took recourse to it. Its own meaning seemed to change, along with the synonyms that he employed while describing it. But in a very general way, there was a pattern to the evolution of the concept in his thought over the decades, which is broadly discernible and not too contentious. That is, Dr Ambedkar first thought of fraternity as a political concept, emerging most saliently from the French Revolution, with important social significance, one that he found sadly absent from Hindu society; this was his view prePreamble. Later, post-Preamble, Dr Ambedkar observed that what was absent from Hindu society was actually one of the central teachings of Buddhism, metta (metta is Pali, maîtri in Sanskrit). Thus, he began to see this ethico-spiritual concept as an indigenous and indeed superior formulation than the term ‘fraternity’, and sought to utilize it for both its social and political implications. In this account, the moment of the Preamble was the pivot from the earlier conception to the later one. This is important, because, as we shall see later, it was the continuously evolving conception of ‘fraternity’, as it was captured at one moment within the Preamble, that synthesized and harmonized the full breadth of Dr Ambedkar’s multifaceted approach to society, politics and law.

The Morphology of Fraternity

Many other jurists, philosophers and historians have attempted to come up with a coherent account of the term ‘fraternity’ (or metta) in Dr Ambedkar’s a coherent account of the term ‘fraternity’ (or metta) in Dr Ambedkar’s voluminous writings and speeches. One of India’s finest contemporary philosophers, Pradeep P. Gokhale, has catalogued the most significant treatments of these terms (‘fraternity’ and ‘metta’, and also ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’) within Dr Ambedkar’s writings and attempted to pin down the exact scope of their meaning for his political thought overall. Dr Ambedkar’s earliest major reference to what Gokhale called ‘the trio of principles’ (liberty, equality and fraternity) can be found in Annihilation of Caste, where Dr Ambedkar referred to them as the foundations of an ideal society. He did not refer to Buddhism in this context, instead he chose to refer to the French Revolution. Thus, at this stage Dr Ambedkar was treating these principles as occasioned by the French Revolution. Even at a later stage, when he wrote ‘The Hindu Social Order: Its Essential Principles’, Dr Ambedkar discussed the principles in the context of the French Revolution. So, even here he did not refer to Buddhism as the source of these principles. But in 1954, during an All India Radio interview, Dr Ambedkar seemed to have completely changed his point of view: My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha. Pradeep Gokhale has reasoned that when Dr Ambedkar said he derived his philosophy, which was enshrined in the three principles, from the teachings of the Buddha, his statement was not to be taken literally. Instead, it was to be interpreted in the context of the would-be Buddhist phase. What Gokhale aimed to show was that though Dr Ambedkar originally accepted these socio-political principles from the context of the French Revolution, he gradually reinterpreted them as ethico-religious principles. Thus, when Dr Ambedkar came to the conclusion that Buddhism was the ideal religion, towards the end of his life, he re-appropriated this ‘trio of principles’ as being rooted in the Buddha’s teaching, his dhamma. Although the specificities of Gokhale’s story may be contentious, and it should be pointed out that in his narrative there was no indication of a pivot in Dr Ambedkar’s position occurring at the point of the Drafting Committee or the Constitutional Assembly Debates, his reconstruction of Dr Ambedkar’s ‘trio of principles’ teaches a very important lesson. That lesson is that we need to understand Dr Ambedkar’s thought not as a static or constant viewpoint, but as a dynamic flow instead. I believe that his ideas evolved in accordance with new information that came in: new facts, momentous events, discovery of new literature.

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