Ambedkar and Du Bois

South Asians celebrate B. R. Ambedkar’s birthday, April 14, as equity day to pay tribute to his unmatched contribution to uplift and inspire the dalits in India and beyond. On this occasion, I want to look into an instance of transnational understanding and solidarity Ambedkar and Du Bois tried to forge between the USA and South Asia to fight race and caste discrimiation. In 1946, Ambedkar wrote a letter to W. E.B. Du Bois poiting out similarity between the US Racism and Indian casteism.

There is so much similarity between the positions of the Untouchables in India and the Negroes in America that the study of the latter is not only natural but necessary.

Ambedkar seems to carry on the legacy of Jyotirao Phule who didicated his 1873 book Gulamgiri aka Slavery to the good American people who took ground for the liberty of the enslaved blacks. Phule urged his fellow dalit people in India to draw an inspiration from the American to fight the oppressions of Brahminism. Amebdkar also wanted to follow or adapt the strategeis for justice used by Du Bois for the cause of blacks in the USA for the dalits in India.

At that time, Negros of America had filed a petition to UNO and Ambedkar was consering similar move on behalf of the dalits of India. He wrote:

I was very much interested to read that the Negroes of America have filed a petition to the U. N. O. The Untouchables of India are also thinking of follwing suit. Will you be so good to secure for me two or three copies of this representation by the Negroes and sed them to my address. I need hardly say hwo very greatful I shall be for your toubles in this behalf.

On July 31, 1946, Du Bois replied to Ambedkar’s letter. Du Bois wrote that he was enclosing the statement made by the National Negro Congress with the letter. He added that a much more comprehensive pttiton “will be laid to the United Nations by teh National Association for the Advancement of Colored Poeple.” He promiesed to send a copy of the peition once it was placed. Du bois futher wrote:

I have often heard of your name and work and of course have every sympathy with the Untouchables of India. I shall be glad to be of any service I can render if possible in future.

Public and Cunterpublic

Warner opens his introduction to his 2002 book Publics and Counterpublics by referring to publics as “queer creatures” who have become unavoidable in the “social landscape” as if they are “pavement” (7). In our increasingly “media-saturated forms of life” the texts and artifacts are, in one way or the other, “intrinsically oriented to publics,” and people’s “attention is everywhere solicited by artifacts that say, before anything else, Hello, public!” (7). Though individuals do not recognize all the members of a society, they forge a sense of relationship and participation to “addressable social entities” based on common sense or imagination. Therefore, as Warner puts, Publics are “a kind of [practical] fiction, that has taken on life, and very potent life at that.” Warner’s notion of public as imaginary construct is in line with what Benedict Anderson’s says of nation as “imagined communities.” The idea of public and counterpublic is fundamental to understand the nature of rhetorical circulation in our media and social media saturated digital town squares.