Did Gandhi and Ambedkar Share Similar Beliefs for Dalit Emancipation?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of E​PW.


M K Gandhi’s approach to issues of caste-based exploitation and subordination has been critiqued and scrutinised by theorists and practitioners over the years. This scrutiny involves, in many instances, contrasting Gandhi and B R Ambedkar’s approach to the question of Dalit emancipation.

In 1996, Suhas Palshikar argued that while there are stark differences in the approach taken by Gandhi and Ambedkar, their shared goal of collective emancipation would require Gandhi to change his methodology. This is because, although Gandhi did not make caste-based inequality the centre of his struggles for emancipation, his views on the caste system reflected his “ultimate preparedness to abolish caste.”

Anupama Rao responds to Palshikar and argues that the insight he provides into the beliefs and actions of the two thinkers reveals just how far apart their political methods and beliefs for emancipation were. A key differentiator was that Ambedkar’s understanding of caste was grounded in lived experiences of violence, while Gandhi’s knowledge of caste was that of an abstract concept.

Palshikar responds to Rao, arguing that his article attempted to build bridges between two rich discourses. Specifically, he believes that both Gandhi and Ambedkar saw Indian society as being composed of non-fragmented identities. Rao responds to Palshikar again and argues that, given the histories of domination and subordination of caste categories, they must not be depoliticised. Rather, caste divisions must be recognised and worked through, in order to achieve any form of unity.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Inequality and Emancipation"

Curated by Abhishek Shah [abhishekshah@epw.in]


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