ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Conjoint Effects of Caste

The National and the International in Ambedkar’s Political Thought

This article attempts to extend studies on Ambedkar’s understanding of the nation state to include his concerns for the international. This is achieved by looking at the problem of caste inequality outside the borders of the Indian nation state and the latter’s response or the absence of response to such a pertinent issue. Via an analysis of political sovereignty, the social question, and Buddhism, we seek to demonstrate how Ambedkar reworks the connections between the national and the international on the common register of human equality.


An earlier version of this article was presented at a workshop titled “The International in Ambedkar” organised jointly by the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University and Dr Ambedkar Centre for Social Justice, University of Mumbai. Many thanks to Medha and Sruthi Muraleedharan for organising this workshop and for commenting on this article.

In a letter addressed to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dated 18 December 1947, B R Ambedkar wrote about the myriad problems affecting the Scheduled Castes (SCs) living in Pakistan. Ambedkar recounted that apart from their position as menial workers and landless labourers, “[t]he Pakistan Government is particularly anxious to impound the sweepers whom they have declared as persons belonging to Essential Services” (Ambedkar 2003: 369). In this lengthy letter to Nehru, Ambedkar outlines other hardships faced by the SC inhabitants and refugees from Pakistan, such as being denied any place in the refugee camps established by the Government of India due to discrimination by caste-Hindu refugees and rehabilitation officers, the complete exclusion of SCs from land allotment in Eastern Punjab upon return, lack of representation of SCs in the relief and rehabilitation department, police, magistracy, etc.

More recently, two cases of caste discri­mination in the United States (US) came to light, which only belie Ambedkar’s concerns voiced in 1947. The first case was the discrimination faced by a Dalit employee of Cisco by their Savarna colleagues at Silicon Valley, a litigation of which is pending before the California state court (Dave 2020). The second case was about the human trafficking and exploitation of Dalit and other oppressed caste artisans and workers by the organisation named Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) in New Jersey (Correal 2021). Nominally speaking, the Cisco employee as well as the artisans and workers found to be trafficked to the US for constructing a temple were all Indian citizens or of Indian origin, and yet this matter failed to seek any diplomatic intervention from India’s side against the violation of the fundamental and human rights of Indians in the US.

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Updated On : 10th Aug, 2021
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