The Indian Express reports on the mini-controversy surrounding a new Ambedkar book:
“In the early 1950s, the Dalit community in Mumbai was gripped by the news that their leader, Dr B Ambedkar, was marrying an English woman, Francis.
It was believed that, on a particular day, he was arriving in the city with his new English wife.
His followers flocked to Ballard Pier to receive the couple; women carried diyas to welcome the bride and groom.
Although it was initially blasphemous for some of his followers, they eventually rationalised it by saying that all Dalit women were his sisters and mothers, so a British wife was acceptable….
Earlier this month, former Member of Parliament and Dr Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash filed a complaint with the Delhi Police against Roli Books, trying to stop the publication of a collection of letters written by Francis Fitzgerald, who was a typist at the British House of Commons, to Dr Ambedkar.
Edited by Arun Kamble, professor of Marathi at the University of Mumbai, Ambedkar felt that the collection contained love letters that ‘‘could hurt Dalit sentiments in the country’’.”
I know this is ridiculous, but I find the article curiously revealing. First there’s the instinctive recoil Indians still have at the thought that any of their national leaders might have had a private life. Second there’s the rationalisation of Francis as “acceptable” because Dr Ambedkar wouldn’t have been able to marry a Dalit “sister”. And third there’s a sentence in the report that justifies the letters on the ground that they prove the Fitzgerald-Ambedkar relationship was just a “friendship”, not a love affair.
Yeah, right. No sex please, we’re Indians. No romance, either, it makes us uncomfortable. Roli Books is, quite correctly, going ahead with the publication of the letters; no one has disputed, after all, that the letters are genuine.