"The basic idea underlying religion is to create an atmosphere for the spiritual development of the individual."
For Ambedkar, religion is of critical personal and social value as it upholds the moral fabric of a society and ensures its creative reproduction. In his work he emphasized the public and social effects of religion. However, his critical engagement with existing religions was far-reaching and he saw in the Buddha’s teachings essential ingredients to sustain a good society. He understood the relationship between culture and human agency dialectically: cultures can undermine human agency and sustain subservience and marginality or they can nurture a positive and affirming human agency. There is only one world to cherish: the human world. The secular domain of everyday and ordinary living becomes the space for self-perfection. He strongly believed that the clue to resolution of incommensurable beliefs lies in the expansion of the secular domain.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s conception of social justice and his life’s work shaping the idea of India offers the Conference a vantage point for sustained reflection on concerns of social justice and its relation to other human values in India and elsewhere. Such a Conference would encourage a wide inter-disciplinary engagement among academics, scholars, activists and policy makers on the sub-themes outlined below.
1. Idea of Justice
Conventionally the idea of social justice is primarily concerned with the distribution and redistribution of a variety of human wants and needs, powers and resources. While Ambedkar dwelt extensively on the wider concern of social justice, he focused his attention primarily on social marginalities that keep people ‘outside the fold’ by denying them cultural and social access to social belonging. Under deep diversity which predisposes people to different ultimate values, social relations and cultural dispositions, he felt, some belief systems may even justify unequal access to social resources. Keeping the idea of human dignity in the forefront, Ambedkar embraced a model of social justice with radical equality and democracy at its core. The role and place of the market came to be redefined in the process.
2. Political Justice
Ambedkar was deeply committed to democratic modes of resolving social and political disagreements. He understood democracy to be a political association of equal and free citizens defining itself in the indefinite future. He was committed to designing democratic institutions for post-colonial India as a politician, lawyer and the Chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent of India. While he endorsed modern political institutions he invoked a complex notion of citizenship: one that recognised deep cultural and religious diversities and a sustained conversation across them. This socially embedded character of citizenship motivated ideas of political representation of groups that was novel and unfamiliar to conventional liberal democratic theory. Further, the prospects of nationalism as a political ideal was informed and limited by the nature of citizenship.
3. Social Justice and Social Context
Dr. Ambedkar undertook many studies examining specific social formations, particularly India, and proposed new categories for social analysis. In this work he emphasised the need to concretely study social relations before developing social categories for public policy. These new social categories and analysis were at the core of the theories of social justice he advanced. Ambedkar argued that political democracy without social and economic democracy has little to offer to the vast masses of India. He emphasised the interrelated ways in which caste and ethnicity sustained relations of patriarchy and reproduced marginality of women. He advanced the view that the category of class could not be the basis for a viable political movement unless it addressed caste and other social cleavages undergirding it. He argued that a democratic polity should be partisan to social movements striving for social justice. While the substantive concerns of Ambedkar were deeply bound with Indian society and its transformation, the methodological perspective that he developed has wider application. In this context the conversation across class, caste and gender inequalities needs to be reopened, and new strategies of mobilising for social justice need to be forged.
4. Economic Justice
Ambedkar envisaged a pro-active role for the state and public policy to intervene in favour of the disadvantaged and marginalised. While he supported state intervention in the economy, he also stressed the need to adopt strong policies for affirmative action that reshaped the state and made it representative, responsive and accountable. Above all, Ambedkar developed a pragmatic view on the relative ability of the state and the market to achieve social, political and economic justice. The turn to market oriented economic reforms in India and elsewhere poses new challenges for the social vision that Ambedkar bequeathed. This conference is an apt platform to think through Ambedkar and offer imaginative and creative strategies to achieve economic justice in a modern complex economy.
5. Social Justice and the Cultural Domain
For Ambedkar, religion is of critical personal and social value as it upholds the moral fabric of a society and ensures its creative reproduction. In his work he emphasised the public and social effects of religion. However, his critical engagement with existing religions was far-reaching and he saw in the Buddha’s teachings essential ingredients to sustain a good society. He understood the relationship between culture and human agency dialectically: cultures can undermine human agency and sustain subservience and marginality or they can nurture a positive and affirming human agency. There is only one world to cherish: the human world. The secular domain of everyday and ordinary living becomes the space for self-perfection. He strongly believed that the clue to resolution of incommensurable beliefs lies in the expansion of the secular domain.
|03:00 pm to 05:45 pm||INAUGURATION|
|09:30 am to 10:15 am||Plenary Session 1: Idea of Justice|
|10:15 am to 11:00 am||Plenary Session 2: Political Justice|
|11:00 am to 11:30 am||Tea/ Coffee|
|11:30 am to 01:00 pm||Academic Session 1 (Parallel Session)|
|01:00 pm to 02:00 pm||LUNCH|
|02:00 pm to 02:45 pm||Plenary Session 3: Social Justice and Social Context|
|03:00 pm to 04:15 pm||Academic Session 2 (Parallel Session)|
|04:15 pm to 04:30 pm||Tea/ Coffee|
|04:30 pm to 05:45 pm||Academic Session 3 (Parallel Session)|
|09:30 am to 10:15 am||Plenary Session 4: Economic Justice|
|10:15 am to 11:00 am||Plenary Session 5: Social Justice and the Cultural Domain|
|11:00 am to 11:30 am||Tea/ Coffee|
|11:30 am to 01:00 pm||Academic Session 4 (Parallel Session)|
|01:00 pm to 02:00 pm||LUNCH|
|02:00 pm to 03:30 pm||Academic Session 5 (Parallel Session)|
|03:30 pm to 04:00 pm||Tea/ Coffee|
|04:00 pm to 05:45 pm||VALEDICTORY|
The Government of Karnataka (India) will organise a three day International Conference on the theme: ‘Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambedkar.’ This Conference celebrates the 126th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by using his life and work as inspiration to reflect on the contemporary significance of social, political and economic justice in India and across the world. The organisers believe that this Conference may reshape and reorder political and policy priorities in current public discourse especially in complex, deeply diverse, and inegalitarian societies such as India. This event will emphasise sustained engagement between theory and practice by bringing together academics and social activists on one hand and those involved in governance, politics, and policy on the other.
This Conference takes place at a time when the values of social, political and economic justice are under attack at several levels: constitutional norms and public institutions created to fight against dominance and subservience have proved inadequate or have been subverted; norms and policies often pay lip service to egalitarian considerations; and the rise of social intolerance and exclusion tends to effectively whittle down or even sabotage an inclusive conception of polity and citizenship. The complexity of the social, political and economic environment in which the value of social justice has to be envisaged too has undergone significant changes too: we understand social inequality and diversity to be layered and multidimensional; and the State has to reckon with several competing centres of religious, communal and cultural allegiances. Despite these challenges new sites for social and political assertions have reemerged renewing the call for social justice. Social activism in India today is much inspired by Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s insightful work analysing complex social and political challenges and proposing daring and radical policy measures in response. His approach to critical intellectual and policy challenges may inspire similar interventions elsewhere in the world, particularly in the global South.
This conference is an invitation to substantially re-think current social, political and economic paradigms motivated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s imaginative and creative work. The conference has the following objectives: