Let’s Read Ambedkar – 10 Lectures Series

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Let’s Read Ambedkar
Dr. V. Geetha

Date: Mar 30,2020 to Apr 29, 2020
Weekday: Every Mon & Wed

Time & TimeZone:
USA Westcoast:  6:30 PM to 7:30 PM  (US Pacific Daylight Time)
USA Cental:         8:30 PM to 9:30 PM  (US Central Daylight Time)
USA Eastcoast:    9:30 PM to 10:30 PM (US East Daylight Time)
INDIA:                  7:00 AM to 8:00 AM  (India Standard Time) + next day
(More Timezones: Visit https://www.worldtimebuddy.com to figure out the corresponding local time for your country or city)

Feedback Form:
Please share your feedback here after attending every lecture in this series.

Listen to all 10 Lectures on YouTube

Schedule: (US Pacific Daylight Time)





1 Ambedkar in His Time and Ours: An Introduction Mar 30, Mon
2. Caste: A New Vocabulary Apr 01, Wed https://youtu.be/qRsprXidCl4
3. Caste, Untouchability and Democracy (Part 1) Apr 06, Mon https://youtu.be/QsAk-Gz9-N0
4 Caste, Untouchability and Democracy (Part 2) Apr 08, Wed https://youtu.be/bTQ_Iw9Pn-4

Q&A session only

5 Ambedkar’s Critique of Brahmanism and Nationalism (Part 1) Apr 13, Mon https://youtu.be/UEBLpL3P9kI

Q&A session only

6 Ambedkar’s Critique of Brahmanism and Nationalism (Part 2) Apr 15, Wed https://youtu.be/uYRPmeb9sWE

Q&A session only

7 The Question of the Economy: Untouchables, Labour, Socialism (Part 1) Apr 20, Mon https://youtu.be/pFvvvm_K8Ic

Q&A session only

8 The Question of the Economy: Untouchables, Labour, Socialism (Part 2) Apr 22, Wed https://youtu.be/xCL66L7sFGo

Q&A session only

9 Buddhism and the Annihilation of Caste (Part 1) Apr 27, Mon https://youtu.be/VXAVxqnQgHk

Q&A session only

10 Buddhism and the Annihilation of Caste (Part 2) Apr 29, Wed https://youtu.be/qN3yxLvZkx0

Q&A session & Closing Remarks only

This teach-in adopts a historical as well as a thematic approach to understanding Ambedkar’s life and work. It actually comprises 6 lectures. Of the 6, three lectures comprise two parts (Part 1 & Part 2) each. So in effect, she intends to deliver 9 lectures. And perhaps there can be a slot for reflections, questions, etc, bringing the total number of lectures to 10.

Each lecture will last for 45-60 minutes. Participants are free to stop at any point and ask questions and clarifications. In addition, she will take questions at the end of the lecture. She will be speaking in English, but if anyone wishes to respond in Tamil or would like her to repeat some things she says in Tamil, she will be happy to do so as well.

She has a reading list that goes with the lectures. These comprise extracts from Ambedkar’s writings (available on ambedkar.org; velivada.com). She has referenced the English volumes, but there are Tamil translations of all volumes available on velivada.com. If anyone wishes to access the Tamil texts, she will upload details of those volumes as well.

The short reading list for the course comprises essays marked in blue. All other essays are part of the long reading list, which includes two book-length works, Thoughts on Pakistan and The Buddha and His Dhamma. Depending on the participant’s time, one could go on to read either list, after the lectures. Participants are also welcome to read essays marked in blue before the lecture in question.

Lecture 1: Ambedkar in His Time and Ours: An Introduction

This lecture places Ambedkar in context, in the long duration of modern Indian political and economic developments, and particularly within traditions of thought and practice that we associate, among others with a persistent line of anti-caste thinkers, including Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Iyothee Thass; a tradition of Indian liberal thought, whose best exponent was M G Ranade; a tradition of social reform represented by the All India Social Conference and which was supported by a journal such as K. Natarajan’s Indian Social Reformer; and with political philosophies and arguments in political economy, which were legion in liberal, socialist and communist circles in the first quarter of the 20th century.

It concludes by considering how Ambedkar has come to be viewed since his passing on, and the many different lines of scholarship and inquiry that have since emerged: from an enumeration of his ideas on a range of subjects, from his ‘geographical imagination’ to his constitutive radicalism, which is to be understood not only in terms of a putative dissenting, insurrectionary left politics, but with respect to the ‘radical’ moments in his thought, as such.

Lecture 2: Caste: A New Vocabulary (Lecture 2 Collated Readings Material)

Chronologically speaking, ‘Castes in India’ inaugurated Ambedkar’s conceptual reckoning with the caste order. His student work bears the impress of a range of readings, including on caste and ancient Indian history and it is evident that the inequity of the caste order, as well as the existential suffering it imposed on people were matters of deep concern to him. This early essay introduced a theme that is yet to be explored in all its detail – the reproduction of the caste order, and the logic that sustains it.

This lecture considers this essay, and also other writings by Ambedkar on the gender question, which he clearly wished us to read along with, or integrate with the themes that are introduced in ‘Castes in India’.

Primary texts (Lecture 2 Collated Readings Material)

    1. ‘Castes in India’ (Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches (BAWS), Vol 1)
    2. ‘Riddles 18 & 19’, (Riddles in Hinduism, BAWS, Vol)
    3. ‘The Triumph of Brahmanism’ in Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India, (BAWS, Vol-3)

Lecture 3: Caste, Untouchability and Democracy (Part 1)
Lecture 4: Caste, Untouchability and Democracy (Part 2)
(Lecture 3 & 4 Collated Readings Material)

This third lecture focuses on Ambedkar’s dynamic construction of caste and untouchability – a critique that conjures these as objects of enquiry only to annihilate them. His writings and practice referenced a wide range of texts on these subjects and in different ways. He subjected key observations from any and all of them to trenchant critique. However this was not polemic for its own stake, rather every instance of criticism proved a useful point of departure for him to advance his own and internally coherent and critical description of the caste order and untouchability.

This lecture addresses the making of anti-caste thought – and the historical situations which shaped this making. It has two parts to it: the first part examines Ambedkar’s theorizing of the caste order and his understanding of untouchability in relation to the caste order.

The second part of this lecture considers the importance of democracy in Ambedkar’s understanding of the social – and the manner in which he defined it to represent a form of secular life and politics that was the very antithesis of the caste order. I hope to address here, questions to do with political democracy, and indicate how these were invariably haunted by the complex problems posed by the absence of democracy in everyday life and social relationships.

Primary texts (Lecture 3 & 4 Collated Readings Material)


    1. Selections from his Mahad Speeches, Vol 17, Part 1 pp 3-48
    2. Annihilation of Caste, Volume 1, pp. 23-96
    3. Philosophy of Hinduism, Vol 3 pp. 3-92


    1. From Essays on Untouchability: Volume 5, 9-26; 62-74; 89-93; 100-102; 157-169; 178-191


    1. From Submissions to:
      • Southborough Commission, Volume 1, 247-253 (till para 14); 261-265 (para 29 to 37);
      • Simon Commission, Volume 2, 337-357 (para 34-68); 459-489; 
      • Round Table Conferences, Volume 2, 503-509; 546-556; 557-565; 596-599; 652-663
    1. Communal Deadlock and a Way to Solve it, Vol 1, 355-380
    2. Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables, Vol 9 pp. 397-489
    3. States and Minorities Volume 1 pp. 381-449
    4. In the Constituent Assembly Vol 13 pp 1206-1212

Lecture 5: Ambedkar’s Critique of Brahmanism and Nationalism (Part 1)
Lecture 6: Ambedkar’s Critique of Brahmanism and Nationalism (Part 2)
(Lecture 5 & 6 Collated Readings Material)

Central to Ambedkar’s understanding of caste and untouchability was his critical approach to the ideologies that sustained either and justified them. He considered Brahmanism to underwrite all such ideologies and developed a critique of the persistence of Brahmanical hegemony. This critique, in fact, is present in his earliest texts, including those he wrote, while a student and was elaborated in Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India, and to an extent in The Buddha and His Dhamma.

Brahmanism bothered him for other reasons as well: the manner in which it collapsed religion and national identity, and this, he insisted was as true of the nationalism of the Congress, as it appeared to be of the Hindu Mahasabha and various other Hindu militant groups. His understanding of the relationship between religion and nationalism was complex, ambiguous and deserves close scrutiny.

This lecture comprises two parts and looks at two sets of texts: to do with Brahmanism as ideology and hegemony; and Brahmanism as the life force that sustains nationalism.

Primary texts (Lecture 5 & 6 Collated Readings Material)


    1. ‘Social reformers and their Fate’ (Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India, BAWS, Vol 3)
    2. ‘Krishna and His Gita’ (Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India, BAWS, Vol 3)


    1. Ranade, Jinnah, Gandhi, BAWS, Vol 1. 
    2. Pakistan or the Partition of India, BAWS, Vol 8

Lecture 7: The Question of the Economy: Untouchables, Labour, Socialism (Part 1)
Lecture 8: The Question of the Economy: Untouchables, Labour, Socialism (Part 2)
(Lecture 7 & 8 Collated Readings Material) &
(Addresses-to-students-on-Parliamentary-democracy-BAWS,-Vol 17-Part III-Nos-Speech-125-138)

Ambedkar’s understanding of the caste order raises some questions for those who wish to grasp it as a political and economic structure, in addition to being one defined by religious and cultural norms and habits. The question has been posed: did Ambedkar consider the economic relationships that sustain caste?

As as we know Ambedkar was a keen student of economics and was trained in neo-classical approaches, while a student in the US. He was also a keen follower of debates in English socialist circles, and in American Progressive Era forums. Drawing on an array of texts and histories, he developed a socialist register that could prove opposite to Indian political and economic realities.

This lecture examines key texts to do with his understanding of labour, labourers, work, the politics of labour organizing, Ambedkar’s writings on the Mahar Watan and a range of texts that testify to his lifelong interest in socialism.

The second part of this lecture examines how we might understand his differences with socialism as such and looks at his polemical essay, Buddha or Karl Marx in the context of debates about socialism in the context of south and south-east Asia on the one hand and his long and complicated relationship to communism and communists.

Primary texts (Lecture 7 & 8 Collated Readings Material)

The Mahar Watan

    1. Representation relating to the grievances of the Watandar Mahars, Mangs etc, BAWS Volume 17 (1) (No: 27)

Labour and Socialism

    1. Trade Unions must enter politics to protect their interests BAWS Vol 17, Part 3, No. 44
    2. Scheduled Castes Federation – Draft Manifesto BAWS, Vol 17 Part 3, Nos. 73, 74
    3. Why is Indian Labour Determined to Win the War, BAWS Vol 10, pp 36-43
    4. First Session of Plenary Labour Conference, BAWS, Vol 10 pp 100-105
    5. Scheduled castes Emancipation – Election Manifesto, BAWS Vol 17, Part 1 pp 385-403
    6. Labour and Parliamentary Democracy BAWS, Vol 10 pp 106-112
    7. Addresses-to-students-on-Parliamentary-democracy-BAWS,-Vol 17-Part III-Nos-Speech-125-138

Caste, Untouchability and Socialism

    1. India and the Pre-requisites of Communism, BAWS, Vol 3
    2. ‘Buddha or Karl Marx’, BAWS, Vol 3, 

Lecture 9: Buddhism and the Annihilation of Caste (Part 1)
Lecture 10: Buddhism and the Annihilation of Caste (Part 2)
(Lecture 9 & 10 Collated Readings Material What Path to Salvation? BAWS, Vol 17 Part 3)

Ambedkar’s persistent political, social and historical concerns – to do with the persistence of caste and untouchability – did not achieve the historical resolution that they deserved, and for a variety of reasons. In any case, he had always held that political and social democracy, such as he sought, required a remaking of minds and dispositions – and he was under no illusion as to what politics, law and constitutional mandates might do in this regard.

This last lecture examines his turn to Buddhism, after lifelong political and social labour – and examines in detail texts that tell us the story of his conversion.

Primary texts (Lecture 9 & 10 Collated Readings Material)

    1. What Path to Salvation? BAWS, Vol 17 Part 3 
    2. Speeches on the Buddha and Buddhism, BAWS, Vol 17, Part 3, Nos. 154, 155
    3. The Buddha and His Dhamma, BAWS Volume 11

Final Open forum

Lecture series concluded with final open forum questions and answers

About the Instructor:


Dr. V. Geetha lives in Chennai, Tamilnadu. For over 30 years, she has been active in the Indian women’s movements and a fellow traveller with left and anti-caste movements. She writes in Tamil and English on a range of concerns: gender, caste, sexuality, labour, education and culture. Amongst the better known of her books is the one she co-authored with Mr. S. V. Rajadurai: Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: from Iyothee Thass to Periyar. Her most recent book is Undoing Impunity: Speech After Sexual Violence. Her other written work comprises essays in several edited volumes, to do with modern Tamil history and society and monographs in Tamil on caste, gender, history, labour.

Mr. S. V. Rajadurai and she have also written lengthy introductory books in Tamil on western Marxism: on Louis Althusser, the frankfurt school and on the life and work of Antonio Gramsci. The last is a very comprehensive introduction to Gramsci’s life and thought.

She is also associated with a Tamil publisher, Maithri Books, and they do books on anti-caste and feminist themes in Tamil. Currently, they have 8 titles published, including three essays by Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar, translated into Tamil and to each of which she has written a detailed introduction. They hope to have 12 such essays out eventually. She works for an English publisher – Tara Books as well.

Since 2015, she has been conducting these ‘Let’s Read Ambedkar’ sessions and to date have done over 20 of these classes, across India, including in various parts of Tamil Nadu.