Queer Ambedkar Buddhism: the Mother Lode
Seek and ye shall find…and I found the Mother Lode on queer liberation and Ambedkar Buddhism. I found it in a film called Papilio Buddha, directed by Jayan Cherian (2013). It’s the story of a community of revolutionary Dalits who take over a tract of government land. They claim that it belongs to them per the legacy of Ambedkar and the program of land distribution promised to Dalits during independence from Britain. At the center of this community is a core group of activists, several of whom are queer, as in gay, lesbian and bisexual. Their queer sexuality is central to their identities, their cohesion as a group, and their revolutionary stance towards caste and State. Although they incorporate Marxist ideas, they claim Ambedkar Buddhism as their unifying ideology.
The film ends with a violent confrontation between the Dalit Buddhists and Hindu Neo-Ghandians, representing religious power and the State. The violence is instigated by the military on the side of the Brahmins. It has to be asked whether the resolution of the conflict must necessarily end in sectarian violence between the two religions. Is that what Ambedkar anticipated with his promotion of Buddhism?
You can watch the entire film for free on Vimeo:
What this signifies to me that queer liberation is emerging within Ambedkar Buddhism, regardless of whether Babasaheb had or would have condoned it. However, transgender people, and thus trans liberation, is not featured in the film. I take this as a possible signal that trans liberation has yet to find a voice in Ambedkar Buddhism. That’s a cause that I would like to take up. Can we find a way for Third Gender people in India to feel welcome in Ambedkar Buddhism? Is it possible for Hijra and Jogappa, whose gender roles are tied to Hindu goddess worship, to find a place within Ambekarism when there is such a strong sanction against Hinduism within the original formulation of his Buddhism? Might Kothi, Aravani and Kinnar find a place in Ambedkar’s radical and socially oriented Buddhism?