When I was young, I had posters of beautiful women on the wall of my bedroom which I shared with my brothers (I never had my own bedroom until I went to university). There was a poster of Jennifer Lopez. My brother had a poster of Kimi Katkar, a Hindi film actress. He also had a poster of Muhammed Ali, a black and white photograph of him standing triumphant over his opponent.
Our grandfather, on the other hand, didn’t have any posters. Instead, he had a framed photograph of the legal mind that wrote the Indian constitution, Dr. Ambedkar. This bespectacled and slightly chubby man, in a blue suit, would stare out at us while we were young and our grandfather would tell us why he admired him. He had come from the lowest and most oppressed caste in Hindu society and written the legal framework of the country despite all the odds. He had fought for justice for all even though the system was set against him and his voice. He was my grandfather’s hero.
When I went to the London School of Economics to do my law degree, I was proud to be able to say to my grandfather that I had gone to the same university as Dr. Ambedkar.
The adulation of my grandfather can be contrasted with the western frame of mind in response to lawyers and legal heroes and inspiration. I will contrast my grandfather’s hero with the legal hero and inspiration of the West, Atticus Finch, from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My grandfather’s hero, Dr. Ambedkar, was a real person in actual history. Atticus Finch is a fictional character of the text imagined by a white writer. Dr. Ambedkar came from the lowest caste and the most oppressed group in Indian society. Atticus Finch is a member of the white hegemony. Dr. Ambedkar fought for the little man. He said he did it because of the way that people had treated his mother, a lower class and lower caste woman. Atticus Finch fought for the black man, but against so-called “white trash”, one of the oppressed classes in society. He set one oppressed group against the other and attempted to set the majority against the little people and worked in a legal system which was meant to oppress a certain section of society. Atticus Finch’s case relies upon destroying the testimony of a lower class woman. Dr. Ambedkar fought his whole life against the oppression of the Hindu caste system and to liberate the oppressed class in society. Atticus Finch, on the other hand, reveals himself as a racist in Go Set a Watchman, the first novel of the series, with his sympathies lying with the Ku Klux Klan. Dr. Ambedkar has a body and is in the frame of my grandfather’s picture. Atticus Finch has no body and no shape, since he is a creature of the text. He only exists in the imagination of a white person.
Such are the legal heroes of the Indian man and the legal heroes of the West. Draw what conclusions you will.