Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2018 > A God’s Man who Walked the Talk in Life’s Philosophy

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 6 New Delhi January 27, 2018 - Republic Day Special

A God’s Man who Walked the Talk in Life’s Philosophy

Saturday 27 January 2018


by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Ambrose Pinto’s death on January 3 of 2018, after struggling with the treacherous cancer for about six months, made me feel that this year would be bad for the Dalits. His smiling face, hopeful of change, keeps flashing through my mind.

I last met him when I gave a special lecture at the Indian Social Institute, Bengaluru on January 20, 2017, in memory of Father Henry Volken S.J. who founded the Institute. That evening we had dinner at well-known journalist Akar Patel’s residence. It was at that dinner I was supposed to meet with Gauri Lankesh also. But she did not turn up. The whole nation knows what happened to her later.

Ever since I met Ambrose in the early 1990s he impressed me and our friendship continued. He was a scholar with great concern for the poor, human rights and human dignity.

As the Director of the ISI, Delhi he converted that Institute into a place of pro-Dalit Bahujan activism, theory and social interactions.

Earlier and later as the Principal of St. Joseph Evening College, he turned that college into a totally reserved place of the SC/ST/OBCs students by undercutting the upper-caste seats. The issue went to the Karnataka Chief Minister who called him and asked why that college does not admit upper-caste students at all. Ambrose told the CM: “When we were admitting only upper castes without observing the reservation principle, no Chief Minister asked us why we were doing that. Now that we have decided to admit SC/ST/OBC students more than the reservation quota principle, why are you questioning us now?” He continued with that policy till he was in that college.

Because of his committed transformative agenda in the Christian educational institutions hundreds of slum, village SC/ST/OBC students entered high-end jobs all over the country.

He trained those students to speak good English and earn high quality degree which would make them stand on their own legs all through life. He was doing the same at the St. Aloysius College that he was heading while he passed away.

Ambrose Pinto, a Jesuit by training and a Dalit liberator by belief, was uncompromising on Dalit human rights. Though a life-time Jesuit, he never looked at human problems within the framework of religion. He was secular to the core. For anyone reading his writings in news- papers (he was a regular contributor to Deccan Herald and other papers) and journals like Economic and Political Weekly,Mainstream, and so on, he comes out as a convinced Marxist, without proclaiming so.

But at the same time his commitment to Ambedkar’s ideology and liberation of Dalits and Adivasis by using democratic instruments and Indian constitutionalism was unshaken. He was an excellent negotiator between Marxism and Ambedkarism with a Christian conviction of liberation theology at the core of his understanding. He would not refer to the Bible as much as he referred to Marx and Ambedkar in his discussions and writings.

Ambrose has given a new definition to the concept ‘Jesuit’, a person who lives as a whole- time God man, only occasionally in the Jesuit garb but most of the time in T-shirts and simple trousers, to work for the liberation of Dalits and Adivasis.

When he was in Delhi, Ambrose expanded the public space so much that the ISI, Delhi became a place for new wave democratic movements, even at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power. It became a place of everyday activity for progressives, nationa-lists and humanists. Though it was a short period of three years, within those three years he became a noted person in all the progressive circles of Delhi.

Any new book in the market, that had a liberative message, would find a platform for release wherever Ambrose worked. Any protest meeting against injustice found Ambrose walking with a placard in his hand in the front row.

With Ambrose leaving us, of course the same- smile India looks poor, as a friend of Ambrose said in an e-mail message. In the absence of Ambrose also we must continue our work, which was and is as much his work.

Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted