Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
An iconic reformer who gave new lease of life to the dalit and underprivileged by abolishing untouchability and slavery through education, organization, agitation and advocacy of Dhammachakra
If a leader is to be judged by the length of the period s(he) continues to influence, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is a leader whose thoughts continue to be relevant even today. His ideas on equality, brotherhood, democracy, independence, international economics and politics are valid even in present times, and his work continues to be effective and inspiring to many.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born in Mhow (Madhya Pradesh) in 1891. As a child he went through many scarring experiences caused by the social inequality that prevailed in those times among the masses. Later, in 1913, when he went to America on a scholarship given by the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaikwad, he did not experience untouchability. These two contradictory experiences - one in his own country and the other in a foreign land, motivated him to free his countrymen from untouchability. He completed his doctorate from Columbia University in 1925, after submitting his thesis titled the National Dividend of India – A Historical and Analytical Study. He studied sociology, economics and politics at the Columbia University. He went on to present the thesis The Problem of the Rupee at the London University and was presented with the DSc degree.
After coming back to India, he started four newspapers in order to present before the society the problems faced by the untouchables. These newspapers were: Mooknayak (Mute Hero - 1920), Bahishkrut Bharat (India Ostracized - 1927), Janata (Masses - 1930) and Prabudhha Bharat (An Awakened India - 1956). The newspapers in circulation at that time in Maharashtra did not present the problems of the untouchables. There was a definite need for a separate newspaper for the untouchables. These newspapers covered social, political and cultural developments in the country, but Babasaheb also wrote about a new asocial order. He never used the newspapers for propagating his political party, but used them instead to provoke the upper castes and the so-called untouchables to think about this social order. It was not only through his newspapers that he wrote on this topic, but he also published books like The Untouchables, Shudra purviche kon hote (Who were the Shudras?) and Bhuddha and His Dhamma. He also wrote a book on international politics titled Thoughts on Pakistan. Not only was he a social critic but also an excellent literary critic. He never used literature as a means of entertainment. Babasaheb has not only appreciated the language of Saint Tukaram, Saint Dnyaneshwar and Mukteshwar, but has also written comprehensive critiques on plays like Khara Brahman (The Real Brahmin) by Prabodhankar Thackeray and Dakkhan cha diva (The Light of Deccan) by Yashwant Tipnis. Dr. Ambedkar has commented upon Bertrand Russell’s play Principles of Social Reconstruction. He is the author of the books Riddles in Hinduism, Maharashtra as a Linguistic State, Status and Minorities and Bharatatil Jaati (Castes in India).
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was influenced by the personalities, work and ideas of Saint Kabir, Mahatma Phule and Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj. Saint Kabir and Mahatma Phule were his most revered teachers.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was an action-oriented reformer. He strongly believed that all men are equal and that there are no higher or lower castes. He disliked the hierarchical caste system, the four-fold caste categorization and the oppression of the so-called lower castes. He taught equality to his family members first. When he returned to India from London, Babasaheb’s family felt that he should go home in a car but Babasaheb refused. Then they insisted that he travel in the first class compartment of the train. But this too he declined. He travelled in the third class compartment of the train with all his family members. On reaching home, his brother offered him a chair, but Babasaheb preferred to sit on the floor. Thus, he set an example of equality for his family members. His education had reformed him, yet he never forgot his roots.
In 1927, Dr. Ambedkar organised the Satyagraha at Mahad in Raigad district to allow the untouchables access to the water from the Chavdar lake. In 1930, he initiated another Satyagraha to enable the untouchables to enter the Kalaram temple at Nashik. He himself was a non-believer; however, he believed that the denial of temple entry to the dalit was an important aspect of untouchability, and if this was addressed, then the issue would be largely resolved. Both the Satyagraha were symbolic and represented the fight of the untouchables for equal human rights and their right to live life with dignity. They also served to instil confidence among the dalit. To stress this point, he publicly burnt copies of Manusmriti, an ancient scripture that advocated the four-fold caste system among Hindus. Between the years 1917 to 1935, he undertook many efforts to abolish untouchability. However, he realized that these efforts were not bearing fruit. The people from the so-called higher castes made no efforts to change their way of thinking. Therefore, in 1935 at Yevala, he publicly declared that although he was born as a Hindu, he would not die as one. In 1956, along with five lakh untouchables, he converted to Buddhism (14th October 1956, Nagpur).
Dr Ambedkar was not only fighting against the caste system or for the upliftment of the Dalit society but also for the Indian freedom struggle. He paid attention to the education, status of women, superstition, economy and the political administration of the country.
Between the years from 1930 to 1932, he fought for the rights of the Dalit at the Round Table Conference. He also put forth a Hindu Code Bill for the social status, divorce rights and property rights of Hindu women in the parliament. When this Bill was rejected, he resigned as a Member of Parliament. Dr. Ambedkar thought deeply on the point of debate between Tilak and Agarkar about whether political independence should precede social development or vice versa. He realized that if the freedom of the Dalit would not have any value in the post-independent India, then the situation would become even more complicated. To avoid this, he undertook the task of abolishing untouchability. During the Round Table Conference in 1930, even when he represented the British in the Conference, he advised the British to leave India. In his PhD thesis too, he analyzed the economic oppression of Indians by the British. When Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast until death on the question of separate constituencies, Dr. Ambedkar was torn between the importance of Gandhiji’s life and the betterment of the Dalit. He was forced to agree to a compromise. Gandhiji broke his fast and Ambedkar established a reserved constituency for the Dalit (Pune Pact). Before converting to Buddhism, he studied the teachings of all religions and chose Buddhism as it advocated non-violence, truth and human rights. The act of converting too highlights his patriotism.
Dr. Ambedkar, who in his school days used to study for over 18 hours every day, was well aware of the importance of education. In order to propagate education, he established the Peoples’ Education Society and the Depressed Class Education Society. Apart from the field of education, he established the Bahishkrut Hitkarni Sabha (Society for the welfare of the ostracized) in the field of politics. In 1927, he established the Samata Sainik Dal (a troupe to ensure equality and harmony) in order to protect the Dalit from the higher castes. In 1936, he established an independent Labour Party and in 1942, the All India Scheduled Caste Federation. He also wanted to establish a Republican Party at an all-India level but unfortunately he passed away before he could do so. In 1946, he also established Siddhartha College at Mumbai and in 1950, Milind College at Aurangabad.
Dr. Ambedkar also understood agriculture and farming. He was an advocate for collective farming. He was of the opinion that an uninterrupted supply of water and electricity would help a predominantly agricultural country like India to flourish in no time. Dr. Ambedkar created laws to abolish the Khoti system, a system of contractual farming that was exploitative to the farmers. Dr. Ambedkar believed that just as the railway routes were owned by the central government, likewise the water routes should also be owned by the central government. His opinion was however disregarded and as a result, all water routes today remain insecure. Today, the river-linking project is being discussed, a project that Dr. Ambedkar had proposed way back then.
In 1947, Dr. Ambedkar became a member of Pandit Nehru’s cabinet. The same year, he was selected the first Law Minister of independent India. The Constituent Assembly also elected him a member of the Constitution drafting committee, which appointed him the Chairman of the committee. India will forever remember Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as the Father of the Indian Constitution. He stressed the importance of having a strong central government in a country of diverse States. Had it not been strong, then India could hardly have been able to proudly proclaim Unity in Diversity. In most western countries, the women and poor in the country were given the right to vote very late. Dr. Ambedkar however ensured that India granted the right to vote to every adult immediately after Independence, thus laying the foundations of a strong democracy. He also made provisions in the Constitution for the service rules and appointments of civil servants, thus allowing them to serve fearlessly and independently.
Dr. Ambedkar, known as the Father of the Indian Constitution and the patron of the Dalit, passed away on 6th December 1956.
Today, the Indian democracy is facing a challenge. It appears that the Indian population is bent on denying democracy. Dr. Ambedkar used to say, “Until the British ruled India, we could hold them responsible for all consequences, good or bad. After Independence however, the onus rests with us and we must behave more responsibly”. In order to strengthen the democracy, Dr. Ambedkar opposed giving undue importance to the individual. Today however, idolisation of individuals is common. Today, Dr. Ambedkar is proclaimed the hero of only select castes when in reality, his thoughts spanned a much broader canvas. The democracy that he upheld is being ridiculed today. Hence, it is imperative that his thoughts on democracy are referred again in today’s context.
An unparalleled intellect, his own efforts to complete higher education, worldly wisdom, rebellious and reformist attitude, organisational skills, discipline and neatness, excellent oratory skills and superb control over English language, voracious reading, research, studious and motivational writing – all these qualities helped transform Bhimji Ramji Ambedkar to the MahaManav (human being par excellence) Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar who abolished the thousands of years old slavery of dalit in India.