Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Messiah of Downtrodden - Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar


It was during my third standard that I remember, I had received a gift of pictorial biography of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. It was more of a comic book to me rather than a story of a Dalit leader who went onto become the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. It was much later that I realized that he was A Lion Among Men. Ambedkar was born in a cast which was considered as the lowest of the low. People said that it was a sin it they offered him water to drink. But this very man framed the Constitution for the country. His entire life was one of struggles. But it’s no wonder that everyone called him ‘Babasaheb’, out of love and admiration. Bhimram Ambedkar was the lion-hearted man who fought for equality, justice and humanity

Overcoming numerous social and financial obstacles, Ambedkar became one of the first "untouchables" to obtain a college education in India. Eventually earning law degrees and multiple doctorates for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Ambedkar returned home a famous scholar.

Early Life

Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in Mhow (presently in Madhya Pradesh). He was the fourteenth child of Ramji and Bhimabai Sakpal Ambavedkar. B.R. Ambedkar belonged to the "untouchable" Mahar Caste. His father and grandfather served in the British Army. In those days, the government ensured that all the army personnel and their children were educated and ran special schools for this purpose. This ensured good education for Bhimrao Ambedkar, which would have otherwise been denied to him by the virtue of his caste. Bhimrao Ambedkar experienced intense socio-economic discrimination right from the childhood. After his retirement, Bhimrao's father settled in Satara Maharashtra. Bhimrao was enrolled in the local school. Here, he had to sit on the floor in one corner in the classroom and teachers would not touch his notebooks. In spite of these hardships, Bhimrao continued his studies and passed his Matriculation examination from Bombay University with flying colours in 1908. Although excelling in his studies, Ambedkar was increasingly disturbed by the segregation and discrimination that he faced. He then joined the Elphinstone College for further education. In 1912, he graduated in Political Science and Economics from Bombay & obtained a scholarship of twenty five rupees a month from the Gayakwad ruler of Baroda, for higher studies in the USA. Ambedkar's marriage had been arranged in 1906 as per Hindu custom, to Ramabai, a nine-year old girl from Dapoli.

Fight against untouchability

In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai. Attaining popularity, Ambedkar used this journal to criticize orthodox Hindu politicians and a perceived reluctance of the Indian political community to fight caste discrimination. Ambedkar established a successful legal practice, and also organised the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha to promote education and socio-economic uplifting of the depressed classes. In 1927, Dr. Ambedkar decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources and also began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples.

He had grown increasingly critical of mainstream Indian political parties for their perceived lack of emphasis for the elimination of the caste system. Ambedkar criticized the Indian National Congress, whom he accused of reducing the untouchable community to a figure of pathos. At a Depressed Classes Conference on August 8, 1930 Ambedkar outlined his political vision, insisting that the safety of the Depressed Classes hinged on their being independent of the Government and the Congress both.

Ambedkar's prominence and popular support amongst the untouchable community had increased, and he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931. These activities brought Ambedkar in collision with Mahatma Gandhi. Although Gandhi paternally sought to improve the condition of untouchables, he rejected Ambedkar's militant demand that untouchables mobilize politically and be given a status separate from that of other Hindus. Conflict between the leaders continued, punctuated by threats of fasts to the death and shaky compromises.

In 1935, Ambedkar was appointed principal of the Government Law College, a position he held for two years. One year later, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, which won 15 seats in the 1937 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly. He published his book The Annihilation of Caste the same year. Between 1941 and 1945, he published a large number of highly controversial books and pamphlets, including Thoughts on Pakistan, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. Ambedkar was also critical of Islam and its practices in South Asia. While he was extremely critical of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the communally divisive strategies of the Muslim League, he argued that Hindus and Muslims should segregate and the State of Pakistan be formed, as ethnic nationalism within the same country would only lead to more violence. He warned that the actual implementation of a two-state solution would be extremely problematic with massive population transfers and border disputes. This claim was prophetic, looking forward to the violent Partition of India after Independence

Architect of India's constitution

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is better remembered as the designer and formulator of the Indian Constitution in India. Upon India's independence on
August 15, 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation's first law minister, which he accepted. On August 29, Ambedkar was appointed chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Ambedkar won great praise from his colleagues and contemporary observers for his drafting. Although Ambedkar used Western models to give his Constitution shape, its spirit was Indian.The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination Ambedkar argued for extensive economic and social rights for women. He framed the Fundamental Rights and Duties along with the Directive Principles of State Policy that are followed and granted to the people of the country (Remember anything from school texts??). He had kept the clauses of the Constitution flexible so that amendments could be made as and when situations demanded. On 26 November 1949, the Constitution of India was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly.

His stint in Indian politics too did not last for a long time. His resignation from the Cabinet came in the year 1951. He contested for the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate in 1952 but was unfortunately defeated. However, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha the same year and would remain a member until his death.

Final Days

With passage of time, Ambedkar’s interest from politics started to shift and he aligned himself to Buddhism. After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on October 14, 1956 and completed his own conversion.

Since 1948, Ambedkar had been suffering from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 owing to clinical depression and failing eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened as he furiously worked through 1955. Just three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma , it is said that Ambedkar died in his sleep on December 6, 1956 at his home in Delhi. Five hundred thousand people witnessed the last rites.

Long Live His Legacy

Babasaheb was an Indian nationalist, jurist, Dalit, political leader, activist, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, revolutionary and the revivalist of Buddhism in India. Born into a poor Untouchable family, Ambedkar spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination & the system of Chaturvarna — the Hindu categorization of human society into four varnas. His birthdate is celebrated as a public holiday known as Ambedkar Jayanti. He was posthumously bestowed with India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 1990.

Ambedkar's legacy as a socio-political reformer, had a deep effect on modern India. In post-Independence India his socio-political thought has acquired respect across the political spectrum. His message to his followers was " Educate!!!, Organize!!!, Agitate!!!". He had said many times "God will spare me till I complete my work for the ‘untouchables’. "He lived to see ‘untouchability’ declared a crime. The ‘untouchables’ had secured political equality.


  1. A good article, good work, keep going!

    *came across your blog while randomly going through orkut.


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