Patriots > Social and Religious Reformers > Ambedkar,Bhimrao Ramji (Dr.)
Ambedkar,Bhimrao Ramji (Dr.)
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 of Mahar (Hindu untouchable) parents, Ramji Maloji Sankpal (father) and Bhimai (mother) at Mhow (Mahu in ex-Indore State). His father was a military Subedar and was a Kabirpanthi devotee. The family hailed from a village, Ambad, in the old Taluka Dapoli of Ratnagiri District and moved from one military camp to another. Bhimrao was the fourteenth child of his parents and he used to joke that he was chavadave Ranta, suggesting he was born to beat others. Economically poor, the family was respected by the neighbours.

Bhimrao married Rambai in 1905 when he was 14 and she was 9. She was from a poor Mahar family and illiterate. She died in 1935. Bhimrao married a second time, (Dr.) Sharada Kabir (later named Savita), in 1948. She was from a Saraswat Brahmin family of Bombay.

Ambedkar had his early education in Satara. He matriculated in 1908 from the Elphinstone High School, Bombay, and graduated in 1912 from the Elphinstone College. In 1913 he went to the U.S.A. on a Baroda State Scholarship and joined the Columbia University from where he took his M.A. in Economics in 1915 and Ph. D. in 1916. In the same year he went to England and joined the London School of Economics and Political Science and also the Gray’s Inn.

He was working for his M. Sc. in Economics and was also preparing for the Bar. But in 1917 he had to discontinue his studies on the expiry of his scholarship and return to India. Back in India he taught at the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics, Bombay, as Professor of Economics from 1918 to 1920. Having saved some money and with financial assistance from some of his friends he went to England again in 1920 to complete his studies. He obtained the M. Sc. Degree in 1921 and was awarded the D. Sc. Degree in 1923. In the same year he was also called to the Bar.

He started legal practice at the Bombay High Court in June 1924 and from that time started his active public career, as a social worker, a politician, a writer, and an educationist. Even before that, however, he had given clear indications of what he considered to be his life’s mission. From December 1919 to June 1920 he had brought out a Marathi fortnightly, the Mooknayak (Leader of the Dumb). In January 1919 he had also given evidence before the South borough Reforms (Franchise) Committee, claiming political rights for the Depressed Classes of India. In July 1924 he started an organisation in Bombay named the ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarni Sabha’ for the moral and material progress of the untouchables.

Between 1925 and 1930 he set up four boarding houses in the Bombay Presidency for untouchable students. For propagation of the same cause of improving the condition of the untouchables he started a Marathi fortnightly, the Bahishkrit Bharat, in April 1927, and a weekly, the Janata, in November 1930. In September 1927 he started the ‘Samaj Samata Sangh’ for preaching social equality among the untouchables and the caste Hindus. Inter-caste marriage and inter-caste dinner formed important parts of the programme of the organisation. As the organ of this body he started another paper, the Samata, in March 1929.

Not content with were preaching and writing to secure justice for the untouchables, Ambedkar to the path of fighting agitation. In December 1927 he led a Satyagraha to establish the civic right of the untouchables to draw water from a public tank, “Chavdar Talen”, at Mahad, District Kolaba. The Hindus claimed the tank as a private property and a prolonged litigation followed. Ambedkar won the case in the Bombay High Court in March 1937. He led another Satyagraha in March 1930 to establish the right of the untouchables to enter the famous
temple of Kalaram at Nashik. The Satyagraha was withdrawn in March 1934.

During this period, besides his leadership of the Depressed Classes, his eminence as a jurist also gained wide recognition. In 1928 he was appointed a Professor in the Government Law College Bombay, and subsequently the Principal of the College. In 1935 he was made Perry Professor of Jurisprudence, a coveted distinction.

In politics he early established his position as the leader of the Depressed Classes. He was a nominated member of the Bombay Legisiative Assembly from 1926 to 1934. During this period he introduced several bills for the welfare of the peasants, workers and untouchables. They were, however, not passed because of the opposition of the orthodox sections. In recognition of his claim as a leader of the Depressed Classes, Ambedkar was nominated as a delegate to the three Round Table Conferences in London (1930-33) and served on some of the Committes till 1934.

His demand for separate electorates for the untouchables was opposed by Gandhi at the meeting of the Minorities Committee of the second Round Table Conference (November 1931), as Gandhi felt that it would permanently divide the Hindu Society. Gandhi declared that he would resist such a move with his life. The Communal Award, announced on 17 August 1932, conceded separate electorates for the untouchables.

Gandhi went on fast unto death on 20 September 1932, and finally on 24 September the Poona Pact was made in the Yervada Jail which provided for reservation of seats for

the untouchables in the general constituencies. Gandhi claimed the untouchables as an integral part of the Hindu society and he named them Harijans (People of God), which came into popular use to denote this particular section of the Hindus.

Ambedkar could not reconcile himself to this political compromise which did not eliminate the social stigma attached to the Harijans. On 13 October 1935 he made an announcement in a public meeting at Yeola, District Nasik, that the untouchables would leave the Hindu fold altogether and accept some other religion, as he felt that within the Hindu fold they would never get recognition of social equality. He first turned to Sikhism during 1938-40, but his efforts proved fruitless. However, the Khalsa College in Bombay emerged out of this movement in 1940.

Finally, on 14 October 1956 he embraced Buddhism and advised his followers to accept the new faith. He himself gave ‘Deeksha’ to lakhs of followers in Nagpur. It must be noted, however, that this sudden mass conversion was only superficial. It did not alter the real conditions of the Harijans and many of them reverted to their earlier faith in course of time.

Ambedkar’s great organising ability was clearly demonstrated by the foundation of the Independent Labour Party of India in October 1936 which captured all the seats in the legislature in Bombay Presidency reserved for the Scheduled Castes (the official designation of the untouchables under the Act of 1935). In April 1942 he cast his net wider and formed the Scheduled Castes Federation as an all-India political party.

From July 1942 to March 1946 he was a member of the Governor-General’s Executive Council and took advantage of this opportunity to promote the interests of the Scheduled Castes/ Tribes. He secured adequate funds from the Central Government for their education and reservation of posts in the Central and Provincial Government services for them. Among his own efforts to promote the interests of the Scheduled Castes may be mentioned the foundation in July 1945 of the People’s Education Society which started a number of colleges in the Bombay Presidency for Scheduled Caste students.

In spite of his opposition to the Indian National Congress which he regarded as dominated by caste Hindus, during the transfer of power in 1946-47 his eminence as a national leader was fully recognised and he was nominated by the Congress to the Constituent Assembly. He also joined the Nehru Cabinet as Law Minister. He was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee to frame the Constitution of India and piloted the Bill sucessfully, wining encomium from all. He also drafted the Hindu Code Bill so well that he was called the Modern Manu.

However, orthodoxy prevailed and the Bill was opposed in camera by some of the Cabinet Ministers. His health also deteriorated and he resigned from the Cabinet in September 1951. He lost his election to the Parliament in February 1952, but was nominated by the Bombay Legislature to the Council of States in May 1952. He lost his second election to the Parliament in 1953.

Ambedakar’s interest in Buddhism is illustrated by his participation in the World Buddhist Congress, in Ceylon (1950), Burma (1954) and Nepal (1956). In 1955 he founded the ‘Bharatiya Buddha Mahasabha’ for the spread of Buddhism in India.

A prolific writer, he was the author of many books of which only a few may be mentioned here: ‘Castes in India- Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’ (May 1916); ‘The Problem of the Rupee’ (December 1923); ‘Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India’ (1927); ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ (1941, next two edition-‘Pakistan or Partition of India’). ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’ (1943); ‘Who were the Shudras and how they came to be the fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society?’ (1946); ‘Thoughts on Linguistic States’ (1955).

Ambedkar had a buoyant and dynamic personality. He was tall and stout. At home he put on simple Indian dress but in public he was always in immaculate western dress. He was a great lover of books. His personal library collection was very rich and he was proud of it.

His bitter experience in his early days made him a relentless critic of the Hindu society. He would oppose the caste Hindus whenever and whenever he had to face them. His erudition and fighting spirit made him a formidable enemy of the caste Hindus. From 1924 to 1934 his role was agitation. He led numerous Satyagrahas for asserting the rights of the untouchables. From 1930 he entered the arena of national politics. He opposed the policy of the Indian National Congress and particularly its demand for independence. He wanted foreign rule to continue to safeguard the interests of the lower classes of the Indian society.

His role in politics was resented by the nationalists who, however, recognised his brilliance. It was after independence that he sowed his abilities at their best. His achievements in framing and piloting the Indian Constitution and in preparing the preparing the Hindu Code Bill were unique. They made the nationalists give up their former prejudices against him and recognise him as one of the foremost national leaders. Even then Ambedkar will be remembered in history specially as the emancipator of the untouchables.

Author : C.B.Khairmoday