B. R. Ambedkar
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar ([bʱiːmraːw raːmdʑiː aːmbeːɽkər]; 14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, politician, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and economist. A revivalist for Buddhism in India, he inspired the Modern Buddhist movement. As independent India's first law minister, he was principal architect of the Constitution of India.
Born into a poor Mahar family, Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination, the Indian caste system. He converted to Buddhism and is also credited with providing a spark for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of lower caste members to Buddhism. Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1990. Eventually earning a law degree and doctorates for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Ambedkar gained a reputation as a scholar and practised law for a few years, later campaigning by publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for India's untouchables.
He is regarded as a Bodhisattva by some Indian Buddhists, though he never claimed it himself.
Early life and education
Ambedkar was born in the town and military cantonment of Mhow in the Central Provinces (now in Madhya Pradesh). He was the 14th and last child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambavade (Mandangad taluka) in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. They belonged to the Mahar caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. Ambedkar's ancestors had for long been in the employment of the army of the British East India Company, and, his father served in the Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment.
Belonging to the Kabir Panth, Ramji Sakpal encouraged his children to read the Hindu classics. He used his position in the army to lobby for his children to study at the government school, as they faced resistance owing to their caste. Although able to attend school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or assistance by the teachers. They were not allowed to sit inside the class. Even if they needed to drink water somebody from a higher caste would have to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch either the water or the vessel that contained it. This task was usually performed for the young Ambedkar by the school peon, and if the peon was not available then he had to go without water, Ambedkar states this situation as "No peon, No Water". He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him.
Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved to Satara two years later. Shortly after their move, Ambedkar's mother died. The children were cared for by their paternal aunt, and lived in difficult circumstances. Three sons – Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao – and two daughters – Manjula and Tulasa – of the Ambedkars would go on to survive them. Of his brothers and sisters, only Ambedkar succeeded in passing his examinations and graduating to a high school. His original surname Ambavadekar comes from his native village 'Ambavade' in Ratnagiri District. His Brahmin teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond of him, changed his surname from 'Ambavadekar' to his own surname 'Ambedkar' in school records.
In 1897, Ambedkar's family moved to Bombay where Ambedkar became the only untouchable enrolled at Elphinstone High School. In 1906, his marriage to a nine-year old girl, Ramabai, was arranged.
In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and in the following year he entered Elphinstone College, which was affiliated to the University of Bombay, becoming the first from his untouchable community to do so. This success provoked celebrations in his community and after a public ceremony he was presented with a biography of the Buddha by Dada Keluskar, the author and a family friend. By 1912, he obtained his degree in economics and political science from Bombay University, and prepared to take up employment with the Baroda state government. His wife, by then 15 years had just moved his young family and started work, when he had to quickly return to Mumbai to see his ailing father, who died on 2 February 1913.
In 1913, he moved to the United States. He had been awarded a Baroda State Scholarship of £11.50 (Sterling) per month for three years under a scheme established by the Gaekwar of Baroda that was designed to provide opportunities for postgraduate education at Columbia University in New York City. Soon after arriving there he settled in rooms at Livingston Hall with Naval Bhathena, a Parsi who was to be a lifelong friend. He passed his M.A. exam in June 1915, majoring in Economics, with Sociology, History, Philosophy and Anthropology as other subjects of study; he presented a thesis, Ancient Indian Commerce. In 1916 he completed his second thesis, National Dividend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study for another M.A. and finally he received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1917 for his third thesis, after he left for London. On 9 May, he read his paper Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development before a seminar conducted by the anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser. In October 1916 he enrolled for the Bar course at Gray's Inn, and also at the same time enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started work on a doctoral thesis. But in June 1917 he was obliged to go back to India as the term of his scholarship from Baroda ended, However he was given permission to return to submit his thesis within four years. His thesis was on "Indian Rupee." He came back to London at the first opportunity and completed his studies. At the London School Of Economics he took a Master's degree in 1921 and in 1923 he took his D.Sc.in Economics, and the same year he was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn. His third and fourth Doctorates (Ll.D, Columbia, 1952 and Ll.D., Osmania, 1953) were conferred honoris causa.
Incidentally, in his journey (1917?) he travelled separately from his collection of books, which were lost when the ship on which they were dispatched was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.
Opposition to untouchability
As Ambedkar was educated by the Princely State of Baroda, he was bound to serve it. He was appointed as Military Secretary to the Gaikwad but had to quit within a short time. He described the incident in his autobiography, Waiting for a Visa. Thereafter he tried to find ways to make a living for his growing family. He worked as a private tutor, as an accountant, and established an investment consulting business, but it failed when his clients learned that he was an untouchable. In 1918 he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Even though he was successful with the students, other professors objected to his sharing the same drinking-water jug that they all used.
Ambedkar had been invited to testify before the Southborough Committee, which was preparing the Government of India Act 1919. At this hearing, Ambedkar argued for creating separate electorates and reservations for untouchables and other religious communities. In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai with the help of Shahu II (1874–1922), Maharaja of Kolhapur.
Ambedkar went on to work as a legal professional. In 1926 he successfully defended three non-Brahmin leaders who had accused the Brahmin community of ruining India and were then subsequently sued for libel. Dhananjay Keer notes that "The victory was resounding, both socially and individually, for the clients and the Doctor".
While practising law in the Bombay High Court, he tried to uplift the untouchables in order to educate them. His first organised attempt to achieve this was the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, which was intended to promote education and socio-economic improvement, as well as the welfare of "outcastes", at the time referred to as depressed classes. For the protection of Dalit rights he started many periodicals like Mook Nayak, Bahishkrit Bharat, and Equality Janta.
He was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Committee to work with the all-European Simon Commission in 1925. This commission had sparked great protests across India, and while its report was ignored by most Indians, Ambedkar himself wrote a separate set of recommendations for the future Constitution of India.
By 1927 Ambedkar decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources, also he began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town.
In 1930, Ambedkar launched Kalaram Temple movement. This was non-violent movement for which he was preparing since three months. About 15000 volunteers assembled at Kalaram Temple satygraha making one of the greatest processions of Nashik. The procession was headed by military band, batch of scout, women and men walked in discipline, order and determination to see the god first time. When they reached to gate, the gates were closed by authorities. This movement was for human dignity and self-respect.
Due to Ambedkar's prominence and popular support amongst then so called untouchable community, he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1932. Gandhi fiercely opposed a separate electorate for untouchables, saying he feared that such an arrangement would split the Hindu community into two groups.
In 1932, when the British had agreed with Ambedkar and announced a Communal Award of a separate electorate, Gandhi protested by fasting while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail of Poona. The fast provoked huge civil unrest across India and orthodox Hindu leaders, Congress politicians and activists such as Madan Mohan Malaviya and Palwankar Baloo organised joint meetings with Ambedkar and his supporters at Yerwada. Fearing a communal reprisal and genocidal acts against untouchables, Ambedkar was coerced into agreeing with Gandhi. This agreement, which saw Gandhi end his fast and Ambedkar drop his demand for a separate electorate, was called the Poona Pact. Instead, a certain number of seats were reserved specifically for untouchables (who in the agreement were called the "Depressed Class").
In 1935, Ambedkar was appointed principal of the Government Law College, Mumbai, a position he held for two years. Settling in Mumbai, Ambedkar oversaw the construction of a house, and stocked his personal library with more than 50,000 books. His wife Ramabai died after a long illness in the same year. It had been her long-standing wish to go on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur, but Ambedkar had refused to let her go, telling her that he would create a new Pandharpur for her instead of Hinduism's Pandharpur which treated them as untouchables. Speaking at the Yeola Conversion Conference on 13 October in Nasik, Ambedkar announced his intention to convert to a different religion and exhorted his followers to leave Hinduism. He would repeat his message at numerous public meetings across India.
In 1936, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, which contested in the 1937 Bombay election to the Central Legislative Assembly for the 13 reserved and 4 general seats and securing 11 and 3 seats respectively.
Ambedkar published his book The Annihilation of Caste in the same year. This strongly criticised Hindu orthodox religious leaders and the caste system in general. Ambedkar served on the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy's Executive Council as minister for labour.
In his work Who Were the Shudras?, Ambedkar attempted to explain the formation of Untouchables. He saw the Shudras, who form the lowest caste in the ritual hierarchy of the caste system, as being separate from Untouchables. Ambedkar oversaw the transformation of his political party into the Scheduled Castes Federation, although it performed poorly in the elections held in 1946 for the Constituent Assembly of India.
Ambedkar was also critical of Islam and its practices in South Asia. While justifying the Partition of India, he condemned the practice of child marriage, as well as the mistreatment of women, in Muslim society.
- No words can adequately express the great and many evils of polygamy and concubinage, and especially as a source of misery to a Muslim woman. Take the caste system. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. [...] [While slavery existed], much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. While the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse. But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans [ Muslims ] has remained.
Role in drafting India's Constitution
Upon India's independence on 15 August 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation's first Law Minister, which he accepted. On 29 August, he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, charged by the Assembly to write India's new Constitution.
Granville Austin has described the Indian Constitution drafted by Ambedkar as 'first and foremost a social document'. ... 'The majority of India's constitutional provisions are either directly arrived at furthering the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement.'
The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties 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, and also won the Assembly's support for introducing a system of reservations of jobs in the civil services, schools and colleges for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Other Backward Class, a system akin to affirmative action. India's lawmakers hoped to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India's depressed classes through these measures. The Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.
Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951 following the stalling in parliament of his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to expound gender equality in the laws of inheritance and marriage. Ambedkar independently contested an election in 1952 to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, but was defeated. He was appointed to the upper house, of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain as member till death.
Role in the formation of Reserve Bank of India
Ambedkar was an economist by training and until 1921 his career was as a professional economist. It was after that time that he became a political leader. He wrote three scholarly books on economics:
- Administration and Finance of the East India Company,
- The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India, and
- The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), formed in 1934, was based on the ideas that Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission.
Role in Economic Planning
Ambedkar was the first Indian to pursue Economics doctorate degree abroad. According to him the industrialization and agricultural industry growth could enhance the economy of the nation. He stressed on money investment in the agricultural industry as the primary industry of India. Accoding to Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture minister, Ambedkar’s vision benefited the government in accomplishing the food security goal. He supported economic and social development of the society for nations progress. He also emphasised on education, public hygiene, community health, residential facilities as the basic amenities. His D.Sc. thesis "The problems of Ruppee, its origin and solution (1923)" reveals the factors responsible for Rupee fall. He proved the importance of price stability than exchange stability. He analysed the silver and gold rate exchange and its effect on Indian economy. He found out the reasons for the failure of British Indian economy’s public treasury. He found the loss made by British rule on Indian development.
He is creditworthy to establish Finance Commission of India. He did not support the income tax policy for the lower income group community. He contributed in Land Revenue Tax and excise duty policies to stabilize Indian economy. He played an important role in the land reform and the state economic development. According to him Hindu caste system, divided labours, was one of the hurdles for the economic progress. He emphasised on free economy with stable rupee which India has adopted recently. He advocated the birth control rate to develop the Indian economy. This policy has been adopted by Indian government as national policy for family planning. He emphasised on equal rights to women for economic development. He laid the foundation of industrial relations after Indian independence.
Opposition to Article 370 in the Indian Constitution
Dr. Ambedkar was against Article 370 in the Constitution, which gives a special Status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and it was put against his wishes. Balraj Madhok reportedly said, Dr. Ambedkar had clearly told Sk. Abdullah: "You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it." Then Sk. Abdullah went to Nehru, who directed him to Gopal Swami Ayyangar, who approached Sardar Patel asking him to do some thing as it was a matter of prestige of Nehru, who has promised Sk. Abdullah accordingly. Patel got it passed when Nehru was on foreign tour. On the day this article came up for discussion, Dr. Ambedkar did not reply to questions on it though he did participate on other articles. All arguments were done by Krishna Swami Ayyangar.
After the completion of the drafting of India's constitution, Ambedkar went to Bombay for treatment. He was suffering from lack of sleep, had neurotic pain in his legs and was taking both insulin and homeopathic medicines. There he met Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Saraswat Brahmin, whom he married on 15 April 1948, at his home in New Delhi. Doctors recommended that he needed a companion who was both a good cook and a possessor of medical knowledge and could thus take care of him. She adopted the name Savita Ambedkar and took care of him for the rest of his life.
Conversion to Buddhism
Ambedkar had considered converting to Sikhism, which saw oppression as something to be fought against and which for that reason appealed also to other leaders of scheduled castes. He rejected the idea after meeting with leaders of the Sikh community and concluding that his conversion might result in him having what scholar Stephen P. Cohen describes as a "second-rate status" among Sikhs.
He studied Buddhism all his life, and around 1950, he turned his attention fully to Buddhism and travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to attend a meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced that he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that as soon as it was finished, he planned to make a formal conversion to Buddhism. Ambedkar twice visited Burma in 1954; the second time in order to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon. In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. He completed his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956. It was published posthumously.
After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Accepting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk in the traditional manner, Ambedkar completed his own conversion, along with his wife. He then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him. He prescribed the 22 Vows for these converts, after the Three Jewels and Five Precepts. He then traveled to Kathmandu in Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference. His work on The Buddha or Karl Marx and "Revolution and counter-revolution in ancient India" remained incomplete.
Since 1948, Ambedkar had been suffering from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 owing to side-effects from his medication and failing eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened during 1955. Three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.
A Buddhist cremation was organised for him at Dadar Chowpatty beach on 7 December, attended by half a million sorrowing people. A conversion program was supposed to be organised on 16 December 1956. So, those who had attended the cremation were also converted to Buddhism at the same place.
Ambedkar was survived by his second wife, who died in 2003. and his son Yashwant (known as Bhaiyasaheb Ambedkar). Ambedkar's grandson, Ambedkar Prakash Yashwant, is the chief-adviser of the Buddhist Society of India, leads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and has served in both houses of the Indian Parliament.
A number of unfinished typescripts and handwritten drafts were found among Ambedkar's notes and papers and gradually made available. Among these were Waiting for a Visa, which probably dates from 1935–36 and is an autobiographical work, and the Untouchables, or the Children of India's Ghetto, which refers to the census of 1951.
A memorial for Ambedkar was established in his Delhi house at 26 Alipur Road. His birthdate is celebrated as a public holiday known as Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti. He was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1990.
On the anniversary of his birth and death, and on Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din (14 October) at Nagpur, at least half a million people gather to pay homage to him at his memorial in Mumbai. Thousands of bookshops are set up, and books are sold. His message to his followers was "Educate!,Organize!,Agitate!". Legacy
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 initiatives have influenced various spheres of life and transformed the way India today looks at socio-economic policies, education and affirmative action through socio-economic and legal incentives. His reputation as a scholar led to his appointment as free India's first law minister, and chairman of the committee responsible to draft a constitution. He passionately believed in the freedom of the individual and criticized equally both caste society. His allegation of Hinduism foundation of caste system, made him controversial and unpopular among the Hindu community. His conversion to Buddhism sparked a revival in interest in Buddhist philosophy in India and abroad.
Many public institutions are named in his honour, and the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur, otherwise known as Sonegaon Airport. A large official portrait of Ambedkar is on display in the Indian Parliament building. Ambedkar, was voted as the "Greatest Indian" in 2012 by a poll organised by History TV18 and CNN IBN. Nearly 2 crore votes were cast, making him the most popular Indian figure since the launch of the initiative. Due to his role in economics, Narendra Jadhav, a notable Indian economist, has said that Ambedkar was "the highest educated Indian economist of all times." Amartya Sen, said that Ambedkar is "father of my economics", Sen continues that "he was highly controversial figure in his home country, though it was not the reality. His contribution in the field of economics is marvelous and will be remembered forever."
Ambedkar's political philosophy has given rise to a large number of political parties, publications and workers' unions that remain active across India, especially in Maharashtra. His promotion of Buddhism has rejuvenated interest in Buddhist philosophy among sections of population in India. Mass conversion ceremonies have been organised by human rights activists in modern times, emulating Ambedkar's Nagpur ceremony of 1956.
Outside India, at the end of the 1990s, some Hungarian Romani people drew parallels between their own situation and the situation of the downtrodden people in India. Inspired by Ambedkar's approach, they started to convert to Buddhism. In popular culture
Several movies, plays, and other works have been based on the life and thoughts of Ambedkar.
- Jabbar Patel directed the English-language film Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in 2000. This biographical depiction was sponsored by the National Film Development Corporation of India and the government's Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The film was released after a long and controversial gestation period.
- David Blundell, professor of anthropology at UCLA and historical ethnographer, has established Arising Light – a series of films and events that are intended to stimulate interest and knowledge about the social and welfare conditions in India. Arising Light is a film on the life on Ambedkar and social welfare in India.
- The play Ambedkar Aur Gandhi, directed by Arvind Gaur and written by Rajesh Kumar, tracks the two prominent personalities of its title.
- Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability is a graphic novel narrates episodes from the life of Ambedkar using Pardhan-Gond style by Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. The book published by Navayana Books was identified as one of the top 5 political graphic novel by CNN.
- A Vedic scholar from Pune, Prabhakar Joshi, began writing a biography of Ambedkar in Sanskrit in 2004. Joshi is a recipient of Maharashtra Government's 'Mahakavi Kalidas' award. The completed work, Bhimayan, comprises 1577 Shlokas and is intended as an atonement for the injustice done to the young Bhimrao by some teachers.
- The Ambedkar Memorial has been constructed at Lucknow is dedicated to the memory of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The chaitya consists of monuments showing Ambedkar's biography.
Writings and speeches
The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra(Bombay) published the collection of Ambedkar's writings and speeches in different volumes.
|vol. 1.||Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development and 11 other essays|
|vol. 2.||Dr Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislature, with the Simon Commission and at the Round Table Conferences, 1927–1939|
|vol. 3.||Philosophy of Hinduism; India and the pre-requisites of communism; Revolution and counter-revolution;Buddha or Karl Marx|
|vol. 4.||Riddles in Hinduism|
|vol. 5.||Essays on untouchables and un-touchability|
|vol. 6.||The evolution of provincial finance in British India|
|vol. 7.||Who were the shudras? ; The untouchables|
|vol. 8.||Pakistan or the partition of Indiap|
|vol. 9.||What Congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchables; Mr. Gandhi and the emancipitation of the untouchables|
|vol. 10.||Dr. Ambedkar as member of the Governor General's Executive Council, 1942–46|
|vol. 11.||The Buddha and his Dhamma|
|vol. 12.||Unpublished writings; Ancient Indian commerce; Notes on laws; Waiting for a Visa ; Miscellaneous notes, etc.|
|vol. 13.||Dr. Ambedkar as the principal architect of the Constitution of India|
|vol. 14.||(2 parts) Dr. Ambedkar and The Hindu Code Bill|
|vol. 15.||Dr. Ambedkar as free India's first Law Minister and member of opposition in Indian Parliament (1947–1956)|
|vol. 16.||Dr. Ambedkar's The Pali grammar|
|vol. 17||(Part I) Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Struggle for Human Rights. Events starting from March 1927 to 17 November 1956 in the chronological order|
|(Part II) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Socio-political and religious activities. Events starting from November 1929 to 8 May 1956 in the chronological order|
|(Part III) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Speeches. Events starting from 1 January to 20 November 1956 in the chronological order|
|vol. 18||(3 parts) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Speeches and writing in Marathi|
|vol. 19||Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Speeches and writing in Marathi|
|vol. 20||Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Speeches and writing in Marathi|
|vol. 21||Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Photo Album and correspondence.|