Bhim Rao Ramji, who, later came to be known as Dr. B.R.Ambedkar or Baba Saheb Ambedkar in popular parlance, was born at Mhow, near Indore on 14th April 1891. He was fourteenth child of Subedar Major Ramji and his wife Bhimabai. Only five of the children of this couple survived, including Bhim Rao and two each of his sisters and brothers. Ambavade in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra was the ancestral village of the family and they belonged to Mahar caste, one of the numerous untouchable castes in those days.
In 1896, family shifted to Satara, where shortly Bhim Rao’s mother died. He was just five year old at that time. He had his early education here. In 1904, the family shifted to Mumbai and lived in Parel, an area inhabited by textile workers. In 1907, at the age of 16 years, Bhim Rao completed his school education from Elphinston High school. Next year he was married to Ramabai, eight years younger to him and of nine years of age at that time. In 1912, Bhim Rao graduated from Elphinston College and joined the armed forces of Maharaja of Baroda as Lieutenant. Same year his father died. In 1913, Maharaja Sayaji Rao of Baroda awarded him a scholarship to study at Columbia University in USA. In 1915, Bhim Rao completed his M.A. in Political Science and wrote a dissertation on ‘ Administration and Finance of the East India Company’ , to obtain degree. On 9th May 1916, he presented a paper on ‘Caste in India:Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’, which was published later in journal ‘Indian Antiquity’ in 1917. Just in one year, after completing his M.A. degree, Bhim Rao submitted his PhD thesis on ‘ National Dividend- A Historical & Analytical Study’ to Columbia University, on which he was awarded PhD degree in 1917.
After submitting his PhD thesis, Bhim Rao joined London School of Economics as well as in the Grey’s inn in 1916 .Bhim Rao returned to India as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in 1917 itself and joined the services of Maharaja Baroda as per the contract of scholarship. However even after obtaining PhD degree from USA, rare feet in those days, he was subjected to indignity of untouchability, so he left that service. In November 1918, he joined Syndenham College of commerce as Professor of Political Science. In 1920, he started a Marathi fortnightly-‘Mooknayak’(The silent Hero).
Dr. Ambedkar actually started his journey as scholar-activist from 1916, when he first presented a paper on caste in India, which turned out to be one of his major writing later. The publication of ‘Mooknayak’ was second step in this journey, through which Dr. Ambedkar started awareness campaign among Dalits. In 1920, he also participated in the first all India conference of depressed classes. This conference was presided over by Shahuji Maharaj of Kolhapur. Dr. Ambedkar exhorted Dalits in this conference, for self-help to free them. In September 1920, Dr. Ambedkar went back to London School of Economics to pursue his studies further and he got his MSc. Degree from there in 1921, writing dissertation on ‘Provincial Decentralization of Imperial finances in British India.’ In 1922, he was invited to the Bar-at-law from Grey’s inn. In 1923, he was awarded DSc. Degree by London School of Economics on the thesis ’The Problem of Rupee-its origin & solution’. This thesis was published by King & co. London in the same year. King &Co. also published his PhD thesis of Columbia University in 1925. he went to Berlin for yet further studies, even after two Doctorate degrees from most prestigious Universities of the world. In fact Dr. Ambedkar specialized himself in three equally important subjects-Economics, Political Science and Law. It must definitely be a record in those days for any Indian to achieve such feet. Dr. Ambedkar, two years younger to Jawaharlal Nehru, seems to be tallest amongst all national leaders of those days, in matter of academic achievements.
Returning to India in 1923, Dr. Ambedkar started practicing law at Mumbai High Court. In 1924, he formed ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha’(Depressed Classes welfare Association). Apart from practicing law, Dr. Ambedkar also taught at Batliboi institute as part time teacher from 1925 to 1928. He was nominated to Bombay Legislative Council in 1927 for five years , which was further extended for another five years in 1932.Third step in his journey as scholar activist occurred with his Satyagraha on Chowdar tank in Mahad for Dalits right to draw water in 1927. He delivered his famous speech at Mahad on 25th December 1927 in this Satyagraha, when copy of ‘Manusmriti’ was burnt. This was a significant step towards advancement of Dalit liberation movement. In April 1927, he had started another Marathi fortnightly ’Bahishkrit Bharat’(Exiled India). In 1928-29, he served as Professor of law at Government College of Law at Mumbai. During 1928-29, he also brought another fortnightly’ Samta’(Equality). In 1930, he brought out another Marathi fortnightly’ Janta’(People). During the same period, Lala Lajpat Rai was bringing out English daily ’The People” from Lahore. In 1930, Dr. Ambedkar started another Satyagraha from Kalaram temple,in Nasik, which continued intermittently for five years. In 1930 itself, Dr. Ambedkar also became President of first all India Depressed classes Congress, held at Nagpur. Whole year of 1930, was full of activities for Dr. Ambedkar, this very year, he participated in first Round Table Conference called by British rule to discuss the future shape of India. In 1931, he was part of Second Round table Conference. !932 was also politically significant year. This was the year, when Poona Pact, also known as Gandhi-Ambedkar pact was signed on 24th September. This year again, he participated in Third round Table conference.
Dr. Ambedkar suffered a personal setback in May 1935, when his wife Ramabai died. From 1935 to 1938, he remained Principal of Govt. law College, Mumbai. In October 1935, he declared at Yeola conference though born Hindu, he would not die as Hindu. He announced that he will embrace Buddhism, which he could do only after 21 years, hardly two months before his untimely death. In 1936, one of his classics-‘Annihilation of Caste’ was published. In 1936 itself, he formed his first political party-‘Independent Labour Party’. In 1938, he protested against Industrial Dispute Bill. In July 1942, Dr. Ambedkar formed ‘Scheduled Castes Federation’. In 1942, he was also appointed as Labor member in Viceroy’s council, which he continued till July 1946. Viceroy’ Council in those days was like central cabinet. In 1945, he wrote on ‘Communal Deadlock and way to solve it’. Like Bhagat Singh, Dr. Ambedkar was also concerned about communal problem, as well as about labor laws. In 1945, he also founded ‘People’s Education Society’ Mumbai, which established Sidhartha College of commerce in 1946. In July 1947, he was elected to Constituent Assembly from Mumbai and on 3rd August, he was appointed the first law minister of India. On 19th August 1947, he was appointed chairman of drafting committee of constitution of India. The draft prepared by this committee was approved by the constituent assembly on 26th November 1949 and India was proclaimed Republic from 26th January 1950, with the constitution coming into force from that date.
Dr. Ambedkar remarried on 15th April 1948, after 13 years of widowhood. Dr. Sharda kabir, who was looking after him in his ill health, shared ten letters with him, before he could agree to this marriage. He was hesitant, because Sharda Kabir was younger to him by 15 years at that time. Dr. Kabir became Dr. Savita Ambedkar after marriage conducted in most simple manner.
Dr. Ambedkar resigned as law Minister from Nehru cabinet inSeptember 1951 and he lost election in first elections of Lok Sabha ,held in January 1952. However he was elected to Rajya Sabha from Bombay legislative council in March 1952, which he continued till his last day. Columbia University honored its alumni with Doctor of Law degree in June 1952. In December 1954, Dr. Ambedkar participated in world Buddhist conference in Rangoon, and in 1945 he formed Boudha Maha Sabha. He was not keeping well, so to fulfill his commitment of 1935, he embraced Buddhism on 14th October 1956, alongwith lakhs of his followers. After participating in World Buddhist Conference in kathmandu on 15&16th November 1956, despite his ill health, he breathed his last on 6th December 1956 at Delhi. All through this period, he was working very hard and writing continuously. His another classic, ‘Buddha and his Dhamma’ was published after his death. Many other unpublished writings were also published later.
Maharashtra Govt. formed a committee to edit and publish Dr. Ambekar’ Speeches and Writings, under the chairmanship of Vasant Moon, which brought out 16 volume edition in Marathi and English. Dr. Ambedkar foundation in Delhi is assigned the task of getting these volumes translated and published in other Indian languages.
There are hundreds of books written on the life and deeds of Dr. Ambedkar in almost all Indian languages. These books include biographies, critical commentaries on his writings, creative writings like novels; poetry plays etc. on the life of Baba Saheb. Followers of Dr. Ambedkar formed Republican Party of India (RPI) and it created strong base in Maharashtra in its early phase. Later as usual in India, it got split into many factions and it now remains confined to Maharashtra only. Many groups of RPI are still a force to reckon with among Dalits in Maharashtra. Many other parties, professing the ideology of Dr. Ambedkar came up later in different parts of the country. Out of these, Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) is stronger in north India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh(UP), where it has tasted the touch of power as well. All other political parties of India ,including BJP, whose reprenstative Arun Shourie attacked Dr. Ambedkar as ‘false god’, play Ambedkar card to woo Dalit voters. What Dr. Ambedkar could not become in his own life time—an icon of Dalit identity, he became two decades after his
Now in the early years of twenty first century, there are many personalities, who are becoming a bridge between the split peoples of India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh, which were one people sixty years ago. Dr. Ambedkar is one of these personalities, apart from Bhagat Singh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Faiz Ahmad Faiz,Rabindra Nath Tagore,jagan Nath Azad, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan and many others, who bind the people of these countries in emotional bond. The common heritage of events like Tipu Sultan’s struggle in 1806, 1857 revolt, Bhagat Singh and others revolutionary activities, Ghadar party tradition , Chittagong revolt and 1946 navy revolt are such glorious common struggles against British Colonialism which exhorts them to jointly fight again against neo imperialism of today, which is much worse than yesterday’s British imperialism. But how come that Dr. Ambedkar has also become a common symbol of these countries, whose birth anniversary is being celebrated in Lahore this year, perhaps for the first time in sixty years!
In my view, it is the humanism inherent in the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar, which brings the people of India and Pakistan and perhaps Bangla Desh and Nepal too, closer to each other. In spite of the fact that caste system ,particularly the untouchability is in built part of Hinduism alone and all other religions of the region-Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. do not only approve of casteism, these religions have strongly indicted casteism as social practice. Most of these religions apparently profess the essential unity and equality among mankind. It is only through ‘Manusmriti’ and few other texts of Hinduism, which have codified caste system. During British rule and earlier during Moghul rule, lakhs of sufferers of caste system had converted to Islam or Christianity, yet even after conversion to these religions, this suffering humanity did not get equal social status in society. No doubt they were not subjected to indignity of untouchability in their new religion, yet the human social respect at equal level was far away. This reality has been aptly captured in many creative writings such as Jagdish Chander’s Hindi novel trilogy—‘Dharti Dhan Na Apna’(Land does not belong to us), ‘Narakkund mein Vaas’(Living in a hell) and ‘Zameen Apni to Thi’(The land was once ours) or Gurdas Ram Aalam in his Punjabi poem ‘Dr. Ambedkar’ etc. So the inequality though formally removed in the converted religion for untouchables, yet it remained in practice in social conduct. Even after conversion, Dalits were treated at lower level and were not entered into marriage relations by upper class people. Dr. Ambedkar put a great emphasis on this aspect by insisting on the need of inter caste or for that matter inter religious marriages to really eradicate inequality among caste and classes. Dr. Ambedkar spent his whole life to understand the mechanism of inequality, ingrained in the caste system at intellectual level and struggled all through to eradicate it at social and political level.
At intellectual level , we can see his writings on caste system and untouchability such as-‘Caste System in India’, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, ‘Who were the Shudras’, ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’, ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ etc. Dr. Ambedkar’s speech at Mahad on 25th December 1927 is one of the sharpest analyses of caste system, where he equates the Dalit liberation movement in India with French revolution of 1789, which has the core slogans of ‘Equality, Fraternity and Liberty’.
At social and political level from 1920 onwards, with the publication of ‘Mooknayak’ at the age of 29 years, Dr. Ambedkar remained active to his last breath for 36 years, to change the life of crores of Dalits in India on the basis of his ideas of essential human equality and also of socialism. The major struggles he took up, apart from publications of various journals and books in this direction, was launching of Chowdar tank Satyagraha in Mahad and Kalaram temple Satyagraha, which continued for five years. Then as member of Mumbai legislative council, Central assembly, Rajya Sabha; as member of Viceroy council, as law minister or as chairman of constitution draft committee, Dr. Ambedkar played a major role in shaping the destiny of Dalits of India in particular and Indian people in general. His role in three round table conferences, in signing Poona pact was to ensure fair and equitable deal for Dalits in future set up of India. By all his ideas and actions, Dr. Ambedkar advanced the scope and space of liberation for vast number of Dalit population of Indian society.
Dr, Ambedkar was enlightened by the philosophy of French revolution, Buddhism and Marxism for the emancipation of Dalit masses. ‘Buddha or Marx’ is one of the titles of his major writings. He was for socialism, but was against the use of violence to achieve it. He wanted to build socialism in Indian society through peaceful constitutional means. That is why the philosophy of Buddhism attracted him more, particularly in Indian context, where people are too much religious. But Dr. Ambedkar accepted the atheist and rationalist form of Buddhism.
Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy of humanism is much more relevant in Asian societies today, where the worst kind of religious fundamentalism of many hues, worst kind of inequalities on caste and class basis exist. Asia needs to seek inspiration from the ideas of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh like personalities to bring radical changes in their societies, to make these more equal, more just, and more humane.
- Speeches and Writing of Dr. Ambedkar in 16 volumes- published by Govt. of Maharashtra
- Essential writings of Dr. Ambedkar -Edited- Valerine Rodrigues, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
- Dr. Ambedkar:His Life and Works-Dhanjya Keer,Popular Prakashan Mumbai (Biography)
- Remembrances and Reminiscences—Nanak Chand Rattu
- Baba Saheb Ambedkar—Vasant Moon-(Biography), National Book Trust of India, New Delhi
- Poisoned Bread—Edited- Arjun Dangle- Dalit literary writings- Orient Longman, Delhi
- From Untouchable to Dalit—Eleanor Zelliot- Manohar, Delhi