The Messiah of Dalits and Downtrodden - Babasahib Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

One may love it or one may hate but one has to accept and acknowledge the fact that Ambedkarism has been a movement of assertion of downtrodden in the history of India in recent times.Ambedkar has been a voice of downtrodden of this country and for their cause he has dedicated his whole life and works.Dalits have placed Ambedkar at the top of the world and he is no less than a God for them. He wrote extensively on the problems of Caste, Muslims, minorities and women in India.

He richly contributed towards constructions of democratic independent  Bhim Rao Ramji Ambedkar was born on 14th April 1891 at Mhow, a small town in the then princely state of Indore state. He was the fourteenth child of father Ramji Sakpal and mother Bhima Bai belonging to the Mahar caste, which was considered a low untouchable caste by the caste Hindus. The Mahars were, however, among untouchables and were considered to be a sort of martial race. They were considered important army strength in Maratha army from time of Shivaji. The grandfather, farther and six uncles of B. R. Ambedkar were in the army all of them were holding the rank of Subedar Major, which was an achievement in the Indian Army under the British. The father of B. R. Ambedkar was a Subedar Major in army and was a teacher in Army School.

 

The young Ambedkar, at a very tender age had to face humiliation and disgrace at the hands of upper caste Hindus when he started education in primary school. He was made to sit outside the classroom so that his presence did not pollute other boys. He and his brother were not allowed to drink water from the school well and they had to often remain thirsty the whole day. Bhimrao’s attitude towards Hinduism and its rigidly and deep-rooted caste system could be traced to these insults and humiliations suffered by him at an age when a young mind makes impressions about things around him.

During study in school Bhimrao used Ambavadekar as his surname and the same was derived from their ancestral village called Ambavade. A benevolent and compassionate teacher becoming interested in young, well-mannered and humble Bhimrao changed his surname to Ambedkar and he came to be known as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. He passed his matriculation examinations in 1908 and completed his graduation in 1912 on the scholarship given by Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad. He completed his Master of Arts and doctorate in Economics from Columbia University, Master of Science and Doctorate of science in economics from London School of Economics and Political Science, Barrister at law from Grey’s Inn, London. It was an achievement par excellence for a small town untouchable boy at the end of 19th century to attain such high education and high degrees. This superior educational knowledge further boosted Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar to vigorously purse the cause of downtrodden and also to lead the growing movement of India’s downtrodden. The mixture of several factors like the openings of mobility provided by British colonial rule, the help of a few progressive and far sighted individuals, wealthy and upper caste social reformers, sacrificial support from his family besides his own sheer grit and determination contributed immensely towards his success.

On completion of his studies he came back to India in 1924 and in compliance to the bond which he signed before with Maharaja of Baroda for scholarship went to serve the Princely state and was appointed as Military Secretary to the Maharaja. He found it utmost difficult to find a place to stay in Baroda. He wrote and narrated in one of his speeches; “Neither a Hindu nor a Moslem was prepared to rent out a house to me in any locality, I decided to get accommodated in a Parsi Dharmsala. After having stayed in America and England, I had developed a fair complexion and impressive personality. Giving myself a Parsi name, ‘Adalji Sorabji’….. But soon the people got the wind of the fact that His Highness of Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda had appointed a Mahar boy as an officer in his Durbar. My living in Parsi dharamsala under the assumed name gave rise to suspicion and my secret was out soon.”

So he tendered his resignation to Maharaja and left for Bombay, once Maharaja of Baroda came to know the behavior meted out to Ambedkar in Baroda he waived the condition of 10 years service in the State of Baroda stipulated at the time of granting him scholarship for higher studies. Besides legal practice at Bombay High Court, he also started active public career as a social worker, a politician, a writer and an educationist. The indications of his activities and his future mission of his life he gave even before he left for England the second time. He brought out a Marathi fortnightly, Mook Nayak from December 1919 to June 1920. He was emerging as a leader of the downtrodden and in that capacity he gave evidence before the Southborough Reforms (Franchise) committee, claiming political rights for the Depressed Classes. He was getting involved more and more in the social and political activities and a big step forward was initiated by him in this direction by organizing ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha’ in 1924. The main objectives of the Sabha were; to promote and expand education among the Depressed Classes by opening hostels or by employing such other means as may seem necessary or desirable; to promote the spread of culture among the Depressed Classes by opening libraries, social centres and classes or study circles; and advance and improve the economic condition of the Depressed Classes by starting industrial and agricultural schools. He started four boarding houses in the Bombay Presidency in five years. He vehemently attacked the village life structure in India; termed as a cesspool of Casteism and a breeding grounds of untouchability in Hindu society. The need for such boarding houses arose because high caste Hindu students would not like to live and dine with the untouchables. These hostels proved a boon for the ‘low-caste’ students. He also started some newspapers and journals to spread the message of the Sabha as he felt that speeches, meetings and resolutions passed in those meetings were not enough.

In addition to advocating, urging and writing on the problems of untouchables, Ambedkar adopted the method of agitation to get justice for untouchables. In March 1927 he led his followers to Chavdar Talen (Chowdar Tank) a public tank in Mahad. The Untouchables were not allowed to drink water from the tank. Ambedkar and his supporters during this agitation marched to the tank and drank water from the tank and broke age-old pitiless custom. He firmly believed that the ancient Hindu Law Book namely Manusmriti was the mother of caste system and untouchability in Hindu society, therefore, he burnt a copy of Manusmriti in a protest against the caste system. These agitations and leadership capabilities of Ambedkar established him as a leader of the downtrodden and the then government also acknowledged this when he was nominated to the Bombay Legislative Assembly for which he remained a member and served competently from 1926 to 1934. During his stint as a member of Bombay Assembly he introduced several bills for the welfare of the untouchables, peasants and workers, but most of these were not passed because the majority was with the orthodox members. In 1928 he was appointed as a lecturer in the Government Law College, Bombay and subsequently its Principal. In 1935 he was made Perry Professor of Jurisprudence, which was a coveted honor.

He represented the causes of untouchables and other downtrodden as a delegate to the three Round Table Conference held in London (1930-33). During these conferences he advocated forcefully that the untouchables were a minority and should get the same treatment like other minorities such as Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and demanded separate electorates. During Second Round Table conference which was attended by Gandhi as the sole representative of the Congress, there was confrontation and sever argumentations between Gandhi and Ambedkar. As there could not arrive any consensus between delegates the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald was authorized to give the award / verdict on the conference. The decision that came out after the Conference is called as Communal Award and was announced on 17th August 1932. As a result Ambedkar won separate electorate for Depressed Classes. This was not taken kindly by then leadership and was not acceptable to Gandhi, he undertook fast unto death and Ambedkar was pressurized and coerced to yield to the wishes of Gandhi and Poona Pact was signed. As per the pact, the reservation of seats reserved for the Depressed Classes in the provincial as well as central assemblies were increased but the separate electorates were abolished. However, he was established as a tall, knowledgeable and undisputed leader of the Depressed Classes. He often used to say, “Mahatma’s have come and Mahatma’s have gone, but the untouchables have remained untouchables.” He exhorted his followers to struggle for their rights in the Hindu society. He said, lost rights are never regained by appealing to the consciences of usurpers but by constant struggle and sacrifice, only goats are used for oblation not the lions.

Ambedkar wanted to establish himself as a political leader and he founded the Independent Labor Party in October 1936, which captured all the seats in the Bombay Presidency that were reserved for the Scheduled Castes. In April 1942 he floated the Scheduled Castes Federation as an all India party bringing all the Scheduled Castes under its banner. He attached utmost importance to the education for his communities. One of the main objectives of the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha was to provide facilities for the children of the untouchables to pursue purposeful education in schools and colleges. He founded Peoples Education Society in July 1945 and that established a number of colleges in the Bombay Presidency for the Scheduled Caste students including the Siddhartha College Bombay. He was nominated as a Labour member of the Governor General’s Executive Council.

Ambedkar’s contribution in drafting the Constitution for independent India is unquestionable. Infact, he single handedly drafted the Constitution for independent India. He spent long hours in converting the discussions and discourses of the Constituent Assembly in appropriate legal language in form of the Constitution, rich and deserving tributes were paid by the learned members of the Constituent Assembly. He was called as modern Manu who gave India a new and democratic regime, paying a rich tribute to Ambedkar for his tireless efforts in making the Constitution, another fellow Maharashtrian said “ I call this Constitution the Mahar Law because Dr. Ambedkar is a Mahar and now…….we shall have the law of Manu replaced by law of Mahar and I hope that unlike the law of Manu under which there was never a prosperity in the country, the Mahar law will make India virtually paradise”. He cautioned the nation of fallouts if the nation failed to realize the needs of becoming a nation and not working towards creating a nation where Liberty, Equality and Fraternity is vibrant. His last speech at the time of acceptance of new Constitution was a peak moment in Ambedkar’s life. The modern Manu is a symbol of progress and advancement for the Dalits and downtrodden in independent India.

Seeing brutal, heartless, vicious and exploitative caste system and unwillingness on the part of Hindus to correct this he stated “ I was born a Hindu and have suffered the consequences of untouchability. I will not die as a Hindu.” In 1940 he republished Laxmi Narasu’s ‘The Essence of Buddism’ and subsequently wrote a book ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’ explaining the meaning and significance of Buddhism. He along with his wife and 0.4 millions followers took Diksha and administered the vow to his followers. The followers in their collectively vow committed themselves to new life free from the system of high and low and never ending violence sustained under Hinduism.

Ambedkar fought a different war of freedom for most oppressed sections of society in India. His freedom struggle was based on the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, these were first announced during French revolution, further taken to US Liberation war and subsequently affected the societies and groups of people across the countries in the whole world. He was a great nationalist, democrat and a firm believer in social justice. He was a vociferous writer and thinker and social reformer. During is lifetime he wrote many books and left behind a massive collection of notes, writings essays and other unfinished works on various subject matters.

By Rajinder Kashyap