BR Ambedkar can easily be remembered
as "The Father of the Constitution of India" and the man who fought
for the oppressed in the country. On Saturday, April 14, 2018, India
celebrated the 127th birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Popularly known as Babasaheb, he was an Indian jurist, economist,
politician and social reformer who inspired the Dalit Buddhist
Movement and campaigned against social discrimination against
untouchables since he was a Dalit too and also supported the rights
of women and labour.
However, Ambedkar’s importance in Indian history cannot just be
limited to a person who championed for the rights of the poor,
downtrodden and lower caste people. He can easily be remembered as
“The Father of the Constitution of India” and the man who fought for
the oppressed in the country. He was the principal architect of our
Constitution and a founding father of the Republic of India.
“Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar is a yug purush (man of the era) who lives in
the hearts and minds of crores of Indians. His life is characterised
by unmatched determination and a firm commitment towards social
justice. He made a mark as a bright lawyer, scholar, writer and
intellectual who always spoke his mind,” Prime Minister Narendra
Modi had said in praise of Ambedkar.
Born on April 14, 1891 in the town and military cantonment of
Mhow in the central provinces, (now in Madhya Pradesh) to Ramji
Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sakpal, Ambedkar had to face
isolation in school because of his caste. Ambedkar was born into a
poor low Mahar (Dalit) caste, who were treated as untouchables and
subjected to socio-economic discrimination
His hardships in school and work sphere
His ancestors had long worked for the army of the British East
India Company, and his father served in the British Indian Army at
the Mhow cantonment. Although they attended school, it is reported
that Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and
given little attention or help by teachers. They were not allowed to
sit inside the class.
When they needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste had 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; he
described the situation later in his writings as “No peon, No Water”
However, despite facing all hardships, Ambedkar, in 1897 became the
only untouchable enrolled at Elphin stone High School. In 1906, when
he was about 15, he got married to nine-year-old Ramabai.
Ambedkar pursued a degree in economics and political science from
Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai, and then completed his
Masters in Economics (Major) at the Columbia University and Doctor
of Science in Economics from London School of Economics with the
help of a scholarship.
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
While practising law in the Bombay High Court, he tried to promote
education to untouchables and uplift them. His first organised
attempt was his establishment of the central institution Bahishkrit
Hitakarini Sabha, 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 defence of Dalit rights, he started many periodicals like
Mook Nayak, Bahishkrit Bharat, and Equality Janta.
After India attained independence in 1947, Ambedkar accepted
Congress’ proposal to serve as the country’s first Law Minister and
was appointed chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee on
August 29, 1947. On November 26 1949, the Constitution was adopted
by the Constituent Assembly.
Opposition to Aryan invasion theory and Manusmriti
Babasaheb viewed the Shudras as Aryans and rejected the Aryan
invasion theory which depicts scenarios around the theory of an
origin from outside South Asia of Indo-Aryan peoples.
On December 25, 1927, Ambedkar publicly condemned the Manusmriti for
justifying caste discrimination and untouchability and led thousands
of Dalits and burnt copies of the text.
Opposition to Article 370
Ambedkar opposed Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which
granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and which was
included against his wishes. He resigned in 1951 when the Parliament
delayed the draft which sought to enact gender equality in the
Conversion to Buddhism
Ambedkar considered converting to Sikhism. But after meeting
with Sikh leaders, he concluded that he might get “second-rate” Sikh
status, as described by scholar Stephen P Cohen. Instead, he studied
Buddhism all his life. Around 1950, he devoted his attention to
Buddhism and travelled to Sri Lanka to attend a meeting of the World
Fellowship of Buddhists.
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. Accepting the
Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk, in the
traditional manner, Ambedkar completed his own conversion, along
with his second wife Savita.
Ambedkar passed away on December 6, 1956 in New Delhi where he
was accorded a Buddhist cremation.
In 1990, Ambedkar was posthumously conferred with Bharat Ratna,
India’s highest civilian award.