Remembering Ambedkar on Bhim Jayanti

published on April 12, 2011

Remembering Freedom Fighters
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: Chief Architect of Indian Constitution

V.N. Gopalakrishnan

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar also known as Babasaheb was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. As the Chairperson of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Dr. Ambedkar was instrumental in the incorporation of the principle of fundamental rights in the Constitution.  He was a multi-faceted personality and he spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination, the categorization of Hindu society into four varnas and the caste system. He was a national leader, educationist, political philosopher, humanist and above all an emancipator of Dalits. Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti is being celebrated annually as a public holiday on April 14.  He was also awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour in 1990.

A few months before his Mahaparinirvana, he embraced Buddhism. It was a tribute to the humanistic philosophy of Buddha. By initiating millions of his followers into the Buddhist fold, he asserted his faith in the humanistic values preached by Gautam Buddha.

Babasaheb was born into a poor Mahar family on April 14, 1891 as the child of Subhedar Ramji Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai in the military cantonment of Mhow in Madhya Pradesh though Ramji hailed from Ambavade in Ratnagiri district. Since his native place was Ambavade, Babasaheb changed his name to Ambedkar.

In 1907, Babasaheb passed his matriculation examination from the Government High School near Elphinstone Road. On passing the examination, he was felicitated by his teacher Dada Keluskar, a Maratha scholar and was presented with a book on the life of Gautam Buddha which made a profound impact on him. As per the Hindu custom, Ambedkar married Ramabai, a nine-year old girl from Dapoli.

In 1908, he joined Elphinstone College and obtained his degree in economics and political science. He became one of the first ‘Dalits’ to obtain a college education in India.  Later, he received a scholarship from Sayaji Rao III, the ruler of Baroda for higher studies. He studied at universities in US, Britain and Germany and earned degrees and multiple doctorates in law, economics and political science. During his studies abroad, he could imbibe the western liberal thought and the humanitarian philosophy expounded by the great thinkers of the time.
Returning to India, he practiced law for few years. In 1920, he started the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai advocating political rights and social freedom for the untouchables. He used the journal to criticize orthodox Hindu politicians and their reluctance to fight against caste discrimination. He also organised the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha to promote education and socio-economic uplift of the depressed classes.

Dr. Ambedkar launched public movements against untouchability by organizing marches to open up and share public drinking water resources. He organized a Conference of Satyagrahis on December 25, 1927 at Mahad where he burned Manusmriti and began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples. 

Dr. Ambedkar was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Committee to work with the all-European Simon Commission in 1925. He criticized the Indian National Congress and Gandhiji and advocated a political identity for untouchables separate from both the Congress and the British. He criticized the Salt Satyagraha launched by Gandhiji and his criticisms made him unpopular with the orthodox Hindus. However, his prominence and popular support among the untouchable community had increased, and he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931. Gandhiji fiercely opposed separate electorate for untouchables only but accepted separate electorate for all other minority groups like Muslims, Sikhs etc. When the British announced the awarding of separate electorate for untouchables only, Gandhiji began a fast-unto-death in 1932. Fearing a communal reprisal, Dr. Ambedkar agreed to drop the demand for separate electorates and settled for a reservation of seats.

Dr. Ambedkar served as the Principal of the Government Law College, Mumbai for two years. In 1936, he founded the Independent Labour Party, which won 15 seats in the 1937 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly. He also oversaw the transformation of his political party into the All India Scheduled Castes Federation. Dr. Ambedkar protested the Congress decision to call the untouchable community as Harijans (Children of God), a name coined by Gandhiji.

Upon India’s independence on August 15, 1947, the Congress-led government invited Dr. Ambedkar to serve as the nation’s first law minister. On November 26, 1949 the Constituent Assembly adopted the new Constitution drafted under the chairmanship of Dr. Ambedkar. In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. The biographies written by Dhanajay Keer in English and another by B.C. Khairmode in Marathi are the earliest source materials on Ambedkar. The Government of Maharashtra has so far published 16 volumes of his writings and speeches which are being translated into other Indian languages. He died on December 6, 1956 and his legacy as a socio-political reformer, has made a deep impact on modern India.

(Author is a freelance journalist and a social activist. He can be contacted on [email protected]).

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