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Sunday, 2 October 2011

45) Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar Father of the Indian Constitution , Eminent Political Leader, Philosopher and Freedom Fighter 14.04.1891 – 06.12.1956

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar ;
Father of the Indian Constitution , Eminent Political Leader, Philosopher and Freedom Fighter; (14.04.1891 – 06.12.1956) 

(For Commemorative stamps issued on the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in October 2015, titled "Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the indian constitution" please click here: Stamps on "Dr. Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution")

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on 14th April 1891 in Mhow (presently in Madhya Pradesh – India) to parents belonging to the Mahar caste which was considered an “outcaste” or “untouchable” (low caste) which had suffered injustice at the hands of the upper castes for generations. He spent his entire life fighting against social discrimination (the “Chaturvarna” – four caste system of the Hindu society, among his other achievements). His parents lived in a village called Ambavade ( Ratnagiri district – Maharashtra, India) . Thus, he was, initially,called Bhimrao “Ambavadekar”.  When he became a student of High School, one of his high caste teachers Mahadev Ambedkar was very impressed with his resolve to study and changed Bhimrao’s name to his own name “Ambedkar” in school records. He is also known as “Bodhisatva”, “Babasaheb”, “Baba”, MookNayak” and “Adhunik Buddha”.
There was a tradition of serving in the British Armed forces in his family and both his grandfather and his father had done service in the British Army. Later, after his retirement from the British Army, his father settled in Satara  (Maharashtra – India) in 1894.
The children of Army personnel were all educated in special schools run by the Government and, this ensured that he received good education in one such school in Satara, which opportunity to receive good education, would otherwise not have been available to him .
Despite his brilliant all-round merit, he was not permitted to study Sanskrit, because it was considered to be a prerogative of the higher caste students only. This injustice made him very bitter, but later, he, did learn Sanskrit on his own. Not only this, he became conversant with English and Persian. He passed his Matriculation from the University of Bombay, and later his Intermediate Examination. He joined Elphinstone College, Bombay in 1908 on a scholarship from the Gaikwad ruler of Baroda, and here he obtained his B.A. Degree in Economics and Political Science in 1912. He was one of the first “outcastes” to obtain college education in India.
He took up employment under the Maharaja of Baroda who sent him to Columbia University in the United States of America for higher studies again on a scholarship. For the first time in his life he experienced no discrimination on account of untouchability. Here, in 1915, he passed his M.A., majoring in Economics. He also studied Law and Economics in England, but had to return to India in August 1917 because his scholarship term had ended.
But, he was reminded of his low-caste birth once again in India when he worked as Military Secretary with the Maharaja of Baroda again, when the staff, including Parsis, in his office would throw the files at him and even physically threatened him. He could not stand this treatment and had to quit his post.
In 1918, he became a Professor of Political Economy in Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Bombay, where he faced caste discrimination from his fellow Professors.
In 1920, he went to England from where he obtained an M.Sc. Degree in Economics from the London School of Economics and studied Law and returned in 1922 to India as a barrister.
One of his first successful cases was the defence of 3 non-Brahmin leaders who were proceeded against in court by Brahmins, led by an able advocate from Poona (present day Pune), for writing a pamphlet that the Brahmins had ruined India, which success made him very popular.

Some of his other caste-discrimination experiences :

Despite the work of several social reformers and religious leaders, down the ages like, Buddha, Ramanujacharya, Basaveshwara, Eknath, Tukaram, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Phule, Sree Narayan, et al, he experienced caste discrimination like several members of his caste, right from his childhood. While studying in school, he had to sit on the floor in one corner of the class-room and his teachers would not touch his notebooks and the school peon would serve him water by pouring it from a height.
There is an instance where he along with his brother were travelling on a bullock cart on a summer afternoon  and the cart driver on coming to know that he belonged to the Mahar caste , stopped and raised one end of the cart, so that both of them fell down and injured themselves. Since it was hot, the boys requested people to give them a drink of water, but no one obliged as they were not allowed to approach wells and water tanks and they had to remain thirsty.
He faced other discriminations, when a barber refused to cut his hair and a lady refused to let him take shelter near the wall of her house when it was raining.
He resolved to fight these injustices, through acquiring the best possible education and knowledge. It is said that he had a resolve of steel and even though it was raining hard one day, he still went to school thoroughly drenched, when his school-mates stayed at home.
Periodicals and writing:

He started a periodical called “Mook Nayak” (Leader of the Silent or Quiet Hero) which highlighted the discrimination faced by the “untouchables” and to fight for their equal rights.Sahu Maharaj of Kolhapur arranged for free education and jobs for the lower castes and Nationalists like, Veer Savarkar and Chittaranjan Das also began to work for equal rights for the lower castes. Mahatma Gandhi took practical steps to fight untouchability.
“The Annihilation of Caste”, “Who were the Shudras?”, “The Untouchables: A Thesis on the Origins of Untouchability”, “Buddha and his Dhamma”, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in India”  “What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables” and “The riddle of Hinduism” were some of the books, that Ambedkar wrote, apart from a Paper on “Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and development” and an Autobiography “Waiting for a Visa” .
On the issue of Partition, he wrote “Thoughts on Pakistan” in which after much reasoning on the pros and cons he favoured the creation of Pakistan.
The Government of Maharashtra has published Ambedkar’s writings and speeches in 21 different volumes.
Ambedkar’s fight for equal rights and Chowdar Tank Satyagrah:
He organized the “Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha” (Society working for the upliftment of the Outcastes) for promoting their education and socio-economic development.
By 1927, he launched active agitations to open up public water resources and temple entry to the outcastes.  He led a Satyagrah (insistence of a right through peaceful protest) in Mahad for the right of the untouchables to draw water from the main tank in Bombay.
The Bombay Legislature (present day Mumbai) had passed a bill that public water tanks and wells could be used by all persons (irrespective of caste and creed). The Mahad Municipality in Colaba district resolved that Chowdar Tank could be used even by lower castes but it had not been implemented in effect because of fear of upper caste retaliation. Ambedkar led a “Chowdar Tank Satyagrah” (peaceful insistence of Rights, on the lines of Gandhiji’s agitations) and drank the water first. The participants were attacked by higher caste Hindus and several of them including Ambedkar were injured. But, a significant symbolic protest had been made. Many sensible Hindus started questioning the age-old practices of social discrimination and speaking up for equal rights for all. The Chowdar Tank dispute went to court where it was upheld that water tanks were public property.
Ambedkar also reasoned that entry into temples should also be allowed for all persons. He argued that while the Indians were fighting for Nationalism and self-rule for India and freedom from British rule, there was a war within Hindu society, because of caste discrimination and they could not seek self-independence , presenting a united front when, members of their own society (lower castes) were being discriminated against by them.
He took part in symbolic protest in which casteist excerpts from the “Manu Smriti” (The sage Manu’s written word from oral tradition) were burned by a Brahmin.
In 1927, there was a Conference which resolved that there should be no caste differences within the Hindu Dharma and persons of all castes should be allowed to work as priests in temples.
Despite his bitter experiences, Ambedkar did not want the pity of others for the “untouchables” and held the view that justice cannot be granted by others and that those who suffer because of the injustices should themselves work towards securing justice.
Towards this goal he fought for more representation of the lower castes in legislatures and was against “nomination” of such representatives by the Government. He also wanted them to be employed in greater numbers in the Army and Police Departments.
He participated in the “Second Round Table Conference” in 1932 along with Gandhiji, where he equated the social discrimination being practiced by the upper caste Hindus with the British Rule and openly opposed Gandhiji on several crucial issues. As a result, Ambedkar secured separate electorates for the “Harijans” (untouchables/lower castes) where they could elect their representatives separately.
Gandhiji started a fast against separate electorates, reasoning that this would only separate the Harijans from the Hindus and was prepared to fast unto death. The issue was resolved when Ambedkar fearing a communal genocide, gave up the claim for separate electorates and agreed to ten percent reservations in legislatures for Harijans (or Depressed Classes, as they were called). The resultant Agreement between Ambedkar and Gandhiji is known as the “Poona Treaty” (or Poona Pact).
Political and other achievements:
He was appointed to work with the Simon Commission in 1925, whose report led to protests across India, but Ambedkar’s Notes formed a basis for several future constitutional recommendations.
In 1935, he was made the Principal of the Government Law College, Bombay, where, in his house, he accumulated a library of more than 50,000 books (his earlier collection of books having been sunk in a ship by a German U-boat while being transported back to India in 1918, during World War I).
In 1936, he founded the “Independent Labour Party”, which won 15 seats in the 1937 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly. The party later transformed into the “All India Scheduled Castes Federation”.
He was appointed to the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council as Minister for Labour.
Ambedkar was the first Law Minister in Nehru’s 14 – member Cabinet when India obtained freedom on 15th August 1947 from British Rule.
On 29th August 1947, a 7-member committee was set up  to frame the Constitution of India with Ambedkar as its Chairman. One member died, two were very sick and one was very busy with official Government work, as a result the Indian Constitution was drafted by Dr.Ambedkar, practically all by himself with support from two members, which was placed before the Constituent Assembly for consideration on 4th November 1948. Some of the salient features were:
-          Constitutional guarantees and protection for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens,
-          Freedom of religion
-          Abolition of untouchability and declaring all forms of discrimination illegal
-          Extensive economic and social rights for women
-          Introducing a system of Reservations of jobs in civil services, schools and colleges for members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, hoping to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India’s depressed classes through this system, which was purely a temporary measure for a limited period of 10 years only.
The Constitution was adopted on 26th November 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.
In 1951, he resigned his office as a Minister when his draft of Hindu Code Bill which sought to bring about gender equality in the laws of inheritance, marriage and economy was rejected by the Parliament.
He fought the elections of the Lok Sabha in 1952 as a Congress Candidate, but, surprisingly lost. Later, he was elected as a Rajya Sabha member. In 1953, he brought a Bill before Parliament for punishing those who still practiced caste discrimination.
While fighting casteism within the Hindu society, he stood for better treatment  of Muslim women  and criticized the practice of polygamy  and the “oppressive purdah system”by Muslims  and wanted them  to introspect and “rid their society of social evils “ which had crept in over a period of time in the interpretation of the Islamic doctrine.
On 14th October 1956, he embraced Buddhism. In 1955, he founded the Bhartiya Bauddha Mahasabha (The Buddhist Society of India).

Death and legacy:
He suffered from Diabetes and the stress of politics and fighting against caste injustices took a toll on his health and passed away on 16th December 1956 in his sleep.
His entire life was devoted to securing justice and equality tor the lower caste Hindus.  He lived to see “untouchability declared a crime. The lower castes got political equality and to a large extent social equality.
A memorial was made at his house in Delhi and his birthday is celebrated as a public holiday known as “Ambedkar Jayanti” or “Bhim Jayanti”.
Many Educational institutions are named in his honour viz: Dr. B.R.Ambedkar Open University in Hyderabad, A University in Srikakulam and Muzaffarpur, National Institute of Technology in Jalandhar and an international Airport at Nagpur are named after him.
A large portrait of Ambedkar is displayed in the Indian Parliament Building.
In several parts of India, it is common to see his statues in prominent places and small temples have been erected where he is worshiped and remembered for the social equality that he strove to accord to the “lower” castes, all his life among his other contributions.
He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1990 by the Government of India in recognition of his contribution to the Nation and Society.
The Reserve Bank of India brought out a one rupee coin for general circulation in his honour in 1990 to celebrate the commencement of his birth centenary celebration year.

The obverse of the coin shows the Lion Capital with the words “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth Always Prevails) forming the emblem of the Indian Government. Below this symbol is the numeral “1” indicating the denomination of the coin. The words “Bharat” and “Rupiya” in Hindi appear on the left side of the coin, and the words “India “and “Rupee” in English appear on the right side of the coin.

On the reverse of the coin is his image with the words “Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Janmshati” in Hindi and “Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Centenary” in English. The year of issue for this coin 1990 is mentioned below his portrait. This coin was issued by Mumbai mint. Notice the “Diamond” mint mark below the year of issue.

 Links to other Posts on Buddhism and DR. B.R. Ambedkar on this Blog:


 Postage Stamps from Thailand depicting Buddhist Jataka Tales:

1) Thailand postage stamps commemorating Buddhist Jataka Tales & celebrating Magha Puja Day (Part I)

2) Thailand Post stamps commemorating Buddhist Jataka Tales & celebrating Asalha Puja Day (Part II)  

3) Thailand Post stamps commemorating Buddhist Jataka Tales & celebrating Visakha Puja Day (Part III)

4) Postage stamps from Thailand commemorating Buddhist Jataka Tales


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