The Leader of The Silent: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
By: Shreyansh Kushwaha
Helper (unnamed): “Memsaab, I need a day off tomorrow.”
Writer’s mother: “No way! Diwali is ahead of us, and may I ask why do you need a holiday?”
Helper (unnamed): “My husband and I have planned to visit the graveyard and paint my father in law’s grave tomorrow, as Diwali is approaching.”
Writer (interrupted): “But Aunty! You belong to a Hindu family, how come a graveyard? We cremate, we don’t bury the dead.”
Helper (unnamed): “Bhaiya, we are Dalits; ‘Ground’ was our reality, is our reality and shall always be!”
The above conversation among the writer’s acquaintances gives us an insight into the vulnerability of a section of people belonging to a caste considered lower than the others. As a result, they were subjected to a life where even the Right to die with dignity couldn’t be afforded. In Hinduism corpses are cremated, but to bury was the only option available to the Dalits back then.
Everything changed, or appeared to change, when an ordinary man born as a Dalit challenged and questioned the existing exploitative norms.
AMBEDKAR: EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Born on April 14, 1891 in the garrison town of Mhow in a Dalit (Mahar) community, Dr. Ambedkar had an ordinary childhood and was subjected to everything which was considered his fate being a Dalit. Seeds of rebelion are often planted in one’s childhood- a phrase that aptly captures the essence of Ambedkar’s life. While his ‘Upper Caste’ companions in school sat on chairs, he was told to sit down on the floor outside the classroom on a gunny sack, which he used to carry with him. Everyone around him tried their best not to ‘touch’ him since he hailed from a caste which was considered, ‘untouchable’.
Ramji Maloji Sakpal had fourteen children, of which ,Ambedkar was the last. Ramji was employed as the Subedar(a rank equivalent to that of a captain, awarded to an Indian military officer) in the army of the East India Company. In 1896, Ambedkar’s family moved to Satara where after sometime his mother passed away while him and his siblings who survived were taken care of by their paternal aunt. Times were hard but out of the five children, only Ambedkar managed to attend school lessons and pass his exams.
Later in 1897, he became the first ‘Dalit’ to get admission in the Elphinstone High School. He was married to Ramabai Dhatre who was just nine years of age while he was fifteen.
He graduated in Economics and Political Science from Elphinstone College, Bombay University in the year 1912. With his hard work and luck, he secured the Baroda State Scholarship offered by the Gaekwad (ruler) of Baroda and moved to the United States for higher studies. Thereafter he secured several doctorates in Economics from Columbia University and University of London.
AMBEDKAR AND UNTOUCHABILITY
Having experienced the worst of caste based discrimination; Dr. Ambedkar played an instrumental role in weeding out the poisonous tree of caste based hierarchy and strived to cut its branches down till his last breath.
As a practising lawyer in the Bombay High Court, he tried his best to educate and motivate the untouchables around him. ‘Annihilation of Caste’, an influential pamphlet written by him in 1936 attacked the very idea of casteism and cruel social stratification. It was due to his efforts that the Indian Constitution outlawed and prohibited untouchability of any and every kind. The very fact that Ambedkar is still the emblem of the anti-discrimination protests across the country itself explains the magnitude of his relentless efforts in the aforementioned area.
His clash of thoughts with Gandhi ji during the Second Round Table Conference did not deter him from joining hands with Gandhi in order to uplift the deprived out of their misery. ‘Harijan Movement’ was one such product of this collaboration which had an everlasting impact on Indian social philosophy.
‘The Poona Pact’ signed between Ambedkar (who was the representative of the depressed classes) and Madan Mohan Malviya on 25th September 1932, following Gandhiji ending his indefinite hunger strike against the very idea of ‘separate electorates’, can be seen as the highest achievement in Ambedkar’s journey of eradicating casteism and uplifting the depressed classes. This agreement legally reserved a fraction of seats in the provincial legislatures for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
FROM ‘MANUSMRITI’ TO ‘DHAMMA’
(Manusmriti is an important Hindu scripture which lays down the rules of an ideal social order and lifestyle whereas Dhamma has Buddhist connotations)
“I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.”- quoted Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar with respect to his view on an ideal religion. He often criticised Hinduism and the scriptures which provided a foundation for the misery of the depressed classes by describing them as ‘Achhoot’ (untouchables). Moreover he found no other way to free oneself from the shackles of the toxic ‘Varna System’ than to renounce Hinduism and adopt Buddhism because he was greatly inspired by the principles of Dhamma, however he also disagreed with some. Therefore what he finally adopted was then regarded as ‘Navayana Buddhism’ or ‘Neo-Buddhism’.
On October 14, 1956 Ambedkar along with approximately 3, 65,000 of his followers adopted Buddhism in Nagpur. This place where the mass conversion took place is today known as ‘Deeksha Bhoomi’ and is revered as a shrine by many. But sadly, just after two months of adopting Buddhism, Ambedkar took his last breath and passed away on December 6, 1956.
“....religion is for man and not man for religion. For getting human treatment, convert yourselves. Convert for getting organised, convert for getting strong, and convert for securing equality. Convert for getting liberty.”
These lines were said by Ambedkar while addressing the Mahar community where he motivated them to convert their religion 20 years before adopting Buddhism.
AMBEDKAR AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
Today we talk of equality, equity, women empowerment and the most novel of all ‘feminism’ but it was very surprising to think on the lines of gender equality back then in the early and mid-20-century when the primary concern of those in power, was stability.
Ambedkar was one of the few who were inspired by the western ideals of women empowerment and initiated some of the reforms which formed the bedrock of women’s rights in India.
He constantly stressed on the idea of the Universal Adult Franchise (UAF) and made it constitutionally guaranteed which made women legally at par with men, something which the advanced western countries were still struggling to mandate.
The Hindu Code Bill, which later transformed into a series of laws and acts namely the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 gave women the Right to Divorce and claim a share of their inherited property, owes its drafting to no one but Ambedkar.
‘Maternity break’ in working institutions was something extremely progressive to think of in a land where patriarchy was and still is considered to be of natural origin but Ambedkar did dare. As a result, the rights of working mothers, women, mine workers and all the depressed classes were recognised as early as 1938.
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” - says Dr. B.R. Ambedkar giving us an insight into his ideology of a just social order.
“Turning their backs to the sun, they journeyed through centuries. Now, now we must refuse to be pilgrims of darkness. That one, our father, carrying, carrying the darkness is now bent;Now we must lift the burden from his back.”
This is an extract from the translated version of Namdeo Dhasal’s poem. These lines very beautifully convey the kind of respect and gratitude people especially who have had a history of discrimination, hold within themselves for their ‘Babasaheb’.
Calling Ambedkar the ‘father’ of a community of countless people reflects his relentless efforts for cutting down the poisonous tree of hierarchy forever.
3. For Namdeo Dhasal’s poem- Class 12th Political Science NCERT.