BR Ambedkar was an Indian philosopher, economist, lawyer and activist. He was the first law minister of independent India and is usually referred to as the father of the Constitution for his role in drafting it.
He was born on 14 April 1891 in Mhow town situated in Madhya Pradesh. His family belonged to a kshatriya clan belonging to the Mahar caste of untouchables. Ambedkar’s achievements were remarkable for someone who started life with so few resources. In 1935 he became what he called a “double graduate”—a holder not only of a bachelor’s degree but also of a master’s degree—both from Columbia University, New York City.
About BR Ambedkar
The one name that is perhaps known to millions of Indians for his contribution towards ensuring the social, economic and political rights of the Dalits is that of Babasaheb Ambedkar. He occupies a special place in India’s struggle for equality and justice, not just for his work among the untouchables but because he was a philosopher as well as a writer and an activist who fought against all social injustice and discrimination. His ideas on liberty, equality and human fraternity are relevant to every society today.
Life of BR Ambedkar
Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 at Mhow which is a small military station in central India close to Indore in Madhya Pradesh State. His father was Ramji Sakpal who was in the Army of the Maharaja Scindia. He belonged to the Mahar caste of untouchables. His mother’s name was Bhimabai Sakpal Ambedkar. The father and son, who worked as personal assistants to a British officer, were staying at Mhow cantonment, in present day Madhya Pradesh State.
Ambedkar’s family had fallen on hard times and he had to suffer a lot at a very young age because he belonged to an untouchable family which was considered unimportant and treated as insignificant by people who came from upper caste families.
Ambedkar joined the Government School at Satara in 1896. In 1897 he was selected for the government high school at Bombay. He attended this high school, which had been started by B. G. Kher, and completed his high school education there in 1910, obtaining a high percentage in Sanskrit.
He then completed his graduation with a first class degree from the Elphinstone College of Bombay University with majors in Political Science and Economics. In 1912, he became one of the first few graduates of India at that time to obtain a master’s degree from Columbia University, New York with a concentration on political science and economics.
Ambedkar’s Personal Life
He married Ramabai in 1918, with whom he had a daughter named Bharati in 1920. His wife Ramabai died due to illness in 1935 and married Sharada Kabir on 15th of April 1948.
Ambedkar started his career during World War I as the Secretary to the Viceroy of India from 1915 to 1919. In 1921, he became the president of the Bombay Presidency’s Civil Service Institute for untouchables, serving for seven years till 1925.
In 1919, Ambedkar started practising law at the Bombay High Court. In 1923, he published a book titled The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? This work received worldwide attention for its groundbreaking analysis and criticism of Hindu society and religion.
Ambedkar also worked with Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian independence movement from 1920 to 1930. In 1935, he was appointed as one of the members of the Viceroy’s council.
Ambedkar became a member of the government delegation in 1946 as a part of the Cabinet Mission sent to frame India’s Constitution. He also represented India at the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1947 and 1948.
Opposition to untouchability
Ambedkar opposed untouchability and worked to abolish it all his life. He, in fact, became a national leader of the lower caste Hindus. As a result, he was often denied public functions as a representative of the Indian government. This did not deter him from reaching out to all parts of the country and speaking on behalf of his fellow untouchables.
Kalaram Temple movement
He led the temple entry for untouchables movement in 1930-32. He played an important role in convincing Mahatma Gandhi to support this campaign. In 1933, he started working for the removal of separate electorates and reservations for untouchables and worked towards an egalitarian society. He extended his efforts to fight against religious and social discrimination even after his resignation from the Cabinet Mission in 1947 and establishment of the short-lived Navayana state.
In 1942 he lent his support to form a separate political party All India Scheduled Castes Federation. He took part in its proceedings and spoke on equal rights, freedom and liberty to all people irrespective of race, religion or caste.
In 1932, BR Ambedkar was the leader of the Depressed Classes Mission, which demanded separate electorates for untouchables. However, he gave up his demand in 1933. This made him unpopular among the untouchable masses and he became a leader without followers. In 1935, Ambedkar along with other leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Bose formed the Independent Labour Party.
BR Ambedkar continued to criticize the caste system and argued that Hindu society had stigmatized certain professions based on birth and labeled them as low-caste jobs. He opposed this idea by saying that “No one can prevent me from being a weaver but no one can force me to be a weaver.
BR Ambedkar contested the 1936 elections to the Bombay legislative assembly as an independent candidate. However, he did not win. In 1943, he joined the Swaraj Party led by Mahatma Gandhi and emerged as its president in 1946. He represented India at the conference of free nations and the United Nations in 1947 and 1948.
During this time, he made several public speeches against untouchability among Muslims and formed a separate political party called All India Muslim Personal Law Board. He also helped form a group of intellectuals in 1952 to fight against casteism among Hindus.
Drafting of India’s Constitution
In 1947, BR Ambedkar had joined the Constituent Assembly to work on India’s Constitution. As the chairman of the Drafting Committee, he played an important role in composing, for the first time in human history, a constitution that guaranteed fundamental rights for every citizen and took away special voting rights or reservations based on religion. He was also instrumental in formulating a democratic and secular Constitution that ensured various fundamental rights of citizens such as equality before law, freedom of movement and speech, protection against discrimination based on caste or gender.
BR Ambedkar resigned from his Cabinet post after Pakistan attacked India soon after independence. He argued that if India wanted to survive as a strong democracy it had to be prepared to fight wars if its very existence were threatened.
His Conversion to Buddhism
After resigning from politics, BR Ambedkar continued to face many problems in everyday life. He was not allowed to use public convenience like other people. On his 56th birthday, he announced the mass conversion of his followers to Buddhism. The ceremony was held on 14 October 1956 at Nagpur. It is said that more than three lakh members of the untouchable community converted to Buddhism.
Bhimrao Ambedkar died on 6 December 1956 due to a heart attack in his home at Delhi. Thousands of mourning people attended his funeral, which passed through many cities and towns in India and Pakistan. Before reaching Mumbai (Bombay) where he was cremated near Chaitya Bhoomi Gateway Of India.
Awards and Hounors
In 1990, Ambedkar was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. In 2003, the government of India announced plans to build a grand memorial in his honor. A memorial has also been constructed in London and the Ambikapur airport in Chhattisgarh is named after him.
Dr BR Ambedkar is considered a hero by many Indian people especially by Dalits (formerly called untouchables or outcasts) and other oppressed communities. His works and teachings continue to influence Dalits and other lower caste people as well as politicians and academics who are fighting against discrimination still prevalent among various sections of Hindu society.