Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Bhimji Ramji Ambedkar was born on April 14th, 1891, in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. His parents both were untouchables. His father was a retired army officer and headmaster in a military school, and his mother an illiterate woman.
Because he was born as a untouchable, he was made to sit in a corner of the class room, separated from other students. His teachers feared pollution, that is why they would not touch him. Despite all kinds of humiliations, he passed his high school in 1908. This was such an exceptional achievement for an untouchable, that he was felicitated in a public meeting
After his graduation he went to the USA to study economics at the Columbia University. After his return to India he got a job as Military Secretary in Baroda Raja's office. Here he was ill-treated again by the upper caste employees. Even drinking water was not given to him and files were kept at a distance from him.
A great lawyer and Dalit leader
In 1920 he went to London where he got his Bar-at-Law at Gray's Inn for Law.
While coming back to India in 1923, Ambedkar again experienced humiliation. The upper caste lawyers would not even have tea at his desk. But his greatest consolation were his clients, whom he treated with a liberal mind. His reputation and fame among the Depressed Classes began to grow. He was one of the greatest thinkers that India has produced. He visualised and struggled for a casteless and equal India.
At this time he was fully convinced that nothing could emancipate the Dalits except through a complete destruction of the caste system. He asserted: 'I was born a Hindu, but never will die a Hindu. Hinduism should become a religion of social equality. What is required is to get rid of the doctrine of 'Chatuvarna'. That is the root cause of all inequality and is also the parent of the caste system and untouchability, which are merely other forms of inequality'.
Ambedkar's struggle for equality
In 1924 he started the organisation 'Bahiskrit Hitakarini Sabha', for the upliftment of the untouchables. Ambedkar adopted a two-pronged strategy:
- Eradication of illiteracy and economic uplift of the downtrodden.
- Non-violent struggle against visible symbols of casteism, like denial of entry into temples and drawing water from public wells and tanks.
Ambedkar won two major victories when the High Court of Bombay gave a verdict in favour of the untouchables and made a successful non-violent march and entry into a temple. The two struggles shook the religious foundation on which the caste system is built.
He formed a political party 'Scheduled Castes Federation' in April 1942. Ambedkar was also advocate of women's rights. He struggled for women's liberalisation from the caste-entrenched patriarchal system. At the conference of the Depressed Classes Women in Nagpur in 1942, he stated: 'let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband's friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave'.
Architect of the Constitution
He was the prime architect of the Constitution of independent India. In August 1947 a drafting committee was appointed to prepare a Draft Constitution. Dr. Ambedkar was the chairman of this committee. The Draft was submitted to the Governor General of India on February 21, 1948. The Constitution was finalised in November 1949 and came into force on January 26th, 1950; the day that India became a Republic. In that same year he became Law Minister in the first cabinet after Independence, but he resigned from the ministry as Nehru's cabinet refused to pass the Women's Rights Bill
Ambedkar was justifiably bitter and disenchanted with Hinduism and thus he changed his religion. In October 1956 he, along with about two lakh Dalit men and women, converted to Buddhism in Nagpur. For Ambedkar Buddha was one of the main inspiring personalities in history who raised a strong voice of protest against inequality between people and between men and women.
On 6 December 1956 Dr. B. R. Ambedkar died. Dalits will always remember him as their Liberator and Champion of their rights. 'Rights are protected not by laws, but by the social and moral conscience of society', Ambedkar said.