B. R. Ambedkar

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  • B. R. Ambedkar

    Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar ([bimraw ramdi am-bekr]; 14 April 1891 6 December 1956), popularlyknown as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, economist,politician and social reformer who inspired the ModernBuddhist Movement and campaigned against social dis-crimination against Untouchables (Dalits), while also sup-porting the rights of women and labour. He was Indepen-dent Indias rst law minister and the principal architectof the Constitution of India.[4][5][6][7]

    Ambedkar was a prolic student, earning a law degreeand various doctorates from Columbia University and theLondon School of Economics, and gained a reputationas a scholar for his research in law, economics and po-litical science. In his early career he was an economist,professor, and lawyer. His later life wasmarked by his po-litical activities; he became involved in campaigning andnegotiations for Indias independence, publishing jour-nals advocating political rights and social freedom forDalits, and contributing signicantly to the establishmentof the state of India. In 1956 he converted to Buddhism,initiating mass conversions of Dalits.[8][9][10][11]

    In 1990, the Bharat Ratna, Indias highest civil-ian award, was posthumously conferred uponAmbedkar.[12][13][14][15] Ambedkars legacy includesnumerous memorials and depictions in popular culture.

    1 Early life and educationAmbedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the town andmilitary cantonment of Mhow in the Central Provinces(now in Madhya Pradesh).[16] He was the 14th andlast child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal, a ranked army of-cer at the post of Subedar and Bhimabai Murbad-kar Sakpal.[17] His family was of Marathi backgroundfrom the town of Ambavade (Mandangad taluka) inRatnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. Ambed-kar was born into a poor low Mahar (dalit) caste, whowere treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination.[18] Ambedkars ancestors hadlong worked for the army of the British East India Com-pany, and his father served in the British Indian Armyat the Mhow cantonment.[19] Although they attendedschool, Ambedkar and other untouchable children weresegregated and given little attention or help by teachers.They were not allowed to sit inside the class. When theyneeded to drink water, someone from a higher caste hadto pour that water from a height as they were not allowedto touch either the water or the vessel that contained it.

    This task was usually performed for the young Ambed-kar by the school peon, and if the peon was not availablethen he had to go without water; the situation he later inhis writings described as No peon, NoWater.[20] He wasrequired to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take homewith him.[21]

    Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved toSatara two years later. Shortly after their move, Ambed-kars mother died. The children were cared for by theirpaternal aunt, and lived in dicult circumstances. Threesons Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao and two daugh-ters Manjula and Tulasa of the Ambedkars wouldgo on to survive them. Of his brothers and sisters, onlyAmbedkar passed his examinations and graduated to highschool. His original surname Ambavadekar comes fromhis native village 'Ambavade' in Ratnagiri district.[22] HisBrahmin teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond ofhim, changed his surname from 'Ambavadekar' to hisown surname 'Ambedkar' in school records.[22]

    2 Higher education

    2.1 Matriculation

    In 1897, Ambedkars family moved to Bombay whereAmbedkar became the only untouchable enrolled atElphinstone High School. In 1906, his marriage to a nine-year-old girl, Ramabai, was arranged.[2]

    In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and inthe following year he entered Elphinstone College, whichwas aliated to the University of Bombay, becoming therst untouchable to do so. This success provoked celebra-tions among untouchables and after a public ceremony, hewas presented with a biography of the Buddha by DadaKeluskar, the author and a family friend.[2]

    2.2 Degree in Economics and Political sci-ence

    By 1912, he obtained his degree in economics and po-litical science from Bombay University, and prepared totake up employment with the Baroda state government.His wife, by then 15 years old, had just moved his youngfamily and started work, when he had to quickly return toMumbai to see his ailing father, who died on 2 February1913.[23]



    Ambedkar as a student.

    2.3 Postgraduation in Economics,Columbia University

    In 1913, he moved to the United States. He had beenawarded a Baroda State Scholarship of 11.50 (Sterling)per month for three years under a scheme established bySayajirao Gaekwad III (Gaekwad of Baroda) that was de-signed to provide opportunities for postgraduate educa-tion at Columbia University in New York City. Soon af-ter arriving there he settled in rooms at Livingston Hallwith Naval Bhathena, a Parsi who was to be a lifelongfriend. He passed his M.A. exam in June 1915, majoringin Economics, and other subjects of Sociology, History,Philosophy and Anthropology. he presented a thesis, An-cient Indian Commerce.

    2.4 Economics, Columbia University

    In 1916 he completed his second thesis, National Divi-dend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study for anotherM.A., and nally he received his PhD in Economics in1927[24] for his third thesis, after he left for London. On 9May, he read his paper Castes in India: Their Mechanism,Genesis and Development before a seminar conducted bythe anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser.

    2.5 London School of Economics

    In October 1916, he enrolled for the Bar course at GraysInn, and at the same time enrolled at the London School

    of Economics where he started working on a doctoral the-sis. In June 1917, he returned to India because his schol-arship from Baroda ended. His book collection was dis-patched on dierent ship from the one he was on, and thatship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.[23]He got permission to return to London to submit his the-sis within four years. He returned at the rst opportu-nity, and completed a masters degree in 1921. His the-sis was on the The problem of the rupee: Its origin andits solution.[25] In 1923, he completed a Doctorate inEconomics, and the same year he was called to the Barby Grays Inn. His third and fourth Doctorates (Ll.D,Columbia, 1952 and Ll.D., Osmania, 1953) were con-ferred honoris causa.

    3 Opposition to untouchability

    Ambedkar as a barrister in 1922

    As Ambedkar was educated by the Princely State of Bar-oda, he was bound to serve it. He was appointed MilitarySecretary to the Gaikwad but had to quit in a short time.He described the incident in his autobiography, Waitingfor a Visa.[20] Thereafter, he tried to nd ways to make aliving for his growing family. He worked as a private tu-tor, as an accountant, and established an investment con-sulting business, but it failed when his clients learned thathe was an untouchable.[26] In 1918, he became Professorof Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Com-merce and Economics in Mumbai. Although he was suc-

  • 3cessful with the students, other professors objected to hissharing a drinking-water jug with them.[27]

    Ambedkar had been invited to testify before theSouthborough Committee, which was preparing theGovernment of India Act 1919. At this hearing,Ambedkar argued for creating separate electoratesand reservations for untouchables and other religiouscommunities.[28] In 1920, he began the publication ofthe weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mum-bai with the help of Shahaji II (18741922), Maharaja ofKolhapur.[29]

    Ambedkar went on to work as a legal professional. In1926, he successfully defended three non-Brahmin lead-ers who had accused the Brahmin community of ru-ining India and were then subsequently sued for libel.Dhananjay Keer notes that The victory was resound-ing, both socially and individually, for the clients and theDoctor.[30]

    4 ProtestsWhile practising law in the Bombay High Court, he triedto promote education to untouchables and uplift them.His rst organised attempt was his establishment of thecentral institution Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, intendedto promote education and socio-economic improvement,as well as the welfare of "outcastes", at the time referredto as depressed classes.[31] For the defense of Dalit rights,he started many periodicals like Mook Nayak, BahishkritBharat, and Equality Janta.[32]

    He was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Commit-tee to work with the all-European Simon Commissionin 1925.[33] This commission had sparked great protestsacross India, and while its report was ignored by mostIndians, Ambedkar himself wrote a separate set of rec-ommendations for the future Constitution of India.[34]

    By 1927, Ambedkar had decided to launch active move-ments against untouchability. He began with publicmovements and marches to open up public drinking wa-ter resources. He also began a struggle for the right to en-ter Hindu temples. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to ghtfor the right of the untouchable community to draw waterfrom the main water tank of the town.[35] In a conferencein late 1927, Ambedkar publicly condemned the classicHindu text, theManusmriti (Laws ofManu), for ideologi-cally justifying caste discrimination and untouchability,and he ceremonially burned copies of the ancient text.On 25 December 1927, he led thousands of followers toburn copies of Manusmrti.[36][37] Thus annually 25 De-cember is celebrated asManusmriti DahanDin (Manusm-riti Burning Day) by Ambedkarites and Dalits.[38][39]

    In 1930, Ambedkar launched Kalaram Temple move-ment after three months of preparation. About 15,000volunteers assembled at Kalaram Temple satygraha mak-ing one of the greatest processions of Nashik. The pro-

    cession was headed by a military band, a batc