Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar popularly known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination against Untouchables (Dalits), while also supporting the rights of women and labour. He was Independent India’s first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India.
Here are some facts about B. R. Ambedkar :
1. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Modern Buddhist Movement and campaigned against social discrimination of Dalits, women and labour. He was Independent India’s first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India.
2. Ambedkar was a prolific student, earning a law degree and various doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, and gained a reputation as a scholar for his research in law, economics and political science. In his early career he was an economist, professor, and lawyer. His later life was marked by his political activities, where he became involved in the negotiations for India’s independence campaigning by publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for ‘untouchables’ and contributing significantly to the establishment of the state of India. In 1956 he converted to Buddhism, initiating mass conversions of Dalits.
3. Ambedkar was born into a poor low Mahar, (dalit) caste in the town and military cantonment of Mhow in the Central Provinces (now in Madhya Pradesh). He was the 14th and last child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal, a ranked army officer at the post of Subedar and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sankpal. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambavade (Mandangad taluka) in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. They belonged to the Mahar caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. Ambedkar’s ancestors had long been in the employment of the army of the British East India Company, and his father served in the British Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment.
4. Belonging to the Kabir panth, Ramji Sakpal encouraged his children to read the Hindu classics. He used his position in the army to lobby for his children to study at the government school, as they faced resistance owing to their caste. Although able to attend school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or assistance by the teachers. They were not allowed to sit inside the class. Even if they needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste would have to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch either the water or the vessel that contained it. This task was usually performed for the young Ambedkar by the school peon, and if the peon was not available then he had to go without water; the situation he later in his writings described as “No peon, No Water”. He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him.
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5. Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved to Satara two years later. Shortly after their move, Ambedkar’s mother died. The children were cared for by their paternal aunt, and lived in difficult circumstances. Three sons – Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao – and two daughters – Manjula and Tulasa – of the Ambedkars would go on to survive them. Of his brothers and sisters, only Ambedkar succeeded in passing his examinations and graduating to a high school. His original surname Ambavadekar comes from his native village ‘Ambavade’ in Ratnagiri district. His Brahmin teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond of him, changed his surname from ‘Ambavadekar’ to his own surname ‘Ambedkar’ in school records.
6. In 1897, Ambedkar’s family moved to Bombay where Ambedkar became the only untouchable enrolled at Elphinstone High School. In 1906, his marriage to a nine-year old girl, Ramabai, was arranged. In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and in the following year he entered Elphinstone College, which was affiliated to the University of Bombay, becoming the first from his untouchable community to do so. This success provoked celebrations in his community and after a public ceremony he was presented with a biography of the Buddha by Dada Keluskar, the author and a family friend.
7. By 1912, he obtained his degree in economics and political science from Bombay University, and prepared to take up employment with the Baroda state government. His wife, by then 15 years old, had just moved his young family and started work, when he had to quickly return to Mumbai to see his ailing father, who died on 2 February 1913.
8. In 1913, he moved to the United States. He had been awarded a Baroda State Scholarship of £11.50 (Sterling) per month for three years under a scheme established by the Gaekwar of Baroda that was designed to provide opportunities for postgraduate education at Columbia University in New York City. Soon after arriving there he settled in rooms at Livingston Hall with Naval Bhathena, a Parsi who was to be a lifelong friend. He passed his M.A. exam in June 1915, majoring in Economics, with Sociology, History, Philosophy and Anthropology as other subjects of study; he presented a thesis, Ancient Indian Commerce.
9. In 1916 he completed his second thesis, National Dividend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study for another M.A. and finally he received his PhD in Economics in 1927 for his third thesis, after he left for London. On 9 May, he read his paper Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development before a seminar conducted by the anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser.
10. In October 1916 he enrolled for the Bar course at Gray’s Inn, and also at the same time enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started work on a doctoral thesis. But in June 1917 he was obliged to go back to India as the term of his scholarship from Baroda ended. However, he was given permission to return to submit his thesis within four years. His thesis was on the “Indian Rupee.” Ambedkar came back to London at the first opportunity and completed his studies. At the London School of Economics he took a Master’s degree in 1921 and in 1923 he took his D.Sc.in Economics, and the same year he was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. His third and fourth Doctorates (Ll.D, Columbia, 1952 and Ll.D., Osmania, 1953) were conferred honoris causa. Incidentally, in his journey (1917) he travelled separately from his collection of books, which were lost when the ship on which they were dispatched was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.
11. As Ambedkar was educated by the Princely State of Baroda, he was bound to serve it. He was appointed as Military Secretary to the Gaikwad but had to quit within a short time. He described the incident in his autobiography, Waiting for a Visa. Thereafter he tried to find ways to make a living for his growing family. He worked as a private tutor, as an accountant, and established an investment consulting business, but it failed when his clients learned that he was an untouchable. In 1918 he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Even though he was successful with the students, other professors objected to his sharing the same drinking-water jug that they all used.
12. Ambedkar had been invited to testify before the Southborough Committee, which was preparing the Government of India Act 1919. At this hearing, Ambedkar argued for creating separate electorates and reservations for untouchables and other religious communities. In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai with the help of Shahaji II (1874–1922), Maharaja of Kolhapur. Ambedkar went on to work as a legal professional. In 1926 he successfully defended three non-Brahmin leaders who had accused the Brahmin community of ruining India and were then subsequently sued for libel. Dhananjay Keer notes that “The victory was resounding, both socially and individually, for the clients and the Doctor”.
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13. While practicing law in the Bombay High Court, he tried to uplift the untouchables in order to educate them. His first organised attempt to achieve this was the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, which was intended to promote education and socio-economic improvement, as well as the welfare of “outcastes”, at the time referred to as depressed classes. For the protection of Dalit rights he started many periodicals like Mook Nayak, Bahishkrit Bharat, and Equality Janta.
14. Upon India’s Transfer of Power by British Government to leaders of High Cast on 15 August 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation’s first Law Minister, which he accepted. On 29 August, he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, charged by the Assembly to write India’s new Constitution. Granville Austin has described the Indian Constitution drafted by Ambedkar as ‘first and foremost a social document’. … ‘The majority of India’s constitutional provisions are either directly arrived at furthering the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement.’
15. The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. Ambedkar argued for extensive economic and social rights for women, and also won the Assembly’s support for introducing a system of reservations of jobs in the civil services, schools and colleges for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Other Backward Class, a system akin to affirmative action. India’s lawmakers hoped to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India’s depressed classes through these measures. The Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.
16. Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951 following the stalling in parliament of his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to expound gender equality in the laws of inheritance and marriage. Ambedkar independently contested an election in 1952 to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, but was defeated in the Bombay (North Central) constituency by a little-known Narayan Sadoba Kajrolkar, who polled 138137 votes compared to Ambedkar’s 123576 votes. He was appointed to the upper house, of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain as member till death.
17. Ambedkar opposed Article 370 in the Constitution, which gives a special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and it was put against his wishes. Balraj Madhok reportedly said, Ambedkar had clearly told Sk. Abdullah: “You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it.” Then Sk. Abdullah went to Nehru, who directed him to Gopal Swami Ayyangar, who approached Sardar Patel asking him to do something as it was a matter of prestige of Nehru, who has promised Sk. Abdullah accordingly. Patel got it passed when Nehru was on foreign tour. On the day this article came up for discussion, Ambedkar did not reply to questions on it though he did participate on other articles. All arguments were done by Krishna Swami Ayyangar.
18. Ambedkar was the first Indian to pursue an Economics doctorate degree abroad. According to him the industrialization and agricultural industry growth could enhance the economy of the nation. He stressed on money investment in the agricultural industry as the primary industry of India. According to Sharad Pawar, Ambedkar’s vision benefited the government in accomplishing the food security goal. He supported economic and social development of the society for nations progress. He also emphasised on education, public hygiene, community health, residential facilities as the basic amenities. His DSc thesis “The problems of Ruppee, its origin and solution (1923)” reveals the factors responsible for Rupee fall. He proved the importance of price stability than exchange stability. He analysed the silver and gold rate exchange and its effect on Indian economy. He found out the reasons for the failure of British Indian economy’s public treasury. He found the loss made by British rule on Indian development.
19. Ambedkar was an economist by training and until 1921 his career was as a professional economist. It was after that time that he became a political leader. He wrote three scholarly books on economics: Administration and Finance of the East India Company, The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India. The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), was based on the ideas that Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission.
20. Ambedkar’s first wife had died in 1935 following long illness. After the completion of the drafting of India’s constitution in the late 1940s, Ambedkar went to Bombay for treatment. He was suffering from lack of sleep, had neurotic pain in his legs and was taking both insulin and homeopathic medicines. There he met Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Saraswat Brahmin, whom he married on 15 April 1948, at his home in New Delhi. Doctors recommended that he needed a companion who was both a good cook and a possessor of medical knowledge and could thus take care of him. She adopted the name Savita Ambedkar and took care of him for the rest of his life.
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21. Ambedkar had considered converting to Sikhism, which saw oppression as something to be fought against and which for that reason appealed also to other leaders of scheduled castes. He rejected the idea after meeting with leaders of the Sikh community and concluding that his conversion might result in him having what scholar Stephen P. Cohen describes as a “second-rate status” among Sikhs.
22. He studied Buddhism all his life, and around 1950, he turned his attention fully to Buddhism and travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to attend a meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced that he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that as soon as it was finished, he planned to make a formal conversion to Buddhism. Ambedkar twice visited Burma in 1954; the second time in order to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon. In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. He completed his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956. It was published posthumously.
23. After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Accepting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk in the traditional manner, Ambedkar completed his own conversion, along with his wife. He then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him. He prescribed the 22 Vows for these converts, after the Three Jewels and Five Precepts. He then traveled to Kathmandu in Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference. His work on The Buddha or Karl Marx and “Revolution and counter-revolution in ancient India” remained incomplete.
24. Since 1948, Ambedkar had been suffering from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 owing to side-effects from his medication and failing eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened during 1955. Three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.
25. Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability is a graphic novel narrates episodes from the life of Ambedkar using Pardhan-Gond style by Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. The book published by Navayana Books was identified as one of the top 5 political graphic novel by CNN. Author Prabhakar Joshi, began writing a biography of Ambedkar in Sanskrit in 2004. Joshi is a recipient of Maharashtra Government’s ‘Mahakavi Kalidas’ award. The completed work, Bhimayan, comprises 1577 shlokas and is intended as an atonement for the injustice done to the young Bhimrao by some teachers.
26. In 1990, the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, was posthumously conferred upon Ambedkar. Ambedkar’s legacy includes numerous memorials and depictions in popular culture.