Vikas Verma takes a closer look at the life of Babasaheb, the Chairman of the Committee which drafted the Constitution of India.
BORN: APRIL 14, 189 DIED: DECEMBER 6, 1956
Chaturvarna, the division of Indian society into four varnas or castes, had been the main principle that defined Hindu society since Aryan times. However, over the centuries this system degenerated into a dangerous tool in the hands of the upper castes for the suppression of the lower castes.
While many individuals and caste reformers had fought against the caste system, Dr. Ambedkar was perhaps the first individual from the lower caste to raise his voice and write against this most evil of practices within Indian society.
However, portraying Dr. Ambedkar as only a caste reformer fighting for the rights of the lower castes and Dalits would do grave injustice to his achievements and contributions to Indian society and politics. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, more lovingly known as Babasaheb, was not only one of the most prominent Indian political leaders, thinkers, economists and Buddhist activists, but also the Father of the Indian Constitution.
AS A STUDENT
Born the 14th child in a poor Maharashtrian family, Babasaheb grew up in Mhow in Central India where his father was posted as a subedar in the Indian Army. Right from the days of his early childhood, Babasaheb had to face discrimination because he was born into a low-caste family.
Even at the British-run Army school where he studied, the teachers would segregate students of lower castes from those of Brahmins and other upper castes. In fact, the lower caste students were given no assistance and were often asked to sit outside the class by the teachers. They were not allowed to draw well water on their own and on some occasions when no one was around to draw water for them, they would have to go without water. Similarly, Babasaheb would be given water by the school peon, so if the peon wasn't there, Babasaheb wouldn't get water - "No Peon No Water" as he says in his book, 'Waiting for a Visa'.
Though Babasaheb studied in many schools, moving to Satara and then to Mumbai (then Bombay), discrimination followed him everywhere. Despite these difficult conditions, Babasaheb completed his matriculation and became one of the first persons of lower-caste origin to join a college in India.
Babasaheb's education did not stop there. After graduating from Elphinstone College in Mumbai, thanks to a Baroda State Scholarship, Babasaheb made his way to Columbia University, USA, where he was awarded a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degree. Later he joined the London School of Economics, UK, and earned a DSc (Doctor in Science) degree in economics. He subsequently studied law and was called to the Bar from Gray's Inn. Gray's Inn is one of the four Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers and judges) in London.
AS A LAWYER
Coming back to India, Babasaheb established a successful legal practice and one of his more successful cases was the defense of three non-Brahmin leaders, who had been prosecuted for writing a pamphlet, which claimed that Brahmins had ruined India. Over time, Babasaheb became a prominent political figure as well. He was known for his increasingly critical views of not only the failures of British rule, but also of Indian political parties and their lack of emphasis on eliminating the caste system.
AS A REFORMER
Babasaheb worked tirelessly all his life for the upliftment of the lower castes and the elimination of discrimination faced by them in India.
THE FATHER OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
But more than being a social reformer, he was also an eminent jurist and political thinker. Upon the independence of India in 1947, he was invited by the Indian National Congress to be India's first Law Minister. He was also the Chairman of the committee which drafted the Constitution of India and his contribution to the work earned him the title of 'Father of the Indian Constitution'. He is one of the only three recipients of India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, which was awarded to him posthumously in 1990.
As a life-long student of anthropology, Babasaheb made an astonishing discovery that Mahar people, his own caste, were the original ancient Buddhist people of India. They had been forced to live outside a village as outcasts because they had refused to give up Buddhist practices and were eventually declared as untouchables.
In the later years of his life, Babasaheb turned his attention fully towards Buddhism. He wrote on Buddhism and even travelled to Burma and Sri Lanka. In 1956, a few months before his death, he organised a formal public ceremony in Nagpur where he and almost 5,00,000 of his followers converted to Buddhism.