Ambedkar was born 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 and Bhimabai. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambavade (Mandangad taluka) in the 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 for long been in the employment of the army of the British East India Company, and, his father served in the Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment. Having had little formal education in Marathi and English, but encouraging his children to learn and work hard at school.
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 somebody 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, Ambedkar states this situation as “No peon, No Water”.
He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him. 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. Bhimrao Sakpal Ambavadekar the surname 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. B.A.(Bombay University) Bachelor of Arts, MA.(Columbia university) Master of Arts, M.Sc.( London School of Economics) Master of Science, PhD (Columbia University) Doctor of philosophy , D.Sc.( London School of Economics) Doctor of Science , L.L.D.(Columbia University) Doctor of Laws , D.Litt.( Osmania University) Doctor of Literature, Barrister-at-Law (Gray’s Inn, London) law qualification for a lawyer in royal court of England. Higher education
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.
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 19 years old gave birth to his first son, Yashwant, in the same year. Ambedkar had just moved his young family and started work, when he dashed back to Mumbai to see his ailing father, who died on 2 February 1913.
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. 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 MA 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. In 1916 he offered another MA thesis, National Dividend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study. On 9 May, he read his paper Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development before a seminar conducted by the anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser.
In October 1916 he studied for the Bar examination at Gray’s Inn, and enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started work on a doctoral thesis. 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 and submit his thesis within four years. He travelled separately from his collection of books, which were lost when the ship on which they were despatched was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Opposition to untouchability
As Ambedkar was educated by the Princely State of Baroda, he was bound to serve that State. He was appointed as Military Secretary to the Gaekwar but had to quit within a short time. He described the incident in his autobiography, Waiting for a Visa. Ambedkar Barrister.jpg
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 Bombay. Even though he was successful with the students, other professors objected to his sharing the same drinking-water jug that they all used.
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 Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj I (1884–1922), 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”.
While practising 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.
By 1927 Ambedkar decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources, also he began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town.
He took part in an event in which an ancient Vedic text, Manusmṛti, was burned by G. N. Sahasrabuddhe, a Brahmin.
He was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Committee to work with the all-European Simon Commission in 1925. This commission had sparked great protests across India, and while its report was ignored by most Indians, Ambedkar himself wrote a separate set of recommendations for future constitutional recommendations.
Due to Ambedkar’s prominence and popular support amongst the untouchable community, he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1932. Gandhi fiercely opposed a separate electorate for untouchables, saying he feared that such an arrangement would split the Hindu community into two groups.
In 1932, when the British had agreed with Ambedkar and announced a Communal Award of a separate electorate, Gandhi protested by fasting while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail of Poona. The fast provoked huge civil unrest across India and orthodox Hindu leaders, Congress politicians and activists such as Madan Mohan Malaviya and Palwankar Baloo organised joint meetings with Ambedkar and his supporters at Yerwada. Fearing a communal reprisal and genocidal acts against untouchables, Ambedkar was coerced into agreeing with Gandhi. This agreement, which saw Gandhi end his fast and Ambedkar drop his demand for a separate electorate, was called the Poona Pact. Instead, a certain number of seats were reserved specifically for untouchables (who in the agreement were called the “Depressed Class”).
In 1935, Ambedkar was appointed principal of the Government Law College, Mumbai, a position he held for two years. Settling in Mumbai, Ambedkar oversaw the construction of a house, and stocked his personal library with more than 50,000 books. His wife Ramabai died after a long illness in the same year. It had been her long-standing wish to go on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur, but Ambedkar had refused to let her go, telling her that he would create a new Pandharpur for her instead of Hinduism’s Pandharpur which treated them as untouchables. Speaking at the Yeola Conversion Conference on 13 October in Nasik, Ambedkar announced his intention to convert to a different religion and exhorted his followers to leave Hinduism. He would repeat his message at numerous public meetings across India.
In 1936, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, which contested in the 1937 Bombay election to the Central Legislative Assembly for the 13 reserved and 4 general seats and securing 11 and 3 seats respectively.
On his report to the Viceroy about Bombay Presidency election, the Governor of Bombay, Lord Brabourne said that:
Dr. Ambedkar’s boast of winning, not only the 15 seats which are reserved for the Harijans, but also a good many more looks like completely falsified, as I feared it would be.
Ambedkar published his book The Annihilation of Caste in the same year. This strongly criticised Hindu orthodox religious leaders and the caste system in general. Ambedkar served on the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council as minister for labour.
In his work Who Were the Shudras?, Ambedkar attempted to explain the formation of Untouchables. He saw the Shudras, who form the lowest caste in the ritual hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, as being separate from Untouchables. Ambedkar oversaw the transformation of his political party into the Scheduled Castes Federation, although it performed poorly in the elections held in 1946 for the Constituent Assembly of India. In his 1948 sequel to Who Were the Shudras?, which he titled The Untouchables: A Thesis on the Origins of Untouchability, Ambedkar said that:
The Hindu Civilisation … is a diabolical contrivance to suppress and enslave humanity. Its proper name would be infamy. What else can be said of a civilisation which has produced a mass of people … who are treated as an entity beyond human intercourse and whose mere touch is enough to cause pollution?
Ambedkar was also critical of Islam and its practices in South Asia. While justifying the Partition of India, he condemned the practice of child marriage, as well as the mistreatment of women, in Muslim society.
No words can adequately express the great and many evils of polygamy and concubinage, and especially as a source of misery to a Muslim woman. Take the caste system. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. […] [While slavery existed], much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. While the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse. But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans [Muslims] has remained.
Role in drafting India’s Constitution
Upon India’s independence 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, Ambedkar 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.'
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, 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.
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, marriage and the economy. Ambedkar independently contested an election in 1952 to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, but was defeated. He was appointed to the upper house, of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain as member till death.
Role in the formation of Reserve Bank of India
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, and The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), formed in 1934, was based on the ideas that Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission.
Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, claims that Ambedkar is my Father in Economics. He is true celebrated champion of the underprivileged.He deserves more than what he has achieved today. However he was highly controversial figure in his home country,though it was not the reality. His contribution in the field of economics is marvelous and will be remembered forever..!
After the completion of the drafting of India’s constitution, Ambedkar went to Bombay for treatment. There he met Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Saraswat Brahmin, whom he married on 18 April 1947, at his home in New Delhi. She adopted the name Savita and took care of him for the rest of his life. Returning to Buddhism
Ambedkar discovered from his research on ancient India and anthropology that the Mahar people were an ancient Buddhist community of India who had been forced to live outside villages as outcasts because they refused to renounce their Buddhist practices. He considered this to be why they became untouchables and he wrote a book on this topic, entitled Who were the Shudras?. Dikshabhumi, a stupa at the site in Nagpur, where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with many of his followers
Ambedkar studied Buddhism all his life, and around 1950s, Ambedkar turned his attention fully to Buddhism and travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to attend a convention of Buddhist scholars and monks. 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 back 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.
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. Death
Annal Ambedkar Manimandapam, Chennai
Bust of Ambedkar at Ambedkar Museum in Pune
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.
A Buddhist cremation was organised for him at Dadar Chowpatty beach on 7 December, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. A conversion program was supposed to be organised on 16 December 1956. So, those who had attended the cremation were also converted to Buddhism at the same place.
Ambedkar was survived by his second wife, who died in 2003. and his son Yashwant (known as Bhaiyasaheb Ambedkar). Ambedkar’s grandson, Ambedkar Prakash Yashwant, is the chief-adviser of the Buddhist Society of India, leads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and has served in both houses of the Indian Parliament.
A number of unfinished typescripts and handwritten drafts were found among Ambedkar’s notes and papers and gradually made available. Among these were Waiting for a Visa, which probably dates from 1935–36 and is an autobiographical work, and the Untouchables, or the Children of India’s Ghetto, which refers to the census of 1951.
A memorial for Ambedkar was established in his Delhi house at 26 Alipur Road. His birthdate is celebrated as a public holiday known as Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti. He was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1990. Many public institutions are named in his honour, such as the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University in Hyderabad; B. R. Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffa
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 December 2016
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