Ambedkar’s life was very wide, comprehensive and multifaceted. It is unfortunate for us as a nation that he was never studied and analysed with a holistic approach. Everybody saw some aspect of his life or thinking and formulated their opinion. That is why we find and listen to diverse opinions about Dr Ambedkar. For some he was like a God who arrived for improving their living conditions, while some others consider him a false God and completely negated his teachings. For some he was just a leader of Scheduled Castes while for others he was for the whole society. Gandhi and Ambedkar are regarded as rivals by some while for some there objective was the same. Many Marxists consider him to be a believer in the class struggle while Ambedkar himself had denounced communism and declared himself as the enemy of communists and communism. Some say that he was against Dharm while Ambedkar himself said that he believe in Dharm and without the values of Dharm, society would turn into a place of constant struggle between the jealous and power hungry individuals. Some consider him the strong opponent of caste Hindus and especially Brahmins, on the contrary he never uttered a bad word against any particular community or caste group. He was fighting against certain systems and his fight was against some traditions but he was never against so called high caste people. That is why people from all caste and class groups were part of his struggle. It is true that in the last leg of his life he adopted Buddhism but before that he studied all religions and Dharmic traditions. His understanding of religions and Dharma is not fully explored. His life is massive and wide ranging. Thinking and writing is thorough and well researched, his struggle is unparallel, and its dimensions are also many. I will try to explain some aspects of his life in brief.
A boy whose name was Bheemrao was born in the so called untouchable caste, Mahar in the house of Ramji Sapkal who was a subhedar in army. Youngest among the 14 siblings, Bheemrao’s life was very hard working and full of struggles. Still he was the first student from Mahar caste to complete his matriculation. In this success, a constructive role was played by his Brahmin teacher whose surname was Ambedkar. Another teacher Krishna Ji Keluskar presented his a brief biography of Lord Buddha. Ambedkar says he could never forget Keluskar teacher and Lord Gautam Buddha. It was Kuluskar ji who introduced Ambedkar to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaikwad of Vadodara who gave him a scholarship of Rs 50. He completed his BA from Mumbai University in 1912. Maharaja of Vadodara raised his scholarship to Rs 75. He also served in the Vadodara princely state for some days. There also he faced discrimination and finally returned back to his home.
With the efforts of Keluskar teacher, his monthly scholarship was fixed at 92.5 pounds and he left for Columbia for higher studies. There he did his MA and PhD. Simultaneously he could also managed to study MSc and DSc from London School of Economics. He also completed his Bar at Law there. This was a superhuman task.
He entered the social life only after completing his studies. He was a great social reformer, labour leader, barrister and able political leader. At the same time he is editor of many periodicals, a fiery speaker, an eminent economist, a social anthropologists, a theorist for many social issues, scholars on constitutionalism and architect of the Indian Constitution. If we study carefully he has touched upon all aspects of social life that is why his life has many facets which need to be explored.
Throughout his life he fought for the cause, but there was no enemy. On the lines of Lord Buddha who preaches that no enmity can stop enmity, he never desisted from basic values of equality and compassion.
Dr Ambedkar with families of his associates
It is true that many incidents of his life have not come in the public domain. Therefore many aspects of his personality are also not known. This happens with many great people. As Dr Johnson says “a human being has tremendous potential but destiny challenges some of his/her virtues and that aspect of personality comes to the forefront. As we are aware, Tilak was a great Mathematician but he could not spare time for that field. Swami Ramteerth and Swami Vivekanand were great students of science and mathematics but there life was dedicated as sanyasis and social reformers. In recent times, Atal Behari Vajpayee has been a creative poet but he could not spare much time for literature. Similarly, Ambedkar showed spark in many areas but his destiny confined him to a particular cause. But to assess him and his contribution we need to study and understand him holistically.
The real Struggle Begins
He came back to Vadodara after completing his studies as per the agreement. He was appointed as the secretary of Vaododara princely state. There also he did not get very fauvorable environment. Even his clerk use to throw files on him, he had to carry his water along. Nobody was ready to play with him at the club. His chair was separate. He did not get even a room to stay. Finally, he took a pseudo name - Aadalji Sorabji to stay in a Parsi Dharmashala (religious sanctuary). Dr Ambedkar writes, “One day, many Parsis came with sticks in their hands and threw my luggage on the road. Many degrees were in hand but they were of no use. I was all alone on the road. No friend was ready to give a space.” This insulting treatment wounded his mind badly. This was perhaps the incident when he decided to dedicate his life for social change and human dignity. He fought for the same till the last breathe of his life.
“If Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite reality, then they must recognize that the problem of social reform is fundamental and that for them there is no escape from it. Unless they do so, they cannot achieve their revolution. They will be compelled, to take account of caste after revolution, if not before revolution.”
A person who started his school education under street lights ended up pursuing his higher education in Columbia and London School of Economics. He could have stayed back there and amassed wealth for himself. Instead, he decided to dedicate his entire life for social change. He devoted his life to end the discriminatory traditions and norms in the society.
His entire life is founded on the principles propounded by three personalities. His first Guru was Lord Buddha. Gautam Buddha revolted against the rituals, traditions and inhuman traditions but kept the original principles and values intact. The core of this nation is compassion, integral thinking, loyalty, dedication, and intimacy. Retaining these core values, Lord Buddha discarded the rituals. He restored the original principles of Sanatan Dharma that is also with compassion and concern, not through violent struggle. Thus, Buddha was his first Guru.
His second revolutionary ideal was Kabir. His core thinking is also based on Dharma. Kabir was a Ram devotee. Kabir fights against religious hypocrisy with his scorching words but there is no enmity against anybody. Love and compassion are the basis of his struggle. He gives the message of transformation keeping the Dharma. He is voice of the unvoiced, he gives pride to the downtrodden, he flags issues of the unheard, provide forum to the marginalised, such Kabir is his second Guru.
For him the basis of transformation was Dharm. He was distressed that the youth are apathetic towards Dharm. For him the Dharm is the source of trust and confidence. That is why he was dead against the communist who considered religion as the opium of the masses.
His third Guru was Mahatma Phule, who intensely fought against the erroneous interpretations of religious texts, traditions, rituals, hypocrisy and fraud. He was a staunch revolutionary. Society opposed him but he did not budge.
All these Gurus give Ambedkar a vision on which Ambedkar takes his struggle ahead. The soul of Ambedkar’s thinking comes from Buddha, Kabir and Phule. Without understanding them one cannot understand Ambedkar.
Contributions to Social Life
Amedkar’s personality was radical and revolutionary. He used to say, “I don’t believe in any hero worship. Don’t worship any individual.” He refused to celebrate even his own birthdays. He told his friends and followers, “You have been celebrating my birthdays for the last 15 years, in which I never participated. I always opposed it. There is no need to celebrate such birthdays.” He never sought any respect or recognition for his struggle.
He advised his followers that big leader, big parties, no big elections can uplift them. They have to do it themselves. Education, organisation, character building were the means he suggested for transformed life. He said, “You must abolish your slavery yourselves. Do not depend for its abolition upon the God or a superman. Mere numerical majority is not enough in majority. They must be always watchful, strong and self-respecting to attain and maintain success. We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.” He did not want people to be dependent on any individual. He wanted them to strive for their own upliftment with rigour and strength.
“Where was Ambedkar during the freedom struggle?” Many people ask this question. He says, “I want to attain independence as much as you want, but I have a question in mind, whether my friends and brethren will also get independence or they will remain the slaves.” He asked many questions to the Congress leaders on the same lines. On April 26, 1942, while speaking at Mumbai he called upon Congress leaders that I would fight more vehemently for the independence you are fighting for. At least, give me assurance that my people will have their share in power if we attain independence. Thus, for him share of the depressed classes in independent India and ensuring dignified life for them was equally important as freedom from the British rule.
He was a prominent economist. Unfortunately, no university in this country studies his economic theories. His all foreign degrees from Columbia to London School of Economics are in the field of economics. He was addressing the critical questions pertaining to agrarian economy almost 100 years ago. How land ownership is getting fragmented in India? Why small landholdings cannot ensure economic development in this country? He tried to address these questions. Overdependence on agriculture and need for greater industrialisation was his key concern. In 1920s he was saying that industrilisation of India is the soundest remedy for agriculture problems in India. He was giving radical solutions to address the problems of Indian economy. Where are all his theories? There is need to undertake research on economics propounded by Ambedkar.
He gave voice to unvoiced, provided forum to the marginalised. As we can see through his Mooknayak, he gave support, direction and identity to the downtrodden masses. He made them aware of their right to organised them, disciplined them and prepared them for the struggle.
We are aware of his satyagrah at Mahad. Legally the lake was open to all. Christians Muslims, caste Hindus everybody was allowed to access the water, except the so-called untouchables. The conservatives purified the water with rituals, beaten up Ambedkar and his followers. Ambedkar rebuts if we would have become Muslims or Christians you would not have stopped us from drinking water. We are Hindus and we want to remain Hindus that is why you are not allowing to us access drinking water? He did the same thing in his Ram Mandir satyagrah at Nasik. He said, “Untouchability is the biggest blot on Hinduism and we will clean it.” During his struggle his tone gets sharper. He told his followers that untouchability is not a blot on Hinduism but on our body and we have to clean it. It means that we ourselves will have to fight against this social slavery.
There are many stages in his life. At one point he says that ‘Bhagvadgita is my inspiration’, he writes ‘Jai Bhawani’ on his newspaper. He was proud of calling himself a Hindu. At later stage he says if the Hindu society does not want to give us a respect, what can we do? He changed the dimensions of his struggle for social, economic and political reforms.
For him the basis of transformation was Dharm. He was distressed that the youth are apathetic towards Dharm. For him the Dharm is the source of trust and confidence. That is why he was dead against the communist who considered religion as opium of the masses. He was in favour of retaining the core of Dharm but against the hypocrisy and fraud in the name of Dharm.
For him enmity and jealousy can never be the basis of reforms. In this nation, true reform can be done only through Dharm. For him social reforms were more important than political ones. He was well aware of the fact that political reforms will remain on paper if there is no social harmony and sense of brotherhood. He also says, “We need social, economic and political freedom.” Even after independence he warned that mere political freedom will be useless if we continue to keep masses in abject poverty.
From the representatives of Pope to emissaries of Nizam, everybody approached him. He was well aware of the fact that embracing Christianity or Islam would put the whole nation in danger. That is why Ambedkar adopted the path which was in tune with the cultural, social and philosophical ethos of India.
He had a historical understanding of untouchability. He was convinced that in original religious texts of this country there is no untouchability. There is no such word existing in Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanyas etc. He says untouchability encrypted Hindu society 12 to 13 hundred years ago. The first instance of untouchability can be seen in the family of Dahir. Dahir lost the war against Islamic aggressors. When the invaders entered his palace, the women of his family said, “they are coming. They are Mlenchas (meaning dirty or bad). They will touch us and we will be impure. We should kill ourselves before they touch us. This is the first reference to untouchability in Indian history.
Opposition to Communism
He has said many things against communists. Early September 1937, he presided over a District Conference of the Depressed classes in Mysore, where he openly declared that there was no possibility of his joining communists. He declared that he was confirmed enemy of the communists, who exploited labourers for their political ends.
He observed that “economic motive is not the only motive by which man is actuated. That economic power is the only kind of power no student of human society can accept. That religion is the source of power is amply illustrated by the history of this country.” With these views how one can believe the ongoing attempt by communist to prove him the pioneer of class struggle in India. During 1942 to 1946, he was a Labour Minister in Viceroy’s Council. He was the first one to prepare labour policy and labour security scheme. He was the one who propounded that interests of labourers, industrialists and the nation are not antithetical to each other. Since then tripartite dialogue process has started. He proposed many acts and represented in many committees for labour rights. It was Ambedkar who brought legal provisions pertaining to minimum wages, factory act, subsidised food, medical aid and extra payment for overtime for labourers. For the maternity leave of working women he fought tooth and nail in the Bombay Legislative Assembly.
Architect of the Constitution
He entered the Constituent Assembly because of Gandhi Ji. Ambedkar had a difference of opinion with Gandhi. Gandhi asked Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru about who is going to take the responsibility of drafting the Constitution, Nehru’s response was we are calling on famous German Constitutionalist Sir Jerry. Gandhi Ji said we do not have anybody of our own in such a vast country who can prepare Constitution for ourselves. Then Gandhi suggested Dr Ambedkar’s name for the job.
We are aware that he was the architect of Constituent Assembly. His approach toward the work and sense of gratitude can be understood from a last paragraph of his last speech in the Constituent Assembly. He says, “ I came into the Constituent Assembly with no greater aspiration than to safeguard the interests of he Scheduled Castes. I had not the remotest idea that I would be called upon to undertake more responsible functions. I was therefore greatly surprised when the Assembly elected me to the Drafting Committee. I was more than surprised when the Drafting Committee elected me to be its Chairman. There were in the Drafting Committee men bigger, better and more competent than myself”
While delivering a speech from All India Radio in 1954 he made a remark which is humourous at the same time painful. He said, “The Hindus wanted the Vedas and they sent for Vyasa, who was not a caste Hindu. The Hindus wanted an Epic and they sent for Valmiki, who was an Untouchable. The Hindus wanted a Constitution, and they sent for me.”
In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on the question of success of the Constitution he says, “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However had a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.” He further adds, “On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country (Cheers). What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? In the invasion of Sind by Mahommed-Bin-Kasim, the military commanders of King Dahar accepted bribes from the agents of Mahommed-Bin-Kasim and refused to fight on the side of their King. It was Jaichand who invited Mahommed Gohri to invade India and fight against Prithvi Raj and promised him the help of himself and the Solanki Kings. When Shivaji was fighting for the liberation of Hindus, the other Maratha noblemen and the Rajput Kings were fighting the battle on the side of Moghul Emperors. When the British were trying to destroy the Sikh Rulers, Gulab Singh, their principal commander sat silent and did not help to save the Sikh Kingdom. In 1857, when a large part of India had declared a war of independence against the British, the Sikhs stood and watched the event as silent spectators. Will history repeat itself?” This shows his concern for the for the nation. Whether India will lose its independence second time? Whether Indian masses will remain patriotic enough? There are the most perturbing questions for him.
On Linguistic Reorganisation
When the Reorganisation of Indian States was taking place on linguistic basis he said, “What does a linguistic State mean? It can mean one of two things. It can mean that all people speaking one language must be brought under the jurisdiction of one State. It can also mean that people speaking one language may be grouped under many States provided each State has under its jurisdiction people who are speaking one language.” He was in favour of the second interpretation. He also insisted on state reoganisation with administrative considerations. He was in favour of nurturing Hindi as the national language. He said, “One language can unite people. …Culture is conserved by language. Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture it is the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their language.”
On foreign policy he says, “On 15th of August, 1947 when we began our life as an independent country, there was no country which wished us ill. Every country in the world was our friend. Today, after four years, all our friends have deserted us. We have no friends left. We have alienated ourselves.
We are pursuing a lonely furrow with no one even to second our resolutions in the UNO.” In one his speeches in the parliament he warns Nehru on his China Policy and said, “the fact that India had been completely encircled on the one side by Pakistan and the other Muslim countries; and on the other side by allowing China to take possession of Lhasa. “The Prime Minister,” Ambedkar continued, “has practically helped the Chinese to bring their border down to the Indian border.”
On the issue of Article 370 he had a discussion with Sheikh Abdullah in which he said, “Ambedkar had reportedly remarked: “Mr Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir, India should develop Kashmir and Kashmiris should have equal rights as the citizens of India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir. I am the Law minister of India. I cannot betray the interest of my country.” Are the present political parties and leaders aware of his position on Article 370?
On the Aryan Invasion theory, Dr Bheemrao Ambedkar writes with clarity that the Aryan theory propounded by the western scholars did not stand scholarly scrutiny. This theory was based on untruth and illogical findings and was figment of imagination. As regards the Aryan invasion theory he writes that this invasion theory was a special discovery necessitated due to certain inherent concepts of the western world. Who do present sociologists and politicians keep a mum on this issue? Ambedkar says, “Aryan is not a race.” In Rigveda there are 33 references of Arya and none of them refer to the race but to virtues or a cult.
Dr Ambedkar in his office
Shudras are Aryans
Ambedkar said, “Shudras were Aryans and Kshatriyas is beyond doubt”. In the ninth chapter of his book Who were the Shudras?, he clearly states that Kings like Ven, Pururva, Nahusha, Nimi and Sudas tortured Brahmins a lot. Brahmins boycotted them and denied the threading ceremony. Eventually they were excluded from all kinds of rituals and education as well. They were denied various rights and eventually their social status deteriorated. Therefore, all shudras are basically kshatriyas and they are of the same race, like other Indians. He further adds that shudras were Aryans, suryavanshis and kshatriyas. Originally there were only three varnas, Brahmin, kshatriya and vaishya. Denying a group some ritual led to the creation of the fouth varna.
When Shivaji was to be coronated same kind of objections were raised about his kshatriya status. On the advice of Swami Ramdas to call upon Gagabhatta, a Brahmin scholar from Kashi who established that Shivaji’s ancestry goes back to Kshatriyas in Rajasthan. Then only the threading ceremony and coronation could take place. This also shows how customs and tradition get deeply rooted into society.
Ambedkar argues that untouchables from Punjab and Brahmins from United Province (present Uttar Pradesh) have the same nasal index. Similarly, Chamars and Brahmins of Bihar, Chermals and Brahmins of Tamil Nadu have the same nasal index. This shows that in all parts of India nasal index of so-called untouchables and soc called caste Hindus is the same. We find the same gotras (Clans) in all castes and many scientists have accepted that. In other words, we have to understand that all castes in India have the same ancestry.
The Muslim Problem
Another important problem faced by India is a Muslim problem. Ambedkar did a thorough research on the same and wrote a voluminous book. Our friends should study it as suggestions by Ambedkar paves the way for solving this problem. He warned Congress on Muslim issue that accepting Muslim demands will not lead to any conclusion. With such attitude there cannot be any agreement or equal treatment. When Simon Commission came to India Muslim League demanded for separation of Sindh from Bombay presidency. Amdekar thought this demand to be absurd and opposed it. Unfortunately Congress accepted the demand of separate Sindh which Ambedkar strongly opposed. He also opposed the communal award in 1932. Ambedkar said, “Maulana Azad is a nationalist leader of the Congress. What is he saying? There would be nine Hindu provinces against five Muslim provinces, and whatever treatment Hindus accorded to Muslims in the nine provinces, Muslim would accord the same treatment to Hindus in the five provinces.” On communal award he says, “Whether same kind of seats would be awarded to Hindus in Muslim majority areas as they are awarded to Muslims in Hindu majority areas.” He was against the separate electorates as he thought them to be encouraging the divisive mindset.
Dr Ambedkar stoutly asked the points on which Hindu-Muslim unity is possible. While setting the historical records straight he says, “These Muslim invasions were not undertaken merely out of lust for loot or conquest. There was another object behind them. The expedition against Sind by Mahommed-Bin-Kasim was of a punitive character and was undertaken to punish Raja Dahir of Sind who had refused to make restitution for the seizure of an Arab ship at Debul, one of the sea-port towns of Sind. But, there is no doubt that striking a blow at the idolatry and polytheism of Hindus and establishing Islam in India was also one of the aims of this expedition.” Ambedkar goes into the historical, social, religious, and cultural enmity of Muslims towards Hindus. He also asked whether the Indian Muslims would consider India as there motherland. On partition, he says if it is inevitable then there should be complete transfer of population as in case of Egypt and Bulgaria.
The Conversion issue
On the issue of forcible conversion in Pakistan and Hyderabad state of Nizam he gave a call to Scheduled Caste brethren there. Ambedkar was terribly upset, and he issued a statement denouncing the Pakistan Government. He complained that the Scheduled Castes were not allowed to come to Hindustan and that they were being forcibly converted to Islam. He further said that in the Hyderabad State, too, they were being forcibly converted to Islam in order to increase the strength of the Muslim population in the Hyderabad State. Ambedkar further asked the Scheduled Castes in Pakistan and Hyderabad not to succumb to conversion to Islam as an easy way of escape; and to all those who were forcibly converted to Islam he pledged his word that he would see that they were received back into the fold and treated as brethren in the same manner in which they were treated before their conversion.
He vouched to give a shock to the Hindu society. In 1935, he had declared that he was born as a Hindu but will not die as Hindu. He gave a time 21 years to the Hindu society to respond. He was hoping that Hindu society would respond positively. In 1956 he realised that he had less time left in his life. He had also promised Gandhi ji that he would inflict least harm to the society. He would not go against the interest of the nation. Finally, he embraced Buddhism.
From the representatives of Pope to emissaries of Nizam, everybody approached him. He refused everybody. He was well aware of the fact that embracing Christianity or Islam would put the whole nation in danger. That is why he decided to go with the roots of this nation. Dalai Lama considers Hindus and Buddhists as spiritual brothers. On the same line Ambedkar adopted the path which was in tune with the cultural, social and philosophical ethos of India.
Thus, Ambedkar has fearlessly written on many subjects. That was also with scholarly approach and historical experiences. With his horrific experiences of life and denial of respectful life even after acquiring best of the degrees must have hurt him a lot. He also wrote “Riddles in Hinduism” with those feelings but did not publish it. It was kept in his cupboard till the last breath of his life. He was well aware of the fact that it was written in reaction and with anger. When the book was published after his Nirvana, many lines are missing. The Editor has written a note that termite has eaten up those pages.
There are many ups and downs in his life. As per the changing situations he changed his opinions as well. But his patriotism and approach of taking everyone along never changed. He adopted Buddhism. He was annoyed with the hypocrisy, fraud, access ritualism, inhuman treatment in Hindu society in the name of religion. At the same time, his fundamental thinking always remained Bharatiya.
Despite of storms throughout his life, his mind remained calm and composed. He opposed Brahminism but had friends among Brahmins. Initially, he was a devout follower of Ram, but later refused to stay in Hindu fold. Originally he was against the separate electorates but later demanded for the same. At the time of Poona Pact he strongly criticises Gandhiji but pays high tributes on his death. During struggle for independence, he appears to be on the margins but mentally he was always there. He writes ‘Riddles on Hinduism but does not publish it. Declared not to die as a Hindu but wait for 21 years to take actual action. Always opposed the Congress and its policies but also accepts ministerial post in the Congress Government. All these instances reflect that he was a man of generous heart who fortunately was our national leader.
Lastly, I urge everybody, to study Ambedkar objectively and completely. His goal is still not attained. We are still aware of the ground realities in many villages. As early as possible, we should strive for eradicating inequalities, whether social, economic or political. Whole nation should stand up as unitedly against this menace. To take the nation on the pinnacle of glory we should work together as a society with same emotions and thinking. We should walk on the path of Vedic Rishis and Lord Buddha to make India a perfect nation in the world. That’s what Ambedkar struggled for. This would be real tribute to him.
(The writer is Sahsarkaryavah, RSS)