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B. R. Ambedkar

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Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
भीमराव रामजी आंबेडकर
Ambedkar as a young man
1st Minister of Law and Justice
In office
15 August 1947 – September 1951
PresidentRajendra Prasad
Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byCharu Chandra Biswas
Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee
In office
29 August 1947 – 24 January 1950
Labour Member, Viceroy's Executive Council
In office
1942–1946
Preceded byFeroz Khan Noon
Personal details
Born
Bhiva Ramji Ambedkar

(1891-04-14)14 April 1891
Mhow, Central Provinces, British India
(now in Dr. Ambedkar Nagar, Madhya Pradesh, India)
Died6 December 1956(1956-12-06) (aged 65)
Delhi, India
Resting placeChaitya Bhoomi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
NationalityIndian
Political partyScheduled Castes Federation
Other political
affiliations
Independent Labour Party, Republican Party of India
Spouse(s)
Children
  • Yashawant
  • Ramesh
  • Gangadhar
  • Rajaratna
  • Indu
Parents
RelativesSee Ambedkar family
ResidenceRajgruha, Dadar, Mumbai
• 26 Alipur road, New Delhi
EducationB.A. (1913)
M.A. (twice, 1915 & 1916)
Ph.D. (1916, awarded in 1927)
M.Sc. (1921)
Barrister-at-law (1922)
D.Sc. (1923)
LL.D. (1952)
D.Litt. (1953)
Alma mater
OccupationLawyer and Professor
ProfessionJurist, economist, politician, social reformer, anthropologist, author, historian, sociologist, social scientist, educationist,[3] freedom fighter, journalist, human rights activist, philosopher
Known forDalit rights movement, Constitution of India, Dalit Buddhist movement, Ambedkarism
AwardsBharat Ratna (posthumously in 1990)
Signature

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar, was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination towards the untouchables (Dalits), while also supporting the rights of women and labour.[4][5] He was independent India's first law and justice minister, the principal architect of the Constitution of India, and a founding father of the Republic of India.[6][7][8][9][10]

Ambedkar was a prolific student earning doctorates in economics from both Columbia University and the London School of Economics and gained a reputation as a scholar for his research in law, economics, and political science.[11] In his early career he was an economist, professor, and lawyer. His later life was marked by his political activities; he became involved in campaigning and negotiations for India's independence, publishing journals, advocating political rights and social freedom for Dalits, and contributing significantly to the establishment of the state of India.[12] In 1956, he converted to Buddhism initiating mass conversions of Dalits.[13]

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.

Early life

Photographs of Ambedkar parents Ramji Maloji Sakpal (father) and Bhimabai Sakpal (mother)

Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the town and military cantonment of Mhow (now Dr. Ambedkar Nagar) in the Central Provinces (now in Madhya Pradesh).[14] He was the 14th and last child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal, an army officer who held the rank of Subedar, and Bhimabai Sakpal, daughter of Laxman Murbadkar.[15] His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambadawe (Mandangad taluka) in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. Ambedkar was born into a poor low Mahar (dalit) caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination.[16] Ambedkar's ancestors had long worked for the army of the British East India Company, and his father served in the British Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment.[17] Although they attended school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or help by teachers. They were not allowed to sit inside the class. When they needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste had 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; he described the situation later in his writings as "No peon, No Water".[18] He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him.[19]

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 survived them. Of his brothers and sisters, only Ambedkar passed his examinations and went to high school. His original surname was Sakpal but his father registered his name as Ambadawekar in school, meaning he comes from his native village 'Ambadawe' in Ratnagiri district.[20][21][22][23][24] His Devrukhe Brahmin teacher, Krishna Keshav Ambedkar, changed his surname from "Ambadawekar" to his own surname "Ambedkar" in school records.[23]

Education

Post-secondary education

In 1897, Ambedkar's family moved to Mumbai where Ambedkar became the only untouchable enrolled at Elphinstone High School. In 1906, when he was about 15 years old, his marriage to a nine-year-old girl, Ramabai, was arranged.[1]

Undergraduate studies at the University of Bombay

Ambedkar as a student

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 untouchable to do so. In his book, The Buddha and his Dhamma, that when he passed his English fourth standard examinations, the people of his community wanted to celebrate because they considered that he had reached "great heights" which he says was "hardly an occasion compared to the state of education in other communities". A public ceremony was evoked, to celebrate his success, by the community, and it was at this occasion that he was presented with a biography of the Buddha by Dada Keluskar, the author and a family friend.[1][25]

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 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.[26]

Postgraduate studies at Columbia University

In 1913, Ambedkar moved to the United States at the age of 22. He had been awarded a Baroda State Scholarship of £11.50 (Sterling) per month for three years under a scheme established by Sayajirao Gaekwad III (Gaekwad 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, and other subjects of Sociology, History, Philosophy and Anthropology. He presented a thesis, Ancient Indian Commerce. Ambedkar was influenced by John Dewey and his work on democracy.[27]

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[28] for his third thesis, after he left for London. On 9 May, he presented the paper Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development before a seminar conducted by the anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser.

Postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics

Ambedkar (in centre line, first from right) with his professors and friends from the London School of Economics (1916–17)

In October 1916, he enrolled for the Bar course at Gray's Inn, and at the same time enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started working on a doctoral thesis. In June 1917, he returned to India because his scholarship from Baroda ended. His book collection was dispatched on different ship from the one he was on, and that ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine.[26] He got permission to return to London to submit his thesis within four years. He returned at the first opportunity, and completed a master's degree in 1921. His thesis was on "The problem of the rupee: Its origin and its solution".[4] In 1922, he was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn and In 1923, he completed a D.Sc. in Economics. His third and fourth Doctorates (LL.D, Columbia, 1952 and D.Litt., Osmania, 1953) were conferred honoris causa.[29]

Opposition to untouchability

Ambedkar as a barrister in 1922

As Ambedkar was educated by the Princely State of Baroda, he was bound to serve it. He was appointed Military Secretary to the Gaikwad but had to quit in a short time. He described the incident in his autobiography, Waiting for a Visa.[30] 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.[31] In 1918, he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Although he was successful with the students, other professors objected to his sharing a drinking-water jug with them.[32]

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.[33] In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai with the help of Shahu of Kolhapur i.e. Shahu IV (1874–1922).[34]

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."[35][36]

While practising law in the Bombay High Court, he tried to promote education to untouchables and uplift them. His first organised attempt was his establishment of the central institution Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, intended to promote education and socio-economic improvement, as well as the welfare of "outcastes", at the time referred to as depressed classes.[37] For the defence of Dalit rights, he started five periodicals – Mooknayak (the leader of the dumb, 1920), Bahishkrit Bharat (Ostracized India, 1924), Samta (Equality, 1928), Janata (The People, 1930), and Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened India, 1956).[38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46]

He was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Committee to work with the all-European Simon Commission in 1925.[47] 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 the future Constitution of India.[48]

By 1927, Ambedkar had decided to launch active movements against untouchability. He began with public movements and marches to open up public drinking water resources. He also 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.[49] In a conference in late 1927, Ambedkar publicly condemned the classic Hindu text, the Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), for ideologically justifying caste discrimination and "untouchability", and he ceremonially burned copies of the ancient text. On 25 December 1927, he led thousands of followers to burn copies of Manusmrti.[50][51] Thus annually 25 December is celebrated as Manusmriti Dahan Din (Manusmriti Burning Day) by Ambedkarites and Dalits.[52][53]

In 1930, Ambedkar launched Kalaram Temple movement after three months of preparation. About 15,000 volunteers assembled at Kalaram Temple satygraha making one of the greatest processions of Nashik. The procession was headed by a military band, a batch of scouts, women and men walked in discipline, order and determination to see the god for the first time. When they reached to gate, the gates were closed by Brahmin authorities.[54]

Poona Pact

M. R. Jayakar, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Ambedkar at Yerwada jail, in Poona, on 24 September 1932, the day the Poona Pact was signed

In 1932, British announced the formation of a separate electorate for "Depressed Classes" in the Communal Award. Gandhi fiercely opposed a separate electorate for untouchables, saying he feared that such an arrangement would divide the Hindu community.[55][56][57] Gandhi protested by fasting while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail of Poona. Following the fast, Congress politicians and activists such as Madan Mohan Malaviya and Palwankar Baloo organised joint meetings with Ambedkar and his supporters at Yerwada.[58] On 25 September 1932, the agreement known as Poona Pact was signed between Ambedkar (on behalf of the depressed classes among Hindus) and Madan Mohan Malaviya (on behalf of the other Hindus). The agreement gave reserved seats for the depressed classes in the Provisional legislatures, within the general electorate. Due to the pact, the depressed class received 148 seats in the legislature, instead of the 71 as allocated in the Communal Award earlier proposed by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. The text uses the term "Depressed Classes" to denote Untouchables among Hindus who were later called Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under India Act 1935, and the later Indian Constitution of 1950.[59][60] In the Poona Pact, a unified electorate was in principle formed, but primary and secondary elections allowed Untouchables in practice to choose their own candidates.[61]

Political career

In 1935, Ambedkar was appointed principal of the Government Law College, Bombay, a position he held for two years. He also served as the chairman of Governing body of Ramjas College, University of Delhi, after the death of its Founder Shri Rai Kedarnath.[62] Settling in Bombay (today called Mumbai), Ambedkar oversaw the construction of a house, and stocked his personal library with more than 50,000 books.[63] His wife Ramabai died after a long illness 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. 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.[63] He would repeat his message at many public meetings across India.

In 1936, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, which contested the 1937 Bombay election to the Central Legislative Assembly for the 13 reserved and 4 general seats, and secured 11 and 3 seats respectively.[64]

Ambedkar published his book Annihilation of Caste on 15 May 1936.[65] It strongly criticised Hindu orthodox religious leaders and the caste system in general,[66] and included "a rebuke of Gandhi" on the subject.[67] Later, in a 1955 BBC interview, he accused Gandhi of writing in opposition of the caste system in English language papers while writing in support of it in Gujarati language papers.[68]

Ambedkar served on the Defence Advisory Committee[69] and the Viceroy's Executive Council as minister for labour.[69]

After the Lahore resolution (1940) of the Muslim League demanding Pakistan, Ambedkar wrote a 400-page tract titled Thoughts on Pakistan, which analysed the concept of "Pakistan" in all its aspects. Ambedkar argued that the Hindus should concede Pakistan to the Muslims. He proposed that the provincial boundaries of Punjab and Bengal should be redrawn to separate the Muslim and non-Muslim majority parts. He thought the Muslims could have no objection to redrawing provincial boundaries. If they did, they did not quite "understand the nature of their own demand". Scholar Venkat Dhulipala states that Thoughts on Pakistan "rocked Indian politics for a decade". It determined the course of dialogue between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, paving the way for the Partition of India.[70][71]

In his work Who Were the Shudras?, Ambedkar tried to explain the formation of untouchables. He saw Shudras and Ati Shudras who form the lowest caste in the ritual hierarchy of the caste system, as separate from Untouchables. Ambedkar oversaw the transformation of his political party into the Scheduled Castes Federation, although it performed poorly in the 1946 elections for Constituent Assembly of India. Therefore he took help of Muslim League which was in power in Bengal to get himself elected to the constituent assembly of Bengal from four border districts of Bengal.[72] Unfortunately for him, those border districts of Bengal went to Pakistan on partition of India and thus ironically Ambedkar became a member of Constituent Assembly of Pakistan! He had to resign from there! He had to patch up with Nehru and Gandhi who then got him into the Constituent Assembly from Bombay in the vacancy caused by resignation of Mr. M.R. Jaykar to accommodate Ambedkar.

Ambedkar sought Gandhi's help to get a berth in Nehru's cabinet in independent India. Despite Gandhi's differences with Ambedkar, Gandhiji persuaded a reluctant Nehru to make Ambedkar a minister. But Ambedkar continued to criticize the Congress party and Nehru asked him to resign. Ambedkar had to resign in September 1951.

Ambedkar contested for Lok Sabha in the Bombay North constituency in the first Indian General Election of 1952, but lost to his former assistant and Congress Party candidate Narayan Kajrolkar. Ambedkar became a member of Rajya Sabha, probably a nominated member. He tried to enter Lok Sabha again in the by-election of 1954 from Bhandara, but he placed third (the Congress Party won). By the time of the second general election in 1957, Ambedkar had died.

Ambedkar also criticised Islamic practice in India. While justifying the Partition of India, he condemned child marriage and 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.[73]

Opposition to Aryan invasion theory

Ambedkar viewed the Shudras as Aryan and adamantly rejected the Aryan invasion theory, describing it as "so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago" in his 1946 book Who Were the Shudras?.[5]

Ambedkar viewed Shudras as originally being "part of the Kshatriya Varna in the Indo-Aryan society", but became socially degraded after they inflicted many tyrannies on Brahmins.[74]

According to Arvind Sharma, Ambedkar noticed certain flaws in the Aryan invasion theory that were later acknowledged by western scholarship. For example, scholars now acknowledge anās in Rig Veda 5.29.10 refers to speech rather than the shape of the nose.[75] Ambedkar anticipated this modern view by stating:

The term Anasa occurs in Rig Veda V.29.10. What does the word mean? There are two interpretations. One is by Prof. Max Muller. The other is by Sayanacharya. According to Prof. Max Muller, it means 'one without nose' or 'one with a flat nose' and has as such been relied upon as a piece of evidence in support of the view that the Aryans were a separate race from the Dasyus. Sayanacharya says that it means 'mouthless,' i.e., devoid of good speech. This difference of meaning is due to difference in the correct reading of the word Anasa. Sayanacharya reads it as an-asa while Prof. Max Muller reads it as a-nasa. As read by Prof. Max Muller, it means 'without nose.' Question is : which of the two readings is the correct one? There is no reason to hold that Sayana's reading is wrong. On the other hand there is everything to suggest that it is right. In the first place, it does not make non-sense of the word. Secondly, as there is no other place where the Dasyus are described as noseless, there is no reason why the word should be read in such a manner as to give it an altogether new sense. It is only fair to read it as a synonym of Mridhravak. There is therefore no evidence in support of the conclusion that the Dasyus belonged to a different race.[75]

Ambedkar disputed various hypotheses of the Aryan homeland being outside India, and concluded the Aryan homeland was India itself.[76] According to Ambedkar, the Rig Veda says Aryans, Dāsa and Dasyus were competing religious groups, not different peoples.[77]

Drafting India's Constitution

Ambedkar, chairman of the Drafting Committee, presenting the final draft of the Indian Constitution to Rajendra Prasad on 25 November 1949

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, he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, and was appointed by the Assembly to write India's new Constitution.[78]

Granville Austin 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.'[79]

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 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.[80] India's lawmakers hoped to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India's depressed classes through these measures.[81] The Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.[82]

Opposition to Article 370

Ambedkar opposed Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted a special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and which was included against his wishes. Balraj Madhok reportedly said, Ambedkar had clearly told the Kashmiri leader, Sheikh 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 Sheikh Abdullah approached Nehru, who directed him to Gopal Swami Ayyangar, who in turn approached Sardar Patel, saying Nehru had promised Sheikh Abdullah the special status. Patel got the Article passed while Nehru was on a foreign tour. On the day the article came up for discussion, Ambedkar did not reply to questions on it but did participate on other articles. All arguments were done by Krishna Swami Ayyangar.[83][84][85]

B.R. Ambedkar in 1950

Support to Uniform Civil Code

I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction, so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, discriminations and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.[86]

During the debates in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar demonstrated his will to reform Indian society by recommending the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code.[87][88] Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951, when parliament stalled his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to enshrine gender equality in the laws of inheritance and marriage.[89] 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 138,137 votes compared to Ambedkar's 123,576.[90][91][92] He was appointed to the upper house, of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain as member until death.[93]

Economic planning

Ambedkar was the first Indian to pursue a doctorate in economics abroad.[94] He argued that industrialisation and agricultural growth could enhance the Indian economy.[95] He stressed investment in agriculture as the primary industry of India. According to Sharad Pawar, Ambedkar's vision helped the government to achieve its food security goal.[96] Ambedkar advocated national economic and social development, stressing education, public hygiene, community health, residential facilities as the basic amenities.[95] He calculated the loss of development caused by British rule.[97]

Reserve Bank of India

Ambedkar was trained as an economist, and was a professional economist until 1921, when 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[98][99]

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), was based on the ideas that Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission.[99][100][101]

Second marriage

Ambedkar with wife Savita in 1948

Ambedkar's first wife Ramabai died in 1935 after a long illness. After completing the draft of India's constitution in the late 1940s, he suffered from lack of sleep, had neuropathic pain in his legs, and was taking insulin and homoeopathic medicines. He went to Bombay for treatment, and there met Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Saraswat Brahmin, whom he married on 15 April 1948, at his home in New Delhi. She was 39 year old and he was 57. Doctors recommended a companion who was a good cook and had medical knowledge to care for him.[102] She adopted the name Savita Ambedkar and cared for him the rest of his life.[2] Savita Ambedkar, who was called 'Mai' or 'Maisaheb', died on 29 May 2003, aged 93 at Mehrauli, New Delhi.[103]

Conversion to Buddhism

Ambedkar receiving the Five Precepts from Mahasthavir Chandramani on 14 October 1956. In the photograph (from right to left): Savita Ambedkar, B. R. Ambedkar, Wali Sinha and bhikkhu Chandramani.
"... I regard the Buddha's Dhamma (Buddhism) to be the best. No religion can be compared to it. If a modern man who knows science must have a religion, the only religion he can have is the Religion of the Buddha. This conviction has grown in me after thirty-five years of close study of all religions."

— Babasaheb Ambedkar, preface of The Buddha and His Dhamma, 6 April 1956[104]

Ambedkar considered converting to Sikhism, which encouraged opposition to oppression and so appealed to leaders of scheduled castes. But after meeting with Sikh leaders, he concluded that he might get "second-rate" Sikh status, as described by scholar Stephen P. Cohen.[105]

Instead, he studied Buddhism all his life. Around 1950, he devoted his attention to Buddhism and travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to attend a meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists.[106] While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that when it was finished, he would formally convert to Buddhism.[107] He twice visited Burma in 1954; the second time to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon.[108] In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India.[109] He completed his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956 which was published posthumously.[109]

After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa,[110] Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Accepting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk Mahasthavir Chandramani 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.[111] He prescribed the 22 Vows for these converts, after the Three Jewels and Five Precepts.[112] He then travelled to Kathmandu, Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference.[108][113] His work on The Buddha or Karl Marx and "Revolution and counter-revolution in ancient India" remained incomplete.[114]

Death

Mahaparinirvana (death) of Ambedkar

Since 1948, Ambedkar suffered from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 due to medication side-effects and poor eyesight.[107] 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[115] was organised at Dadar Chowpatty beach (Chaitya Bhoomi) on 7 December,[116] attended by half a million grieving people.[117] A conversion program was organised on 16 December 1956,[118] so that cremation attendees were also converted to Buddhism at the same place.[118]

Ambedkar was survived by his second wife, who died in 2003,[119] and his son Yashwant Ambedkar (known as Bhaiyasaheb).[120] Ambedkar's grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, is the chief-adviser of the Buddhist Society of India,[121] leads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh[122] and has served in both houses of the Indian Parliament.[122]

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.[107]

Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial, the 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.[123]

On the anniversary of his birth and death, and on Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din (14 October) at Nagpur, at least half a million people gather to pay homage to him at his memorial in Mumbai.[124] Thousands of bookshops are set up, and books are sold. His message to his followers was "educate, organise, agitate".[125]

Personal life

Ambedkar with his family members at Rajgruha in February 1934. From left – Yashwant (son), Ambedkar, Ramabai (wife), Laxmibai (wife of his elder brother, Balaram), Mukund (nephew) and Ambedkar's favourite dog, Tobby

Ambedkar taught Ramabai to write and read. His affectionate name for her was "Ramu", while she called him "Saheb". They had five children - Yashwant, Gangadhar, Ramesh, Indu (daughter) and Rajratna. Apart from Yashwant (1912 - 1977), the other four died in their childhood. Yashwant alone survived as his descendant. His second wife Savita had no children.[126][127]

Ambedkar considered three person as his gurus or masters. His first Guru was Tathāgata Gautama Buddha, the second was Saint Kabir and the third was Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.[128][129] Ambedkar considered these three to worship i.e "Knowledge", "Modesty" ("Self respect") and "Morality". Ambedkar believed that his life was complete by three masters (gurus) and by worshiping these three things.[130][131][132]

Legacy

Ambedkar's legacy as a socio-political reformer, had a deep effect on modern India.[133][134] In post-Independence India, his socio-political thought is respected across the political spectrum. His initiatives have influenced various spheres of life and transformed the way India today looks at socio-economic policies, education and affirmative action through socio-economic and legal incentives. His reputation as a scholar led to his appointment as free India's first law minister, and chairman of the committee for drafting the constitution. He passionately believed in individual freedom and criticised caste society. His accusations of Hinduism as being the foundation of the caste system made him controversial and unpopular among Hindus.[135] His conversion to Buddhism sparked a revival in interest in Buddhist philosophy in India and abroad.[136]

For his actions towards the salvation and equality of mankind, his followers and the Indian people started respectfully addressing him as "Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar", since sometime between September–October 1927.[137] "Babasaheb" is a Marathi phrase which roughly translates, literally as "Father-Sir" (baba: father; and saheb: Sir) or "Respected Father" because millions of Indians consider him a "great liberator".[138]

Many public institutions are named in his honour, and the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, Ambedkar University Delhi is also named in his honour. A large official portrait of Ambedkar is on display in the Indian Parliament building.

The Maharashtra government has acquired a house in London where Ambedkar lived during his days as a student in the 1920s. The house is expected to be converted into a museum-cum-memorial to Ambedkar.[139]

Ambedkar was voted "the Greatest Indian" in 2012 by a poll organised by History TV18 and CNN IBN. Nearly 20 million votes were cast, making him the most popular Indian figure since the launch of the initiative.[140][141] Due to his role in economics, Narendra Jadhav, a notable Indian economist,[142] has said that Ambedkar was "the highest educated Indian economist of all times."[143] Amartya Sen, said that Ambedkar is "father of my economics", and "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."[144][145] President Obama addressed the Indian parliament in 2010, and referred to Dalit leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as the great and revered Human Rights champion and main author of India's constitution.[146]

Ambedkar's political philosophy has given rise to a large number of political parties, publications and workers' unions that remain active across India, especially in Maharashtra. His promotion of Buddhism has rejuvenated interest in Buddhist philosophy among sections of population in India. Mass conversion ceremonies have been organised by human rights activists in modern times, emulating Ambedkar's Nagpur ceremony of 1956.[147] Most Indian Buddhists specially Navayana followers regard him as a Bodhisattva, the Maitreya, although he never claimed it himself.[148][149][150] Outside India, during the late 1990s, some Hungarian Romani people drew parallels between their own situation and that of the downtrodden people in India. Inspired by Ambedkar, they started to convert to Buddhism.[151]

A proposal to build a grand memorial called Statue of Equality or "Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial" was approved in 2015 to be located in Mumbai. It will be 350 feet tall making it the world's tallest statue of Ambedkar when completed in possibly 2022.[152][153][154][155]

In popular culture

Several movies, plays, and other works have been based on the life and thoughts of Ambedkar. Jabbar Patel directed the English-language film Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in 2000 with Mammootty in the lead role.[156] This biopic was sponsored by the National Film Development Corporation of India and the government's Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The film was released after a long and controversial gestation.[157] David Blundell, professor of anthropology at UCLA and historical ethnographer, has established Arising Light – a series of films and events that are intended to stimulate interest and knowledge about the social conditions in India and the life of Ambedkar.[158] In Samvidhaan,[159] a TV mini-series on the making of the Constitution of India directed by Shyam Benegal, the pivotal role of B. R. Ambedkar was played by Sachin Khedekar. The play Ambedkar Aur Gandhi, directed by Arvind Gaur and written by Rajesh Kumar, tracks the two prominent personalities of its title.[160]

Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability is a graphic biography of Ambedkar created by Pardhan-Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, and writers Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand. The book depicts the experiences of untouchability faced by Ambedkar from childhood to adulthood. CNN named it one of the top 5 political comic books.[161]

The Ambedkar Memorial at Lucknow is dedicated in his memory. The chaitya consists of monuments showing his biography.[162]

Ambedkar's birthdate is an annual festival and a public holiday celebrated as Ambedkar Jayanti or Bhim Jayanti.[163] Ambedkar Jayanti is celebrated not just in India but all around the world.[164] The United Nations celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti in 2016, 2017 and 2018.[165][166][167][168] Indian Post issued stamps dedicated to his birthday in 1966, 1973, 1991, 2001, and 2013, and featured him on other stamps in 2009, 2015, 2016 and 2017.[169][170]

In 1990, Ambedkar was bestowed with Bharat Ratna award. In honor of Ambedkar, Indian Constitution Day (National Law Day) is celebrated on 26 November. The day was chosen to spread the importance of the constitution and to spread thoughts and ideas of Ambedkar.[171]

Google commemorated Ambedkar's 124th birthday through a homepage doodle on 14 April 2015.[172][173][174]

Films

These are the List of Films based on the life and thoughts of B. R. Ambedkar (according to years of Release):

Literally works

Cover of the first edition of Annihilation of Caste, 1936

Babasaheb Ambedkar was a prolific and eminent writer. He had written the most among his contemporary politicians.[175] He had written a total of 32 books (10 are incomplete), 10 memoranda, evidence and statement, 10 research documents, review of articles and books and 10 preface and predictions.[176] Apart from this he is also the author of the Indian Constitution. The Buddha and His Dhamma is the last book of Ambedkar, the text is the scripture for those who follow Navayana Buddhism.[177] Waiting for a Visa is his autobiography, The book is used as a textbook in Columbia University.[178][179] He also wrote Pali dictionary (Pali to English). He was known to have knowledge of eleven languages, including Marathi (mother tongue), English, Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Gujarati, German, Persian, French, Kannada and Bengali.[180] But he used the Marathi language of his journals (fortnightly, weekly) because Marathi is a native of Maharashtra, except for his almost all writings in the English language.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches

The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra (Mumbai) published the collection of Ambedkar's writings and speeches in different volumes, collectively named Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches.[181]

  • Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development and 11 Other Essays
  • Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislature, with the Simon Commission and at the Round Table Conferences, 1927–1939
  • Philosophy of Hinduism; India and the Pre-requisites of Communism; Revolution and Counter-revolution; Buddha or Karl Marx
  • Riddles in Hinduism[182]
  • Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability
  • The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India
  • The Untouchables: Who Were They? And Why They Became Untouchables (New Delhi: Amrit Book Co, [1948])
  • Annihilation of Caste (1936)
  • Pakistan or the Partition of India
  • What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables; Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables
  • Ambedkar as member of the Governor General's Executive Council, 1942–46
  • The Buddha and his Dhamma
  • Unpublished Writings; Ancient Indian Commerce; Notes on laws; Waiting for a Visa ; Miscellaneous notes, etc.
  • Ambedkar as the principal architect of the Constitution of India
  • (2 parts) Dr. Ambedkar and The Hindu Code Bill
  • Ambedkar as Free India's First Law Minister and Member of Opposition in Indian Parliament (1947–1956)
  • The Pali Grammar
  • Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Struggle for Human Rights. Events starting from March 1927 to 17 November 1956 in the chronological order; Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Socio-political and religious activities. Events starting from November 1929 to 8 May 1956 in the chronological order; Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Speeches. (Events starting from 1 January to 20 November 1956 in the chronological order.)
  • Ambedkar’s Speeches and writing in Marathi
  • Ambedkar’s Photo Album and Correspondence

Awards and honors

Honorary titles

See also

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Further reading

  • Ahir, D. C. (1 September 1990). The Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. Delhi: B. R. Publishing. ISBN 978-81-7018-603-8.
  • Ajnat, Surendra (1986). Ambedkar on Islam. Jalandhar: Buddhist Publ.
  • Beltz, Johannes; Jondhale, S. (eds.). Reconstructing the World: B.R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Bholay, Bhaskar Laxman (2001). Dr Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar: Anubhav Ani Athavani. Nagpur: Sahitya Akademi.
  • Fernando, W. J. Basil (2000). Demoralisation and Hope: Creating the Social Foundation for Sustaining Democracy—A comparative study of N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783–1872) Denmark and B. R. Ambedkar (1881–1956) India. Hong Kong: AHRC Publication. ISBN 978-962-8314-08-9.
  • Chakrabarty, Bidyut. "B.R. Ambedkar" Indian Historical Review (Dec 2016) 43#2 pp 289–315. doi:10.1177/0376983616663417.
  • Gautam, C. (2000). Life of Babasaheb Ambedkar (Second ed.). London: Ambedkar Memorial Trust.
  • Jaffrelot, Christophe (2004). Ambedkar and Untouchability. Analysing and Fighting Caste. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Kasare, M. L. Economic Philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi: B. I. Publications.
  • Kuber, W. N. Dr. Ambedkar: A Critical Study. New Delhi: People's Publishing House.
  • Kumar, Aishwary. Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy (2015).
  • Kumar, Ravinder. "Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Poona pact, 1932." South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 8.1–2 (1985): 87–101.
  • Michael, S.M. (1999). Untouchable, Dalits in Modern India. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-55587-697-5.
  • Nugent, Helen M. (1979) "The communal award: The process of decision-making." South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 2#1-2 (1979): 112-129.
  • Omvedt, Gail (1 January 2004). Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India. ISBN 978-0-670-04991-2.
  • Sangharakshita, Urgyen (1986). Ambedkar and Buddhism. ISBN 978-0-904766-28-8. PDF

Primary sources

  • Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Annihilation of caste: The annotated critical edition (Verso Books, 2014).