General Studies IHISTORYModern India

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar


Dr B.R. Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in the town and military cantonment of Mhow in the central provinces, (now in Madhya Pradesh) to Ramji Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sakpal. Ambedkar was born into a poor low Mahar (Dalit) caste, which were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. His 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. Although they attended school, it is reported that Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or help by teachers. They were not allowed to sit inside the class. However, despite facing all hardships, Ambedkar, in 1897 became the only untouchable enrolled at Elphinstone High School. Ambedkar pursued a degree in economics and political science from Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai, and then completed his Masters in Economics (Major) at the Columbia University and Doctor of Science in Economics from London School of Economics with the help of a scholarship.

Education Of Dr B. R. Ambedkar 

In 1908, Ambedkar passed his tenth class from the Elphinstone High School. He graduated from Bombay University in 1912 and his subjects included political studies and economics. Dr Ambedkar was an intelligent student and cleared all his exams without much problem. Gaekwad ruler of, Sahyaji Rao III was so impressed with him that he gave a scholarship of 25 rupees per month to Dr Ambedkar. Dr Ambedkar used all that money to continue his studies outside India. He applied for Columbia University in New York to complete his master’s degree in Economics.

He was selected in that university and completed his master’s degree in 1915 and this is the time when he gave his thesis called ‘Ancient Indian Commerce. In 1916, he started working on his new thesis, ‘The problem of the rupee: Its origin and its solution’ and this was the time when he applied for the London School of Economics and got selected. In this thesis, he was also helped by Governor Lord Sydenham. In Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics, he became a political science professor, but he decided to continue his further studies and went to England. He completed his Ph.D. degree in 1927 in Economics and was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Columbia in the same year.

Dr B. R. Ambedkar with British Government

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.

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 the future Constitution of 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.

Ambedkar served on the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council as minister for labour.

Ambedkar and Untouchability

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. 

For the defence of Dalit rights, he started five periodicals –

  1. Mooknayak (the leader of the dumb, 1920)
  2. Bahishkrit Bharat (Ostracized India, 1924)
  3. Samta (Equality, 1928)
  4. Janata (The People, 1930)
  5. Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened India, 1956)

Constitution of Reserve Bank of India

Based on the ideas that Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission

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:

  1. Administration and Finance of the East India Company
  2. The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India
  3. The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution

Mahad Satyagraha and Manusmriti Dahan Din

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.

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. Thus, annually 25 December is celebrated as Manusmriti Dahan Din (Manusmriti Burning Day) by Ambedkarites and Dalits.

Kalaram Temple movement: 

About 15,000 volunteers assembled at Kalaram Temple Satyagraha, 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.

Poona Pact: 

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. 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.
  • 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. 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.

Major contributions of Ambedkar to modern India:

  1. Education: According to B.R. Ambedkar, it is the education which is the right weapon to cut the social slavery and it is the education which will enlighten the downtrodden masses to come up and gain social status, economic betterment and political freedom. In 1923 Baba Saheb founded ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha to spread education among marginalised and to improve their economic conditions. Thus, he played a major role in education of marginalised.
  2. Changing hierarchical structures of Indian society: Dr. Ambedkar devoted his whole life to fight for the annihilation of caste by proliferating a movement against the evils of the caste system. He made all his efforts to change the hierarchical structures of Indian society and restoration of equal rights/justice to the marginalised and abolition of untouchability.
  3. Bringing Untouchables to the mainstream of Indian society: His programs were focused on mainstreaming the Untouchables into Indian society. His ideas & programs set forth concrete proposals for the removal of untouchability and the empowerment of the downtrodden. Dr. Ambedkar demanded justice to untouchables and other weaker sections of the society via making provisions in the Indian Constitution.
  4. Framing an inclusive and secular Constitution: The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections to individual citizens for a wide range of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability, and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. He was an exemplary force behind drafting the Hindu Code Bill which made the uniform provisions for equal treatment within the confines of family, particularly for women.
  5. Upliftment of marginalised: Ambedkar advocated extensive economic and social rights for women and won the support of the Assembly to introduce a system of reservations for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and Other Backward Class in the civil services, schools, and colleges. He laid emphasis on religious, gender and caste equality.
  6. Fundamental Rights: The imprint of Ambedkar is visible in fundamental rights of equality, reservation for Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes, National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and Directive Principles of State Policy etc. The caste discrimination still rampant, but is certainly on the decline plane.
  7. Economic Contributions: RBI was conceptualised and formulated by Ambedkar as he was a trained economist. The importance of waterways was also thought over by Ambedkar. Indian government in 2015 upgraded waterways to the national waterways after borrowing from his vision.

Ambedkar’s essence lies in heralding a systemic change, instead of craving for political freedom. To bring this in and practice his philosophy in true sense of the term, along with massive socio-political awareness, economic strength of the Dalit community must be enhanced. The annihilation of the caste may take longer, but steps towards the same should be continued.

Ambedkarite Thoughts

Social Thoughts

He rejected the Hindu social philosophy propounded in the Bhagwat Gita on the triguna of the Sankhya philosophy which is in his view a cruel perversion of the philosophy of Kapila and which had made the caste system and the system of graded inequality the law of Hindu social life. His social philosophy has been enshrined in three words-Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

In his philosophy, liberty and equality had a place; but he added that unlimited liberty destroyed equality and absolute equality left no room for liberty. In his philosophy, law had a place only as a safeguard against the breaches of liberty and equality; but he did not believe that law can be a guarantee for breaches of liberty or equality. He gave the highest place to fraternity as the only real safeguard against the denial of the liberty or equality or fraternity which was another name for brotherhood or humanity, which was again another name for religion.

Religious Thoughts

According to him, religion is not a means to earn wealth and fame. It is a precious possession of an individual’s mind and to be used only for achieving mental peace and alleviating the sufferings of society. He rightly justified his thoughts while saying, “the religion that does not recognize you as human being or give you water to drink, or allow you to enter the temple is not worthy to be called a religion. The religion that forbid you to receive education and come in the way of your material advance is not worthy of appellation religion. The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with its co-religionists is nothing but display of force. The religion that asks its adherents to suffer the touch of human beings is not religion but mockery. The religion which precludes some classes from education, forbids them to accumulate wealth and bear no arms is not religion but a mockery. The religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant and poor to be poor is not religion but visitation.” He wanted that Hindu religion must be reformed and made the religion of humanity deleting the concept of graded inequality. But it could not happen in his life time.

Political Thoughts

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a great admirer of Parliamentary system of government. According to him, there are three inherent characteristics of the system. Firstly, free and fair elections from time to time. Secondly, in the form of government no single individual can presume the authority that he knows everything and that he can make the laws and carry the government. The laws are to be made by the representatives of the people. Finally, the elected representatives, the legislatures and ministers must have the confidence of the people renewed in themselves at given periodicity.

However, he was aware of the pitfalls of the Parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy, Ambedkar wrote, made not even a nodding acquaintance with economic equality. It failed to realize the significance of equality and did not even endeavour to strike a balance between liberty and equality, with the result the liberty swallowed equality and thus left a progeny of inequalities.

However, he saw no alternative to political democracy and therefore firmly believed in it as an appropriate form of political organization, but at the same time he emphasised the need to strengthen the social and economic foundation tor a smooth functioning of democracy, which he saw as the tissues and fibres of political democracy by making socialism as a part of the constitution. Thus, his concept of state socialism is constitutional state socialism with parliamentary democracy.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on Democracy

This dimension was stressed by Dr. Ambedkar in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, in the following way:
“Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean ? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity. The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty, would kill individual initiative”.

Our country “India that is Bharat” is described as ‘Union’ although its Constitution is federal in structure. According to Dr B R Ambedkar, the phrase ‘Union of States’ has been preferred to ‘Federation of States’ for two reasons: one, the Indian Federation is not the result of an agreement among the states like the American Federation; and two, the states have no right to secede from the federation. The federation is an Union because it is indestructible. The country is an integral whole and divided into different states only for the convenience of administration

Humanism vs Nationalism: Ambedkar’s View

Assimilating him into the national pantheon of the freedom struggle is difficult because his life was one of steady accretion of ideas, of making a stand on rights and of standing up to social wrongs. His biggest fights were with fellow Indians and not with foreign rulers. He led no satyagraha against the British, he led no march on Delhi, he broke no repressive law to court arrest for it. His often stated view was that British rule had come as a liberator for the depressed classes. Despite all this, he was in agreement with the nationalists, that India must be ruled by Indians. Thus, for Ambedkar, human dignity mattered more.

The reason why Ambedkar may be accused of being anti-national has to do with his attitude towards the freedom movement, beyond his antagonistic relationship with Mahatma Gandhi. In 1939, Ambedkar made his stand clear in the legislative council of Bombay province: “Whenever there is any conflict of interest between the country and the untouchables, so far as I am concerned, the untouchables’ interests will take precedence over the interests of the country”. But by saying such a thing, Ambedkar was not anti-national. For him, the national movement was dominated by elite, of which the masses were the first victims. For, as he said in 1943 before trade union activists, the working classes “often sacrifice their all to the so-called cause of nationalism. But they have never cared to enquire whether the nationalism for which they are to make their offerings will, when established, give them social and economic equality.

During World War II, Ambedkar continued to collaborate with the colonial power in exchange for concessions to Dalits and the working class at large. However, he had decided to cooperate with the British for another reason. Like Nehru, he thought that the Nazis, the Italian Fascists and Japan were more dangerous than the British. Opposing Mahatma Gandhi’s decision, in August 1942, to launch the Quit India Movement, he declared that the “patriotic duty of all Indians” was rather to prevent such movements from creating “anarchy and chaos which would unquestionably help and facilitate the subjugation of this country by Japan”.

For Ambedkar, there was an “ism” above nationalism: Humanism, with its values of equality and liberty. Hence his collaboration with the British to promote the cause of the Indian plebe and to fight the Axis powers. — hence also his conversion to Buddhism, while Hinduism tends to be considered as the national religion of India par excellence today.

Timeline of Dr. B. R, Ambedkar:

1891-1924  4th April 1891 Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar born at Mahu in Madhya Pradesh.

1907 Married to Ramabai.1907 Passed matriculation examination from Elphinstone High School, Bombay.

1912 Passed B. A. from Elphinstone College, Bombay.

15th June 1913 leaves for the U.S.A. to join Columbia University, New York.

June 1915 Awarded M.A. degree in Economics.

June 1916 Awarded Doctorate in Philosophy degree.

1918 – 1920 Teaches at Syndenham College of Commerce & Economics, Bombay.

31st January 1920 Started “ Muknayak ” MagzineSeptember

1920 Leaves for London to complete his studies.

June 1921 Awarded M. S. degree

1922 Awarded Bar-at-law Degree

October 1923 Awarded D.Sc. Degree & called to the Bar

June 1924 Starts legal practice at the Bombay High Court.

20th July 1924 Launches ” Bahiskrit Hitkarini Sabha “  
1924-1930  1926 Nominated member of Bombay Legislative Council; served till 1934

3rd April 1927 Starts Marathi fortnightly, the Bahishkrit Bharat at Bombay.

25th Dec 1927 Led ” Chavadar Tale “Satryagraha at Mahad.

1928 Appointed lecturer at Government Law College, Bombay.

3rd March 1930 Starts Kalaram Temple Entry Satyagraha at Nashik.  
1931-1947  1930 – 1932 Attends three Round Table Conferences

24th Sept. 1932 Poona pact (or Yeravda Pact) signed.

22ndApril 1933 Gandhiji – Ambedkar meeting at Yeravda Jail.

27th May 1935 Wife Ramabai dies.

1st June 1935 Appointed Principal in Government Law College.

13th Oct. 1935 Presides over Depressed Classes Conference at Yeola, Dist. Nashik.

1935 Appointed Perry Professor of Jurisprudence.

19th July 1937 Elected to the Bombay Provincial Legislative Assembly

7th Aug. 1937 Floats a new political party, the Independent Labour Party

22nd June 1940 Dr. Ambedkar meets Subhash Chandra Bose.

1940 Published ” Thoughts on Pakstian ” Book.

20th Mar. 1942 Cripps & Dr. Ambedkar meet.

April 1942 Forms All India Scheduled Castes Federation.

2nd July 1942 Appointed member of the Viceroy ‘s Executive Council.

20th July 1942 Appointed as Labour Minister.

7th July 1945 Starts People ‘ s Education Society.

27th Nov. 1945 President of 7th Hindi Labour Conference

20th June 1946 Starts Siddharth College in Bombay

1946 Elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal

July 1947 Nominated to the Constituent Assembly by the Indian National Congress.

August 1947 Appointed Law Minister in the Nehru Cabinet.

29th August 1947 Constituent Assembly appoints a Drafting Committee with Ambedkar as Chairman.   
1948-1953  15th April 1948 Marries Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Sarswat Brahmin.

October 1948 Published ” Asprushya ” Book.

14th Nov. 1949 Presents the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly.

26th Nov. 1949 Accepted Indian Constitution.

1st Sept. 1950 Established Milind College.

5th Feb. 1951 Introduces Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament.

25th Sept. 1951 Resigns from the Nehru Cabinet

March 1952 Nominated by Bombay Legislature to the Rajya Sabha.

5th June 1952 The Columbia University conferred the honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.]  
1954-1990  December 1954 Leaves for Rangoon for third World Buddhist Conference

14th Oct. 1956 Embraced Buddhism at Nagpur.

15th Nov. 1956 Leaves for Kathmandu for 4th World Buddhist Conference

6th Dec. 1956 Dies in sleep at Delhi.

14th April 1990 Awarded the Bharat Ratna Award. (Posthumous)  

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in Constituent Assembly

B.R. Ambedkar submitted States and Minorities, previously published in 1945 as a standalone book, to the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly of India in 1947. (During this phase Dr. Ambedkar was able to draw attention of Sardar Patel-Chairman of Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and constituent assembly realized Dr. Ambedkar’s qualification and his analytic approach to draft constitution.)

The Sub-Committee, of which B.R. Ambedkar was a member, was tasked by the Assembly to draw up a list of Fundamental Rights for the Constitution of India. Ambedkar wrote States and Minorities on request and behalf of the Scheduled Caste Federation – an organisation that he himself had founded in the early 1940s. 

Upon India’s independence on 15 August 1947, the new prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Ambedkar to serve as the Dominion of India’s Law Minister; two weeks later, he was appointed Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution for the future Republic of India.

Drafting Committee

Among all the committees of the Constituent Assembly, the most important committee was the Drafting Committee set up on August 29, 1947. It was this committee that was entrusted with the task of preparing a draft of the new Constitution. It consisted of seven members. They were:

  1. Dr B R Ambedkar (Chairman)
  2. N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar
  3. Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar
  4. Dr K M Munshi
  5. Syed Mohammad Saadullah
  6. N Madhava Rau (He replaced B L Mitter who resigned due to ill-health)
  7. T T Krishnamachari (He replaced D P Khaitan who died in 1948)

The Drafting Committee, after taking into consideration the proposals of the various committees, prepared the first draft of the Constitution of India, which was published in February 1948. The people of India were given eight months to discuss the draft and propose amendments. In the light of the public comments, criticisms and suggestions, the Drafting Committee prepared a second draft, which was published in October 1948. The Drafting Committee took less than six months to prepare its draft. In all it sat only for 141 days.

Dr B R Ambedkar introduced the final draft of the Constitution in the Assembly on November 4, 1948 (first reading). The Assembly had a general discussion on it for five days (till November 9, 1948). The second reading (clause by clause consideration) started on November 15, 1948 and ended on October 17, 1949. During this stage, as many as 7653 amendments were proposed and 2473 were actually discussed in the Assembly.

The third reading of the draft started on November 14, 1949. Dr B R Ambedkar moved a motion —‘the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed’. The motion on Draft Constitution was declared as passed on November 26, 1949, and received the signatures of the members and the president. Out of a total 299 members of the Assembly, only 284 were actually present on that day and signed the Constitution. This is also the date mentioned in the Preamble as the date on which the people of India in the Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted and gave to themselves this Constitution.
The Constitution as adopted on November 26, 1949, contained a Preamble, 395 Articles and 8 Schedules. The Preamble was enacted after the entire Constitution was already enacted.

Dr B R Ambedkar pointed out in the Constituent Assembly that ‘a democratic executive must satisfy two conditions: stability and responsibility. Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to devise a system which can ensure both in equal degree. The American system gives more stability but less responsibility. The British system, on the other hand, gives more responsibility but less stability. The Draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of Executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability.’

Dr B R Ambedkar, the then Law Minister, piloted the Draft Constitution in the Assembly. He took a very prominent part in the deliberations of the Assembly. He was known for his logical, forceful and persuasive arguments on the floor of the Assembly. He is recognized as the ‘Father of the Constitution of India’. This brilliant writer, constitutional expert, undisputed leader of the scheduled castes and the ‘chief architect of the Constitution of India’ is also known as a ‘Modern Manu’.

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

Source: Round Table India

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