Whenever the question is asked that who made the Indian Constitution, the name of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar comes up. Fondly called Babasaheb, he was an eminent Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer.
He campaigned all his life against the discrimination and offences committed against the Untouchables of India and supported the rights of women and labor. He spearheaded the Dalit Buddhist Movement.
Ambedkar was a learned scholar and got doctorates in economics from both Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He also got a Law degree from London.
He was Independent India’s first law minister. He was also the principal architect of the Constitution of India; and a founding father of the Republic of India. In 1990, India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred upon him posthumously.
Read on to know more about this eminent son of India who rose from the lowest caste of India, facing severe discrimination and poverty; to become a leading light of India in terms of political and social reforms.
Childhood and Early Life
Bhimrao Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the military cantonment town of Mhow in the Central Provinces, now Madhya Pradesh.
He was the last born of the 14th child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal, a Subedar in Indian army, and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sakpal.
He belonged to a Marathi family who hailed from the town of Ambadawe in Mandangad taluka in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.
They belonged to the Mahar caste, which was considered untouchable and was discriminated by the upper castes.
His ancestors had worked for the army of the British East India Company, and his father was in the British Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment.
At school, B.R. Ambedkar and other untouchable children were discriminated upon. They were not allowed to sit inside the class. When thirsty, the peons would pour water to them and they were not allowed to touch the vessel or the glass. They would sit in gunny sacks carried from home.
After retirement of his father in 1894, they moved to Satara. His mother died and the children were taken care of by relatives. Only three brothers; Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao; and two sisters Manjula and Tulasa survived.
Ambedkar was the only child who passed his examinations and went for high school. His father changed his surname in school, from Sakpal to Ambadawekar to indicate his village name.
Later his Brahmin teacher, Krishna Keshav Ambedkar, changed his surname to his own surname ‘Ambedkar’ in school records.
Higher Education – Timeline and Milestones
In 1897, Ambedkar’s family moved to Mumbai. Ambedkar enrolled at Elphinstone High School, where he was the only untouchable student.
In 1906, when he was about 15 years old, his marriage was arranged to a nine-year-old girl, Ramabai.
In 1907, B.R. Ambedkar passed his matriculation examination and became the first untouchable to enroll in Elphinstone College. This success was celebrated among the untouchables in a public ceremony; here Dada Keluskar, an author presented him a biography of Buddha.
In 1912, he got a degree in Economics and Political science from Bombay University.
He then took up employment with Baroda State Government. His father died on 2 February 1913, which made him come back to Bombay.
Postgraduate Studies in the United States
In 1913, when he was 22 years old, Ambedkar moved to the United States. This big opportunity was due to the award of Baroda State Scholarship of £11.50 per month for three years under a scheme made by Sayajirao Gaekwad II. It provided opportunities for postgraduate education at Columbia University in New York City.
In the US, he shared a room with Naval Bhathena, who became his lifelong friend.
In June 1915, he passed his M.A. exam majoring in Economics, and other subjects being Sociology, History, Philosophy and Anthropology. He submitted his thesis on Ancient Indian Commerce. He was influenced by John Dewey’s work on democracy.
In 1916, he got another M.A. and submitted his second thesis, National Dividend of India – A Historic and Analytical Study.
In 1927, he received his PhD in Economics.
Postgraduate Studies at London (1916-17 and 1921-23)
In October 1916, he enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started working on a doctoral thesis. He also enrolled for the Bar course at Gray’s Inn, London.
In June 1917, he returned to India as his scholarship had ended.
In 1921, he once again left for London and completed a master’s degree.
In 1923, he completed the D.Sc. in Economics from the London School of Economics, and the same year he was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn.
Much later, B.R. Ambedkar was also awarded honorary Doctorate from Columbia University in 1952, and Osmania University in 1953.
His Journey of Struggle against Untouchability
Ambedkar, despite his high qualifications, had faced discrimination due to his low caste. He tried to work as a private tutor, an accountant, and investment consultant, but all failed when the clients came to know that he was an untouchable.
In 1918, when he returned from England, he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. The other professors objected to his sharing a drinking-water jug with them.
In 1919, the Government of India Act was being prepared. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar argued for creating separate electorates and reservations for untouchables and other religious communities.
In 1920, he began the publication of the weekly Mooknayak or Leader of the Silent, Bahishkrit Bharat, and Equality Janta, in Mumbai.
He established Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, intended to promote education and socio-economic improvement for the outcastes or the depressed classes.
In 1925, he was appointed to the Bombay Presidency Committee to work with the all-European Simon Commission, who had been protested across the country. Ambedkar wrote a separate set of recommendations for the future Constitution of India.
In 1926, while Ambedkar worked as a barrister, he won the case of three non-Brahmin leaders who were being sued for libel after they had accused the Brahmin community of ruining India.
In 1927, Ambedkar launched active movements against untouchability. He began with public 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 late 1927, during a conference, Ambedkar publicly condemned the classic Hindu text, the Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), for ideologically justifying caste discrimination and untouchability. He burned copies of the ancient texts as symbolic protest.
On 25 December 1927, he led thousands of followers to burn copies of Manusmrti. This day, 25 December, is celebrated annually by Ambedkarites and Dalits, as the Manusmriti Dahan Diwas.
In 1930, Ambedkar launched Kalaram Temple Movement in Nashik. It was one of the greatest procession where more than 15,000 volunteers assembled and, women and men walked in discipline and determination to see the statues of God for the first time. But the entry gates were closed by the Brahmin authorities.
His Role in the Poona Pact
In 1932, British announced the formation of a separate electorate for “Depressed Classes” in the Communal Award. Gandhi feared that it will divide the Hindus and he protested by fasting while in the Yerwada Central Jail of Poona.
On 25 September 1932, the Poona Pact was signed between Ambedkar (representing the depressed classes) and Madan Mohan Malaviya (on behalf of the other Hindus). The depressed class received 148 seats in the legislature, instead of the 71 as allocated in the Communal Award earlier proposed by British PM Ramsay MacDonald.
His Political Career
In 1935, B.R. Ambedkar was appointed Principal of the Government Law College, Bombay; and he held the position for two years.
He also served as the Chairman of Governing body of Ramjas College, University of Delhi.
In 1936, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party, and contested the 1937 Bombay election to the Central Legislative Assembly, winning 11 reserved and 3 general seats respectively.
Ambedkar also served on the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council as minister for labour.
Ambedkar transformed his party as the Scheduled Castes Federation, but it didn’t do well in the 1946 elections for Constituent Assembly of India.
His Contribution in Drafting India’s Constitution
On 15 August 1947, India attained independence, and he was invited to serve as the nation’s first Law Minister.
On 29 August 1947, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, to write India’s new Constitution.
The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability, and outlawing all forms of discrimination.
On 26 November 1949, the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly.
Later Political Career – Post 1950
In 1952, the first General Elections were held and Ambedkar contested from Bombay North, but lost.
In March 1952, he became a member of Rajya Sabha, and continued as member till his death in 1956.
In 1954, Lok Sabha bye-election from Bhandara, he contested but could not win the seat.
Ambedkar’s wife Ramabai died in 1935. In the late 1940’s, Ambedkar’s health deteriorated with diabetes and blood pressure. While he was undergoing treatment in Bombay, he met Dr. Sharada Kabir.
On 15 April 1948, they got married in New Delhi. She changed her name to Savita Ambedkar, and was also called ‘Mai’ or ‘Maisaheb’. On 14 October 1956 at Nagpur, Ambedkar accepted the Buddhist religion along with his wife. Many of his 200,000 supporter who had gathered there, also converted to Buddhism. Later, he wrote a book, The Buddha and His Dhamma.
On 6 December 1956, three days after he completed his book on Buddha; he died peacefully in his sleep in his home in New Delhi. Next day a Buddhist cremation was organised at Dadar Chowpatty beach in Mumbai where about half a million grieving people gathered to bid him adieu.
B.R. Ambedkar was survived by his second wife, and his son Yashwant Ambedkar, known as Bhaiyasaheb. His wife, Savita Ambedkar died on May 29, 2003, at the age of 93 at New Delhi. Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, is also a renowned politician and has been a member of both houses of Parliament.
The house where Ambedkar lived in New Delhi, 26 Alipur Road has now been converted into a memorial. His birthday is celebrated as Ambedkar Jayanti and is declared a public holiday.
In 1990, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Quotes by B.R. Ambedkar
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
“The relationship between husband and wife should be one of closest friends.”
“If I find the constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it.”
“Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.”
“Life should be great rather than long.”
“Humans are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.”
“Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect people.”
“Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle.”
“So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.”
“Constitution is not a mere lawyers document, it is a vehicle of Life, and its spirit is always the spirit of Age.”
“We are Indians, firstly and lastly.”
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah