Dr. B. R. Ambedkar – A Short Biography with Images
Born in a class considered low and outcast. Dr. Ambedkar fought untiringly for the downtrodden. The boy who suffered bitter humiliation became the first Minister for Law in free India and shaped the country’s Constitution. A determined fighter, a deep scholar, human to the tips of his fingers.
Two brothers who were studying at school went to see their father. They alighted at the Masur Railway Station, engaged a cart and continued their journey. They went some distance; then the cart driver came to know that they belonged to the Mahar caste. He at once stopped the cart and raised one end of it; the poor boys tumbled down and fell on the ground. He shouted at them and scolded them as he pleased.
It was afternoon. The boys were thirsty. They begged for water but no one would give them a drop. Hours passed. Still, no one gave them water. They were not allowed even to go near tanks and wells.
The younger brother’s name was Bhimrao Ambedkar. A few days passed. One day Bhim felt unbearable thirst. He drank water from a well.
Someone noticed it. A few people gathered and beat the boy mercilessly.
The boy had to get his hair cut. Even a barber who used to cut the hair of a buffalo would not touch the boy’s hair.
On another day, the boy was going to school.
It was raining heavily. He took shelter near the wall of a house. The lady of the house saw this.
She was very angry. She pushed him into the rain. The boy fell into the muddy water. All his books fell into the water too.
In this way, again and again, the young boy was humiliated. His mind became a volcano of bitter feelings. Why did the people ill-treat the boy in this way?
The boy had not committed any sin. But he was born in the Mahar caste. It was the belief of many Hindu that this caste is low and those born in this caste should not be touched by people of the other castes. Like the people of the Mahar caste, people of many other castes are called untouchables and have suffered injustice for hundreds of years.
Efforts to end Injustice
There was no caste system during the Vedic age. There was no untouchability. When and how did this system creep into the Hindu society? We do not know for certain. Did no one try to wipe out this injustice?
Buddha admitted many untouchables to his religion. Ramanujacharya, Basaveshwara, Chakradhara, Ramananda, Kabir, Chaitanya, Ekanath, Tukaram, Raja Rammohan Roy, and other great men preached that no one is high and no one is low among God’s children. Mahatma Phule and his wife dedicated their lives to the education of the untouchables. Sayyaji Rao Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda, established a school for the untouchables as early as in 1883.
In this way, many thinkers and leaders of the Hindu Society have been trying for hundreds of years to wipe out untouchability.
Both before and after India became free, many great men have sacrificed their lives for the truth and the principles they believed in. Ambedkar was one of them.
Ideas of high and low had crept into the Hindu Society; Ambedkar suffered because of this; he also fought hard against such differences; later he became the first Law Minister in free India.
The credit for making law and creating the necessary atmosphere to wipe out untouchability goes to Ambedkar.
There is a village called Ambavade in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Bhimrao was the son of Ramji Sakpal of that village. He was the fourteenth child of his parents.
Ramji followed the teachings of saint Kabir.
(Kabir taught that devotion to God, Bhakti, alone is important) Ramji did not believe in differences of caste, creed, and religion. It was his belief that all who performed Hari Bhajan (prayer) belonged to God.
Ambedkar was born on 14th April 1891. His full name was Bhimrao Ambavadekar. A story is narrated about Ambedkar’s birth. Ramji Sakpal’s uncle was a saint. Once he told Ramji, “You will have a son. He will become world-famous” and blessed him. Bhimrao Ambavadekar was born after this. His mother died when he was just five years old.
The Sting of Untouchability
When he was still at school, he felt the sting of untouchability. He could not sit with the other students in the class. He had to drink water only when others poured it for him, and even then he had to cover his mouth with one hand.
The boy could not understand why.
These insults and pain they gave himself a very deep impression on the young boy’s mind.
The boy felt untouchability was a black mark on Hindu Dharma; he made up his mind to remove it.
Fighting was in his very blood. The Mahars had the soldier’s blood in them. Father Sakpal too had served in the army.
Even from his boyhood, Ambedkar had a mind of steel. Once it was raining very heavily. The boy Ambedkar said the would go to school. His friends said, “These are empty words, how can you go in this heavy rain?” In the downpour, the boy did go to school and that, too, without an umbrella!
Ambavadekar Becomes Ambedkar
When Bhimrao was a student at the High school, a Brahmin teacher admired Bhimrao’s lively mind. His family name was Ambedkar. The teacher liked Bhimrao so much that he changed his name from Ambavadekar to Ambedkar.
When Bhimrao’s father married for the second time the boy’s mind underwent a change. He decided that he should be independent and the only way to achieve this was to study well.
Why not go to Bombay, thought the boy. He needed money for the railway fare; didn’t he? For three days he tried to steal his aunt’s purse, and at last, got it. He found just half an anna (three paise) in it!
By next morning the boy was ashamed of and disgusted with his deed. He decided to struggle and stand on his own legs, whatever be the difficulties.
Young Bhim was very fond of books and was never tired of them. And his father even borrowed money and satisfied the boy’s thirst for books.
At the High School
He joined the Elphinstone High School in Bombay. The family found a house in a locality where the poorest of the poor lived. There was just one room for the entire family. This was at once the kitchen, the bedroom, and the study.
There was no space enough even for two to sleep. Bhim would go to bed early. Near his head, there was a grinding stone and at his feet a goat.
The father would be awake till two in the night.
He would then lie down. The boy would get up, light the kerosene lamp without a chimney and begin to study.
In high school he received a wound he could never forget in his life. It was Bhim’s desire to learn Sanskrit. Other Hindus of the School could learn Sanskrit. But it was ordered that he should not learn Sanskrit because he belonged to the Mahar cast! People born in other countries, people not Hindus at all were allowed to read the Vedas. No one objected. This injustice made him all the more bitter.
But Ambedkar did learn Sanskrit in later life.
The End Of One Stage
Ambedkar passed in Matriculation examination. He was then seventeen years old. The same year his marriage with Ramabai was celebrated.
Their marriage took place in a shed in Byculla Market.
Ambedkar passed his Intermediate Examination from Elphistone College. He obtained his B.A. degree in 1912.
Ambedkar’s father died in 1913. Ambedkar was then working under the Maharaja of Baroda.
In the first chapter, his life’s struggle was over. The second chapter had begun.
The Maharaja of Baroda sent Bhimrao Ambedkar to America.
In America, Ambedkar had the experience of a new life. There was no untouchability. In this atmosphere, he quoted in a letter he wrote to his friend a few lines from Shakespeare, a great dramatist; they mean, In the life of man now and again there is a swilling wave; if a man uses this opportunity, it will carry him towards his fortune. Ambedkar wrote very learned and theories obtained his M.A and Ph.D. degrees.
He returned to India on the 21st of August 1917. There is one thing to note in the years of Ambedkar’s education. He studied English and Persian languages in India. In America, he studied Political Science, Ethics, Anthropology, Social Science and Economics. In this way, he studied many subjects. He obtained his doctorate. Even at that time, Ambedkar had a revolutionary mind.
He had made an unshakable resolution to wipe out the injustice done to the people of the low cast; in this way, he wanted to bring about a revolution in the Hindu Society. But and this is important before becoming a revolutionary he increased his knowledge. Because of this, his thoughts were not mere froth. They had a solid foundation of information. This enabled him to pay a very effective part in framing the Constitution of India.
Injustice and Humiliation
Again Ambedkar was given a high post in Baroda. He had a doctorate, he held a high office but from the moment he set foot in India, he felt the sting of untouchability. No one came to welcome him when he reached Baroda. Worse still, even the servants in the office would not hand over the files to him; they threw the files at him. No one in the office would give him water to drink. He could not get a house to live in. Even though he complained to the Maharaja, it was useless. Even non-Hindus did not treat him properly.
The fire of wrath against the Hindus blazed in Ambedkar’s mind. He returned to Bombay in a few days.
In 1920, Ambedkar left for London for higher studies. The British Museum in London has a very good library. It used to open at eight in the morning, and every day Ambedkar would be there by eight. He read till five o clock. In London, he came to know about a student called Asnodkar. He belonged to a rich family. He was not interested in studies. Ambedkar said to him, “Your people may have made plenty of money. But think, you have born a man, what are you going to achieve?
The Goddess of Learning will not come to you whenever you want. We must get her blessings when she comes.”
In 1922 Ambedkar became a barrister and the next year he came back to India.
Mook Nayak (The Leader of the Dumb)
To proclaim and to bring to light the humiliations suffered by the untouchables and to fight for equal rights, a periodical called Mook Nayak was started. Ambedkar gave his support to it. He wrote in the first issue of this paper, “The Hindu Society is like a tower of many stories. It has neither a ladder nor a door to go out. A Society which believes the God exists even in inanimate things, also says that people who are a part of that very society should not be touched!
By this time there were signs that the Hindu Society was beginning to understand that untouchability is unjust. Sahu Maharaj of Kolhapur made arrangements for the free education of the untouchables and secured jobs for many of them.
In 1924, Veer Savarkar, a great fighter for freedom, was released from the Andaman prison; he also began to fight against untouchability.
Mahatma Gandhi also was taking practical steps to wipe out untouchability.
Ambedkar had personal experience of the humiliation and the injustice of untouchability. He did not want the pity of others for the untouchables. In his view, others could not uplift the untouchables. Justice cannot be granted by others. Those who suffer because of injustice should themselves secure justice.
Ambedkar felt that the untouchables had lost their individuality for centuries; it was impossible to wake up such people through speeches and slogans. He decided to revolt against the blind beliefs of the Hindus. The Chowdar Tank Satyagraha was a result of this decision.
The Bombay Legislature had already passed a bill. According to this, the government had decided that all could use public tanks and wells.
On the basis of this decision, the Mahad Municipality in Colaba district had resolved that Chowdar Tank could be used even by the untouchables. But they had not given effect to it.
Ambedkar resolved to raise the flag of equality by using the water of this tank.
On the appointed day Ambedkar touched the water first. Then, many of his followers drank the water. Till then the untouchables had not been allowed to go near the tank. Ambedkar proved that water created by God belonged to all.
But after a couple of hours, someone spread the rumor that Ambedkar’s men would enter even the Veereshwara Temple. The other Hindus attacked Ambedkar and his men. In this clash, Ambedkar was injured.
This incident opened a new chapter in the social life of India. Many sensible Hindus condemned these actions. They began to say that there is nothing wrong with the untouchables taking water from wells and tanks.
Should Not Hindu, Who Seek Justice, Give Justice?
The untouchables are Hindus. Therefore, the doors of temples should be open to them. If the Hindus can touch the Christians and the Muslims, why should they not touch the people who are themselves Hindus and who worship the Hindu Gods? This was Ambedkar’s argument. He gave a call that people who practice and support untouchability should be punished.
Some people argued that the untouchables were not yet fit for equality. The Hindus say that they want independence and democracy. How can a people who have a temple upon all the liberties of a backward group aspire to democracy?
Ambedkar argued like this and thundered that these people had no right to speak of justice and democracy.
In 1927 there was a big conference. It resolved that there should be no caste differences in the Hindu Dharma and that people of all castes should be allowed to work as priests in temples.
The Chowdar Tank dispute went to the court.
The court decided that tanks are public property.
The untouchables who have been subjected to humiliation for hundreds of years should find justice. For this purpose, Ambedkar indicated a few clear steps. No section of the Hindus should be kept out of temples. There should be more representatives of the untouchables in the legislatures. These representatives should not be nominated by the government. They should be elected by the people. The government should employ the untouchables in larger numbers in the army and the police department.
A Fearless, Firm Mind
Those who suffer in the Hindu Society should get justice. This was Ambedkar’s rock-like decision. He was prepared to oppose anybody to reach his goal.
The British Government invited several Indian leaders to discuss the problems of India. The conferences were held in London; they were called the Round Table Conference. Gandhiji also took part in them. At the Round Table Conference, Ambedkar spoke angrily against the government. He said that the backward sections did not enjoy equality with other sections, even under the British Government; the British had just followed the ways of the other Hindus.
This was a time when Gandhiji was very popular in India. Millions of people followed his foot-steps with devotion. Ambedkar openly opposed Gandhiji’s views on how justice should be secured for the untouchables. He supported the views which seemed right to him.
Ambedkar secured for the Harijans (the untouchables) separate electorates at the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. As a result, the Harijans could elect their representatives separately.
The Mahatmas Fast
Gandhiji felt that separate electorates would only separate the Harijans from the Hindus. The very thought that the Hindu would be divided pained him much. He started a fast against separate electorates. He said he would fast unto death if necessary. There was anxiety in the country because of Gandhiji’s fast. Many Congress leaders went to Ambedkar to save Gandhiji.
“Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs have obtained the right of separate electorates. Gandhiji did not fast to oppose them. Why should Gandhiji fast to oppose Harijans getting separate electorates?” questioned Ambedkar. “If you are unwilling to give the untouchables separate electorates, what other solution is there? It is essential to save Gandhiji. But just to save him I am not prepared to give up the interests of the backward classes,” he declared. He said, reserve a larger number of seats for the untouchables than the British have given; then I will give up the claim for separate electorates.”
At last there was an agreement between the leaders who had gone for a compromise with Ambedkar. It was decided that ten percent of the seats in the legislatures should be reserved for the Harijans. Ambedkar gave up the claim for separate electorates. Gandhiji ended his fast.
This famous treaty is called the Poona Treaty. It was another important step in the struggle of backward people.
We need Dharma but Casteism should go
Untouchability is a branch of casteism; until casteism is wiped out, untouchability will not go. This was Ambedkar’s firm belief. He argued that to wipe out casteism, political power was very necessary. He believed that Dharma was essential for men.
But he revolted against those who, in the name of Dharma, treated some of their fellow men like animals. Many people criticized him.
Some newspapers also wrote against him. There were many occasions when his life was in danger.
Also, Ambedkar knew from his own experience that even a bright man could not come up in life because of casteism. People give his caste importance and make him powerless. Ambedkar fought casteism. He was disgusted to find how difficult it was to secure justice and to find how many men were still narrow-minded. He even said that it would be better to give up the Hindu Dharma itself.
Muslim and Christian priests and missionaries learned about this declaration; they tried very hard to attract Ambedkar. They met and assured him that the untouchables who changed their religion would be given equal status in their society.
The Modern Manu
Today Ambedkar’s name is remembered in the history of India also because of the role he played in framing the Constitution of India. India became free from foreign rule on the 15th of August, 1947. Ambedkar became the first Minister of Law in independent India. With one voice all India welcomed his appointment. He took oath as a minister.
The country, no doubt, got freedom. It was to be decided how a country with crores of people should be ruled. How should elections take place? What are the rights of the people? How are laws to be made? How should the governments work? How should courts of law function?
Such important matters had to be decided, and laws had to be made. The Constitution answers all such questions and lays down rules.
It was a very difficult task to prepare the Constitution. A study of the Constitutions of many countries, a deep knowledge of the law, knowledge of the history of India and of the Indian society, the patience and wisdom to weigh different opinions, all these were essential.
On 29th August 1947, a committee was constituted to frame the Constitution of India.
Ambedkar was chosen as its Chairman.
Shri T. T. Krishnamachari, a member of the committee, himself has said:
“Though a committee of seven members was formed, one of them resigned. Another was nominated in his place. Another member died.
No one took his place. One of the members was very busy with government work. Owing to ill health two other members were far away from Delhi. As a result, Dr. Ambedkar alone had to carry the entire burden of preparing the draft of the Constitution. The work he has done is admirable”.
As the Minister for Law, Dr. Ambedkar placed the draft Constitution before the Constituent Assembly on 4th November 1948.
He gave satisfactory answers to many questions about the Constitution.
The part of the Constitution wiping out untouchability was approved on 29th November 1948. Ambedkar’s struggle bore fruit in his own lifetime.
A new chapter began in social life
We should remember the words of Ambedkar in answer to the debate on the Indian Constitution:
“India has lost its freedom only owing to the treason of her own people. Raja Dahir of Sindh was defeated by Mahammad Bin Khasim. The only reason for this defeat was that the generals of the Sindh army took bribes from Jahsims men and did not fight for the king. It was Raja Jaichand of India who invited Mohammad Ghori to fight against Prithviraj. When Shivaji was fighting for the freedom of the Hindus, other Maratha leaders and Rajputs were fighting for the Mughals.
When the Sikhs were fighting against the British, their leaders did nothing. Such things should not happen again; therefore, everyone must resolve to fight to the last drop of his blood, to defend the freedom of India”
The Constituent Assembly accepted the draft India Constitution on 26th November 1949.
Dr. Ambedkar was born in the Mahar Cast, was pushed away as an untouchable, his every touch was supposed to make the water unclear; by his genius, by his learning and by his unbending will, he rose high and shaped the Constitution of India, and came to be called the Modern Manu. (Manu was a great Law-Giver of ancient India)
Ambedkar’s first wife, Ramabai (in the above photo), had died. He married a girl belonging to Saraswatha Brahmin Dr. Sharda Kabir (in the below photo); she was working in the nursing home where he was treated for some time.
In 1951, Dr.Ambedkar resigned from his office as minister.
After resignation as a Minister In 1952, he was defeated by a Congress candidate in the election for the Lok Sabha. The entire country was shocked by his defeat.
A few days later he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
Whenever he felt that the government had not done justice to the Harijans, he criticized it sharply. In 1953 the government brought a bill before the parliament. According to this bill, those who practiced untouchability would be punished; imprisonment, the imposition of fines, dismissal from employment and withdrawal of license to follow a profession – these were the forms of punishment.
To the Path of the Buddha
Soon after the framing of the Constitution, Ambedkar’s mind turned towards Buddha. His mind was thirsting for peace and justice. He attended the Buddhist Conference in Ceylon (Sree Lanka) in 1950.
The bitterness of his mind was ever on the increase. In spite of it, he was not willing to embrace the Christian or the Muslim faith. Finally, Ambedkar decided to become a Buddhist. This was a great decision in his life, a decision taken after deep thought.
Why did he choose Buddhism?
Ambedkar told his friend Dattopant Thengadi: “ I am in the evening of my life. There is an onslaught of ideas on our people from different countries from the four corners of the world. In this flood, our people may be confused.
There are strong attempts to separate the people struggling hard, from the main life-stream of this country and to attract them towards other countries. This tendency is fast growing. Even some of my colleagues who are disgusted with untouchability, poverty, and inequality are ready to be washed away by this flood. What about the others? They should not move away from the mainstream of the nation’s life, and I must show them the way. At the same time, we have to make some changes in the economic and political life. That is why I have decided to follow Buddhism.”
There is a way of life that has come down as a steady stream in India for thousands of years.
Buddhism is not opposed to it. The backward people must rebel against the injustice done to them; they must wipe it out. But untouchability is a problem of the Hindu Society. To solve this, a path that does not harm the culture and the history of Bharat must be followed. This is the basis of his resolution.
He did not believe in the theory that Aryans came from a different land and that they defeated the Dasyus (the Dravidians) of this country. There is no foundation for this in the Vedas. The word Arya appears some 33 or 34 times in the Vedas.
The word has been used as an adjective meaning the noble or the elder. It is said in the Mahabharata that Dasyus can be found in all Varnas (castes) and Ashramas (stage of life). In this way, Ambedkar used to support this view.
On 14th October 1956 at a big function in Nagpur, Ambedkar, with his wife, embraced Buddhism.
A Life of Fulfilment
Ambedkar’s entire life was dedicated to one purpose. Securing justice and equality to those people who are called untouchables. He had said many times “God will spare me till I complete my work for the untouchables.” He lived to see untouchability declared a crime. The untouchables had secured political equality. They should enjoy social equality also this feeling was beginning to grow in the country.
In as early as 1951, Ambedkar’s health had begun to fail. Yet he continued to work saying that he would not succumb to ill health when there was work to be done.
On 16th December 1956, he breathed his last.
Thousands of people watched the funeral procession and expressed their sorrow and admiration. Five hundred thousand people witnessed the last rites.
Ambedkar was very fond of books. He had set apart a part of his house Rajagriha for them.
When he suffered from eye trouble, he was particularly unhappy that he could not read.
Whenever he went abroad, he used to buy books. Once he bought more than two thousand books in New York. Untouchables, Buddha and His Gospel, Revolution, and Counter-Revolution in India, Buddha and Karl Marx and The Riddle of Hinduism, these are some of the books he wrote.
His books show how widely he had read, how he had gathered information, and how he could think for himself.
Anger, Perseverance, Constructive Work and Kindness
It appears that anger and perseverance are the two most important qualities that stand out in Ambedkar’s life. This is true from one point of view. The Hindus had called some people untouchables and treated them very unjustly.
This went on for hundreds of years. Ambedkar struggled hard to strengthen his people; he knew that those who are weak are bound to suffer. Once he said, “Goats are sacrificed, not lions”. He attacked like lightening those who practiced injustice. He opposed the British, he opposed the Hindus that were victims of the past, he opposed even Gandhiji, he opposed the Government of free India; he brought justice to the untouchables. At times his own life was in danger, but he gave no thought to it.
It is important to notice another aspect of his Himalayan personality. He was very learned. At school, he was not allowed to study Sanskrit, but later in life, he did learn Sanskrit. As the president of the peoples Education Society, he opened a number of schools and colleges; as a result, people of backward classes could get an education.
He spent some days in Aurangabad. He saw that there were no plants or trees in the bit compound of the college. He said that anyone who wanted to meet him should plant a sapling; otherwise, he (Ambedkar) would not meet them.
In a few days, more than a hundred saplings appeared inside the compound. Once in front of a hostel, he saw shrubs. He himself began to clean the ground with a pick-ax and shovel.
The root of his anger was kindness. It is no wonder that in the end, he turned to Buddha, the ocean of compassion. His heart melted in pity when he saw those who, born as men, lived worse than animals, without the respect and the justice every man should receive. That is why he opposed untouchability. He felt that men need Dharma. “Food alone is not enough. Man has a mind, which also requires food. Dharma gives man hope and makes him active” he said. There was an old man among his followers like in the below image. Once he went to Ambedkar. He said he had made a vow to God and he begged for Ambedkar’s permission to carry out the vow. Ambedkar said with a smile, “Who told you that I have no faith in God?
Go, do as you wish.” Once an old lady knocked at his door early in the morning. Weeping, she said, “My husband is very sick. I tried for 12 hours to admit him to the hospital. They said that there was no room in the hospital.” Ambedkar himself went with her and admitted her husband to the hospital.
Once, when Dr. Ambedkar resigned as Principal, a boy came to him crying. He was a Brahmin boy. He was very poor. He had a scholarship for two years. He was doubtful whether he would get it during the last year of his stay. Ambedkar was grieved at his story. He comforted him. He made him sit with him for food. Then he gave him fifty rupees. He patted him on his back and said: “if you are in trouble again, come and tell me.”
When Ambedkar himself was in poor health, he heard that his gardener was not well. He took another man with him and, using a stick for support, went to see the gardener. “Who will look after my wife, if I should die?” this thought troubled the gardener. Ambedkar comforted him. He said “Do not cry, everyone has to die one day or the other. I too have to die one day.
Be brave. I will send you medicine. You will be all right.” He sent the medicine. The very next day Ambedkar died in his sleep.
A Lion Among Men
Ambedkar was born in a caste which was considered as the lowest of the low. People said that it was a sin if they offered him water to drink and that if he sat in a cart it would become unclean.
But this very man framed the Constitution for the country. His entire life was one of the struggles.
And his personal life was too miserable; he had lost his first wife and sons. But even though he did not lose his courage to face it. It is no wonder that everyone called him Babasaheb, out of love and admiration. Bhimrao Ambedkar was the lion-hearted man who fought for equality, justice and humanity.