Dr. BabaSaheb Ambedkar – A multifaceted personality
Eight years ago, on a visit to my village with my family, I spotted a statue of a person right in the centre of the village. He was wearing spectacles and was dressed in a suit. I wondered who he was. I looked down at the inscription on the pedestal of the statue. It read “Dr. B.R. Ambedkar”.
That was the very first time I came across Dr. Babsaheb Ambedkar.
Casteism(and untouchability) has been around for thousands of years. People have tried to rebel but none have succeeded in doing so as successfully as Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar. He did so not through ‘fear’ but by appealing to the inner conscience of people. True, it did take time for it settle in the hearts but, the wait was more than worth the blood-shed had a feud taken place.
History has given us many leaders but only a few have managed to shake the very foundations and be successful. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is definitely one of them.
His page on Wikipedia lists him as an Indian Jurist, political leader, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, a revolutionary and one of the founding fathers of independent India. That’s enough proof to tell you that he is a multi-faceted personality.
He is a combination of the best. He has a will of iron like Sardar Vallabhai Patel(The iron man) combined with the power of pushing people into action like Mahatma Gandhi. He fought for his people and not once did he back down and ask himself why he was doing what he was doing. Many people think serving the society as a burden, not him. He believed that serving the people around him was his responsibility.
Prejudice surprised him. As a child, he didn’t understand why it even existed. How was he different from the others? Why shouldn’t he be treated equally like the others? Why won’t people understand that he was no different from them?
His childhood is filled with memories that showed him, how deep casteism had dug into the Indian hearts. It was etched into their hearts as though someone/something had soldered it there. Right from not being able to drink water because he wasn’t allowed to touch the water-cups to being shunned by the station master because he was an untouchable.
We might read about those incidents and feel sorry for him. But, in reality, these were the incidents that helped realization dawn on him and mature faster. He realized just how cruel the Hindu idealogy of ‘untouchability’ was.
These incidents didn’t deter him. They didn’t trouble him as they would have troubled others. If anything, they just doubled his determination to put an end to this practice.
He was curious and tried asking others “why?” but their answers never seemed to satisfy him.
It was this endless thirst for knowledge that persuaded him to become what he did. If there was one thing that persuaded him in completing his education, it was the hope that at the end, he’d have answers.
His parents played a really important role in his upbringing. Had his father not realized the importance of education, I doubt it if he would have even thought about sending his son, Bhimrao Ramji to school. He even shifted his house to Mumbai on the advice of Bhimrao’s teacher to give him a better education at the Elphinstone High School. He managed to keep his scores and grades high despite the cruel treatment that he was meted out to by his class-mates. In a particular incident, he wasn’t allowed to write on the blackboard because his classmates thought that their lunch-boxes, which were stacked on the other side of the black board would get ‘polluted’.
He was identified by some organizations who were interested in improving the standards of the society. When he passed his matriculation exam, a big party was held to congratulate on his achievement of being the first to pass this exam from his society.
Though Bhimrao Ramji was 17 years then and an educated person, he could not voice his opinions against child marriage. He was married to Ramabai a nine-year old girl from the neighbouring town of Dapoli.
People who take full advantages of the opportunities given to them are the ones who turn out to be most successful. Bhimrao Ramji understood this ‘truth’ of life pretty early in his life and when a chance to go abroad for higher studies came about, he accepted it. This was possible through a scheme of the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad II, which gave a scholarship to some outstanding scholars to study in the United States of America.
This was a very important stage in Bhimrao Ramji’s life. He went to study at the well-known Columbia University, New York. After years of facing unrelented prejudice in India, he welcomed the freedom and equality he experienced in the United States. Though racism wasn’t extinct, the life he led there was refreshing. No one discriminated him. It was as though he had landed in a land of utopia. It was probably from here that Bhimrao Ramji mustered up the courage to fight casteism in India. He envisioned the life he led in the US for every Indian Dalit.
While in the university, he could have done anything. There was no one to tell him to do anything but, he chose to study. Eighteen hours a day. This led him to complete his Ph.D. thesis in just 3 years and he received an M.A in two years.
He then went to the London School of Economics but as fate would have it, his scholarship expired and he had to come back to the state of Baroda.
He was offered a high post in the Civil Services and held a doctorate. These were despicable days. He once again faced the discrimination because of his caste. No one handed him files or papers, even the peon threw them onto this desk. This gives us an idea of how ‘untouchability’ had become a part of everyone’s heart.
He had enough of the treatment he was being given here and decided to quit. He managed to obtain the job of a professor of political economy in the Sydenham college of Commerce and Economics, Bombay. He still had this urging desire in him to continue his higher studies. He went to England in 1920 at his own expenses. In the next three years, he managed to get numerous awards and qualified as a Barrister-at-Law.
He returned to his mother land at the ripe age of 23. He knew however that nothing had changed around him. People didn’t care what his qualifications there. They refused to see the light of the day and continued to treat him as an ‘untouchable’.
It was then that Bhimrao Ramji felt that the time to do something about it had finally come about. Even though his qualifications meant nothing to other people, he was well respected within the Dalit community. He had received the best education any Dalit in those times could get and hence had the potential to be the leader of the Dalit community.
He started voicing his opinions and things that he felt should be reformed. One of them was the separate electoral system for the Dalits and other lower castes. He also favored providing reservations for the Dalit and other minority communities.
Some incidents have shown his true fearlessness. He believed that justice doesn’t come on it’s own, people must try and secure it for themselves.
Even though the legislature allowed everyone to use public water, wells and tanks, dalits were still afraid to use them. One such was the Mahad(Raigad, Maharashtra) municipality tank which had opened four years ago but not one ‘untouchable’ had drunk from it. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar led a peaceful procession to the Chowdar tank and became the first ‘untouchable’ to drink from it. This action provided the necessary courage that other’s needed and they drank from it as well.
He believed in setting an example for others.
He was glorified as a hero by thousands of his followers on his return from Bombay after the separate electoral system had been granted.
However, Mahatma Gandhi opposed it. He believed the Harijans(children of god – Untouchables) and Hindus would never reconcile if this idea went forward. He believed that Hinduism would change and leave the bad practices behind. He began a fast-unto-death.
Only Babasaheb had a say in this matter. At first, he refused Gandhiji’s plea saying that he was doing what was best for his people but, as the matter prolonged and Gadhiji’s health began failing, he visited him. In subsequent visits and numerous talks, Gandhiji had finally managed to convince Babasaheb Ambedkar that Hinduism would change and leave it’s bad practices behind. Instead of separate electorates, more representation was to be given to the depreesed classes.
The period between 1935 and 1950 was his prime-life. He was appointed the Principle of the Government Law college, Bombay.
During the Second World War, he was appointed as the Labour Minister. However, he remained in touch with who he was. He didn’t turn corrupt. He said that he was born poor and his attitude towards people never changed and never would change.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is best known as one of the founding fathers of the constitution.
All his study in law, economics, and politics made him the best man available for this job. He had to make a constitution for the World’s largest democracy. He stood up to the job and did all the research he could on the constitutions of other countries and a deep knowledge of the law. He had to face this burden alone, he alone could do justice to this task. He didn’t back down by the sheer enormity of the task, instead, he faced it. Head on.
He said that “Hinduism has only given us insults, misery, and humiliation.” At a Dalit conference in 1935, he said “We have not been able to secure the barest of human rights….I am born a Hindu. I couldn’t help it, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.”
After attending a Buddhist Conference in Srilanka, a few years after the independence, he announced that all ‘oppressed’ people should embrace Buddhism as the way of life. He also said that he was going to devote the rest of his lie to the revival of Buddhism in India.
For the next 5 years, he carried on a relentless fight against caste discrimination. The battle was half-won when the constitution prohibited the practice of untouchability in India, However, Ambedkar knew that it would take a long-time before it managed to get through the heart of every Indian.
He embraced Buddhism in 1956 at a public ceremony. He became one with nature just 7 weeks later….
That was the end of the life of one of the most charismatic leaders in the History of India.
He was one of those who changed the course of history, moved and shook the world. He showed the path the people should follow and occupied a million hearts. People like him don’t come about often but, when they do, they leave such a lasting effect that persists for ages to come. Few people on Earth have managed to cause a paradigm shift like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Even fewer have managed to do it with his tenacity. He was a true leader.
Men like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar are immortal. They continue to live long after they become one with nature. His memory continues to live in the Dalits who till this date, respect him with all their heart. The coming generations will continue to respect him and cherish his memory.