By Mehak Banga, Jyotsna Yadav, Rashmi Yadav, Tina, Himanshi Godara, Nitya Kapoor*
Whom can we think of when we hear about: The Dalit Buddhist movement; campaign against discrimination and untouchability; the Drafting Committee; Ministry of Law and Justice; chief architect of the Constitution of India, and Bharat Ratna recipient?
None other than the once in a blue moon man, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, often called Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and also known as Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was an Indian jurist, a phenomenal economist, a strong headed politician and a true social reformer, who inspired the Dalit Buddhist Movement and with full zeal campaigned against the evils of discrimination with primary intrigue from untouchability.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and served in office from 29th August 1947 till 24th January 1950. He was independent India’s first Minister of Law and Justice and with pride was considered as the chief architect of the constitution of India.
To understand any person’s reality or life journey, one needs to be familiar with his roots. So dating back to the past: Dr BR Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the town and military cantonment of Mhow now officially known as Dr Ambedkar Nagar, that lies in the Central Provinces of Madhya Pradesh. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambadawe in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. Ambedkar was born into a Mahar which is a dalit caste, and who were then treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. 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. 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”. He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him.So this makes us familiar not just with his background but also his early life experiences. And as a must mention, in his childhood years, his Devrukhe Brahmin teacher, Krishnaji Keshav Ambedkar, changed his surname from ‘Ambadawekar’ to his own surname ‘Ambedkar’ in school records, and that is how he came to be known as an Ambedkar.
Travelling in time, and moving from his early childhood experiences to his education, he went to Elphinstone High school and was only untouchable who was enrolled there then. He then passed the matriculation examination and entered Elphinstone College of University of Bombay, again becoming the first one from his Mahar caste to do so. He then at the age of 22, that is in the year 1913, went to Columbia University in New York City, under Baroda State Scholarship for his postgraduate studies. He graduated from Columbia in 1915 and he got himself enrolled at London school of economics and worked on his doctorate thesis. Then again in 1923, he completed a DSc in economics from University of London.
Talking about the literary works of the Bharat Ratna awardee Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, then his multilingualism deserves a special mention. He had the knowledge of nine languages namely Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, English, French, German, Marathi, Persian and Gujarati. The two of the most selling books of Ambedkar are the “Problems of the Rupee” and “The Annihilation of Caste”.
Ambedkar: Concept of Social Justice
Social justice is an application of the concept of distributive justice to the wealth, assets, privileges and advantages that accumulate within a society or state. Ambedkar’s idea of social justice is the product of social injustice that was faced by the depressed, the underprivileged and the untouchables, or to sum up the victim of the Varna system of the Hindu social order.
Ambedkar is one of the proponents of social justice in modern India. According to Ambedkar, the term “social justice” is based upon equality, liberty and fraternity and emotional integration of all human beings. The aim of social justice is to remove all kinds of inequalities based upon caste, race, sex, power, position, and wealth and to bring equal distribution of the social, political and economical resources of the community. He was fully aware of the aspirations of the different sections of the society and their conflicting interests. He tried to achieve social justice and social democracy in terms of one man-one value. He treated social justice as a true basis for patriotism and nationalism. His view on social justice was to remove man-made inequalities of all shades through law, morality and public conscience, he stood for justice for a sustainable society.
Origin of Caste System and Untouchability
Ambedkar believed that the caste system in the Hindu society arose because of Brahmanical hypocrisy of establishing the authority of Vedas and Shastras. According to him Manu provided the social order Chaturvarnya as sacred institution with a degree of divinity and infallibility. In the opinion of Ambedkar the attempt it was nothing short of criminal.
According to him, Brahmin law-givers made the life of Shudras miserable, denied very human right to them and practically turned them into slaves. The Shudras were denied Upanayana or the wearing of scared thread, the study of the Vedas And the kindling of sacred fire; being impure, to acquire knowledge and to give Shudra would be sin and crime; was not allowed to acquire property or hold office under the state. They were treated so shabbily by the caste – Hindus that even their mere touch or shadow was considered as a source of pollution. They were reduced to the status of bonded labourers and denied the basic human rights and many tyrannies and social oppressions were inflicted on them for centuries.
Call for Liberation
Ambedkar regarded their liberation from this humiliation as a matter of deep concern. He dealt a heavy blow to the idea of hereditary status on which the feudal Indian society was based. An individual, he said, had the equal right to follow whatever vocation he liked. He should be treated on the whole at par with other fellow citizens before law. This reasoning inspired the socially submerged classes to rise in revolt and smash the chains of slavery imposed on them by caste Hindus.
He also called upon the untouchables to participate actively in power politics of the country and capture the power to fight out injustice and release the downtrodden people from the bondage. He wanted to gain power because he thought that political
Power is the key to all social progress. But his major emphasis was that before these political reforms, social and religious reformation of society must took place. He himself led the untouchables in their fight for their rights.
Ambedkar was so much concerned with social justice equality for all the people can be proved by the fact that he even resigned from the post of Law Minister in the cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru in September 1951, on the issue of non-acceptance of Hindu Code Bill.
In short in the context of social justice, Ambedkar concluded that: The untouchables must possess pride and self-respect and for that disassociate themselves from traditional bonds of untouchable status. They must become professionally qualified and transform themselves to fit into the modern civilization. They must be represented by their own representatives at all levels of government. Ambedkar was convinced that leadership of the untouchables should emerge from the untouchables themselves. Government must take responsibility for their welfare by creating special rights in the field of education and occupational opportunities. The untouchables should have recourse to legal channels for the protection of their rights; and all forms of caste must be abolished. He believed that caste has been created by man and could be abolished by him as well. This would amount not only to the abolition of traditional discrimination between high and low castes but make their caste system itself redundant. Functions of each member of society should be redefined on a rational basis, corresponding to each individual’s qualifications and training. His abandoning of the Hindu religion and conversion to Buddhism in 1956 was the clear indication of his opposition to the social system which imposed the hegemony of few privileged people on a considerably large section of society. He felt that untouchables in independent India had acquired political equality but failed to acquire social equality. He regarded conversion of Buddhism as welcome relief from casteism of Hinduism.
Ambedkar on women
‘I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved’ — Ambedkar.
The concept of social justice that Ambedkar envisioned was incomplete without emancipation of women who were neglected sections of the society. For centuries, they had been denied full justice, social, economic and political and largely they were ignored as the weaker sex. The self-respect for women and struggle for women emancipation occupied a pride place in his life. He criticised the traditional and conservative values which were responsible for the decline of the status and dignity of women in India. His arguments on the Maternity Benefit Bill and on birth control were quite relevant to recognise the dignity of women. He supported that right to divorce must be given to women. Besides, a daughter was permitted to be adopted. The social reformers prior to Ambedkar focused only on issues such as widow remarriage, child marriage, etc. which aimed at reforming the Hindu family. They attacked the ideological basis of social institutions such as the caste system and untouchability. The climax of this struggle occurring towards the end of his life was a total rejection by him of Hinduism. His life-long battle reflects his world view, philosophy and ideology which we call “Ambedkarism” today.
Ambedkar’s criticism of Gandhi
Babasaheb Ambedkar was one of the most important architects of the Indian Constitution. He laid down the roots of an independent India. Being a staunch critic of untouchability and supporter of social justice Babasaheb Ambedkar fought against all odds to make his point clear in front of the world. He wasn’t afraid of the so-called strong people in the society, he tried to expose the hypocrisy of leaders who were trying to establish an unjust society. Babasaheb Ambedkar did not shy away from even exposing Mahatma Gandhi whom we call as the father of our nation. Babasaheb was a very staunch critic of congress and its leaders. He was of the view that Gandhi was the reason behind the wrong done to Dalits. Babasaheb also wrote a book named- ‘What Congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchable’ where he showed how Congress and Gandhi were responsible for the condition of Dalits in the Hindu society.
He supported the decision of reservations for untouchables and even walked out of the assembly when Patel and other members opposed this recommendation. Babasaheb was a man of vision and was far ahead of his contemporary leaders and educationists. For Ambedkar, getting rid of the caste system, giving equal rights to untouchables and social justice were some of the issues that needed to be resolved if one wants a democratic society. For him all these issues were responsible for a country like India to lag behind in equality, social justice and development etc.
In a 1955 BBC interview, Ambedkar said, “Gandhi was never a Mahatma; I refuse to call him a Mahatma.” After thoroughly interrogating the social and economic foundations of Gandhian philosophy, Ambedkar diagnosed Gandhism as a dangerous doctrine. For Gandhi, an ideal society was based on a flawless caste system. Till 1922, Gandhi was an ardent proponent of the caste system. He saw great value in caste and openly advocated its continuance.
For Gandhi the longevity of Hindu society was only possible if there was a perfect caste system. And a perfect caste system was the seed of swaraj (freedom); a unique power of organisation, a means of providing primary education and raising a defence force; a means of self-restraint; the natural order of society; and most important of all, the eternal principle of hereditary occupation for maintaining societal order.
Around 1925, Gandhi declared that varna rather than caste was his social ideal.
He wanted to merge the smaller castes and generate the age old varna system. The old varna system was a social order which divided people based on their varna. The four divisions were that of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudra whose duties were teaching, fighting, trade and serving the upper caste respectively. Ambedkar observed that there was no difference between the age-old varna system and Gandhi’s idea of an ideal society. He revealed the fact that the Shudras were still the serving class. Gandhi asked for integration of Ati-Shudras (present-day Dalits) to be integrated into the Shudra Varna.
Gandhi’s idea of economy and Ambedkar’s modern thinking was like chalk and cheese.
- Gandhi was against the use of machines and was of the view that machines will leave the people with no livelihood, he was also against modernity and viewed it as a threat to Indian culture and tradition, in contrast, Ambedkar argued that that modern machinery frees masses and enables humans to have leisure. And leisure, in turn, is the primary precondition for culture and civilisation to thrive, which make human life worthy of its existence.
- The Gandhian idea of ‘trusteeship’, where rich people will be trustees of the poor and will work for their welfare was heavily criticised by the great economist Ambedkar. He questioned the idea of the rich protecting the poor.
Ambedkar was sure about the fact that Gandhi’s ideas of an ideal society only fulfills the greed of rich and wealthy people. Ambedkar, through his knowledge and the experience of being a dalit busted Gandhi’s idea of an ideal society and concluded that his ideas were not suitable for a country whose aim is to be a democratic state.
Political Journey of Bhimrao Ambedkar
As mentioned earlier that Dr Ambedkar belonged to Mahar community and the discriminations that he faced, and therefore, because of everything he faced and experienced, he emerged on the Indian socio-political area in early 1920s and remained in the head of all social, economic, political and religious efforts for upliftment of the lowest layer of the Indian society called untouchables. He was a boy humiliated by his high-caste school fellows. He entered the Baroda Public Service at the request of ruler (who then was known as Gaekwar) of Baroda, but again he was ill-treated by his high-caste colleagues, he turned to legal practice and to teaching. He soon established his leadership among Dalits, founded several journals on their behalf, and succeeded in obtaining special representation for them in the legislative councils of the government. On 31 January 1920, Ambedkar started a weekly newspaper “Mooknayak”. On 20 July1924, Babasaheb founded the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha, which was devoted to spreading education and culture amongst the downtrodden. In 1927, he started his campaign to fight for the rights of Untouchables. Instead of violence, he followed the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and raised his voice for the equal rights of Dalit people to access drinking water sources and enter the temples. The temple entry movement launched by Dr Ambedkar in 1930 at Kalaram temple, Nasik is another landmark in the struggle for human rights and social justice.
Ambedkar attended all the 3 Round Table Conferences, but due to his increased popularity as a fighter for Untouchables’ rights, he was invited to London to attend the Second Round Table Conference in 1932. Gandhi ji protested Communal Award of a separate electorate by fasting while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail of Poona. This resulted in the Poona Pact wherein Gandhi ji ended his fast and Babasaheb dropped his demand for a separate electorate. Instead, a certain number of seats were reserved specifically for the ‘Depressed Class’. Later, these classes were designated as Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Classes.
But what irked Ambedkar as much as the oppression experienced by Dalits, was the way in which politicians used Dalits for their own ends. The Congress party, the main vehicle for India’s freedom movement, was tinged with Hindu supremacy as far as Ambedkar was concerned. Disdain toward the grievances of the Dalits moved Ambedkar to argue that they should take an independent attitude and form their own political group rather than allow themselves to be used in the struggles for someone else’s gain. Dr Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party in 1936 for both economic and political purposes. While the then prevailing trade unions fought for the rights of workers, they were indifferent to the rights of untouchable workers as human beings. The new political party took up their cause. Consequently, as the Labour Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to 1946, Dr Ambedkar was instrumental in bringing about several labour reforms including establishment of employment exchanges, generally laying the foundations of industrial relations in Independent India. The party participated in the 1937 Central Legislative Assembly Elections and won 14 seats. Ambedkar tabled a Bill in the Bombay Legislative Assembly seeking to abolish the Khoti system and giving the tenants the status of landowners under the Land Revenue Code. Ambedkar’s attempts bore fruit. The khoti system was abolished and the farmers got their rights. His positive struggle against the then prevailing land tenure system called Khoti liberated a vast majority of the rural poor from an extreme form of economic exploitation. Later, he transformed this into the All India Scheduled Caste Federation. But the party couldn’t achieve desired results in 1946.
Dr Ambedkar knew the importance of politics and good leaders. Not many people know about it but Ambedkar started a school for politics training. The training school was established in July 1956 in Mumbai and was named as the ‘Training School for Entrance to Politics’. The first batch of the school consisted of 15 students. Unfortunately, its first batch turned out to be the last batch as the school was closed after Dr Ambedkar’s death in 1956. The school was functional only for eight months and Ambedkar was also going to address the trainees on oratory skills on December 10, 1956, but he passed away four days before that.
In February 1948, Ambedkar presented the draft of the constitution and it was implemented on 26 January 1949. Ambedkar became the law minister when the government was formed in India. In 1951, Dr Ambedkar resigned from the post of law minister. Ambedkar contested in the Bombay (North Central – reserved seat) 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 an appointed 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.
Role of Dr. Ambedkar in making of the Indian Constitution
In the constituent Assembly Dr. Ambedkar played a very significant role with a lofty responsibility of drafting the Constitution. He examined the functioning of a democratic government on the basis of stability and responsibility.However, the Draft Constitution recommended that the parliamentary executive must have more responsibility to stability. As regards the character of the Constitution, it was Federal in form and Unitary in Spirit”. It established a dual polity with the Union at the
Centre and the States at the periphery, each endowed with sovereign powers to be exercised in the field assigned to them respectively by the Constitution.
Concept Of Federalism
His concept of federalism meant that the State was a federation in normalcy, but unitary in emergency.Centre Was Made StrongIn the Draft Constitution Dr. Ambedkar offered more powers to the Centre and made it strong. Some members of the constituent assembly criticized him on the ground that since Dr. Ambedkar
postulated – the rights and values of each individual and the development of each province and each–village, it was contradictory of his part to make the Centre strong.
Justifying the provisions for a strong Central authority Dr. Ambedkar said that he made the centre strong not only to ‘save minorities from the misrule of majority’ but also “for it is only the centre which can work for a common end and for the general interests of the country as a whole.”
Equality Of Opportunity
In the Draft Constitution the “Fundamental Rights”, prescribed were justifiable in the Court of Law. Of all the rights, Dr. Ambedkar observed “Equality of Opportunity” as the most important one. Regarding the constitutional remedies, he characterizes Article 32 as the very soul of the Constitution and the very heart of it.
Directive Principles Of State PolicyThe Directive Principles of State Policy contained the positive obligations of the state towards its citizens. The Directives were meant to ensure social and economic democracy which was secured by the provisions of fundamental rights in a written Constitution.Dr. Ambedkar said: “What are called Directive Principles is simply another name for Instruments of instructions to the legislature and the executive…as to how they should exercise their power.”
Constitution: A Dynamic Document
The Constitution is a dynamic document it should grow with the growth of the nation and should suit the changing needs and circumstance. So, Dr. Ambedkar urged the necessity of amendment.
In the Draft Constitution Dr. Ambedkar prescribed single citizenship, a single judiciary and uniformity in fundamental Laws to integrate Indian society which was not only divided into caste and class, but also into regions, religions, languages, traditions and cultures. Therefore, a strong Centre was indispensable to maintain territorial integrity and administrative discipline. Ambedkar sought to achieve their objectives through the constitution of India by incorporating in it the following principles.
- Making the Indian constitution workable, flexible enough and strong enough to hold the country together both in peace and war time.
- Providing special safeguards to the minorities and certain classeswho are socially and educationally backward.
- Incorporating the principle of one man, one value, and one man, one vote. Thus, the constitution of India accepted one individual and net on village as a unit.
- Incorporating exceptions and qualifications to the FRs while advocating, preventive detention and energy way powers of the president of India.
- Abolishing untouchability and forced labour to achieve the ideal of “one man, one value, and one man, one vote’, and placing all people equal before the law; securing equal protection of laws for every citizens also freedom of profession and equality of opportunity.
- Incorporating the right to constitutional remedies for making the right real.
The contribution of Dr. Ambedkar to Indian democracy is not to be forgotten. As chairman of the Constitutional Committee he gave a shape to our country of a complete Sovereign, Democratic Republic based on adult franchise. Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s name will be written in golden letters in the history of India as the creator of social justice. Thus, Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution to the Indian Constitution is undoubtedly of the highest order. Indeed he deserved to be called the “father or the Chief Architect” of the Indian Constitution.
Relevance of Ambedkar today
The impact that Dr Ambedkar had in defining today’s India is unparalleled. His contributions in laying the foundations of a transformed India with a rejuvenated socio-economic structure are laudable. However various events in recent times such as Jat Agitations, Reservation Demands for Dalit Christians poses certain questions before us. All this makes us question if the efforts that Dr. Ambedkar made for the upliftment of large section of society have borne fruit? Are Dalit issues settled to some extent? Dr Ambedkar was one of the first economists to talk about inclusive growth. He professed an economic growth and development, wherein all different stratas of society would be participating in the nation building. Dr Ambedkar thought of national development, and a development model inclusive of Dalits and other weaker sections.
In 1928, he developed the theory of economic development in which he emphasized on agriculture, industrialization, modernization. During his office as a minister, Equality, was his major priority. Therefore, he focused on labor and other weaker sections of the society. Even today, when we face issues where different groups demand reservation, his views become really important. Dr Ambedkar argued that Indian society isn’t based on inequality alone, but it’s a unique inequality, wherein there are different groups which have hierarchy of rights and privileges. Therefore, in order to deal with the problem of inequality, his views have to be taken into consideration seriously today. There have been reservations for SCs and STs, but similar demands from Dalit Muslims and other classes such as Jats and Patels have been on a rise recently. They are demanding space because of their perception of being unable to participate in the development process. Dr. Ambedkar had a vision of economic development in which he saw Indian traditions, village structure, caste system, inequalities as obstacles which needed to be removed in order to prepare India for transformation into a modern society. He talked about annihilation of caste system.
Indian society was and somewhere still is analogical to a multistorey building, where a person born on one floor would die on the same floor due to lack of mobility. In the constitution debates he argued that political equality should lead to social and economic equality as well as the political equality should become meaningless. This is relevant even today. He proposed that we should uplift people and not just change nomenclatures. He emerged from the underbelly of society to champion of people, to chair a constituent assembly drafting committee. His life experiences reinforced his belief that Education played a key role in his life, so it’s a very important tool where Dalits are concerned.
When it comes to underprivileged classes, their education, health, livelihood, overall economic upliftment, living with dignity are the important areas of concern. While the issues have been settled to a certain extent, what has not been happening remains very large. On comparing education and health indicators of SCs and STs on one hand, and the rest of the population on the other hand, the gap between the two has narrowed to some extent. a vision was given that in ten years this gap will be eliminated, but we are far away from that vision. In the field of education, because of Dr Ambedkar’s teachings, a lot of youth is coming forward and making a place for himself in different stratas of life. As mentioned earlier, Ambedkar opened a school of politics at the time when India was under the shackles of the British raj but that could not survive its fate when he died and we see today that India has very few of such institutions. An example of the same is the MIT- school of government. Ambedkar has somewhere inspired the idea of establishing such an institution which specializes in Politics as a broad subject of study.
SC sub plan was launched to keep a certain amount of money specially for SCs and STs at least in proportion to their population. But these haven’t been implemented. A lot needs to be done. Untouchability has vanished to a great extent. But it’s not eliminated completely. In spite of legal protections, the number of atrocities still remain. And the proportion of cases coming to courts, has become negligibly small. Therefore, in living a life of dignity, a lot of ground needs to be covered, than what we claim to have. There is a fight for resources, which is the root cause of difference between the upper caste and lower caste. It’s a social reality, and it can’t be ignored. How many political provisions we have and how much have we implemented, that’s where the gap lies. It needs to be narrowed down. The problem is not the law, but its implementation especially at the grass root level. At all levels, there is a lack of political will to ensure that the laws are applied on the ground. Untouchability, bonded labor, poverty, manual scavenging, segregation, landlessness and violence are the everyday reality, In spite of the laws and special measures. Dalit women face double discrimination in all spheres of life. A majority of them experience physical or sexual violence from dominant castes, often used intentionally to sustain the oppression of the Dalit community.
In contemporary India, we have moved a long way from irrational and rampant caste based discrimination. Instances like Dalits excelling in UPSC exams, making their way into ISRO, Army, becoming the President of the country and even entrepreneurship depicts a positive image. However, there is still a need to look at Dr Ambedkar’s policies to deal with the situation more efficiently.
In the end we would like to conclude with a very famous quote from Dr. Ambedkar:
“However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, It will prove to be good.”
- A.Ranjithkumar, Ambedkar’s notion of social justice, international Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, Volume 2, Issue 12, December-2011
- Dr Mohan Singh Saggu, B.R.Ambedkar’s vision on social justice in India, ijim.in,2018 Volume 2, Page no 190-194.
*The authors recently completed their BA (Hons) Political Science from Maitreyi College, University of Delhi and are aspiring researchers on the subject of discrimination, social justice and life of Dr BA Ambedkar