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Editorial Articles


Issue no: 02, 8-14 April 2023

Babasaheb, the Voice of the Marginalised

Remembering Dr. Ambedkar on his Birth Anniversary

Sudhir Hilsayan

Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar was a trailblazer for his role in altering the contours of the Indian society and modern history. He was a legal expert, anthropologist, economic expert, political & social scientist, polyglot orator, editor, journalist and reformer who played a key role in the country's freedom movement and the drafting of its Constitution. His repudiation of age-old hegemonic social practices earned him the title of Champion of the 'depressed and marginalised sects' including women.

Early Life: Dr. Ambedkar was born into a Mahar family on April 14, 1891, which was considered to be of a lower caste in those days. His father Ramji Maloji Sakpal shaped his mind and personality. His mother Bhimabai Murbadkar died in 1896 due to physical ailments. In 1900, Ambedkar was admitted to a Government School in Satara, where his teacher Krishnaji Keshav Ambedkar altered his family name from Ambavadekar to Ambedkar. In 1904, his entire family migrated to Mumbai to reside in Dabak Chawl and he joined the Elphinstone High School. In 1908, he enrolled himself in the Elphinstone College, Mumbai. Ambedkar performed exceptionally well in his academics, but the segregation and discrimination he encountered troubled him most. He was among the first people belonging to the 'depressed and backward descent' to enrol in a college in India. Ambedkar married Ramabai, a nine-year-old Dapoli girl in 1908. Ramabai gave him moral support while he pursued a higher education. In 1911, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad-III of Baroda sanctioned a scholarship of Rs 25 per month for his graduation. In 1912, Dr Ambedkar received his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree on Economics and Political Science from Elphinstone College, Bombay University. On January 15, 1913, Dr. Ambedkar was appointed as Probationer in Military Department's Accountant General Office, Baroda. He became Financial Secretary of the Baroda State with salary of Rs 75 per month. Due to humiliation faced at work Ambedkar left the job. On April 04, 1913, Ambedkar received a special financial assistance to pursue higher education of 11.5 Pounds per month for two years. On July 20, 1913, he got admitted to Columbia University, New York, USA. When he authored his essay on "Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Origin, and Development", he was only 24 (1917), and was mentored by veteran anthro-pologist Alexander Golden-weiser. He argued against various academically inclined authors who had previously written on caste in this ground-breaking work. Dr. Ambedkar was upset by the discrimination in his life in 1917 after returning to his job as a military secretary for the Baroda State. He left his job, and took up to work as a private tutor and accountant and even launched his own consulting firm. In 1918, he was appointed a Professor in Sydenham College, Mumbai with a salary of Rs 450 per month. However, on 15th March 1920, he resigned. On July 05, 1920, he again returned to London to complete his advance studies (partly with the finanacial aid from Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj of Kolhapur). In 1920, he received the degree of Barrister-at-Law from Gray's Inn, London. In 1921, he was awarded M.Sc. degree by the London University for his work titled, "Provincial Decentralisation of Imperial Finance in British India". From 1922 to 23, he spent some time reading Economics at the University of Bonn in Germany. Later, in 1923, he received a D.Sc. from the London School of Economics, on his seminal work titled "The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and its Solution". In the same year, Dr. Ambedkar published another book with the title "The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India: A Study in the Provincial Decentralisation of Imperial Finance" (with a preface from Prof. Seligman) as his doctoral thesis at Columbia. In 1927, he was formally awarded the Ph.D. degree by Columbia University. In 1935, Dr. Ambedkar was appointed Principal of the Government Law College, Bombay, a position he held for two years. Apart from this, due to his role as the Chief Architect of the Indian Constitution, he received an L.L.D (Honoris Causa) in 1952 from Columbia University, New York along with a D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) in 1953 from Osmania University, Hyderabad. Both of these degrees echoed his real-time achievements, and leadership in compiling the Constitution of India in 2 years, 18 months, and 17 days by studying and reviewing the Constitutions of around 60 countries. Dr. Ambedkar is also credited with establishing Milind College (1950) in Aurangabad and Siddhartha College (1946) in Bombay. Dr. Ambedkar claimed that, "the aim of the human society must be to enable every person to lead a life of culture which means the cultivation of the mind as distinguished from the satisfaction of mere physical wants".

Mahasankalp/Great Resolution: On September 23, 1917, after the harrowing experience of forceful defenestration at Parsi inn, Dr. Ambedkar became resolute to alter the way depressed and backward sects were treated in India. Mahasankalp Diwas or Great Resolution Day is now observed annually as a tribute to Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's contributions to Indian society and his struggle for the rights of the marginalised. This day is also an opportunity to reflect on his vision of creating an equal and just society, and to pledge to carry forward his legacy by working towards promoting equality, justice, and human rights for all. This year it would be the 105 years of Mahasankalp (Great Resolution) taken by Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar while sitting under a tree at Kamathi Baug or Sayaji Baug, which is located in Baroda, Gujarat. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, on behalf of the Government of India, is striving to spread the visions of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar through various schemes in India and in abroad.

Role in Nation Building: Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar is considered as an economist extraordinaire. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Act (which was passed on March 06, 1934) was envisioned according to the guiding principle put forward by Dr. Ambedkar to the Hilton Young Commission in his seminal work titled "The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution" (1923). In terms of labour reforms, as a member of labour in the viceroy's council from 1942 to 1946, Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar played a key role in carrying out numerous labour reforms which was the need of the hour. During the seventh session of the Indian Labour Conference, held in New Delhi in November, 1942, he reduced the working day from 12 to 8 hours. The Dearness Allowance, Leave Benefits, Employee Insurance, Medical Leave, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Minimum Wages, and Periodic Revision of the Scale of Pay are just a few of the measures he also enacted for workers. Moreover, Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar promoted labour unions and started employment exchanges on a pan-Indian scale. Apart from this, Damodar Valley Project, the Bhakhra Nangal Dam Project, the Son River Valley Project, and the Hirakund Dam Project were all started by Dr. Ambedkar, who is also credited with being the inventor of multipurpose river valley projects in India. In order to expedite the construction of irrigation projects at the Central and State levels, he also formed the Central Water Commission. Dr. Ambedkar also formed the Central Technical Power Board and Central Electricity Authority to investigate the feasibility of and to establish hydel and thermal power stations in order to jump-start the growth of India's power sector. He also underlined the requirement for an Indian grid system (which the country still uses) and for qualified electrical engineers. Post Independence, Dr. Ambedkar was allocated the Law Ministry in 1947 but he resigned from this post as a sign of protest when the comprehensive Hindu Code Bill was dropped by the then Indian Parliament. The bill's two main goals were to end caste and social inequality and to raise the social standing of Hindu women by granting them their due rights. He observed that, "I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved". For his contributions in nationbuilding, he was conferred with the Bharat Ratna award on March 31, 1990, posthumously which was received by his wife Dr. Savita Ambedkar.

Embracing Buddhism In 1956, Dr. Ambedkar had publicly converted to Buddhism, along with followers, in a movement known as Navayana Buddhism which was held in Nagpur. Bhante Chandramani, a Buddhist monk initiated Dr. Ambedkar into Buddhism, and called him "the modern Buddha of this age". Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism because he saw it as a way of life to escape the graded hierarchy faced by the depressed and backward sects due to prevalent hegemonic practices. In the current context, Navayana, also known as NeoBuddhism, is a term which was coined by Dr. Ambedkar. This was a means to describe his reinterpretation of Buddhism. Dr. Ambedkar saw Buddhism as a means of breaking free from the caste system and achieving social equality. He argued that the original teachings of the Buddha were distorted over time by the caste system, and therefore he proposed a new, more liberal and democratic interpretation of Buddhism that rejected the caste system and emphasised equality and justice. Dr. Ambedkar believed that the teachings of the Gautam Buddha offered a path to liberation and equality and that the caste system and other forms of discrimination had corrupted the original teachings of Buddhism in India. He also saw Buddhism as a way to unite the depressed and backward community and promote social justice. Dr. Ambedkar wrote a book called "The Buddha and His Dhamma" (1957), in which he interpreted the teachings of the Buddha in the context of modern India and argued for their relevance to social and political issues.

Dr. Ambedkar Foundation: Dr. Ambedkar Foundation (DAF), functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, was established on 24th March 1992 via the recommendation of the Centenary Celebration Committee of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar headed by the then Prime Minister of India to carry out the programmes and activities for furthering of Dr. Ambedkar's ideology and spread his message of social justice to the masses, not only in the country but also abroad

(The author is an Editor at Dr. Ambedkar Foundation (DAF), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India. He can be reached at sudhir.hilsayan@gmail.com) Views expressed are personal.