Ambedkar: The Maker of Modern India

By Athar Ali Shah

Caste is the nightmare of our Indian society. From the time unknown, it has worsened the conditions of million human beings. It is basically dependent on strict obedience to the Brahminical philosophy of purity and contamination. In the long span of period, a number of energetic leaders came to the surface of the society, who devoted their whole assets of life to wipe out the caste system from this land.

EV Ram Swami Naicker, Jyotibha Phule, Guruchand Thakur, Sri Narayana Guru and Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj are few instrumental names who strived against painful suppression of lower cast people in the name of chathurvarna dharma. With the constant reformative activities of these reformers and their movements, the very intangible pillars that constituted the deep-rooted Hindu culture were shaken. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a shrewd reformer who belonged to Mahar community, an untouchable caste, led the most persistent and successful movement against caste oppression and suppression.

Before having some reflection on a heroic character of Baba Sahab Ambedkar in the history of India generally and history of a downtrodden community of Dalits particularly, we will have a clear picture of the community’s plight.

The term Dalit is a term used in Sanskrit for both noun and adjective as well. It has been derived from a word “Dal” which means crack, open, and split and so on. It was its usage as noun and when it is used as adjective it gives meaning of burst, split, broken or torn asunder, downtrodden, scattered, crushed and destroyed.

Dalits were untouchables; as the place of their living differed their names also differed, therefore they had different names in different parts of India. They were called outcastes, untouchables, pariah, panchmas and so on. Their social calamities were severe and numerous, their touch, shadow and even voice were deemed by the caste Hindus to be polluting. So they had to clear the way at the approach of a caste Hindu. There were restrictions for them to use certain animals, eat certain food stuffs, use particular paths to walk, to use some metals as their ornaments, obliged to wear some certain dress code to be identified and distinguished easily, and caste Hindus forced them to occupy the dirty, dingy and unhygienic outskirts of the villages in order to stay there and not mingle with them. The untouchables lived in dark, the males of them wore a dress code consisted of a turban, a staff in the hand, a rough blanket on the shoulders and a piece of loin cloth, while their women wore rough sarees reaching hardly to the knees.

These untouchables were denied to use public wells, and were condemned to drink filthy water, wherever they find. Their children were not allowed to be admitted in a school where the children of caste Hindus were learning and there were no schools where only the children of Dalits were proposed to learn, in this scenario the learning of a Dalit was the act of chewing iron. Though they were considered the worshippers of same gods and observe of same festivals of Hindu religion, the temples of their religion were closed to them. Barbers and washer men refused to provide service for them. Caste Hindus who warmheartedly threw the sugar for the ants and nurtured the other domestic animals and pets, and welcomed with full respect the persons from other religions to their houses, they refused to give a drop of water to the untouchables or to show them an iota of piety and sympathy.

Their miseries did not end up at this. As they were illiterate, ill treated and untouchables for ages, all public services including police and military were closed to them. Naturally, they followed hereditary occupations. Some of them plied trades of a lower and degrading order such as these of street – sleepers, scavengers and shoemakers. Some skinned carcasses, tanned hides and skins, worked in bamboos and cane and mowed grass.

Thus being deprived of social, religious and civic rights, they had no choice of bettering their conditions; and so these untouchable Hindus lived the life of a bygone and dark age, dragging on their miserable existence in insufficient accommodation, insanity, surroundings and social segregation.

Amidst this pathetic condition of Dalit community, a child was born among them who had destined to be the first educated leader of this community in the years to come. This was Ambedker who hailed from a region of India which has presented to this country so many gifts in the form of freedom fighters, men like Tilak,Karve and Peranjpye.

To understand the outstanding personality we have to have a cursory look at the social context from which it emerged. The democratic awakening of the backward classes, increasing awareness about the fundamental rights of being a human, was somehow the part of the general national democratic awakening during British rule in India. Further the anti humanitarian activities of upper classes forced the lower classes to bring change in the country.

British government introduced railways, modern industries and recruited the employees for these sectors from middle, upper and lower classes, the newly developed class consciousness supplanting class consciousness, and the establishments of the restaurants were the factors helped to execute caste inequalities and caste discriminations. The spread of education all over the country irrespectively castes and races accelerated the process of the betterment of the untouchables. It brought a new group of intellectuals who struggled to emancipate the conditions of untouchables. Ambedker was forefront of them,   who wanted the social reforms not as philanthropy, but as a right of Dalit community and tried his best throughout of his life to produce in them the will of independence from the shackles of unjust Hindu caste system and always wanted to create a spirit of self respect in them. He envisioned shaping a new man in a new society. His way of social reform was just a revolt against the prevalent social slavery. He wanted the untouchables to stand on their own legs in this modern India which was no longer governed by the laws of Manu.

It was undeniably the noblest mission of Ambedker’s life that designed to the accumulation of the nation’s strength, wealth, health, admiration and civilization by relieving these dumb millions who crawled in the dust with hunger and thirst in their eyes and corroded in the hovels and dunghills. Was this not the noble mission to rejuvenate the gaping Hinduism, to lighten its future, to save it from eclipse and to wipe off the strain that had spoiled the pages of its history for the last twenty five hundred years? Ambedker gave the clarion call to the untouchable and at the same time sounded the warning to the indifferent, coldhearted, caste ridden Hindus.

No any factor can play a vital role in molding a man into a great personality of the history as much as education. This factor transformed this very lean, neglected and backward child into the great leader of millions of Indians,

In his five, BR Ambedker started his journey of learning and continued it till the last breath, however being an untouchable Mahar boy, he suffered countless calamities as a student, he was forced to sit in a corner aside, not allowed to play games and cricket in order to not mingle with caste children. As the Sanskrit was the only medium of reading the sacred texts of Hindu religion, he was prohibited to learn it, because the untouchables were not considered as religious, they had no right to be religious at any cost, instead  of Sanskrit he had been compelled to learn Persian language in which he had no an iota of interest.

The teachers were not ready to touch the notebooks of the untouchable students; some of them even not throw the questions over them during the class, not ask these fellows to recite the poems, thinking they will be polluted by their touch and voice.

In 1907, when this untouchable boy passed the matriculation the whole community summoned to celebrate the occasion as it was the first event in the history of India that a boy belonged to India’s most backward community broke the track record, for this community to pass the entrance examination was the matter of glory. His determined mind barred him not to continue the education, as he passed BA through English and Persian language from Elphinstone college of Mumbai. He continued his studies further with a great degree of courage to tackle all the teasing, torturing attitudes of self respected people of the country; he obtained MA degree at Colombia University. Ambedker left Colombia University and joined London school of economics and political service, unfortunately he returned India, before completion of M.SC (Econ), and this return was necessitated by the termination of the scholarship offered by Maharaja of Baroda.

He was appointed as finance minister to Maharaja of Baroda, there was none to receive him, no hotel, no hostel accepted him, he was treated by his staff and peons as a leper, peons flung flies and hurdled papers at his desk, drinking water was unavailable for him at his office. This mortifying atmosphere drove him out. He wrote to Maharaja informing the behaviors of the people with him. Maharaja did not pay attention to his grievances. Now Ambedker became depressed and came to know that his personal attachment cannot useful to lure Maharaja and to soften the prejudice of caste Hindus. Tired with the nonsense attitudes of the mankind same to him in body structure; he sat under a tree and burst into tears, as tears flowed from his eyes dogs and cats.

Tackling a bundle of hurdles, at last he rejoined London school where he completed his study. Spending eighteen hours of a day in study, this industrious student submitted his thesis for PhD entitled National dividend for India: a historical and analytical study. Later it was published in the form of book, and proved as very useful to the members of the Indian legislature at the time of the Budget Session.

Ambedker spearheaded his efforts to avail education for the lower classes in cheaper expenditure. To him the equality meant equal right of education for upper  as well as lower classes, he tried to uplift the downtrodden lower classes to the pinnacle of the success. Three great personalities of the history had left enormous impact on his mind, the first was Kabir and the second was Buddha and the third was Jotibai Phule, he was overwhelmed by Bhakti cult of Kabir, got inspiration by Phule’s life to strive and strive for anti Brahmanism and uproot of their artificial social system, and to provide education to all Indians irrespectively of castes and races, and Buddha’s teachings became the source of mental and metaphysical satisfaction and a way leading to the emancipation of the conditions of untouchable by resorting to the way of mass conversion.

He was a man thirsty of education, example for the activists. He analyzed Hindu social system intellectually before starting the struggle against the long lasting disorder social track. Reading his history gives us the idea that this man had personal thirst for knowledge that stayed with him until the last breaths, naturally predisposed him for such a role.

Ambedker is considered first untouchable leader of India. God had blessed him with a extraordinary mind and an iron will, he harnessed all his energy for a large project and obstacles of his way could not him from stepping ahead and paving for him the path of the success.

The education he received in America enlarged his thinking style. He experienced there a new atmosphere of equality and respect for all irrespective of castes and religions.  Against the pathetic conditions of his untouchable community, his deliberate exposure to the western values and ethnicities imprinted a deep impact on the mind of Ambedker which was replete with his own experiences from his childhood onwards, for instance when he was a little boy once he was drinking water from a public tap when it was discovered that he was a untouchable Mahar boy, he was severely and mercilessly beaten on this account. He ridiculed the idea of worshipping past as the only source of supplying the ideals to the present. He was discomfort and unhappy with of Hinduism, because it always cherished wrong ideals and lived with wrong life style. Dr Ambedker’s revolutionary thoughts utterly rejected the prevalent tradition of education for centuries, he never taught the members of his community to be the servants of the upper caste Hindus. He always spearheaded his excessive attempts to impart the modern education of liberalism to his fellow beings.

Ambedker is one of the revolutionary sons of the modern India, his great contribution as the principal architect of the Indian constitution is widely acclaimed. While preparing the Indian constitution he carefully went through the constitutions of America, Canada, Australia and many other nations.  In the constituent assembly he had used the many quotations of American constitutionalists like professor Dicey, Walter Beghot, John Adam and Walter Bazzot.

Amabedker did not borrow anything from any thinker, because the one, who borrows things from others, cannot produce his own.

Instead he was a man of independent thinking, hears from all and does his own. He read many works of westerners intensively and laid down theories which had the applicability to the Indian society.

There was a splendid amalgamation of western thoughts and his Indian thoughts. Just like Plato had been overwhelmed by the influence of the Socrates, Gandhi was influenced by the thoughts of Thoreau, Tolasky and Ruskin but nor Plato neither Gandhi had borrows from their inspirers. After the amalgamations of the thoughts of their inspirers they had produced their own set of thoughts. Ambedker has appreciated at various places the thoughts of Mill in connection of the ideas of the liberty, minority consideration and the dangerous consequences of hero worshipping.

The America and the French revolutions which took place in the last decades of the eighteenth century had left a great impact on the minds of the people all over the world. These revolutions have freed the men and women of their lands from the shackles of the injustice and the slavery. Ambedker was greatly influenced by the declaration of independence drafted by Jefferson during the period of the revolution. It was all about the declaration of independence for the slaves of America. Naturally, it was confirmed on the part of Amabedker whose mission also was to declare the freedom of his fellow friends, the untouchables, from the forceful grip of the Hindu traditional system.

Although many western theorists, educationalists and great thinkers had left their impact on Ambedker, he never let his own thoughts to be overshadowed by them. This all happened because of his love for Indian great treatise of wisdom and simplicity. He studied these great personalities, grasped their thoughts and found the solutions for the problems faceted by the untouchables of India.

However, he was influenced not only by the western thinkers but by the events happened in European countries, by the pattern of the politicians there and the civic sense of the common people. Ambedker in his taste, dress code and habits was totally europeanized, these facts are indicative that he found these things worth following. Ambedker liked English language more than his own native language once he was asked in this regards that why he does not write in Marathi? his answer was simple he said if I will try to write in Marathi it will be not a easy task for me and however if I summoned to write in Marathi  I will think in English then write in Marathi this is because he had studied the western philosophy in English.

To summarize this long essay into few words we can say that Dr. Ambedkar had jingle and multifaceted persona in different spheres of his life. Besides so many difficulties, obstacles hindrances and calamities in his childhood, adolescent stages and even in the period of profession, he always maintained self-control and right attitude. He never ever intended to generate any unwanted situation in his lengthy struggle at any cost. These peculiarities are indicatives to his balanced personality. He was a man of courage, self-confidence, will power and fearlessness (towards evil and inhuman). “He had rare capability to resolve the most complex questions to simple terms. He was a man of strong likes and dislikes: His mind was basically logical with will power of penetrating analysis and a gift of clever thinking. Once he read about the great personalities of the world, now he is read by the great personalities of the world. Through the true usage of the knowledge he made a revolution in this country. Now this man is unseen to our eyes, felt in the hearts of all common and popular of the country.

Also Read:  Religious Harmony, A way to the development

(Author is a Research Scholar, Darul Huda Islamic University, Kerala India)

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