Dr. B.R. AMBEDKAR
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar held a prominent position among the twentieth-century leaders of India. He was widely read in history, culture and religion. He realized that the distortion of religion and misinterpretation of history and culture did more harm to Indian social life than foreign invasions and domination for centuries. Ambedkar took upon himself the task of fighting for religious, social and economic equality in the Indian society.
Early Life and Contemporary Conditions
Born on 14th April 1891, Ambedkar was the last child of his parents, Ramji and Bhimabai. His father and grandfather served in the army and were of well-to-do family. But the stigma of their being members of Mahar community continued to influence their position in the caste-ridden society of Maharashtra. It is believed that Mahars were the original inhabitants of Maharashtra. The term Maharashtra was coined on the basis of Mahar Rashtra. However, Mahars were treated as untouchables by the caste Hindus. Very early in life due to his being Mahar, B. R. Ambedkar had a bitter taste of discriminatory treatment. During his early school career, he got to know that birth in a particular community could make all the difference in one’s status in society. He and his brother had to carry gunny bags from their home to sit on in the class. They were denied facilities of drinking water, games and mixing with other children. Even teachers would not check their notebooks for fear of pollution. Thus, sowed the seeds of discontentment about Hindu social system in the life of Ambedkar.
However, he continued his education first at Satara and then st Bombay. In 1912, Ambedkar passed his B.A. examination with the assistance and encouragement from the Maharaja of Baroda in the form of scholarship from the prestigious Elphinstone College with distinction. In 1913, under an agreement to serve the Baroda State for ten years after education he was chosen by the Maharaja of Baroda State for higher studies at the Columbia University of U.S.A. He made full use of this opportunity and obtained M.A. degree in 1915 and Ph. D. in 1916 on his thesis, “National Dividend for India.”
At Baroda and Bombay
In 1917, Ambedkar joined the Baroda State Service under an agreement of the scholarship. He did not get respectable treatment because he belonged to an untouchable community. His subordinates would throw files on his table and would not serve him even drinking water. He complained against unbearable treatment to the Maharaja but no one could able to change the situation. In utter frustration and disgust, he left Baroda for Bombay only after five months. He first started a business and then joined as Professor of Political Economy in Sydenham College, Bombay in 1918. Asa teachers due to his brilliance and command over his subject. However, very often he felt insulted due to the behaviour of high caste colleagues in the college. In 1920 he resigned the job to resume his studies in law and economics in London.
Demand for Economy
In 1918, the first All India Depressed Classes Conference was held at Bombay. In it some social reforms like Lokmanya Tilak raised voice for the uplift of the untouchables. Ambedkar felt that expression of such sympathy for his community within the framework of the existing social structure of Hindu society could not bring about any change in the situation. Therefore, Ambedkar demanded separate electorates and reservation of seats for depressed classes in proportion to their population. In 1919 when the Montford Reforms were being formulated, he emphasized the need of social equality before the demand of Home Rule.
Advanced Studies in England
In September 1920, after a break of about four years, Ambedkar rejoined the London School of Economics and Political Science. He also entered Gray’s Inn to qualify as barrister. The generous Maharaja of Kolhapur Shahu Chhatrapati offered financial help to ambedkar in the resumption of his studies which he accepted gratefully. He devoted all his attention to studies. In 1921, the University of London accepted his thesis “Provincial De-centralisation of Imperial Finance in British India”, for M.Sc. Economics degree. In 1923, he submitted his thesis for D.Sc. (Eco.) on the subject, ‘The Problem of the Rupee-its origin and its solution.’ In the same year he was also called to the Bar. These academic attainments prepared him to face any situation in future life.
Love for Books
During his stay in U.S.A. and England, Ambedkar cultivated a special taste for good books. His thirst for books often made him to sacrifice his daily needs for the sake of buying some books. He built a great collection of books in his personal library in Bombay on subjects like law, philosophy, religion, sociology, economics, politics and political biographies. At the time of the Second Round Table Conference he bought books in London and sent them to India in 32 boxes. Ambedkar distinguished himself in many subjects like history, economics, politics, law, constitution and religion. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya offered to purchase his entire library for two lakh rupees for the Banaras Hindu University.
Influence of Buddha
Ambedkar extensively studied the history of human relationship in the Indian society. He was particularly impressed by the work of Lord Buddha, Kabir and Jyotiba Phooley. He believed that political revolution of the Indian society was preceded by the religious and social revolution of the Buddha who took the stand against the Shastras which preached sacredness of caste system in Hindu society. Buddha taught the noblest doctrine of love for all. According to Ambedkar Buddhism was a great revolution- it started as a religious revolution but developed into social and political revolution. He compared it with French Revolution.1Starting, the history of social reform movement in India Lord Buddha preached non-violence as a way of life. He preached against Chaturvarnya and the view that Sudras and women could not become Sannyasis. Ambedkar was impressed by the Tripitaka statements that ‘real religion lives in the heart of man and not in the shastras.’ About Buddha, Ambedkar said, “No man ever lived so godless yet so godlike”.2 During the medieval period, Kabir launched a campaign against the evils of caste system in the Hindu society, yet Hindus did not follow these social reformers.
Influence Jyotiba Phooley
In the nineteenth century a great crusader of social equality was Mahatma Jyotiba Phooley carried the movement for social equality in Maharashtra and founded Satyashodak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) in 1873. Phooley staged a revolt against caste system which denied ordinary human rights to all the members of Hindu society. Ambedkar praised him as the first man who inspired confidence in the masses. Phooley opened schools for women in 1848 and for untouchables in 1851. The Maharaj of Kolhapur Shahu Chhatrapati called Phooley the ‘Martin Luther of Maharashtra’. His Satyashodak Samaj preached three things:
- God is one and all beings are His children.
- There is no need of middle man between God and man.
- Greatness should not depend on the conditions of birth – what caste man is born in.
Ambedkar under the teachings and inspiration of Mahatma Phooley cherished the ideal ofa society based on equality, liberty and fraternity. As a mark of respect, he dedicated to Phooley his book Who Were Shudras.
Critique of Hindu Society
B.R. Ambedkar studied the Hindu social system objectively and dispassionately. Though Hindu culture is based on high ideals of non-violence, tolerance, love and humanitarian service, the social life suffered by inherent contradictions. The ideals of freedom, equality and justice could not be realised in practical social life. According to Ambedkar the gap between theoretical ideals and consequent subjugation for centuries. The Hindus were never a society as an organized system of individuals with a common purpose. They were always a system of castes with different rights and purposes. According to Ambedkar, “Hindu society as such does not exist. It is a collection of castes, each caste is conscious of its existence. It is not even a federation.1
Against Caste System
A society is always composed of classes, social, economic and intellectual. An individual in a society is always a member of a class. The most unfortunate characteristic of Hindu society was that classes developed into a castes, a parceling into bits of a larger cultural unit. While any civilised society would accept division of labour, Hindu society gave sanction to the division of labourers into watertight compartments. Ambedkar, realized that social stratification of occupations by caste system was a pernicious development. In Hindu society social rules subordinated natural powers and inclinations of individuals.
Denial of Equality
The Hindu social order does not recognise the principle of equality. It was given to believe that men differ from birth. What is important is to what class a man is born. Thus Hindu social order is based on graded inequality and the principle of fixity of occupation, regardless of a person’s ability and quality. Hindu social order denies individual freedom. The responsibility of upholding and maintaining the social system was given to the king. By denying the right of education, resentment, and use of arms, the social and economic status of lower castes was fixed. Hindu social order was declared the sacred Divine order. All possibilities of change, abrogation and criticism were ruled out. As all the classes are mutually exclusive, hence there is no free social intercourse. Hindu social order never recognized the individual as a centre of social purpose. Instead the social life was based on Varna (Class) of which originally there were four. Later on the class of untouchables was added to the four varnas. Man was entitled to rights and privileges due to the class he belonged to. In disregard to individual merit God created all men yet they were not created as equal. The four varnas later on gave birth to innumerable subcastes in each varna or class. Class consciousness and class conflict has been basic in Hindu society. Rigid rules of marriage, eating and social customs prohibited Hindus to grow as a harmonious community.
According to Ambedkar class composition of society is quite based on economic and social consideration is a common feature in all societies of the world. In Hindu social system, it is based on birth with sanction of religion. The religious sanctions of class division made the social situation in Indian more difficult. The religion of Hindus prohibits them from free social life and social interchange. Hindu religion treats some men as untouchables and denies them equal rights in society. No amount of education, social reform movement and constitutional guarantee of equality could bring the caste system to an end. Though Hinduism is a liberal religion in all matters, yet it gave sanction to complete segregation of a class known as untouchables. It amounted to declaring that untouchables were not human beings and not fit for social association.1 Ambedkar lamented that Hindu law givers Manu, Yajnavalkya, Narada etc. framed laws of conduct and social life in a manner to create a permanent division of society. Division was created between touchables and untouchables. A class of people were given only duties with no rights. Under the stigma of untouchability, there were denied human treatment. The higher castes in Hindus society enjoyed all rights and privileges. In the name of code of conduct they were even allowed freedom to maltreat a section of the society called untouchables. As compared to Muslims and Christians, Hindus always presented themselves as a divided house and not as a homogeneous community.
With the growth of caste system among the Hindus, the Hindus religion creased to be a missionary religion. It became a weapon in the hands of orthodox Hindus to persecute the reformers of the society. Ambedkar believed in liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of ideal social system. He said, “There cannot be a more degrading system of social organization than chaturvarnya. It is a system which deadens, paralyses and cripples the people from helpful acitivity.”2 Hinduism is based on the principle of graded inequality. As unprivileged classes did not stand on common footing they could not unite to attack unjust social structure. A kshatriya would not join hands with vaishyas and vaishyas would not join hands with shudras to fight for just social order. According to Ambedkar it was the most unfortunate that religion was a rock on which Hindus built their house in which there was division inot touchables and untouchables and then division of touchables into innumerable subcastes. He differed with Mahatma Gandhi who opposed untouchability without opposing chaturvarnya. According to Ambedkar, Gandhi accepted Chaturvarnyas as the ideal form of society without bothering to know the history of human relationship between the four varnas. The varnas never lived a social life of cooperation and were always animated by mutual animosity.
Origin of Shudras
By his close scrutiny of Hindu scriptures and evolution of Hindu society, Ambedkar discovered that Brahmins did everything to strengthen the caste system for their vested interest. They added new dimensions of perversion to the original division of Hindu society into classes. In Rigveda there is no mention of shudras. It mentions only classes In Rigveda there is no mention of shudras. It mentions only three varnas as Brahmins, kshatriyas and vaishyas. Satapatha Brahmana also does not mention shudra as a separate varna. Ambedkar tried to prove that shudras were one of the Aryan communities and formed a part of the Kshatriyas in the Indo-Aryan society. Brahma Purana mentions shudras as a tribe living above the Vindhyas. There were shudra kings who were invited to participate in the coronation of Yudhishtra. Ambedkar has referred to a story of the Chandogya Upanishad to show that shudras were entitled to the study of Vedas.1 However, there was a continuous feud between Shudra kings and Brahmins in which Brahmins were subjected to many indignities and tyranny. It was quite natural that Brahmins developed hatred towards shudras. Owing to denial of upanayana, shudras, who were kshatriyas, became socially discarded and fell below the rank of vaishyas and thus came to form the fouth varna.2
Change in the Connotation of Shudra
According to Ambedkar, first, there was change of connotation of the word shudra. It lost the name of the particular community or class. It became a general name for a low class people without civilisation, culture, respect and position. Secondly, the meaning of the word shudra further widened with the passage of time and innocent people were subjected to the strict code of Brahmins. The sanskaras recognised by the Aryan society were performed by the Brahmins. These were open to all Aryans and non-Aryans. Due to their hatred for Shudras, Brahmins refused to perform these rites for them. This was the beginning of their social segregation. As all social rights were linked with the performance of sanskaras, shudras were denied all rights in the society and were looked as inferior by three castes. There were penalties for Brahmins performing unauthorized upanayana. As a proof of it Ambedkar gave the instance of Shivaji’s coronation ceremony.3 No Brahmin priest was ready to perform the coronation ceremony until Shivaji’s Rajput connection was established.
Three other Classes
Hindu civilisation produced three other classes besides shudras: The criminal tribes which number more than 20 millions, the Aborginal tribes (adivasis) with 15 millions and the untouchables not less than 50 millions. It is difficult to understand why Hindu produced these classes wit crime as a profession, with stigma of living an uncivilized life forever, and with a life of outcaste and untouchable by others. According to Ambedkar it was class consciousness which brought great degradation to Hindu society. A class of outcastes and untouchables developed apart from four varnas. According to Ambedkar treating a sizable section of population as outcaste and untouchables did not racially differ from the Aryans and Dravidians. The outcaste were given the conditions of life in which their thinking, habits and general conduct could not improve. They forfeited their civic rights and were forced to live a depressed life. Restoration of civic rights to untouchables and giving them equal rights with others was the only way to bring about a social revolution in Hindu society. Ambedkar launched a powerful movement to bring such a revolution.
Atrocities upon Untouchables
Ambedkar said, “Hindu law declared that the untouchable was not a person, Hinduism refused to regard him as a human being fit for comradeship.1 Ambedkar has narrated many instances when a suffering outcaste woman did not get help as she could not be admitted in, an untouchable patient was not treated by a higher caste doctor. The society imposed restrictions even on their eating and wearing clean clothes. Pratap reported a case when they were forced to pay Rs. 200/- as fine for serving halwa to their marriage party in Jodhpur on February 26, 1928.
Movement Against Hindu Social Order
The movement against the established Hindu social order and for the rights of untouchables was started in two stages, the first in the form of petitions and protests, and the second, in the form of direct action to use wells, schools buses, railway etc. In March 1927, in the first conference of untouchables at Bombay, Ambedkar asked them to fight for their rights give up dirty habits and rise to manhood. Earlier Gandhiji had warned the Hindus that with the sin of untouchability Swaraj would not be achieved even in 100 years. This support strengthened the hands of Ambedkar.
Ambedkar believed that caste system and untouchability were parts of some social system founded on some principle. Without destroying caste system untouchability could not be reviewed. Therefore, Ambedkar stressed the necessity of rooting out ideas of highness or lowness on caste basis. He asked his followers to fight against their isolation of civillife without fear. The leaders of the Satyashodak movement of Maharashtra gave full support to Ambedkar in his struggle for the rights of the depressed classes. Through satyagraha he led his followers to assert their right over common drinking water and right of worship in temples. The Maha Tank Satyagraha, the buring of Manu Smriti and the Kala Ram Mandir Satyagraha were some of the movements which attracted national and world attention towards humanitarian struggle of Ambedkar.
Demand of Safeguard
On August 8, 1930, as president of the first session of All India Depressed Classes Association, Ambedkar demanded safeguards for the downtrodden untouchables in the Constitution. He pleaded for their representation in official committees. As member of the State Committee appointed by the Bombay Government in 1930 to find out educational social and economic condition of the depressed classes, Ambedkar recommended scholarships for students of depressed classes, their recruitment in police and army and their greater involvement in social and cultural activities.
Ambedkar was not impressed by the replacement of the word Harijan for Untochables by Gandhiji. He saw with suspicion the formation of Harijan Sevak Sangh by Gandhiji for removal of untouchability as it was entirely managed by caste Hindus and the Sangh works as an organ of the Congress Party. Ambedkar maintained that its main aim was to secure support of the depressed classes. Therefore, Ambedkar formed Samata Sainik Dal (Social Equality Army).
As he earned distinction as an intellectual and a scholar, Ambedkar secured for himself a social and political position of great respect in Maharashtra and in India. He felt that concerted action to secure political and economic rights for people ignored for centuries was necessary to give them a better future. He demanded a separate electorate and reservation of seats for the depressed classes in proportion to their population. In all deliberations on constitutional reforms from 1911 (the Montford Reform) to the Cabinet Mission Scheme of 1946, Ambedkar took active part to assert social and political rights to all sections of the populations. As a member of the Bombay Provincial Committee to work with the Simon Commission in 1927, Ambedkar pleaded that depressed classes be treated as a separate community and given separate electorate. At the Round Table conference in London in 1930 Ambedkar represented the depressed classes alongwith Rao Bahadur Srinivasan. He attacked the British Government for not intiating constitutional measures to improve the lot of untouchables.
Conflict with Gandhiji
In the second session of the Round Table Conference in March 1931, Ambedkar met with stiff opposition from Mahatma Gandhi on the question of political rights for depressed classes. Gandhiji said that he would resist political rights of untouchables with his life. On May 23, 1932 at the All India Untouchability League at Poona, Ambedkar said that he did not want temples or wells or intercaste dinners but government service, food, clothing, education and other opportunities. He succeeded in securing separate electorate for the depressed classes through Communal Award of 1932. However, when Gandhiji protested against the award and started fast unto death all the national leaders cooperated and persuaded Ambedkar to accept joint electorate with the Hindus to save the life of Mahatma. On September 24, 1932 Ambedkar signed the well-known PoonaPAct on behalf of the depressed classes ensuring separate seats for them. The pact was later embodied in the Government of India Act 1935.
Resistance from caste Hindus
Regarding depressed classes, Ambedkar pointed out that as this classification of persons into castes is on the basis of social and economic considerations, it should have nothing to do with religion. Religious segregation of a particular class has harmed Hindu community and forced millions of depressed class to convert to Christianity or Islam. In his attempt to reconstruct Hindu society free from caste system and untouchability Ambedkar met with stiff resistance from the Hindus. In April 1942, he lamented, “when I started on my public career and long thereafter, I considered that for good or for evil we were part of the Hindu society. I thought for long that we could rid the Hindu society of its evils and get the depressed classes incorporated into it on terms of equality. That motive inspired the Mahad Chander Tank Satyagraha and the Nasik Temple Entry Satyagraha. With that object we burnt Manu Smriti and performed mass thread ceremony. Experience has taught me better. I stand today absolutely convinced that for the depressed classes there can be no equality among the Hindus.1
Labour Member of Executive Council
On July 2, 1942, Dr. Ambedkar was included in the Executive Council of the Viceroy. It was a rare recognition on official level. For the first time in the history of this century an untouchable got a place in the highest governing body. He was given the Labour portfolio. As labour member he worked hard to give workers their due rights, and to provide social security to the labour class. In securing reservation of seats for members of the depressed classes and Ambedkar made use of his position in raising the standard of the life of labourers. He worked hard for establishing better relations between labour and management and thus for industrial peace through suitable law.
Gandhi and Ambedkar
Difference on Varna System
Both Gandhi and Ambedkar stood for equality, justice and freedom to all, regardless of caste, creed and sex. Yet one finds serious differences on how such a social order could be established. Mahatma Gandhi’s views about caste system written in Harijan were quite different from those of Ambedkar. Interpreting Hindusim Gandhiji said, “Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know and do not need to know for the satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do know that it is harmful to both spiritual and normal growth. Varna and ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with castes. The law of varna teaches us that we have each one of us earn our bread by following the ancestral calling. It defines not our rights but our duties…. All are good, lawful and absolutely equal in status… It would be wrong and improper to judge the law of varna by its caricature in the lives of men who profess to belong to a varna, whilst they openly commit a breach of its only operative rule. Arrogation of a superior status by and of the varna over another is a denial of the law. There is nothing in the law of varna to warrant a belief in untouchability.” Sensing Ambedkar’s opposition to this interpretation of Hindusim Gandiji further said, “In my opinion the profound mistake that Dr. Ambedkar has made in his address (undelivered speech of Dr. Ambedkar for the 1936 Annual Conference of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal of Lahore) is to pick out the texts of doubtful authenticity and value of state of degraded Hindus who are no fit specimans of the faith they so woefully misrepresent.”
Differences on Movements
In September 1932, under the patronage of Gandhiji an All India Anti-untouchability League was formed which was later on renamed as Harijan Sevak Sangh. Due to its exclusion of leaders of depressed classes on the governing body and due to its programme. Ambedkar was not impressed by that movement of the Congress Party. His suggestion that the League should concentrate on economic, social and educational improvement of depressed classes was ignored. Gandhiji asked him for a message for weekly paper Harijan. In his message Ambedkar wrote, “I cannot give a message. The outcaste as long as there are castes. And nothing can emancipate except the destruction of the caste system.” Thinking on a different wavelength Gandhiji said, “Untouchability is the product not of the caste system, but of the distinction of high and low that has crept into Hinduism and is corroding it.” While Gandhiji wanted Hindu society to put an end to untouchability and revert to the origin system of four varnas, Ambedkar had serious differences with Gandhiji on this matter. Sensing political objectives of the Harijan Sevak Sangh, Ambedkar severed his connect from it. He formed a parallel organization as the Samata Sainik Dal (Social Equality Army).