"Civilization has never been a continuous process. There were states and societies which at one time been civilized. In the course of time something happened which made these societies stagnant and decayed. This could be illustrated by India's history itself. There could be no doubt that of all countries which could boast of ancient civilization is India. When the inhabitants of Europe were living under the barbaric conditions, this country had reached the highest peak of civilization and had parliamentary institutions when people of Europe were mere nomads." - B. R. Ambedkar
Greatness of a great person can be measured by the relation between what one professes and what is the truth, what one professes and how much of it one applies to oneself, and what effect one's words and deeds have on the society at large. In order to enhance human wisdom it is imperative that we keep on assessing the greatness of the great men of the past- not with intent to idolize, glamorize or demean them, but to unravel the hidden truths, if any, and to gauge the long term effects of that person's deeds on society. This historical wisdom shows the path of progress to the new generations and gives them opportunity to choose their ideals. This analytical wisdom is also necessary to prevent the stagnation and decay of a society- as stated above by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar about the ancient Indian civilization. Baba Sahab had his mahanirvan on December 6, 1956, and today after 43 years of his passing away, it is high time we attempt an assessment of the effect of thoughts and deeds of one of the greatest sons of the country.
The latter half of the 19th century can be indisputably credited with giving birth to some of the greatest sons to mother India, who rose and shone like shining stars during the 20th century in the otherwise dark skies of the country. During this period the resurgence of feelings of patriotism, nationalism and societal justice and efforts to translate those feelings into action was unique and unparalleled. Baba Sahab Bhimrao Ambedkar was one of the brightest stars among them and despite having been born in the most under-privileged circumstances, he grew brighter and brighter with age and illuminated the minds of millions with truth- even if harsh and unpalatable.
He was a multi-faceted personality and due to his sharp intellect, clarity of vision, integrity of thought and unadulterated courage to speak the truth he excelled in all fields that he chose to tread in. Justice K. Ramaswamy had aptly summarized his persona in his article titled 'B. R. Ambedkar: A Multidimensional Personality' in the following words,
"To put in a nutshell, Ambedkar is a prolific writer, a renowned economist, an assiduous anthropologist and sociologist, an eminent constitutional lawyer, a foremost social reformer, a profound thinker like Martin Luther to Protestant Christians, the brightest star and jewel of India. He was a profound thinker like Karl Marx, and Rousseau and that tribe, profound visionary and a nationalist to the core….. He had shown that birth in penury would stand no handicap for anyone dedicated to scale the heights of intellectual excellence by dint of hard work, assiduity, courage of intellectual conviction, honesty and relentless pursuit."
Vijaya Chintaman Sonawane has attributed to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar the greatest quality of humanism in the following words,
"There are two fundamental types of human nature- creative and possessive. Creative humans use human intellect for creative endeavors which enrich human thought, knowledge and wealth; thereby contribute to the development of human heritage for the posterity. Possessive people, on the other hand, do not believe in the use of human intellect for creative purpose. Rather, they believe in appropriation, amassing and even usurpation of the products of the labor of the creative people. This type of people possess a strong urge to become the governing class by all means in order to achieve their aims. Lesser the degree of civilization in the society, greater is the probability of succeeding this type of people in becoming the governing class. ….. Karl Marx has scientifically analyzed this conflict by applying the principles of dialectical materialism to the sphere of social phenomenon and described it as the historical materialism." - (Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as a Humanist)
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar obviously and eminently belonged to the 'Creative' class.
A deep probe into Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's personal life, his mission in life and his deeds would reveal that during his lifetime he had been under-studied and under-rated. His greatness is percolating gradually in the minds of the people of this country and abroad. His sympathy towards downtrodden and untiring efforts to ameliorate their condition were beyond comparison. All right thinking Indians accept him to be an intellectual giant, an accomplished economist, a social scientist, jurist and humanist. He was the prime architect of our Constitution.
However, it would be an affront to the wisdom of future generations to state that there were no infirmities in his perceptions and projections; and whatever he thought, said or did and the consequences thereof, could not be subjected to scrutiny. So the need of the hour is to develop the incisive wisdom of a historian as defined by Baba Sahab Ambedkar himself,
"A historian ought to be exact, sincere and impartial; free from passion, unbiased by internal resentment or affection; and faithful to the truth, which is the mother of history, the enemy of oblivion, the witness of the past, and the director of the future."
Ambedkar had to go through almost every circumstance that would pull down an ordinary ascending mortal to the ground. He was born in an untouchable family, his mother had died at his tender age of six years, he was married at an early age and he had to face penury as his father had retired a few years after his birth and had remarried. The incidents that made him realize that he was untouchable and so below the status of even the cattle were too frequent and too painful in his life. To quote one among them: one day he was caught drinking water from a public water course and was thrashed badly for the same. Because of these reasons and psychological reactions thereof, he had not done too well in the High School examination and had barely managed to pass the examination, yet he had an unquenchable thirst to read and sensing this his father decided to pursue his studies further. Fortunately, the benevolent Maharaja of Baroda, highly impressed with the intellect of Bhim, sanctioned scholarship to him, which took him to the land of opportunities, i.e. United States of America for higher studies.
During these formative years what distinguished Ambedkar from others was his doggedness to overcome the adversity. He was deeply affected by insults hurled on him due to his caste, but they did not make him sulk and shy away from understanding the deep-rooted causes of them and then openly condemning them and exhorting his fellow beings to rise against them. Even as a small child he was undaunted. One day he was challenged by his classmate to go to school without umbrella and he took up the gauntlet and went to school in soaking rain and chill. Even Pendse, who was a Brahmin teacher, was deeply moved and asked his son to take him home to get him dry and provide a cloth to cover his body.
He had wide vision of life and such an audacity to overcome adversities that the bitterness of his experiences in life only made him stronger and stronger to strive for the annihilation of their causes. His is a saga of development of one's personality in geometrical progression. His desire and earnestness to strive for welfare of mankind despite obstacles and risks is exhibited in his own words :
"One who has striven neither for his own welfare nor for that of others, i. e., neither for his own liberty and equality, nor for that of others, is a worthless person. He is useless to the world. And he is useless to himself. One who has fought for the liberty and equality of others at the cost of his own life is both excellent and eminent. But in the case of the person who has striven both for his own welfare, liberty and equality and for that of others is the best man, a person of highest virtues." - (The Buddha and his Dhamma)
Although being a genius Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had pertinent views on many subjects, all of which cannot be discussed in a short article like this. Hence, an attempt will be made here to deliberate on some of his more famous pronouncements and acts.
Religion and Rationality: Dr. Ambedkar's views on religion and its applicability to our lives put him in the category of the greatest rationalists and humanists that the world has ever produced. To quote a few of them:
" Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills the responsibility which is an essence of a true religious act…Sovereignty of scriptures of all religions must came to an end if we want to have a united integrated India."
History of religions reveals that there is no doubt that it is the sovereignty of scriptures which has been the cause of many wars, terrorist acts and senseless killings of innocent people throughout the world.
Yet Dr. Ambedkar considered religion necessary for peaceful and progressive existence of society and declared,
"Some people think that religion is not essential to the society. I do not hold this view. Foundations of religion are essential to the society… At the roots of Hindu social system lies dogma prescribed in the Manusmriti. Such being the case I do not think it is possible to abolish inequalities in the Hindu society unless foundation of the Smriti religion is removed and a better one laid in. I, however, despair of Hindu society, being able to reconstruct itself on such a better foundation."
This despair of Dr. Ambedkar had real foundations is no secret to any dispassionate observer of Hindu society.
Annihilation of Castes
For the sake of solidarity and unity in the country Dr. Ambedkar desired a social union as much as a political union in the Indian society. He was aware of the fragility of a political union sans social union and stated that,
"Without social union, political unity is difficult to be achieved. It would be as precarious as a sapling, liable to be uprooted by the gust of a hostile wind....A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to communal majority is closed. The politics of political majority is free to all to make or unmake. The politics of communal majority is made by its own members born in it."
Dr. Ambedkar was clear in his mind that so long as there are castes in Hinduism, the social unity cannot be achieved. His treatise on annihilation of caste is superb in its analysis of the caste system and desirability to abolish the castes in order to bring social unity. He wrote,
"The idea of hoping to remove untouchability without destroying the caste system is an utter futility. The underlying idea that caste and untouchability are two different things is founded on a fallacy. The two are one and are inseparable. ... The untouchability will vanish only when the whole of the Hindu social order, particularly the caste system, will be dissolved. ... Nothing can be built on the foundations of caste. Neither a nation, nor a morality. Anything built on the foundations of caste will crack and will never be a whole. Caste prevents mobilization. Indeed, the destiny of a defeat which has been the lot of India throughout history is due to caste."
Emancipation of Dalits: Acquisition of Power
The most eminent mission of DR. Ambedkar's life was undoubtedly the unshackling of the bondages and upliftment of the depressed castes among Hindus. He was of the view that this is possible only through attainment of political power. Addressing a depressed class Railway Workmen conference in 1938 he had advised his brethren,
"You must abolish your slavery yourselves. Do not depend for its abolition on God or supermen. Your salvation lies in political power and not in making pilgrimages and observance of fasts. Devotion to scriptures would not free you from your bondage, want and poverty. Your forefathers have been doing it for generations, but there has been no respite, nor even a slight difference in your miserable life in any way. Like your forefathers you wear rags. Like them you subsist on thrown out crumbs; and like them you fall easy victims to diseases with a death rate that rages among poultry. Your religious fasts, austerities, and penances have not saved you from starvation. ... In short law is the abode of all worldly happiness. You capture the power of law-making. It is , therefore, your duty to divert your attention from fasting, worship and penance and apply it to capturing law-making power. That way lies your salvation. That way will end your starvation. Remember that it is not enough that a people are numerically in majority. They must be always watchful, strong, well-educated and self-respecting to attain and maintain success. ... We want our own people- people who will fight tooth and nail for our interest and secure privileges for under-privileged, people who will undo the wrongs done to our people, people who will redress our grievances fearlessly, people who can think, lead and act, people with principles and character- should be sent to legislatures. We must send such people to legislatures who will be subservient to none but remain free to their conscience and get our grievances redressed, ... The mission of our movement is to fight out tyranny, injustice and false traditions, and undo all privileges and release the harassed people from bondage."
And in order to emphasize this point he went to the extent of openly declaring,
"Attempts to uplift my community rather than win Swaraj for the nation is my goal."
Dr. Ambedkar was as much a doer as a thinker and he fiercely and ceaselessly fought for capture of this law-making power by the depressed classes. He organized Mahad satyagrah inspite of great risk to himself personally and to the members of his community. He fought for separate electorate for the depressed classes as he thought that the representatives elected by joint electorate would not whole-heartedly fight for the cause of Dalits. Due to Mahatma Gandhi's fast unto death against the communal award, Dr, Ambedkar did not succeed in securing a separate electorate for the Dalits, yet he got more seats for Dalits by way of reservations in legislature. As chairman of the committee to draft the Indian constitution, he ensured provision of reservation in legislature for 10 years (initially). Moreover, reservation in recruitment of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes to various services was also provided in the Constitution. This ensured entry of Dalits in the administrative machinery which implements the policies of the government. This machinery, although not in law but in practice, greatly influences the political leadership in the government in forming its policies.
Change of Religion
Dr. Ambedkar, who had suffered the indignities and disadvantages thrust on him for having been born an untouchable Hindu, had fearlessly and unequivocally denounced its such tenets which created exploitative inequality among various castes and exhorted the depressed classes to change their religion in the following words:
"Religion is for man and not man for religion. If you want to organize, consolidate and be successful in this world, change this religion. The religion that does not recognize you as a human being, does not give you water to drink, or allow you to enter into temples is not worthy to be called a religion. The religion that forbids you to receive education, and comes in the way of your material advancement is not deserving of appellation 'religion'. The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with coreligionists is nothing but a display of force. ... The religion that compels ignorant to be ignorant and the poor to be poor is not a religion but a visitation."
Yet, as he was a true nationalist and had incisive wisdom to foresee the effect of dogmas of various religions, he was appalled on hearing that the scheduled castes were not allowed to come to Hindustan from newly created Pakistan and were being forcibly converted to Islam. Inspite of his disaffection with Hinduism, he advised his people:
"I would like to tell the scheduled castes who happen today to be impounded inside Pakistan to come over to India by such means as may be available to them. The second thing I want to say is that it would be fatal for the scheduled castes, whether in Pakistan or in Hyderabad, to put their faith in Islam or the Muslim League. It has become a habit with the scheduled castes to look upon the Muslims as their friends simply because they dislike Hindus. This is a mistaken view."
' He warned the Scheduled castes in Hyderabad not to side with the Nizam and bring disgrace upon the community by siding with one who was the enemy of India.' - (The Free Press Journal, 28 November 1947)
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was brought up in a Hindu family and according to Hindu traditions. In his heart of hearts he was a religious person. He criticized- and later condemned- Hinduism for the inbuilt graded inequality in its caste system; yet, it is interesting to observe that he did not change his religion till the fag end of his life. Apparently, he converted to Buddhism on 14th Oct. 1956 mainly because of the obstinacy of upper castes in not assimilating the Dalits among them on equal terms.
Ambedkar and Future of Indian Society
Ambedkar's writings, exhortations, untiring efforts and his inputs in the Indian constitution have undoubtedly had tremendous effect in raising the self-pride, aspirations, status and desire to unshackle themselves from the age-old bondages of the depressed classes. They have also helped in material advancement of some of them, who are proving to be role models for others to follow. Reservations for Scheduled Caste/ Schedule Tribes in recruitment and promotions in government services have ensured their easy entry into the bureaucracy. Many literary, social and political groups have been formed among Dalits to further the cause espoused by Ambedkar and to capture political power. Special provisions for S. Cs./S. Ts. in education have vastly helped in increasing their enrolment at primary level as well as in providing higher education to them. Among various government services S.C./S.T. groups and unions have also come up which are very active in furthering the interests of schedule caste/schedule tribe employees: Bamsafe and DS-4 are noteworthy among them. Propelled by the government officials covertly and overtly, the conversion of S. Cs. to Buddhism is gaining momentum day by day. Lately, Ambedkar's ideas are reported to be influencing some disadvantaged groups in western countries also. For example, the Romas Of Hungary, who are stereotyped as thieves and criminals by other Europeans, are reportedly organizing themselves under the influence of Ambedkarites.
Therefore, it can be confidently concluded today that Dr. Ambedkar has succeeded greatly in his mission 'to uplift his community.' However, a fair critique of the effect of Dr. Ambedkar's labors on the future of the nation as a whole requires consideration of many other factors and circumstances.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had proclaimed, 'Attempts to uplift my community rather than win Swaraj for the nation is my goal.' There is no doubt that the then Hindu society provided enough grounds for an angry Dalit to prefer liberation from the shackles of caste over attainment of Swaraj for the nation, yet one cannot overlook the truth that without Swaraj the condition of neither the Dalits nor others would have improved substantially. Even if British conceded to pass laws granting social equality and reservation in legislature and government services to Dalits, the country would not have progressed enough economically to bring any substantial change in the education, occupation and status of Dalits. Moreover the bondage of foreign yoke would have kept them- along with others- servile and lacking in self-pride. The truth is that Swaraj for which the nation's heroes fought and democracy which Gandhi and Nehru cherished have been almost exclusively responsible for bringing the sea change in the life, thinking and status of Dalits. Any effort, howsoever mighty, would not have produced even a fraction of that result.
Dr. Ambedkar wanted implementation of communal award and separate electorate for Dalits as he had his reasons for not trusting upper caste voters to send such representatives to the legislature as would speak for the welfare of Dalits. Although, in order to save fasting Mahatma's life, he had relented on this issue, but later he criticized Mahatma's 'dubious' ways of pressurizing him. His followers term Mahatma's tactics as 'Kshadyantra against the Dalits'. However, today the efficacy- or the absence thereof- of separate electorate can be seen in Pakistan, where Hindus have a separate electorate. The truth is that Hindus there have little or no voice in governance, which has resulted in their systematic dwindling in number as well as social status. A separate electorate necessarily generates a feeling of being a separate nation; and Mahatma Gandhi rightly apprehended such a consequence, if separate electorates on caste/communal lines were granted.
Dr. Ambedkar was all for annihilation of castes, which is certainly necessary to bring social equality and unity. Yet, he made provisions in the Constitution for reservations in legislature and government services on the basis of caste alone. How can caste be abolished so long as this remains the sole basis for grabbing power and jobs? The truth is that such caste-based reservations have divided the entire society and the bureaucracy in competing caste groups, which care more for their castes than for public good. Further, more and more castes are competing fiercely for inclusion in the most beneficial reservation-list irrespective of any ground reality with respect to their eligibility for the same. Fight between Minas and Gujars in Rajasthan, inclusion of Jats among O. B. Cs. in U. P. and recommendation of previous U. P. Government to include many more castes in the Scheduled Caste List are some of the glaring examples. Unfortunately, these caste divisions have sprung some of the most corrupt self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats to prominence. Thus, it is obvious that Dr. Ambedkar's labors have resulted in just the opposite of what he cherished, i. e., annihilation of castes and bringing social unity.
Dr. Ambedkar had rightly apprehended,
'This urge for self- realization in the down-trodden classes must not be allowed to develop into a class struggle or class war. It would lead to a division of the House. That would indeed be a day of disaster. For, as has been well said by Abraham Lincoln, a house divided against itself cannot stand very long.'
And in order to fulfill that urge of self-realization and to bring liberty, equality and fraternity among the depressed classes, he exhorted them to convert to Buddhism. He himself also changed his religion to became a Boddh. However, any serious reader of history of nations and any observer of present day communal conditions in various nations would readily agree that mass conversion of nearly one fourth S. Cs./ S. Ts. to Buddhism would sooner or later make a recipe for this nation to become a house divided, which is ultimately a recipe for disaster according to Dr. Ambedkar himself. After all is said and done, there is no doubt that the most powerful element in a nation's unity has been religion. When conversion of S. Cs./S. Ts. to Buddhism is completed, the composition of Indian society will be about 25% Buddhists, about 20 % Muslims, about 10% others and about 45 % Hindus. Which nation in the world with such a religious composition has existed peacefully? Iraq, Ireland, Sri Lanka, many African nations, erstwhile Spain, etc. are glaring examples of unrest caused by religious disunity in their population. India itself got divided in 1947 only because Muslims had become a very substantial minority here. So, given the momentum with which conversions are taking place, we shall not only be a house divided but may also become a country divided within this century.
The genius and genuineness of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is beyond question and beyond compare and so are his success in his mission to uplift the Dalits; the consequences of his more noteworthy actions, although unintended, will most likely prove to be divisive and disastrous for this nation in the long run.
- Dr.Ambedkar: Life and Mission - Dhananjay Keer
- B.. R. Ambedkar: Life Work and relevance - Edited by M. L. Ranga
- Ambedkar and Nation Building - Shyam Lal & K. S. Saxena
- Life and Works of B. R. Ambedkar- S. R. Sharma
- B. R. Ambedkar- His thoughts and Observations - S. N. Mandal
- B. R. Ambedkar- A vision of Man and Morals -DR. D. R. Jatava
- Internet information on B. R. Ambedkar
- Ambedkar's speech, Janata, Nov, 20, 1937
- The Bahishkrit Bharat
- The Free Press Journal
- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: writing and Speeches
- Ambedkar, B. R., "Castes in India - Their Mechanism, Genesis, and Development
- Annihilation of caste- B.R. Ambedkar
- The Buddha and his Dhamma - B. R. Ambedkar
- Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as Humanist - Vijay Chintaman Sonavane