Indian Political Thought

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) and early Life and Work

Early Life and Works of Ambedkar

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was born in December 1891 in the Mahar Community, an untouchable caste of Maharashtra. After receiving his early education at Satna and Bombay, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar went to Columbia University for higher studies, where he obtained both Master and Philosophy Doctorate Degrees. He even conducted research at the India Office Library in London.


Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar

After coming back to India, he took up a job as a professor of Economics with Sydenham College of Commerce in Bombay. In 1917, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar first went to Bonn and then to London and obtained a D.Sc in Economics and Commerce from London University.

The chief works of Ambedkar include Problem of Rupee, Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India, Castes in India, Small Holdings and their Remedies. Moreover, he also wrote numerous numbers of pamphlets.

As a member of the untouchable community, he had to face a lot of humiliation and therefore he took up the cause of untouchables. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar resentfully criticized the old law-givers like Manu who showed contempt and unpleasantness towards the suppressed sections of the Hindu society in their writings. He also criticized the small-mindedness and hypocrisies of Brahmanism which sanctioned social exploitation of the backward and untouchable communities. He founded the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha (Untouchable Classes Welfare League) to fight for the rights of the Untouchables.

Ambedkar rejected the hypothesis of the invasion of India by the Aryans and asserted that in the ancient Vedic and Sanskrit literature there was no explicit mention of this invasion. Hence, he argued that they took the stand that the Shudras were not dark-skinned aboriginals enslaved or subordinated by the Aryan invaders. The subordinate position to which the shudras were downgraded was due to their defeat in the battle at the hands of the Vaistha. He considered the Brahmins responsible for the degradation of the Shudras by denying the yajnopavita to them.

Ambedkar’s Criticism of the Caste System

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar highly criticized the Hindus’ social system based on four varnas because it promoted social inequality in the society. He stated that the problem of the untouchables could not be solved unless major changes were brought into the social system. Ambedkar took a reasonably realistic view and held the bureaucracy responsible for the miserable troubles faced by the untouchables because it shared the prejudices of the Hindus towards the untouchables. He therefore requested making the public services more approachable to the needs of the untouchables and insisted on the employment of more members of the untouchable communities in higher posts.

Ambedkar versus the Role of Congress and Gandhiji

Ambedkar denied the claim of the Congress to be the sole representative of the people of India including the Hindus, the Muslims, and the untouchables, and asserted that he could very well take care of the interests of the untouchables. Ambedkar thought of the untouchables as separate bodies outside the broad stream of Hindu society and put forward a demand for separate electorates for the untouchables.

While having a chat with Gandhiji in August 1931, Ambedkar told Gandhiji that the Congress cares only for the strength rather than the principles and Hindus had not shown any second thoughts so far as the untouchable and the depressed classes are concerned. In the Minorities Committee, B.R. Ambedkar vigorously said “I would like to make this matter plain at the start, whatever may be the representative character of Gandhiji or the Congress people, and they certainly are not in a position to bind us- certainly not. I say that most emphatically in this meeting.”

Ambedkar arguably criticized the role of Gandhiji in the Round Table Conference and said “A worse person could not have been chosen to guide India’s destiny. As a unifying force, he was a failure … As a result of his successful compromise with the Government just before he came, Gandhiji treated the whole non-congress delegation with contempt, and he widened the breach. From the point of view of knowledge, Gandhiji proved himself to be a very ill-equipped person. On the many constitutional and communal questions with which the Conference was confronted, Gandhiji had many platitudes to utter but no views or suggestions of a productive character to offer”.

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and the Communal Award

In the year 1932, Premier Ramsay McDonald announced his famous Communal Award which assured separate seats to the depressed classes in the Provincial Assemblies. The depressed classes were given the right to double vote viz., they were to elect their representatives and also to take part in voting in general constituencies.

Mahatma Gandhi was against this Communal Award and undertook to pass unto death to get it nullified. However, Ambedkar never stopped and continued his efforts to organize the depressed classes throughout India and warned them to be cautious of the caste Hindus. He advised them not to adopt a defeatist attitude and accept conversion to Islam.

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Ambedkar through his writings and discussions tried to push the cause of the revival of the depressed classes and he tried to work to secure status for the depressed classes equal to the Caste Hindu. He also worked for the amelioration of the laborers and depressed classes as a member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly.

Ambedkar’s Support of Demand for Pakistan

Ambedkar also supported the demand for a separate state of Pakistan. He held that the Muslims were a nation and that the creation of Pakistan would not render India weak. However, he stoops for total, timely, and ordered exchange of the population of Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India on the pattern of Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria. Ambedkar asserted that the creation of Pakistan would liberate both the Hindus and the Muslims from the fear of enslavement and encroachment.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the New Constitution

Another notable feature of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was the framing of the Indian Constitution. As chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly of India, Ambedkar accomplished the stupendous task of framing a constitution for India. Thereafter, Ambedkar renounced active politics and embraced Buddhism. Ambedkar spent his remaining life propagating the message of Buddhism.

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s Estimation and Contribution

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar made a valuable contribution to the political and social thinking. He strongly denounced the outrageous attitude of the Brahmanical Hindusim towards the untouchables and worked for the liberation of the Untouchables from the oppression of the High Caste Hindus. He considered the liberation of the Untouchables as a more urgent problem than the freedom of the country.

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar focused the attention of the Hindus on the tension-generating social problems. He impressed upon them the need to resolve the same in the interest of the Hindu society as well as the political system. Through his writings, and speeches he made the people conscious of the political, economic, and social problems of the untouchables and impressed the need of paying special attention to the improvement or amelioration of the condition of the depressed untouchables.

The influence of his ideas is evident from the fact that the new constitution not only assured equality to all citizens but also took definite steps to abolish untouchability and made its practice in any form an offense punishable under the law. In short, the legal remedies taken to uplift the Untouchables were due to the influence of Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Book reference: Western and Indian Political Thought by Prem Arora and Brij Grover.

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