A Great Man Born Out of Adversity !

R.D. Bhardwaj

A boy was born on the 14th April, 1891 in Distt. Ratnagiri of Maharashtra. His father, Ramji Maloji was a subedar in Mahar Regiment at that time. The young boy who was youngest of all his five siblings, was named Bhim Rao. Since, he was born in a low caste family; he had to suffer all sorts of humiliation, exploitation and deprivations right from his childhood. When he was five, he was got admitted in school with a lot of difficulties because of low caste birth; as education at that time, was considered a privilege and bastion of only higher caste people. But his father always inspired him to work hard and attain good education, in case he wanted to rise and make progress in life.

When he was in fifth class, he suffered a major blow of his life, as his mother, Bhima Bai, expired. However, despite all sorts of economic odds and social obstacles coming his way, he astonished many people of his village and school by standing first in his class in matriculation. One day, when he was in Xth, his class teacher asked him, “Bhim! You are a Mahar by caste, what will you do after studying?” He replied with great confidence and enthusiasm, “Sir ! I will become a lawyer and make such laws that even Government will have to abide by. I will also abolish castes and untouchability.” His class teacher just laughed at his reply, but also started taking him a little bit seriously. He could not understand that a poor chap was indeed very laborious, ambitious and persevering and one day he was going to win great laurels by making sweeping reforms in society.

As a saying goes, adversity is a great teacher, it gives such pure lessons to the suffering people which even great professors can not teach. After passing his matriculation, he was admitted in a college for doing graduation. But, as his family was so poor that it could not bear the burden of expensive study, he appealed to the Maharaja Gaekwad (of Baroda Province at that time) for granting some financial aid. Maharaja Gaekwad called him for the interview and considered his case sympathetically and granted a scholarship of Rs. 25/- per month to him, on the explicit condition and bond that after completing his studies, he will have to serve the Baroda Province for a minimum period of ten years, during which his entire amount of scholarship shall be recovered.

With great determination and a lot of perseverance enshrined in his heart, Bhim passed his graduation in 1911 scoring very good marks and went to USA for doing post-graduation from University of Columbia. To the astonishment of so many people who knew him, he passed in MA in 1915 in Ist division. No matter, during all these years, many a time, he had to go without food and good clothes. Severe adverse social and economic conditions prevailing at that time, could not deter him from studying further and completing his doctorate. There was no one in his family who could help him financially and devote full time to study, and thus, he used to work for 3-4 hours daily to earn some money.

Coming back to India, he joined Baroda Province as Military Secretary to the King. But the things were very bad here as well, as untouchability and caste based discrimination was at its peak. Even though he was a big and well qualified officer, his peon also refused to take his files or bring a glass of water for him, as he belonged to a lower caste. No body gave him a house on rent and he used to sleep on roads and streets. Then one day, he discussed the matter with the Maharaja Gaekwad, who after listening to his genuine problems, exonerated him of all his liabilities towards Baroda Province. Then he remained jobless for a couple of months, but got a job of a Professor of Economics in Bombay, in 1918. Similar problems persisted here as well, as despite the fact that he was very highly qualified; people did not respect him because of prevailing menace of caste system.

Then he resigned from that college in 1923 and went to England to study Law. On returning from there after completing his law degree, he was appointed Principal of a Law College in Bombay. The stigma of caste surfaced again and he resigned from here also. Then he started practising as a Lawyer. He fought many cases of untouchability, exploitation of the poor on the basis of caste, colour and creed, and won. He always preached that man should be judged by his educational credentials rather than by other dogmas. By this time, he had become a force to reckon with. He started many movements from time to time which were aimed at freeing the society from the shackles of caste system and exploitation of the poor and down-trodden. In 1930, he was invited to participate in Round Table conference held at Ahmedabad, at which he brought out many dogmas afflicting the Indian society and thereby, causing an untold and huge damage to the lower caste people. He also demanded separate constituencies to enable them to contest elections and for their economic and social upliftment, which could not be dreamed of otherwise. He won a major battle as his demand (for creation of separate constituencies for the SCs and STs) was accepted by the British Govt. in 1932.

Then he made a political party called Swatantar Majdoor Dal of which mainly SCs/STs and other down-trodden were the members. He always gave priority to their welfare and upliftment. This party was later on, rechristened as Republican Party of India. It was very agonising that despite his long and unflinching efforts, higher caste people did not stop exploiting the Dalits and the poor. Many of the rights and privileges which were being enjoyed by the upper caste people, were simply denied to them. They were not allowed to fetch water from the community wells and tanks. Right to education was also deprived to them. And that is why, he decided to denounce Hinduism. He studied all the religions and their attitudes and outlook towards the lower caste people and found that every religion had levied hundreds of restrictions on them. Even though, he was a great educationist, a great scholar, and a social reformer, upper caste fanatics did not allow him to enter Jagannath Temple at Puri, in 1935.

After a century of struggle and huge sacrifices made by lakhs of patriotic people, India attained independence in August, 1947. No doubt, the work relating to drafting of constitution of India was already started in May, 1947, after independence, he was made Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Pandit Nehru who often acknowledged his educational credentials and legal expertise, also made him first Law Minister of India. There were 30 members of the CDC, but some members resigned as they were not comfortable working under a SC Chairman. The final draft of the constitution was approved by the Parliament to be the supreme law of land on the 26th November, 1949, but it was officially adopted on the 26th January, 1950, for some historical reasons.

The efforts of this great man in achieving the gigantic task were appreciated by many countries and the University of Columbia, in recognition of his Herculean task, bestowed on him the honorary degree of Doctorate of Law on the 6th June, 1952. During all these years, he could not think of marriage, however, a Brahmin lady called Savita, remained constantly attracted towards him and was seeking life-long companionship with him. At last, he married her at the age of 55. Through out he remained a great social and economic reformer, apostle of peace and non-violence. Hindu Code Bill which he had introduced in Parliament was vehemently opposed by the upper caste people. He became somewhat disenchanted with the prevailing circumstances and thus, resigned not only as a minister, but also as an MP. But, next year he was again elected to Rajya Sabha.

A man of letters as he was, he wrote many books. He knew many languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, English, Persian, Urdu, Gujarati, German, French and Russian. Though he was a great scholar, he was not much respected by the upper caste people. Thus, fed-up with their totally unlogical and unethical attitude, deprivation of due share of respect, regard, recognition and status in society, which he genuinely deserved, his heart was filled-up with anguish and disenchantment to such a extent that one day, he declared ………. “It was my bad luck that I was born in a Hindu religion, It was not in my hands, but it is upto me to continue as Hindu or not. I assure you and do hereby resolve that I will not die as a Hindu………….”

Thus, he, along with his son – Prakash, wife Savita and servant Nanak Chander Sattu and more than fifty thousand followers, and in the presence of Buddhist Monk – Chinta Mani, he embraced Buddhism on the 14th August, 1954, at Nagpur. Within next two years, more than two lakhs of his followers also embraced Buddhism. Thereafter, after completing his book, “Buddhism and other Religions” , he breathed his last on the 6th Dec., 1956, at Delhi. As per his wishes, his body was flown to Bombay and consigned to flames at his native village Mao in Distt. Ratnagiri.

35 years after his death, this great son of mother India, who has the honour of writing Constitution of India, as a matter of respect and regard for the services rendered by him to the nation, he was awarded the highest civilian award – Bharat Ratna. His full size portrait was also installed inside the Parliament House on the 14th April, 1990, when V.P. Singh was the Prime Minister of India.

Long live Dr. Ambedkar in the hearts and minds of crores of people of India who love and respect him so dearly.