One hundred and twenty one years ago Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born as the 14th child in a family of Untouchables – members of the Mahar caste. As child, he was allowed to study in a government school in Satara, Maharashtra where he was the only Untouchable student. Ambedkar was allowed to sit in same room but on the floor – alone, in a corner. No one could play with him or speak to him. Very early in his early, Bhimrao would have learnt what social ostracism meant.
It was sheer grit and part brilliance that saw Ambedkar crossing the proverbial seven seas and enrolling in Columbia University in the United States where he went on to make a mark as an economist. He returned only to go back to London where he also enrolled to study law.
On his return, he became a Barrister, lectured in colleges and got into the socio-political arena to mobilise Depressed Classes. But he worked within the system – and because of not antagonising the colonial State he was nominated to Bombay Legislative Council – an opportunity he seized by making a mark as serious speaker on economic matters.
Ambedkar’s crowning glory came in March 1927 when he launched successfully a Satyagraha to remove the ban on Dalits using Chawdar tank in Mahad town. His stance towards colonialism did not alter and in May 1928 he deposed before Simon Commission concerning safeguards of Depressed Classes as a minority.
In 1930 Ambedkar presided over the Depressed Classes Congress at Nagpur and criticised the Dandi March and Civil Disobedience movement as inopportune. Ambedkar’s differences with Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi has been studied by scholars but in the immediate context, it resulted in the Poona Pact arrived at between the two after the latter’s fast in Yeravda jail against the separate electorates granted to the Depressed Classes by Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award.
Ambedkar never became part of the mainstream national movement and steered clear of the Congress. He formed the Indian Labour Party in 1936 and later the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation in 1942. The same year he criticised the Quit India Movement and was inducted into the Viceroy’s Executive Council.
Despite obvious differences with Congress Party, Ambedkar accepted Nehru’s invitation to become Law Minister in the first Cabinet of independent India. He was made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee for the new Constitution in the Constituent Assembly. He quit the government over differences on several issues and in the 1952 election he lost the election.
Ambedkar is remembered for his famous statement: “I was born a Hindu but not die as one”. He is eulogised as the Father of the Indian Constitution. Both are rather limiting. There was much more to Ambedkar than his decision to convert to Buddhism just a few months before his death in December 1956. Similarly, while he may have headed the Drafting Committee, his was not the only input.
Ritualistic eulogies on his birth anniversaries are aplenty. But, there is little effort to challenge factors that led Ambedkar fighting against caste discrimination. The least every public leader could do is to pledge to take at least one decision every year that is not influenced by caste considerations. This would be the biggest tribute to Ambedkar.