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Dr Savita Ambedkar was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 2nd wife and a great support, but was sidelined like most women through history have been.
As the popular saying goes, there is always a woman behind a successful man. The irony is, that most of the time these women always remain ‘behind’, in the shadows of the great and successful man they support, adore and love.
Indian history is replete with such women who are rarely talked about even when their famous husbands/partners remain the favourites of popular political and historical discourse. One such famous woman was – Sharda Kabir, Dr. (Mrs.) Savita Ambedkar. She was his second wife, and was a close witness to his contribution in framing the Indian Constitution, and also to the defining event of embracing Buddhism with him and thousands of his followers.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Dr. Sharda Kabir got married on 15th April 1948. She was 39 and he was 57. After their marriage, she was popularly called Mai (mother) by his followers.
She was born in Dorla village in Rajapur taluka of Ratnagiri district. Born into a Saraswat Brahmin family, her father was registrar of the Indian Medical Council. She received her school education in Pune and received her MBBS degree from Grant Medical College in Mumbai in 1937. She started her medical career as a CMO in Gujarat, and later shifted to Mumbai. During her professional stint with Dr. Malvankar she came in contact with Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Dr Ambedkar’s first wife had died in 1935 after a long illness. Soon after the strenuous completion of the drafting of India’s constitution in the late 1940s, Ambedkar went to Bombay for treatment. He was suffering from lack of sleep, pain of neural origin in his legs, and was on insulin and several homeopathic medicines. It is at this juncture that he met Sharda, who then married him and adopted the name Savita Ambedkar and took care of him for the rest of his life.
Dr Savita was not widely accepted by some Dalit segments and leaders, and was viewed with suspicion mainly because she was born in a Saraswat Brahmin family. This was despite her dedicated medical and spousal attention towards Dr Ambedkar during the last years of his life, which were very crucial to his political career.
After the death of Dr. Ambedkar, those who claimed to be close to him blamed her for his death, and implied that she had slowly poisoned him over a long period of time. Dr Ambedkar’s only son, Yeshwantrao, wrote to Delhi Police demanding an inquiry into his father’s death. Some close associates of Dr Ambedkar also mobilised 19 members of parliament to write to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, demanding an inquiry into Dr Ambedkar’s death. Eventually Nehru did order an enquiry into the death of Dr. Ambedkar which finally exonerated her of any such conspiracy. The then Union Home Minister G. V. Pant replying to a question in the Lok Sabha categorically stated that Dr.Ambedkar had died a natural death. Many of the contemporary dalit leaders also reviled her for being from an upper caste family.
In a detailed article about this caste struggle brought to their marriage the writer states that:
“When Babasaheb The Buddha and His Dharma was posthumously published, it was published without the Preface written by Babasaheb. The Preface which was written on 15th March, 1956 contained touching references to the help he had received from his wife. After the great leader’s death, his widow had become persona non grata to his followers and the publishers suppressed the Preface and along with it, Babasaheb’s expression of his fine feelings for his wife.”
Dr Savita Ambedkar shifted to a farmhouse in Mehrauli where she spent a considerable amount of her time. With the birth of the Dalit Panthers, young leaders like Ramdas Athwale and Gangadhar Gade requested her to be part of the dalit movement once again. That brought her back into public life. Her memoir, Babasahebanchya Sahavasat provides important personal information on Babasaheb Ambedkar. She also helped out the film maker Jabbar Patel when he made a feature film on the life of Dr. Ambedkar.
Savita Ambedkar died on 29th May 2003. She was 94 years of age.
To sum up the struggle of her life briefly, Vijay Surwade, a living encyclopaedia of Ambedkarism in India, says in an interview–
“This is an important part of Ambedkarite movement. Why should a woman who was dutifully and legally married to Baba Saheb Ambedkar is seen as conspirator and outsider. She was boycotted. It shows that caste system has so much in our blood that we could not give her justice. Baba Saheb gave us the path of Buddhism. How much have we succeeded?”
Editor’s note: The writer and editors of this post do not mean disrespect to any particular community, and it is well known that women across communities have not received their rightful dues or have often been treated with suspicion. However, this has been published as a representation and one instance of how women have been disregarded and discredited throughout history.
Image source: See page for author [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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