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Dr BR Ambedkar is known for Annihilation of Caste, reservation for Dalits, and for drafting the Indian Constitution. But, there is a lot more to his life that everyone should be aware of.
Sometimes, binding historical figures to a single cause is a huge disservice to them. Later generations will study them through the lens of that ideology alone, which leaves behind many noteworthy facets of their lives. So, confining them to a single frame is not the best tribute to them.
For instance, studying Gandhi only as a leader of Indian freedom movement will not give us a complete picture of his life. We have to look at his lifelong experiments with the truths as well. Similarly, we cannot treat Buddha only as the founder of Buddhism, side-lining his journey of constant deliberations about the purpose of human existence. Both of them led a phenomenal life. They left behind unique footprints for the future generations, as a point of reference to answer the ambiguities of life. They have remained relevant beyond their time and space.
Another similar example is the life of Dr. B R Ambedkar.
Sadly, Ambedkar is seen merely as a Dalit leader by non-Dalits. There is no inquisitiveness to explore further about his life journey. The general assumption is that Ambedkar is responsible for reservation for Dalits. And, this makes him disliked by many present-day high caste Hindus who aspire to get government jobs.
The Dalit community owes him a lot, for their improved living conditions today. So, posthumously, Ambedkar is acknowledged for only two things – as crusader of Dalit rights, and sculptor of Indian Constitution.
To understand him holistically, there is a need to explore Ambedkar from larger perspectives in the present context. He needs to be seen relevant for people from all walks of life, irrespective of their gender, caste, and religion. Because, he has much to offer and inspire, even today!
He was born to a poor family of the Mahar community, the ‘lowest strata’ of a Hindu society. His father encouraged him to study instead of taking up duties that are assigned to the caste. Yet, he faced humiliation everyday in school.
He sat on a gunny sack, maintaining social distance from upper caste Hindu students. He didn’t have access to drinking water unless someone felt generous enough to pour water onto his palms. Teachers refused to touch him, even for punishment.
Despite the trials and tribulations, Ambedkar became the first in his community to reach a higher level of education. Eventually, he was the highest educated national leader in his time, with two Masters’ degrees, a barrister-at-law degree, and four doctoral degrees. He achieved it all, purely through merit.
So, his academic life should be an inspiration to the student community. To be successful, one needs sheer will power, perseverance, and self-belief. And, with all these put together, one can overcome the hurdles of caste discrimination and poverty.
Ambedkar was an avid reader, and a restless explorer of knowledge. He had a personal collection of more than 50,000 books. In his mission to uplift ‘untouchables’ from the perils of caste system, he researched deep into the origins of caste system, and the possible ways to eradicate it.
He started many journals to share his views among Dalits. His writing became a means to create awareness, and also, for the mass movement of Dalits against injustice. He had an impeccable narrative style, and used language with precision and clarity. His profound knowledge of the subject is evident in his works.
Quite strikingly, Ambedkar identified the invisible role of women in carrying caste identity forward to the next generation as a ‘sacred duty’. He felt the need to educate women as they internalised the patriarchy that also harmed them.
So, as the first Law Minister of independent India, Ambedkar drafted many laws to empower Indian women, besides providing many constitutional provisions that help – namely, Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, Equal Pay Act, Maternity Benefit Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act.
His ideas influenced the enactment of many women empowerment laws later. So, Indian women have to thank Ambedkar profusely for giving them long overdue justice, without much fight unlike their western counterparts.
For centuries together, Indian laws were framed by the Brahmin saints in Sanskrit, which the rest of Hindu society followed without questioning these sacred scriptures.
As a champion of Dalit rights, he burnt copies of the Manu Smriti that justified caste discrimination and untouchability. To an extent, justice prevailed for the Dalit community who had suffered for more than 2000 years due to casteism, when Ambedkar became the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. He was at the helms of affairs to ensure equality and justice for all Indians, irrespective of their caste background.
It was a moment of historical recognition and healing when a Dalit framed the constitution for all Indians, including the people who denied humanity to them, using their scriptures.
Additionally, Ambedkar was an excellent economist with two doctoral degrees in the subject. Given a choice, he might have preferred to be the Finance Minister instead of the Law Minister of Independent India. He had pioneering economic visions for the country which could have set a lot of things right for Indian economy.
He foresaw the need for measures like – food security bill, no income tax for low-income groups, community health, public hygiene, birth control, productive use of agricultural land for industries as a means of employment for agricultural labourers, etc.
Thus, for today’s generation of non-Dalits, it is important to understand that Dr. B R Ambedkar stands for many more things than just for reservation.
He had visualised that the initial 10 years of reservation would bring enough social change and move up the Dalits in social ladder. If it has not been achieved till today, then we have to blame the inept administration and successive governments in power. Also, we have to acknowledge the fact that the caste system is far more deep rooted than we’d like to believe.
A major contribution of Ambedkar was to give voice to voiceless DBA communities. In doing so, he held a mirror of self-reflection to the upper caste Hindus too, who had always claimed that it was their right to ill treat them as prescribed by Hindu scriptures.
Ambedkar is a rare phenomenon in Indian history. He worked tirelessly to regenerate the social fabric of India. Interestingly, Gandhi was in favour of slow social change, as the caste system was deep rooted in the Hindu society. But Ambedkar argued that his community had suffered for 2000 years already, and it was the time to act fast.
Thus, today’s India needs to explore such a rare human phenomenon holistically, not in bits and pieces.
Image source: YouTube
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Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University College of Science, Tumkur University. Has been
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