Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), popularly known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Modern Buddhist Movement and campaigned against social discrimination against Dalits, women and labour. He was Independent India’s first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India.
B. R. Ambedkar’s prominence as India’s foremost advocate of “Dalit Empowerment” often does not do much justice to several sterling aspects of the man’s multi-faceted personality. As the chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, he was its chief architect. Academicians and scholars across India & the world are increasingly recognising Dr. Ambedkar’s role as the nation’s builder of modern Indian State. Dr. Ambedkar had written eloquently on his idea of a nation and this is documented in Writings & Speeches of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, published by Ambedkar Foundation.
Babasaheb, in his entire life tried to achieve this cherished goal of nationhood. For him, at that point of time in history, India was a nation in the making. He argued with another towering personality of his times, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on this issue. That great debate is now part of our national consciousness. Any evaluation of Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution should keep this philosophical and spiritual framework he had in mind for the sub-continent.
- In his final speech to the Constituent Assembly in November 1949, Dr Ambedkar asked his listeners (and by extension the nation) what “social democracy” truly meant. Here was his definition: It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things.
- Dr Ambedkar did not see untouchability as merely an unjust social order, for him it was a symptom of structural flaws within the larger religious system and order. Unless the larger flaws were tackled, he believed, any measure to deal with caste oppression would remain merely cosmetic. The history of post-Independence India bears out his remark at the same meeting: The religion which discriminates between two followers is partial, and the religion which treats crores of its adherents worse than dogs and criminals and inflicts upon them insufferable disabilities is no religion at all. Religion is not the appellation for such an unjust order. Religion and slavery are incompatible.
- His views on gender equality were befitting of the man who saw the nascent republic as a haven of equality for everyone: I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress that women have achieved.
Dr. Ambedkar laboured hard to push the idea of affirmative action for the deprived sections of the society and women. It sprang from his steadfast belief that there could not be sustainable liberty without equality and fraternity. He said,
“How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation”
- He embraced Buddhism in 1956 and led mass conversion of Dalits.
- In 1990, Ambedkar was posthumously conferred with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. Ambedkar’s legacy includes numerous memorials and depictions in popular culture.
Google is celebrating 124th Birth Anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar by posting his animated picture on its homepage.
Finally, what do we learn from the man who imagined the guiding document of this country?
An abiding respect for the systems and principles of democracy. But democracy not as an enshrined static entity, but a dynamic and energising force: Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence for our fellow men.