Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, was an Indian statesman, philosopher, historian and economist.d He was born on 14 April 1891 in the town of Mhow in the Central Provinces under the British rule (now Madhya Pradesh). He was the 14th and last child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal Ambavadekar and Bhimabai. They belonged to the Mahar caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination.
Early life and Education: Although able to attend school for early education, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were treated badly and given little attention by the teachers. Even if they needed to drink water, somebody from a higher caste would have to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch either the water or the vessel that contained it. This task was usually performed by the school peon, and if the peon was not available, he could not drink water that day. Ambedkar states this situation as “No peon, No water”. He had to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him. However, his Brahmin teacher Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond of him, was gracious enough to change his surname from ‘Ambavadekar’ to his own surname ‘Ambedkar’ in school records.
Higher Education: In 1897, when Ambedkar’s family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai), he was admitted to Elphinstone High School, as the only one untouchable student. In 1906, when he was 15, he was married to a 9-year-old girl Ramabai, according to the traditional system. In 1907 he passed his Matriculation examination, and in the following year, he entered Elphinstone College, becoming the first from his untouchable community to do so. By 1912, he obtained his degree in economics and political science from Bombay University. In 1913, he moved to the United States, having been awarded a Baroda State Scholarship of 11.50 dollars per month for three years to provide opportunities for postgraduate education at Columbia University. He passed his M.A. exam in June 1915. In October 1916 he studied for the Bar exam at Gray’s Inn and enrolled at the London School of Economics to work on a doctoral thesis. In June 1917, he had to go back to India as the term of his scholarship from Baroda ended. However, he was given permission to return and submit his thesis within four years.
Career: In 1918, he became professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College in Bombay. In 1920, he began the publication of Mooknayak (Leader f the Silent) in Bombay with the help of the Maharaja of Kolhapur. For the achievement of Dalit (downtrodden) rights, he started some more periodicals like Bahiskrit Bharat and Equality Janta. By 1927, he decided to organise active movements against untouchability. And for this, he started public movements and marches to open up and share public drinking water resources and for the right to enter Hindu temples. He led a Satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchables. In 1930, he launched the Kalaram Temple movement. This was a non-violent movement of about 15,000 volunteers. In 1936, Ambedkar founded Independent Labour Party, which contested in 1937 Bombay election to the Central Legislative Assembly for the 13 reserved and 4 general seats, securing 11 and 3 seats, respectively.
Role in drafting India’s Constitution: Upon India’s independence on 15 August 1947, the new Congress-laid government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation’s first Law Minister, which he accepted. On 29 August, Ambedkar was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, charged by the Assembly to compose India’s new Constitution. And this provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability, and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. It was adopted on 26 November 1949, He was appointed a member to the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) in March 1952 and remained a member till death.
Conversion to Buddhism: Being agitated by the caste system and the dealings with the so-called untouchables of Hinduism, Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in a formal public ceremony in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. He then proceeded to convert some 50,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him. His conversion to Buddhism sparked a revival in Buddhist movement in India and abroad. His message to his followers was “Educate! Organize! Agitate!”
Death: Bhimrao Ambedkar died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1990.