Ambedkar : Not a name, a continuing legacy

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As April 14, 2020, marks the 129th Birth Anniversary of the Father of the Indian Constitution; India after being a republic for 70 years is still working hard to achieve constitutional values like equality, liberty, fraternity, and social justice.

All of us are very familiar with the statue of a man wearing a blue suit holding the Indian Constitution in his hands. This can be easily seen on road intersections in both rural and urban India. Who is this man and what does this signify? He is none other than Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar, the icon who led the well-known anti-caste movement in India and who is also credited for framing the Indian constitution.

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Being born in a lower caste (Mahar), Ambedkar had to face caste discrimination as a child. He was not allowed to sit with other students in school and how he was denied to drink water from the common pot is very well known. Despite all these harsh circumstances, Ambedkar was a prolific student who was able to earn a doctorate in economics from both- Columbia University and the London School of Economics. After conferring his law degree, he began his research to know about the conventions that had repudiated the people of certain castes; the opportunity which people of other high castes enjoyed. Thus, he began questioning the very fundamentals of religion particularly Hinduism based, through a logical and rational bent of mind. From organizing movements for the entry of the untouchables in temples to fighting for them through constitutional means, Ambedkar dedicated his entire life for setting up a society based on social equality. This process of achieving the goal of a casteless community, what segregates Ambedkar from others is that he never left behind any section of the society when he talked about development. Not only did he raise his voice against the atrocities on people of Scheduled Castes, but he furthermore also discussed the relentless condition of women in the society and need of education for every student.

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“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved in the community over the period of time”, Ambedkar quoted while addressing a meeting of women peasants. He has and will always be given the credit for granting women with the Right to Vote right from the establishment of the Indian republic. In most democracies, women were given this right very late but Ambedkar made sure that a thing like this doesn’t take place in the Indian society and granted the Right to Vote irrespective of sex, caste and creed. By introducing social reforms like the “Hindu Code Bill” as the first Law Minister of Independent India, he made sure that women get property rights after marriage and have an equal say in grave matters like divorce. Moreover, he made Bigamy a punishable offence. He focused on women’s education and even opened educational institutions. His role as a ‘social reformer’ hardly requires any scrutiny. “Education is not only the birth-right of every human being but also a weapon of social change.” He thus realised the importance of education in the fight of bringing a social reform and for the upliftment of the Scheduled Castes and women. Even today, Article 21A of the Indian constitution mentions the Right to free and compulsory education. Ambedkar, thus only doesn’t earn the status of a social reformer or an administrator but an icon who shaped our modern India.

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Ambedkar is also largely responsible for structuring the democratic set up in India. He placed the need for achieving social and economic democracy much before accomplishing political democracy. Ambedkar always emphasised on the fact that for the working of a successful democracy, there must be no tyranny of the majority over the minority. The minority must always feel safe that although the majority is carrying on the government, morality is not being hurt, or that the minority is not being hit below the belt.

Ambedkar, in his early days, did support the need for a separate electorate for the backward castes as they were nowhere near to competing with the people of privileged castes. Later, he agreed for the provision of reservations in the public sector, legislature and even in education centres. He always believed that in order to sustain the ideals of equality in Indian society- first, it was necessary to provide the same platform to each and every person. A person burdened with the caste stigma enjoys no equal position or status with a person of a higher caste. But today, if he sees the condition of this provision, will it please him? Reservations, today are not implemented with the original idea. They remain tokenistic measures today, often used by the different political parties in power to consolidate their vote bank. No real outcome is visible as the suppressed continue to be suppressed and those who benefit from the system keep it to themselves.

He preached about communal unity and not to develop hatred against any religion. In 1956, Ambedkar adopted Buddhism and his conversion surprised a lot of people, including his critics. He fought a long battle throughout his life but as he once told BBC in an interview- it was in Buddhism where he found all his answers.

“We are Indians firstly and lastly.” This was Ambedkar’s response when a member of the constituent assembly asked him that why didn’t he leave India and urge for a separate land. That was Babasaheb. Critical, yet so humble. It was India’s fortune to have a son like Ambedkar. He wasn’t just a leader of Dalits but a leader of India. What students must learn from him is his thirst for more and more education and knowledge, to rise above narrow prejudices and hate.

At a time, when communal clashes are rising day by day, it is the need of the hour to follow the constitutional principles laid out by Dr Ambedkar. As we celebrate the birth anniversary of a national hero, it is crucial to work towards an egalitarian society where the marginalized are no longer denied opportunities, everyone lives with brotherhood and justice comes to the poor at the same rate as it reaches the rich.

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