The very first chapter of the eighth grade Civics textbook by NCERT is fifteen pages long. It is titled ‘The Indian Constitution.’ In the top right corner of the eleventh page there exists a black and white photograph with the following printed right below, in tiny font:
“Baba Saheb Dr Ambedkar is known as the Father of the Indian Constitution.
Dr. Ambedkar believed that his participation in the Constituent Assembly helped the Scheduled Castes get some safeguards in the draft constitution. But he also stated that although the laws might exist, Scheduled Castes still had reason to fear because the administration of these laws were in the hands of ‘caste Hindu officers’. He, therefore, urged Scheduled Castes to join the government as well as the civil services.” (i)
In my CBSE Curriculum school we all knew as soon as we saw this that maximum only one mark will come from this part. That is if Ranjini ma’am was setting the paper, (because she would ask from the pictures and tables and all) so we would make a mental note: Dr. B R Ambedkar- Father of Indian constitution. The latter paragraph would be ignored.
The question would not come, even if Ranjini ma’am had set the paper. The six fundamental rights printed in a blue box would come, sometimes for six marks, sometimes for four marks. We would know the answer, because the night before we would have sat at our homes in the monarchy of Dubai and parroted it. What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger?
We often tend to push Ambedkar away by saying he fought only against caste. When my friends tell me this, I only feel like patting them on their head. How unfortunate. This is exactly what we Savarnas do. We create oppressive systems that force extremely skilled people to fight for basic rights to level the field, before they can get to what they actually wish to do and say. We then conveniently use that as an excuse to malign, ignore and erase them completely.
Dr. Ambedkar was one of the most well educated leaders in our country. He spoke about caste because he knew it had to be dealt with in order to level the field. He was working towards granting us the ‘equality’ we all tend to ask for today in moments blinded by privilege and resistance to learning.
One of the biggest arguments against him is that he worked only for the Dalits and had no other significant contributions to our country other than drafting the Indian Constitution. This has been purely out of ignorance.
· Ambedkar the Linguist knew nine languages in excellent proficiency- Hindi, Pali, Marathi, Sanskrit, English, French, German, Persian and Gujarati. He was able to write two books- ‘Maharashtra as a Linguistic Province’ and ‘Thoughts on Linguistic States.’
Ambedkar the Economist was the first Indian to obtain an economics doctorate degree abroad, and was the first Indian to graduate with a DSc in Economics. He was the first South Asian with a PhD and Double doctorate in Economics.
He was able to do a thorough research on our Nation’s economy, enough to write a well-researched book, ‘The Problem of the Rupee: Its origin and its solution’, the Reserve Bank of India was formulated on 1st April, 1935 on the basis of the guidelines provided in this book. For two years in my school I studied Economics, not even once was his name mentioned. (ii)
Babasaheb also wrote the paper, ‘Administration and finance of the East India Company’, contrary to the then Congress belief, and at present almost every Savarna’s belief that he was the ‘Stooge of the British’ in this paper he exposes in great detail how the British government had failed India’s development. He wrote,
“if India’s tribute cannot be weighed in the scales of justice and humanity then England’s contribution cannot be weighed in the scale of gold and silver. The last statement is both literally as well as figuratively true. England has added nothing to the stock of gold and silver in India : on the contrary, she has depleted India— ” the sink of the world.”— Her contribution lies in an uneconomic realm: but just the same, it is too great to be measured in terms of coin.” (iii)
Exactly 100 years later in 2015, Congress’ Shashi Tharoor would deliver a speech in the Oxford Union debate, in favor of the motion, ‘This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’ His points in that speech would bare close similarities to the points Babasaheb raised in this 1915 paper, but with more updated figures. Nobody would remember Babasaheb unless they had read this paper. Tharoor would be hoisted as the most patriotic, well informed Indian even five years later.
· Ambedkar the Botanist and Agriculturist knew the scientific names of every plant he grew in his large garden at home from his early morning tours in the fields of the Agricultural Research Institute. Namdeo Nimgade, an agricultural scientist and admirer of Babasaheb writes, “Conspicuously visible were the experimental plots carved out of the lawn that Babasaheb dedicated to all sorts of horticultural experiments of his own—so keen was his desire to see India free of famine.”(iv) Polonius also writes, “As regards gardening, his garden in Delhi was easily the best and most picturesque, a fact which was commented upon by the Daily Mail of London.”(v)
· Ambedkar the feminist wrote and fought for almost three years for the Hindu Code Bill to be passed- a Bill that granted women a better status under regressive Hindu laws. He defended R D Karve in court when he wrote about the necessity for contraceptives and birth control to fight against the increasing population. (vi)
When appointed as the Labour Minister, Ambedkar was the first person who brought “Equal pay for equal work irrespective of the sex” in India in terms of Industrial workers. He framed many laws for women workers such as ‘Mines Maternity Benefit Act’, ‘Women Labour Welfare Fund’, ‘Women and Child Labour Protection Act’, ‘Maternity Benefit for Women Labour’, and ‘Restoration of Ban on Employment of Women on Underground Work in Coal Mines.’ Ambedkar also vouched for the ‘Universal Adult Franchise’ before the Southborough Commission. (ii)
· Ambedkar the musician learnt the violin and would play it to relax. His melodious tunes would cause excitement among all the staff in his house- a symbol of the success of his musical capabilities. He also knew how to play the tabla, a skill learnt from his brother Anandrao. (vii)
· Ambedkar the qualified leader was made the Labor Minister, though he was actually the most qualified to become the Prime Minister. However, between his tenure from 1942 to 1946, he brought about changes that massively bettered worker life today. He brought down the working hours from twelve to eight hours in the 7th session of the Labour conference (November 27, 1942.) He also initiated the Employees State Insurance for the welfare and protection of workers, making India the first nation among East Asian countries to bring an Insurance Act for its employees. He also introduced ‘Dearness Allowance’ (DA) & ‘Leave Benefit’ and ‘Revision of Scale of Pay.’ He had recognized the ‘Right to Strike’ and the ‘Indian Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill’ for compulsory recognition of trade Unions. He has done much more in his four year tenure as the Labour Minister, but that requires a paper of its own. (ii)
· Ambedkar the journalist founded his first newspaper on 31 January 1920- Mooknayak (The Leader of the Voiceless.) On 3 April 1927- Bahishkrit Bharat (India of the outcastes), on 29 June 1928- Samata and on 25 November 1930- Janata. His final publication, Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened or Awakened India) came out on 4 February 1956. (viii) He maintained detailed reporting diaries of newspaper clippings marked with a red pencil to keep track of leaders and issues. His thoughts on Journalism are very interesting, and a must read for Journalists of today.
· Ambedkar the Lawyer fought for labourers and workers exploited by landowners. He also fought for the Freedom of Speech, as seen in the Jedhe and Javalker case, where he argued against a very famous lawyer for three non brahmin leaders against a few Brahmins who claimed that the trio were slandering Tilak in their book ‘Enemies of the Nation.’(vi)
· Ambedkar the Sociologist Doctor studied and exposed one of the most important yet hidden diseases in our society- caste, and even provided the solution, all in one crisp speech- the Annihilation of Caste.
· Ambedkar the Librarian and bibliophile was an avid collector of all kinds of books, he made it a point to spend ten percent of his income on books. His library is one of the biggest personal libraries, with more than 50,000 books. There is even an incident of the British commission having to borrow from Babasaheb a report they had searched for all over the country.
· Ambedkar the Scientist and Engineer brought to India the concept of the ‘Grid System’, that runs our country’s electricity network even today. He had six criteria to be fulfilled before any land was used for dam building. Based on this, he is the architect of some of the most successful dam projects in our country- Damodar Valley project, Bhakra-Nangal Dam project, Sone River Valley project and Hirakud dam project. He established the “Central Technical Power Board” (CTPB) for power system development, hydro power station sites, hydroelectric surveys, analyzing problems of electricity generation and thermal power station investigation. He also set up systems for the best electric engineers to go overseas and further their skills. (ix)
· Ambedkar the Counsellor was kind and considerate, and was willing to help and advice everyone who came looking for it. Polonius writes, “During his stay in New Delhi his bungalow used to be the daily visiting place of scores of inferior government servants, menials, labourers and others whose grievances he heard in rapt attention, and redressed them. So much so that his bungalow came to be known locally as Insaf ki Kothi or House of Justice.” (x)
Professor Helekar wrote about Ambedkar once for the Siddharth College magazine. Here he mentions an incident of a newly enrolled advocate of the Brahmin caste who had come to Ambedkar for advice on where to practice. After mentioning how the advocate was now doing well, Helekar writes, “So not only Scheduled Caste people, but all classes of people came to him for advice and for everybody he had a word of encouragement and hope.” (xi)
· Ambedkar the Professor was never biased, not even to his Dalit students. He wanted every student to be an “ideal student.” Ramchandra Banaudha, Ambedkar’s biographer wrote about a specific system Ambedkar would follow to grade his student’s papers. (xii) One I find to be followed today by my college professors.
The list does not end here. It is a matter of great admiration that he was able to achieve all this and more despite having to bear the burden of his caste, and the lack of finances due to which he could not afford treatment for his loved ones. There is so much more to say about this great man that our Savarna education has conveniently ignored. We have murdered all these versions, and reduced him to one line, and one struggle, all the while utilizing his brilliance on all matters.
Yes, Babasaheb did spend his lifetime trying to better the lives of Dalits by fighting for their representation and access to resources. Now we know that that was not his only contribution. But if a man of his caliber had focused this much on this issue, does it not mean that this was an issue that needed to be continuously looked at in great detail?
Drawing upon India’s history and decisions made since Independence, he provides his reasoning to focus on caste in our society in the very beginning of his speech- ‘Annihilation of Caste.’ If only we could just open the book and read! There is a reason that the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore cancelled his appointment as President of the meeting to prevent this speech from being heard. There is a reason for it to be called ‘The Undelivered Speech’. Are you not curious to find out why they were so scared?
i. Social and Political Life-III. The Indian Constitution, NCERT, pp. 11.
ii. “Unknown facts.” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. www.drambedkar.co.in/about/unknown-facts/.
iii. Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Administration and Finance of the East India Company. Columbia University, 1915. www.drambedkar.co.in/wp-content/uploads/books/category2/8admin_eastindiacompany.pdf.
iv. Nimgade, Namdeo. “He knew the Botanical names of plants in his garden.” Ambedkar: The Attendant Details. Navayana, 2017. Pp 112.
v. ‘Polonius’, Kartar Singh. “His Bungalow came to be known as House of Justice.” Ambedkar: The Attendant Details. Navayana, 2017. Pp 100.
vi. “His fight for justice helped establish him as a lawyer.” The Times of India. 14 April 2016. www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/His-fight-for-justice-helped-establish-him-as-a-lawyer/articleshow/51818305.cms
vii. Khairmode, Changdev Bhavanrav. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (12 vols.) Pune: Sugava Prakashan, 1952ff. (In Marathi. Translations have been provided by Rohini Shridhar Shukla.) http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/timeline/khairmode_shukla.html
viii. Siddharth. “Dr Ambedkar’s Journalism: From ‘Mooknayak’ to ‘Prabuddha Bharat’.” Forward Press, 26 January 2020, http://www.forwardpress.in/2020/01/dr-ambedkars-journalism-from-mooknayak-to-prabuddha-bharat/
ix. Pal, Sanchari. “B R Ambedkar: 10 Facts You Probably Don’t Know About the Father of the Indian Constitution.” The Better India. 14 April 2017. www.thebetterindia.com/95923/bhimrao-ambedkar-father-indian-constitution-little-known-facts-life/
x. ‘Polonius’, Kartar Singh. “His Bungalow came to be known as House of Justice.” Ambedkar: The Attendant Details. Navayana, 2017. Pp 99.
xi. Professor Helekar. “With a Lungi, dressed in Madrasi fashion.” Ambedkar: The Attendant Details. Navayana, 2017. Pp 89.
xii. Moon, Vasant. “His Bill on Contraception in 1983 was Opposed by all.” Ambedkar: The Attendant Details. Navayana, 2017. Pp 51.