Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

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A profile

Some biographical information about Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, April 15, 2016

See graphic

Some biographical information about Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Popularity abroad

Busts, statues, memorial lectures, as in 2018

Subodh Ghildiyal, Ambedkar cult spreading across world, May 29, 2018: The Times of India

Yet Another US Univ Installs Bhimrao Bust

When Bhimrao Ambedkar’s bust was inaugurated in University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 5, it marked another step in the growing global footprint of the iconic emancipator.

Statues and university chairs in Ambedkar’s name as also studies on his thought are growing at a rapid pace across continents. The unveiling of the bust was part of an international conference on ‘Unfinished Legacy of Ambedkar.’ The programme was facilitated by the Indian/Dalit diaspora of Boston.

In November 2017, three universities in Canada instituted annual Ambedkar memorial lectures. British Columbia University, Simon Fraser University and York University are no strangers to Ambedkar. Fraser had installed an Ambedkar bust in 2004 and York in 2015.

It has been slow in coming but Ambedkar’s name is spreading. Vivek Kumar, professor of sociology in Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “Universities in major countries work with local communities. And there is a vibrant Dalit diaspora in the US and Canada. They have been arguing with campuses that when you teach Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela, you cannot ignore Ambedkar who was a torchbearer of human rights.”

Now, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations is set to establish a chair for a semester on ‘Ideology of Dr Ambedkar’ at Simon Fraser University.

If there is an awakening of sorts about the author of the Indian Constitution, experts say it stems from a curious mix of circumstances. Just when Dalit diaspora is asserting its identity across countries, from North America to Europe to Australia, there is also a growing interest in the Dalit dimension of emancipation, part of the ‘race and caste’ debate. Hyper communication across borders is only intensifying the process.

Prof A Ramaiah of Tata Institute of Social Sciences believes the true vehicle for spread of Ambedkar is his philosophy based on Buddhism which talks about world peace, women’s rights and harmonious living. “He is not just about caste. In sociology and anthropology, he is becoming popular across countries,” he said.

Helping the Ambedkar cult is Ambedkar himself, with an international profile comprising doctorates from Columbia University and London School of Economics. Observers say Ambedkar’s memory saw a revival with his centenary in 1991. While a bust was installed in his alma mater LSE in 1994, Columbia University followed suit in 2000.

The trend may only spread further through Indian diaspora in developed countries.

Brahm Dutt, an engineer turned businessman, played a key role through Ambedkar International Mission in installing the bust at York University. “We now want that Ambedkar should be part of school curriculum in Canada, there should be essays written about him in universities,” he said.

Ideological and legal issues

The Times of India, Apr 18 2016


On hero-worship

The only political figure who can match Mahat ma Gandhi in the number of statues installed across India is Dr BhimraoBabasahebAmbedkar, The manner in which Ambedkar's birth anniversary is celebrated and the speeches made by politicians are ample proof of hero-worship. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly ,Ambedkar had issued a warning, which has contemporary relevance.“This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than, in the case of any other country . For, in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country. Bhakti in religion may be a road to salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship,“ he had said.

Buddhism and reservations

Ambedkar and his wife converted to Buddhism in Nagpur on October 14, 1956.He took to Buddhism after presiding over a congregation of nearly five lakh members of Dalit communities to protest against rabid discrimination and unequal treatment meted out to them by upper caste Hindus. He had full faith in the Dalit community's ability to compete with others in every field, including electoral battles, even if they wrenched themselves out of Hinduism and threw away the SC tag. But, many after 60 years are still not convinced.

D P Meshramand court judgements

A leader of the Dalit community in Nagpur, D P Meshram, too was intrinsically involved in organising the mass conversion to Buddhism. Two months later, on December 6, 1956, Ambedkar passed away . With him, the resolve for the fight for uplift of Dalits too possibly passed away . What has remained is politicians' resolve to reap electoral benefits. Meshram got elected to Maharashtra assembly in 1962 from a constituency reserved for SCs. His election was challenged by Punjab Rao. An election tribunal disqualified Meshram saying the evidence indisputably suggested that he had converted to Buddhism along with Ambedkar in 1956 and hence could no longer be regarded as part of the SC community as the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 said “no person who professes a religion different from Hindu or Sikh religion shall be deemed to be Scheduled Caste“. Despite the telling evidence, the Bombay high court ruled that there was no evidence to show that Meshram had converted to Buddhism. In the Supreme Court, Meshram took the plea that during the mass conversion ceremony in Nagpur, he was entrusted with serving water to the congregation and hence could not participate in the conversion programme. By taking that argument, he was not only dishonouring Ambedkar but also abandoning his ideals. The apex court in Punjab Rao vs Meshram [1965 AIR 1179] said there were other evidence of Meshram converting to Buddhism and hence was ineligible to become a candidate in a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes.


Interestingly, the very Ambedkar was criticised 60 years ago by the father of political cartooning in India, Keshav Shankar Pillai, who had lampooned the snail-paced work of framing the Constitution. When the same cartoon found a place in a Class XI text book in 2006, it was promptly ordered to be removed by then HRD minister Kapil Sibal, a great votary of free speech.

On the communists

Interestingly ,Ambedkar had a very different view about the communists. On November 25, 1949, Ambedkar strongly refuted the suggestion that fundamental rights should be absolute and unalterable. He said, “The condemnation of the Constitution largely comes from two quarters, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party . The second thing that the socialists want is that the fundamental rights mentioned in the Constitution must be absolute and without any limitations so that if their party comes into power, they would have the unfettered freedom not merely to criticize, but also to overthrow the state. If those who are dissatisfied with the Constitution have only to obtain a 23rd majority and if they cannot obtain even a two-thirds majority in the Parliament elected on adult franchise in their favour, their dissatisfaction with the Constitution cannot be deemed to be shared by the general public.“

Political philosophy

The Times of India, Apr 14 2016

Amulya Gopalakrishnan

If you can't erase him from memory , coopt him.

That's the logic behind the competitive celebrations of BR Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary . BJP, Congress, the Left, BSP and others are fighting to claim him, each highlighting convenient aspects of his thought.

Ambedkar, though, was a true original. He eludes their grasp, which tries to slot him as a great lawgiver, a nationalist, a Muslim-baiter, a liberal and a democrat, a champion of reservations, a sceptic of communism, a Buddhist trailblazer, and so on.

The most brazen ownership attempt comes from BJP and R S S, whose worldview is exactly what Ambedkar considered his mission to annihilate. “BJP has been trying to woo Dalits, but rather than a larger agenda, it has confined itself to cosmetic things like purchasing Ambedkar's London home, building more statues and trying to appropriate him as a mere icon,“ says Vidhu Verma, professor at JNU. PM Modi compares Ambedkar to Martin Luther King, but has earlier even referred to him as the “modern Manu“ -perhaps unaware that Ambedkar's public burning of the Manusmriti is a milestone in the Dalit struggle.

Ambedkar despised Hinduism as “nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations“ organised around caste. He is absolutely clear that “the idea of Hindustan for Hindus is not only arrogant... it is arrant nonsense“.

Hindutva ideologues seek common cause with him, sayi ng Ambedkar was anti-Muslim and anti-communist, and that he chose Buddhism rather than one of the Abrahamic religions. But they forget his emphatic view that “no matter what the Hindus say , Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy“.

Hindutva voices on Ambedkar often cherrypick from his `Pakistan or Partition of India', a book organised logically in parts titled the `Muslim case for Pakistan', the `Hindu case for Pakistan', `What If Not Pakistan' and so on. By quoting from the second section, without co nveying context, they present him as an anti-Muslim bigot.

But while Ambedkar did urge social reform on Muslims, he was aware of the sense of being a besieged minority in a Hindu-dominated society. As he saw it: “It is this consciousness, that he has to save himself from being submerged by the Hindus, socially and politically , which remains the primary cause why Indian Muslims are backward.“

He objected to the communal politics of Savarkar as well as that of the Muslim League.

In fact, the potential solidarity he saw between Muslims and lower castes was precisely what still threatens BJP . “There are many lower orders in Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of Muslims and they could be far more ready to make a common cause with Muslims than they would with high-caste Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries.“

Congress claims that for all his differences with the party , Ambedkar was part of its “dhara“. While it stresses that Cong ress brought him to head the drafting committee for the Constitution, it forgets that much of Ambedkar's political struggle was defined against Congress and Gandhi, whose political philosophy clashed with his at every point, whether it was varnashrama or the glorification of village life. Gandhi, who forced the signing of the Poona Pact, saw separate electorates as a British ploy to divide Indians; Ambedkar saw it as essential for political equality between caste Hindus and Dalits.

For the Left, which now speaks of a great red-and-blue solidarity , Ambedkar doesn't go down easy in terms of ideology or history . When asked why he could not ally with the communists, he said: “For the plain reason that I don't believe in Communism.“ He attributed his defeat in the 1952 elections to the S A Dange-led communist campaign against him.

As Ambedkar saw it, Communists were blind to caste oppression. He spoke up for the worth of private property and money , he defended constitutionalism against the “the dictatorship of the proletariat“ that the Left sought.

Religious beliefs

On the Vedic faith

Vaibhav Purandare, How Babasaheb rejected and criticised the Vedas, Jan 24, 2017: The Times of India

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the framer of India's Constitution not only never believed in the Vedas or Vedic faith but severely criticised it several times, once going to the extent of writing, in his canonical work ` Annihiliation of Caste', that “you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and shastras, which deny any part to morality .“

The first eight of the 22 vows that Ambedkar administered to his followers on the day he embraced Buddhism in Nagpur on October 14, 1956, were also an open repudiation of the Vedic religion, said scholar Hari Narke, who edit ed volumes 17 to 22 of Ambedkar's writings and speeches, published by the Maharashtra government.

In 1936, Ambedkar wrote, “The Hindu religion, as contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up. What is called religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.“

Offering a radical solution to the problem of too many scriptures in Hinduism, he said the “Vedas, Shastras and Puranas, which are treated as sacred and authoritative, must by law cease to be so and the preaching of any doctrine, religious or social contained in these books should be penalised.“ Describing the great work of the Buddha, Ambedkar stated that the founder of Buddhism had “repudiated the authority of the Vedas“.When Buddha condemned “karma kanda“ (rituals) and Yagnas, Ambedkar stated, the “counter-revolutionaries“ opposed him saying these things “were ordained by the Vedas, the Vedas were infallible.“

But, he wrote, “People who had accepted the gospel of social equality and who were remaking society on the basis of each one according to his merits--how could they accept the Chaturvarnya theory of gradation and separation of man based on birth simply because the Vedas say so?“ In at least four of his works in addition to the controversial `Riddles in Hinduism -Caste in India' (1916), `Annihilation of Caste' (1936), `Who were the Shudras' (1946) and `The Untouchables' (1948) -Ambedkar offered a strong indictment of the earliest known Hindu texts.

On Sanskrit and Varn(a)

The Times of India, Apr 25 2016

By Murli Manohar Joshi

One of the lesser known aspects about Babasaheb are his views on Sanskrit. During my tenure as HRD minister, I had a chance to look at the Sanskrit commission report on Sanskrit as an official language. It stated that... “during the few stormy days of the Constituent Assembly's discussion of this question, the impasse was sought to be solved by proposing Sanskrit as the Rashtrabhasa; and the late Dr Ambedkar, was also reported to have favoured that proposal. ....“

The late LK Maitra, who moved amendment 310 A (1) in the assembly, stated that if Sanskrit was accepted, “all the jealousies, all this bitterness will vanish ....... There will not be the least feeling of domination or suppression of this or that“.

A news item from `The Sunday Hindustan Standard' dated 11 September, 1949, reported “India's law minister, Dr Ambedkar, is among those who have sponsored Sanskrit as the official language of the Indian Union.“ Questioned about this move, Dr Ambedkar told a PTI correspondent that evening, “What is wrong with Sanskrit?“ The news item further says that “an amendment seeking Sanskrit to be India's official language will be taken up by the Constituent Assembly when the question of official language is considered by the House....“

In fact, Babasaheb wanted the resolution to be passed but he had to withdraw it due to opposition from members like Sri BP Maurya, who later regretted his opposition in a letter dated 14 February, 2001, addressed to the director of NCERT: “Because of my inexperience, I opposed the resolution. Ultimately the idea of the resolution was dropped.“

The amendment tabled by Shri Maitra was unfortunately lost after an acrimonious debate and thus the efforts of Babasaheb to keep India linguistically united were frustrated. Dr Ambedkar's engagement with Sanskrit was inspired by his keen desire to find out the truth about Aryan invasion. For this, he studied sources like the Vedas and Zend-Avesta with an open and critical mind. Wrote Babasaheb, “This evidence from the Zend-Avesta as to the meaning of the word Varna leaves no doubt that it originally meant a class holding to a particular faith and it had nothing to do with colour or complexion. The conclusions that follow from the examination of the Western theory may now be summarised. They are: The Vedas do not know any such race as the Aryan race.

There is no evidence in the Vedas of any invasion of India by the Aryan race and its having conquered the Dasas and Dasyus supposed to be natives of India.

There is no evidence to show that the distinction between Aryans, Dasas and Dasyus was a racial distinction.The Vedas do not support the contention that the Aryans were different in colour from the Dasas and Dasyus.

“If anthropometry is a science which can be depended upon to determine the race of a people, then...the measurements establish that the Brahmin and the untouchables belong to the same race.“

Dr Ambedkar's conclusions are unambiguous, though unfortunately, these are ignored by those who profess to follow his ideas and more often than not are quite strident in using the racial theory he sought to demolish.

It does not mean that Babasaheb's efforts to reform Hindu society should be ignored. If he had the courage to propose Sanskrit as official language, he also had the courage to oppose the rotten caste system and other evil practices of Hindu society which in his opinion were serious hindrances in establishing a truly democratic India.

In this backdrop, the PM's efforts to create a nationwide network for transmitting Dr Ambedkar's teachings in totality to the young generation are praiseworthy.In my opinion the institutions of higher learning should evolve an appropriate strategy for the same.

Spelling of surname

Babasaheb spelt it as ‘Aambedkar’ in statute

UP varsity renames ‘Aambedkar’ univ, as Babasaheb spelt it in statute, December 31, 2017: The Times of India

UP governor Ram Naik has approved a bill to change the name of one of the biggest varsities in the state, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Agra, to ‘Aambedkar University’. The name change has been brought after the governor, who is also the chancellor of the varsity, discovered that the Dalit icon had signed his name in Hindi on the Constitution as ‘Aambedkar’. Members of the varsity administration said students from next year onwards will be issued marksheets mentioning ‘Dr. BR Aambedkar University’ as the institution’s name.

UP govt ensures ‘Ramji’ is part of Ambedkar’s name

Neha Lalchandani, UP govt to make ‘Ramji’ part of Ambedkar’s name, March 29, 2018: The Times of India

‘Ramji’ will officially become the middle name of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar in Uttar Pradesh.

The state government passed an order on Wednesday asking all departments and high court benches in Lucknow and Allahabad to replace the use of ‘Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’ in documents and records with ‘Dr Bhimrao Ramji Aambedkar’, as signed by him on the pages of the Constitution.

The spelling of Ambedkar in English will remain unchanged, but the Hindi spelling will change so that his name is pronounced as ‘Aambedkar’.

Dr Lalji Prasad Nirmal, director of the Babasahib Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Mahasabha, said the campaign had been initiated by governor Ram Naik in December 2017, who had written to the Prime Minister, the chief minister and also the mahasabha, expressing his concerns over the prevalent incorrect spelling of the man who drafted the Constitution of India.

“The main point is the way the name should be pronounced. While its English spelling is correct, the spelling will have to change in Hindi, as will the pronunciation. Ramji was his father’s name. As per common practice in Maharashtra, father’s name is used as a middle name for sons,” he said.

Jitendra Kumar, principal secretary, general administration department, has issued the direction. Taking cognizance of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, where Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s name is written as Dr Bhimrao Ramji Aambedkar, the state government has “directed that all records, documents related to the government will now have his correct name”, the direction stated.

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