|Born on 14 April 1891 to a Mahar family in
Mhow, Maharashtra, Ambedkar rose to become an exemplary scholar, statesman and
revolutionary leader in modern India. Fondly remembered today by Dalits as Babasaheb,
Ambedkar is a figure whose greatness the rest of India is still struggling to understand.
For those who appreciate any comparison of Ambedkar's importance to Dalits with that of
anti-racist leaders to Black America, we may say that he was a combination of the scholar
W.E.B.duBois, the slave rebel Frederick Douglas and the radical teacher/leader Malcolm X.
Ambedkar ranks easily amongst the most highly educated and erudite leaders of India. He spent many years studying a host of subjects ranging from economics and anthropology to politics, law and religion, in colleges and universities such as Elphinstone College, Bombay where he earned a B.A., Columbia University, USA, from where he earned an M.A. and a Ph.D., London University where he earned a D.Sc. and entrance to the Bar from Grey's Inn, London. Much of Ambedkar's education was made possible by financial support from the Gaikwad of Baroda who was known for his financial contributions to reformers and educators in what was the Bombay Presidency during colonial times.
|Yet, Ambedkar's education did not grant him the status of a
fellow human being when he returned to India. Untouchability. practiced by an overwhelming
majority of caste Hindus as well as other religious communities, stigmatized him in the
most pernicious ways. His own analysis refuted an understanding of untouchability as a racial
oppression. He argued instead that it arose as a social, political, religious, and
economic separation and denigration of practitioners of Buddhism in the historical period
of renascent Hinduism (see his book The Untouchables, 1948). For Ambedkar,
Buddhism represented the historical revolutionary experience in India, while Hinduism
represented the counter-revolutionary experience seeking to bring back an orthodoxy
founded upon the caste system.
Such an understanding of Hinduism was one of the main causes of Ambedkar's strong differences with Gandhi's approach to the struggle against oppressive practices such as untouchability. Throughout his active political life spanning more than three decades, Ambedkar spearheaded an alternative movement against the evils of the caste system--an alternative that was much more radical in content and modern in vision than the one that Mahatma Gandhi nurtured and led by example. The difference in their approaches is brought out by Dr. Eleanor Zelliot, a pioneer historian of Untouchables/Dalits in Maharashtra:
Ambedkar himself delineated his differences through minute study of Gandhi's vision of an ideal society and the specific practices which Gandhi upheld throughout his life. It is worth quoting a couple of paragraphs from his essay titled Gandhism: The Doom of the Untouchables, which forms part of his larger book titled What the Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables.
|The importance of Ambedkar has been recently attacked by certain intellectuals who seem to resent the celebration of Ambedkar on the national level. Dalit assertion is inevitably dealt with violence, both physical as well as ideological. Such times as these demand a nuanced understanding of the different roles which both Gandhi and Ambedkar played in reconstituting an independent India which would be truly free. For, it may be argued that regardless of the real differences between these two inspiring figures of India's struggle for freedom, both of them would represent a severe blow to the foundations of religious fundamentalism as we have come to experience in our midst.|
(from the essay Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah, reproduced in Ambedkar's Collected works vol. 1. The essay was originally an address to the Deccan Sabha of Poona given on 18th January 1940, on the occasion of the 101st birthday of the late Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade)
Major political struggles:
A book by Anand Teltumbde 'Ambedkar' In and For the Post Ambedkar Dalit Movement, published by Sugawa Prakashan, Pune. December 1997.
A paper by Anand Teltumbde Impact of New Economic Reforms on Dalits in India by Anand Teltumbde. Presented at the Seminar on 'Economic Reforms and Dalits in India' Organised by the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, on November 8, 1996.