Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891 in the Mhow Army Cantonment, Central Provinces (present-day Madhya Pradesh) to a Dalit family. His family’s low caste status resulted in his early life being marked by discrimination, segregation and untouchability.
Ambedkar’s academic life was prolific. He obtained a B.A in economics and political science from Elphinstone College, an M.A and doctoral degree from London School of Economics, and another doctoral degree from Columbia University in 1927.
Role in India’s Independence Movement:
Ambedkar’s role in the independence struggle was complex. Unlike the dominant political discourse that focused on persuading the British to cede greater power to Indians, and to eventually leave India, Ambedkar’s interventions and advocacy centred more around the protection and furtherance of Dalit rights. As a result, he often clashed with the Indian National Congress.
He worked towards putting in place political safeguards for untouchables, the first of which was his presentation to the Southborough Committee that was preparing the Government of India Act 1919. Other instances of this were the Poona Pact and his setting up of the Scheduled Castes Federation party.
He also played a key role in social movements that fought for the rights of untouchables to access public utilities and temples, such as the Mahad Satyagraha.
Contribution to Constitution Making:
The Indian Constitution and its drafting process are often seen as synonymous with Ambedkar. He was often seen as the father of the Indian Constitution, and is probably the most well known of all Constituent Assembly members.
Ambedkar became a key figure in India’s constitution-making process due to the offices he held and his interventions and speeches in the Assembly. He was the Chairman of the Assembly’s most crucial committee – the Drafting Committee – and was also a member of other important Comittee. As chairman of the Drafting Committee, he had to defend the Draft Constitution which it prepared, and therefore intervened in nearly every debate.
On behalf of the Scheduled Caste Federation party, Ambedkar wrote and submitted States and Minorities to the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly. A mini-Constitution in itself, States and Minorities framed strong social and economic rights.
Comparatively, Ambedkar’s interventions and speeches, on various aspects of the Constitution, were often insightful, well-reasoned and scrupulously researched. This won him the support and respect of other members of the Assembly who allowed him to lead the constitution-making project.
Ambedkar was appointed as the first Law Minister of independent India in 1947. Ambedkar’s ideas as presented in the Hilton Young Commission served as an inspiration behind the creation of the Reserve Bank of India.
In 1956, Ambedkar with 3,65,000 supporters converted to Buddhism, after having devoted several years to studying the religion. Ambedkar’s reinvention of Buddhism in the language of social justice is popularly referred to as Dalit Buddhist movement, or Navayana, or Neo-Buddhism.
As a Scheduled Caste Federation party candidate, Ambedkar contested in India’s first general elections from Bombay North Central constituency. The elections, dubbed as ‘the biggest experiment in democracy in human history’ by Sukumar Sen (then Election Commissioner) saw Ambedkar finish fourth in the race – the unknown candidate from the Congress party took home the seat. Despite his loss in the Lok Sabha elections in 1952, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
In the later years of his life, his health worsened, and he passed away on 6 December 1956 in his sleep at his home in Delhi. His birthdate is celebrated as ‘Ambedkar Jayanti’ in the form of a public holiday. He was posthumously given the Bharat Ratna in 1991.
Dr Ambedkar wrote several books in his lifetime. He wrote three books on economics - Administration and Finance of the East India Company; The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India; and The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution. His book, Annihilation of Caste, is considered one of the most authoritative works on Dalit life and politics till date. His other writings include What Congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchables and Pakistan or partition of India. The Ministry of External Affairs has also published his written works and speeches.