Life and Mission of Dr Ambedkar

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Childhood & Youth      

1. BRAs Family- Ambedkars come from Konkan. BRA’s ancestral village is Ambavade, five kms from Mandangad, a small town in the Ratnagiri district. The family had some prestige in the village. BRA’s grandfather Maloji Sakpal came of a good Mahar family. Of all the untouchables the Mahars are the most robust, adaptable, fighting, brave and leading community. It is believed that the Mahars were the original inhabitants of Maharashtra which they say was Mahar –Rashtra! Yet the origin of the word Mahar is said to be Maha-Ari, the great enemy! They were the first to come into contact with the Europeans. They formed a part of the Bombay Army of the East India Co just as the Dusads of Bihar.

Maloji was a retired military man. BRA’s father was Ramji & mother Bhimabhai. The family belonged to the devotional Kabir school of thought. Thus Bhakti school found consolation in the human attributes like love, compassion and resignation to God. These devotees sought & found moral/spiritual food in Lord Krishna/Ram. But the most important effect upon the mind of the followers of this school was that they had abolished the rigidity of the caste system as Kabir had condemned it.

An uncle of BRA’S conferred a boon on Ramji that soon would a boy be born who would leave his mark on history. Entranced with the belief, Ramji and wife intensified their religious observances. The boon took effect at Mhow, on April 14, 1891 & so was born Bhim. BRA’s mother Bhimabai came of the Murbadkars, an untouchable Hindu family. They were a rich family from the village of Murbad in Thane district. Fair by complexion, she had a broad forehead, curly hair, round glowing eyes & short nose.

BRA’s father secured a job in Bombay in the military quarters at Satara. His mother passed away when BRA was six. Being the youngest of five children now his married sisters looked after him turn by turn. Besides his father’s sister Mirabai was there to take care of the family. Soon BRA became her favorite. BRA’s father Ramji Sakpal lived a very industrious & intensely religious life. He offered prayers morning & evening. He read & recited to his children the Ramayana & Mahabharata, the two unfailing sources of divine inspiration. He also sang spiritual songs from the Marathi saint-poets like Moropant, Mukteshwar and Tukaram. Constant recitals of these songs provided his children with a certain toning & command over language at an early age. For 14 years Ramji served as headmaster in military schools & had attained rank of Subedar-Major. He was a teetotaler and never touched meat. A friend & admirer of Phule he was aware of the social problems faced by his community. When the British banned the recruitment of the Mahars in the Indian Army, Ramji took a lead in protesting, approached the ever helping Ranade to draft a petition appealing to the British to rescind the orders. No wonder BRA had derived from his father his painstaking spirit, forceful mental energy and intense interest in the welfare of his society.

2. Early Education - At Satara BRA completed his primary education. During his school days BRA realized painfully what the stigma of untouchability meant. Once he & his brother took a train for Goregaon. Since their father had not come to the station they took a bullock cart for Goregaon. When the god-fearing caste Hindu cartman came to know that the two brothers were untouchables he asked the brothers to get off the cart, took them back only after they had paid him double the fare. After that the caste Hindu walked behind the cart with BRA’s brother driving it. This was the first rude & shattering shock to the budding mind of Bhim. A few days the earlier impression got confirmed when he was drinking water stealthily at a public watercourse, got caught, and was beaten black & blue. The barber refused to cut his hair so his sisters cut his hair.

What an indelible impression these cruel disabilities must have made on Bhim’s young mind that was so strong, so sensitive & yet too resolute. Such insults must have engendered in him a burning hatred for Hinduism. Bhim was pugnacious, resourceful & fearless. He could defy anybody and anything that dictated rules of conduct & discipline.

A Brahmin teacher by the name Ambedkar loved Bhim very much. He dropped part of his meal into the hands of Bhim every recess. This teacher has left his impress on the life of his pupil. The original name of Bhim father was Sakpal. Bhim drew his surname Ambavadekar from his native village Ambavade, as Maharashtrian surnames are often derived from the names of the ancestral villages. ‘Friends it happens in other parts of India like Punjab’s ex-CM Parkash Singh Badal came from the village Badal. Sachin Tendulkar’s village is Tendu’. The teacher took so much fancy to the Bhim that he changed his surname from Ambavadekar to Ambedkar in the school records. Despite those oases of warmth, Bhim & his brother were not treated well at school.

He was a playful child who was not keen on studies but liked to indulge in all sorts of hobbies, fancies and gardening. When Ranade died in 1901 he was happy to enjoy the holiday not knowing who Ranade was. Sometime before this, Bhim’s father married again. Bhim did not like this and so decided that he must earn his own livelihood. He had heard from his sisters that boys from Satara had found jobs in mills in Bombay, thus, he decided to be a winding boy in a Bombay mill. Unable to arrange the money for fare to Bombay he decided to give up his truant habits, study hard, get through his exams as fast as possible so that he could be independent of his father. This marked a turning point in his life because he became so diligent that his teachers urged his father to give him the best possible education.

3. Then Ramji & family moved to Mumbai, stayed at Dabak chawl in Lower Parel. He got his sons admitted into the Maratha school. Under his father Bhim did the translation of Howard’s English Reader & the three famous translation books by Tarkhadkar. This improved Bhim’s English tremendously. Bhim like Tilak & Savarkar developed in his youth a passion for reading. His desire to possess books was insatiable. A wide reading, deep knowledge & historical perspective bestow upon their growing lives a certain prestige & toning, Bhim was no exception. Ramji borrowed money to ensure that his son was supplied with new books. It was his ardent desire that his son should become a man of letters & light.

After a few months, Bhim was sent to the Elphinstone High School a leading school. Bhim studied hard, read at night – early morning under a kerosene oil-lamp. Inspite of being a govt school there were the same prejudices. By virtue of living in a labor class locality i.e. Parel he had the opportunity of observing the conditions of the labor class. In this environment three years glided by. By dint of hard work he got through his exams.

Yet the school life of Bhim was to receive its unkindest cut that was so deep which all his life he remembered with strongest aversion. Both Bhim & his brother were not allowed to take up the study of Sanskrit – a key to the study of the Vedas, but were forced to take Persian instead against their will. Afterwards BRA studied Sanskrit partly by himself & sometimes with the help of some pandits & himself became a pandit. “In his opinion, Persian stands no comparison with Sanskrit as the latter, observes he, is the golden treasure of epics, the cradle of grammar, politics & philosophy and the home of logic, dramas & criticism”. Quote from Hudilkar, Prof Satyabodh. BRA praises Sanskrit.

Notwithstanding the ills & intolerable insults inflicted upon him and stimulated by his father to rise to a high position on life, encouraged by broad-minded men, Bhim passed the Matriculation exams in 1907 from Elphinstone High School. Bhim obtained 282 out of 750. This scoring of average marks is not uncommon in case of ambitious boys whose minds are absorbed in subjects other than texts and who become great in the future. But these marks were uncommon for an Untouchable. The community under the presidentship of S.K. Bole, a well-known social reformer, decided to honor Bhim. At this meeting well-known author & social reformer Krishnaji Arjun Keluskar took a fancy to Bhim & presented him with a copy of his new book, Life of Gautama Buddha.

4. A short time after the exams Bhim in abeyance to his father’s wishes got married in an open shed of the Byculla market in Bombay. Bhim was hardly 17 and his wife 9, name Rami she was renamed as Ramabai.

By now the problem of Untouchables had made headway. From among them emerged Shivaram Janba Kamble who convened the first Conference of Untouchables in India. He sent a memorandum to the British govt in 1910 appealing to them to enlighten & elevate the Untouchables ‘by allowing them to remain followers of their own ancestral faith’. Another stalwart from the Maratha community V.R. Shinde, educated at Oxford, started in 1906 the Depressed Classes Mission of India. It opened branches in other cities too.
Encouraged by his father Bhim studied further, completed his Inter Arts after which his father ran out of funds, approached Keluskar for help who called the Maharaja of Baroda reminding him of the announcement he had made a few days earlier at a Townhall meeting in Bombay, promising to help any Untouchable in the pursuance of higher studies. Mahaja Sayajirao Gaekwad asked Bhimrao some questions, satisfied, he granted him a scholarship of 25 rupees per mensem.

AIM. BRA studied now with a view to passing the exam. But reading was the greatest joy in life. It was directed to some purpose in life. It was his aim to arm himself with every possible missile, make himself master of a repository of knowledge & develop the power of his mind to prepare himself for higher attainments & a new life that was to open the portals & possibilities of a great career.

BRA passed his B.A. exams in 1912. It was during this period that the rights of Indians were totally suppressed by the British govt. This gave rise to a whirlwind of discontent. Tilak’s deportation to Mandalay & Savarkar’s brother’s revengeful transportation to the Andamans, imprisonment of several others shook Maharashtra violently. This state of repression must have agitated the strong currents of BRA’s mind.

The repercussions of these events were seen on his mind when he wrote his famous thesis, The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India. The patriot in BRA describes in it how the Brits resorted to repressive measures and indicts the British administration in India with these words, ‘Not satisfied with the aid of power with which the Executive was endowed by the provisions of the Criminal & Penal Codes to anticipate offenses by preventing acts, it besmeared the Indian Statue Book with a set of repressive laws hardly paralled in any other part of the world’. He tells us that the Indian Press Act of 1910, puts a muzzle on the Press. Few front tank authors of those times described this period of Indian history as pithily as BRA has done.

BRA’s reactions to Morley-Minto are noteworthy. Tracing the growth of constitutionalism at different stages, 1853-1861-1892001909, he says in his theses that it was always the intent of the British to make the legislature independent and at the same time muzzle it. He said that it was a Parliamentary system without a Parliamentary executive and in which the Legislature could neither make or unmake the Executive.

After his graduation, BRA took service in Baroda, the state of his benefactor. He was appointed to the post of a lieutenant in the Baroda State Forces. This move was probably a shrewd step fully aware that most offices being manned by orthodox Hindu upper classes it could create an unbearable situation for him. Barely 15 days later BRA had to rush to Bombay to see his ailing father who passed away on 2/2/1913. This was the saddest day of BRA’s life. So passes away Ramji Maloji, in debt but with exemplary character and unconscious of his great legacy to his clan, country & humanity. Having infused his son a strength of will to resist worldly temptations & a depth of spirituality unfound in his son’s contemporaries, he left him behind the fight the battle of life & to break the world to his way.