Life and Mission of Dr Ambedkar


1. Education in U.S. - BRA’s thirst for knowledge & spur for ambition made him restless. He was now in no mood to return to his job, his short stay had been unhappy. In June 1913 the Maharaja of Baroda thought of sending some students to Columbia University for higher studies & advertised. BRA replied to advt, met Maharaja who decided to send BRA & three other students there for higher education. BRA signed an agreement with the Baroda state agreeing to devote his time studying the prescribed subjects & to serve the state for 10 years after completing his studies.
Life in America was a different ball game. He could move freely, read – write -talk-bathe with a status of equality. Life there was a revelation, it enlarged his horizon, and his life gleamed with a new meaning. A letter to one of his fathers friends give us a peep into his mind, ‘We must now, entirely give up the idea that parents give birth to the child and not destiny – Karma’. They can mould the destiny of the children and if we follow this principle, be sure that we will see better days ahead – progress will be hastened if male & female education are pursued simultaneously. ‘Let your mission’ concludes the man of 20, ‘thus be to educate & preach the idea of education to those atleast who are near to & close contact with you’.

Imbued with these thoughts & vision BRA knew well that he had to develop his native worth without the backing of name or influence for which tremendous hard work was necessary. Out of his stipend he had to remit some money home every month so expense had to be kept down. His college colleagues related afterwards with pride how BRA seized every possible hour for his study for which he had been given a life’s opportunity. He wanted to be a master so took up political science, moral philosophy, anthropology, sociology and economics as the subjects of his study.

Thus started ‘Dnyana Yadnya’, for 18 hours a day went on the endless digging for knowledge. After two years of hard work, BRA obtained his M.A. degree in 1915 for his thesis ‘Ancient Indian Commerce’. He also read a paper on ‘Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis & Development’ before the Anthropology Seminar of Dr Goldenweiser in May 1916. The second ladder of success was reached not long afterwards. Another thesis of his ‘National Dividend of India – A Historic & Analytical Study’ was accepted by the Columbia University in June 1916.

8 years later Messrs P.S. King & Son, Ltd, London published an extension of this thesis under the title, Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India. BRA then submitted the required number of copies of the thesis to the University. Columbia awarded him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy for this dissertation. In this thesis BRA traces the growth of the financial arrangements from the Act of 1833 under the imperial system. From chapters 10 to 12 the book becomes eloquent, interesting & powerful in its appeal. The style of the professor becomes one with the soul of the patriot and BRA bitterly exposes the British bureaucracy, denounces the designs & objects of the imperial system and lashes out at the reactionary forces in the country. While admitting that there was some progress he adds that everybody knows that the whole policy of India was dictated by the interests of the English industries & manufacturers. This book became a companion of the Members of the Indian Legislative Council & Central Assembly at the time of the budget discussions during the British regime, ready reference for students of economics.

Young Americans whose forefathers had struggled for the abolition of slavery of the Negroes were celebrating the success of a young man who had the will & mission of Lincoln & the labor of Booker T Washington. While in America he must have been impressed with two things, one was the Constitution of the U.S. and the 14th amendment, which declared the freedom of Negroes. Two was the life of Booker T Washington who died in 1915. He was a great reformer & the educator of the Negro race in America.

From the U.S. he reached London in June 1916. At New York  Lala Lajpat Rai tried to convince BRA to join the Indian Revolutionary Party but failed. BRA told Lalaji that he was a student, must complete his studies first without betraying the trust of the Maharaja who had given him an opportunity of his life. Immediately BRA got himself admitted to Grays Inn for Law for the study of Economics to the London School of Economics. While he was studying he was informed that period of scholarship was over and thus had to return to India – Baroda. Wanting to study further but bound by agreement he secured permission from London University to resume his studies within a period not exceeding four years from October 1917.

2. BRA reached Bombay on 21/8/1917. The British govt faced a deep crisis, depressed by war reverses, pressed by the Indian Home Rule movement and oppressed by the Indian revolutionary forces. In order to pacify Indians the then Secretary of State declared the policy of gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressive realization of responsible Government in India as part of the British empire. When Montagu visited India all sorts of people met him, for the first time in the political history of India the representatives of the Untouchables met him too.

BRA was felicitated by Sambaji Waghmare & others for his achievements in the academic world but he did not attend the meeting – embarrassed he was. BRA left for Baroda bound as he was to the State for 10 years but no hostel wanted a Mahar to stay so he took shelter in a Parsee inn. The Maharaja wanted to appoint BRA as his Finance Minister eventually but wanted him to gain experience first, made him Military Secretary to the Maharaja first. However he was treated by staff & peons as a leper. One day a group of Parsis armed with lathis asked him to vacate the Parsee hostel that he was living in. No Hindu or Muslim would give him shelter in the city. Neither the Maharaja or the Diwan were able to help. Disgusted he returned to Bombay in the end of 1917.

The Indian National Congress (referred to as INC) was now growing conscious of the existence of the Depressed Classes. But its sudden love emanated from an ulterior motive of winning their support for the Congress-league scheme in which premium was put on the separate identity of the Muslims, but notice was not taken of the Untouchables.

To consider the Congress-League demands the Depressed Classes (referred to as DC) held two conferences in Mumbai. At the first one, a resolution appealed to the Govt to protect the interest of the Untouchables by granting the DC the right to elect their own representatives to legislatures in proportion to their population & by another it asked the Congress to pass a resolution impressing upon the caste Hindus the need for removing all the disabilities imposed upon the DC in the name of custom & religion. Accordingly the Congress passed a resolution at its annual session held in December 1917. The second conference opposed the transfer of power to the caste Hindus and appealed to the govt to grant them the right to choose their own representatives.

Three months after the Congress resolution the DC held it’s First All India Depressed Classes Conference on 23-24/3/1918 in Bombay. It was attended by amongst other Maharaja of Baroda, Rabindranath Tagore, M.R. Jaykar, Shankaracharya of Dwarka, Tilak. Everyone asked for abolition of untouchability. At the end of the conference there came out with an All India Anti-Untouchability Manifesto signed by all prominent leaders that they would not observe untouchability in their everyday affairs. Tilak, however did not sign, on account of pressure from his followers.

3. Early Activism - Reserved & skeptical of the movement of the caste Hindus for the uplift of the Untouchables BRA did not associate himself with this conference. He was waiting for the right time to draw upon his energy & brainpower. First he must have a footing & position for which he had to earn his living. Law was on his mind. Through the help of a Parsi man he became a tutor to two students – started offering advice to dealers in stocks & shares. But soon it became known that its owner was an Untouchable and he had to close it down.

Yet the mind was busy with the ideas of intellectual conquest. BRA reprinted his paper on Castes in India in a book form & contributed a thought provoking paper on ‘Small Holdings in India & their Remedies’. In a depressed state of mind he heard of a vacancy in Bombay’s Sydenham College of Commerce, applied for the post of professorship. He accepted the post of Professor of Political Economy in November 1918 as his object was to collect money & return to England to complete his education. At first the students were apprehensive on the competence of an Untouchable but as time passed by they respected him, in fact students from other colleges came to attend his lectures.

Some Gujarati professors objected to his drinking water from the pot reserved for the professional staff. Wanton insults & humiliations were goading him to go to the root of the trouble. So gradually he began feeling the pulse of the Untouchables & was silently contacting all the centers of sympathizers with their cause. It was with this intent that he encouraged the felicitation of P Balu on his great achievements in cricket. Another prince Shri Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur did his utmost to promote education among the lower classes, eradicate prejudices and barriers created by the caste system.

Around this time Karamveer Shinde & BRA were called upon to give evidence before the Southborough Committee dealing with the franchise in the light of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. BRA demanded separate electorates and reserved seats for the Depressed Classes in proportion to their population. With the help of the Maharaja of Kolhapur he stated a fortnightly paper titled Mook Nayak, Leader of the Dumb in January 1920. In articles therein he wrote it was not enough for India to be an independent country, she must rise as a good state guaranteeing equal status in matters religious, social, economic and political to all classes, offering every man an opportunity to rise in the scales of life & creating conditions favorable to his advancement. He wanted to awaken the DC to their disabilities, take to education & progress. BRA was not prepared for all out attack on Hindu society yet and besides his armory was not yet full with weapons.

At the All India Conference convened by the Untouchables in May 1920 at Nagpur was the first time that during a debate BRA’s skills & presence of mind as a debator and his ability as a prospective leader were seen to a remarkable degree. He defeated a proposal by Karamveer Shinde that the representatives of the Untouchables must be elected by the Members of the Legislative Council. It was here that BRA won his first victory in public life. BRA believed that howsoever-hard caste Hindus worked for their upliftment they did not know their mind. That is why he was opposed to any organizations started by caste Hindus for the upliftment of the DC. This Nagpur conference gave him an opportunity of turning the eyes of the Untouchables from the DC Mission. At the end of the conference he called the leaders together with a view to unite them for eg within the Mahar community there were 18 sub-castes.

4. Back to London - Although BRA drew a good salary as professor he lived a very simple life. He gave a fixed amount to his wife Ramabai for running the household. Dutiful, self-respecting, pious and given to self-denial she spent her early life in struggles yet lived in peace & harmony. Having lost her first two sons in infancy the health of her third son Yashwnt caused her anxiety. Yet she kept herself away from her husband’s study, gave him no news of any illness in the family. Like Tilak, Savarkar BRA too had a great wife.

At last he had saved some money plus help from Maharaja of Kolhapur & Naval Bathena he left for London to complete his studies in Law & Economics. Besides his studies he turned his attention to the London Museum where the relics of saintly & scientific thoughts are preserved. Whenever possible he was there from 8 am to 5 pm. He also read several volumes & old reports in the India Office Library, took down notes for his thesis. After a walk and light dinner he would start reading again at night till early morning. BRA lived so sparingly that he survived on a small sum of 8 pounds a month.

Yet he did not forget him main aim in life, he had seen Montagu the then Secretary of State and Vithalbhai Patel and had talks with them on the grievances of the Untouchables in India. He took great interest in his paper Mook Nayak too. The political scene in India was changing with dramatic suddenness. A short while after BRA came to London passed away India’s great son, Tilak. In the wake of this misfortune, surged and spread the politics of Gandhi. BRA described these times later as ‘the dark age of India’.

Gandhi who while collecting the Tilak Swaraj Fund had made the removal of untouchability one of the planks of the Congress propaganda, now refused to spend on it beyond a meager amount out of the one crore rupees collected. The Congress Working Committee now resolved that the problem of the upliftment of the Untouchables should be left to the Hindu Mahasabha as it was thought that they were alone concerned with the problem. The Act of 1919 recognized for the first time the existence of the DC.

BRA research work was now coming to an end.  Thesis ‘Provincial Decentralization of Imperial Finance in British India’ was completed for which he was awarded the Master of Science in June 1921. In October 1922 he completed his famous thesis ‘The Problem of the Rupee and submitted it to the University of London. His studies were now coming to an end. He went to Germany for a while when he was called back to London as his thesis had offended the British who asked him to rewrite the thesis without changing his conclusions. A few days earlier he had read a paper on ‘Responsibilities of a Responsible Government in India’ before the students union. It created a furor like his earlier writings and he was suspected to be a revolutionary.

Running out of money he returned to India in April 1923. A few days later he resubmitted his thesis ‘The Problem of the Rupee’ from Bombay. Accepted, he was at last awarded the degree of Doctor of Science. In this work BRA reveals how in the final settlement of the currency problem the relationship of the rupee to the pound was manipulated to the greater profit of the British, and how it inflicted hardships on the Indian people as a whole. BRA was now a Barrister reinforced by a London Doctorate in science, an American Doctorate in Philosophy and studies at Bonn University.

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