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I Was Born A Hindu But I shall Not Die A Hindu: The Struggle For Equality By Dr. B.R Ambedkar


“Our is a battle; Not for wealth, nor for power, ours is battle; for freedom; for reclamation of human personality.”- Dr. B.R Ambedkar.

The ‘untouchables’ of India have been treated as the beast of burden since the time of the law-giver Manu or even earlier. Thanks to the efforts of the Government of independent India as well as the concerned individuals and organizations to eradicate untouchability, today the common man has come to realize that this nation cannot afford to remain divided on the narrow caste and community lines.

On 14th April, 1891, India witnessed the birth of this legend who transformed the thoughts of the then existing Indian society. He was born in an untouchable ‘MAHAR’ family. His birth place was Mahu Cant in Madhya Pradesh. He was the fourteenth child of Ramji Sakpal and Bhimbai.

At the time of his birth, the Indian sub-continent was in the presage of a well required social revolution. It is not true to qualify this revolution merely as ‘nationalist movement’. Doubtless to say, the establishment of the political sovereignty was the impending need of the nation. But in fact, the rise and growth of nationalism was the political expression of the deeper changes that were undergoing in the society, culture and economy of the country.

The caste system with its baneful insistence on endogamy, hereditary occupation, untouchability and a pre-fixed social status made the conditions of the Dalits extremely miserable.

Ambedkar was married to a girl named Ramabai , a nine year old girl, at the age of fourteen. He passed his matriculation examination in 1907 from Bombay university. With the help of scholarship provided by Maharaja Syajiarao Gaekwad , he completed his bachelor degree in political science. Around the same time his father passed away. Although he was going through a bad time, he decided to accept the opportunity to go to USA for carrying out his further studies. He took his M.A degree in 1915 and Ph.D degree in 1916 from the renowned Columbia University, New York.

During his sojourn in London from 1920 to 1923, he also completed his thesis titled “The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and its Solution” for which he was awarded the degree of DSc. By the time he returned to India in April 1923, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar had equipped himself fully to wage war against the practice of untouchability on behalf of the untouchable and the downtrodden. Meanwhile the political situation in India had undergone substantial changes and the freedom struggle in the country had made significant progress.

In 1923, he set up the ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha’ (Outcastes Welfare Association), which was devoted to spreading education and culture amongst the downtrodden, improving the economic status and raising matters concerning their problems in the proper forums to focus attention on them and finding solutions to the same.

Dr. Ambedkar attended all the three Round Table Conferences in London and each time, forcefully projected his views in the interest of the ‘untouchable’. He exhorted the downtrodden sections to raise their living standards and to acquire as much political power as possible. He was of the view that there was no future for untouchables in the Hindu religion and they should change their religion if need be. In 1935, he publicly proclaimed,” I was born a Hindu because I had no control over this but I shall not die a Hindu.”

Dr. Ambedkar also founded two important political organizations, namely, “The Independent Labour Party of India” which he set up in 1936 and the “Scheduled Castes Federation” which was launched in 1942 as an all India political party. In the polls held in 1937, the Independent Labour Party of India achieved spectacular success by winning 15 out of 17 seats it had contested for the Bombay Legislative Assembly. During these days he stressed the need for abolition of the ‘Jagirdari’ system, pleaded for workers’ fight to strike and addressed a large number of meetings and conferences in Bombay Presidency. He was the Leader of the opposition till the Assembly came to an abrupt end in November 1939.

In his book “Annihilation of Caste” he charges the caste system as being the single most disastrous feature of Hinduism. He characterized it not as a division of labour but as the division of labourers. He writes

” It is a pity that Caste even today has its defenders. The defences are many. It is defended on the ground that the Caste System is but another name for division of labour and if division of labour is a necessary feature of every civilized society then it is argued that there is nothing wrong in the Caste System. Now the first thing is to be urged against this view is that Caste System is not merely division of labour. It is also a division of labourers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs division of labour. But in no civilized society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of labourers into watertight compartments. Caste System is not merely a division of labourers which is quite different from division of labour—it is an hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other. In no other country is the division of labour accompanied by this gradation of labourers”. (Annihilation of caste, pp 22, section IV). 

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his struggle for the liberation of the Dalits from the Hindu social slavery, had the right cognizance of the role that education has to play. He considered education as the most powerful weapon to raise the status of the deprived classes in the country. He desired the elevation of the depressed classes to be the responsibility of the enlightened people of the country. He, therefore, established a chain of schools, colleges and hostels under the buffer of the “People’s Education Society”, founded by him in 1945. His emphasis, however, does not rest merely on academic education. He had realized the importance of mass education. Accordingly he conceived education as a means to make the Dalits aware of their social realities and to develop in them courage and commitment to fight casteism. He writes

Though education is being given on a larger scale, it is not given to the right strata of Indian Society. If you give education to that stratum of Indian Society which has a vested interest in maintaining the Caste System for the advantages it gives them, then the Caste System will be strengthened. On the other hand, if you give education to the lowest strata of Indian Society, which is interested, in blowing up the Caste System, the Caste System will be blown up. At the moment the indiscriminate help given to education by the Indian Government and American Foundation is going to strengthen the Caste System. To make rich richer and poor poorer is not the way to abolish poverty. The same is true of using education as a means to end the Caste System. To give education to those who want to keep up the Caste System is not to improve the prospect of Democracy in India but to put our Democracy in India in greater jeopardy.”
(Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 17(lll)-p-522-523). 

Since 1948, Ambedkar suffered from diabetes. He was bed-ridden from June to October in 1954 due to medication side-effects and poor eyesight. He had been increasingly embittered by political issues, which took a toll on his health. His health worsened during 1955. Three days after completing his final manuscript The Buddha and His Dhamma, Dr. Ambedkar died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.

Dr. Ambedkar helped the people of India to open their eyes and become aware of many cruel distortions and injustices that had become institutionalized over the centuries-encrusting and weakening Indian society.

The contribution of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in building of modern India will long be remembered. His work as one of the prime architects of our constitution, the bedrock upon which the Indian nation rests, is of lasting importance. The work of Dr. Ambedkar was a source of inspiration not only to his own generation but the generations which have followed.