I’m Cheran from Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC) , first and foremost I would like to thank San Jose Peace & Justice Center for this wonderful opportunity. It’s a pleasure to be here on this occasion for Dr. King’s birth anniversary and to talk about one of India’s great social revolutionaries, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, fondly called as “Babasaheb”.
Many of India’s founding fathers had a dream about India, what kind of India they wish to see. Let’s take Dr. Ambedkar and Mr. Gandhi. Gandhi’s idea of India was that “the workers should live at the mercy of the trustees and the capitalists, stability is more important than the social justice. Dr. Ambedkar’s vision was that “the country has to built on the values of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality”. Mr. Gandhi is popular in the West, not only because the Indian elites export Mr. Gandhi and his philosophy, but also because his philosophy serves the interests of West. Dr. Ambedkar dealt with this topic of “Gandhi-ism” in his important book “What the Congress and Gandhi Have Done To the Untouchables”. In simpler terms Mr. Gandhi was committed to “order and stability” and Dr. Ambedkar was devoted to “Social justice and dignity”.
Our most celebrated and beloved founding father, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who was devoted to justice rather than order and who was committed to dignity over stability.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on the 14th of April, 1891 in an untouchable family, who were denied rights to basic necessities like water, land and education based on caste. He went on to become the first Indian who earned his Doctorate in Economics from Columbia University, USA in 1923. (Columbia with an MA in Economics with Sociology, History, Anthropology and Philosophy as well as a PhD in Economics in 1927, his professors were John Dewey – American Philospher and Educator, James Shotwell – played an important role in setting up International labor Ogranisation, Edwin Seligman, American Economist and James Harvey Robinson). During his childhood he suffered discrimination in school. Even after earning a Master’s degree from Columbia University, he returned to India to serve in the government of the princely state of Baroda to repay the scholarship he had secured for his studies.
Fig. Columbia University conferred the LL.D.degree on Dr. Ambedkar. The photograph while leaving Mumbai by plane on June 1, 1952.
Even there he wasn’t given room and board in any hotel and was forced to stay in a public hall. Even that stay only lasted for a very short period until Caste Supremacists forcefully vacated him.
Even when he moved to Bombay as a Professor at Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics he faced caste discrimination. He did not let himself be discouraged and started his own law practice. During this time he continued his political activism, deposing before the Southborough Committee, which was finalizing the Government of India Act 1919. Ambedkar argued for the creation of separate electorates as well as reservations for untouchables and other religious minorities. He also started publishing the weekly magazine Mooknayak (Leader of the Silent) in Mumbai.
Fig. Dr. Ambedkar with his devoted colleagues of the People’s Education Society, Bombay. ( July 1945 )
He declared the principle “Educate, Agitate and Organize” which emphasized the importance of education for the depressed classes and created a non-profit organization Depressed Classes Education Society in 1928, which established many hostels for high school students and supported their education. In 1946 he established the Siddharth College of Arts & Science. His zest for knowledge lead him to collect and read more than 500K books, and he published many deeply researched papers and books on Hinduism, Caste and other socioeconomic topics.
Dr Ambedkar became a formidable force in Indian politics representing the depressed classes during British colonial rule, while continuing his fight to secure social equality. He criticized the Caste system of Hinduism, claimed that without the destroying the Caste system with its graded embedded inequality, India cannot achieve true Democracy. He called for the annihilation of Caste was the first to say India is not a Nation, it’s a “Nation in the making”. Why India is not a Nation? He asked how people divided as thousands of Castes could be called a Nation. Caste is anti-national, which doesn’t allow fraternity to emerge and doesn’t allow sharing. What is a Nation then? Quoting Ernest Renan “A nation is a living soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute the soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the common possession of a rich heritage of memories; the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to preserve worthily the undivided inheritance which has been handed down.” It’s not only the Dalits that were denied rights but so were women, in basic development activities such as rights to education, property or divorce, or even of mobility. A Nation can be made only by inclusion of every section and gender of society into governance and decision making by providing equal representation. In his words “Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen.”
So in the principle of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, Dr. Ambedkar actively campaigned against untouchability and lead many movements for the right to access to public places and resources. In 1927 he led the Mahad Satyagraha, where he lead 1000s untouchables(Dalits) to draw water from the public pond in Raigad, Maharashtra.
He is one of the intellectuals who have played a major role in defining various institutions of modern India. He was appointed as Chairman of the Drafting committee of Indian Constitution. His contribution in the making of Constitution is extraordinary, the effort is about 2yrs 11 months and 18 days, being the Chairman presented the Draft Constitution which contained 395 articles and 8 Schedules. The total number of amendments tabled was approximately 7,635, out of them, 2,473 amendments were actually incorporated.
Fig. Labour Minister pays visit to the Slums of Mines Labours to listen their grievances.( 1942)
His other important contributions were, (i) Reserve Bank of India, was created on the basis of guidelines he presented to the “Royal Commission on Indian Currency & Finance” in 1925 and his book titled “The Problem of the Rupee- Its Problems and Its Solution” (ii) reduced the working hours from 12hrs to 8hrs in 1942 much before the other nations in the world were thinking about fair conditions to workers and also supported Article 19 (c) in Constitution which guarantees the fundamental right to form associations or unions (iii) responsible for establishing the Central Technical Power Board, the National Power Grid System and the Central Water Irrigation and Navigation Commission.
Dr. Ambedkar was one of the most prominent voices supporting the empowerment of women. His first academic paper, which he presented to Alexander Goldenweiser’s anthropology seminar in May 1916, specifically addressed the position of women in India. He proved that women traditionally enjoyed a high status in ancient India, and with unerring accuracy pointed out that because of the inherent patriarchy of the Manusmriti, women in India were denied rights to education, property or divorce, or even of mobility. As India’s first Law Minister, Babasaheb Ambedkar spearheaded the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill, giving rights of inheritance and property ownership to women, which was met with severe opposition, and lead to his resignation from the cabinet.
Dr. Ambedkar believed that a government’s primary duty was to guarantee and deliver those conditions that would actualise fullness of life for every citizen regardless of their caste, gender, religion or class. So he had provided one of the most comprehensive affirmative programme which guarantees equality of opportunity for all.
While presenting the constitution in Nov 25 1949, raises his concern about inequality in Indian society, “On the 26th January, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?”
Before concluding, I would like to quote both from Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. King. Dr.Ambedkar says, “Justice has always evoked ideas of Equality, of proportion of compensation”. In short, Justice is another name of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr , whose birthday we are commemorating today, reflect the same as , “Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. There is no other answer. Constructive social change will bring certain tranquillity; evasions will merely encourage turmoil.” Where as Mr. Gandhi says, “The Kisans(ie agriculture laborers or tenant) must be advised scrupulously to abide by the terms of their agreement with the Zamindars(landlords)”. Mr. Gandhi says in the interest of maintaining the peace and stability.
Friends and comrades, I would like to leave it to your judgement whose dreamed land we would like to live. Whether land of Dr. King and Dr. Ambedkar where justice prevailed over order or is it the land of Mr. Gandhi where stability is maintained at the cost of liberty and equality.
Again I’d like to the thank all the organizers to give me an opportunity to share my thoughts on Dr. Ambedkar, who is Dr. MLK of India, while celebrating the birthday of Dr. King Jr , who is the Dr. Ambedkar of the United States of America.