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Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar; one of India’s first Feminists

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By Shilpika Srivastava

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, was a leader whose ideas and thoughts continue to be relevant even in the present time. He was the ‘beacon of light’ for the millions of depressed, oppressed and exploited people in India. His knowledge has made him a revered socialist, historian, political thinker, economist, jurist and a cultural revolutionary.

A great supporter of women’s liberation, Ambedkar blamed the Hindu Verna System for the subjugation of Dalits and women. The mounting caste/class division in feminist political discourses makes Ambedkar’s views on women’s oppression, social democracy, caste and Hindu social order and philosophy, significant to modern Indian feminist thinking.

Ambedkar questioned the ancient Hindu code book, Manu Smriti, which categorized women as the lowest rung of humanity. Such declarations in the Hindu Religious texts made him conclude that until and unless we defy the Hindu Dharma Sastras, the ‘change’ in the society cannot be brought.

The Champion of Women Rights

The cause of low social ranking of women along with the wretched plight of Dalits was challenged by Babasaheb throughout his career. He not only discussed a number of problems the Indian women faced, but also fought against them in the Bombay Legislative Council, in the Viceroy’s Assembly as the chairman of the Drafting Committee, and also in the Parliament as the first Law Minister of the Independent India.

Ambedkar’s arguments on the Maternity Benefit Bill and on Birth Critical were highly germane for the recognition of women’s dignity.

His argument was –

“It is in the interest of the nation that the mother ought to get a certain amount of rest during the pre-natal period and also subsequently, and the principle of the Bill is based entirely on that principle”.

“That being so Sir, I am bound to admit that the burden of this ought to be largely borne by the Government, I am prepared to admit this fact because of the conservation of the people’s welfare is primary concern of the Government. And in every country, you will find that the Government has been subjected to a certain amount of charge with regard to maternity benefit.”

As the chairman of the Drafting Committee, Ambedkar considered women’s equality in formal and substantial sense and included special provisions for women. Articles like 15(3), 51(A) and so on established his belief in an egalitarian society. For him, law was the instrument of constructing a sane social order in which each individual’s development should be in sync with the growth of the society.

Birth of the Hindu Code Bill, 1948

If we look back in history, the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament was resisted by the opposition in 1948. It was Babasaheb who tried his best to advocate the Bill by indicating the constitutional ethics of equality, liberty and fraternity. However, on the eve of the first elections in 1951, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dropped the Bill by stating that there was “too much” opposition. This fumed Babasaheb who resigned from the post of the Law Minister. His statements for the resignation illustrate how the parliament of independent India deprived its women citizens of even basic rights.

It was only during 1955-56 that most of the provisions proposed by Ambedkar were passed in four Bills on Hindu ‘marriage’ succession, minority and guardianship and maintenances.

The believer of egalitarian society

Ambedkar was the first communist thinker who believed in and supported an egalitarian Indian society. He held the Hindu religious books such as Vedas, Shastras and Puranas etc. responsible for the discrimination between men and women. He proposed to devise the new doctrinal basis of the Hindu religion “that will be in consonance with liberty, equality and fraternity’’. Ambedkar was the one who realized that the societal status of women can only be uplifted by constitutional provisions.

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Ambedkar has emerged as a most revered leader in Independent India

Bhimrao Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary falls on April 14

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Ambedkar accompanied with Maulana Hasrat Mohani
  • Praveen Davar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, whose 125th birth anniversary falls on April 14, has emerged as one of India’s most revered leader especially during the last two decades. No political party can afford to ignore him though the reasons for doing so are more electoral than emotional.

Independent India’s first cabinet of prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had only 14 members with B.R. Ambedkar as law minister listed at No.11 in the order of precedence, below Jagjivan but above Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherji of the Hindu Mahasabha (later the Jan Sangh founder). Mahatma Gandhi had prevailed upon Nehru Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to include non-Congressmen as well because independence had come for the whole country – and not only for those who led the freedom movement.

It was only four years later, on September 27, 1951 after Ambedkar quit the Nehru cabinet that it became known that one of the causes for his doing so was that he was not given the portfolio of his choice: ministry of planning. However, the prime reason for his resigning was over the government’s failure to pass the Hindu Code Bill, faulting Nehru with “lack of determination” to get the measure through.

Suffering from many ailments, including diabetes, rheumatism and high blood pressure contacted in a life full of relentless struggles, Ambedkar died in December 1956 after turning 65. Only two months earlier, he had formally embraced Buddhism and converted lakhs of his followers to his new faith. It was a culmination of a long process spanning nearly 50 years. But it was really after independence that Ambedkar made up his mind to adopt Buddhism, a religion he saw as a liberating force for the entire country.

Even though he had ceased being a minister, the government allowed him to retain his bungalow where he spent the final years of his life focussed on studying Buddhism. He also began to learn Pali and translated Buddhist texts into Gujarati and Marathi. In 1954, during a trip to Burma (now Myanmar), Ambedkar made a proposal for sponsoring a campaign for Buddhist conversion in India, arguing that Budhism was a religion for the whole world.

At a dhammadikha ceremony held in Nagpur, attended by nearly 500,000 people, Ambedkar and his followers converted to Buddhism. Besides dedicating them to social service and eradication of casteism, Ambedkar adminstered 21 vows to his followers, which included renunciation of all aspects of ‘Brahmanic Hinduism’. The neo-Buddhists took a vow against worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses and not to perform shraddh ceremonies or worship the cow.

As Ambedkar will be remembered most by posterity for his monumental contribution to the making of India’s constitution it is appropriate to quote from his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, the eve of the statute being adopted the following day:

“On January 26, 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 reorganizing 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? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

But Ambedkar was much more than the architect of India’s constitution and a Dalit leader who today towers above others of his ilk. He was an educationist, economist, anthropologist, sociologist, journalist, jurist and, above all, a great parliamentarian and social reformer who devoted his whole life for the uplift of the weakest and most vulnerable sections of Indian society.

This much and, more, will be remembered, and said, about Ambedkar during the year of his 125th birth anniversary celebrations. (IANS)

(Praveen Davar, an ex-army officer, is a member of the National Commission for Minorities. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at praveendavar@gmail.com)

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Fulfilling Ambedkar’s vision of inclusive India: PM Modi

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Ambedkar

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that his government was doing everything to fulfil BR Ambedkar’s dreams of “creating a prosperous and inclusive India”.

“Our government is leaving no stone unturned to fulfil the vision and dreams of Ambedkar to create a prosperous and inclusive India,” he said while paying tributes to Baba Saheb on his 60th death anniversary.

He also released two commemorative coins on the occasion which are of the 10-rupee and 125-rupee denomination.

“Honoured to release commemorative coins on Ambedkar. It is because of great men like Babasaheb that India scaled heights of progress,” Modi said.

“He will always be remembered as an original and profound thinker. His views on inclusiveness and harmony continue to inspire us.

“We are aware of Ambedkar’s contributions towards social justice but Babasaheb’s thoughts on economic issues are equally enlightening.”

He also said that Dalit leader’s vision on women empowerment, federalism and economy had their relevance today.

“The more we recall Ambedkar’s thought in the context of issues currently faced by India, the more we come to respect his vision and his approach to inclusiveness.”

Modi said Baba Saheb and the constitution of India should always be discussed and talked about.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was present on the occasion. President Pranab Mukherjee also paid homage to the iconic leader. The government has announced that it will have a year-long celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of Baba Saheb.

(IANS)

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Belgian University honors BR Ambedkar

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B R Ambedkar

Brussels: Belgium’s most prestigious and oldest university, KU Leuven (KUL) marked India’s Constitution Day as an honour to BR Ambedkar with a big audience of international relations and law students on federalism in India.

The event took place on Friday in Aula Pieter de Somer, the largest lecture hall of the university and was attended by more than 300 students and faculty of KUL.

Professor Idesbald Goddeeris, who runs the India programme at KU Leuven, organised the event.

A panel discussion compared the Indian Constitution with the Belgian Constitution.

M.S Vishnu Sankar, a practising lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, spoke on the concept of federalism as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Indian Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri delivered the opening address while a visiting Indian professor, Rajendra Jain, provided a European Union (EU) perspective.

The Constitution of India was adopted on November 26, 1949, before it came into force on January 26, 1950.

BR Ambedkar was the main architect of the Indian constitution.

(IANS)