New LIVE Course: Learn the Practical Nuances of IPR Drafting by Adv. Gautam Matani. Register Now!
LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More

Renuka Gupta ( Gender Researcher )     06 December 2010

In Honor of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar


A Bird' view of Babasaheb's Life....

Life of Babasaheb Ambedkar

by C. Gautam

Published by Ambedkar Memorial Trust, London
Milan House, 8 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DA
Second Edition, May 2000


The importance that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had in the shaping of modern India should not be forgotten. He led millions of the oppressed to a life of self-respect, dignity, and responsibility. Babasaheb always stressed the importance of better education, so that our position in society can be uplifted. It was he who was primarily responsible for the Constitution, adopted after India became independent. Babasaheb began the revival of Buddhism in India that has grown tremendously after his death, and continues to grow today among his countless followers.

This book briefly outlines the history of his life, showing how he overcame all the difficulties facing the oppressed in India, to become one of the greatest men of modern times.

C. Gautam
General Secretary
Ambedkar Memorial Trust, London
May 2000

His Birth and Greatness Foretold

On April 14th, 1891 a son was born to Bhimabai and Ramji Ambadvekar. His father Ramji was an army officer stationed at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh - he had risen to the highest rank an Indian was allowed to hold at that time under British rule. His mother decided to call her son Bhim. Before the birth, Ramji’s uncle, who was a man living the religious life of a sanyasi, foretold that this son would achieve worldwide fame. His parents already had many children. Despite that, they resolved to make every effort to give him a good education.

Early Life and First School

Two years later, Ramji retired from the army, and the family moved to Dapoli in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, from where they came originally. Bhim was enrolled at school when he was five years old. The whole family had to struggle to live on the small army pension Ramji received.

When some friends found Ramji a job at Satara, things seemed to be looking up for the family, and they moved again. Soon after, however, tragedy struck. Bhimabhai, who had been ill, died. Bhim’s aunt Mira, though she herself was not in good health, took over the care of the children. Ramji read stories from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana to his children, and sang devotional songs to them. In this way, home life was still happy for Bhim, his brothers and sisters. He never forgot the influence of his father. It taught him about the rich cultural tradition shared by all Indians.

The Shock of Prejudice - Casteism

Bhim began to notice that he and his family were treated differently. At high school he had to sit in the corner of the room on a rough mat, away from the desks of the other pupils. At break-time, he was not allowed to drink water using the cups his fellow school children used. He had to hold his cupped hands out to have water poured into them by the school caretaker. Bhim did not know why he should be treated differently - what was wrong with him?

Once, he and his elder brother had to travel to Goregaon, where their father worked as a cashier, to spend their summer holidays. They got off the train and waited for a long time at the station, but Ramji did not arrive to meet them. The station master seemed kind, and asked them who they were and where they were going. The boys were very well-dressed, clean, and polite. Bhim, without thinking, told him they were Mahars (a group classed as ‘untouchables’). The station master was stunned - his face changed its kindly expression and he went away.

Bhim decided to hire a bullock-cart to take them to their father - this was before motor cars were used as taxis - but the cart-men had heard that the boys were ‘untouchables’, and wanted nothing to do with them. Finally, they had to agree to pay double the usual cost of the journey, plus they had to drive the cart themselves, while the driver walked beside it. He was afraid of being polluted by the boys, because they were ‘untouchables’. However, the extra money persuaded him that he could have his cart ‘purified’ later! Throughout the journey, Bhim thought constantly about what had happened - yet he could not understand the reason for it. He and his brother were clean and neatly dressed. Yet they were supposed to pollute and make unclean everything they touched and all that touched them. How could that be possible?

Bhim never forgot this incident. As he grew up, such senseless insults made him realise that what Hindu society called ‘untouchability’ was stupid, cruel, and unreasonable. His sister had to cut his hair at home because the village barbers were afraid of being polluted by an ‘untouchable’. If he asked her why they were ‘untouchables’, she could only answer -that is the way it has always been.” Bhim could not be satisfied with this answer. He knew that -it has always been that way” does not mean that there is a just reason for it - or that it had to stay that way forever. It could be changed.

An Outstanding Scholar

At this time in his young life, with his mother dead, and father working away from the village where Bhim went to school, he had some good fortune. His teacher, though from a ‘high’ caste, liked him a lot. He praised Bhim’s good work and encouraged him, seeing what a bright pupil he was. He even invited Bhim to eat lunch with him - something that would have horrified most high caste Hindus. The teacher also changed Bhim’s last name to Ambedkar - his own name.

When his father decided to remarry, Bhim was very upset - he still missed his mother so much. Wanting to run away to Bombay, he tried to steal his aunt’s purse. When at last he managed to get hold of it, he found only one very small coin. Bhim felt so ashamed. He put the coin back and made a vow to himself to study very hard and to become independent.

Soon he was winning the highest praise and admiration from all his teachers. They urged Ramji to get the best education fro his son Bhim. So Ramji moved with his family to Bombay. They all had to live in just one room, in an area where the poorest of the poor lived, but Bhim was able to go to Elphinstone High School - one of the best schools in all of India.

In their one room everyone and everything was crowed together and the streets outside were very noisy. Bhim went to sleep when he got home from school. Then his father would wake him up at two o’clock in the morning! Everything was quiet then - so he could do his homework and study in peace.

In the big city, where life was more modern than in the villages, Bhim found that he was still called an ‘untouchable’ and treated as if something made him different and bad - even at his famous school.

One day, the teacher called him up to the blackboard to do a sum. All the other boys jumped up and made a big fuss. Their lunch boxes were stacked behind the blackboard - they believed that Bhim would pollute the food! When he wanted to learn Sanskrit, the language of the Hindu holy scripttures, he was told that it was forbidden for ‘untouchables’ to do so. He had to study Persian instead - but he taught himself Sanskrit later in life.

Matriculation and Marriage

In due course, Bhim passed his Matriculation Exam. He had already come to the attention of some people interested in improving society. So when he passed the exam, a meeting was arranged to congratulate him - he was the first ‘untouchable’ from his community to pass it.

Bhim was then 17 years old. Early marriage was common in those days, so he was married to Ramabai the same year. He continued to study hard and passed the next Intermediate examination with distinction. However, Ramji found himself unable to keep paying the school fees. Through someone interested in his progress, Bhim was recommended to the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda. The Maharaja granted him a monthly scholarship. With the help of this, Bhimrao (‘rao’ is added to names in Maharashtra as a sign of respect) passed his B.A. in 1912. Then he was given a job in the civil service - but only two weeks after starting, he had to rush home to Bombay. Ramji was very ill, and died soon afterwards. He had done all he could for his son, laying the foundations for Bhimrao’s later achievements.

Studies in the USA and the UK

The Maharaja of Baroda had a scheme to send a few outstanding scholars abroad for further studies. Of course, Bhimrao was selected - but he had to sign an agreement to serve Baroda state for ten years on finishing his studies.

In 1913, he went to the USA where he studied at the world-famous Columbia University, New York. The freedom and equality he experienced in America made a very strong impression on Bhimrao. It was so refreshing for him to be able to live a normal life, free from the caste prejudice of India. He could do anything he pleased - but devoted his time to studying. He studied eighteen hours a day. Visits to bookshops were his favourite entertainment!

His main subjects were Economics and Sociology. In just two years he had been awarded an M.A. - the following year he completed his Ph.D. thesis. Then he left Columbia and went to England, where he joined the London School of Economics. However, he had to leave London before completing his course because the scholarship granted by the State of Baroda expired. Bhimrao had to wait three years before he could return to London to complete his studies.

Return to India – Nightmare in Baroda

So he was called back to India to take up a post in Baroda as agreed. He was given an excellent job in the Baroda Civil Service. Bhimrao now held a doctorate, and was being trained for a top job. Yet, he again ran into the worst features of the Hindu caste system. This was all the more painful, because for the past four years he had been abroad, living free from the label of ‘untouchable.’

No one at the office where he worked would hand over files and papers to him - the servant threw them onto his desk. Nor would they give him water to drink. No respect was given to him, merely because of his caste.

He had to go from hotel to hotel looking for a room, but none of them would take him in. At last he had found a place to live in a Parsi guest house, but only because he had finally decided to keep his caste secret.

He lived there in very uncomfortable conditions, in a small bedroom with a tiny cold-water bathroom attached. He was totally alone there with no one to talk to. There were no electric lights or even oil lamps - so the place was completely dark at night.

Bhimrao was hoping to find somewhere else to live through his civil service job, but before he could, one morning as he was leaving for work a gang of angry men carrying sticks arrived outside his room. They accused him of polluting the hotel and told him to get out by evening - or else! What could he do? He could not stay with either of the two acquaintances he had in Baroda for the same reason - his low caste. Bhimrao felt totally miserable and rejected.

Bombay – Beginning Social Activity

He had no choice. After only eleven days in his new job, he had to return to Bombay. He tried to start a small business there, advising people about investments - but it too failed once customers learned of his caste.

In 1918, he became a lecturer at Sydenham College in Bombay. There, his students recognised him as a brilliant teacher and scholar. At this time he also helped to found a Marathi newspaper ‘Mook Nayak’ (Leader of the Dumb) to champion the cause of the ‘untouchables’. He also began to organise and attend conferences, knowing that he had to begin to proclaim and publicise the humiliations suffered by the Dalits - ‘the oppressed’ - and fight for equal rights. His own life had taught him the necessity of the struggle for emancipation.

Completion of Education – Leader of India’s Untouchables

In 1920, with the help of friends, he was able to return to London to complete his studies in Economics at LSE. He also enrolled to study as a Barrister at Gray’s Inn. In 1923, Bhimrao returned to India with a Doctorate in Economics from the LSE - he was perhaps the first Indian to have a Doctorate from this world-famous institution. He had also qualified as a Barrister-at-Law.

Back in India, he knew that nothing had changed. His qualifications meant nothing as far as the practice of Untouchability was concerned - it was still an obstacle to his career. However, he had received the best education anyone in the world could get, and was well equipped to be a leader of the Dalit community. He could argue with and persuade the best minds of his time on equal terms. He was an expert on the law, and could give convincing evidence before British commissions as an eloquent and gifted speaker. Bhimrao dedicated the rest of his life to his task.

He became known by his increasing number of followers - those ‘untouchables’ he urged to awake - as Babasaheb. Knowing the great value and importance of education, in 1924 he founded an association called Bahiskrit Hitakarini Sabha. This set up hostels, schools, and free libraries. To improve the lives of Dalits, education had to reach everyone. Opportunities had to be provided at grass roots level - because knowledge is power.

Leading Peaceful Agitation

In 1927 Babasaheb presided over a conference at Mahad in Kolaba District. There he said: -It is time we rooted out of our minds the ideas of high and low. We can attain self-elevation only if we learn self-help and regain our self-respect.”

Because of his experience of the humiliation and injustice of untouchability, he knew that justice would not be granted by others. Those who suffer injustice must secure justice for themselves.

The Bombay Legislature had already passed a Bill allowing everyone to use public water tanks and wells. (We have seen how Bhim was denied water at school, in his office, and at other places. Public water facilities were always denied to ‘untouchables’ because of the superstitious fear of ‘pollution.’)

Mahad Municipality had thrown open the local water tank four years earlier, but so far not one ‘untouchable’ had dared to drink or draw water from it. Babasaheb led a procession from the Conference on a peaceful demonstration to the Chowdar Tank. He knelt and drank water from it. After he set this example, thousands of others felt courageous enough to follow him. They drank water from the tank and made history. For many hundreds of years, ‘untouchables’ had been forbidden to drink public water.

When some caste Hindus saw them drinking water, they believed the tank had been polluted and violently attacked the Conference, but Babasaheb insisted violence would not help - he had given his word that they would agitate peacefully.

Babasaheb started a Marathi journal Bahishkrit Bharat (‘The Excluded of India’). In it, he urged his people to hold a satyagraha (non-violent agitation) to secure the right of entry to the Kala Ram Temple at Nasik. ‘untouchables’ had always been forbidden to enter Hindu temples. The demonstration lasted for a month. Then they were told they would be able to take part in the annual temple festival. However, at the festival they had stones thrown at them - and were not allowed to take part. Courageously, they resumed their peaceful agitation. The temple had to remain closed for about a year, as they blocked its entrance.

Round Table Conferences – Gandhi

Meanwhile, the Indian Freedom Movement had gained momentum under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1930, a Round Table Conference was held by the British Government in London to decide the future of India. Babasaheb represented the ‘untouchables’. He said there: -The Depressed Classes of India also join in the demand for replacing the British Government by a Government of the people and by the people... Our wrongs have remained as open sores and have not been righted although 150 years of British rule have rolled away. Of what good is such a Government to anybody?”

Soon a second conference was held, which Mahatma Gandhi attended representing the Congress Party. Babasaheb met Gandhi in Bombay before they went to London. Gandhi told him that he had read what Babasaheb said at the first conference. Gandhi told Babasaheb he knew him to be a real Indian patriot.

At the Second Conference, Babasaheb asked for a separate electorate for the Depressed Classes. -Hinduism”, he said, -has given us only insults, misery, and humiliation.” A separate electorate would mean that the ‘untouchables’ would vote for their own candidates and be allotted their votes separate from the Hindu majority.

Babasaheb was made a hero by thousands of his followers on his return from Bombay - even though he always said that people should not idolise him. News came that separate electorates had been granted. Gandhi felt that separate electorates would separate the Harijans from the Hindus. The thought that the Hindus would be divided pained him grievously. He started a fast, saying that he would fast unto death.

Only Babasaheb could save Gandhi’s life - by withdrawing the demand for separate electorates. At first he refused, saying it was his duty to do the best he could for his people - no matter what. Later he visited Gandhi, who was at that time in Yeravda jail. Gandhi persuaded Babasaheb that Hinduism would change and leave its bad practices behind. Finally Babasaheb agreed to sign the Poona Pact with Gandhi in 1932. Instead of separate electorates, more representation was to be given to the Depressed Classes. However, it later became obvious that this did not amount to anything concrete.

In the Prime of His Life

Babasaheb had by this time collected a library of over 50,000 books, and had a house named Rajgriha built at Dadar in north Bombay to hold it. In 1935 his beloved wife Ramabai died. The same year he was made Principal of the Government Law College, Bombay.

Also in 1935 a conference of Dalits was held at Yeola. Babasaheb told the conference: -We have not been able to secure the barest of human rights... I am born a Hindu. I couldn’t help it, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.” This was the first time that Babasaheb stressed the importance of conversion from Hinduism for his people - for they were only known as ‘untouchables’ within the fold of Hinduism.

During the Second World War, Babasaheb was appointed Labour Minister by the Viceroy. Yet he never lost contact with his roots - he never became corrupt or crooked. He said that he had been born of the poor and had lived the life of the poor, he would remain absolutely unchanged in his attitudes to his friends and to the rest of the world.

The All-India Scheduled Castes Federation was formed in 1942 to gather all ‘untouchables’ into a united political party.

Architect of the Constitution

After the war Babasaheb was elected to the Constituent Assembly to decide the way jthat India - a country of millions of people - should be ruled. How should elections take place? What are the rights of the people? How are laws to be made? Such important matters had to be decided and laws had to be made. The Constitution answers all such questions and lays down rules.

When India became independent in August 1947, Babasaheb Ambedkar became First Law Minister of Independent India. The Constituent Assembly made him chairman of the committee appointed to draft the constitution for the world’s largest democracy.

All his study of law, economics, and politics made him the best qualified person for this task. A study of the Constitutions of many countries, a deep knowledge of law, a knowledge of the history of India and of Indian Society - all these were essential. In fact, he carried the whole burden alone. He alone could complete this huge task.

After completing the Draft Constitution, Babasaheb fell ill. At a nursing home in Bombay he met Dr. Sharda Kabir and married her in April 1948. On November 4, 1948 he presented the Draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly, and on November 26, 1949 it was adopted in the name of the people of India. On that date he said: -I appeal to all Indians to be a nation by discarding castes, which have brought separation in social life and created jealousy and hatred.”

Later Life – Buddhist Conversion

In 1950, he went to a Buddhist conference in Sri Lanka. On his return he spoke in Bombay at the Buddhist Temple. -In order to end their hardships, people should embrace Buddhism. I am going to devote the rest of my life to the revival and spread of Buddhism in India.”

Babasaheb resigned from the Government in 1951. He felt that as an honest man he had no choice but to do so, because the reforms so badly needed had not been allowed to come into being.

For the next five years Babasaheb carried on a relentless fight against social evils and superstitions. On October 14, 1956 at Nagpur he embraced Buddhism. He led a huge gathering in a ceremony converting over half a million people to Buddhism. He knew that Buddhism was a true part of Indian history and that to revive it was to continue India’s best tradition. ‘Untouchability’ is a product only of Hinduism.

Sudden Death

Only seven weeks later on December 6, 1956 Babasaheb died at his Delhi residence. His body was taken to Bombay. A two-mile long crowd formed the funeral procession. At Dadar cemetery that evening, eminent leaders paid their last respects to him. The pyre was lit according to Buddhist rites. Half a million people witnessed it.

Thus ended the life of one of India’s greatest sons. His was the task of awakening India’s millions of excluded and oppressed to their human rights. He experienced their suffering and the cruelty shown to them. He overcame the obstacles to stand on an equal footing with the greatest men of his time. He played a vital role in forming modern India through its Constitution.

His work and mission continue today - we must not rest until we see a truly democratic India of equal citizens living in peace together


 29 Replies

Elamaran Perumal (Law Officer)     06 December 2010

Thank you Madum for putting up a superb thread on Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, the Greatest Modernist and an uncomparable Social Engineer. We ,Indians are really lucky to have a Revolutionary like him.

1 Like

Elamaran Perumal (Law Officer)     06 December 2010

Dr B.R.Ambedkar's teachings are very very pragmatic as he was a wonderful pragmatist. His intellectual calibre is uncomparable. In his life time, he was considered one of the 10 most knowledgeable persons in the world. He is more than a God for Dalits in India. Dalits may have god according to their belief, but Dr B.R.Ambedkar is like a messiah for India's most disadvantaged people.

With great Regards


Renuka Gupta ( Gender Researcher )     06 December 2010

In honor of Dr. Ambedkar, I post Yoginder Sikand's  interview with Kancha Ilaiah. Those who have read his work :" Why I am not a Hindu" would know how it is intrinsically connected with the world view of Babasaheb Ambedkar and in fact has  drawn on it .  I think this day is a fitting occasion  for posting this interview


Interview with Kancha Ilaiah, the author of "Why i am not  a Hindu"  

 Yoginder Sikand  

Published on February 13, 2007

Kancha Ilaiah teaches politics at the Government Women’s College, Koti, Hyderabad. Active in the Dalit-Bahujan [Scheduled and Backward Caste] movement, he is a prolific writer in both Telugu and English. His latest book, Why I Am Not A Hindu, a critique of Hindutva from a Dalit-Bahujan perspective, turned out to be a best seller. Here he talks to Yoginder Sikand about how ‘Dalitisation’ alone can effectively challenge the threat of Brahminical fascism parading in the garb of Hindutva.

Q: Tell us something about your background. How did you come to be involved in the Dalit-Bahujan struggle?

A: I was born in a village in a forest area in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. The entire area had been given by the Nizam of Hyderabad to Mahbub Reddy, a local landlord, as his fief. My family belongs to the sheep-grazing Kuruma Golla caste. They had earlier migrated from Warangal proper to the forest belt. My grandmother had settled the village. After her death my mother took over the leadership of the caste. I was born three years after the Police Action in 1948. The communists were then very active in our area. In the course of the Telengana armed struggle they killed two people in our village—both were village Patels. Because of the struggle, Mahbub Reddy began selling his lands off, and our caste people, who, till then owned no land at all, began buying small plots. So this was a time when the feudal system had begun disintegrating. Later, at school I came into contact with Marxists, with Marxist literature, and became involved in the students’ movement, and that is how I got involved in the struggle for justice.

Q: What or who has been the major influence on your thinking and your politics?

A: The most important influence on my life was the village in which I was born. As a child in the village I learnt how to breed sheep, till the land and make ropes, but what was particularly instructive was the interactions and contradictions between the different castes within the village—Kurumas, Kapus, Gowdas and Madigas. And it is this personal knowledge of the dynamics of caste that is central to my thinking and all my writings.

My mother exercised a seminal influence on my thinking, too. She was a strong woman and the leader of our caste. You see, among the Dalit-Bahujans, women have an important role within the family and the caste. They set the moral norms themselves, through interaction with the productive process and in the process of struggle with nature, unlike among the Hindus [Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Banias], where women do not work in the fields, and whose norms are dictated by an external agency—the Brahminical texts. My mother was in the forefront of the struggle against the forest guards who would constantly harrass the Kurumas and not allow them to graze their animals in the forest. In fact, she died in one of these confrontations, being fatally beaten up by a policeman while protesting against their brutality. She was then only 46 years old.

I’ve written a Telugu piece about my mother. It’s called The Mother’s Efforts And Her Struggle. There I have tried to show that it is not simply the big ‘political’ struggles against the state which alone are important. Rather, one should look at everyday struggles as well—in this case, a mother’s constant struggle to educate her children, challenging patriarchy, struggling with nature in the productive process, sustaining the culture of the caste. Most Marxist texts look only at grand ‘political’ struggles, party mode of struggles, struggles led by men. In my writings I have sought to also focus on micro struggles, the stories of ordinary people, including women.

Q:How would you characterise contemporary Hindutva? What is the relationship between Hindutva and the Dalit-Bahujans?

A: As Dr.Ambedkar says, Hindutva is nothing but Brahminism. And whether you call it Hindutva or Arya Dharma or Sanatana Dharma or Hindusim, Brahminism has no organic link with Dalit-Bahujan life, world-views, rituals and even politics. To give you just one example, in my childhood many of us had not even heard of the Hindu gods, and it was only when we went to school that we learnt about Ram and Vishnu for the very first time. We had our own goddesses, such as Pochamma and Elamma, and our own caste god, Virappa. They and their festivals played a central role in our lives, not the Hindu gods. At the festivals of our deities, we would sing and dance--men, women and all-- and would sacrifice animals and drink liquor, all of which the Hindus consider ‘polluting’.

Our relations with our deities were transactional and they were rooted in the production process. For instance, our goddess Kattamma Maisa. Her responsibility is to fill the tanks with water. If she does it well, a large number of animals are sacrificed to her. If in one year the tanks dry up, she gets no animals. You see, between her and her Dalit-Bahujan devotees there is this production relation which is central. Likewise, in the case of Virappa, the caste deity of the Kuruma shepherds. His task is to ensure the well-being of the animals. If the flock increases he is offered many sheep as a sacrifice, but if a disease strikes the flock, he gets nothing. Our gods, like us, are productive beings. This is not the case with the Brahminical deities, who have nothing to do with the productive process, but are frozen in the scripttural texts as an external agency. So you can see how the Dalit-Bahujan religion and Brahminism are two distinct and mutually opposed religio-cultural formations, two completely different religions.

In fact, many Dalit communities preserve traditions of the Hindu gods being their enemies. In Andhra, the Madigas enact a drama which sometimes goes on for five days. This drama revolves around Jambavanta, the Madiga hero, and Brahma, the representative of the Brahmins. The two meet and have a long dialogue. The central argument in this dialogue is about the creation of humankind. Brahma claims superiority for the Brahmins over everybody else, but Jambavanta says, ‘No, you are our enemy’. Brahma then says that he created the Brahmins from his mouth, the Kshatriyas from his hands, the Vaishyas from his thighs, the Shudras from his feet to be slaves for the Brahmins, and of course the Dalits, who fall out of the caste system, have no place here. This is the Vedic story. But Jambavanta says that this is nonsense. He says that prakriti [nature] created him and Shakti [the female power principle], and through his union with Shakti, the trimurti [Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva] were born. And then he goes on to say that although Brahma was born as his own offspring, he has not been faithful to his way of life, and that is why the Madigas have kept the Brahmins away from them. Here he talks about the superiority of the Madiga way of life over the Brahminical--of beef-eating over vegetarianism, of manual labour, working with leather and making shoes, as opposed to a parasitic life of living off the labour of others. And then Brahma is defeated, because he has no answer to give Jambavanta.

Q: And then what happens to Brahma?

A: That is most interesting. You see, Jambavanta defeats him by argument, not by killing him. In the Dalit-Bahujan tradition there is no defeat by killing your enemy, which is so central to Brahminism, be it the Gita or the Puranas. This Dalit-Bahujan tradition of overcoming your enemy through logical persuasion runs right from the Buddha to Ambedkar. The understanding is that you must establish your philosophical superiority and defeat the enemy on the moral ground.

Q: What you are perhaps suggesting is that Dalit-Bahujan religion can be used to effectively counter the politics of Brahminism or Hindutva. But Brahminism has this knack of co-opting all revolt against it, by absorbing it within the system.

A: It is true that although Dalit-Bahujan religious formations historically operated autonomously from Hindu forms, they have never been centralised or codified. Their local gods and goddesses have not been projected into universality, nor has their religion been given an all-India name. This is because these local deities and religious forms were organically linked to local communities, and were linked to local productive processes, such as the case of Virappa and Katamma Maisa whom I talked about earlier. But Brahminism has consistently sought to subvert these religious forms by injecting notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’, hierarchy and untouchability even among the Dalit-Bahujans themselves, while at the same time discounting our religious traditions by condemning them as ‘polluting’ or by Brahminising them.

Q: Then would you say that religious conversion to a major codified religion could be the way out of the dilemma, as Ambedkar thought?

A: Historically, it was in the struggle of the Dalit-Bahujans against the Hindu order, the Brahminical system which had captured the state and used it as an instrument to impose the caste ideology, that Dalit-Bahujans converted in large numbers to Buddhism, Sikhism,Islam and Christianity. These were social protest movements to gain social rights and self-respect. The whole Buddhist phenomenon in our early history was a story of Dalit-Bahujan protest. The Buddha says, ‘Just as various different streams flow into a river and become one, so, too, the different castes, when they come into the sangha [ the community of the Buddhist faithful], they join the sea of colourless water’. This stress on social equality is, of course, in marked contrast with Hinduism, which cannot be defined in terms of a universal religion with a universal social rights’ concept. It is simply another name for oppression. I have serious problems with Brahmin writers who say Hinduism is ‘a way of life’. As I understand it, it is nothing but a means for exploitation of the Dalit-Bahujans.

To get back to the point I was making, conversion to Islam and Christianity was for many Dalit-Bahujans a means for social liberation. In the medieval period, conversion to Islam afforded some Dalit-Bahujans a means to enter political structures for the first time. In fact, the whole Shudra emergence dates back to this period. Akbar instituted what could be called a ‘reservation policy’ for Shudras in landlholdings—groups such as Jats in north India or Reddys in Andhra. You do not see Shudras as major landowners in the pre-Akbarian period. In the entire period of Hindu rule, you have the agraharam sort of landholding system, with Hindu kings donating vast tracts of lands to the Brahmins.

In the colonial period, of course there was massive economic plunder, but the Christian missionaries did a lot for the Dalit-Bahujans—education, some amount of economic and social mobility. Many Backward Castes which did not convert to Islam or, later, Christianity, are suffering today, the reason being that there is no educated elite among them.

Q: But, then, does conversion have any relevance today?

A: My own feeling is that if the Dalit-Bahujan movement proves unable to propel the Dalit-Bahujans to state power and to place them in politically hegemonic spaces, educated Dalit-Bahujans will increasingly look to religious conversion as a major alternative as a means of mobilisation and protest.

Q: How do you see the demonisation of Muslims and Christians in Hindutva propaganda?

A: It is obvious that the real threat that Brahminism faces is not from the Muslims or Christians but from the growing awakening of the Dalit-Bahujans, who now refuse to accept Brahminical supremacy. And that is why Dalit-Bahujan wrath is being craftily sought to be displaced from their real oppressors onto imaginary enemies in the form of Muslims and Christians.

Q: There’s been much talk about Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim unity. What are your own views about this?

A: It is important to remember that Dalit-Bahujans and Muslims, particularly indigenous converts who form the vast majority of the Muslim population, share much in common in terms of culture. Both belong, in contrast to the Hindus, to a meat-eating culture, and in a society where what you eat determines, in a very major way, your social status, this is crucial. Then, Islam champions social equality, and there is a total absence of the feeling of untouchability. Take a very simple thing—the Hindu namaste, folding your hands to greet someone—is a very powerful symbolic statement. It suggests that I recognise you but you should not touch me. In contrast, the custom that the Christians introduced of shaking of hands is a touching relationship, while the Muslims go even further and physically embrace you. Even today in the villages the Muslims are the only people who actually physically embrace the Dalit-Bahujans. Of course, the Brahmins and Banias don’t let them do that to them, but that’s a different matter. You must remember that the human embrace is itself a very liberating symbolic act for the Dalit-Bahujan victims of Brahminism.

There’s a lot else that Dalit-Bahujans share with Muslims. Scores of Dalit-Bahujans continue to participate in the Muharram rituals and visit Sufi dargahs. Further, in the productive process the bulk of the Muslims find themselves in the same position as most Dalit-Bahujans, as peasants, agricultural labourers, as cobblers, weavers and so on, and in that capacity they share a common culture.

Q: But can mere cultural similarity or commonality serve as a platform for a wider political unity between Dalit-Bahujans and Muslims?

A: My point is that we urgently need to explore and expand these spaces of cultural unity, and only on that basis can political unity come about. Brahminism or Hindutva or call it what you like, seeks to deny this unity, and plays up only on the differences. We, on the other hand, must focus on the elements of unity, and try to expand these sites of unified life into the political domain. Because of our faulty western Marxist methodological training, we start from political unity, straight away trying to unite Dalit-Bahujans and Muslims on the political plane, without an appropriate cultural back-up. And then when attempts at political unity fail, you give up. I feel that this is not the way of doing the job. You must start by exploring existing sites of cultural unity as well as what could be called productive unity, unity that follows from Muslims and Dalit-Bahujans being placed in similar or common niches in the broader productive process. Build up this consciousness of social and cultural unity and then a lasting political unity will easily come about.

Q: What role do you see Dalit-Bahujan spiritualities as playing in all of this?

A: Let me begin by saying that Brahminism is more afraid of the Dalit-Bahujan thought process than of political challenge. It can manipulate or even kill off any number of Eklavyas or Shabukas, but it cannot face the challenge of Ambedkarite thought. They may conspire to kill me off, but they can’t do a thing with my book [Why I Am Not A Hindu]. And it is in this realm of the cultural that Dalit-Bahujan organic intellectuals have a lot to do. We need to retrieve and revive our own histories, traditions, cultures, religions and knowledge systems, all of which are organically connected, in contrast to the Brahminical, with the productive economic process, with the dignity of labour.

Q: But here you seem to be assuming that Dalit-Bahujan traditions have remained static. Is it not the case that they, too, have fallen victim to the process of Brahminical co-optation?

A: I think the process operates both ways, and there is a major way in which Hindu structures themselves are getting Dalitised, which has not been written about. Take, for instance, the Ganapati festival. Earlier the festival was centred around the Brahmin priest, but now most of those who participate in the festival are probably Dalit-Bahujans. And no longer is the festival Brahminical in the classical sense. With the Dalitisation of the festival has come dancing, drinking and singing and loud filmi music! To take another example, some Dalit-Bahujans are demanding that prayers be said in the temples not in Sanskrit but in the languages of the people themselves and that they, too, should be allowed to become priests. Whatever one might otherwise say about this, this is a means to challenge Brahnminism from within its own structures, a process of Dalitisation whose ultimate culmination can only be the destruction of Brahminism.

Q: Do you see what you call the Dalitisation process operating in other spheres as well?

A: This is evident everywhere—the fact that a Brahmin doctor is willing to treat a Dalit patient is a reflection of this process, as is the willingness of a Brahmin woman to divorce her husband or smoke and drink in public or a Brahmin widow going in for another marriage. You must remember that smoking and drinking , divorce and remarriage have never been problems for Dalit-Bahujan women, in contrast to Brahmin women, so all this is nothing but Dalitisation in action. M.N.Srinivas and other Brahmin sociologists wanted to bolster Brahminical hegemony by claiming that India is getting Sanskritised. But when we asked them what is all this surge in drinking and smoking and women’s emancipation all about, they said it was Westernisation, when actually it is nothing but Dalitisation. Of course, they do not want to admit that because that will mean recognising that it is from the Dalit-Bahujans that others are learning.

My point is very simple. If you go on saying that India is getting Dalitised, Brahminism will die a natural death, but if you keep harping on the theme of India getting Hinduised Brahminism will gain added strength. So many books were written in the wake of the Babri Masjid affair selling the argument that India is getting Hinduised. But where were all these historians and sociologists when ten lakh Dalits converted to Buddhism in 1956 along with Dr. Ambedkar? Did they then say that India was getting Dalitised or Buddhistised? Had they done so we would have had a very different history today. So, I say, write history from the point of view of the Dalits, showing how while Sanskrisation and Brahminism are historically unproductive, a burden on the system and a legitimation for exploitation, Dalitisation, in contrast, is historically a productive, creative and constructive process because it is rooted in the dignity of labour.

Q: How would you envisage this project of writing Indian history from the point of view of Dalit-Bahujans as subjects, as the central actors?

A: To be honest, I am seriously opposed to the writing of what is called the ‘history of sorrow’—simply narrating all the oppression and sufferings that the Dalit-Bahujans have had to suffer under Brahminism, although that, too, cannot be ignored. But I feel that the more you cry, the more the enemy beats you. If you want to defeat the enemy, you cannot remain contented with merely critiquing him, because even in that case he is the one who sets the terms of discourse and you are playing the game according to the rules that he devises, so naturally it is he and not you who wins in the end. Thus, rather than dwell simply on our historical oppression or the dangers of Hindu fascism, keep the focus on the process of Dalitisation, and thereby set the terms of discourse and debate yourself. For that you have to present a Dalit-Bahujan alternative as a workable and better solution. If you don’t do so, and restrict yourself to simply criticisng Brahminism by quoting slokas from one Brahminical text or the other, they will put forward yet another sloka to disprove you. But if you write from the Dalit point of view they have no way to rebut what you want to say.

Central to that task would be re-writing Dalit-Bahujan history to show, for instance, their knowledge systems, their role in the productive process, their great contributions to the development of technology or in the realm of spirituality or how their societies afford women a much higher status than the Brahminic. Sati and dowry have historically been specifically Hindu problems never ours. So history re-writing will have to be informed with Dalit pride. You have to show that Dalitisation, and not Hinduisation, is the answer to our ills, because unlike Brahminism, which is rooted in texts that do not spring from real-world experience in the productive process, Dalitisation reflects the interaction of human beings with nature in the labour process.

Unless you present Dalitisation as a superior alternative, you can’t win the battle. Take the Buddha, for instance. His greatest contribution was not his critique of Brahminism, important though that was, but his founding of the egalitarian community of the faithful—the sangha—as a superior alternative to Brahminical caste society. Or take Marx for that matter. To my mind, his greatness lies not so much in his critique of capitalism but in his presenting a superior alternative in the form of a communist society.

Q: Have you attempted anything of this sort yourself?

A: I think you can see this in most of my writings. To give but one example, I wrote this piece on the leather-working Madigas titled ‘The Subaltern Scientists’ and another piece on the Madiga Dalits called ‘The Productive Soldiers’. Presently, I am working on a book dealing with the discoveries and inventions of certain Dalit-Bahujan tribes and castes. There’s so much to be done to recover Dalit-Bahujan knowledge systems. I mean, for instance, you would have to trace industrialisation in India not to Lancashire but to the Madiga wadas [localities], where the Madigas first perfected the art of turning raw leather into shoes, or to our barbers who invented the knife.

Q: One last question. What made you give your book the title Why I Am Not A Hindu? How was the book received?

A: I thought it was important for Dalit-Bahujans to make a powerful statement against the Hindutva propaganda that we, too, are Hindus. As for how the book was received, well, Dalit-Bahujans, of course, were very excited about it. Predictably, orthodox Brahmins were angry, but so too were some ‘socialist’ Brahmins. Actually, that did not surprise me at all, because they read Marx’s Capital just as they read the Vedas—reciting it—not a critical reading. But I did get quite a few responses from Brahmins in Tamil Nadu They wrote to say that they had read a lot of Periyar, but he had only criticised them but never told them where they had gone wrong. They said that it was after reading Why I Am Not A Hindu that they discovered what was wrong with their religion and culture and how they must change if they are to survive.


Dr. Yoginder Sikand  writes in Mukto-Mona from Bangalore. Yoginder Sikand did his MPhil in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and his Ph.D in history from the University of London and the author of several books including Sacred Spaces: Exploring Traditions of Shared Faith in India (Penguin, 2003) and Muslims in India Since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter-Faith Relations (Routledge Curzon, 2004). etc.




Dear Advocate Kushan Vyas, my friend need an advocate at Bhrooch Gujarat. Please give your address so he will meet you.  PM is not functioning so please post your address here or send at my email id flasshed here.  Thanks.


Advocate Kushan Vyas, we are waiting for your address to meet you at Bharooch, please treat this as most urgent, my friend want to hire your services for a case there.


office ;Rutwa palace ,nandelav Road ,Bharuch-Gujarat



Thank you, he will meet you soon.


@Ram Samudre-DRF

i want to know are you advocate?

You said in your profile Founder - President, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Democratic Rights Forum (DRF) (Foundation for Social Justice and Constitutional Awareness for Trial of Public Service)

What is it?And i dont know who are you.



I dont know about you,what is your occupation?


I cannot sent the Pm because you dont add me as a friend that why i anyou cannot send PM

Only solution is add me as a friends if you think so.


Well, all the details are available in my profile, what is DRF and what is its aim.


so,this is your real profile

Ram Samudre-DRF

Ok,thanks,so you are the president of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Democratic Rights Forum

I think you should make a blog .It will be very useful .Quick and easy,

Inexpensive Setup,Search Engine Friendly benefit,Relationship Building.


Renuka ji, can you please mention net links of original speeches of Babasaheb, please.


i  know that on this lci forum you have vision, creativity,experiences, knowledge about equal justice so,i suggest you to make atleast one blog that will be usefull to us.

Suppose if you make it then post some topic in that blog and also put blog address in your lci profile.

Leave a reply

Your are not logged in . Please login to post replies

Click here to Login / Register