In India, people belonging to the lower cast, especially amongst the Hindus were considered outcastes. Hindus termed them as ‘untouchables’ and they were not allowed to live amongst them or take water from their wells and tanks. They were also not permitted to enter temples nor was education and learning imparted to them. Good jobs too were not for them. Menial labor like sweeping roads, working as servants, or as bonded laborers were the only kind of work for them. The ‘Untouchables’ lived a life of poverty hardship and endless sufferings.
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was born in one such ‘Mahar’ family on 14th April 1891. He challenged their ill fate and became the champion of the untouchables. The boy who suffered great humiliation in his childhood went on to become the first Minister of Law in free India and shaped the country’s revolution. When he was still at school, he felt the sting of untouchability. He was not permitted to sit with other students in the class. To drink water too, he had to wait for someone to pour it to him, and even then, he had to cover his mouth with one hand. As he grew up, he decided to go to Bombay to study and earn. He had a great liking for books and never tired of them. He passed his matriculation and then joined the Elphinstone College. He obtained his B.A. degree in the year 1912. He was very learned and also had degrees in M.A. and Ph.D.
Bhimrao was married at a very early age, ie. 17 y/o. Ambedkar worked under the Maharaja of Baroda for some time. The Maharaja sent him to America. In America, Ambedkar experienced a new life. There was no ‘Untouchability’. All men were equal. But as soon as he reached India, he felt the sting of untouchability again. To proclaim and to bring light to the humiliation suffered by the ‘Untouchables’ he started a periodical called ‘Mook Nayak’. The Maharaja of Baroda as well as the Maharaja of Kolhapur gave their support.
Ambedkar believed that people could attain self-elevation only if they learned self-help and respected themselves. Hence he intensified the fight. At that time the Bombay Legislature had passed a Bill that all could use public tanks as well; based on this decision, the Mahad Municipality in Colaba District resolved that the Chawdar tank could be used even by the untouchables. But the people feared the upper castes and did not go near the tank. Ambedkar himself led the people to the tank and first drank the water from it. All the followers then drank the water claiming their rights.
Ambedkar wanted separate electorates for the lower castes, Gandhiji was unwilling as he too was for the cause of untouchables and felt that separate elections would only set them apart. Ambedkar was firm on his stand for separate electorates. Hence, Gandhiji went on a fast until death. Other leaders intervened and later an agreement was reached that there would be no separate electorates but ten percent seats in the legislature would be reserved for the Harijans. This famous treaty is called the ‘Poona Treaty’. Dr. Ambedkar’s entire life was dedicated to a single purpose securing equality and justice for the people called ‘Untouchables’. He lived to see untouchability declared as a crime. It was abolished, social equality was established. He was affectionately called ‘Babasaheb’. He was conferred with great honors, one being the Bharat Ratna. He passed away on December 6, 1956. His birth anniversary is celebrated with great fervor all over the country.
Categories: Culture and History