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An Untouchable: Bhimroa Ramji Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar lived from 1891 to 1956. Wikipedia describes him as "born into a poor Untouchable family" and as having "spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination." The historian Arthur Herman writes that Ambedkar "could remember how, when he was a child, people had recoiled from him in horror and stepped five paces back when they learned his caste, and how at school he had been forced to sit on the floor so that he did not pollute the chairs. His teachers and fellow students refused to give him a drink of water unless they could pour it into his mouth without his lips touching the glass." (Churchill & Gandhi, p. 386)

It was bound to happen: someone born into low status who was to prove himself brighter than a lot of those born to a higher status. Ambedkar benefited from an opportunity that had been denied bright Untouchables before him. Herman describes Christian patrons as having paid Ambedkar's entry to the nondenominational Elphistone College in Bombay and then to Columbia University. Wikipedia describes him as one of the first Untouchables to obtain a college education in India and as having earned law degrees and multiple doctorates. "Ambedkar returned home a famous scholar and practiced law for a few years before publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for India's untouchables."

Bhimaroa Ambedkar

Bhimaroa Ambedkar

Ambedkar was interested in justice for those who labored. "For centuries," writes Arthur Herman, "Ambedkar argued [that] traditional India had maintained itself by a system of exploitation disguised as spiritual hierarchy." (p. 386.)

Ambedkar played a role in India's independence. Wikipedia describes him as the chief architect of India's Constitution.

Ambedkar had differences with Gandhi. Gandhi called for the abolition of untouchability and discrimination, but Gandhi called the untouchables Harijan (Children of God), which Ambedkar thought condescending. Gandhi was submerged in Hinduism while Ambedkar was a critic of Hinduism. Gandhi romanticized traditional village life while Ambedkar, writes Wikipedia, "tended to encourage his followers to leave their home villages, move to the cities, and get an education."

Ambedkar was critical of Islam and its practices in South Asia. Wikipedia writes that "he condemned the practice of child marriage in Muslim society, as well as the mistreatment of women." He approved of self-determination for Muslims in their own state: Pakistan.

Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and in 1955 founded Bharatiya Buddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. The days of Ambedkar's birth and death are annually commemorated in India. Since his death there have been clashes between Hindus hostile toward Ambedkar and Buddhist supporters of Ambedkar.

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