Who is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar ?

Born on 14 April 1891 to a Mahar (a Dalit caste) family in Mhow, Maharashtra, Bhimrao Ambedkar rose to become an exemplary scholar, statesman, radical democracy visionary, and mass leader of modern India.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar ranks easily amongst the most highly educated and erudite leaders of India. He spent many years studying a range of subjects from economics and anthropology to politics, law and religion, earning a B.A. from Elphinstone College, Bombay, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University, USA, an M.Sc. and a second Ph.D. from London School of Economics, and his Bar-at-Law from the prestigious Gray's Inn, London. His entire education was made possible due to a scholarship he received from a reform-minded local ruler (the Gaikwad of Baroda).  

Upon return to India, Ambedkar immediately encountered the casteism and Untouchability that none of his degrees protected him from – housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and discrimination in all walks of social and political life. He quickly became a force to reckon with in Indian politics - a mass leader of Dalits who lived and worked within Dalit communities, formed many political parties and mass circulating magazines, and led many remarkable and memorable political struggles and protests against the deeply entrenched casteism in India. His formidable legal, sociological, political-economic mind easily made him the foremost public interlocutor and challenger of the near-messianic figure of 20thcentury Indian independence struggle, M.K.Gandhi. 

Dr. Ambedkar was a Labor member in the pre-independence Viceroy’s Council, and later became India’s first Law Minister and the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution (a defining role that earned him the much-deserved appellation – Architect of India’s Constitution). Additionally, he led the legislative efforts to radically transform Hindu law (known as the Hindu Code Bill), an effort that he did not see to its completion due to his resignation in protest against the pushback from right-wing forces. 

Near the end of his life (1956), Dr. Ambedkar kept a promise that he had made to himself more than 20 years earlier – that although he was born a Hindu, he would not die a Hindu. In a dramatic and moving public action, he – along with about 50,000 other Dalits – converted publicly to Buddhism as an act of self-respect and dignity and an act of protest against a religiously sanctioned order of casteism that he saw as the root for much of Indian society’s problems. 

As a student, Ambedkar was inspired by his teachers among who was John Dewey. He was also deeply inspired by Bertrand Russel who he never met. He briefly also exchanged letters with W.E.B Dubois. For those who seek parallels between anti-caste movements and anti-racist movements in the USA, we may say that Ambedkar was a combination of the scholar W.E.B.duBois, the anti-lynching justice seekers Ida B Wells and Frederick Douglas, the prophetic moral conscience & mass leader Martin Luther King Jr., and the radical teacher/leader Malcolm X. 

Some Resources

Popular Academic Books by and about Dr. Ambedkar

  • Ambedkar, B. R. (2010). Words of freedom: ideas of a nation. New Delhi: Penguin Books.
  • Ambedkar, B. R., Anand, S., & Roy, A. (2014). Annihilation of caste: the annotated critical edition.
  • Ambedkar, B. R., Rathore, A. S., & Verma, A. (2011). The Buddha and his Dhamma a critical edition. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Ambedkar, B. R., & Rege, S. (2013). Against the madness of Manu B. R. Ambedkar’s writings on Brahmanical patriarchy. New Delhi: Navayana.
  • Ambedkar, B. R., & Rodrigues, V. (2004). The essential writings of B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Moon, V., & Damle, A. (2002). Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. New Delhi: National Book Trust, India.
  • Omvedt, G. (1994). Dalits and the democratic revolution Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit movement in colonial India. New Delhi [u.a.]: Sage.
  • Omvedt, G. (2008). Ambedkar: towards an enlightened India. New Delhi; New York: Penguin.
  • Omvedt, G. (2011). Understanding caste : from Buddha to Ambedkar and beyond. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan Publishing.
  • Pai, S., & Kumar, A. (2014). Revisiting 1956: B.R. Ambedkar and states reorganisation. New Delhi: Indian Institute of Dalit Studies : Orient Blackswan.
  • Pati, B. (Ed.). (2014). Invoking Ambedkar: contributions receptions legacies. Delhi: Primus Books.
  • Thorat, S., & Kumar, N. (2009). B.R. Ambedkar: perspectives on social exclusion and inclusive policies. New Delhhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Varma, A., & Sinha, R. (2011). Nehru-Ambeḍakara evaṃ samajika nyaya (1. saṃskaraṇa). Jayapura: Vaṅmaya Prakasana.
  • Vyam, D.,...[etal.](Eds.). (2011). Bhimayana incidents in the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana.
  • Vyam, D. (2011). Bhimayana: experiences of untouchability : incidents in the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana Publisher.
  • Jeffrelor, C., & Kumar, N. (2018) Dr. Ambedkar and Democracy. New Delhi: Oxford.
  • Zelliot, E. (2012) Ambedkar's World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement. New Delhi: Navayana.