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AMBEDKAR

As I wrote my dissertation I fell gradually in love with India, its history and with the story of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Dip in and out if you please. Read as much or as little as you want. My only hope is that I can draw at least a little attention towards Ambedkar; a man whose story should serve as inspiration to all of us.

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on 14 April 1891. Between then and his death on 6 December 1956, he fought steadfastly for freedom, justice and equality among all men. He led the committee responsible for the drafting of the Indian Constitution. He was responsible for the emancipation of the untouchables in India. He would lead, even in death, a Buddhist revival of epic proportions. Throughout India he is commemorated with statues and portraits. By others, he is worshipped as if he were a ‘Modern Bodhisattva’ (a Buddha to be). In the west the majority of people do not know his name. He was educated in the West; he experienced what it was to be part of western society. His knowledge of western history, culture and politics was vast. He took part in western political conferences and communicated with western politicians. There can be no doubt that Ambedkar’s thoughts and actions were shaped by his western knowledge and experience and yet historians have not studied the connections between Ambedkar and the west in detail. With these connections in mind, it is remarkable that Ambedkar’s movement has escaped the notice of so much of the western population.

Ambedkar was born Bhimrao Ramji Ambavadekar, taking his surname from the name of the untouchable[1] Maharashtrian town he was born in. Untouchables were outcastes from society, their status considered to be even lower than that of the Shudras at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy[2]. Untouchables were thought to be ‘impure’. They led lives dominated by limitations, because according to Hindu belief they were literally not to be touched. They lived on the outskirts of villages and did menial jobs for little reward. They could not drink from public wells without earning themselves a beating as punishment. They had to beg for their food; counting on the generosity of the occasional caste Hindu so that they could eat. Untouchability was hereditary and irrevocable.

The arrival of the East India Company (EIC) in India led to the absorption of many Maharashtrian untouchables into jobs working for the British. Ramji Sakpal, Ambedkar’s father, served as an EIC army officer and was a qualified government teacher. He educated his children in the English language and arithmetic. As Dhananjay Keer says, “Bhim’s father was not merely after the spiritual development of his children. He cared also for the worldly betterment of his sons.”[3] Ambedkar therefore went into education prepared to compete with the caste Hindus in his classes. He would not have made it through education, however, without the help of the Brahmin primary school teacher who gave him his name. Mahadev Ambedkar was a caste Hindu, but would become very fond of the young Bhimrao Ambavadekar. Although he continued to believe that he could not touch him, he did not want to see his untouchability prevent him from progressing through the education system. He substituted Bhimrao’s Maharashtrian surname for his own in school records and in doing so allowed Ambedkar admission into secondary school and university: Before his time in the west Ambedkar would study at the University of Bombay, graduating with a degree in Persian and English.

In June 1913, Ambedkar was given the opportunity to study at Columbia University, New York on the condition that he would devote ten years of service to the state on his return. He would go on to study in London as well, returning to India with a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. In 1920, Ambedkar went to London to complete his Master of Science.

Hereafter, Ambedkar would gradually gain social and political influence: He represented the untouchables in the Round Table Conferences, beginning in 1930, and in 1936 founded the Independent Labour Party which aimed to help poor agriculturalists and workers. In 1942, Ambedkar was asked to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. Finally, after the granting of independence to India in 1947, he would become the head of the drafting committee for the Indian constitution and subsequently the first Law Minister of India. Despite being part of a committee containing seven members, “the entire responsibility for drafting the constitution and steering it through the stormy debates in the Assembly fell on Ambedkar.”[4] The remaining six members could not contribute for various reasons, such as ill health. Article II of the new constitution declared the abolition of untouchability. Article XV of the constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Untouchability may have been abolished by law, but Hindu society was based on a system of inequality; hierarchy was part of tradition and tradition could not be so easily changed. In 1956, just months before his death, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and his conversion marks the beginning of a mass Buddhist revival in India. Untouchables who converted to Buddhism would finally be free from social oppression.

Historiography on Ambedkar is not hard to find: Dhananjay Keer’s biography, as previously referenced, provides an authoritative and detailed narrative of Ambedkar’s journey. D C Ahir has contributed multiple works to the topic, examining in more detail Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism and his role in the drafting of the constitution. The formation of neo-Buddhism as a result of Ambedkar’s movement and the subsequent Buddhist revival has been investigated by Christopher Queen, among others. Vasant Moon, in 1979, published his invaluable collection of Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches making more accessible the thoughts and perspectives of the man himself. Eleanor Zelliot began the immense struggle to bring knowledge of the Ambedkar movement to the west. She claims that, in the 1960s, she was the first foreigner to study Ambedkar. Her most recent work; Ambedkar’s World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement provides an authoritative narrative of the Mahar movement and Ambedkar’s role in it. She gives invaluable insight into the world Ambedkar was born into and demonstrates the extent of his influence in doing so.

A detailed study of the connections between Ambedkar and the west is non-existent, despite the great influence that the west had upon him. A detailed study of Ambedkar’s life-long relationship with the west will inevitably serve to demonstrate the value of western knowledge and culture. In no way should a study of this nature be seen as an attempt to credit the west for Ambedkar’s achievements or suggest that Ambedkar aimed to ‘westernize’ India. Both Nandu Ram and Zelliot make it clear that he did not plan to force western values and institutions on Indian society, but in fact studied the west in detail, learning from their mistakes. The only feature of western society that Ambedkar was certain should be a feature of India’s, was democracy. His western experience remains to be significant and the extent of his connection to the west cannot be ignored.

Below, the first thing examined is Ambedkar’s western education and experience and its impact on him. Then follows a study of the impact of the British Raj: Here we see how living in British India infuriated and inspired Ambedkar. An examination of his political progress under their rule serves to emphasise the failure of the British Government in India to implement social reform: With the help of a western education, Ambedkar did what the British would not, despite his untouchability. Western influence on Ambedkar can also be examined in terms of the ‘Emancipation of the Untouchables’: We see how his fight to liberate the socially oppressed is inspired by western experience and is comparable to civil rights missions fought throughout western history. We will see how Ambedkar compares to the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T Washington who stood up for the rights of the down trodden in America. Lastly, we observe western influence in terms of Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism and the subsequent formation of ‘Ambedkarism’: Exposure to western religions opened up options for Ambedkar. His education made him a rational thinker and increased his awareness of the intimate relationship between politics, society and religion. ‘Ambedkarism’ is not only a unique form of Buddhism, adapted to suit modern society in the hope of achieving social equality, but is similar in many ways to Marxism.

Lastly, a study of Ambedkar’s legacy will show that he is deserving of worldwide recognition; that there can be no justification for the prolonged ignorance of so many, especially considering the depth of his relationship with the west.

Ambedkar in the West and the British in India

To Ambedkar “life at Columbia University was a revelation. It was a new world. It enlarged his mental horizon.”[5] The most detailed examination of Ambedkar’s American experience can be found in Keer’s biography, quoted from here. Ambedkar lived university life as an equal. Fellow students and professors did not discriminate against him because of his race or status. An abundance of knowledge was available to him and despite studying Political Science; Ambedkar would take on multiple additional subjects. In an introduction to his essay ‘Annihilation of caste’ written in 1936, Ambedkar gives credit to Professor John Dewey. Dewey was a professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He believed strongly in the power of democracy and education: He argued that the value of democracy went beyond creating a strong and fair political system; that democracy could break down class, gender and race barriers.[6] In this way he encouraged Ambedkar’s belief in democracy and its superiority.

When reading any of Ambedkar’s works it becomes evident that he was educated in the west: He approaches the English language with confidence, his writing style is eloquent and, according to Chirstopher Queen, not dissimilar to Dewey’s.[7] In a speech titled ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’, read by Ambedkar in 1940 on what would have been Mahadev Govind Ranade’s 101st birthday, he compares the three social reformers, essentially to prove that Ranade was the greatest man of them all. He uses a wide range of vocabulary and provokes thought in his audience using rhetorical questions. He refers numerous times to the influence of economic and political forces as well as spiritual ones. He critiques Hindu religion and tradition, examining the value of an equal society.[8]  In many of his works, Ambedkar uses western history to substantiate his arguments. Zelliot points out: “More than any other national leader, Ambedkar used events and situations in the western world as points of reference to illumine Indian problems.”[9]

Ambedkar’s years of service to the state of Baroda began in 1917 and on his return to India he observed, for the first time, how the British in power were quite simply, failing to govern. Having been a part of western societies and learned about social reform movements in the west, Ambedkar’s perspective had changed. The potential for social reform by the British Raj will have been obvious to him and he was astounded to observe that they were not doing anything to liberate the socially oppressed. As Keer so blatantly points out; “The attitude of the British rulers, who had just abolished slavery in their own land, toward these age-long sufferers in Hindustan, was quite indifferent.”[10]  Despite returning to India an educated man, Ambedkar faced just as much discrimination as he had done as a child. In a brief biography, mainly preoccupied with Ambedkar’s disillusion with Hinduism, Queen says that, in the time immediately after his return from London, “Ambedkar was repeatedly victimised by caste violence, including eviction from housing, beatings and death threats.”[11] When Ambedkar arrived in Baroda he found that no one was willing to give him transportation, neither was he given accommodation. While in work Ambedkar’s colleagues would not even allow him access to drinking water, would force him to walk on mats and would throw papers at him from their desks.

Eventually, Ambedkar moved to Bombay where he ended up with a professorship at the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics. Here his “deep study, exhaustive exposition and thoughtful style gripped the minds of his students.”[12] By 1920, Ambedkar was allowed the right to return to London to recommence studies in economics. It was not until October 1922, when he published his thesis ‘The Problem of the Rupee’ and was awarded his Doctorate of Science, that Ambedkar could not be denied a position in politics. When Ambedkar became India’s first Law Minister he felt it was his responsibility to remove social injustice once and for all. It was not only the oppression of the untouchables which Ambedkar felt needed to be solved: He also fought for the liberation of women. Early on in his career Ambedkar had established the Mook Nayak; a periodical paper which published articles bringing light to the humiliation of the untouchables and stressing the importance of gender equality. Among Ambedkar’s writings and speeches can be found numerous critiques of the Code of Manu, the Hindu code as written in the Manusmriti (the oldest and most authoritative of the Hindu texts): In ‘Revolution and Counter-revolution’ Ambedkar devotes a whole chapter to the evaluation of the ways in which Manu encourages the enslavement and abuse of women.[13]

Arguably, the impact of British rule on Ambedkar’s life began with the commission of his father into the East India Company (EIC). Jayashree Gokhale, in an essay examining the reasons for the disruption of tradition among Maharashtrian untouchables, says that “Impetus for social and ideological change within untouchable society derived from the British era.”[14] She points out how the arrival of the British in India led to the formation of a Mahar elite who were exposed to new opportunities. Early Mahar reformers who had been exposed to education set out to remove untouchability by spreading their knowledge. Instead, a small group of people from the untouchable community came to be slightly better off than the majority. The formation of this elite allowed for the flow of education to a select few, but it did little to counteract caste discrimination on the whole. In fact, under British rule hierarchies formed among the lowest castes and the untouchables causing more discontent.

The commission of untouchables in the EIC was not the only thing to divide Hindu society: Upon arrival in India the British immediately began gathering information on the citizens in the form of the Census of India. Writing in 1943, Ambedkar explains how the use of the census by the British allowed for the continued oppression of the untouchables. He says that all of the dominant religious groups in India manipulated the census for their own gain, but that the untouchables did not have the power to do so. For that reason he says that the untouchables remained to be seen as inferior to the entirety of the Indian population: “In the cooking of the census the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs have played their part as the chief chefs of the kitchen […] the untouchables are the people who are quartered, cooked and served.”[15] Nicholas Dirks and Kenneth Jones have both examined the influence of the census. Jones comes to the conclusion that “In time the creation of a new ordering of society by the census will act to reshape that which the census sought to merely describe.”[16] Dirks goes further, suggesting that the British relied on the division of Hindu society in order to maintain their colonial power; that caste was “the dominant reason why colonial governance could conceive of an unlimited future, unimpeded by the rise of any serious nationalist resistance.”[17]

In 1946, one year before the granting of Independence to India by the British, Ambedkar would meet with Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill to express his anger at the way the British in India had turned a blind eye to social injustice repeatedly for fear of alienating influential upper caste Hindus. He hoped to shame the British for their poor treatment of women and the lower castes in India and express his amazement at the fact they could so willingly turn a blind eye. By the mid-1930s, Muslim representatives had been added to government and India’s electorate had been split. Besides fighting for the representation of the untouchables in Congress by a separate electorate, Ambedkar began to believe strongly in the need for a secular state. He criticized the British for making no effort to unify India and give it a national identity. Among India Office papers can be found the notes from an interview with Ambedkar, led by Fraser Wighton, just before his aforementioned meeting in Britain. In the interview Ambedkar goes as far as to say that the British could have righted their many wrongs if they had succeeded in the unification of India. In reference to the division of Hindus and Muslims, Ambedkar says that India may as well be governed by two nations at war: “You may not like to call it civil war, but that is the spirit behind it.”[18]

This would not be the first time Ambedkar openly critiqued the British in power in India. In 1997, Ahir published Dr. Ambedkar on the British Raj; a collection of Ambedkar’s works which express his opinions on their leadership. In an essay on social reform, Ambedkar concludes that “The record of the British Government, in the matter of social reform, is to say the least, very halting and very disappointing.”[19] Then, becoming increasingly agitated, he writes – “What a miserable record it is! How meagre a record it is! Six social laws in sixty years of legislative activity.”[20] For the lower castes, the British did little other than open Sanskrit schools. They attempted to allow untouchables access to all educational institutions, but the Hindus dismissed the laws as “agitation caused by sentimental English officials.”[21] What was worse in Ambedkar’s eyes was that “the depressed classes had helped the British to conquer the country and naturally believed that the British would in their turn help them, if not in a special degree, at least equally with the rest.”[22] At the very least, Ambedkar stresses that the British government should have felt it was their duty to protect the civil rights of the untouchables.

Ambedkar’s attendance at the Round Table Conferences marks the beginning of his involvement in western politics. The conferences were organised by the British government to discuss constitutional reforms in India. They were held in London, led by the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald. Representatives were present from all the British political parties and from each of the Indian religious and caste groups. Ambedkar was invited to represent the untouchables, but could not make the first conference due to illness. At the second conference, Mahatma Gandhi represented the Indian National Congress. Before the conference Gandhi met with Ambedkar, suspecting that they would have issues to discuss. Gandhi believed strongly in the value of the caste system to Hinduism and in the value of religious culture to Indian society as a whole. Gandhi had faith that society could be unified despite the existence of untouchability and the domination of the Muslims.[23] At the Round Table Conferences Ambedkar aimed to fight for the right of the untouchables to have separate electorates, to ensure that they would be fairly represented in Congress. Gandhi argued that the untouchables were Hindus and that they were therefore already represented. He did not want to see them segregated from the Hindus politically as well as socially. In his initial meeting with Ambedkar he hoped to defend Congress on the basis that they had already begun work for the uplift of the untouchables. Instead, the two ended up in a heated debate and as Keer says “The spark of opposition was ignited.”[24]

In 1932, the two reached an agreement. Gandhi had threatened to fast unto death if Ambedkar continued to fight for the securing of separate electorates for the untouchables. He argued that Ambedkar’s experiences had made him bitter and clouded his judgement. At a conference for Hindu leaders the two would compromise and the Poona Pact would be signed. The pact stated that seats in Congress would be reserved for the depressed classes and that election to these seats would be by joint electorates, but that there would be no social discrimination against untouchable candidates.

By taking a stand against Gandhi, Ambedkar alienated many people, both in India and in Britain. Although Gandhi was against British rule in India, there were many times when he showed his support to the British in order to maintain a positive relationship with them. The British in India had promised not to interfere in religious affairs; for this, Gandhi was thankful. Gandhi’s belief in Hinduism was strong and although he took part in anti-untouchability campaigns, ultimately he stood by the distinctions of varna[25]. Queen points out how so “few in the west are aware of Gandhi’s opposition to the abolition of caste.”[26] Gandhi’s positive relationship with the west ensured him positive press, connections to influential figures and everlasting fame. Not only did Ambedkar openly critique the British government in India, but his achievements alone emphasized their failure to implement any significant amount of social reform. One cannot help but wonder whether Ambedkar would be better remembered today had his relationship with the British in India been less confrontational.

What remains to be considered is that the British in India were already equipped with all the knowledge Ambedkar later gained, lacking only an understanding of Hinduism and the caste system. Instead of choosing to gain an understanding of the country they colonised, they turned a blind eye. The influence of the British Raj on Ambedkar becomes evident upon examination of his relationship with the British in India. A study of his political progress demonstrates how his western education proved invaluable to him in the fight for political influence and the removal of social oppression. Lastly, Ambedkar’s achievements appear more remarkable when considering his untouchability, the entrenchment of inequality in Hindu society, the opposition he faced and the lack of assistance he had from the British in power.

The Emancipation of the Untouchables

It is not unusual to find Martin Luther King Jr. compared to Mahatma Gandhi; ‘The Father of Modern India’, on the basis that they both fought for liberation and advocated non-violent protest. It is unsurprising that the confrontations between Gandhi and Ambedkar have been studied and that in studying these clashes historians have compared and contrasted the two. Ambedkar has not been compared to Martin Luther King Jr. despite the fact both men committed their lives to the fight for the civil rights of the socially oppressed. Astoundingly, neither is a detailed comparison of Ambedkar and the African-American educator and social reformer, Booker T Washington, in existence. Both Washington and Ambedkar fought for the liberation of the down-trodden, both believed strongly in the value of education and both are often overlooked despite the extent of their influence.

The similarities between Ambedkar and leaders of social reform movements in the west begin with the similarities between the people they fought on behalf of. The depressed classes in India were not dissimilar from the socially oppressed in America, Britain and Western Europe. Ambedkar himself provided an overview of world slavery in his book Untouchables or the Children of India’s Ghetto. The book begins with Ambedkar’s observance of how the Hindu’s view untouchability. He says that the Hindu’s seem to believe that the untouchables themselves are the cause of their own seclusion. He argues that the Hindu’s cannot accept responsibility for their mistreatment of the untouchables because “there is no plausible explanation he can offer in justification of untouchability.”[27] Ambedkar includes a chapter titled ‘Untouchables – their numbers.’ In it he states that according to figures taken by the Simon Commission in 1930, there were 44.5 million untouchables in British India.[28]

Ambedkar would not be the first Indian social reformer to liken untouchability to slavery. Jyotiba Phule (1827-1890), founder of the Satyashodak Samaj and representative of the socially oppressed in his life time, said that the caste system implemented a form of slavery, even more brutal than that in Africa and the Unites States of America. Gail Omvedt says that Phule believed slavery in India to be based “not only on conquest and subordination, but also on deception and religious illusion.”[29] It was this that he thought made untouchability so cruel and liberation so hard. Untouchables were made to feel unworthy from the moment they were born and had inevitably low self-esteem; the majority of them believed that they deserved social oppression. Revolution would not come easily from a society of people who had no hope and no confidence.

There are an abundance of works, written by Ambedkar, that provide descriptions of untouchability and caste. Consistently Ambedkar argues that caste is the bane of the Hindus: “Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.”[30] In ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Ambedkar describes the ways in which the Hindus justify the need for the caste system. He says that most Hindus argue that the caste system is merely a system used for the necessity of dividing labour. Ambedkar, however, questions this justification on the basis that the labour is therefore divided, not based on skills and academia, but on heritage.[31] In his essay ‘Castes in India’ Ambedkar goes as far as to suggest that the mistreatment of Hindu women is for the preservation of the caste system. He uses the example of widowhood, saying that the rules put in place are to prevent ‘surplus’ women from marrying into other castes and removing the structure of the system. He says that “Strict endogamy could not be preserved without these customs”, with the customs being Sati, enforced widowhood and child marriage.[32]

Chapter Eight in Ambedkar’s aforementioned book Untouchables or the Children of India’s Ghetto is titled ‘Parallel Cases’ and is an examination of slavery in Ancient Rome, Europe, England and America. Ambedkar begins by quite simply stating that “Social inequality is not confined to Hindus only. It prevailed in other countries also and was responsible for dividing society into higher and lower, free and unfree, respectable and despised.”[33] He considers the similarities between untouchables and slaves in Rome who were treated like possessions, punished violently and forced to do the hardest and worst jobs. He also compares untouchables to the Jewish race, seeing as “On account of the belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, the Jews have been subjected to persecution.”[34] This is not the only time Ambedkar refers to the Jewish race either, in another essay he goes as far as to say that “The anti-Semitism of the Nazi’s against the Jews is in no way different in ideology and in effect from the Satanism of the Hindus against the Untouchables.”[35]

Most important to consider before turning to a comparison of Ambedkar and the civil rights leaders of America, is his preoccupation with the similarities between the slavery of Negroes in America and the slavery of the untouchables. Controversially, Ambedkar’s chapter titled ‘Slaves and Untouchables’ sets out to substantiate his claim that “There are differences between untouchability and slavery which makes untouchability a worse type of an unfree order.”[36] Ambedkar’s focus in the essay is on the best case scenario for African-American slaves. He says that “Many a slave would readily have admitted that they owed everything to slavery.”[37] In some cases, intelligent slaves were trained as artisans, in others slaves were given the opportunity to work as craftsmen. Some slaves could use their earnings to buy their freedom and go on to live their lives independently. He argues that seeing as the slave was of value to their master they could guarantee they would have access to food. Later in the book Ambedkar comes to a more thorough evaluation of slavery and here he does refer to the hardships faced by ‘The Negros’ who were tormented, tortured or killed by their masters. He concludes that what is simply inhumane about all forms of social oppression is that one man can feel he has the right to claim ownership of another. In ‘Annihilation of Caste’ Ambedkar summarises this view very clearly: “To a slave his master may be better or worse. But there cannot be a good master. A good man cannot be a master and a master cannot be a good man.”[38]

Whether or not untouchability can justifiably be said to be worse than slavery, Ambedkar’s fight on behalf of the untouchables must undoubtedly be considered to be as impactful and inspirational as Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for African-American civil rights. In a comparison of King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Bidyut Chakrabarty begins by pointing out how Gandhi was fighting for the right of the Indian people to govern a country that was rightfully theirs, whereas King Jr. was fighting on behalf of the African-Americans who “were in a country which purportedly was theirs and yet they were subject to torture and humiliation and considered inferior.”[39] Here there is evidently a comparison to be made between King Jr and Ambedkar. Simply, Ambedkar and King Jr. both fought what seemed to be impossible battles for racial equality in societies where inequality was rampant.

Booker T Washington was born into slavery in 1856. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Jim Crow Laws were introduced to ensure the continued oppression of a new generation of African-American slaves. When Washington’s family were emancipated, he received an education and then committed himself to the education of the Negro race. He united African-Americans who had been freed from slavery and created a community in which economic stability was maintained. The Negroes were taught the skill of self-help, were taught to take pride in who they were and were given basic schooling. Despite Washington’s work for the liberation of the Negro race he is, as put here; “simultaneously well-known and completely unknown.”[40] While his name is recognizable to many people worldwide, very few people actually know what it was that he did. As leader of the Civil Rights Movement, it is Martin Luther King Jr. that is always revered.

Keer says that while Ambedkar was in America he was impressed by the work Booker T Washington was doing. Coincidentally, he also says that those who encountered Ambedkar while he was in America noticed that he had determination and a hardworking mind set; “the labour of Booker T. Washington.”[41] Washington relied on the power of literature just as Ambedkar did: Both left behind numerous impressive written works. Washington sought to unify the Negro race, creating a community in which they could learn to live equally. Ambedkar often considered that it would be beneficial to create separate settlements for untouchables to live in; in which they would not face discrimination and could live freely. In one essay he said that the prospect would be worth the time it would take to make segregation a reality: “Those who have been the bounden slaves of the Hindus for a thousand years may well be happy with the prospect of getting their freedom by the end of 20 years.”[42]

Conclusively, Ambedkar’s fight for the emancipation of the untouchables in India, besides running parallel to the Civil Rights Movement in America, has much in common with movements for the liberation of the socially oppressed in the west. We can see that Ambedkar’s perspectives on untouchability were changed by his encounters with western forms of slavery: Those historic forms he encountered in books served to demonstrate that the Hindu caste system was preventing Indian society from modernising in the same way western society had. The forms of slavery that were still in existence strengthened Ambedkar’s opinion that untouchability was inhumane, unjustifiable and astoundingly cruel. Lastly, the depth of Ambedkar’s connection to the west becomes clear when we see how his approach to untouchability is so similar to the approach of Booker T Washington. It is interesting to observe how, as Ambedkar is outshined by Gandhi, Washington is forced to compete with Martin Luther King Jr. for the attention of historians.

 

Conversion to Buddhism

In 1927, Ambedkar led a demonstration hoping to allow untouchables in the Maharashtrian city of Mahad access to the water tank. When the demonstration failed, he publicly burned a copy of the Manusmriti; the oldest and most authoritative of the Hindu texts. He officially renounced all connections he had with Hinduism in 1935. Before he died, in 1956, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and published The Buddha and his Dhamma. In it he presented his account of Buddhism; providing an interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching which ensured that the liberation of the untouchables, or more generally the creation of an equal society, became a priority.

As we know, Ambedkar had spent his life time as an untouchable. He had been discriminated against repeatedly because of his position in society; forced into exclusion and treated as though he were less than human. He came into direct contact with western societies, studying history, economics and politics in detail until he came to realise that there was no need for a social system which not only allowed, but encouraged the oppression of a class of people. “Hindu society, he (Ambedkar) observed, was just like a tower which had several storeys without a ladder or an entrance.”[43] The Hindu Shastras not only supported the caste system, but passages encouraged cruelty towards those at the bottom of the hierarchy. Simply, Ambedkar came to believe that inequality was irrevocably engrained in Hindu tradition and that the only way to relieve Indian society of cruel injustice was to abandon Hinduism all together. In November 1956, he attended the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists: “Speaking on this occasion, Dr Ambedkar said that he had come to attend the conference to declare to the world, that he found Buddhism the greatest of all religions, as it was not merely a religion, but a great social doctrine.”[44] Keer’s biography, quoted from here, allows us to trace the entirety of Ambedkar’s journey. A study of this, alongside Ambedkar’s own writings, allows us to observe how Buddhism became a natural choice for Ambedkar and Hinduism became the opposite.

In a set of essays on ‘Untouchables and Untouchability’, Ambedkar wrote ‘Away from the Hindus.’ In it he justified the necessity of untouchable conversions. The discussion revolves around four objections that caste Hindus have to untouchables changing faiths. The most traditional Hindus believed that one was born into religion; that beliefs were not changeable and that conversion was not worth consideration. Primarily, opponents questioned the motives of converts: They claimed that political conversion is not genuine because it is not based on a change in spiritual belief, but is for political gain. Ambedkar, writing in 1943, says that they Hindus have “been opposing the political demands of the untouchables with the tenacity of a bull dog and the perversity of a renegade.”[45] Despite, his growing influence in politics, Ambedkar repeatedly lost fights for the equal rights of the ‘depressed classes’: An examination of any India Office records inevitably results in the discovery of an evidenced confrontation in which Ambedkar desperately fights for the rights of his people. Politically, as well as socially and economically, the untouchables remained at a disadvantage to Muslims and Hindus. Not only would a political motive therefore be a justifiable one, but Ambedkar also pointed out how “History abounds with cases where conversion has taken place without any religious motive”, referring to conversions to Christianity in Europe which occurred after royalty changed faith.[46] In his essay on the ‘Annihilation of Caste’ Ambedkar argues that religious reform must be implemented before progress can be made, because it is religion that controls those in power. He argued that the intimacy of the relationship between politics and religion means the two must come hand in hand. He used Puritanism as an example: “Puritanism founded the new world. It was Puritanism which won the war of American independence and Puritanism was a religious movement.”[47] Finally, Ambedkar argues that the very fact “That Hinduism is inconsistent with the self-respect and honour of the Untouchables is the strongest ground which justifies the conversion of the Untouchables to another and nobler faith.”[48]

Ambedkar understood the connections between politics and religion and the importance of a strong relationship between the two. His observance and experience of the relationship between Hinduism and the caste system made him brutally aware of the ways religion and society could become intertwined. His studies abroad had instilled in him a thorough understanding of religion’s role in a modern civilised society. He approached conversion with this in mind. At first, Ambedkar considered leading a conversion to Sikhism. This was an appealing thought because Sikhs believed in equality and were involved in important aspects of Hindu life and culture: Sikhs and Hindus could intermarry and Sikhs were allowed to be members of the Hindu Mahasabha. However, Ambedkar could not build relationships with Sikh leaders or get along with the Sikh authorities. Conversion to Islam was not an option because Ambedkar feared giving strength to Muslims attempting to dominate India. Ambedkar would not convert to Christianity, because he believed in the fight for Indian independence and did not want to strengthen the hold of the British. “So in the last phase of his life, Dr. Ambedkar made a great resolve to raise the banner of Buddhism and bring back to his mother land the Buddha who had suffered an exile for over twelve hundred years.”[49]

The growth of the relationship between Ambedkar and Buddhism; its origins and its connections to his western knowledge and experience, require consideration. Ambedkar himself writes of the origins of this relationship in The Buddha and his Dhamma. He first encountered Buddhism after he finished his English fourth standard examinations. Dada Keluskar, a famous literary person at the time, attended a celebration held to congratulate Ambedkar on his success. At the celebration Keluskar gave Ambedkar a book of the life of the Buddha. Ambedkar said he “read the book with great interest and was greatly impressed and moved by it.”[50] Ambedkar’s father was extremely religious and he forced Ambedkar to read the Mahabharata and Ramayana, two of the most important Hindu texts, to his sisters every night at bedtime. As he grew Ambedkar became increasingly disenchanted with the stories contained in these texts. He questioned the motives of the characters and the morals portrayed in the tales. Ambedkar’s western experience marks the beginning of his change in perspective. In the west he learned the meaning of modernisation and the value of science. Eventually, after in depth study of all of the religions on Earth at the time, Ambedkar concluded that: “If a modern man who knows science must have a religion, the only religion he can have is the religion of the Buddha.”[51] Buddhism is less a religion and more a way of life: It is less about the worship of a God and more about individual spiritual development. Buddhist teachings are there to provide guidelines, not rules or regulations. The life of the Buddha provides an example of the way the teachings can be interpreted. His story is a demonstration of how a true Buddhist should live their life in order to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Nirvana is reached through meditation and is ultimately, the achievement of morality and wisdom. When a Buddhist reaches nirvana, it is believed that they are freed from pain and suffering. The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was born into a royal family and for many years lived a life of luxury. When, for the first time, he left the enclosure of his home, his eyes were opened to the reality of human suffering: For the first time he saw an old man, a sick man and a corpse. He left his family behind on the search for wisdom and lived in extreme poverty, until he eventually gained enlightenment when in deep meditation under a Bodhi tree.

During the twentieth century Buddhism’s appeal in the west increased hugely: Ambedkar converted to Buddhism at a time when it was becoming increasingly appealing universally: Arguably, “Buddha was the only religious leader who had a universal appeal.”[52] There can be no doubt there is a connection between western ideology and teaching and the appeal of Buddhism. Christopher Queen and Sallie King point out that “Ambedkar renounced Hinduism for a religion that was now of greater interest to the British than to most Indians.”[53] Through in depth study of Ambedkar’s works it becomes evident that Ambedkar approached religions from a western angle. Educated in the west, those things which appealed to him, appealed to him because of his experiences. In the west the approach to spiritual salvation was changing. People’s goals were becoming increasingly material and success was increasingly measured in terms of achievement of these goals. Ambedkar does not allow his religion to become a set of rules and prohibitions: He criticizes Hinduism for removing responsibility. In The Buddha and his Dhamma he grants his followers the right to make their own choices, providing they take responsibility for their actions. Ambedkar did not convert to Buddhism purely in the hope of spiritual gain. Through conversion Ambedkar hoped to liberate people from social oppression: In what Tartakov calls “India’s twentieth-century Buddhist conversion movement”[54] conversions became a means to an end, with the end being social equality. Queen, who has studied ‘Ambedkarism’ and its origins in more detail than anyone else, points out that Ambedkar’s preoccupation with human rights and the removal of social oppression, was pertinent at a time when liberation theology was rising in the west.[55] The Buddha and his Dhamma was rejected by a large majority of Indian academia on this basis. By some, Ambedkar’s work is dismissed because it is written by an untouchable. Others dismiss it on the grounds that it is political and unorthodox; entirely unrelated to Buddhism in its original form. Rathore and Verma discuss this in the introduction to their edition of The Buddha and his Dhamma. They argue that Ambedkar presents his Dhamma alongside the Buddha’s but not at the cost of it. They also challenge critics based on the fact that the Buddha’s teachings have never been apolitical and have always been open to interpretation.[56]

Robert Thurman has produced an interesting work on the hermeneutic nature of Buddhism: The freedom for reinterpretation. He argues that reinterpretation is an indication of understanding and without it, enlightenment cannot be reached: That the adaptation of teachings for one’s own needs is part of the religious path.[57] He examines the nature of Buddhist scriptures and concludes that there are many contradictions in the texts. He stresses that Buddhists are not required to follow all of the Buddha’s teaching. Ahir stresses that “The teachings of the Buddha are ever true and ever-lasting, but they still need re-interpretation in each age, in accordance with the growing spiritual and social consciousness of humanity.”[58] He refers to the adaptation of Pali Buddhist literature (considered to be the most authentic version of the Buddha’s teachings) in the case of the ideal of ‘Arhatship’. An Arhat was someone who had reached nirvana. It was believed that after reaching nirvana the Buddhist ceased to exist. It was also said that nirvana could be reached without supreme wisdom. Later Buddhists would reject the ideal on the basis that if the Arhat ceased to exist, they could not share their knowledge through communication with the world.

The Buddhism that Ambedkar presented in The Buddha and his Dhamma unifies his political and religious beliefs to create what Queen calls ‘Ambedkarism’. Queen believes “that somewhere along the way to conversion, Ambedkar came to feel that, in their classical formulations, none of the religions, philosophies and political traditions of India or the west […] could meet all the spiritual and social needs of the untouchables.”[59] Ambedkar’s was a newly formed religion which he created based on his studies, to suit the new age he lived in. Buddhism, even in its unchanged form, was on every count best suited to fulfilment of Ambedkar’s aims: “Buddhism categorically rejected the distinctions of varna and the divisions of jati; it insisted on the equality of all human beings regardless of birth and station.”[60] Buddhists promote tolerance, equality and knowledge just as Ambedkar did, but Buddhists also believe that humans are the cause of their own suffering and therefore only they are the solution for it. This theory is presented in the form of the ‘Four Aryan Truths’ which Ambedkar critiques in his introduction to The Buddha and his Dhamma. He says: “The Four Aryan Truths make the gospel of the Buddha a gospel of pessimism.” He says that to suggest humans are the cause of their own suffering removes hope and makes gaining enlightenment a daunting task. Ambedkar also points out contradictions in the Buddha’s teachings: “The Buddha denied the existence of the soul, but he is also said to have affirmed the doctrine of Karma and rebirth.”[61] Lastly, Ambedkar removes all fantastic occurrences in his narration of the Buddha’s life. The version of the story he provides is realistic and in turn, appealing in the modern scientific world. As long as Buddhism has been in existence it has been adapting to keep up as society modernised. Ambedkar reinterpreted the teachings in order to make them appealing to modern society and then published the work as he did (in English) in order to ensure that the revival of Buddhism would be as widespread as possible.

Further, Ambedkar was influenced by western Communism. He believed in democracy and did not advocate violence, but he also believed in class struggle and the fight against exploitation of workers. Ambedkar wrote several essays comparing Buddha to Karl Marx. These have been compiled into one which is now accessible to us. This essay begins with the statement “Marx and Buddha are divided by 2381 years.”[62] Ambedkar goes on to present a direct comparison of Marxism and Buddhism. Through direct comparison it becomes clear that what Marx and the Buddha had in common were their aims for society: Ambedkar claims that the Buddha hoped to bring about a form of communism just as Marx did, that “The differences are about the means. The end is common to both.”[63] He strongly believed that if it were not for the fact that communists had instilled in themselves a deep hatred of religion, Buddhism and communism could work hand in hand. Ambedkar concludes that Buddhism is ultimately greater than Marxism in that it encourages people to live in a way that will create communist society so that the ideal end will be reached but without the need for violence or dictatorship. Ambedkar himself is not unlike Karl Marx in his attitude. Although the two approach their goals in very different ways, one advocating the use of force and the other the peaceful acceptance of a new way of life, both are aware that the people they speak on behalf of have nothing to lose.

Lastly, one cannot examine Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism without pointing out the similarities between Ambedkar and the Buddha himself. In his book Buddhism and Ambedkar, Ahir points out that Ambedkar and the Buddha are alike in their outlooks on education, self-elevation, caste, and freedom of thought.[64] Perhaps inspired by his father, Ambedkar believed that education was of so much importance that it could alter a child’s destiny. Like the Buddha he believed in the importance of reading, writing, and arithmetic and of encouraging the use of one’s own will. Ahir quotes Ambedkar: “There will be no difference between parents and animals, if they will not desire to see their own children in a better position than their own position.”[65] Jayashree Gokhale has examined the Buddhist conversions in Maharashtra and their impact in detail. She states that the “Buddha is seen as the only personality in the long history of India to have preached against caste, irrationality and superstition. He is seen as the all-compassionate saviour and guide of the poor, the powerless, the neglected and the oppressed.”[66] Gokhale goes on to show how as the Buddha “has become a supreme deity”, Ambedkar appears to have been delegated by him to liberate the Mahars; how it is clear that “the two are interlinked in the public mind.”[67] There is evidence to be found in the way the two are worshipped in India today: Ambedkar’s birthday is celebrated as the Buddha’s is, and his picture often displayed next to the Buddha’s in Indian homes or places of worship. The two are mentioned frequently in Indian music and literature. D.C Ahir and Gary Tartakov, among others show how Ambedkar became, in the eyes of those devoted to him, a ‘Modern Bodhisattva’ (“The Bodhisattva is a Bodhi-being, a heroic being, a spiritual warrior and an aspirant for Bodhi, In other words, a Bodhisattva is a future Buddha.”[68]) Ambedkar effectively went on a life-long mission to gain knowledge and experience in order to liberate his people from injustice and oppression. He gained enlightenment through reinterpretation of the Buddhist teachings and in doing so led the untouchables towards emancipation.

‘Ambedkarism’ is theological evidence of the depth of Ambedkar’s connection to the West. It is not difficult to gather that a western education connected him to the west in a way that allowed him to initiate social, political and economic reform in India. His approach to the reinterpretation of the Buddhist teachings connects him to the west on a more personal level than anything else. When reading The Buddha and his Dhamma we observe that Ambedkar approached religion politically: He was influenced by Karl Marx and communism, by his western education and more specifically by western liberation theology. Whether or not this takes away from the true character of Buddhism is something that readers must decide for themselves. Ambedkar is rational, but his belief in equality, morality, self-sacrifice and the value of wisdom make it very clear that in nature he is a true Buddhist. It is unclear whether or not Ambedkar would have chosen Buddhism, or indeed even considered conversion, if it were not for the influence of the west, but as Tartakov says “What was clear was that he was the unchallenged leader of twenty per cent of the Indian population designated untouchable and so pervasively discriminated against by all caste Hindus, and that his turning would undoubtedly be followed by a sizeable multitude.”[69]


Conclusion

Ambedkar never would have had access to education had the British in India not recruited his father. His education in the west engrained in him his beliefs in education, democracy, secularization of the state and the potential for human’s to live in an equal society. The Ambedkar movement in India is similar in many ways to the Civil Rights Movement in America, mostly because of the similarities between untouchables and African-American slaves. Lastly, a study of Ambedkar’s perspectives on religious conversion, his disillusion with Hinduism and approach to the reinterpretation of Buddhist scriptures makes it undeniably clear that he was influenced by the west in almost every aspect of his life.

Ultimately, two things are most remarkable. First, that Ambedkar’s legacy is that of a man who was born an untouchable: That Ambedkar’s ambition and determination ensured him great success, despite his untouchability. As Keer says “Great men have sprung from palaces as well as cottages. They have sprung from the homes of shoe makers, tailors, butchers, bricklayers and blacksmiths. But Ambedkar had the unique distinction of springing from the dust.”[70] Second, is that so much of the western population remains unaware of the impact Ambedkar had in India. Consideration of the depth of Ambedkar’s relationship with the west only serves to make this more astounding.

In 2000, a statue of Ambedkar was put on display at Columbia University in commemoration of him. In the same year the film titled ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: The Untold Truth’ was officially released in English, by Indian director Jabbar Patel. In 2004, Hindu nationalists in India passed legislation to outlaw conversion to Buddhism, but in 2007, The Times published an article on the continuing Buddhist revival and liberation of the untouchables, saying that “the new strength that many Dalits find in their Buddhist conversion means that they will no longer tolerate the inhumanity of caste observance.”[71] In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar’s death, millions of untouchables marched in Bombay, to commemorate him in a campaign for equal rights. On the 14th April 2015, on what would have been Ambedkar’s 124th birthday, the logo on the Google homepage was changed in nine countries, including Britain and India to commemorate him. Indian and British newspapers alike became filled, for the day, with articles on Ambedkar and for the first time, his movement grabbed the interest of a large percentage of the British population. The legacy that Ambedkar has left behind will be everlasting. Knowledge of his movement spreads further every day and one can only hope that he will always be revered for committing his life to liberty, equality and fraternity.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, The Buddha and his Dhamma, ed. Aakash Singh Rathore and Ajay Verma (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

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Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, Mr Gandhi and the emancipation of the Untouchables (1943)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables (1945)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, Who were the Shudras? How they came to be the Fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society (1947)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, The Untouchables (1948)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, Dr. Ambedkar on the British Raj, ed. Ahir, D.C (Delhi: Blumoon, 1997)

Vasant Moon (comp.):

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Castes in India; Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’ (1916), Writings and Speeches, Vol.  1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979)

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Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Untouchables or the children of India’s Ghetto’, Writings and Speeches, Vol.5, Book 1, Chap. 1-14 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Under the Providence of Mr. Gandhi’, Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5, Chap. 24 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Gandhi and his fast’, Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5, Chap. 25 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Away from the Hindus’, Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5, Chap. 27 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989)

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, ‘Caste and Conversion’, Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5, Chap 28 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989)

India Office Records (IOR), British Museum, London

IOR: L/PO/77/2, File no. 13422, Correspondence between Gandhi and Sir Samuel Hoare. Papers regarding fast, Yeravda, 11th March 1932.

IOR: L/PO/6/89A, Poona Pact, Hindu seats in Bengal, Ambedkar on modification of depressed classes seats, suggested plan for the modification of the Poona Pact to relieve the caste Hindus of Bengal, Bengal, 2 November 1933 – 5 April 1935

IOR: L/PO/6/89B, Fraser Wighton’s notes on an interview with Ambedkar before Ambedkar’s meeting with Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and others, 22 October 1946

The Times Digital Archive

O’Connor, Ashling, ‘Millions ‘outcasts’ march on city to honour hero and demand equality’, (7 December 2006) The Times Digital Archive, p.51, Issue 68877

Rughani, Pratap, ‘Born again in the light of the Buddha’, (London: England, 20 January 2007) The Times Digital Archive, p.78, Issue 68914

Thomas, Christopher, ‘India has first Untouchable President’, (18 July 1997) The Times Digital Archive, p.16, Issue 65945

 

Secondary Sources

Books

Ahir, D.C, Buddhism and Ambedkar (New Delhi: Dalit Sahitya Prakashan, 1990)

Ahir, D. C, Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar (Bharat Ratna) (Delhi: B.R Pub. Corp, 1990)

Ahir, D.C, Gandhi and Ambedkar: A Comparative Study (New Delhi: Blumoon, 1995)

Ahir, D.C, Dr. Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution (Lucknow : Buddha Vihara, 1973)

Anand, Mulk Raj, Untouchable (London, New York: Penguin books, 1940)

Bieze, Michael Scott and Marybeth Gasmen (eds.) Booker T Washington Rediscovered  (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012)

Berger, Peter, The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation  (London: Collins, 1979)

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Boisvert, Raymond, John Dewey: Rethinking our Time (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998)

Chakrabarty, Bidyut, Confluence of Thought: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Copley, Anthony, Gandhi (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987)

Das, Bhagwan, Revival of Buddhism in India and role of Dr Baba Saheb B. R Ambedkar (Lucknow: Dalit Today Prakashan, 1998)

Dirks, Nicholas B., Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)

Keer, Dhananjay, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990)

King, Sallie and Queen, Christopher ed., Engaged Buddhism, Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)

Omvedt, Gail, Dalit Visions: The anti-caste movement and the construction of an Indian Identity (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1995)

Pandyan, David, Dr B. R. Ambedkar and the Dynamics of Neo-Buddhism (New Delhi: Gyan, 1996)

Ran, Nandu (ed.) Ambedkar, Dalits and Buddhism; Collection of Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Annual Lectures (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2008)

Zelliot, Eleanor, Ambedkar’s world: the making of Babasaheb and the Dalit movement (New Delhi: Navayana pub., 2013)

Book Chapters and Articles

Brekke, Torkel, ‘Conversion in Buddhism?’ in Sathianathan Clarke and Rowena Robinson (eds.),            Religious conversion in India: Modes, Motivations and Meanings (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Gokhale, Jayashree, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of             Maharashtrian Untouchables’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45:2 (February, 1986) pp.269 – 292

Jones, Kenneth W., ‘Religious Identity and the Indian Census’, in Norman G., Barrier (ed.), The Census in British India (New Delhi: Manohar, 1981)

Jones, Kenneth W, ‘Socio-religious Reform Movements in British India’ in The New Cambridge History of India 3:1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Metcalf, Thomas R., ‘Ideologies of the Raj’, in The New Cambridge History of India 3:4 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Tartakov, Gary, ‘B.R. Ambedkar and the Navayana Diksha’ in Sathianathan Clarke and Rowena Robinson (eds.), Religious conversion in India: Modes, Motivations and Meanings (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Thurman, Robert A. F., ‘Buddhist Hermeneutics’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 46:1 (March, 1978) pp.19-39

Footnotes

[1] Untouchables, also referred to by Ambedkar as ‘the Scheduled or Depressed classes’ and today, known as ‘Dalits’; a word literally meaning ‘down-trodden’ or ‘oppressed’.

[2] Hindu social order that developed around the village productive system. Shudras were at the bottom of the hierarchy; they were those who served. Brahmins were at the top of the hierarchy.

[3] Dhananjay, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990) p.11

[4] D C, Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar and the India Constitution (Lucknow : Buddha Vihara, 1973) p.iii

[5] Dhananjay, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990) p.27

[6] Raymond, Boisvert, John Dewey: Rethinking our Time (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998) p.55

[7] Christopher S, Queen, ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’, in Sallie King and Christopher Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism, Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996) p.64

[8] Bhimrao Ramji, Ambedkar, ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah’ (1943), Writings and Speeches, Vol.  1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) pp. 209-240

[9] Eleanor, Zelliot in Nandu, Ran (ed.), Ambedkar, Dalits and Buddhism; Collection of Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Annual Lectures (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2008) p.106

[10] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.4

[11] Queen, ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’, in King and Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism (Albany, 1996) p.49

[12] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.39

[13] Chapter 13 of Ambedkar, ‘Revolution and Counter-revolution’, Writings and Speeches, Vol. 3 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1987) p. 429

[14] Jayashree, Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45:2 (February, 1986) p.273

[15] Ambedkar, Mr Gandhi and the emancipation of the Untouchables (1943) p.10

[16] Kenneth W., Jones, ‘Religious Identity and the Indian Census’, in Norman G., Barrier (ed.), The Census in British India (New Delhi: Manohar, 1981) p.75

[17] Nicholas, Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001) p.211

[18] IOR: L/PO/6/89B, Fraser Wighton’s notes on an interview with Ambedkar before Ambedkar’s meeting with Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and others, 22 October 1946

[19] Ahir (ed.), Dr. Ambedkar on the British Raj (New Delhi: Blumoon Books, 1997) p.104

[20] Ibid, p.116

[21] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.6

[22] Ahir (ed.), Dr. Ambedkar on the British Raj (New Delhi, 1997) p.131

[23] Anthony, Copley, Gandhi (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987) p.77

[24] Keer, Dr, Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.168

[25] Varna is the Hindu term used to describe class in the Hindu caste system where a caste is ‘an enclosed class’, as Ambedkar puts in Ambedkar, ‘Castes in India; Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’ (1916), Writings and Speeches, Vol.  1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) p.15

[26] Queen, , ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’, in King and Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism, Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany, 1996) p.63

[27] Bhimrao Ramji, Ambedkar, ‘Chapter One: Untouchability – Its source’ in Ambedkar, ‘Untouchables or the children of India’s Ghetto’, Writings and Speeches, Vol.5, Book 1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989) p.5

[28] Ambedkar, ‘Chapter Two: Untouchables – their numbers’ in Ambedkar, ‘Untouchables or the children of India’s Ghetto’, Writings and Speeches, Vol.5, Book 1 (Bombay, 1989) p.7

[29] Ibid. p.18

[30] Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (1944), Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) p.47

[31] Ibid. p.47

[32] Ambedkar, ‘Castes in India; Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’ (1916), Writings and Speeches, Vol.  1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) p.14

[33] Ambedkar, ‘Chapter Eight: Parallel Cases’ in Ambedkar, ‘Untouchables or the children of India’s Ghetto’, Writings and Speeches, Vol.5, Book 1 (Bombay, 1989) p.75

[34] Ibid. p.77

[35] Ambedkar, Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables (Bombay, 1943) p.2

[36] Ambedkar, ‘Chapter Three: Slaves and Untouchables’ in Ambedkar, Untouchables or the children of India’s Ghetto, Writings and Speeches, Vol.5, Book 1 (Bombay, 1989) p.15

[37] Ibid. p.15

[38] Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (1944), Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) p.89

[39] Bidyut, Chakrabarty, Confluence of Thought: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) p.2

[40] Michael Scott, Bieze and Marybeth Gasmen (eds.) Booker T Washington Rediscovered (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012) p.1

[41] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990) p.29

[42] Ambedkar, Gandhi and the emancipation of the untouchables (Bombay, 1943) p.51

[43] Dhananjay, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990) p.41

[44] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.507

[45] Bhimrao Ramji, Ambedkar, Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables (Bombay, 1943) p.61

[46] Ambedkar, ‘Away from the Hindus’ Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5, Chap. 27 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989) p.403

[47] Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (1944), Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1 (Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979) p.44

[48] Ambedkar, ‘Away from the Hindus’ p.412

[49] Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay, 1990) p.481

[50] Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma,ed. Aakash Singh Rathore and Ajay Verma (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) p.xxvi

[51] Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma, ed. Rathore and Verma (Oxford, 2011) p.xxv

[52] Bhagwan, Das, Revival of Buddhism in India and role of Dr Baba Saheb B. R Ambedkar (Lucknow: Dalit Today Prakashan, 1998) p.15

[53] Sallie King and Christopher Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996) p.23

[54] Gary, Tartakov, ‘B.R. Ambedkar and the Navayana Diksha’ in Clarke and Robinson (eds.), Religious conversion in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003) p.194

[55] Christopher S, Queen, ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’, in King and Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996) p.46

[56] Rathore and Verma in Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma (Oxford, 2011) p.viiii

[57] Robert, Thurman, ‘Buddhist Hermeneutics’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 46:1 (March, 1978) p.23

[58] D C, Ahir, Buddhism and Ambedkar (New Delhi: Dalit Sahitya Prakashan, 1990) p.37

[59] Queen, ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Hermeneutics of Buddhist Liberation’, in King and Queen (eds.), Engaged Buddhism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996) p.66

[60] Jayashree, Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45:2 (February, 1986) p.272

[61] Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma, ed. Rathore and Verma (Oxford, 2011) p.xxxi

[62] Ambedkar, ‘Buddha or Karl Marx’, Writings and Speeches, Vol.3 ((Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1987) p.441

[63] Ibid. p.450

[64] Ahir, Buddhism and Ambedkar (New Delhi, 1990) p.25

[65] Ambedkar, in Ahir, Buddhism and Ambedkar (New Delhi, 1990) p.26

[66] Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45:2 (February, 1986) p.277

[67] Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 45:2 (February, 1986) p.277

[68] Ahir, Buddhism and Ambedkar (New Delhi, 1990) p.31

[69] Tartakov, ‘B.R. Ambedkar and the Navayana Diksha’ in Clarke and Robinson (eds.), Religious conversion in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003) p.194

[70] Dhananjay, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1990) p.524

[71] Rughani, Pratap, ‘Born again in the light of the Buddha’ (London: England, 20 January 2007), The Times Digital Archive, p.78, Issue 68914

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