INDIA: The whole world is celebrating the 130th birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, an educationist par excellence, the economist who set up the Indian economy, a social reformer who crusaded against social untouchability, a jurist, the first Law Minister of India, the Chief Architect of the Constitution of India, and a great political leader. He is well known to India and the world. But there are some of the facts that are lesser-known to people across the world. On his birth anniversary, it will be quite interesting to look at some lesser-known facts of his life struggles and achievements.
Birth of a national hero
Born as Bhiva Ramji Sakpal on 14 April 1891 at Mhow (now known as Dr. Ambedkar Nagar). Mhow is in Central Province, now Madhya Pradesh, Indore district, India. His birthplace is now known as Bhim Janmabhoomi. Bhiva was the 14th and last child of his parents. His father, Ramji Sakpal, was an army officer who held the rank of Subedar in The British Indian Army. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambadawe in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra State. Since he was born in a downtrodden caste, he was ‘untouchable’ for the upper caste in those times.
In school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or help by teachers. They had to face discrimination and were not allowed to sit inside the class. The concept of “untouchability” was widespread at that time. When a student belonging to the lower caste needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste had to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch either the water or the vessel that contained it. This task was usually performed for the young Ambedkar by the school peon, and if the peon was not available then he had to go without water. He described those times later in his writings as ‘No Peon – No Water’. One episode from his life depicts the hardship he had to face in those times due to his caste.
In ‘Waiting For Visa’, Dr. Ambedkar told, “Ultimately by midnight the cart reached the toll-collector’s hut. It was situated at the foot of a hill but on the other side of the hill. When we arrived we saw a large number of bullock-carts there, all resting for the night. We were extremely hungry and wanted very much to eat. But again there was the question of water. So we asked our driver whether it was possible to get water. He warned us that the toll-collector was a Hindu and that there was no possibility of our getting water if we spoke the truth and said that we were Mahars(his caste). He said, “Say you are Mohammedans and try your luck.”
On his advice, I went to the toll collector’s hut and asked him if he would give us some water. “Who are you?” he inquired. I replied that we were Musalmans. I conversed with him in Urdu (which I knew very well), to leave no doubt that I was a real Musalman. But the trick did not work and his reply was very curt. “Who has kept water for you? There is water on the hill if you want to go and get it; I have none.” With this he dismissed me. I returned to the cart and conveyed to my brother his reply. I don’t know what my brother felt. All that he did was to tell us to lie down.”
Also Read: Gender And Caste Based Crimes In India
Another episode of water
Another sorry tale of discrimination Dr.Ambedkar faced was at Daulatabad Fort. But this time the oppressors were Muslims. It was 1934 and Dr.Ambedkar along with his co-workers were visiting Budha Caves of Ajanta. In midst of the tour, they visited Daulatabad Fort which is situated near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. In the book ‘Waiting For Visa’ he wrote – “The month was Ramjan, the month of fast for the Mohammedans. Just outside the gate of the fort, there is a small tank of water full to the brim. There is all around a wide stone pavement. Our faces, bodies, and clothes were full of dust gathered in the course of our journey, and we all wished to have a wash. Without much thought, some members of the party washed their faces and their legs on the pavement with the water from the tank. After these ablutions, we went to the gate of the fort. There were armed soldiers inside. They opened the big gates and admitted us into the archway.
We had just commenced asking the guard the procedure for obtaining permission to go into the fort. In the meantime, an old Mohammedan with a white flowing beard was coming from behind shouting “The Dheds (meaning untouchables) have polluted the tank!” Soon all the young and old Mohammedans who were near about joined him and all started abusing us. “The Dheds have become arrogant. The Dheds have forgotten their religion (i.e. to remain low and degraded). The Dheds must be taught a lesson.” They assumed a most menacing mood.
We told them that we were outsiders and did not know the local custom. They turned the fire of their wrath against the local untouchables, who by that time had arrived at the gate. “Why did you not tell these outsiders that this tank could not be used by untouchables?” was the question they kept on asking them. Poor people! They were not there when we entered the tank area. It was really our mistake, because we acted without inquiry. The local untouchables protested that it was not their fault.
But the Mohammedans were not prepared to listen to my explanation. They kept on abusing them and us. The abuse was so vulgar that it exasperated us. There could easily have been a riot, and possibly murders. We had, however, to restrain ourselves. We did not want to be involved in a criminal case that would bring our tour to an abrupt end.
One young Muslim in the crowd kept on saying that everyone must conform to his religion, meaning thereby that the untouchables must not take water from a public tank. I had grown quite impatient, and asked him in a somewhat angry tone, “Is that what your religion teaches? Would you prevent an untouchable from taking water from this tank if he became a Mohammedan?” These straight questions seemed to have some effect on the Mohammedans. They gave no answer and stood silent.
Turning to the guard I said, again in an angry tone, “Can we get into the fort or not? Tell us; if we can’t, we don’t want to stop.” The guard asked for my name. I wrote it out on a piece of paper. He took it to the Superintendent inside and came out. We were told that we could go into the fort, but we could not touch water anywhere in the fort; an armed soldier was ordered to go with us to see that we did not transgress the order.”
This episode shows that a person who was untouchable to a Hindu was also untouchable to a Mohammedan.