Pilot Fish Trailblazer Nominee: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

I am delighted to announce this week’s guest blogger, Rajiv Chopra, who is introducing his second trailblazer nominee: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  Rajiv is a very talented writer and photographer who is writing about several Indian trailblazers to open our eyes to Indian culture, its history, and its people.

Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives.  Man’s life is independent.  He is born not for the development of the society alone, but the development of his self.~B.R. Ambedkar

One of the great figures in modern Indian history is Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

His rise from a poor, untouchable caste person to one of the greatest Indians is stirring. His legacy, sadly, is not fully understood. From my part, I would say that while I started researching him for this post, my admiration for Dr. Ambedkar grew and grew.

Much of his reputation in India is based upon the fact that he is known as The Father of the Constitution, and that he is considered the symbol of the Dalits in India.

You may well ask – what is a Dalit?

Over the centuries, India developed the caste system. Broadly, there are four castes – The Brahmins, The Kshatriyas, The Vaishyas and Shudras.

The Brahmins are the priests. The Kshatriyas are the princes and warriors. The Vaishya are the traders and the Shudra are the lowest caste. Over time, the Shudras themselves became part of the Dalits, or untouchables.

What is an untouchable? Quite simply, an untouchable person is one who is deemed, by birth, to belong to an impure caste, and whose touch is deemed to defile the purity of upper caste people.

In the beginning, it seems, that the caste system was fairly fluid, however, as the centuries progressed, it gradually became more rigid.  The extreme rigidity that we see today is due to the British Raj in India. As per some sources, with the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the gradual rise of British power in India, the British rulers found it easier to segregate people by caste, and to give jobs only to upper caste people.

It is enough to know that, for all practical purposes, it became very difficult for a lower caste person to move up. It became virtually impossible for an untouchable to move up, which makes Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s life all the more remarkable.

He was born into a poor Dalit family in 1891. His father was a low ranked officer in the British India Army.

During his childhood, he was segregated from other children, and had to sit apart, often on a gunny sack, which he had to carry back and forth from home. His teachers ignored him much of the time, and when he had to drink water, the water had to be poured from a height, so that he would not defile the tap. The school peon would do this,  and if he was not there, he would not get water during the day.

You might say that his ‘big break” came from the Raja of  Baroda, Sahyaji Rao III, who must have recognized his intelligence and gave him a scholarship of 25 rupees a month. After he graduated from school (he was the only untouchable granted admission to the Elphinstone College in Bombay), he then went to Bombay University and Columbia University in New York for higher studies in economics, political science and philosophy.

On his return he was appointed Defence Secretary to the Raja, and still had to face a lot of discrimination. He then went to London, in 1920, using his own money to study further.  He earned a law degree and Doctorate of Science.  And later in 1927, he received a doctorate from Columbia University in philosophy.

Why does Ambedkar become a trailblazer? For one, his reputation as a scholar grew far and wide, and he was appointed chair of the committee for drafting the Constitution of India. He was also appointed as independent India’s first Law Minister.

Dr. Ambedkar was a prolific writer, who wrote about caste, Buddhism, the Indian economy. He was also a free thinker, who fought for causes he believed in.  For instance, in 1929, he co-operated with the all-British Simon Commission for drafting a constitution for free India. The Congress Party boycotted this, and their draft did not have provisions for safeguarding the poor and depressed.   His energy, and his will were indefatigable. A man of his times, and a man that India needed during those times.

Was it indeed surprising that he was India’s first law minister, and the architect for India’s constitution?

Over his career, he campaigned endlessly for social reform. Gandhi referred to the untouchables as Harijans, the people of God. In a sense, Gandhi further segregated them, albeit with a good motive. Ambedkar argued that untouchables were like any other person, and disagreed with Gandhi’s term for them.

One of the problems that India has had to face is Kashmir.  Kashmir was granted Special Status, something that Ambedkar opposed. How it got special status is quite a bit of political drama.  But that’s another story.

In 1951, he established the Finance Commission Of India.

A poor boy, from a family of untouchables, rose to become free India’s first law minister, and the Father of the Constitution.

This poor boy argued against the social ills of India. He was a free thinker till the end.  He was a published author of books on the economy, and numerous articles on India’s society.

In 1950 or thereabouts, he converted to Buddhism. He did, it seems, consider conversion to Sikhism. However, he had studied Buddhism all his life, and when he did convert,  it was borne out of disgust with the prevailing social ills.

He founded the Buddhist Society of India, something his grandson is involved with today.

In a poll run in 2012 run by “History TV 18” and “CNN IBN”, he was ranked as The Greatest Indian by 20 million voters.  Isn’t that enough to warrant this title?

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar died in 1956, due to complications caused by diabetes.  He died too early.

A life should be great rather than long~ Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

To learn more about Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his work, click on the links below:

To learn more about Rajiv and his creative work, click on this link:

This is the eighth in a series of articles about forward thinkers who are helping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. These remarkable people are helping to define the future direction of their community, country, and even our global society.   To read more about the Pilot Fish Trailblazer Awards and the nominees Dr. Fred Sanger, Paolo Soleri, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Goodall, Alice Waters, Swami Vivekananda, and The Man in Black, click on the embedded links.  Suggest new nominees in the comments section below.

39 replies »

  1. What an amazing life Dr. Ambedkar led! It was so fortunate that he met the Raja of Baroda who helped him get an education. I imagine it would have very difficult or impossible for him to rise out of his caste otherwise.
    Thank you Rajiv and Patti for continuing to share these terrific trailblazer stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jackie. What astounded me was the number of degrees he received in different fields and in very quick succession! What an amazing mind! I wonder how common it is today for Dalits to move out of that caste.


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