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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dalit Resources: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

This is a resource guide about Dalits, the untouchable caste within Hinduism.

About Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, strongly advocated for abolishing the caste system and supported Dalit struggles. He is known as the Father of the Constitution. He is still revered as a hero for Dalits today. This section provides some biographical information as well as books authored by Dr. Ambedkar, also known as Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Biography

Headshot of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. He is wearing a suit jacket with a tie. He also has glasses and is looking towards the right. Black and White photo. 

Image from Flickr, shared under Creative Commons License

Brief Biography

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar belonged to the Mahar caste, one of the untouchable/Dalit castes in India. After completing his B.A. in Mumbai, Ambedkar earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York (1913–1916).  He subsequently obtained master's and doctoral degrees in economics from the London School of Economics (1916–1922).

Ambedkar saw the caste system as an unequal mode of organization of social relations, with the pure and the impure at either extreme. He argued that this system was sanctified through religious codes that forbade intermixture of castes and confined social interaction to a regulated structure. Amedkar became a staunch anti-oppression advocate for Dalits through his politics and writing. One of his critical works is The Annihilation of Caste, which was an undelivered speech he wrote in 1936.

Father of the Constitution

Elected to chair the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly in 1947, Ambedkar abandoned many of his radical convictions as he steered the Assembly through the process of drafting India's constitution. His contributions can be seen in some of the special constitutional provisions for social equality for the Scheduled Castes (the term for untouchables first used by the British). The practice of untouchability was “abolished” in the constitution of independent India (articles 15 and 17), and the Untouchability (Offenses) Act of 1955 makes such discriminatory practices punishable by law. Article 46 provides the Indian version of affirmative action, specifically the promotion of educational and economic benefits for the “weaker sections” of the society.

Ambedkar and Gandhi

Ambedkar became quite critical of the lack of commitment to untouchables’ rights on the part of the Indian National Congress and the outcome of the so-called Poona Pact of 1932 made him an implacable critic. Dalits continue to feel that Gandhi betrayed them with his denial of the right of separate electorates, which for them meant genuine political power.

Gandhi was a caste Hindu, a Vaishya. Ambedkar was a Mahar Dalit and knew discrimination firsthand. Gandhi never repudiated the varna theory of four major groups, although he fought against the idea of a group below the varnas and he held all varnas to be equal. Ambedkar repudiated the entire caste hierarchy, dismissing what was a current effort among untouchables to “sanskritize,” that is, adopt upper-class customs in order to raise their status. Gandhi did not believe in political battles for untouchables’ rights or approve their attempts to enter temples unless the temple authorities agreed. Ambedkar felt political power was part of the solution to untouchability. Basically, Gandhi’s faith was in change of heart; Ambedkar’s trust was in law, political power, and education.

Dr. Ambedkar's Books

Dr. Ambedkar wrote some critical works about the inequality of the caste system, advocating for Dalits. The University Library has a total of 17 titles authored by Ambedkar. Some of these are the same title but different editions in terms of content and/or language. Currently, the library has two titles in Marathi, the official language of the Indian state Maharashtra. Here are some of his critical works:

Graphic Novel about Ambedkar

Book cover image of Bhimayana. Contains title "Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability" with quotes. Cover image is an abstract illustration, similar to the art style of cubism, of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wearing glasses.

Bhimayana: Incidents in the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is a graphic novel about the life of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar with art by Durgabai Vyam & Subhash Vyam and story by Srividya Natarajan & S. Anand. We have this title in English and Tamil. This is a visually captivating resource that is great for adults and children to learn about the life of Ambedkar.

English: Q. PN6720.B485 B485 2011 - Undergrad

Tamil: PN6720.B485 B4851836 2012 - Undergrad

References

Ambedkar, B. R.. (2000). In A. Motyl (Ed.), Encyclopedia of nationalism: Leaders, movements, and concepts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Science & Technology. Retrieved from http://proxy2.library.illinois.edu/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/estnational/ambedkar_b_r/0

Dalits. (2008). In J. H. Moore (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Race and Racism (Vol. 1, pp. 385-389). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|CX2831200123&v=2.1&u=uiuc_uc&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=cc17a86f3b033d564d2fd5673fc681dc

Rodrigues, V. (2013). Ambedkar, B. R. 1891--1956. In Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Farmington, MI: Gale. Retrieved from http://proxy2.library.illinois.edu/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galerace/ambedkar_b_r_1891_1956/0