Dr Ambedkar wrote books about various topics but most were based on the caste system and Dalits. Let’s throw light on some of his most important work.
Bhim Rao Ambedkar famously known as Babasaheb Ambedkar was an economist, jurist, politician, and activist who fought against social inequality that existed in India particularly towards the untouchables. Born in a Dalit Mahar family in Western India, Ambedkar, too, was a victim of social discrimination at the hands of his high-caste school students. The social trauma and social exclusion encountered by the untouchables were deeply felt by Ambedkar and quick to empathize with them. Throughout Indian history, we see Dalits always being subjected to oppression, are ‘supposed’ to do menial tasks such as handling corpses of animals and humans and most importantly manual scavenging. The other forms are exclusions encompass the fact that they are forced to stay in the outskirts of a town, maintain social distance from the upper castes, and having separate resources. Furthermore, Dalits are prohibited to draw water from the wells used by the upper/middle castes.
We must understand as to why this ostracisation takes place. Is there an institution that legitimizes this systematic oppression? The answer to the latter is yes and the institution behind it is the caste system about which Ambedkar has extensively criticized and talked. The institution of caste is mainly a characteristic of Hindu society but the caste system has spread to many non-Hindu communities as well. For instance, the tribal communities of Oraons of Central India.
The caste system is a hierarchical system that places the Brahmans at the top of the hierarchy and the untouchables belong to the lowest rung of this ladder-like structure. Unfortunately, the caste plays a pivotal role in determining the life outcomes of an individual or a community and that’s exactly why the socio-economic status of the Dalits has largely been static. This also because caste is ascribed at birth and has rules about occupation, whilst endorsing endogamy.
A documentary by Stalin K Padma called ‘India Untouched’ critically analyses the atrocities faced by Dalits across India, indicating that the caste system is a Pan India phenomenon deeply entrenched in the Indian Society.
Ambedkar was a well-read man and devoted much of his life to reading and propagating his thoughts about the caste system and untouchability that had been eroding the social fabric of the nation.
Three Famous Books of Bhim Rao Ambedkar
1. Annihilation of Caste
This is undoubtedly his magnum opus. Ambedkar was a fearless man who overtly expressed his views. On being invited to address a gathering in Lahore by The Jat Pat Todak Mandal – a reformist organization- on the topic caste system in India. His script talked about his desire to part ways with Hindu fold which were deemed unacceptable by the public. Furthermore, it discusses social emancipation which refers to the process of getting rights: be it political, economic social, often for a marginalized section of society.
A highly detailed book, it highlights the atrocities the untouchables face, such as being deprived of education and restricting them to the same occupation and always being on the receiving end of unequal distribution of resources. What saddened Babasaheb was the legitimacy that was being given to the caste system which always decided the fate of a person or a community. He says ‘The caste system is not merely a division of labor. It is also a division of laborers.’ While he agrees that every society has a division of labor, it should not be solid or be resistant to change. The Caste system was based on the notion of purity and pollution but he criticized it. Ambedkar further went on to criticize the Manusmriti, a religious text often normalizing the oppression untouchables face. This religious text believes that god created Shudras from his feet and that’s why they are meant to serve others. He believed that the only way to get rid of the caste system is exogamy or marrying outside of one’s community which the caste system firmly repudiates. The Annihilation of Caste is truly his greatest work still somewhat neglected. What’s remarkable is the relentless criticism that Ambedkar had in store for the Hindu order.
2. ‘Who Were the Shudras?’
Dedicated to Mahatma Phule who also fought for the rights of untouchables, was anti-caste from Maharashtra. For Ambedkar, Phule was the ‘greatest shudra of modern India’ because Phule had mobilized the lower class Hindus and informed them that they were subordinate to the higher class Hindus. Shudras are just a place above that of untouchables, Babasaheb, and Phule quickly addressed their grievances and try to reform society.
In the book, he highlights the rigidity of the caste system which hampers their development and acts as an obstacle in moving up the hierarchy. Shudras in total make 75-80 per cent of the Hindu population but that has come to no use indicating the need for social change in society. He mentions Rigveda and Mahabharata and claims that the Shudras were Aryans and they were part of the Kshatriyas. Phule and Babasaheb believed social democracy was much more crucial than getting rid of colonial rule.
3. Waiting for a Visa
Another important book written by Ambedkar. This is an autobiographical account wherein he highlights the discrimination he faced throughout his life, ranging from not being allowed to drink water since he belonged to the Mahar community from not getting a place to stay, Ambedkar has lived through tumultuous times.
After spending a couple of years in the United States of America and London, he came back to India and became a probationer in Baroda. On his arrival, Babasaheb looked for a place to stay but soon realized that no Hindu hotels would grant him entry because of his caste. He found a Parsi Inn which was only meant for the Parsi’s. Pleading the inn-keeper, they reached an agreement, according to which Ambedkar gave his name as Parsi. On his day eleventh-day other Parsis got know, infuriated armed men threw him out of the inn eventually forcing him to leave for Bombay in search of work.
Another incident takes place when Babasaheb and his friends decide to visit Daulatabad Fort. Upon reaching the fort they washed their hands in a tank kept right outside the fort resulting in rage from people inside the fort.
Another extremely prominent case is that of a doctor who refused to treat a woman because she was a Harijan. Later, the woman died.
Babasaheb is one of the very few people who touched the hearts of the marginalized sections of the society and they follow his teachings and words even today. While extensively working with the untouchables, he was the first law minister of the country and became of the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Babasaheb Ambedkar stands as an inspiration for many reformists still trying to end caste inequality in India. Despite his heroic efforts, unfortunately, the caste system is still omnipresent and has reached every corner of the country. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula stands as a testimony to this. Ambedkar has left an indelible mark with his detailed writing and his legacy must live on.