Ambedkar and his philosophy 

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

The caste-based discrimination has given a rise to a low-caste group called the Untouchables. Ambedkar was a ferocious critic of caste-ordained social inequalities. His attempts to remove social ills like untouchability and caste limitations were impressive.  Dalits who see Ambedkar in his totality as the leader who showed them the way out of caste oppression with the slogan, “Educate, Agitate, Organise” against caste.

Born in a poor low Mahar (Dalit) caste, Ambedkar himself was a victim of the social evils since childhood days. He was so oppressed that throughout his life, he campaigned to eliminate social discrimination against untouchables.

Caste prejudice affected Ambedkar all throughout his early life. His family was considered “untouchable” since they were members of the Hindu Mahar caste. Ambedkar, who went to a government school, witnessed discrimination from a very young age. When he and his other untouchable classmates were thirsty, the people from the higher caste used to pour the water from a height so that they would not come in contact with the vessel. The school peon would do this for Ambedkar and when the peon was not around, Ambedkar had to go without water. He was socially barred from playing cricket with his schoolmates.

He concentrated in his public life on attainable, practical goals and never became too big to go into specifics, details, doubts, books, the problems of ordinary people, especially the lowliest of the low in Indian society. He strived for the destruction of the caste system and the creation of an egalitarian society.

There may be various opinions on the formidable range of issues and controversies in which Dr Ambedkar figured as a protagonist over 40 years of his public life—which can be said to have begun with the sharp and insightful paper on “The Castes in India, Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development” which he did for Dr Goldenweiser’s anthropology seminar in New York in May 1916.

In “Castes in India,” Ambedkar gives a pathbreaking account of the origin and evolution of caste in India. In Ambedkar’s view, and by discussing the role that caste plays in the oppression of women in India. Ambedkar, like Ramabai and Phule, felt that Brahminism and its Laws were the real problem. To improve the conditions of women, he argued that the caste system must be eliminated. Over time, he came to believe that Hinduism could not exist without Brahminism and its caste system.

He tried to articulate an alternative political ideology by challenging the core credentials of the existing nationalist movement then solely spearheaded by Gandhi. On several occasions, he argued with Gandhi to put an end to the scourge of “untouchability” before India receives freedom from the British colonial yoke.

When Gandhi’s prime strategy of the liberation movement was aimed at “British leaving India”, Ambedkar thought he was simply doing lip service by launching various programmes to eliminate untouchability instead of addressing the root causes of an issue that is deeply embedded to Hinduism. Therefore, for Ambedkar,  Gandhi’s loyalty to Hinduism was a hindrance to eradication of untouchability.

According to Ambedkar,  an ‘Untouchable’ or member of a lower-caste becoming an intellectual was punished. It was like a sin— violating the order of Varnashrama Dharma of Hinduism. There are several examples of such ‘transgression’ in Hindu scriptures. In the Ramayana, Shambuka was killed by Rama for crossing the boundary of caste order. Ekalavya chopping off his thumb as an offering to Dronacharya in the Mahabharata is another example.

Upper castes have always been the majority in the system. For example, the judiciary has always been a caste profession. An upper-caste judge celebrates the Manusmriti in court, another defends caste and patriarchy, the pseudo-upper-caste liberal judge neither criticises the orthodoxy of religion nor rejects it, and another upper-caste judge supports lower castes without really delivering justice.

Caste discrimination in educational institutes is a glaring reality in India. In his 1916 essay Castes in India, Ambedkar endorsed that caste could become a global problem when Hindus migrate to other parts of the world. A hundred years later, caste has become a global problem. Whether it is California, Georgia or New York in the US, Canada, the UK or South Africa, caste has manifested itself in various forms. Now students from a Dalit background have expressed their experience of the subtle ways in which they are humiliated for their caste names.

In her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson writes: “It (caste) embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species.”

In his famous book, “Annihilation of Caste” published in 1936, Ambedkar started a public debate by asking why the upper-caste Hindus tend to treat their fellow beings with aversion and prevent them from taking part in public activities along with them. For him, “The real enemy is not the people who observe caste, but the Shastras that teach them this religion of caste.”

With serious differences with Gandhi, and his general aversions towards Hinduism, Ambedkar publicly converted himself to Buddhism on October 14, 1956, at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur. This spearheaded a new Dalit Buddhist movement across India in later years. The idea of Ambedkar contradicts the present regime. For example, Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism was a renunciation of Hinduism.

Throughout his life (which ended on December 6, 1956, a couple of months after he publicly embraced Buddhism along with his followers, he was interested in the big picture. Even though Babasaheb wanted the destruction of caste, today’s reality is that the caste gap is becoming deeper day by day. In such a situation, how can we talk about social democracy?

However, Babasaheb’s movement was not merely aimed at the emancipation of untouchable oppressed castes. His intellectual contribution provided an epistemic vantage point in pointing out society’s fundamental problems that offered a broader framework and perspective to understand it as a whole and entailed a radical emancipatory normative for revolutionary change.

Ambedkar on Education 

Dr. Ambedkar is known for his view that education can bring about change and for promoting the quest of knowledge as a method of achieving both social and economic mobility. Ambedkar considered education a means to bring revolutionary social change and develop critical, emancipatory and egalitarian knowledge for a good society to evolve.

Dr Ambedkar said, “Education is what makes a person fearless, teaches him the lesson of unity, makes him aware of his rights and inspires him to struggle for his rights.” He believed that education is a movement. If it does not fulfil its objectives, it is useless.

He created a standard to pursue education to acquire knowledge and intellectual excellence. For him, intellectual or academic engagement was as crucial for professional interest or earning bread and butter as it was in seeking to use knowledge for society’s good.

The denial of education to a large section of society has had a generational impact even in the twenty-first century. In the nineteenth century, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai declared that education itself was a weapon to fight the Brahminical monopoly over education

Ambedkar on Intellectuals 

In his classic book Annihilation of Caste, responding to the work of upper caste leaders and organisations, Ambedkar raised basic questions like who is an intellectual, why is the intellectual class not interested in the question of caste and why do they never consider caste as a social or national problem.

According to Ambedkar, the intellectual class is the most influential, if not the governing class, in any country. The intellectual class could foresee, advise and lead the country, whose destiny depended on it. If the intellectual class is dishonest and indifferent to the plight of the rest of the society, it can’t be helpful when the society is in crisis.

Intellectualism without virtue is meaningless. A knowledgeable person without morality is dangerous. “An intellectual could be a good man but easily be a rogue,” he writes. Likewise, “an intellectual community may be a band of high-souled persons, ready to help, ready to emancipate erring humanity or it may easily be a gang of crooks or body of advocates of the narrow clique from which it draws its support.”

However, today, so called many intellectuals are catering to interest of powerful and rich. instead of targeting ruling class, they are targeting critics and oppositions.

Ambedkar on Women

His paper on Castes in India outlines how atrocities on women are entrenched in the caste system and condemned sati, child marriage, and the condemnation of widow remarriage. Ambedkar advocated for equal participation of women in both personal and professional spheres. He is the first to raise his voice against the unequal treatment of women in factories and other workplaces.

He was instrumental in reducing working hours and improving working conditions for women. He drafted legislation such as the Mines Maternity Benefit Act, which demanded equal pay and equal rights for coal mine workers. He ensured that the question of maternity leave for women was brought up and they were protected under labour laws.

He was a strong believer of it and urged them to make their own choices about conception. Since they were typically belonged to Dalit he was against devadasi system. In 1938, Ambedkar as a Legislative Assembly member of Bombay, recommended that birth control facilities be made available to women.

Ambedkar on Marxism and Buddhism

B.R. Ambedkar was born eight years after Karl Marx died. And it was 88 years after Marx’s seminal work, The Communist Manifesto, that Ambedkar wrote Annihilation of Caste. Now if Marx could have time travelled to the 20th century and had a one-on-one dialogue with Ambedkar, it would make for a stirring debate.

According to noted journalist N Ram, he delved into the Marxist classics… but was not persuaded either by the revolutionary theory or the practice. He was emphatically opposed to Gandhism and to the Congress ideology, although on some social issues he shared common points with Jawaharlal Nehru—who let down his Minister of Law on the Hindu Code Bill in the early 1950s.

Politically moderate, he tended towards radicalism and uncompromising struggle in the social arena. His lifelong concern with religion, morality and justice in the idealistic sense was marked by a restlessly serious attempt to get the intellectual, social and political measure of these things. He did not believe in class analysis, but intuitively and intellectually grasped the link between caste.

Both Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Karl Marx had a strong belief in the concept of social justice and equality. They both opposed the caste and class-based discrimination that was prevalent during their times. Both believed in the need for a revolution to bring about the necessary changes in society. Both were advocates of workers’ rights and believed that the means of production should be in the hands of workers.

However Karl Marx was primarily concerned with economic and class-based inequalities, whereas Ambedkar was concerned with social and caste-based inequalities. Marx believed that socialism was the solution to the problems of capitalism, while Ambedkar believed in liberal democracy and the need for political empowerment of marginalized groups.

The Buddha and Marx may have sought similar ends, but Ambedkar declares that the Buddhist way is far more efficacious and far more in keeping with notions of human dignity and freedom: “One has to choose between government by force and government by moral disposition.”

Ambedkar and Capitalism

As an economist, Ambedkar was not beholden to a particular school of thought or -ism. For economic growth and the upliftment of the poor, he was willing to use an idea that was needed in a given context. Ambedkar’s perspective, a capitalist economy was an enemy of liberty and social justice. Ambedkar’s advocacy of state socialism, underpinned by a desire to ensure productivity and equitable distribution of wealth, and his critique of “social welfare” capitalism, are what make him relevant to dissenters all over the country today. He wrote in States and Minorities: What are their Rights and how to Secure them in the Constitution of Free India, published in 1947: “Private enterprise [in India] … would produce those inequalities of wealth which private capitalism has produced in Europe”.

In the explanation of Article 2, Section 2, Clause 4, titled “Protection Against Violation of Fundamental Rights: Protection Against Economic Exploitation”, Babasaheb wrote, “anyone who studies the working of the system of social economy based on private enterprise and pursuit of personal gain will realize how it undermines, if it does not actually violate, the last two premises on which Democracy rests. “

He questions: How many have to relinquish their constitutional rights in order to gain their living? How many have to subject themselves to be governed by private employers?  Ask those who are unemployed whether what are called Fundamental Rights are of any value to them. If a person who is unemployed is offered a choice between a job of some sort, with some sort of wages, with no fixed hours of labour and with an interdict on joining a union and the exercise of his right to freedom of speech, association, religion, etc., can there be any doubt as to what his choice will be. How can it be otherwise? The unemployed are thus compelled to abandon their Fundamental Rights for the sake of securing the privilege to work and to subsist.

What was wrong with Ambedkar 

Dr Ambedkar was one of the greatest prodigies, intellects, geniuses that world has ever produced. His fight against casteism was right but blaming Hinduism, other upper caste stringently was not absolutely correct. He failed to study the exploitative mentality of human beings which is inherent in human instinct. Had he born in higher caste family, he would not have blamed Hinduism.

The roots of the caste system go back to the ancient Vedas dividing people on the basis of varna or occupation. But today caste should be changed depending upon on one’s occupation, economic background but has not been changed by rulers . To enjoy supremacy in a given position, given realm is inherent instinct of human beings. So, beneficiaries of any system-right or wrong – do not want the termination of system.

Each human being faces discrimination, inequality from mother’s womb in different forms. Caste system is one of them which is gravely inhuman and cruel. Actually, It is just strong that exploits weak in a given circumstance. We experience gender inequality, economic inequality too. Society was status oriented and class divided and same continues to plague today.

Today, politicians, rich, bureaucrats, corporates and business behemoths represent upper caste in different structure who exploit others. Different chairs are kept in first line of meeting hall for certain powerful persons. Ministers eat poor men’ house but how many poor people eat minister’s house? Unless exploitative mentality of people changes, always discrimination will continue but in different forms.


To be born into an ‘untouchable’ family in 1891, and that too as the fourteenth and last child of a poor Mahar subedar in an army cantonment, would normally have guaranteed a life of neglect, poverty, and discrimination. Not only did Ambedkar rise above the deplorable circumstances of his birth, but he achieved a level of success that would have been remarkable for a child of privilege.

One of the first Dalits ever to enter an Indian college, he became a professor (at the prestigious Sydenham College) and a principal (of no less an institution than Bombay’s Government Law College). One of the earliest Indian students in the United States, he earned multiple doctorates from Columbia University and the University of London, in economics, politics, and law.

In the epochs of discrimination, he was admitted to the bar in London and became ‘India’s James Madison’, as the chair of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Being the son of illiterates, he wrote a amazing number of books, whose content and range testify to an extensive , sharp and provocative mind and intellect Dr Ambedkar’s greatness, success and achievements cannot be measured through any one of these accomplishments, because all were equally extraordinary. Of course, many feel posterity has yet to get the measure of the man.




The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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