In this issue I am going to tell you a story of a little boy called Bhim.
When Bhim was in school he noticed that he was treated differently. At high school he had to sit in the corner of the room on a rough mat, away from the desks of the other pupils. At break-time, he was not allowed to drink water using the cups his fellow school children used. He had to hold his cupped hands out to have water poured into them by the school caretaker. Bhim did not know why he was treated differently?
An Outstanding Scholar
In school Bhim won the highest praise and admiration from all his teachers. They urged his father to get the best education for him. So his father moved with his family to Bombay so that Bhim could attend Elphinstone High School. But Bhim found that he was still treated as an ‘untouchable’.
One day, the teacher called him up to the blackboard to do a sum. All the other boys made a big fuss. Their lunch boxes were stacked behind the blackboard. They believed that Bhim would pollute the food. When he wanted to learn Sanskrit, he was told that it was forbidden for ‘untouchables’ to do so. He had to study Persian instead – but he taught himself Sanskrit later in life. Bhim was the first ‘untouchable’ from his community to pass the Matriculation Exam.
|Dr BR Ambedkar at the Round Table Conference
Meanwhile, the Indian Freedom Movement had gained momentum under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1930, a Round Table Conference was held by the British Government in London to decide the future of India. Bhim represented the ‘untouchables’. At the Second Conference, Bhim asked for a separate electorate for the Depressed Classes.
Gandhi felt that separate electorates would separate the Harijans from the Hindus and thus started a fast unto death. Finally Bhim agreed to sign the Poona Pact with Gandhi in 1932. Instead of separate electorates, more representation was to be given to the Depressed Classes. He formed the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation in 1942 to gather all ‘untouchables’ into a united political party. On October 14, 1956 at Nagpur he embraced Buddhism as he felt that it is the only religion which can put an end to the hardships of the people.
Studies in the US and the UK
The Maharaja of Baroda used to send a few outstanding scholars abroad for further studies. In 1913, Bhim was selected to study at the world-famous Columbia University, New York. The freedom and equality he experienced in America made a very strong impression on Bhim. He did his M.A. and in the following year he completed his Ph.D. and joined the London School of Economics.
Return to India – Nightmare in Baroda
He was given an excellent job in the Baroda Civil Service. No one at the office where he worked would hand over files and papers to him – the peons would throw them on his desk. Nor would they give him water to drink. No respect was given to him because of his caste. No hotel would provide him a room to stay. He found a place to live in a Parsi guest house, where he kept his caste a secret. One morning as he was leaving for work a gang of angry men arrived outside his room. They accused him of polluting the guest house and told him to leave the place by evening.
Bombay – Beginning Social Activity
In 1918, he became a lecturer at Sydenham College in Bombay. He launched a Marathi newspaper Mook Nayak to champion the cause of the ‘untouchables’.
Even after getting Doctorate in Economics from the LSE and also qualifying as a Barrister-at-Law, his qualifications meant nothing as far as the practice of Untouchability was concerned – it was still an obstacle to his career. Knowing the great value and importance of education, in 1924 he founded an association called Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha to set up hostels, schools, and free libraries for the Dalits.
The Bombay Legislature had already passed a Bill allowing everyone to use public water tanks and wells. Mahad Municipality had thrown open the local water tank four years earlier, but not one ‘untouchable’ had dared to drink or draw water from it. Bhim led a procession to the Chowdar Tank. He knelt and drank water from it. After he set this example, thousands of others felt courageous enough to follow him. Bhim started a Marathi journal Bahishkrit Bharat. In it, he urged his people to hold a satyagraha (non-violent agitation) to secure the right of entry to the Kala Ram Temple at Nasik. ‘Untouchables’ had always been forbidden to enter temples.
Children this Bhim was none other than Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who is the Father of the Indian Constitution. —Aniket Raja