Long before I learnt about Babasaheb as the architect of the Indian Constitution, I had heard the inspiring stories of his heroic struggle for social justice and equality from my father; he belonged to the first generation of Dalits in post-independence India who followed Dr. Ambedkar in casting away the social shackles imposed on their kind for millennia.
Babasaheb’s life, his mission and his works are great examples of how a man’s epoch-making vision elevates his own struggle into an instrument of social transformation. His rise from an untouchable socio-economically discriminated Mahar to becoming the touchstone of social reform and revival stirred my soul and aspirations even while I was a child. I took much pride in belonging to the same caste as him.
When I grew up a little more, I understood that Dr Ambedkar’s social, political and economic vision underpinned the concepts of liberty, justice and equality in modern India. What motivated me most was his unrelenting crusade as a social and political activist who translated his thoughts to engineer tectonic shifts.
Dr Ambedkar’s fight against social injustice and inequality expanded to challenge discrimination against women. He was appalled at their low status and suffering in our society, and he challenged unjust gender relations and called for reconstructing the social structure along modern democratic and economic ideas.
Several of his papers (The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women, The Women and Counter Revolution, The Riddle of Women, and Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development) analyse the artificial construct of gender relations in the existing exploitative social structures. He raised his voice for the liberation of women through his articles in his newspapers Mook Nayak, launched in 1920, and Bahishkrit Bharat, in 1927. To demand socio-economic and political rights for the depressed classes and women, he organised various reform movements, such as the Mahad Satyagraha, the Conference of Depressed Classes, and the Kalaram temple entry movement in Nasik, and set up the Samata Sainik Dal.
Dr Ambedkar practiced what he preached. He encouraged his wife, Ramabai, to be at the fore-front of fighting for equal rights for women, especially Dalit women. Ramabai was also the founding president of a women’s association in 1928. Her bold words in a press conference in 1931 – “We should get the right to enter Hindu temples, to fill water at their water sources… We will sacrifice our lives but we will win our rights” – remind me of the half-full glass in these respects even today.
One of the most impactful contributions of Babasaheb towards protecting women’s rights and affording them social and economic equality in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance, etc. is through the Hindu Code Bill. Several votaries of the entrenched patriarchal order opposed Dr Ambedkar, but he did not give up, though his persistence entailed him leaving the Indian National Congress.
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which its women have achieved.” These words of Babasaheb continue to motivate me and countless women to work for social, political and economic equality and justice for all, especially Dalits and women. They also guide much of my writings.