Remembering Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

“Freedom of mind is the real freedom. A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains, is a slave, not a free man. One whose mind is not free, though he may not be in prison, is a prisoner and not a free man. One whose mind is not free though alive, is no better than dead. Freedom of mind is the proof of one’s existence.” – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

Ambedkar Jayanti is celebrated on 14th April every year in India as well as around the world to mark the birth anniversary of the chief architect of the Constitution of India, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. It is a public holiday and is celebrated with great energy and enthusiasm. Prayers are conducted and tributes are given all over India, including at the statue of Ambedkar at the Parliament of India in New Delhi. Dr. Ambedkar was a renowned jurist, politician, social reformer, economist, and also the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly of India. He has worked tirelessly for the upliftment and empowerment of Dalits in the country and his noteworthy contribution in framing the Constitution of India will profoundly be remembered by the generations to come.

Dr. Ambedkar was born on 14th April, 1891 in the Central Provinces (Presently, Madhya Pradesh), in a family of Marathi background. His family moved to Mumbai in the year 1897 where he got enrolled at a High School. Upon passing his matriculation examination, he got admitted in a college affiliated to the University of Bombay where he obtained his degree in Economics and Political Science. He was also awarded a Baroda State Scholarship that provided him an opportunity to pursue his post-graduate education at Columbia University. After getting enrolled for the Bar course at Gray’s Inn, and at the London School of Economics, he completed his Master’s degree in the year 1921 and completed a D.Sc. in Economics which was awarded to him by the University of London in the year 1923.

Having a keen interest in politics, he founded the Independent Labour Party in the year 1936, which contested the 1937 Bombay Elections. He himself contested in the First Indian General Election in the year 1952 but unfortunately, did not make it count. In the year, 1947, he was invited by the then Government to serve as the Law Minister of India, which he graciously accepted. He was also appointed as the Chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee to write India’s Constitution. The Constituent Assembly took a total of two years, eleven months and seventeen days to complete the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly considered a total of 2473 amendments proposed to the Draft Constitution from 9th December, 1946 to 26th November, 1949. fifteen articles were immediately given effect to on 26th November, 1949, which were, the provisions of Citizenship, Oath and affirmation by the President, Election, Definitions, Interpretation, Powers of the President to remove difficulties and the short title of the Constitution. The rest of the provisions came into effect from 26th January, 1950 and the working of the Constituent Assembly came to a stop. The preamble, a part of the Constitution, also came into force on 26th January, 1950, which presents the intention of the framers of the Constitution and the principles of the nation.

Describing the nature of the Constitution of India, Dr. Ambedkar said, “I feel that the Constitution is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.” The Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution represent the basic values enriched by the people and the object of the fundamental rights is to ensure the inviolability of certain essential rights against political vicissitudes. Fundamental rights are not distinct but are mutually exclusive, as has been held by the Supreme Court in a catena of judgments. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar while highlighting the central importance of Article 32 of the Constitution stated, “I am very glad that the majority of those who spoke on this article have realised the importance and significance of this article. If I was asked to name any particular article in this Constitution as the most important – an article without which the Constitution would be a nullity – I could not refer to any other article except this one. It is the very essence of the Constitution and the very heart of it and I am glad that the House has realised its importance.”

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in his speech on November 25, 1949, stated that if we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? “The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’ Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.”

As we celebrate the 130th Birth Anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a duty is cast upon all of us to abide by the Constitution, respect its ideals, and remember the notable contributions of Dr. Ambedkar in making of the present independent India. Casteism, regionalism, gender bias, etc., are against our constitutional ideals and we must work to fight against those fearlessly. We must draw our attention towards the basic principles of law in our society and call to mind the purpose which the law has in view to serve in a country governed by rule of law envisaged by the Constitution. Fundamental rights and fundamental duties have to be given equal importance. Fundamental duties, though non-justiciable, are rules of law. It is our duty to carry out our fundamental duties effectively for instilling a sense of obligation and discipline amongst ourselves. We have to fulfil the objectives of law to dispense social justice to the people of our country. Article 51-A (j) of the Constitution obliges us to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity, so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement. We must always uplift the core constitutional values in our day-to-day lives and take appropriate measures to make our constitution successful, by remembering the words of Dr. Ambedkar when he said that an ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words, there should be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen.

Muneeb Rashid Malik is a student of law.