Religion26 Nov 2007 01:31 pm
The two most famous figures associated with the struggle for Indian Independence are undoubtedly Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. However, many others shared the work, and their contribution were crucial even if their names are less well-known. Among these unsung figures is B.R. Ambedkar, father of the Indian constitution.
The Indian constitution is a remarkable document, codifying the founding principles of the world’s largest democracy. In many respects it mirrors the American constitution that it owes so much to, but in others it is an altogether unique document. One of the most unique features of the Indian constitution has to do with a peculiarly Indian issue, the issue of caste.
Ambedkar himself was born into the lowest caste in Hinduism: the “Parjanya” or “untouchables.” According to Hindu tradition, such people are outcasts, condemned to perform nothing but menial work. Ambedkar refused to accept this fate for himself, and single-mindedly pursued his education. He attended the University of Bombay; earned a scholarship to study political science at Columbia University in New York, and studied law at the London School of Economics.
When he finally returned to India he applied Gandhi’s principles of “satyagraha” (or “nonviolent resistance”) to the struggle for the rights of untouchables. “His first victory was to give untouchables in his hometown of Mahad the right to use the main water tank in their town. His culminating victory would be much greater. After India gained independence on August 15, 1947, Ambedkar was appointed its first law minister and the chairman of its Constitution Drafting Committee. Article 17 of that Constitution reads as follows: “‘Untouchability’ is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of ‘Untouchability’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.” Though the notion of untouchability may not have entirely disappeared from Indian society, thanks to Ambedkar it has been banished from her laws.
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