B. R. Ambedkar

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Babasaheb in 1912
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History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, What Congress & Gandhi Have done to the Untouchables

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), or simply Baba Saheb or Babasaheb, was an Indian economist, philosopher, social activist and politician. Ambedkar was a prolific scholar and he held two doctorates in economics — one each from Columbia University and London School of Economics. He was one of the first people to study and analyze Indian history from a rationalist perspective and, along with Jotirao PhuleWikipedia's W.svg and Periyar E. V. Ramasamy.Wikipedia's W.svg He led the atheist revolution in modern India. Babasaheb is widely recognized for his research, covering law, economics, political science, history and religion. He authored more than 15 books and numerous other publications based on original research.


Ambedkar was born into a MaharWikipedia's W.svg (DalitWikipedia's W.svg) caste, and for this reason was treated as an Untouchable. For this reason, Ambedkar faced segregation even in school classrooms from his upper-caste classmates and teachers. However, against all odds, he pursued higher education and obtained his doctoral degrees from Columbia University, USA and London School of Economics, UK. Following this, he returned to India but continued to face caste-based discrimination.[1] Ambedkar built his rationalist thought and philosophy through careful and extensive reading. John Dewey,Wikipedia's W.svg a professor at Columbia University and noted pragmatist, formed a big impression on Ambedkar during the period of his studies there. In London, Ambedkar found another significant influence in Bertrand Russell, even though the two never met in person.[2]

Views on religion[edit]

Being a self-professed atheist, Ambedkar viewed all religions, with the exception of Buddhism and Sikhism, as inherently flawed and rigid. He argued that religion has always been in direct conflict with philosophy and the two have been "adversaries if not actual antagonists".[3] Ambedkar observed that morality has never been an integral part of religion, as the fundamental contents of religion are always ideas like god, soul, prayers, worship, rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices. Morality is only included "as a sidewind to maintain peace and order".[4]

Be good to your neighbour, because you are both children of God. That is the argument of religion. Every religion preaches morality, but morality is not the root of religion. It is a wagon attached to it. It is attached and detached as the occasion requires. The action of morality in the functioning of religion is therefore casual and occasional. Morality in religion is therefore not effective.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma

Ambedkar was of the opinion that religion was made for man, not man for religion. Hence, any religion which refuses to incorporate within itself the ideas of reason and science as well as the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity is doomed to fail.

Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste

In 1956, Ambedkar finished his book The Buddha and his Dhamma following the addition of the chapters 'There is no god' and 'There is no soul'.[5] Later that year, he accepted Buddhism along with thousands of Mahars and other Dalits as a protest against Hinduism. However, he had made up his mind decades in advance, In 1935, he had publicly vowed that he "will not die as a Hindu".[6] In this book, and in two others that followed, Buddha or Karl Marx and Revolution and Counter-Revolution in India, Ambedkar proposed Buddhism as a religion without gods or prophets and without pseudoscientific ideas like soul or atman. He made human beings as the focus of his "religion" as compared to the usual suspects — god or soul. In particular, Ambedkar argued that unlike Krishna, Christ or Muhammad, Buddha never made any claims to divinity.[7]

If a modern man who knows science must have a religion, the only religion he can have is the Religion of the Buddha. This conviction has grown in me after thirty-five years of close study of all religions.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, The Buddha and his Dhamma

Views on Hinduism[edit]

Ambedkar renounced Hinduism in 1956 because he concluded it was a repressive and inhumane system. He felt Hinduism was "a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity" and that it was "incompatible with democracy"[8]. In his work What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables, Dr. Ambedkar writes:

To put the matter in general terms, Hinduism and social union are incompatible. By its very genius Hinduism believes in social separation which is another name for social disunity and even creates social separation. If Hindus wish to be one, they will have to discard Hinduism. They cannot be one without violating Hinduism. Hinduism is the greatest obstacle to Hindu Unity. Hinduism cannot create that longing to belong which is the basis of all social unity. On the contrary Hinduism creates an eagerness to separate.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, What Congress & Gandhi Have done to the Untouchables

Dr. Ambedkar was one of the pioneering scholars of Indian history and Hinduism from a rationalist perspective. In 1916, Ambedkar presented one of the first papers on the topic of caste at Columbia University.[9] This paper entitled Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development investigated the origins as well as functioning of caste and proposed that Hinduism was a pedantic system but, unlike any other religion, its laws were codified in the system of authority, namely the Brahmin (priestly) caste and the inherent hierarchy.[10] Ambedkar also noted in his now famous (undelivered) speech entitled Annihilation of Caste that the Hindu society existed merely as a collective of caste-based groups. Every Hindu's consciousness is limited to members of his own caste. Thus, selfishness is a distinct feature of the Hindu religion that prevents Hindus from trusting or helping one another without discrimination.[11]

Why do you remain in a religion which does not treat you as human beings? Why do you remain in a religion which prohibits you from entering temples? Why do you remain in a religion which prohibits you from securing drinking water from the public well? Why do you remain in a religion which comes in your way for getting a job? Why do you remain in a religion which insults you at every step? A religion in which man's human behaviour with man is prohibited, is not religion, but a display of force. A religion which does not recognise a man as man, is not a religion but a disease. A religion in which the touch of animals is permitted, but the touch of human beings is prohibited, is not a religion but a mockery. A religion which precludes some classes from education, forbids them to accumulate wealth and to bear arms, is not a religion but a mockery of human beings. A religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant, and the poor to be poor, is not a religion but a punishment.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, What Path to Salvation?[12]

Annihilation of Caste and Hindu controversy[edit]

In 1935, the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Society for the Abolition of Caste system), an anti-caste Hindu reformist organization invited B. R. Ambedkar to preside over their annual conference in 1936 as he was a renowned scholar on the topic of caste in India.[13] However, when the organizers received the text of the speech Ambedkar had penned down (entitled Annihilation of Caste), they were shocked as the ideas presented were in direct conflict with their conservative religious beliefs. Ambedkar had proposed that "the real method of breaking up the Caste System was… to destroy the religious notions upon which caste is founded".[14] Despite their repeated demands, Ambedker refused to tone down the text of his speech in order to make it palatable for upper-caste Hindu organizers and attendees. This eventually led to the cancellation of the annual conference entirely as the organizers did not approve of the President's views.[15] Ambedkar subsequently published the speech as a book at his own expense. It is noteworthy that Ambedkar had already anticipated that his views on religion would not sit well in a conservative group.[16] The opening words of his speech were:

I am sure they will be asked many questions for having selected me as the president. The Mandal will be asked to explain as to why it has imported a man from Bombay to preside over a function which is held in Lahore. I believe the Mandal could easily have found someone better qualified than myself to preside on the occasion. I have criticised the Hindus. I have questioned the authority of the Mahatma whom they revere. They hate me.
—Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste

Following publication of the speech, many Hindus took offense at the radical ideas proposed therein. Like many other of his conservative contemporaries, Gandhi too opposed these views and wrote in his weekly publication:[17]

Dr. Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism. Brought up as a Hindu, educated by a Hindu potentate, he has become so disgusted with the so-called Savarna Hindus for the treatment that he and his people have received at their hands that he proposes to leave not only them but the very religion that is his and their common heritage. He has transferred to that religion, his disgust against a part of its professors.
—Mohandas Gandhi, Vindication of Caste, Harijan

Well-known publications[edit]

Other works[edit]

  • Administration and Finance of the East India Company
  • Ancient Indian Commerce
  • Buddha or Karl Marx
  • Castes n India
  • Commercial Relations of India in the Middle Ages
  • Communal Deadlock and a way to solve it
  • Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability 1
  • Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability 2
  • Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability 3
  • Evidence Before The Royal Comission on Indian Currency and Finance
  • Federation versus Freedom
  • Frustration
  • India and The Pre-requisites of Communism
  • India on the eve of the Crown Government
  • Lectures on the English Constitution
  • Maharashtra as a Linguistic Province
  • Manu and the Shudras
  • Mr. Russell And The Reconstruction of Society
  • Mr. Gandhi And The Emancipation Of The Untouchables
  • Need for Checks and Balances
  • Notes on Acts and Laws
  • Notes on History of India
  • Notes on Parliamentary Procedure
  • Pakistan or the Partition of India
  • Paramountcy and the claim of the Indian states to be independent
  • Philosophy of Hinduism
  • Plea to the Foreigner
  • Preservation of Social Order
  • Ranade Gandhi & Jinnah
  • Review : Currency & Exchange
  • Review : Report of the Taxation Inquiry Committee
  • Small Holdings in India and their Remedies
  • Statement of Evidence to the Royal Commission on Indian Currency
  • States and Minorities
  • The Constitution of British India
  • The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India
  • The Present Problem in Indian Currency
  • The Present Problem in Indian Currency 2
  • The Problem of Political Suppression
  • The Untouchables and the Pax Britannica
  • Thoughts on Linguistic States
  • Untouchables or the children of India
  • Waiting for a Visa
  • What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables
  • Which is worse?
  • Who were the Shudras?
  • With the Hindus

External links[edit]