Ambedkar represented the Harijans in the negotiations with Gandhi at the independence of India. This is the story of his life.raditional Indian society was built on the caste system, which classified people into various classes ranked in terms of status. Caste membership determined not just status but life opportunities such as which kinds of employment were possible, which educational and social institutions were available and where future potential spouses could be found.
Castes and the Untouchables
The caste system works well for those at the top but much less for those at the bottom. Those at the very bottom are called the ‘untouchables’ becauase, quite literally, those of a higher caste are forbidden from touching them or having anything to do with them apart from giving them orders. The millions of untouchables – Harijans as they became known – approached the handover of power from Britain to India at the end of the Second World War with some ambivalence. Would they simply be moving from a situation in which they took orders from the British to one in which they would be given orders by their fellow Indians? Would they have any rights or protections under the new constitution? How would speak for them and uphold their cause? The answer was, in fact, provided by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who became known as the leader of the Harijans and became Minister of Law after independence.
Ambedkar had been born in 1894 in a town called Mhow in western India as part of the untouchable Mahar caste. Despite his status, his father had achieved officer’s rank in the Indian Army but, as a boy, Ambedkar was abused by his schoolmates because of his caste. The same thing occurred when he was awarded a government scholarship to study at university overseas.
As his life continued, Ambedkar came to see that the best way he could promote the interests of his fellow untouchables was to enter the law, protecting them where he could and spreading awareness and knowledge of the issues involving the poorest in status. India in the decades leading into the Second World War was becoming an increasingly violent place, with fighting taking place between Hindus and the minority Muslim population.
Ghandi and the Hindus
The nature of a future Indian-controlled Congress was under considerable scrutiny as the Indian people and their leaders struggled with the British to find an appropriate formula for equitable representation of all sectors of society. The Hindu people were led by the great Mahatma Gandhi, among others, who was as outraged as his colleagues were that the British proposed to offer seats for the Untouchables, as representatives of the ‘depressed classes.’