Dr. Ambedkar’s Embracing Buddhism : The Greatest Revolution Against Counter-Revolution

Adv. Ram Khobragade

Published in Issue II, July 2013

14th October, 1956, is the historic day in the life of the Untouchables in India, when Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with his more than 5 lakh followers on the sacred Deeksha Bhoomi of Nagpur (Maharashtra), ancient capital of Nag Lokas (Nag People) – the original Buddhists.  This was one of the greatest events in the socio-religious history of India.  It was the greatest religious revolution which India had witnessed in modern times.  This was also the greatest blow to the sovereignty of Hindu religion.  It was a challenge to the stalwarts of Hindu way of life, as it indicated the discarding and rejection of the discriminatory social system.  It was also an opportunity to the protogonists of Hinduism to introspect as to why those 5 lakh untouchables or even more people were compelled to discard their religion.  Why did Dr. Ambedkar resort to such an extreme step?  Did it not shake tremendously the foundations of Hindu religion?

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did not resort to that extreme step suddenly, unmindfully, under any pressure, terror or avarice.  It was a very careful, well thought-out action and with a view to giving vent to his long-nourishing protest against the Hinduism and in-human Hindu Social Order.  Dr. Ambedkar very clearly said, “I feel I should not consent to live in a society which cherished wrong ideals or a society which having right ideals will not consent to bring its social life in conformity with those ideals.  If I am disgusted with Hindus and Hinduism, it is because I am convinced that they cherish wrong ideals and live a wrong social life.  My quarrel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over the imperfections of their social conduct.  It is much more fundamental.  It is over their ideal.”

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was well aware that the Varnashram social system was responsible for all the ills of the untouch­ables. The religion in which he was born did not give him equal treatment as it gave to other high caste people. He, therefore, took no time to realize that. “The root of the un-touchability is the caste system; the root of the caste system is religion attached to varna and ashram; and the root of Varnashram is Brahminical religion; and the root of Brahminical religion is authoritarianism or political power”.

“Ultimately”, Dr. D. R. Jatav opined, “in order to abol­ish caste and untouchability, Dr. Ambedkar suggested to kill the monster of Varnaism which was nothing but Brahminism incarnate. The ideology of Brahminism was poisonous which had petrified the whole of Hindu society, and at present, it has polluted the entire Indian political system, and created economic crisis, along with imbalance in human relations in the social life of the country.”

Dr. Ambedkar at his own way, took appropriate measures to reform the Hindu religion and Hindu society. He had made an announcement in 1935 at Yeola Mahar Conference that he would discard the Hindu religion and embrace some other religion to get relieved of the inhu­man treatment, untouchability and discriminatory socio-religious system. He said, “I tell you, religion is for man and not man for religion. If you want to organise, consolidate and be successful in this world, change this religion. The religion that does not recognize you as human-beings, or give you water to drink, or allow you enter the temples is not worthy to be called a religion. The religion that forbids you to re­ceive education and comes in the way of your material ad­vancement is not worthy of the appellation ‘religion’. The religion that does not teach its followers to show humanity in dealing with its co-religionists is nothing but display of force. The religion that asks its adherents to suffer the touch of ani­mals but not the touch of human-beings is not religion but a mockery. That religion, which precludes some classes from education, forbids them to accumulate wealth and to bear arms, is not religion but a mockery. The religion that com­pels the ignorant and the poor to be poor is not religion but visitation”. However, he was in agreement with Burke, whom the latter said, ‘True religion is the foundation of society, the basis on which all true civil Governments rest.”

Dr. Ambedkar was a very pious and religious man. He imbibed this very quality of his character from his father, who was also very religious person. He read Ramayan, Mahabharat, Geeta and other religious books at a very young age under the guidance of his father. But he was not a blind follower of religion. Simultaneously, he was not irreligious also. He held that religion was a part of one’s social life or inheritance; one’s life and dignity and pride were bound up with it. He believed in the social force of religion; and that force laid in religion being a unified system of beliefs and practices. “Religion is not opium as is held by some,” said he, “what good things I have in me or whatever have been the benefits of my education to society, I owe them to the religious feelings in me. I want religion but I do not want hypocrisy in the name of religion………Some people think that religion is not essential to the society. I do not hold this view. I consider the foundations of religion to be essential to life and practices of society….. man could not live by bread alone. Religion created hope in human beings and drive them to useful and beautiful activities.”

When Dr. Ambedkar decided and declared to discard Hindu religion and embrace some other religion, there were all-around uproars against the move from all corners and par­ticularly from orthodox Hindus. It was tremendous jolt to the foundations of Hindu religion. Why the Orthodox Hin­dus and their leaders, including apex leaders Mahatma Gandhi, V. D. Savarkar and Dr. Moonjhe were afraid of Ambedkar’s proposed conversion? The reason being that, “Ambedkar, the historian, gave a rude shock to the Hindu so­ciety, because he knew that conversion of Hindus to other faiths had convulsed Hindustan. It was the converted Hindus who had fought in the past for establishing Muslim suzer­ainty over the land………. Jinnah told Louis Fischer that sev­enty-five percent of the Indian Muslims were former Hindus converted to Islam by Mohammedans, and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru improved upon this and put the figure, perhaps with secular pride, at ninety-five percent. It can be seen, there­fore, why Ambedkar’s declaration was a thunderbolt to the sensible Hindu leaders who realised that the Hindus were los­ing national strength through their suicidal apathy and inhu­man attitude to the untouchable Hindus”.

Despite very harsh, inhuman and poisonous attitude of caste Hindus towards the untouchables, Dr. Ambedkar never lost the balance of mind. He was a true nationalist and patriot of a sterling worth. He never thought of damaging or dividing this great country, though verbally he argued with Gandhiji asking him “………..How can I call this land (India) my own homeland and this religion (Hindu religion) my own wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink?” When some people asked him what advantages they would gain by changing their religion, his answer was, “what will India gain by Swaraj (indepen­dence)? Just as Swaraj (independence) is necessary for In­dia, so also is change of religion necessary for the Untouch­ables. The underlying motive in both the movements is the desire for freedom”.

Dr. Ambedkar could have done a great damage and destroyed the geography of this country, had he nourished the motive of revenge against the Hindu religion or caste Hindus. But he was not. In this context what he observed is very-very important. “What the consequences of conversion will be to the country as a whole, is well worth bearing in mind. Conver­sion to Islam or Christianity will denationalize the Depressed Classes. If they go over to Islam, the number of Muslims would be doubled; and the danger of Muslim domination also be­comes real. If go over to Christianity, the numerical strength of the Christians becomes Five to Six Crores. It will help to strengthen the hold of Britain on this country”.

The people of this country and particularly the caste Hindus must be grateful to Dr. Ambedkar that he saved this country from being bulkanised further after partition for Pa­kistan and his commitment and patriotism did not allow the Britishers to continue their hold over the country like South Africa where the rule of Iaan Smith (them Prime Minister of South Africa & white leader practicing apartheid) and Dr. Verwoerd (1958) had made the life of native South Africans very very miser­able and unbearable. And, therefore, he said to Gandhiji, the supreme leader of the caste-Hindus and custodian of the Hin­duism that, “If in my endeavour to secure human rights for my people, who have been trampled upon in this country for ages, I do disservice to this country, it would not be a sin; and if any harm does not come to this country through my action, it may be due to my conscience. Owing to the promptings of my conscience I have been striving to win human rights for my people without meaning or doing any harm to this coun­try ………I will choose only the least harmful way for the country. And that is the greatest benefit I am conferring on the country by embracing Buddhism; for Buddhism is a part and parcel of Bhartiya culture. I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition of the culture and his­tory of this land.”

Dr. Ambedkar could have done the great harm to the socio political fabric of this country, had he embraced Islam or Christianity. “But Dr. Ambedkar, as a constitutionalist, a champion of peaceful change, never visualized a bloody revo­lution in India by plunging the Untouchables into a grim fight against either the Conservative Hindus or the Capitalists. The foremost question during pre-independence era was how to awaken these neglected people and make them realise their legitimate rights which were hitherto denied to them. It was Dr. Ambedkar alone who awakened the Untouchables from their centuries old slumber for demanding the human rights as independently as they could.”

Why did Dr. Ambedkar embrace Buddhism and not any other religion? Some Petro-dollor intellectuals, earning their bread and butter with their pro-Muslim stand, once tried to defame Dr. Ambedkar by underrating his decision of em­bracing Buddhism as under the influence of Savarkar, Dr. Moonjhe and Mahatma Gandhi. I feel pity for those intel­lectuals whose wisdom, it seems, has been mortgaged to their self-interest and hence they could not understand that an in­tellectual of Dr. Ambedkar’s stature could have come under the influence of his opponents. According to him, ‘Buddha liberated man from the domination of priests, from the idea of institutionalised mediation between man and God, and from the spiritual and liturgical dogmatism of priesthood. By rejecting caste system, the Buddha became the greatest so­cial reformer of his age. His teachings were directed to all men and not to a given caste or group. He opposed the bloody sacrifice of animals which was characteristic of Brahmanism. It was the liberalism and humanism of Buddhism whose in­fluence went for beyond the sphere of religion and philoso­phy that contributed to the disruption of the Vedic religious and social pattern and ushered in a classless society……….. Hinduism believes in God. Buddhism has no god. Hindu­ism believed in soul. According to Buddhism there is no soul. Hinduism believes in Chaturvarnya and caste system. Buddhism has no place for caste system and Chaturvarnya……. Buddhism gives these principles in combination which no other religion does. Buddhism teaches Prajnya (understand­ing as against superstition and supernaturalism), Karuna (Love) and Samta (equality). This is what man wants for a good and happy life. Neither god nor soul can save the soci­ety………Buddhism is based on reason. There is an element of flexibility inherent in it which is not to be found in any other religion.”

  1. G. Barve in his Book – Freedom and Organization (1967) while analyzing and assessing the contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in the socio-political system of the country, observed that, “Dr. Ambedkar had succeeded in raising his caste fellows from the dust to the dignity of an equal citizen­ship. Before he came, they were prostrate, degraded and ut­terly demoralized. When he left them, they were standing up and fighting back lustily for their rights to social equality which indeed the law and the constitution had bestowed on them…………… Today the Dalits are politically as highly con­scious and as well organized as any other community and as a political force in the country; they are sedulously courted and cultivated. This elevation of 8 Crores of Dalits from the state of near slavery to manhood is in itself a glorious chapter in the history of human freedom”.

  2. N. Kuber, a leftist intellectual and critic of Dr. Ambedkar, had also to accept and confirm that Dr. Ambedkar was a champion of a revolution to be brought about by dy­namics of public opinion, through a change in the laws of the land. He was not a utopian, but a realist?

Dr. Ambedkar made the national issue of untouch­ables international through his very strong pleadings in the Round Table Conferences and through his writings and speeches from international platforms. He was of the view that unless this issue is brought and publicized on the inter­national fora, the caste Hindus would not and also could not have been compelled to accept the changing status and exist­ence of the untouchables in India’s emerging socio-political scenario vis-a-vis independence for India. Therefore, he had very correctly said that, “for the ills which the untouchables are suffering; if they are not as much advertised as those of the Jews, are not less real. Nor are the means and the meth­ods of suppression used by the Hindus against untouchables less effective because they are less bloody than the ways which the Nazis have adopted against the Jews. The Anti-Semitism of the Nazis against the Jews is in no way different in ideol­ogy and in effect from the Sanatanism of the Hindus against the untouchables”. And he did it. Not once but many times. It was the outcome of his strenuous efforts that the world could know the severity of the oppression, exploitation and discrimination of the untouchables under the Brahmainical Hindu Social Order.

As it would be observed from the foregoing paragraphs, Dr. Ambedkar was the complete answer to the Hinduism, while the views of Mahatma Gandhi on most of the subjects and topics did not stand to the test of time. As such Dr. Ambedkar alone could be a symbol of global inspira­tion for those who really desire and decide to bring about a peaceful revolution. It, therefore, becomes the moral duty of the followers of Dr. Ambedkar to carry his message to all the nook and corners of the world. The ruling Brahminical classes of India, supported and financed by the capitalists of the coun­try, in collusion with the world imperialist – capitalists and exploiters, would never allow struggling societies/groups/com­munities world over to have access to the views and ideology of Dr. Ambedkar, so that they should not revolt against the oppressive systems prevailing in their respective nations.

The French Revolution of 1789 giving the message of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity could not be blacked-out by the opposition forces. The Russian Revolution of 1917 under the Communists could not also be stopped by the hurdles put in the way by the capitalists of West for nearly more than 75 years. The social apartheid of South Africa is on the way to wither away after the governance of the country by native majority. Burakumins of Japan are still hopeful to put an end to the discriminatory system under which they are struggling today. There are still many more societies struggling for self-respect and self-exist­ence and dignified life, for them Dr. Ambedkar alone could become the ray of hope and inspiration.


(This article is one part of the book – Dr. Ambedkar: A Symbol of Global Socio-Political Revolution, written by Adv. Ram Khobragade)

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