The film spans
between the years 1901-1956, takes us through 60 years, two world wars,
three countries- India, America, Britain. Both, as a personal portrait, as well
as a record of the times, it is above all one man's fight against the
tyranny of the Hindu orthodoxy, against tradition, against Indian political
heroes and saints such as Mahatma Gandhi, who were more interested in
political reforms than social reforms. Dr. Ambedkar walked a lonely path;
he never once strayed from it, even though in the process he became the
most hated man in Hindu India.
Born in an
'untouchable' family at a time when untouchables were forbidden education,
Ambedkar bore many insults and humiliations at the hands of his fellow
students and became the first graduate of his community. Later on while
studying at the Columbia University, New York, Ambedkar was able to rid
himself of the stigma of untouchability and breathe in the air of freedom.
But at the same time living next to Harlem he could equate the fate of his
people with that of the Afro-Americans, The 14th Amendment to the US
Constitution granting rights to the African- Americans and the views
of his philosopher-guide teachers in Columbia supporting the Human
Rights brought about in him the strong internal desire and the spirit to
fight back the prevailing social injustice in his country.
In India at the same time two struggles were
being fought simultaneously. One, well known through out the world was India's fight for political independence
spearheaded by Gandhi, against the British Colonial powers. And the second
struggle, lesser known, led by Dr. Ambedkar, was an internal struggle. 70
million untouchables were fighting for their social rights against the
Upper caste Hindu society. For the millions of untouchables their
oppressors were not the British but rather their own co-religionists, their
fellow high caste Hindus.
belonged to the same religion, untouchables were treated worse than the
lowliest animals. Sanctified by religion and centuries of tradition, high
caste Hindus considered themselves polluted if an untouchable were to
touch, speak or even cast their shadows over them. Though they worshipped
the same God they could not enter the temples. All public services
including the police and the military were closed to them. They were
permitted only to follow their hereditary occupations of scavenging, street
sweeping, skinning and tanning animal hides.
to Hindus for a change of heart. On the other hand Ambedkar wanted
political rights. Gandhi saw untouchables as an indivisible part of Hindu
society. Ambedkar, disgusted with Hinduism, saw the depressed classes as
separate. Gandhi thought once the British left, India would right itself. Ambedkar was not
willing to take chances. He did not want the simple change of masters. This
confrontation with Gandhi, which made Ambedkar the most hated man in India, was resolved with Indian Independence
when Gandhi insisted Ambedkar to be inducted into the first cabinet. Even
though they had been on opposite sides of the fence, Gandhi respected his
former adversary. Thus Ambedkar became India's first Law Minister under Prime
Minister Nehru and it fell upon him to draft India's Constitution.
life Ambedkar's endeavors to reform Hindu society had borne stubborn
resistance and he had been on a life long search for a religion, a moral
social order that would not sanctify the exploitation of man by man. His
search led him to Buddhism, which he regarded as rational, egalitarian
religion. In Buddha's philosophy of equality, compassion and non-violence
lay the hope, not only for the depressed classes but also for the whole
Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. Millions of untouchables
followed him, threw away their Hindu idols, embraced en masse this new
religion. This perhaps was the biggest social revolution witnessed by the
subcontinent in millennia.
story is particular to
India, it is also
universal. While Dr. Ambedkar was rooted in
India, he also had
an international outlook. There will always be people like him who struggle
to better the lot of the exploited, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. His
was the universal fight of the underdog, to gain his people a rightful
place in the sun.
Dr Jabbar Patel