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The Policy Design of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar: A Humane Approach to Public Interest and Governance.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
April 13, 2020

“Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.”
                                       Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

In the year 2004, Columbia University celebrated its 250th anniversary by honoring the people and ideas of its 250 most prestigious alumni associated with Columbia that have shaped the world. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, and architect of the longest written constitution in the world, who in 1990 was bestowed with India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, was among them.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was an outstanding student who earned a PhD from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He was a reputed scholar of law, economics and political science. A prominent leader in the struggle for independence, Dr. Ambedkar was a champion of civil rights, advocating political and social freedom for dalits, women and other marginalized communities. His legacy of fighting inequality and inspiring inclusion around the world was highlighted at the 127th anniversary celebration of his birth in 2018 at the United Nations. The theme was, “Leaving No One Behind.”

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
                          Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar championed the cause of women as well as the miserable plight of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes throughout his career. He discussed a number of problems of Indian women and sought for their solutions. His arguments on the Maternity Benefit Bill and on birth control were quite relevant to recognize the dignity of women. He vehemently supported the Maternity Bill and fought for reproductive choice, reproductive control, reproductive freedom and rights.

On April 9, 1948, as the first law minister of independent India, Dr. Ambedkar submitted the draft of the Hindu Code Bill to the Constituent Assembly. The Bill treated the widow, the daughter and the son of the deceased equally in matters of inheritance. The bill was aimed at removing the legal obstruction in the social advancement of women. Dr. Ambedkar emphasized that there could not be any progress without women. He encouraged women to participate in various social causes and form female organizations to strengthen and protect themselves.

“Caste is not a division of labour, it is a division of labourer”

Dr. Ambedkar

The Second World War transformed the economy. It provided opportunities for expansion of industries. While entrepreneurs and managers could hope for prosperity, labor was not given its due share. Dr. Ambedkar piloted and introduced measures for labor welfare. As Labor Member of the Viceroy’s Council, Dr. Ambedkar initiated programs to increase the productivity of workers, by providing them with education and important skills required for performing jobs better, as well as health care and maternity leave provisions for female workers. Dr. Ambedkar set up the Tripartite Labor Council in 1942 to safeguard social security measures for workers, giving equal opportunity to workers and employers to participate in the formulation of labor policy and strengthening the labor movement by introducing compulsory recognition of trade unions and worker organizations. He is also responsible for the Indian Factory Act 1881, the Factory Amendment Act 1891, the Industrial Dispute Act 1947 and the Minimum Wage Act of 1948, setting up of employment exchange and introducing health insurance schemes.

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar statue at London School of Economics and Columbia University SIPA respectively

“Caste in the singular number is an unreality. Castes exist only in the plural number. There is no such thing as a caste: There are always castes.”

                  Dr. Ambedkar (CASTES IN INDIA—Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development).

This paper was read before the Anthropology Seminar of Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer at The Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. on 9th May 1916   

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar was an admirer of cities. He urged Dalits to quit living in villages and move to cities. He considered the villages to be a den of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism.

Dr. Ambedkar wrote three scholarly books on economics: i) Administration and Finance of the East India Company, ii) The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India, and iii) The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution.

The first two books represent his contribution to the field of public finance: the first one evaluating finances of the East India Company during the period, 1792 through 1858, and the second one analyzing the evolution of the Centre-State financial relations in British India during the period, 1833 through 1921. The third book i.e. The problem of the Rupees: Its Origin and its Solution is considered as magnum opus in economics. The Reserve Bank of India was established based on the ideas that Dr. Ambedkar presented to the Hilton Young Commission.

Dr. Ambedkar gave effective expression to the grievances of the rural poor through his mass movements. His successful struggle against the prevailing land tenure system called Khoti liberated a vast majority of the rural poor from an extreme form of economic exploitation. His successful agitation against Mahar Watan emancipated a large section of the rural poor from virtual serfdom. He presented a bill in the State Assembly aimed at preventing the malpractices of money-lenders hurting the poor. A distinctive feature of Dr. Ambedkar’s scholarly contribution is his perceptive analysis of economic dimension of social ground, such as, the caste system and untouchability.

While Mahatma Gandhi had defended the caste system on the basis of division of labor, Ambedkar came out with a hard-hitting critique in his 1936 book, Annihilation of Castes, pointing out that what was implicit in the caste system was not merely division of labor but also a division of laborers. Dr. Ambedkar’s attack on the caste system was not merely aimed at challenging the hegemony of the upper castes, but also had broader connotation of economic growth and development.

“Life should be great rather than long.”
― Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

After 64 years of his demise, Dr. Ambedkar’s dream of achieving equality for all is still in progress. His immense contribution to the state and society has benefitted all members regardless of the caste and class.

Dr.Ambedkar’s experienced social equality for the first time in his life at Columbia University. This shows the how deep the caste discrimination was in India. The mind can only imagine his level of social commitment to work for the emancipation of his community, which led to his return to India to usher in a new era of self-actualization.

Author: Pooja Paswan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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