Ambedkar , when 38 years of age, in 1929 at Jalgon near Nagpur declared ‘Atisudras (Untouchables) would leave Hinduism and accept another religion in order to avoid social injustice done to them over a period of three millennia’.
The questions behind such declaration were:
Why barber refuses to cut hair?
Why he and other Mahar children were pushed out of wooden cart?
Why he had to sit outside the class? Etc.
Ambedkar finished his bachelor degree in arts in 1912.
The Maharaja of Baroda granted him a scholarship to study in Columbia University, USA. There, he completed masters and doctorate.
Then completed his Barrister at Law in London.
1924 he started ‘Bahishkrit Hitakarni Sabha’ to uplift the untouchables.
In 1942 started ‘Federation of All India Scheduled Castes”
He was minister of law in the first central cabinet of free India. Thus became chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution.
Ambedkar felt, for the upliftment, untouchables should leave Hinduism and accept a new religion.
For him the root of untouchability is caste.
Root of caste is religion i.e. Brahmanical religion.
Ambedkar was not against religion but against the cruel practices of religion.
In October 1935, at Yeola in Nasik, he encouraged the Mahars to choose any religion that gives them equal status and treatment.
On 12 th January 1936, at Poone conference it was decided to choose any religion even new.
The choice was left to Ambedkar.
He began to study different religions as he was receiving invitation from different religions
There were threatening letters as well.
Ambedkar believed ‘religion should be dynamic, not a static one’.
He tested religions on four criteria:
1 social life based on morality
2 morality that recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity.
3 Reconciliation between science and religion.
4 religion must not sanctify poverty.
For Ambedkar Hinduism is far away from these criteria. He said ‘there cannot a thesis more false than the thesis that all religions are true’.
His view of Sikhism:
Positively it believes monotheism, powerful community behind it, love, value of human life, equal treatment to all adherents, solidarity for each other, disciplined, militant community (do things).
Negatively there is in Sikhism rigidity, inflexibility- ritual and practices.
He had to accept their scripture. It will be ‘like shut in the structure again’.
His positive evaluation of Islam was that it is monotheistic, community (ummah) oriented, committed to improving human life.
The negative reasons are it is difficult with national and global community. It demands unquestionable surrender. It has destroyed many Hindu temples. There was also tension between Indian national congress and Muslim League.
The positive side of Christianity was that it accepted the outcastes. It is committed to humanization.
Negatively Christianity is proselytizing along the caste line (each group working with different caste)
Increase in number of Christianity will stiffen the British attitude in India.
Christianity is not expressed in Indian culture ( it is simply combination of Jewish Theology and Greek Philosophy). There are lots of denominational disputes. Christian dogmatism may lead to authoritarianism.
In 1950 Ambedkar decided to follow Buddhism for it attracted with three principles:
1 Prajna- understanding against superstition and supernaturalism.
2 teaching of Karuna i.e. love.
3 Samata- equality.
His conversion took place on 1956, October 13, at Nagpur (over 300 thousand).
Ambedkar died in 1956 December, 6th.
By 1961 80% of Mahars converted to Buddhism.
The converts were called neobuddhists. It is called Navayana or Bhimayana. It rejected the Hinayana and Mahanayana Buddhism and followed a Buddhism explained by Ambedkar. It rejects practices and precepts such as renouncing monk and monasticism, karma, rebirth in afterlife, sansara, meditation, enlightenment and four noble truths. It radically reinterpreted what Buddhism is, revises the original Buddha teaching to be about class struggle and social equality. Ambedkar’s book Buddha and his Dhamma is the holy book of Navayana followers.
Neo Buddhists followed simple marriage practices, no superstition, many refused to do traditional occupation.
Some called Neo Buddhism as “The Ambedkar Cult”.
Reasons for revival of Buddhism:
Untouchable’s revolt against Hinduism
Periyar convened Buddhist conference in South India
In north there were Mahabhodi Society and Mahabhodi Journal
Before Ambedkar, in 1873 Mahatma Jotirao Phooley started ‘The Satya Shodhak Samaj (Truth seeking society).
After conversion disappointments. That is without economic development conversion alone does not help. There were evils in Buddhism as well.