Ambedkar, was voted as the “Greatest Indian” in 2012 by a poll organised by History TV18 and CNN IBN. Nearly 2 crore votes were cast, making him the most popular Indian figure since the launch of the initiative. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, politician, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and economist. As independent India’s first law minister, he was principal architect of the Constitution of India. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1990.
Earning a law degree and doctorates for his study and research in law, economicsand political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Ambedkar gained a reputation as a scholar and practised law for a few years, later campaigning by publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for India’s untouchables.
He was born in the town and military cantonment of Mhow in the Central Provinces (now in Madhya Pradesh). He was the 14th and last child of Ramji Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai. His family was of Marathi background from the town of Ambavade (Mandangad taluka) in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. They belonged to the Mahar caste, who were treated as untouchables and subjected to socio-economic discrimination. Ambedkar’s ancestors had for long been in the employment of the army of the British East India Company, and, his father served in the Indian Army at the Mhow cantonment.
Belonging to the Kabir Panth, Ramji Sakpal encouraged his children to read the Hindu classics. Although able to attend school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated and given little attention or assistance by the teachers. They werenot allowed to sit inside the class. Even if they needed to drink water somebody from a higher caste would have to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch either the water or the vessel that contained it. This task was usually performed for the young Ambedkar by the school peon, and if the peon was not available then he had to go without water, Ambedkar states this situation as “No peon, No Water”. He was required to sit on a gunny sack which he had to take home with him.
His original surname Ambavadekar comes from his native village ‘Ambavade’ in Ratnagiri District. His Brahmin teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond of him, changed his surname from ‘Ambavadekar’ to his own surname ‘Ambedkar’ in school records.
In 1897, Ambedkar’s family moved to Bombay and enrolled at Elphinstone High School. In 1906, his marriage to a nine-year old girl, Ramabai, was arranged. In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and in the following year he entered Elphinstone College, which was affiliated to the University of Bombay. By 1912, he obtained his degree in economics and political science and prepared to take up employment with the Baroda state government. In 1913, he moved to the United States on a Baroda State Scholarship of £11.50 (Sterling) per month for three years under a scheme established by the Gaekwar of Baroda for postgraduate education at Columbia University. He passed his M.A. exam in June 1915, majoring in Economics, with Sociology, History, Philosophy and Anthropology.
He presented a thesis, Ancient Indian Commerce. In 1916 he completed his second thesis, National Dividend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study’ for another M.A. and finally he received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1917 for his third thesis, after he left for London. In October 1916 he enrolled for the Bar course at Gray’s Inn, and also at the same time enrolled at the London School of Economics where he started work on a doctoral thesis. His thesis was on “Indian Rupee”. At the London School Of Economics he took a Master’s degree in 1921 and in 1923 he took his D.Sc.in Economics, and the same year he was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. His third and fourth Doctorates (Ll.D, Columbia, 1952 and Ll.D., Osmania, 1953) were conferred honoris causa.