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Dr. B.R Ambedkar : The vision of social justice

PROF. SUSHMA YADAV, Pro Vice-Chancellor IGNOU, New Delhi


Caste and consequent graded structure has been a dominant issue in Ambedkar’s quest and vision of Social Justice. He was deeply conscious of the fact that Indian society was and had been caste ridden.  In the past, there existed no such area of social existence and governance where caste as political, social, economic, educational and cultural factor was not present.  Even today, after more than six decades of introduction of Republican Constitution, the caste factor is dominant in every sphere of life of the people of this country[1].  Before the commencement of Ambedkar era, there were the untouchable Hindus in India, who due to Hindu social system, had, remained socially graded, economically impoverished, politically suppressed, religiously ostracized and indefinitely excluded from educational and cultural opportunities[2].  They were condemned to the lot of serfs and deprived of all human rights.


Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s birth in an untouchable community and in a system based on the graded inequality and injustice and deprivation of basic human rights to his brethren was responsible for giving a purpose and a mission of his life.  “Ambedkar was all sound and fury against social injustice.  His weaponry was legal-political, his anathema Hindu caste exclusivism and his ambition social democracy…His life was a planning forge, his commitment was to free the ancient un free, his economics, law and politics were welded into a constitutional militancy and geared to social emancipation movement[3].”  Recalling his struggle for Social Justice, both in pre-Independent India, and in Constituent Assembly and more importantly to ponder over its continued relevance today is always an enriching exercise.


One of the key themes of the writings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was the attainment of Social Justice and establishment of a just society[4], which, for him, was essentially also a casteless society.  He not only provided a ruthless criticism of the existing social order but also came up with an alternative vision and alternative model of social order based on justice liberty, equality, fraternity and annihilation of caste[5].  Ambedkar was convinced that a good social order or society has to go through two tests namely ‘the test of justice’ and the ‘test of utility’.  His judgmental analysis of the caste based Hindu social order was based on these two tests.


The term “social justice” was first used in 1840 by a Sicilian priest, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, and given prominence by Antonio Rosmini–Serbati in La Costitutione Civile Secondo la Giustizia Sociale in 1848[6].  Later, British authors such as John Stuart Mill, Leslie Stephen and Henry Sidgwick referred from time to time to social justice, although without marking it off sharply from distributive justice generally[7].  John Stuart Mill gave this anthropomorphic approach to social questions almost canonical status for modern thinkers thirteen years later in Utilitarianism when he observed that society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made in the utmost degree to converge[8].


At the end of the nineteenth century, when the term “social justice” came to prominence, it was first used as an appeal to the ruling classes to attend to the needs of the new masses of uprooted peasants who had become urban workers. Theorizing about social justice became a major concern in the early years of the twentieth century, and the first book actually called Social Justice was published in New York in 1900[9].  Its author was Westel Willoughby, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who was influenced by the late idealist philosophy of the school of T.H. Green.  Willoughby beings by observing that in an era of popular sovereignty we cannot avoid subjecting our existing social and economic institutions to critical appraisal, and, in particular, asking whether they treat individuals justly.  The quest for social justice is a natural consequence of the spread of enlightenment: “the peoples of all civilized countries are subjecting social and economic conditions to the same tests of reasonableness and justice as those by which they have questioned in the past the rightfulness of political institutions”[10].


In the writings of most contemporary political philosophers, social justice is regarded as an aspect of distributive justice and indeed the two concepts are often used interchangeably[11].  Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice[12]. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done.


The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the society, not at the good of one agent only[13]. Citizens may join together to start a school or build a bridge.   One significant characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It is as open to people on the left as on the right or in the centre. Its field of activity may be literary, scientific, religious, political, economic, cultural, athletic, and so on, across the whole spectrum of human social activities.


This conception of “social justice” rules out any use of the term that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals.  According to this conceptualization, social justice is a virtue and an attribute of individuals.  And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy”, then social justice is the “first virtue of democracy”, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice.

Functionally, “justice” is a set of universal principles which guide people in judging what is right and what is wrong, no matter what culture and society they live in. Justice is one of the four “cardinal virtues” of classical moral philosophy, along with courage, temperance (self-control) and prudence (efficiency). (Faith, hope and charity are considered to be the three “religious” virtues.) Virtues or “good habits” help individuals to develop fully their human potentials, thus enabling them to serve their own self-interests as well as work in harmony with others for their common good.

The ultimate purpose of all the virtues is to elevate the dignity and sovereignty of the human person.  The highest aim of justice is to elevate each person.  The roots of social justice lie in the thought process of Enlightenment.  The development of a scientific and rational viewpoint led to corresponding changes in the social thought process which, in turn, initiated radical changes in the political and social structures of Europe, especially during the Renaissance[14].  The underlying thesis of the thinking process of the Renaissance was that man was born free with equal rights and dignity. Hence, all sorts of bondages imposed on him by society on the basis of birth, colour, creed or sex must not exist.

The basic premise of social justice is the emancipation of the underprivileged, exploited, and oppressed sections of society.  Its main aim is to liberate mankind from traditional bondages of social and economic exploitation and discrimination.  It postulates a social order which can guarantee freedom and equal rights to all sections of society[15].  The concept of social justice is closely linked with human rights as envisaged by the United Nations in its 1948 declaration and fundamental rights as provided in the Constitution of India but they are not synonymous.  Fundamental rights, i.e. the right to freedom and equality, the right against exploitation, and right to constitutional remedies, etc. are essential for the free and natural development of the human personality and hence are the backbone of a just social order but they are subject to control or limits if they adversely affect the pattern of social justice in society.[16]


Social Justice encompasses economic justice.  It is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions which we call institutions.  Social justice is also equated with equality, liberty and dignity; which mean that all three are essential for social justice and that denial of any one of them is a denial of justice[17].  Dignity is generally coterminous with freedom and equality.  An illiterate, poor and ill fed person is hardly said to have any dignity.


Ambedkar cited that untouchability was unique in Indian society.  Even the British Government had not done any good for improving the plight of untouchables.  They had also denied them the political rights.  He said that untouchables were: –


  1. Socialized in such a way as to never to complain of their low status.
  2. Never allowed to dream of improving their lot by forcing the other castes to treat them with common
  3. Made to think that they had been born so low that their fate was anything but irrevocable.
  4. Given to believe that nothing could ever persuade them that they have the right to insist on better treatment than that meted out to them.


Ambedkar had taken a vow to expose and finally do away with the abominable conditions and inhuman injustice under which the class, into which, he was born had been groaning.  He never failed in highlighting that the untouchable was prohibited from using the public road.  If some high caste man happened to cross him, he had to be out of the way and stand at such a distance that his shadow will not fall on the high caste man.  Helplessness made the untouchables live like slaves in Hindu society.  The charter of fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy sought to incorporate the ideas of Human Rights in the constitution of India.


Ambedkar believed in the maxim, “Tell the slave that he is a slave and he will revolt against his slavery” and often quoted this to arouse the consciousness amongst the untouchables for securing human rights.  He established the Bahishkrit Hitakarini  Sabha to promote the spread of education among the depressed classes by opening hostels; and by opening social centers, study circles and libraries.  The Sabha also sought to improve economic conditions of the depressed classes by opening agriculture and industrial schools; as well as to provide a platform  represent their grievances.


Ambedkar told his fellow untouchables in no unclear terms — Who ever has knowledge, wisdom and strength is capable of tyrannizing those who do not have either of them.  Therefore the particular code of conduct was assigned to us by those who had knowledge, wisdom and strength.  He always felts bad about the fact that because of the ignorance, gullibility and utter submissiveness, the untouchables were suffering the injustices.  As they were not conscious of the heritage acquired by the humanity they made their position deplorable, helpless, and therefore, they kept facing the difficulties of food, cloth and shelter even though India remained a country, which was called a golden sparrow.  In the midst of plenty, the untouchables remained poverty stricken.


In the Indian context, justice as seen was an important social value in terms of the strict observance of Dharma or the enforcement of a social order based on the Varna-Ashram Vyavastha reflected in an elaborate caste system.  This established order, according to Ambedkar, was based on graded inequality and was legitimized by Hindu Law, which completely neglected equality, fraternity, liberty, democracy and human rights.  He was also of the view that the system of graded inequality was not notional but legal and penal as it entailed strict enforcement of Hindu Law which meant different things to different castes and people and contained no notion of equal treatment to all.   This fact has been highlighted by Ambedkar thus: “Hindu Law is the Law of the established order and was made by the touchable.  The Untouchables had nothing to do except to obey it and respect it.  The untouchables have no right against the Touchables.  For them there is no equal right, no justice, which is due to them, and nothing is allowed to them.  Nothing is due to them except what the touchables are prepared to grant.  The Untouchables must not insist on rights.  They should pray for mercy and favour and rest content with what is offered[18]”.



Obviously, such conceptualization of justice was characterized by a pattern, which gave preference to hierarchy, rather than equality, which underlined the importance of respecting traditional rights and performing traditional duties and did not contain any notion of equal treatment to all men.  It was almost like what Anatole France had warned: “Justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned”.[19]


Such kind of injustice prevailed in India for centuries because according to Ambedkar the untouchables lacked social conscience and it was futile to expect any compassion from them who were pledged to Brahmanism and their sense of obligation was restricted to a limited class of people, mainly the members of their caste.  Consequently, their conduct, also is marked by a moralistic their conduct, also is marked by a moralistic unconcernedness which makes them oblivious of the inequalities and injustices from which the Untouchable have been suffering.  They also fail to see anything wrong in these inequities and injustice.  Rather, Ambedkar felt that Brahmincal values were used by upper castes to deny untouchables the social justice.  It is this caste consciousness among Touchable that made Ambedkar suspicious about the validity of the legal concept of justice which involves punishment of wrong doing and the compensation of injury through the creation and enforcement of a set of rules.


However, Ambedkar maintained the view that legal justice at the formal or at theoretical level would be ineffective at the practical level.  He observed:


It might have been thought that this principle of equal justice would strike a death blow to the established order.  As a matter of fact, far from suffering any damage, the established order has continued to operate.  It might be asked why the principle of equal justice has failed to have its affect.  The answer to this is simple.  To enunciate the principle of justice is one thing.  To make it effective is another thing.  Whether the principle of equal justice is effective or not must necessarily depend on the nature and character of the civil services who administer the principle.  If the civil services are by reason of class bias the friend of the established order and the enemy of the new order, the new order can never come into being.  That a civil service in tune with the new order was essential for the success of the new order was recognized by Karl Marx in 1871 in the formation of the Paris Commune and was adopted by Lenin in the constitution of Soviet Communism.  Unfortunately, the British government never cared about the personnel in the civil service.  Indeed, it opened the gates of the administration to those classes who believed in the old established order of the Hindus in which the principles of equality had no place.  As a result of this fact, India has been ruled by the Britishers but administered by the Hindus[20].”


Illustrating his point a little further, Ambedkar expressed with anguish:


From the capital of India down to the village the whole administration is rigged by the Hindus.  The Hindus are life the omnipotent almighty pervading all over the administration all its in all its branched having its authority in all over the administration in all its branches having its authority in all its nooks and corners.  There is no loophole for anyone opposed to the old order to escape.  If the established order has continued to exist, it is because of the unfailing support it received from the Hindu officials of the state.  The Hindu officials are not merely administrators administering the affairs on the merit, they are administrators with an eye to their affairs on the merit, they are administrators with an eye to their parties.  Their principle is not equal justice to all.  Their motto is justice consistent with established order.  This is inevitable.  For they carry over into administration, the attitude towards different classes in society under the established order.  This is well illustrated by the attitude of the state officials towards the untouchables in the field of administration. As every untouchable will be able to testify, if an untouchable goes to a police officer with complaint against the caste Hindu, instead of receiving any protection he will receive plenty of abuses. Either he will be driven away without his complaint being recorded or if it is recorded it would be recorded quite falsely to provide a way of escape to the Touchable aggressors.  If he prosecutes his offenders before a Magistrate the fate of his proceeding could be foretold.  The Untouchables will never be able to get Hindus as witness because of the conspiracy of the villagers not to support the case of the Untouchables however just it may be.  If he brings witness from the Untouchables, the Magistrate will not accept their testimony because he can easily say that they are interested and not independent witness, or, if they are independent witness the Magistrate has a easy way of acquitting the accused by simply saying that the Untouchables’ complaint did not strike him as a truthful witness.  He can do this fearlessly knowing fully will that the higher tribunal will not reverse his finding because of the well established rule which says that an appellate court should not disturb the findings of the trial Magistrate based on the testimony of witness whose demeanour he had no opportunity to observe.”[21]


Thus, according to Ambedkar upper-caste administrators have a Hindu bias and an antipathy towards Untouchables, which results in the denial of protection and justice to the latter.  Ambedkar also made several attempts to gain religious and social rights for the untouchables, by using the Gandhian technique of satyagraha; drinking water from a public tank in Mahad (1927), temple entry to the Parvati temple at Poona (1929), and then the Kala Ram temple at Nasik (1930-35).[22]   The failure of these movements demonstrated, according to Ambedkar, that the untouchables were not really a part of Hindu society and would never be accepted as equals by Hindus within that framework. It was quite obvious that this low threshold concept of a legal conception of equality does not allow for a corresponding conception of political citizenship. Thus, from a position of questioning the brahmanical social order, Ambedkar moved towards its rejection: raising the issue of conversion by the untouchables in 1935.  At the yeola Conference in the Nasik District of Maharashtra held on October 13, 1935, Ambedkar declared that he would not die a Hindu[23].


But there was another reason. The second occasion was the Round Table Conference held in 1930 at London, where Ambedkar confronted Gandhi and Congress on the issue of the political rights of depressed classes[24].


Earlier, in the ‘Evidence before the Southborough Committee on Franchise’ (1919), Ambedkar (invited as a delegate of the depressed classes) had argued eloquently for uniform franchise, for securing access for the depressed classes to the public sphere – to public wells, roads, schools, temples, and cremation grounds – and for special provisions for their adequate representation of their interests and opinions[25].


The road to social justice in the opinion of Ambedkar was to be led by education.  He firmly believed in the efficacy of education as a panacea for the social evils and injustice because the problem of social injustice in India is not only economic but also cultural[26].  Here, it is not enough to house the untouchables/deprived sections of society, feed them and then leave them to serve the higher classes as was the ancient ideal of this country.  It was even more necessary to remove from their minds/psyche that feeling of inferiority which has shunted their growth and made them slaves others and to create in them a consciousness of significance of life for themselves and for their country of which they have been cruelly robbed by the Indian social order.  Ambedkar was convinced that nothing could achieve this better than the spread of higher education and the fact remains as true in present times as it was when Ambedkar wrote.


Social justice – a categorical imperative for establishing social harmony can be achieved only by a general development and empowerment of the masses of the underprivileged and deprived sections of our society, the poorest of the poor as they are.  For this, jobs and education are extremely important as Ambedkar emphasized.  But, for justice Krishna Iyer, equality and homogeneity – the two pillars of social justice would remain a far cry if the landless Dalit is not given land, the penniless pariah is not given opportunity to start small scale factories, the bonded woman is not liberated from servitude so as to enable her to pursue a vocation and the Dalit youth, often illiterate and disorganized and drawn into delinquent and destitute situations, are given effective opportunities to enter the professional echelons and public services in large numbers[27].


       Regarding Indian society, Ambedkar felt that, if the lower strata of the Indian society which is interested in blowing up the caste system is educated, the caste system will be blown up. Giving education to those who want to blow up caste system will improve prospect of Democracy in India and put Democracy in safer hands.  To him, it is very important to educate the poor masses and develop in them a genuine sense of political consciousness and constitutional temper.  Their education means the maintenance of democracy and political order in peace and justice’.  He thought so highly of education that in his tri-worded slogan – Educate, organize, and agitate, he gave top priority to it[28].


Ambedkar fought against caste and injustice.  He struggled hard to create human rights.  He wanted to vitalize the conscience of the people and to mobilize the masses in India, for equal human rights.  His ultimate aim of life was to establish a real social democracy.  To him, ‘A Democratic form of Government presupposes a Democratic form of Society.  The formal frame-work of Democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy’.  The political leaders never realized that Democracy was not only a form of government; it was essentially a form of Society.


To Ambedkar, the aim of democracy is essentially the practical interests of society as a whole, and not of any class group or community.  He regards democracy as the social Organization of the people in the sense that the people include all members of society.  To him, real democracy is opposed to the suppression of minorities[29].


Democracy was an essential ingredient of Ambedkar’s vision of Social Justice. For this, there is no denying that self-government must be good government, otherwise it is not worth having.  The primary concern of his life had always been to study and understand the nature of good government.  He stood for a self-government which should be both efficient and good government.   To him, the ability and efficiency of the governing class are not enough for good government.   ‘What is necessary is to have in the governing class the will to do good or, to use Dicey’s language, freedom from internal limitations arising out of selfish class interests.  Efficiency combined with selfish class interests instead of producing good government is far more likely to become a mere engine of suppression of the service classes[30].’  He argued, therefore, not only for self-government but also for a good government.  He had a deep faith in self-government and good government, which, in his view, could go a long way in ensuring social justice.


Ambedkar’s vision of social justice also includes a strong faith in the separation of the government’s power and of the allocation of functions to various departments.  He regards rights as natural and inherent in the individual.  He builds his theory of social and political Organization around his central concept of the individual and his rights.  To him, the State exists only to prevent injustice, tyranny and oppression.  He wants that no State should violate the fundamental rights of man.  He is opposed to all kinds of discrimination in administration.  He holds that society can do nothing without some organized power.  He stresses the need of constitutional morality and some conventions for the practical success of a constitution.  He wishes a good, moral government, to protect the rights of the people in all their legitimate functions.  He fought for these rights in his life[31].


According to Ambedkar, law is an important factor in maintaining social peace and justice among different groups of people. It is a guardian of equality and liberty.  For him, law was not only a legal function.  It also regulated the life of the whole society and nation as well.  He categorically declared, ‘All citizens are equal before the law and possess equal civic rights.  Any existing enactment, regulation, order, custom or interpretation of law by which any penalty, disadvantage or disability is imposed upon or any discrimination is made against any citizen shall … cease to have any effect.’[32]  His faith in individual liberty and dignity leads him to the rule of law.


Ambedkar had to fight against tyranny, injustice and false traditions in order to release the suffering people from bondage.  Poverty was the greatest enemy of his political ideals.  He vigorously struggled against injustice, social slavery, inequality and poverty and for their removal from among the downtrodden.   He represents a combination of both love and hate—love for knowledge and hate for ignorance and poverty.  He condemns everything that extols poverty.  His idea of socialism is also an attack on poverty[33].  He does not agree with those men who develop a sort of stoic endurance and resignation towards poverty.


Ambedkar stood against all kinds of social discrimination.  He advocated an urgent need of bringing about equality of opportunity to the needy and the weak.  He condemned discrimination against citizens by government offices or by private employers in factories and commercial concerns on the ground of race, creed and social status.  To him, any kind of discrimination is a menace to social progress.  He also revolted against the social boycott.  Social discrimination and social boycott are the enemies of his concept of socialism, because his socialism lays a stress on the need of equal behavior and individual liberty and respect[34].  To him, a true socialist would not tolerate ill-treatment and oppression, because these are opposed to socialism.  He also believed that the present social order is not suited to create a socialist spirit among the people.


It is significant to note that Ambedkar’s Vision of Social Justice encompasses Nationalism as Well. Ambedkar says, ‘Nationalism is a fact which can neither be eluded nor denied.  Whether one calls it an irrational instinct or positive hallucination, the fact remains that it is a potent force which has a dynamic power to disrupt empires[35].  Whether nationalism is the cause or the threat to nationalism is the cause, is a difference of emphasis only.  He regards nationalism as a real force in human life.  The starting point of his nationalism was startling, which was entirely misunderstood and was looked upon as anti-national, although his attitude was always purely national.


His attitude toward social justice was humanistic as well as nationalistic.  His approach was twofold.  He wanted not only freedom from foreign domination, but also internal freedom for the people to whom it was denied.  He says, ‘We must have a Government in which men in power knowing where obedience will end and resistance will begin, will not be afraid to amend the social and economic code of life which the dictates of justice and expediency so urgently call for.  This role the British Government will never be able to play.  It is only a Government which is of the people, for the people and by the people that will make this possible[36].


During the British period Ambedkar was undoubtedly the most articulate spokesman of the exploited and downtrodden in Indian society, particularly of the Depressed Classes.  He held pragmatic and uncompromising views on the amelioration of the sufferings of these classes and the role of the government in this regard.  He came out vociferously and eloquently in support of adequate representation and constitutional safeguards for the Depressed Classes in his innumerable statements, representations and evidences.


For instance, on May 29, 1928, he submitted a statement before the Indian Statutory Commission (Popularly known as Simon Commission) on its arrival in India.  Ambedkar demanded protection through adequate representation to the Depressed Classes in his “Statement Concerning the Safeguards for the protection of their interests in the Bombay Presidency, and the changes in the Composition of and the Guarantees from the Bombay Legislative Council Necessary to Ensure the same under Provincial Autonomy”.[37]  He was in favour of taking into consideration population and social status to indicate the quantum of representation.  Moreover, it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the spread of education, to make no discrimination in recruitment and to provide for adequate safeguards.


The essence of his demands for constitutional rights and social justice for the untouchables during British rule may be stated as follows: “All educational facilities should be provided to the depressed classes; Depressed Classes should be given representation in state and central legislative councils on the basis of their population, needs and importance; Jobs in the state and central government services should be reserved; Depressed Classes should be given representation in all democratic bodies of the country; Provision of separate electorate should be made for the depressed classes; Separate settlements should be established for the depressed classes”[38].


Ambedkar envisioned that democratic society of India would flourish only when the untouchables would enjoy basic human rights.  It was an irony that in Hindu society untouchables was not treated as citizens and was denied social rights.  The Hindus society insisted on segregation of the quarters of untouchables.  The Hindus did not live in the quarters of the untouchables and did not allow the untouchables to live inside Hindu quarters.  This was a fundamental feature of untouchability as practiced by Hindus.  It is not a case of social separation, mere stoppage of intercourse for a temporary period.  It was a case of territorial segregation as well.   Every Hindu village had a ghetto.  The Hindu lived in the village and the untouchables in the ghetto[39].


Ambedkar resorted to the theory of basic human needs according to which the basic human needs of the dalits were not only material (wealth, property occupational mobility) but also non-material.  He also eloquently pleaded the case of necessary priority of community claims over individual rights on the grounds that these departures from formal equality could be justified on the basis of the following principles:


The anti-discriminatory view: The anti-discriminatory principle’s main purpose is to prevent private practices and legal procedures from stigmatizing the individuals involved. This was viewed as necessary given that structural forms of oppression against the dalits were well entrenched. To remedy this social malaise Ambedkar raises the possibilities for political participation of dalits through reservations. It was his view that a legislature ‘mainly composed of high caste men, will not pass a law removing untouchability, sanctioning inter-caste marriages, removing the ban of the use of public streets, public temples, public schools…'[40]


The reparation ideal: The other objective was related to the historic injustice suffered by the dalits. This theme was proposed to offset the systematic and cumulative deprivations suffered by lower castes in the past. Ambedkar argues that some oppressive cultural practices and social institutions result in injustice and accumulated disabilities for untouchables.[41]


His vision of social justice also included redistribution of surplus and waste land to untouchables’ schools and colleges to provide education to untouchables and formation of the Republican Party of India.  As an Elephant is easily recognized, he chose Elephant as his party symbol and also because the Elephant is taken to be a symbol of wisdom, strength and courage.


The social and constitutional vision of Ambedkar, the greatest well-wisher of the socially backward and the exploited, offered them, not the way of despair and dejection, but of the wonderful opportunity to assert themselves in the national affairs.  The deprived people had to practice it, not in any fear, but in all happiness of spirit and courage.  By practicing the democratic ideals, the depressed classes shall lose nothing except the stigma of caste and untouchability.  They must go forward firm in their faith, steadfast in their purpose; however, they have to be cautious of the reactions and dangers from the orthodox sections of our society.  What kind of society they shall be making, whether they will shape the future in the way they have adopted, is, and ought to be, the task and determination of all those who stand for progressive change and revolutionary transformation.  In other words, Ambedkar wanted the people of depressed classes to be vanguard of revolution – social, economic, political and religious in modern India.


The central theme of Ambedkar’s social and legal vision is the empirical man and the establishment of right relations between man and man in this life.  From the relations based on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, would emerge a democratic and humanistic society of moral understanding and mutual respect.   Ambedkar was fully convinced that the education is one of the best resources to connect the destitute with the main stream of national development.  Hence he laid utmost stress on the expansion and promotion of education.  The introduction of free and compulsory system of primary education in the constitution of India is the happy result of this objective.


He thought that Hindu society should be reorganized on the basis of two cardinal principles of equality and castelessness.  He demanded that the prevailing system of priesthood and purohitism should be democratized so that every one may enjoy the freedom in the choice of his profession according to his liking.  He was convinced that this process would not only do away with the evils of casteism, untouchability and discrimination between the high and the low but also foster the feelings of unity and equality in society.


It becomes very clear that Ambedkar was not just a critic or an intellectual having some new ideas, but he also at the same time who had concrete suggestions for the implementation of the same.  For example in his analysis of the existing social order based on the caste, he was very clear what evils it carried, he was also very clear, about ‘justice’ as the basis of his envisioned society.    Varna system was the basis of the existing Indian social order and it was this system, which was responsible for all the evils of the existing order.  Because of this analysis, he talked about the annihilation of caste.  But he was also very clear that it ‘is not possible to break caste without annihilating the religious notions on what it, the caste system, is founded’.


Ambedkar pleaded for constitutional safeguards to SCs and STs not as altruistic concessions or humanitarian doles.  He wanted historical oppression and miseries caused to the depressed classes to be corrected through the reservation policy and its application.  He wanted the SCs and STs to lift themselves with their bootstrap and stand up to the competition of the world at large.  That is why he accepted the stipulation of 10 years time for the minorities to cope up.  He believed that it is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities and it is equally wrong for the minorities to perpetuate themselves.  The movement the majority loses the habit of discriminating the minority; the minorities will have no ground to exist.  It is obvious from this that Ambedkar did not want the minorities nor the SCs and STs to develop a “permanent interest” in the “backwardness”.


Thus, Ambedkar’s conception of political power was aimed at securing social justice for the deprived on more equitable and honorable terms.  But for him, political justice was not enough for the welfare and well being of the Untouchables.  He considered socio-economic justice as the precondition for redeeming political justice.  Moreover, his vision of social justice involves a normative element also in as  much as it aims at the desirability of goodness in social life, dignity of the individual, equal rights of man and woman, promotion of social progress and better standards of life with peace and security in all spheres of human life.


See for a comprehensive analysis, G.S. Ghurye, Caste and Class in India, Bombay, Popular Book Depot, 1957; Ghanshyam Shah, (Ed.) Caste and Democratic Politics in India, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2002; B. Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2003 and Rosa M. Perez, Kings and Untouchables: A Study of the Caste System in Western India, New Delhi, Chronicle Books, 2004.

[2] See, B.R. Ambedkar, Who Were the Sudras? How They Came to be the Fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society? Bombay: Thacker and Co., 1946; and B.R. Ambedkar, The Untouchables – Who Are They and Why They Become Untouchables? New Delhi: Amrit Book Co., 1949

[3] Bansanta Kumar Mallick, “Ambedkar and his Movement for Social Equality”, Mainstream, Vol.29, No.25, April 1991, p.4. Also see, Alva, Joachim, Man and Superman of Hindustan, Thacker and Co. Ltd., 1943, Keer, Dhananjay, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay Popular Parkashan, 1971 and Rao D. Venkateswara, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Champion of Human Right in India, New Delhi, Manak Publications, 2006.

[4] See for details, James Massey, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: A Study in Just Society, New Delhi, Manohar Publications, 2003 and Rathnam P.V., Socio-Political Philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Hyderabad, Ambedkar-Lohia Socialist Centre, 2003.

[5] Ambedkar, Dr. B.R., Castes in India: Their Mechanism.  Genesis and Development, (A paper read before the Anthropology Seminar of Dr. A.A. Goldenweizer at the Columbia University, U.S.A. on 9 May 1916) Indian Antiquary, May 1917, Vol.XLI,  Quoted in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. (WS) Vol.-I,  Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1979, and B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste: With a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi, Address before the Annual Conference of Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal, Lahore, 1935.

[6]  Novak, Michael, “Defining Social Justice,” First things, 108. December 2000, p. 11.

[7] See, for example, J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, chap.5 in J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism; On Liberty; Representative Government, ed. H.B. Acton, London: Dent, 1972; L. Stephen, “Social Equality”, in Social Rights and Duties, Vol. 1, London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896; and H. Sidgwick, Principles of Political Economy, London: Macmillan, 1883, book 3, chapters, 6-7.

[8] J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter 5.

[9] W.W. Willoughby, Social Justice, New York: Macmillan, 1900.  Other American texts from this period include T. N. Carver, Essays in Social Justice, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1915; and J.A. Ryan, Distributive Justice, New York: Macmillan, 1916.

[10] Willoughby, Social Justice, p.7.

[11] See, for instance, J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971, in which he talks indiscriminately about justice, distributive justice and social justice.

[12] Michael Novak, op. cit, p.11.

[13] Ibid, p.12.

[14] See, for instance, J.Y. Calvez and J. Perrin, The Church and Social Justice, London: Burns and Oates, 1961, Chap. 6; and L.W. Shields, The History and Meaning of the Term Social Justice, Ph.D. Diss., University of Nottre Dame, Indiana, 1941, Chap. 3.

[15] See for details, Miller David, Principles of Social Justice, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999, pp.1-20.

[16] Chandy, K.T., “Social Justice and Requirements for Development”, Legal News and Views, No. 6123, 1992, pp. 42-44.

[17] Rajasekhriah, A.M., B.R. Ambedkar: the quest for social justice, New Delhi, Uppal, 1989.

[18] WS, op. cit., Vol.5. p.99.

[19] Quoted by Justice Iyer, V.R. Krishna, Ambedkar Centenary: Social Justice and undone vast, Delhi BRPC, 1991, p. 28.


[20] WS, op. cit., Vol.5, p.252.

[21]  Quoted by Khairmode, G. B. in Bhimraro Ramji Ambedkar (Marathi), Pune: Sugawa Publications, 1989, Vol.4, p.265.

[22] See for details, Rao, D. Venkateshwara, op. cit., pp 27-40.

[23] The Times of India, 14.10.1935.

[24] Proceedings of the Round Table Conference, Second Session, Government of India, Central Publication Branch, Calcutta, 1931, and also see, Ambedkar: What The Congress And Gandhi Have Done To the Untouchables, Bombay, Thacker and  Co., 1965.

[25] Report of the Franchise Committee, (1918-1919), (Chairman: Lord South Borough), Government of India, Central Publication Branch, Calcutta.

[26] Dr. Ambedkar On Bombay University Amendment Bill: II, published in WS, Vol.2, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1982.

[27] Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Ambedkar Centenary: Social Justice and the Undone Vast, Delhi, BRPC, 1991, p.76.

[28] Dalit Education, Dr. Babsaheb Ambedkar Research and Document Centre, Samata Prakashan, Nagpur 1994, pp.118-122.

[29] See for details, States and Minorities, Bombay, Thacker & Co., 1947.

[30] B.R. Ambedkar, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables, Bombay, Thacker and Co., 1945, p. 240.

[31] See, D.R. Jatava, The Political Philosophy of Ambedkar, Agra, Phoneix Publishing Agency, 1965; Rathnam, P.V., op. cit., pp. 101-156; and Rao, D. Venkateswara, op. cit., pp.120-160.

[32] See for instance, Constituent Assembly of India, Draft Constitution of India, Government of India, New Delhi, 1948, pp.4-9.

[33] See P.V. Rathnam, op. cit., pp.201-217.  For a contemporary analysis, also see, Anand Kumar, Political Sociology of Poverty in India: between politics of poverty and poverty of politics, New Delhi, IIPA, 2004.

[34] Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities, op. cit., pp.408-412.

[35] Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, (WS), Vol.2, op. cit., pp.257-258.

[36]  Das Bhagwan, Thus spoke Ambedkar, Speeches Vol.1, 1963, p.8.

[37] See Dr. B.R. Ambedkar with Simon Commission and ‘Evidence before the Indian Statutory Commission on 23rd October,1928 in WS, Vol. 2, 1982; and  Jeanette Robbin, Dr. Ambedkar and His Movement, Hyderabad, Dr. Ambedkar Publication Society, 1964, p.131.

[38] See, B.R. Ambedkar, WS, Vol.1, pp. 252-253.

[39] Ambedkar, ‘Untouchables of the Children of India’s Ghetto’, in WS, vol 5, 1989, p 108-09.

[40] Ambedkar, ‘Evidence before the Southborough Committee’, in WS, vol 1 (1979), p 264.

[41] See Ambedkar, ‘Who Were the Shudras? How They Came to be the Fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society’, W S, vol 7, (B:ED, 1990).   For a critical examination of these themes in the Indian context see also Marc Galanter, ‘The Compensatory Discrimination Theme in the Indian Commitment to Human Rights’ in U Baxi (ed), The Right to be Human (New Delhi:Lancer International, 1987), pp 77-94.


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