Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar Known as the architect of the Indian Constitution and a lifelong civil rights advocate of the 'untouchable' Dalit caste, received a PhD in economics from Columbia University in 1927 and an honorary doctorate in 1952 for being a 'great social reformer and' valiant human rights advocate.
Ambedkar was the first highly educated, politically prominent member of the Hindu 'untouchable' caste. He is best remembered today for having led the only autonomous struggle of colonial India for Dalit rights and social recognition; for his voluminous writings depicting the caste as a form of inequality and historical injustice; and for his role as chairman of the Indian Constitution drafting committee, which enabled him to deeply and sustainably shape the Indian path of democratic justice and affirmative action politics.
As a student at Columbia, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar studied with some of the greatest figures in American interwar liberalism, such as John Dewey and Edward Seligman, and American historians James Shotwell and James Harvey Robinson. John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer, was Dr. Ambedkar's intellectual mentor at Columbia University. Under his guidance, Ambedkar formulated the blueprints of his ideas for social justice and equality.
'The best friends I've had in my life,' he told the New York Times in 1930, 'were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors.'
As his close contemporary W.E.B. Du Bois, Ambedkar was an insurgent thinker whose writings consistently dealt with European and American history and political thought. This enabled him to explore the universality of political concepts as well as uncover the dark histories of Europe-America in terms of its stories of injustice and dehumanization. It is this twofold character of Ambedkar's thinking - his deep globality and his persistent concern for the specific plight of untouchability that sets him apart from other anti-colonial thinkers of his generation.
In 1936 Ambedkar wrote diekar Annihilation of the caste for a meeting of a group of liberal Hindu caste reformers in 1936. However, the group withdrew their invitation after seeing the draft of his speech. As a result, Ambedkar himself published the work and it immediately became a classic. The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning provides an annotated version of the work on its Annihilation of Caste website. Columbia's 250th anniversary in 2004 included a profile of Ambedkar on its website.
Ambedkar's traces of the Indian trajectory of democratic justice based on the ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity could be heard throughout the United States Address by President Barack Obamaack 2010 in the Indian Parliament. Referring to Ambedkar's contribution to the Indian Constitution and Indian society, President Obama said, “We believe that everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from, can fulfill their God-given potential. Just like a Dalit like Dr. Ambedkar could rise and write the words of the constitution that protects the rights of all Indians. We believe that no matter where you live - whether a village in Punjab or the side streets of Chandni Chowk, an old part of Calcutta or a new high-rise in Bangalore - everyone deserves the same chance to live in safety and dignity, to get an education To find work and give their children a better future. '
For a timeline of Ambedkar's life, visit this historic site created by Columbia Professor Emeritus Frances W. Pritchett. See also the Columbia University Department of History website.