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What took Ambedkar to reject Sikhism and chose Buddhism

~ Komal Behl

On 14th October 1956, B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution decided to follow path of Buddhism along with his 3,65,000 followers but prior to his affiliation to Buddhism he was willing to convert into Sikhism for which he sent his son and nephew to the Golden temple.

Lets discuss this in detail…

Annihilation of caste is basically a collection of speech by Ambedkar which was never delivered. The organisation that had been bold enough to invite him to deliver its presidential address was the Jat Pat Todak Mandal (Forum for Break-up of Caste) of Lahore. When I was going through the book (AOC) I found that the book contains a very important part of history which is still not very much familiar with the world. Even coming from a Punjabi family myself including my family members we were not familiar about the fact or the argument that I have raised in my work. It would be interesting to have a look on the piece of article that I have written specially for those who subscribe to the ideology of Baba Saheb, Sikhism.

Dalit Buddhist movement - Wikipedia
The Dalit Buddhist movement (also known as the Neo-Buddhist movement)


When the Britishers brought-up “The Communal Award” in 1935 as an appeasement for the minorities living in India like Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, as they were considered as oppressed by the Hindu majority. Seeing this, Dr. Ambedkar lodged his protest, that Untouchables should also be included in this award as they were the most oppressed class living in India among the Hindu majority. The British Rulers, however, did not agree and argued that Harijans were part of Hindu religion and therefore cannot be included in the Communal Award.

This incident devastated Ambedkar and from then on he decided to convert to other religion and on 13th October 1935 at the Yeola Depressed Classes conference he declared that “I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an Untouchable. However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power” and the conference was attended by ten thousand people.

The statement made by the Ambedkar made people curious to know that which religion does Baba Saheb will choose along with his 60 million followers. On 13–14 April 1936, Ambedkar attended the Sikh Prachar Conference in Amritsar. In his address he expressed his possibility of converting to Sikhism as he was very fascinated by the teachings of Sikh gurus which talks about the equality and believes in caste-less society after which he sent his son,Yashwant Rao, and nephew to the Golden Temple in May, where they stayed for one month and a half, to observe the situation and meet with leaders of the community. (AOC, Pg165).

On 24 July 1936, The Times of India reported why Dr. Ambedkar decided on Sikhi:

If the depressed classes join Islam or Christianity they go out of Hindu culture. On the other hand if they become Sikhs they remain within the Hindu culture.  But there exists two versions regarding his rejection towards Sikhism.

On 22 July 1936, Gandhi in Harijan paper opined under conversion to Sikhism.

‘A Dangerous Proposal’: and even manipulated the Sikh leaders Master Tara Singh, to reject the proposed conversion as that would shift the monopoly of power from the higher caste Sikhs to the new Dalit Sikhs. Which later resulted in his conversion to Buddhism.

Gandhi in Harijan paper

Another aspect of his conversion into Buddhism was the Rise of Jat Dominance. According to      Bally, who has been a leading Ambedkarite activist, writer and editor of Bhim Patrika, provided another explanation. According to him, the untouchables of Punjab had conveyed to Ambedkar the atrocities they suffered at the hands of the dominant community of Jat Sikhs and appealed to him to ensure that the untouchables never become Sikhs.

For the political gain the leaders had forgotten the basis of Foundation of the religion. The teachings of the Sikh Gurus their theory of justice, equality all had been dismantled by those greedy politicians. If the Sikhs had accepted the proposal at that time about Ambedkar’s conversion then today Sikhs would have been more in number and would have had a lot of clout in all power structures, and what had happened to them in 1984 would probably never been able to materialized. This was a great loss to Sikhism. The Sikhs had a soul chance to expand their religion out of Punjab to the rest of India, and they lost that soul chance too.

And hence, all these events resulted in Dr. Bhim Rao Ramji Ambedkar’s affiliation with Buddhism along with his followers in Nagpur just almost a couple of months before his Mahaparinirvana.

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