Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956,) affectionately known as Babasaheb, was one of founders of modern India. A politician, social activist, and lawyer, he was a passionate critic of India’s caste system and the author of the country’s 1950 constitution.
Born into the Maharashtrian Mahar Dalit (“untouchable”) caste, Ambedkar prevailed over poverty and discrimination to win scholarships to study economics at the University of Bombay, Columbia University, and the London School of Economics.
When Ambedkar returned from England, he started to campaign against discrimination of people of India’s lower castes, and organized protest marches. He fell out with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party over the question of caste and the persistent societal exclusion of the untouchables. As member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s ministerial cabinet, Ambedkar played a prominent role in drawing up India’s post-independence constitution.
In 1956, just before his death, Ambedkar openly renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism, prompting many of his followers to go along. The Maharashtrian Mahars still consider themselves Buddhists. His book The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957) was published posthumously.