After experiencing social discrimination, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar had decided on his conversion along with his followers to another religion. He thought that for the upliftment of the Dalits, religious conversion is necessary. Dr Ambedkar quoted ‘I was born a Hindu but I shall not die a Hindu’ and the search for a new religion for Dalits upliftment was started. Dr Ambedkar announced his intent to leave Hinduism in 1935. However, he remained a Hindu for the next twenty years. After his announcement, representative of various religions met and urged him to accept their religion. Dr Ambedkar preferred Buddhism. (1)
On 22 May 1936, an "All Religious Conference" was held at Lucknow. It was attended by prominent Dalit leaders including Jagjivan Ram. Dr Ambedkar could not attend it. At the conference, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist representatives presented the tenets of their respective religions in an effort to win over Dalits. Several such efforts had taken by these representatives to attract Dalits. (2)
Dr Ambedkar studied the religious teachings of Islam and Christianity and then chose Buddhism. He had expressed his thoughts through his writings. In this article, some of his thoughts on Islam and Christianity are compiled.
Dr Ambedkar said in an essay titled 'Buddha and Future of His Religion', which was published in 1950 in the monthly magazine of Kolkata's Mahabodhi Society.
All throughout the Bible, Jesus insists that he is the Son of God and that those who wish to enter the kingdom of God will fail if they do not recognize him as the Son of God. Mohammed went a step further. Like Jesus, he also claimed that he was the messenger of God on earth. But he further insisted that he was the last messenger. On that footing, he declared that those who wanted salvation must not only accept that he was a messenger of God, but also accept that he was the last messenger.
The Buddha made a clear distinction between a Margadata and a Mokshadata. Jesus and Mahommed claimed for themselves the Mokshadata. The Buddha was satisfied with playing the role of a Margadata. Both Jesus and Mohammed claimed that what they taught was the word of God and as a word of God; what they taught was infallible and beyond question.
The Buddha claimed no such infallibility for what he taught. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, He told Ananda that His religion was based on reason and experience and that his followers should not accept his teaching as correct and binding merely because they emanated from Him.
According to Dr Ambedkar, Islam is against the universal brotherhood. Social reforms are not possible within Islamic society. Dr Ambedkar said-
The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation.
Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland.
There is no organized movement of social reform among the Musalmans of India on a scale sufficient to bring about their eradication.
According to Dr Ambedkar, if Dalits converted to non-Indic religions, they become denationalized. If converted to Islam, Muslims dominance will increase or if accepted Christianity, increase the strength of British traitors to India. Dr Ambedkar said-
What the consequences of conversion will be to the country as a whole is well worth bearing in mind. Conversion to Islam or Christianity will denationalize the Depressed Classes. If they go over to Islam, the number of Muslims would be doubled; and the danger of Muslim domination also becomes real. If they go over to Christianity, the numerical strength of the Christians becomes five to six crores. It will help to strengthen the hold of Britain on the country.
According to Dr Ambedkar, like Muslims, Christians are also divided into various denominations. The conflicts between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians are well known. Dr Ambedkar said-
Indian Christians, like all other Indians, are divided by race, by language and by caste. Their religion has not been a sufficiently unifying force as to make a difference of language, race and caste as though they were mere distinctions. On the contrary, their religion, which is their own cement, is infected with denominational differences.
According to Dr Ambedkar, the Muslim woman is the most helpless person. Islam strongly supports polygamy, Burqa etc that are inhuman practices. Dr Ambedkar said-
The Muslim woman is the most helpless person in the world.
No words can adequately express the great and many evils of polygamy and concubinage, and especially as a source of misery to a Muslim woman.
If slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans has remained.
Above are some thoughts of Dr Ambedkar on Islam and Christianity. Dr Ambedkar did not want to betray the folds of 'Indianness' by the conversion of Dalits to non-Indic religions. As a result, Dr Ambedkar publicly converted on 14 October 1956, at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur in Maharashtra. Around 380,000 of his followers converted to Buddhism at the same ceremony. (1)
1 Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University Press, 2013, P. 34.
2 Bellwinkel-Schempp, Maren, Roots of Ambedkar Buddhism in Kanpur, New Delhi, 2004, P. 221-244.
5. M. G. Chitkara, Dr. Ambedkar and Social Justice, APH Publishing Corporation, 2002, P.211.
6. DC Ahir: Why Dr Ambedkar rejected Christianity; Blumoon Books, New Delhi, 1997, P. 66
7. Dr. BR Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, Maharashtra Government.