Life in 10: Ambedkar in Our Lives

What the Doctor taught these teachers.

On Dr. Ambedkar’s 131st Birth Anniversary, The Third Eye asked a few professors and teachers about how Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar influenced their teaching. 

As we remember Babasaheb, we also pay a tribute to his political thought, philosophy, history of collectivising and academic work, all of which continue to shape consciousness of minds both young and old, in and outside the classroom. 

Babasaheb’s work and teachings still inspire and remain relevant in these times where we are witnessing shrinking of academic spaces, posing new challenges to public education. He reminds us of the necessity and importance of making institutes of higher learning accessible and conducive to people from marginalised social locations, and gives us hope to fight for our right to public education. His work also reminds us that one of the primary works of education, no matter the discipline, is to draw connections between caste, patriarchy, capitalism and labour.

Jai Bhim!


I grew up with an Ambedkarite consciousness since childhood. My mother and grandmother, who couldn’t study themselves, would often invoke Babasaheb and tell me to get a good education. I had always wondered—why are women from our community domestic workers? Why are the people from only our community manual scavengers?

Earlier, I used to think that the lack of literacy in our community is what caused poverty. But engaging with Babasaheb’s political thought helped me draw connections between migration, caste, capitalism and livelihood. My collective would also hold joint programmes with the Women’s Studies Centre, Savitribai Phule University in Pune, where I came in contact with Sharmila Rege and her work.

We used to distribute booklets and other anti-caste pamphlets in schools and bastis and perform street plays. When I started teaching at the Women’s Studies Centre at TISS, Mumbai in 2009, Ambedkarism helped me understand how caste Hindu society comprises division of labourers, not labour; and how when we talk of sexual division of labour, it is important to define patriarchy as caste patriarchy because gender is also constructed through the ideology of Brahminism.

– Dr. Sangita Thosar from Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, TISS Mumbai


Dr. Ambedkar, like so many other anti-caste leaders and intellectuals, radically expanded the meaning of the term ‘public’. This has deep implications for the classroom in a public institution. As an educator, I have to ensure the public-ness of my classroom to fight hostilities of class, caste, gender and religion. Ambedkar inspires me to do that daily.
– Dr. Asha Singh, Faculty of Gender Studies in a Kolkata-based institute


As a Savarna woman, I got introduced to Phule-Ambedkar in the real sense very late in my life, well into my 20s. But reading and understanding this anti-caste thought was like a searchlight switching on and things becoming clearly visible, coming into sharp focus.

Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas on the need for social equality have guided my teaching since. The way he links the need to educate, organise and agitate has helped me see the higher education sector as an embattled one and pushed me to align myself with struggles and politics of social justice whenever possible.

Most importantly, Ambedkar has helped me see myself and my social location with a critical eye, reflecting on my privilege and asking tough questions about what my caste location opens up for me and at whose cost.

This question of power, privilege and reflexive politics has been central to what I try to do in the classroom. I have found the importance of community, of empathy, of solidarity and the radical idea of love that is capable of transformation and justice.

– Dr. Sneha Gole, Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, Pune


“The strength to continue working despite the whispers, the cow dung, the continued attacks on your person, isn’t something we are born with. We learn it. And Dr. Ambedkar’s life and work can teach us how to do it every day. It is possible to imagine how much restraint he showed and how much more permission he allowed his work to speak on his behalf.
– Vijeta Kumar, St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore


It is natural to talk about Dr. Ambedkar while engaging in identity discourse and Dalit literature in the classroom; but even in other subjects or classes of literature, Dr. Ambedkar and his ideas speak to ideas of harmony of life, compassion, unity, which are also the foundation of our Constitution.

If you teach literature and sociology in class, then it is very natural to raise questions of gender and caste and Dr. Ambedkar helps us to look at these two questions together. Without seeing them together, understanding the caste structure and women’s issues in the Indian context cannot be possible.

– Dr. Sujatha, University of Delhi


If Babasaheb had not entered our family as an ideology as well as an ideal, then perhaps I would not have been able to study, read and write so much. My father, a tailor, had only studied till Class 5 and so had my mother. My father was greatly influenced by the anti-caste movements led by Babasaheb—after having worked his day job as a tailor, he would gather all the children from the nearby locality and teach them at night. My mother herself wanted to study a lot, but being a Dalit woman, she faced several social and structural hurdles in the pursuit of her education. But both my parents had an indomitable desire to make all of us seven brothers and sisters study hard so that we could stand independently on our feet. Growing up, my father used to encourage us to read the Navbharat Times. Later all of us brothers and sisters joined the Ambedkarite movement and now we read all kinds of Dalit magazines and newspapers, mainly Bahujan Sangathan, Dhamma Darpan, Bhim Bharti, Himayati, etc. All the activism that I embody in my life, in my world, in my job, in my social work and writing is only because of Babasaheb. I am deeply invested in the progress of my students in my school, especially those from backward castes and classes. I could be a teacher only because of reading Babasaheb and applying his principles in my life.
– Anita Bharti, Dalit activist and principal of a government school in Delhi


The meaning of Ambedkar’s existence is as important to me as it is for anyone who comes from a disadvantaged group. All aspects of his ideology can be talked about and drawn from but what he thinks about education, especially in the context of disadvantaged groups, is what inspires me the most. At the same time, when Babasaheb considers the education of women as the measure of progress of society, the meaning of women and Dalits’ existence extends far beyond the fight for only rights and entitlements.

Had it not been for Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, perhaps I would not have been writing about him today. It is the result of all the social and human rights battles fought by him that innumerable people like me were able to move forward in the direction of attaining education and carving out a place for ourselves in society, hitherto denied to our ancestors.

– Dr. Vibhavari, Faculty Associate, Gautam Buddha University, Uttar Pradesh


The entire education system in India—from school to university—is such that you cannot be familiar with Ambedkar’s thoughts, his speech, his perceptions about education. You become familiar with these only when you try to read them at your own level. I got introduced to reading Ambedkar after I started teaching. His statement, “educate, agitate, organise”; the first emphasis in this is on education. Babasaheb himself was a teacher. He also taught at Elphinstone College and established the Siddhartha College Mumbai. Only when I started reading his works did I come to know that the classroom is one space that can truly embody the “Idea of Equality”. Our training, too, taught us that whether we discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, class, language while teaching or not, determines what kind of a teacher we are. Babasaheb influences and inspires us to support equality in all spheres. It is true that without reading him, you cannot understand Ambedkar.
– Dr. Ratan Lal, Associate Professor, Hindu College, University of Delhi


As a teacher, believing in social justice and using education as a tool to establish and achieve it is the basis of my teaching. Navigating various paths in life as a woman, a woman teacher and a woman writer has made me witness and understand the various difficulties one encounters and has only strengthened my belief in the need for social equality. In my view, the best way and purpose to teach literature is to continue to weave the discourse and lived realities of the Dalit woman and all such marginalised identities within it. The vicious penetration of caste as a structure in society is replicated in knowledge production, literature and language. Ambedkar’s philosophy gives not only the courage to break this vicious penetration, but also solidifies the belief that the real function of education is to bridge the gaps propelled by social discrimination, and the job of a teacher is to become a means to help overcome these obstacles. Babasaheb’s overall political thought and vision have made the work of a teacher in the classroom very important yet also easy. His philosophy is constantly developing my understanding of being a free woman and a better human being.
– Neelima Chauhan, Assistant Professor, Zakir Hussain College, University of Delhi


Students from different social locations come to study at Ambedkar University. After reading Dr. Ambedkar’s books and engaging with his philosophy, I understood how important it is to be inclusive within the classroom.

It is the responsibility of a teacher to ensure that students from different castes, classes, genders, social backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds get an equal, just environment within the classroom and I think learning to do this is how Babasaheb has helped me the most.

– Prof. Mrityunjay, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University, Delhi
The Third Eye is being written and developed by a team of educators, documentary filmmakers, storytellers; people with extensive experience of gathering narratives, oral histories and developing contextual pedagogies for the rural and the marginalised.

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