[Dalit History Month] Baba Saheb’s Partners in Progress: A Glimpse into the Lives of his Resilient Wives, Ramabai and Savita
In a captivating sequence of chronicles during Dalit History Month, The Mooknayak presents you with the legends of the two resolute women who held a key place in Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s life, as their immense love and commitment facilitated him in realizing his objectives.
Geetha Sunil Pillai
The famous saying that “Behind every successful man stands a woman” holds veracity for none more than Baba Saheb Ambedkar, the ingenious architect of the Indian Constitution. Rama bai & Savita the two remarkable women marked his life profoundly: both his wives, who bore considerable hardships. They lived laborious lives, assuming complete responsibility for the household, thus enabling Baba Saheb to dedicate himself entirely to the noble cause of uplifting oppressed castes and marginalized people.
Baba Saheb’s marital unions were fascinating contrasts, indeed. At a tender age of 15, he entered matrimony with Rama, whose young countenance was a mere 8 years old. Rama passed away in 1935, and later, after thirteen long years of mourning following her untimely death, in 1948, Baba Saheb took Savita as his companion, a physician hailing from a Brahmin family, who was 18 years his junior. Baba Saheb treasured both of his spouses and commended their sacrifices and insight in various stages, attributing much of his success to their contributions.
Ramu & Saheb: a wedlock of respect & equality
Rama bai, the first wife of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, remains largely unknown to history, with little written about her except for the films made in her honor, mainly in Kannada and Marathi. Dr. Ambedkar affectionately referred to Ramabai as “Ramu,” while she called him “Saheb.” Rama bai, or Mother Rama as she is fondly remembered today, quietly stood in unwavering support of the architect of the Indian Constitution.
Ramabai Ambedkar was born on February 7th, 1898, into a humble family. She was the second daughter of Bhiku Datre Valangkar and Rukmini, and along with her siblings Gorabai, Meerabai, and Shankar, lived in Mahapura locality in Walang village near Dabhol. Unfortunately, Ramabai lost her mother in childhood, followed by her father Bhiku, a few years later. The siblings were then raised by their uncles Valangkar and Govindpurkar in Bombay.
It was in Bombay where Ramabai met and wed Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1906 in a simple ceremony held in the Byculla Market. Both of them were very young at the time of their marriage. It has been said that on the night of their marriage, the bridegroom and his family were lodged in an open spacious corner while the bride’s family was lodged at the other corner.
Their marital bond was one of respect and equality, despite differences in their educational qualifications, which was mirrored in Dr. Ambedkar’s public life as well. They had four sons, Yashwant, Gangadhar, Ramesh, and Rajratna, and one daughter, Indu. Unfortunately, only Yashwant Ambedkar survived to adulthood, with the other four children passing away in infancy.
Ramabai faced great financial struggles, and at times, even struggled to provide for her children. In a letter to Ramabai in 1921, Ambedkar expressed his concern for their son, Gangadhar, who was ill, and urged Ramabai to have faith in herself and not to worry as it would lead to nothing. He wrote, “Have faith in yourself. Worry would lead to nothing…. I am also on the verge of starvation. I have nothing to send to you but I am trying to arrange something. If it takes time or if you have nothing left, sell off your jewellery to run the household.”
Full of empathy despite lack of education
Ramabai Ambedkar understood the importance of education for her husband, to bring about change and uplift their people from the systemic discrimination they had faced for centuries. She foresaw that it was necessary for Dr. Ambedkar to earn his education from erudite universities outside India.
Though Ramabai did not receive any formal education herself, it did not stop her from comprehending the plight of the oppressed and understanding the injustices that were present in society. This speaks to her intelligence, intuition, and empathy towards her fellow human beings, despite her lack of formal education.
Ramabai Ambedkar’s life was marked by sacrifice and suffering, but she found solace in visiting temples, something that Ambedkar would try to dissuade her from doing to prevent the humiliation that their caste could bring. Ramabai had a strong desire to visit Pandharpur for a pilgrimage, but due to their Dalit caste, they were not allowed to enter the temple. This inspired Dr. Ambedkar to promise his wife that he would create a new Pandharpur for her, eventually leading him to leave Hinduism and embrace Buddhism. Ramabai passed away on May 27th, 1935 after a prolonged illness at her home.
Baba Saheb made sure that her final rites were performed according to Hindu customs, and she was cremated wearing her favorite white sari instead of the traditional green. After her passing, Ambedkar retired to his room and wept all night, mourning the loss of his beloved wife.
Rama bai remains largely unknown to history, with little written about her.
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Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s book, ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’, was published in 1941, after the passing of his beloved wife, Ramabai. Ambedkar dedicated the book as a token of appreciation to her “goodness of heart, her nobility of mind, and her purity of character,” and for her unwavering support during the challenging times they faced together. He acknowledged her “cool fortitude and readiness to suffer” alongside him through the worries they encountered. Ambedkar’s dedication to his wife in his book reflects the significant impact she had on his life and work as a social reformer.
The family today
Rama and Baba Saheb had 5 children but only one son Yashwant survived. Following Ambedkar’s passing, his son Yashwant dedicated his life to Buddhism and fighting for social justice. Yashwant had four children – Prakash, Rama, Bhimrao, and Anandraj. Prakash currently serves as the president of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, which recently formed an alliance with Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Rama is married to academician Anand Teltumbde, who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. Bhimrao serves as the working president of The Buddhist Society of India and is also the president of Samata Sainik Dal, a social organization. Finally, Anandraj is the president of the Republican Sena, a political outfit. The Ambedkar family has remained active in pursuing social and political change in India, carrying on the legacy of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.
From Sharda Kabir to Savita Ambedkar to Maisaheb
While his child bride Rama hadn’t received any formal education, Savita Ambedkar, Baba Saheb’s second wife was a doctor and a social activist.
Dr. Savita, originally named Sharada Kabir, was born in a Marathi Brahmin family in Ratnagiri district in 1909. Her father was the registrar of the Indian Medical Council. She received her early education in Pune and went on to complete her MBBS from Grant Medical College in Mumbai in 1937. She worked as a first-class medical officer in a hospital in Gujarat but was forced to return to Mumbai due to her health concerns.
Savita came from a large family of eight siblings, six of whom had married partners from different castes. This was an unusual and progressive stance for a Marathi Brahmin family during those times. Savita noted that their family did not oppose inter-caste marriages, owing to their education and progressiveness.
In 1947, during the time Dr. Ambedkar was drafting the Indian Constitution, he faced some health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, and neuropathic pain that affected his sleep. To seek treatment, he went to Mumbai, where he met Dr. Sharada Kabir for the first time. They grew closer over time and eventually formed a lasting bond.
” One soul saw the other soul …”
The duo exchanged around 40-50 letters over a year. Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. Sharada Kabir, later known as Savita Ambedkar after their marriage, shared a passion for Buddha’s teachings. In a letter to his soon-to-be second wife, Dr. Ambedkar had written, “One soul saw the other soul, both recognised a common identity. This is how our hearts met.” Savita later recalled this in her autobiography- Dr. Ambedkaraanchya Sahavaasaat (1990), which was translated into English by Nadeem Khan after 30 years and titled ‘ Babasaheb: My Life With Dr Ambedkar ‘ (2022).
Despite their different social backgrounds, age difference, and Dr. Ambedkar’s chronic illnesses, Savita Ambedkar accepted his proposal of marriage. ” The doctor in me was aroused to boundless sympathy, and I accepted Dr. Ambedkar’s proposal of marriage,” Savita wrote in her book. Ambedkar was looking for a caregiver, but found a companion in Savita instead. In 1948 in a letter to Dadasaheb Gaikwad Ambedkar wrote, “To keep a woman nurse or to take care of the house for service, there will be doubts in people’s mind, so marriage is a better way.” Nearly after a year of knowing each other, they got married on April 15, 1948, a day after Ambedkar’s 57th birthday. They were together for nine years till Ambedkar’s death on December 6, 1956.
The woman who saw a different side of Baba Saheb
In her autobiography, Savita Ambedkar offers a glimpse into Dr. Ambedkar’s personal life, bringing to light a different side of her husband, which is often overlooked in his public persona. She shares how Dr. Ambedkar wrote romantic letters to her, had a taste for fashion, and sometimes dictated what she should wear. She also recounts how Dr. Ambedkar was a skilled cook and would prepare delicious mutton curry for her. Additionally, Savita reveals that Dr. Ambedkar had a passion for music and was a trained violin player. She also mentions how he tried his hand at sculpting, which was a surprising discovery for her. Through her memoir, Savita Ambedkar sheds light on Dr. Ambedkar’s multifaceted personality, highlighting his interests, skills, and quirks, which made him a unique and relatable human being.
The award winning translator Nadeem Khan in an interview says , “look at the poignancy of the moment when the woman he diligently wrote long love letters to turns into a mother when she bathes him, and a doctor when he is very unwell….”
Even Ambedakar acknowledged Savita’s signigicant role in his life.In an unpublished preface of The Buddha and His Dhamma Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s last book, he credited her for extending his life by 8 to 10 years.
Blamed responsible for Baba Saheb’s death
However living under the shadow of a giant was not easy. Despite converting to Buddhism with her husband Dr. Ambedkar, Savita was subjected to scrutiny due to her Brahmin heritage, and doubts were cast about her commitment to the Dalit-Buddhist movement. Furthermore, Savita faced accusations from some of his followers that she was responsible for his death. The incident caused a rift with his son, Yashwant, over who would carry forward his legacy.
The government even investigated the cause of Ambedkar’s death, ultimately concluding that it was due to natural causes. After 14 years of living in obscurity, Savita was eventually reintroduced back into Dalit awareness. She was affectionately referred to as Maisaheb by Ambedkarites.
MaiSaheb played a crucial role in the establishment of the Symbiosis Society’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Museum and Memorial in Pune. She generously donated several of his personal items to the memorial. Until 2001, she visited the museum on Baba Saheb’s birth and death anniversaries every year. Savita Ambedkar died in May 2003 at Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital after battling illness for an extended period. She was 94 years old at the time of her passing.
The personal and professional journey of Dr. B.R Ambedkar was profoundly influenced by several pivotal relationships that left a lasting impact on his life.
While Savita played a pivotal role in his later years, Ramabai’s contribution was indispensable in his early life. Both women were instrumental in nurturing and supporting the life and career of a man who rose above his birth and background to become one of the most influential figures in Indian society. Their sacrifices, strength, and unwavering support are an epitome of the selfless love and devotion that often go unnoticed in the shadows of greatness.
On behalf of TheMooknayak, we pay tribute to these two great ladies, whose love and support will always be acknowledged, respected, and remembered in the annals of Indian history.
Khan, N. (2022). Babasaheb: My Life With Dr Ambedkar. Penguin Books.
Kapoor, Aekta. ( 2022, November 23.) “Baba Saheb and Savita Ambedkar: A Portrait of an Uncommon Marriage.” Eshe.in
Lakhe, M. (2022, November 13). Savita Ambedkar: The other Dr Ambedkar who lived in the shadow of a giant. [Article].
Sharma, P. (2023, January 29). How Ambedkar’s family supported him in his journey. The Week.
Nangsel. (2020, February 13). Ramabai Ambedkar: A Pioneer In Her Own Right. Feminism in India.
STP Editor (2022, April 14). Who Is Savita Ambedkar? More About The Second Wife Of Father Of Indian Constitution.
Courtesy : The Mooknayak
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