Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 10): Speeches on Labour in the Central Legislative Assembly
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), or Babasaheb Ambedkar, was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile Dr. Ambedkar’s complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist, author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The state’s Education Department started to publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out this 10th volume in 1991. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
Dr. Ambedkar held the Labour portfolio in the Viceroy’s Executive Council between 1942 and 1946. This volume consists of his speeches in the Central Legislative Assembly (Parts I and II), as well as questions put forth to him in the Assembly’s official debates (Part III).
This part contains a biographical sketch of Dr. Ambedkar, covering his education; his struggles as a member of an untouchable caste; his campaign against untouchability and other political activities; as well as his literary works. It also includes a speech on his appointment as a member of the Viceroy’s Council, where he emphasises the need for uniform labour laws, a procedure for settling labour disputes and discussing all matters relating to employers and employees which are of national importance.
The majority of Part I’s 54 speeches are about labour laws – existing and potential ones – related to skilled and semi-skilled workers, motor vehicle drivers, trade unions, coalmine workers, maternity benefits, the payment of wages, housing and health insurance for workers, among others. Many of these speeches are on social and political issues such as parliamentary democracy, the development of electric power in India and promoting labour welfare.
In an All India Radio broadcast in 1943, Dr. Ambedkar gave an address titled Why Indian Labour is Determined to Win the War, where he said that “[India’s] Labour is aware that the only compensation for the cost of this war [World War II] is the establishment of a New Order in which liberty, equality, and fraternity will not be mere slogans but will become facts of life.”
He further stated that “Labour is not prepared to make a fetish of nationalism. If nationalism means the worship of the ancient past – the discarding of everything that is not local in origin and colour – then Labour cannot accept nationalism as its creed. Labour cannot allow the living faith of the dead to become the dead faith of the living.”
Divided into three sections, this part covers Dr. Ambedkar’s documentation of the grievances of Scheduled Castes (Section 1), his correspondence with numerous British colonial officials on the political representation of SCs (Section 2); and essays on the Cabinet Mission’s proposals and the Untouchables (Section 3).
Dr. Ambedkar submitted a memorandum on the political, educational and other grievances of the SCs, as well as the government’s duty towards them, to the governor general of India on October 29, 1942.
The political grievances included inadequate representation in the Central Legislature, Central Executive and the public services. Dr. Ambedkar accused the Legislature of being an ‘unbalanced’ body: “It suffers from both the evils of over-representation of some communities and under-representation of other communities.” He also stressed the need for representation of Scheduled Castes in public services, calling it “a question of life and death” for them.
The educational grievances of the SCs included financial aid in universities, higher education and facilities for technical training. For SC boys, Dr. Ambedkar said, obtaining higher education in foreign universities was a ‘very far cry’. Other grievances included SCs not getting government contracts for public works.
This part contains questions put forth to Dr. Ambedkar, who held the Labour portfolio in the Viceroy’s Council from 1942 to 1946, by other members of the Central Legislative Assembly. The queries were about labour welfare, wages, labour strikes, the representation of minorities in different government departments, workers' grievances, and others topics.
Focus and Factoids by Anusha Parthasarathy.
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited by Hari Narke
The first edition was published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in 1991. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.