In April 2021, user TrueIndology made a series of claims regarding Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s childhood, education, and how he gained the surname on the microblogging platform Koo, India’s alternative to Twitter. The account said, “Who took care of Ambedkar as a child? A Brahmin! / Who took care of Ambedkar’s education? A Brahmin! / Who gave his surname Ambedkar? A Brahmin / Who funded Ambedkar’s foreign education? A Hindu nationalist king Sayajirao Gaekwad. / Who married Ambedkar? A Brahmin lady. / Who married Ambedkar’s sisters? Brahmins. / Whom do Ambedkarites abuse? Hindus & Brahmins!” (Archived link)

Later, in October 2021, Twitter user @BharadwajSpeaks made a similar claim, baring two — about Dr Ambedkar’s wife and sisters. Thus implying that the major accomplishments of Dr Ambedkar took place because of kind-hearted Brahmins. Yet he “abused” Brahmins. This tweet gained over 5000 retweets. Twitter has suspended this account and as of publishing the article, the account is inaccessible. The readers should note that @BharadwajSpeaks previously owned the Twitter account called TrueIndology which is infamous for sharing fictitious historical claims. In 2017, Alt News published a three-part series called ‘TrueIndology or TrueFraudology‘ that documented and debunked 17 accounts of misinformation by TrueIndology.

The account posted an identical tweet in April 2021, which gained over 10,000 retweets. Back then, multiple pro-BJP Facebook pages — PMO Report Card, We Support Arnab Goswami, The Right Side, and Vedic Science, Fighting AntiIndia Elements, Indian Right Wing Community — shared the screenshot of @BharadwajSpeaks’ tweet.

Several social media users have made the same claim repeatedly. Twitter user @JoyantaKarmoker tweeted the same in 2022 on the occasion of Dr Ambedkar’s Birthday. (Archived link)

FACT-CHECK

CLAIM 1: “Who took care of Ambedkar as a child? A Brahmin”

Analysis: Ramji Sakpal, Dr Ambedkar’s father, passed away in 1913. At that time, Dr Ambedkar was in his early twenties. Therefore, throughout his childhood i.e., the first 18 years of his life, his father was the de facto guardian. Based on ‘Waiting for a Visa‘, a 20-page autobiographical life story of Dr Ambedkar (April 14, 1891—December 6, 1956), in the chapter ‘A childhood journey to Koregaon becomes a nightmare’ we learn about his father’s occupation.

Dr Ambedkar wrote he lost his mother before he turned 10 and they hailed from the Mahar community. They were treated as untouchables in the Bombay Presidency. Their family came originally from Dapoli Taluka of the Ratnagiri District of the Bombay Presidency. His father, like his forefathers, joined the Army and retired as a Subedar. They stayed in Satara until 1904. In this section, he narrates an incident when his father had to leave out of town. Here we learn his father did not leave him under the guardianship of a Brahmin.

“When my father went to Koregaon he left me, my brother, who was older than myself, and two sons of my eldest sister (who was dead), in charge of my aunt and some kind neighbours. My aunt was the kindest soul I know, but she was of no help to us. She was somewhat of a dwarf and had some trouble with her legs, which made it very difficult for her to move about without somebody’s aid. Oftentimes she had to be lifted. I had sisters. They were married and were away living with their families.”
— Excerpt from ‘Waiting for a Visa’

Based on this paragraph, it appears because of his aunt’s health condition, she could not provide the necessary supervision. Therefore, his father left him under his elder brother and neighbour’s watch. Naturally, his brother was not a Brahmin. Thus leaving us to verify if the neighbours were Brahmins.

Alt News reached out to an academician from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. At the request of anonymity, the professor said, “We are talking about social stratification a century ago when casteism was rampant. It is unlikely that Ambedkar’s neighbours would be Brahmins”.

The readers should note that Dr Ambedkar’s home is in Satara’s Sadar Bazar. Alt News spoke with Satara-based media advocacy activist Siddharth Kharath. “The Sadar Bazar area comprises four wards all of them are reserved for scheduled caste. It is outlined in the government document Satara Nagar Parishad Annexure 2 [View PDF] which was drafted for the General election 2021-2022. The document covers the border and its description for specific wards in Sadar Bazaar. Out of the four wards, two wards comprise — the old bungalow of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, now identify as “Amane Bungalow” and the tomb of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s mother late Bhimabai Ambedkar.”

Conclusion: To sum it up, Dr Ambedkar’s father was the de facto guardian throughout his childhood. Based on his autobiography and inputs from an academician at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, it is unlikely that his neighbours were from the Brahmin community. Thus, there is no evidence that a Brahmin was Ambedkar’s guardian in his childhood.

CLAIM 2: Who took care of Ambedkar’s education? A Brahmin
CLAIM 3: Who funded Ambedkar’s foreign education? A Hindu nationalist king Raja Sayajirao Gaekwad

FACT-CHECK: The second claim doesn’t specify the level of education while making this claim. However, the subsequent claim mentions his higher education abroad. Thus, this claim is presumably about Ambedkar’s high school education.

Biographer Dhananjay Keer wrote ‘Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission’ in 1956. In the book, he wrote that as a five-year-old Ambedkar enrolled at a school in Dapoli. It is a city in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. The next time Ambedkar’s primary education is referenced, it is from the period when he was staying in Satara. Keer has mentioned no shortage of funds for education during this period (1896-1906). It’s worth noting that his father was a veteran, thus the cost of primary education must have been affordable.

Later in the text, Keer wrote that Ambedkar’s father ran out of funds after Ambedkar’s Inter-Arts Examination. His post-matriculation education took place at Mumbai’s Elphinstone College in Bombay. Maharaja of Baroda — Sayajirao Gaekwad III, a Maratha ruler, funded this.

Sayajirao Gaekwad III was the Maharaja of Baroda State from 1875 to 1939. As per a Government of India website, he hailed from a Maratha clan called Matre, meaning minister. Gaekwad is well regarded as a progressive ruler. An article in Better India states, “His tenure saw the abolishment of infant marriage, legalisation of widow marriage, and the introduction of free and compulsory primary education in 1893.”

“Among the Indian Princes, it was Shri Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda who started schools for the Untouchables in 1883. But in those days his State had to depend upon Muslim teachers for the growth of those schools, for caste Hindu teachers would not accept the posts of teachers in those schools.”
— Excerpt from Dr Ambedkar: Life and Mission by Dhananjay Keer

In the part one of Volume 17 of the ‘Writings & Speeches of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’ available on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs, there is an exchange between Gaekwad and Dr Ambedkar.

H. H. Maharaja: What will you do by studying these subjects?
Bhimrao: The study of these subjects would give me clues for improving the depressed condition of my society and I shall undertake the work of social reforms on those lines.
H. H. Maharaja: (Laughingly) But you are going to serve us, isn’t it? Then how are you going to study, serve and also do the social service?
Bhimrao: If H. H. Maharaja gives me due opportunity, I shall manage to do all the things.
H. H. Maharaja: I have been thinking on the same lines. I am thinking of sending you to America will you go?
Bhimrao: Yes Sir.
H. H. Maharaja: Now you can go. Send an application of foreign proposed study to our Academic Officer asking for a scholarship and inform me accordingly.

Alt News spoke with Hari Narke, editor of Writings & Speeches of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar from volumes 17 to 22. Narke was conferred the 2022 ‘Dr Ambedkar International Award’ by the Ambedkar Association of North America.

Narke told Alt News, “Maharaja Sayajirao was a progressive king. Indeed, he was Hindu. But to label him as “Hindu nationalist king” would be inaccurate because the phrase “Hindu nationalist” is politically loaded and often synonymous with an orthodox individual”.

Conclusion: To sum it up, Sayajirao Gaekwad funded Dr Ambedkar’s foreign education. However, to label Sayajirao as a “Hindu nationalist king” is disingenuous. There is no evidence of the claim that a Brahmin funded Ambedkar’s education.

CLAIM 4: Who married Ambedkar? A Brahmin lady.

FACT-CHECK: Dr Ambedkar married twice in his lifetime. Firstpost reported Ramabai Bhimrao Ambedkar was the first wife of Dr Ambedkar. She belonged to a poor Dalit family. At the time of their marriage, in 1906, she was nine years of age, while he was 15. They were married for 29 years until Ramabai’s demise because of prolonged illness.

Thirteen years later, Dr Ambedkar married Dr Sharada Kabir. She took the name Savita Ambedkar after her marriage. The Indian Express reported, “Born in a middle-class Sarasvat Brahmin family, Dr Sharada Kabir met and got to know Dr BR Ambedkar as a patient riddled with life-threatening diseases. She eventually married him on April 15, 1948, and got rechristened Savita Ambedkar.”

The caste of Dr Ambedkar’s wife does not show his opinion about the caste system or his views on Brahmins. Dr Ambedkar advocated inter-caste marriage to break the caste system in India.

“Another plan of action for the abolition of Caste is to begin with inter-caste dinners. This also, in my opinion, is an inadequate remedy. There are many castes which allow inter-dining. But it is a common experience that inter-dining has not succeeded in killing the spirit of Caste and the consciousness of Caste. I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being marriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling—the feeling of being aliens—created by Caste will not vanish. Among the Hindus, inter-marriage must necessarily be a factor of greater force in social life than it need be in the life of the non-Hindus. Where society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an ordinary incident of life. But where society is cut asunder, marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real remedy for breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the solvent of Caste.”
— Excerpt from ‘Annihilation of Caste’

Conclusion: To sum it up, the claim that Dr Ambedkar married a Brahmin woman is true. However, it does not tell the complete story. Dr Ambedkar’s first wife hailed from the Dalit community and his second wife converted to Buddhism after marriage.

CLAIM 5: Who married Ambedkar’s sisters? Brahmins

FACT-CHECK In Dr Ambedkar’s biography, Keer wrote Dr Ambedkar had 14 siblings. However, by the time they shifted to Satara, only three brothers and two sisters survived — “Balaram was the eldest, Aandrao was the second, then followed two daughters Manjula and Tulsi and the youngest was Bhim.” On page 34, while speaking about the sister’s marriage, he didn’t mention that they were married to Brahmins. Keer does not mention the sisters later in the book.

Narke said, “This claim is absolutely false. Both sisters were married to men from the same caste as theirs”. Over an email exchange, Prakash Ambedkar, Dr Ambedkar’s grandson, told Alt News, “Only Dr Ambedkar ventured in inter-caste marriage. None of his siblings did the same.”

Conclusion: There is no evidence of the claim that Dr Ambedkar’s sisters were married to Brahmin. Dr Ambedkar’s grandson refuted the claim.

CLAIM 6: Who gave his surname Ambedkar? A Brahmin

FACT-CHECK: Keer in his book wrote a section about the origins of the surname ‘Ambedkar’. According to Keer, a Brahmin teacher offered Dr Ambedkar his surname. However, he didn’t name the said teacher.

Author of the 2009 book ‘Geographical Thought of Dr BR Ambedkar’, Deepak Mahadeo Rao Wankhede claimed that the name of the teacher who changed the surname ‘Ambavadekar’ to Ambedkar was Krishna Keshave Ambedkar.

In 2022, The Indian Express reported that the surname Ambavadekar was drawn from the name of Dr Ambedkar’s native village Ambavade in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. The report added, “As his teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar was very fond of him, the teacher changed Bhimrao Ramji’s surname to Ambedkar.”

Narke said, “People are divided over this issue. However, based on my research and my peers’ work, I can state without hesitation Dr Ambedkar’s primary school teacher — Krushnaji Keshav Ambedkar — offered him his surname.” Narke also provided a sketch of the teacher, along with photos of the kins up to three generations.

Shared by Hari Narke to Alt News

He continued, “Besides the biographical works by Dhananjay Keer, Changdev Bhavanrao Khairmode, and Vasant Moon, the interview published by Marathi-weekly Navyug on April 13, 1947, is the most ‘sound’ evidence. As per this article, Dr Ambedkar told professor Satyabodh Hudlikar that Krushnaji Keshav Ambedkar gave his surname to him.” While there is no soft copy of this article, Narke shared an image of the relevant section from Khairmode’s book. Alt News used Google Lens to translate its content and found that Khairmode has indeed cited Navyug as evidence that Dr Ambedkar himself said a Brahmin master gave him his surname.

Narke added, “As per Khairmode and Moon, Krushnaji Keshav Ambedkar met Dr Ambedkar prior to the latter’s departure from Mumbai to attend the 1930 round table conference in London. Upon inquiry, Narke clarified that Khairmode and Moon hailed from the same community as Ambedkar — the Mahar community, who are presently known as Buddhists. However, Hudalikar hails from the Brahmin caste.”

In a 2019 program by ABP Majha, the grandson of Dr Ambedkar, Prakash Yashwant Ambedkar, responded (at 44:40 mark) saying, “It was a fact” when the question was asked whether a Bhramin teacher indeed gave Dr Ambedkar the surname. Prakash is also the president of the political party called the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.

Conclusion: Alt News spoke with Rajratna Ambedkar, another kin of Dr Ambedkar. He disputed that a Brahmin teacher changed Dr Ambedkar’s surname. However, the readers should note that there is overwhelming evidence that suggests that Dr Ambedkar himself stated about getting his surname from a Brahmin teacher in an interview with Marathi magazine Navyug in 1947.

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About the Author

Archit is a senior fact-checking journalist at Alt News. Previously, he has worked as a producer at WION and as a reporter at The Hindu. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at S3IDF.