“Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” The phrase has its roots in the idea that women often provide support, encouragement and inspiration to the men in their lives — she could be a mother, sister or wife.
Ramabai Bhimrao Ambedkar, the wife of Dr B.R. Ambedkar epitomised the saying. Babasaheb Ambedkar's life was greatly influenced by her. She helped Dr Ambedkar a lot in getting higher education abroad. She played a crucial role in shaping him as an Indian jurist, economist, social reformer and political leader who headed the committee drafting the Constitution of India.
She also supported his efforts for social justice and reforms.
Born at Dabhol, a small village in Maharashtra, Ramabai is popularly known as ‘Ramai’ or ‘Mata Ramabai’. She is popularly known as “Ramai”. The nation, especially its oppressed, is today celebrating her birth anniversary. She was born on February 7, 1898 in a poor Dalit family.
She was born to the family of Bhiku Dhatre and Rukmini. Her father worked as a porter and was able to support his family with great difficulty. He earned livelihood by carrying baskets of fish from Dabhol port to the market.
Ramabai lost her parents very early. Her uncle took her and her siblings — Gorabai, Mirabai and Shankar — to Mumbai and brought them up. In 1906, Ramabai was married to Babasaheb Ambedkar at Byculla when the couple were nine and 15 respectively. She fondly called her husband “Saheb”, and the latter used to call her “Ramu”.
Mata Ramabai fully supported Dr Ambedkar’ss ambitions, and she also encouraged him to pursue higher education abroad. When Baba Saheb was abroad for studying, she faced many financial difficulties but never complained about it to ensure that he did not get distracted from his goals. She did not even let Baba Saheb know about the sufferings back home.
She made cow dung cakes and carried them on her head. She used it for cooking. She helped Dr Ambedkar obtain the world’s highest academic degrees, including a doctorate of science, abroad.
In a book titled Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, CB Khairmode mentions that Dr Ambedkar made his office his home — occasionally his place. Food was sent to him from home. The days when the lunchbox returned unopened, Ramabai also did not eat.
Ambedkar dedicated his book — Thoughts on Pakistan — as a token of appreciation to her “goodness of heart, her nobility of mind and her purity of character” for her unwavering support during the challenging times.
Noted Ambedkarite intellectual Mangesh Dahiwale says, “Mai faced dire situations when her existence was under threat. She was brave and courageous. She fought her own battle; and while doing so, she supported Babasaheb in his struggle. There are many instances in the life of Ramai that show what a remarkable person she was. Surrounded by suffering, deaths of her children and extreme poverty, she never gave up. She stood by Babasaheb rock-solid and emerged as a pillar of strength for him.”
Dr Ambedkar and Ramabai had a daughter (Indu) and four sons (Yashwant, Gangadhar, Ramesh and Rajratna), but four of them died. Only his eldest son, Yashwant, survived.
Ramabai died on May 26, 1935 after a prolonged illness.
Ramabai Bhimrao Ambedkar is a Marathi film directed by Prakash Jadhav is probably the first movie with Mata Ramabai as the titular character. It was released in 2011.
Actress Nisha Parulker played the role of Ramabai, Ganesh Jethe featured as Dr Ambedkar. Nisha is a well known Marathi actress. The film is available in Hindi on Youtube.
Another movie, titled ‘Ramabai’, featuring her life and struggles, was made in 2016 in the Kannada language. It was directed by M Ranganath. It was released on April 14, 2016 to mark Babasaheb’s 125th birthday.
Yagna Shetty played mata Ramabai’s role, while Siddaram Karnik played Ambedkar. Yagna Shetty is an eminent Kannada actress who is also working in Tamil and Telegu cinema. She won the Filmfare Award for her role in 2020.
‘Ramai’ is another Marathi film on Mata Ramabai. Its cast includes Vina Jamkar as Ramabai and Sagar Talashikar as Dr Ambedkar.
Other movies on the lives of the husband-wife duo are:
Directed by Jabbar Patel, ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’ is a bilingual feature film (English-Hindi). It stars Mammootty in the title role. It tells the story of Dr Ambedkar, mainly for his contributions in the emancipation of the downtrodden and oppressed castes and in shaping the Constitution of India.
It won the National Film Awards for the best feature film in English, best actor (Mammootty) and best art direction (Nitin Chandrakant Desai) in 1999.
‘Dr Ambedkar’ is a Telugu film released on September 25, 1992. It was directed by Parpalli Bharat. Famous actress Neena Gupta had played the role Mata Ramabai Ambedkar in the movie. TV and film actor-producer Akash Khurana played the titular role of Dr Ambedkar in the movie.
Sharan Kumar Kabbur also directed ‘Dr BR Ambedkar’ in 2005. It is a Kannada film. Its caste includes Vishnukanth B.J. as Dr Ambedkar and national award winning actress-turned politician Tara as his first wife (Mata Ramabai).
All the movies have portrayed the character of Ramabai Ambedkar in a most poignant manner. The scene of her death always moves people to the verge of tears.
Her sacrifices have been recognised lately by the followers of Ambedkar. The recognition of Ramai often overshadows Savita Ambedkar (also called Savita Mai) — the second wife of Dr Ambedkar.
Interestingly, even Savita Mai recognised and appreciated Ramabai’s sacrifices. It is said that when someone approached Savita with the proposal to build a school in her name, she declined the request saying, “It would be better if it is named after Mata Ramabai”.