Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar   (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956): The Architect of India’s Constitution

There are very few people in the world who could go against established norms and come out victorious.  Dr, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is one of the rare exceptions.  Known popularly as Babasaheb, Ambedkar fought hard and worked industriously as a social reformer, jurist, economist and political activist.  Champion for the rights of the untouchables  and other minorities and the architect of independent India’s Constitution, Ambedkar should have a prominent position in any studies dealing with the history of India.

The fourteenth child of parents of the Mahar caste, Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in the military cantonment town of Mhow in the Central Provinces (today in Madhya Pradesh) to Subhedar Ramji Maloji Sakpal and Bhimabai Murbadkar Sakpal.  His family was of Marathi origin, hailing from Ambavade in the Ratnagiri District in modern-day Maharashtra.  Even though they are from the poor ‘untouchable’ caste, his ancestors had traditionally worked for the British army. This enabled him to attend the British Army School even though, to avoid repercussions, the students were segregated by caste.  Often, the lower castes had to attend class from outside the classroom in order not to contaminate the Brahmins and other higher caste students inside the class.  They had to bring gunny sacks to sit on and had to take them back home every day.  The lower caste students were banned from getting water themselves.  It had to be poured for them by a higher caste individual and they had to hide their mouths while drinking.  In Ambedkar’s time, it was the peon who poured the water for them.  Later in his writings, Ambedkar wrote, “No peon, no water”.  Even in a British government- run school, these discriminations were common place.  Two years after his father’s retirement, the family moved to Satara in 1896.   His mother’s death followed.  Ambedkar attended the local school.  But the experience in the previous school continued.

The motherless children were cared for by a paternal aunt. Life was difficult for the Ambavadekar  children.  Of his surviving three brothers and two sisters, only Ambedkar passed the exams and graduated to high school.  His last name was changed in school records from Ambavadekar that indicated his village to Ambedkar by a Brahmin teacher, Mahadev Ambedkar, who was fond of this brilliant student.

Ambedkar’s family moved to the then Bombay in 1907. He enrolled in the Elphinstone High School.  He was the only ‘untouchable’ in the school.  His home was in the poorest of poor section.  The whole house consisted of one room.  He woke up after his father went to bed and studied in the light of an open kerosene lamp.  In school, he suffered a great deprivation.  He was denied the learning of Sanskrit because he was from the ‘untouchable’ caste.  He felt very bitter about this, but he learned Sanskrit later in life.

When he was fifteen years old, his marriage to the nine-year old Ramabai was arranged.

In 1907, Ambedkar was the first untouchable to complete his matriculation and enter Elphinstone College which was affiliated to the Bombay University.  He had been quite successful in his examinations.  This was a special occasion for the lower castes and they celebrated.  From the author and family friend, Dada Keluskar, he received a biography of Buddha.  Maybe there was something prophetic in that gesture.  In 1912, he received his degree from the Bombay University, majoring in Political Science and Economics.  He was prepared to take up a job with the Baroda state government.  His wife was fifteen then and he moved his young family to Baroda and began his work.  He was called back to Bombay because his father was ailing.  His father died subsequently in 1913.

Ambedkar secured a scholarship of 11.50 sterling pounds a month for three years under a scheme to provide graduate studies at the Columbia University in New York, set up by Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda.  He was only twenty-two years old and he moved to the USA in 1913. He settled in the Livingston Hall and made a lifelong friend of Naval Bathena, a Parsi..  He secured his first MA in Economics in 1915,  In India, he had added English and Persian languages to strengthen the base of his knowledge.  In USA, his studies included ethics, history, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology.  His thesis was titled, Ancient Indian Commerce.  He was greatly influenced by John Dewey and his views on democracy and understood the extent of the injustice perpetrated in the name of Hindu caste system.  For another MA, his second thesis was titled, National Dividend of India-A Historic and Analytical Study.  Soon, he left for London.

In 1916,  he had enrolled at the Gray’s Inn to qualify to be a barrister. He, simultaneously, enrolled in the London School of Economics for a doctorate.  But, his scholarship had ended and he had to return to India.  With a promise to complete his dissertation within four years, he left in 1917 shipping his large collection of books.  But, the ship was torpedoed by Germans and he lost his cherished collection.

Since he was educated by the Princely Sate of Baroda, Dr. Ambedkar owed his time to the state.  He took up the position as the Military Secretary to the King of Baroda.  More discrimination followed because of his caste despite his eminent learning.  Even non-Hindus and servants showed no respect.  He quit this position.  He described the incident in his autobiography as “Waiting for Visa”.  He tried to earn a living to support his family by working as a private tutor, as an accountant, and by establishing an investment consulting business. But it failed because some clients objected to have dealings with an untouchable.

With the help of the former Bombay Governor, Dr. Ambedkar received the post of Professor of Political Economy at the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Bombay.  Although successful with his students, some professors objected to his serving of water from the same jug.  In 1920, he left for London to complete his higher studies at his own expense. In 1921, he earned his MA and completed his D.Sc in Economics in 1923. His research was on the problem of rupee, its origin and its solution.  He also became a barrister in Gray’s Inn in the same year.  He spent a few months in the University of Bonn studying economics.  He received his PhD from Columbia on June 8, 1927 after he read his dissertation, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development before a seminar.

On Ambedkar’s part , returning to India was the beginning for a lot of ideological moves focused on the current social establishments and cultural interpretations of inequity, which were dividing India. In 1918,  he was invited to testify before the Southborough Committee which was preparing the Government of India Act of 1919.  He argued in favor of establishing separate electorates and reservations for the oppressed classes of the time: the untouchables and other minorities such as Christians.

Dr. Ambedkar looked for ways of reaching the minorities or ‘dalit’s as the untouchables are known in Indian parlance. He wished to provide a voice for this silent strata of society and, in 1920,  started the publication of a weekly titled Mook Nayak( the leader of the silent). The Maharaja of Kohlapur, Shahaji II, supported him. The Maharaja, after listening to his speech, took time to dine with him and created a social and political upheaval.  This was also the time when Dr. Ambedkar was vigorously practicing law in Bombay High Court.  He defended three non-Brahmins who accused the Brahmin community of destroying India.  Both the barrister and  clients experienced vindication and personal and individual victories.

Words were not enough for Dr. Ambedkar.  While his legal profession continued to function, he became very active in promoting education for the untouchables.  His first effort in this direction resulted in the establishment of a central institution, Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha.  Its function was to promote education, socio-economic development and welfare of the depressed classes.  This was also the time for the birth of more periodicals like Bahishkrit Barath  and Equality Janta in order to promote the ‘dalit’ rights.

In 1925, Dr. Ambedkar was appointed to the Presidency Committee to work with the all European Simon Commission which was set up to look into the constitutional reforms in India. There was nationwide protest against the Commission and its report was mostly ignored, but he had already construed what was needed in a constitution for India.

In 1927, actions instead of words gained foremost importance. Civil disobedience has already caught the imagination of the nation.   Movements against untouchability was called for.  The first of these was the march to open up public drinking water.  The Satyagraha in Mahad  at the Chowdar Tank was an active protest to let the untouchables draw water from the town water tank.  The Bombay Legislature had already passed a bill allowing open access to water and the Mahad Municipality had decreed that even untouchables can take water from the tank; but till that day, no one had dared to do it because even going near the tank had been forbidden to these people.  As planned, Dr. Ambedkar went to the tank and touched the water and others followed.  But after a couple of hours, someone spread a rumor that the untouchables were going to enter the Veereshwara temple.  The traditionalists took physical action and beat up the Satyagraha participants and even Dr. Ambedkar was wounded in this violent episode.  But the incident brought social awareness to many Hindus who decided that denying water to anyone because of their castes was not right.

In a Conference in 1927, in public, Dr. Ambedkar condemned Manusmriti (The code of Manu) which was justifying the authority of the caste system. On December 25, 1927, in the presence of multitudes, he conducted a ceremony for burning the ancient texts.  Twenty-fifth of December came to be known as the Manusmriti Dahan Din (Manusmriti Burning Day).  Another bone of contention was the denial of entry into the temples for the ‘dalits’.  In 1930, after three months of preparation, he marched to Kalaram Temple in Nashik.  He was accompanied by fifteen thousand followers and with great fanfare, he marched to the temple.  When the procession reached the temple, the gates were already closed by the Brahmin authorities.

In 1932, Dr. Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates was recognized by the British government which allowed separate electorates for the depressed classes.  By now, he had become the most prominent champions of the untouchables. Gandhi objected vehemently, his reason being that it would divide the Hindu community.  Eventually, while Gandhi was fasting in the jail, a meeting was arranged and the result was the Poona Pact which was reached on September 25 and was signed by various representatives including  Dr. Ambedkar representing the untouchables and tribals.   In 1935 and 1950, the term for the ‘depressed classes’ was changed to ‘scheduled castes and scheduled tribes’.

Dr. Ambedkar was never far from being an academic.  In 1935, he was appointed as the Principal of Government Law College and stayed there for two years.  He was also the Chairman of the governing body of Ramjas College in Delhi.  He settled in Bombay and housed his personal collection of 500,000 books.  Meanwhile, he suffered the loss of his wife owing to prolonged illness.  He had already lost his sons in their infancy.

Even those who condemned untouchability, did not see the need for equality for them.  He found neither Gandhi nor some leaders of Congress supporting the minorities and the untouchables. He lost faith in the religion he was born into and declared publicly his intention not to remain in it.  He was searching for a religion which will provide him equality when he accepted it.

Political activities of Dr. Ambedkar had become more pronounced.  He established the Independent Labor Party in 1936. It won fifteen seats in the 1937 elections to the General Legislative Assembly.  He also published the book, The Annihilation of Caste.  In it, he was very strong in his condemnation of religion and caste system.  The book was a roaring success.  He was against the term “Harijan” (God’s People) for the untouchables.  He considered it to be discriminatory and blasted the hypocrisy of Gandhi and Congress.  In his work, Who were the Shudra?,  he rejected the Aryan invasion theory of Max Müller.  He preferred the interpretation of Sayanacharya who read ‘an-asa’ instead of ‘anasa’ from Rig Veda, the differences between the Aryans and Shudras being more to do with the speech than in racial differences like a flat nose.    His scholarship and leadership earned him the position of Minister of Labor in the Defense Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council.

Dr. Ambedkar oversaw the morphing of his party into The Scheduled Castes Federation.  Before Independence, in the 1946 election for the Constituent Assembly, its performance was poor.  But, he was elected later in Bengal where Muslim League was extra powerful.  In 1952, he contested in Bombay, and lost to his former assistant.  He became a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house. He tried again to enter Lok Sabha in 1954 and was only placed third.  Before the next general election in 1957, he was no more.

The intellect and deep knowledge base of Dr. Ambedkar made him the ideal choice for the position of the first Law Minister of Independent India.    On November 29, 1947, he was appointed the Chairman for the Constitution Drafting Committee.  To all practical purposes, he was the main architect of the Indian Constitution.  It was socially revolutionizing and  provided constitutional guarantees and protection for individual civil liberties and rights like freedom of religion, women’s social rights for marriage and inheritance  and it outlawed all discriminatory practices however ancient they were. He tried to introduce a uniform civil code and strove for a virtual bridge between classes.  So he interjected affirmative action such as equal opportunity for education and job reservation for the scheduled castes and tribes.  The Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949.  He resigned from the parliament when it stalled on the Hindu Code of Law he had introduced with the purpose of equal social and civic rights.  Equality without prejudice of gender, race, and caste was what he was aiming for.

With his farsighted legal mind, Dr. Ambedkar  opposed Article 370 that gave special status to Kashmir. He pointed out the contradiction where Kashmir got equal status with India while the Indian government had only limited power and the Indian people had no rights in that region. We still experience the contention that remains as the result. It was a politically maneuvered choice.

As the first Indian  who secured a doctorate in economics abroad, Dr. Ambedkar’s standing as an eminent economist was unquestionable.  Industrial development and agricultural growth were his watchwords in enhancing Indian economy.  In 1951, he established the Finance Commission of India.  He stressed public health,  public hygiene, education, and residential facilities.  He advocated social developments to achieve economic growth.  The Reserve Bank of India was based on his ideas.

Health became a big concern for Dr. Ambedkar..  He suffered from diabetes from 1948 and he had been taking insulin.  He suffered from neuropathic pain in his legs and lack of sleep.  He went to Bombay for treatment and met Dr. Sharada Kabir, a Brahmin.  He married her in New Delhi on April 15, 1948.  She took the name, Dr. Savita Ambedkar.

Not to continue as a Hindu became very important.  Dr. Ambedkar was a seeker of knowledge and he studied about several religions.  He had been studying Buddhism all his life and ultimately chose to convert to Buddhism.  On October 14, 1956, in a public ceremony in Nagpur, he accepted the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk and converted along with his wifeHe then proceeded to convert the 500,000 followers who were present at the ceremony.

The political issues took a toll on Dr.Ambedkar.  His eyesight had been deteriorating and his passion for reading could not be sated.  Side effects of medications had plagued him and, since June to October, 1954, he had been bedridden.  Yet, he continued his efforts and writing.  Three days after he completed his book, Buddha and His Dharma, he passed away in his sleep on December 6, 1956 at his home in New Delhi.  He was given a Buddhist style cremation on the next day and half a million people attended.  He was survived by his wife and son Yashwant. A coneversion ceremony was organized for December 16 so that the cremation attendees had the opportunity for converting to Buddhism.  He was awarded posthumously the Bharath Ratna, the highest civilian order, in 1990.  He had also received honoray degrees before his death: his third and fourth Doctorates (LL.D, Columbia, 1952 and D.Litt., Osmania, 1953).  His birthdate is the public holiday Ambedkar Jayanthi.

Here was a man who was a mover and shaker.  Dr. Ambedkar rose above his circumstances and outdistanced everyone.  He made maximum use of his educational opportunities and was tireless in his studies and in his efforts for social and political reforms.  His thirst for learning was phenomenal and he used his knowledge for persuasive arguments to establish the legitimacy of his reasoning.  A voracious reader, he was also a prolific writer.  He was voted the “Greatest Indian” in a 2012 poll organized by History TV18 and CNN IBN and in which nearly 20 million votes were cast. During his 2010 visit to the Indian Parliament, President Obama extolled Dr. Ambedkar as the greatest human rights champion.  He was erudite, daring, articulate, and compassionate.  Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen claimed that Dr. Ambedkar was the father of his economics.

It was Dr. Ambedkar’s compassion towards human beings who were deprived of the basic rights of their existence that drove him to his ventures into the social, political, civil, and political arenas to fight tirelessly.  He made things happen.  When he visited Aurangabad, he was appalled at the lack of greenery around the college.  He did not hesitate to demand that anyone who wished to visit him to bring a sapling.  Hundred saplings appeared and he himself took a pick-axe and prepared the ground.  His message to his followers and to everyone else is, “Educate, Organize, Agitate”.

 

 

Works by Dr. Ambedkar:  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar)

The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra (Mumbai) published the collection of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches in different volumes.

  • Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Developmentand 11 Other Essays
  • Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislature, with the Simon Commission and at the Round Table Conferences, 1927–1939
  • Philosophy of Hinduism; India and the Pre-requisites of Communism; Revolution and Counter-revolution; Buddha or Karl Marx
  • Riddles in Hinduism[132]
  • Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability
  • The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India
  • Who Were the Shudras?
  • The Untouchables Who Were They And Why They Became Untouchables ?
  • The Annihilation of Caste(1936)
  • Pakistan or the Partition of India
  • What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables; Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables
  • Ambedkar as member of the Governor General’s Executive Council, 1942–46
  • The Buddha and his Dhamma
  • Unpublished Writings; Ancient Indian Commerce; Notes on laws;Waiting for a Visa ; Miscellaneous notes, etc.
  • Ambedkar as the principal architect of the Constitution of India
  • (2 parts) Dr. Ambedkar and The Hindu Code Bill
  • Ambedkar as Free India’s First Law Minister and Member of Opposition in Indian Parliament(1947–1956)
  • The Pali Grammar
  • Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Struggle for Human Rights. Events starting from March 1927 to 17 November 1956 in the chronological order; Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Socio-political and religious activities. Events starting from November 1929 to 8 May 1956 in the chronological order; Ambedkar and his Egalitarian Revolution – Speeches. (Events starting from 1 January to 20 November 1956 in the chronological order.)
  • Ambedkar’s Speeches and writing in Marathi
  • Ambedkar’s Photo Album and Correspondence

 

Indebted to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar

http://www.culturalindia.net/reformers/br-ambedkar.html

http://freeindia.org/biographies/greatleaders/ambedkar

Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Interview-1955 – YouTube

Dr. AMBEDKAR ORG.

Advertisements

Man Unbound

“Let there be Light”  and the words echoed.

Across the vast; brilliance spread

In swathes and streams and sparkles

And the world awaited in anxious hush.

Then, in living visions,

The world came to be.

Good and innocent, the novel creation

Ambled in happy contentment,

With no wrinkles, cracks, or fissures

To upset the silky existence.

But, alas! The world did not stay still

And the darkness crept in with fangs bared.

The serpent hissed, “Eat the fruit”,

And promised Divine knowledge.

The woman obliged and

Evil seeped into the world and marked the doom.

Iniquity entered with the knowledge of the fruit

And the serpent chortled with glee.

Summer sped from the land;

Hail and lightning thundered across

And the ravenous lion eyed the lamb.

The woman fled in shame

Which chased the fruits of her womb,

Now bound, to destiny’s doom.

But, the Word was pronounced

And the Word made flesh ;

The  promise.was the fruit of the Womb!

But amidst the evil, rose the crossed tree

To redeem the perished with the promise

Of the fruit of the Womb.

The Lamb of God hung on the cross

To rise  in splendor and glory.

The light shone again upon the world

And the woman’s offspring was unbound.

Saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart

Saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1877-1952)

“A Spouse to the Divine and a Mother to All Humans”

April 3, 2014 was a day cherished by all Indians. On that significant day, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to proceed with the decrees concerning the miracles attributed to Blessed Euphrasia of the Blessed Heart. This confirmed his approval of her canonization .  The ceremony of canonization took place on 23 November, 2014 and the simple nun (Evuprasiamma, C.M.C) from Ollur in Thrissur diocese was officially elevated to sainthood. The required second miracle had already taken place. Through her intercession, a seven-year old boy, Master Jewel Jenson from Kallettumkara, in Irinjalakuda (Kerala),  was miraculously cured of a thyroglossal cyst in 2006. Jewel was present at the official ceremony in Vatican.

A life filled with simple acts of kindness and a life fired by the intense love of God!  Here we have, in a nutshell, the three quarters of a century that Blessed Euphrasia breathed and walked the earth.  She is honored with so many nomenclatures that we see the diverse impressions she made on the people who were fortunate enough to have known her during her temporal residence in the then Thrissur diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church in India.  To some, she was the “Praying Mother”, to others she was the “Mobile Tabernacle”, yet to some others she was the symbol of complete obedience to the divine will, and to a large number of people,  she was someone “who did not forget even after death”, the ultimate refuge and problem solver in all their times of worry and trouble.  This woman of low stature and lack of ambitions stands tall today as one of the acknowledged members of the Church Triumphant and as the Bloom in the Carmel courtyard.  Her memorable words,”Even after death, I will not forget!” still resound in the minds of many.

From the seventy-nine letters to her spiritual director, seventy-four complete and five incomplete, the letter to her niece at the time of her wedding, letter to Sr. Angela from her own postulant group, and the letter to Blessed Mariam Thresia,  all written in Blessed Euphrasia’s own neat hand,  her handwritten prayers, and from the numerous eyewitnesses of her life, emerges a picture of a woman of sanctity, a woman who consecrated her life to the sole purpose of atoning for the sins of humanity. In the process, the same woman, in humility, obedience, and purity, extends her love to the whole humanity, from the lowliest maid to the high prelates of the Church.  Her love of God enabled her to care deeply about her faith and her Church, caring fervently about everyone around her, regardless of their apparent importance in the social and cultural structure of society.

Blessed Euphrasia was born on October 17, 1877 to Anthony and Kuññethy of the Eluvathingal Cherpukaran family in the village of Kattoor, in the parish of Edathuruthy, in the Diocese of Thrissur (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda). She was baptized, according to local customs, on the eighth day after her birth, on October 25.  She was named Rosa after St. Rose of Lima, whose virtues set a standard for young Rosa and which set her on a road of holiness.  She had three brothers and a younger sister who did not live to see maturity.  Her family was devout and her mother, by her example, instilled in her daughter the special devotion to the Virgin Mary.  She inherited from her mother the calm, unassuming manner while she inherited from her father the firm determination to stay the course until her destination was reached.  To her dismay, she also found that she matched him in hot temper and, throughout her life, she fought to control that temper.

From a very young age, Rosa found that the vain fineries and their pomp and displaywere not for her.  When she was nine years old, she was blessed with a vision of a beautiful woman (Virgin Mary) who  instructed her in an itinerary of prayers of adoration of Our Lord  at every hour (letter, Feb. 18, 1904).  At the same age, she espoused herself to the crucified Lord and wanted to share in His suffering.

Rosa’s family wished for her to marry, but, she was steadfast in her espousal to Jesus and was adamant in following the life of a Religious. She prayed fervently and the parents bent to God’s will. After the death of her younger sister, on October 24, 1888 her father personally took Rosa to the St. Anne’s boarding school of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Koonammāvu near Palai, where those who aspire to a Religious life were trained. This was the first indigenous convent of the Syro-Malabar Church and it was established by Blessed Chavara Kuriakose and Leopold Beccaro, the Italian Carmelite Missionary.  Rosa spent nine years in this school and the monastic, well-disciplined, and prayerful life of the boarding school suited Rosa perfectly.

Rosa had some rudimentary education at Kattoor and a little more at Aranattukara.  At Koonammāvu, the academic curriculum included Malayalam, Tamil, English, Mathematics, and Music.  Needlework, drawing, and some handicrafts like making rosaries were also added to the academic syllabus.  Rosa excelled in needlework and drawing and had beautiful penmanship, but she was backward in her academic studies.

Rosa’s path was not easy.  Her health was fragile and she was afflicted with various illnesses that caused great suffering.  The Sisters felt that Rosa did not have the physical stamina for a Religious life and wanted to send her back home for treatment.  She feared that she would not be allowed to return.  She placed her trust in the Blessed Mother and prayed hard.  In September 1889, she was struck by rheumatism and all medical treatments were futile.  The Sisters arranged for the “viaticum” to be brought to her and everyone readied themselves for the imminent departure of the frail girl. Suddenly, the emaciated face glowed with a new light and she reached her arms to someone no one else could see.  She sat up fully recovered.  She had a visitation from the Holy Family who promised her a long life as a Religious. Mother Agnes of Koonammāvu enquired Rosa about what transpired in the sick room and she made a note of the miraculous healing.  Later, when it was time for Rosa to become a postulant, she sent the note to the Bishop of Thrissur with an added comment that the vision had changed her decision to send the girl back to her home.

This was a time of great upheavals in the ecclesiastical administration of the Syrian Church in Kerala. Till this time, the Vatican appointed only European vicargenerals and bishops in Kerala.  The Syrian Christians were unhappy about this and made many appeals to the Holy See.  As a result, in 1887, two vicariates, Thrissur and Kōttayam,  were formed from the diocese of Varāppally,  Thrissur under an English Bishop and Kōttayam under a French Bishop.  The situation was not completely satisfactory.  After repeated requests for local Bishops, a different division was made in 1896, creating the Vicariates of Thrissur, Ernākulam, and Changanāssèry (eliminating Kōttayam), all three governed by local Bishops. Mar John Mènachèry  became the first Malayālee Bishop of Thrissur and assumed his charge on October 25, 1896.  He established the St. Joseph’s Convent of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Ambazhakkādu (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda) on May 9, 1897.  He transferred the Sisters and aspirants belonging to Thrissur diocese from the Koonammāvu convent to Ambazhakkādu. Rosa of the Eluvathingal family was one of them.

On May 10, 1897, along with nine companions, Rosa became a postulant in the Carmelite Congregation adopting the name of Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart.  The Greek name meant “joy” or “delight” and it was appropriate.  Sr. Euphrasia experienced another miraculous healing when she was three months into  her postulant stage.  Her frail health always left her on the tenterhooks of anxiety over her future as the Religious.  She experienced many dark hours of the soul.  But, for all her grave illnesses and trials of the dark dominions, she was often rewarded with intense ecstasies.

Sr. Euphrasia received the habit of the novice in the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel on May 10, 1898 and her Vestition marked a milestone in her path of humility, holiness, and extreme fortitude and renunciation, a path to perfect oblation.

Sr. Euphrasia’s life as a novice passed through a period of some vibrant changes in the history of the diocese, especially in that of the Carmelite Order.  People of Ollur, a nearby parish of Thrissur, wished for a convent and home for widows and their children.  The newly ordained bishop had some plans of his own, which coincided with the wish of the people to some extent.  He made arrangements for a convent, a school, and a boarding house and the people were willing to go along with a convent of Sisters instead of a convent of widows.  In the name of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a convent rose from its foundation.  Sr. Euphrasia completed her ten day retreat prior to her Profession of the permanent vows and came to Ollur for the momentous day in her life. On the Feast of Ascension, on May 24, 1900, the St. Mary’s Convent of Ollur was blessed.  On the same day, Sr. Euphrasia professed her permanent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and the Church officially accepted the avowal of her self-offering.  From that day, her focus never shifted from the Love residing in the tabernacle and for long hours, she kept vigil in front of the tabernacle throughout her life.

From the time that Sr. Euphrasia was a novice, Mar John Mènachèry, the Bishop of Thrissur,  was her Confessor and Spiritual Director.  This connection continued for nearly twenty years until the demise of the Bishop on December 19, 1919.  He directed her to write everything down when she did not have occasions to speak to him directly and she obeyed.  He treasured her letters, eight written from Ambazhakkādu and all the others written from Ollur.

From 1904 to 1913, Sr. Euphrasia was appointed the first Novice Mistress of the Order and the novices.  She was attentive to every novice and noticed every detail of their physical and spiritual well being.  Even without being told, she knew when help was needed.  She was an avid advocate of her novices.

While Sr. Euphrasia served as the Novice Mistress, a momentous encounter took place. Mar John Mènachèry sent Mariam Thresia of Puthenchira to Ollur for a period of discernment. Although they were contemporaries, Mariam Thresia was placed under the then Novice Mistress for the period starting from November 26, 1912 to January 27, 1913.   This was the first time that Mariam Thresia had an occasion to compare notes with someone who also experienced heavenly visits, diabolical attacks, and spiritual ecstasies.

In 1913, another change took place in the life of Sr. Euphrasia.  She was promoted to the position of the Mother Superior.  From the depth of her soul, she felt that she was not up to the onerous task.  But, she solved the difficulty by entrusting all the responsibilities to the Sacred Heard of Jesus.

After her term as the Mother Superior,  Mother Euphrasia was transferred to Manalur on April 14, 1916.  She served as the Assistant Mother Superior.  After six months, she had to return to Ollur because of the return of her companion, the rheumatism, and the addition of  high fever and sputum stained in blood.  The damp climate did not suit her health and the treatment she needed was not available at Manalur.  The only other time she was away from Ollur was in 1928.  For two years, she was at Ambazhakkādu.  When the contagious cholera was contracted by one of the novices, only Mother Euphrasia had the courage and willingness to minister to the patient, performing even the lowest tasks.  On many other occasions, she was the willing nurse at the side of anyone who was ill or at verge of death.

Meanwhile, Mother Euphrasia was undergoing personal sorrows and losses.  Her father passed away in 1913 and her mother left this world ten years later.  Her family’s circumstances changed to poverty and some of her family members fell into drunkenness.  .  It only added to the crosses she chose to bear and added to  the humiliations she chose to accept.

Mother Euphrasia was an illustration of the conventual rules.  She practiced solitude, silence, prayer, eye control, penance, and poverty. But, she always obeyed the rules and was stringent and open in criticizing if there were any infractions, even if it made her unpopular.  To her, obedience was equal to a submission to the Divine Will.  The rheumatism, which she contracted when she was young, never left her and was a boon companion.  She was always in pain. She was frail from her illnesses, fasting, and abstinences.  She could not undertake any heavy physical labors.  She abstained from meat, fish, and eggs on four days of the week in addition to her fasting. She who liked delicious foods very much denied herself that pleasure.  She chose the most tasteless foods or added more salt or other items to make the food lose its good taste.  She did not possess much and gave away even the daily necessities even if she could barely spare it.  She often wore an old brown habit. All her clothing items were old and darned many times for longer wear.  The curtains in her cell were also worn and displayed many patchworks.

Mother Euphrasia’s letters speak of a woman who wished to lead an anonymous, unremarkable life filled with penance and abject lowliness,  Many times she repeated that anything she wrote was for the Bishop’s eyes only.  She wanted her experiences kept as a secret.  Written in black ink, on 21cmx29cm paper folded in half, often decorated with floral designs in her own hand, these letters reveal a soul’s journey to salvation.  Mother Euphrasia had uncanny premonitions and visitations about the future.  Letter 37 is a clear indication of the divine sharing of what was to come.  Blessed Mother had already indicated to her that the legal battle between the Roman Catholics and Chaldean Syrian group for the ownership of the old church of our Lady of Dolours would be a losing battle for Bishop John Mènachèry (Letter 53).  But the Blessed Virgin explained that the loss is for a good reason.  The building for a new church started in 1925 when the Maharaja of Kochi granted the deed , urging them to build the largest church in Asia.  Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours proudly stands at the downtown area of Thrissur, the tallest and largest church in Asia.

Above all, Mother Euphrasia was a mother to all.  She always looked after the comfort of others while neglecting her own.  She willingly worked in the kitchens, in the infirmary, and at the construction sites.  When everyone left for the day, she would collect a bucket and water and do the meanest of jobs, including cleaning the bathrooms.

Evening was silently sliding into night.  The chapter of Mother Euphrasia was also coming to a close.  The year 1950 was the Golden Jubilee year for her and it was celebrated along with the Jubilee of the convent. At seventy-two years of age, she was feeling weariness and started to hint at her departure from this world.  Memory losses started to plague her.  On August 26, 1952, she went for her Sacrament of Reconciliation.  After finishing it, she got up, but knelt down and started all over again.  Father Luis CMI who was her Confessor realized that something was wrong and asked another Sister to help her.  Mother, with the help of her stick and the Sister on the other side, barely made it to her room.  She had already paralyzed on one side and her memory loss was heightening. Her speech was strained and garbled.  She tried very hard to make herself understood.  Finally, she asked for paper and pen and made her request for the Last Sacraments.  Fr. Luis administered them realizing that her end was near.  This news spread fast and the sisters and local people came running to get a last glimpse of her. She smiled and blessed them all.  On Friday, August 29, 1952 she went to her eternal sleep after receiving the last blessing from the Convent Chaplain, Father Joseph Chittilappilly.   She was buried in a tomb in the shadow of the statue of the Blessed Mother.  Her physical remains stayed there for thirty-seven years.

Mother Euphrasia did not forget even after death.  She who did not travel far from the four walls of the convent was sought by people from far and wide and they received many favors. Thrissur Bishop George Alapatt published the Prayer for Canonization on August 29, 1963.  He had come upon her letters.  When he retired, he entrusted them to the Superior of the Carmelites of Thrissur.   His successor, Bishop Joseph Kundukulam, instituted the Docessan Tribunal in 1988.  The tomb of Mother Euphrasia was identified and opened  and her remains were reinterred in 1990.  Nine years later, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome received the Positio on the virtues of the Servant of God.  In the fiftieth anniversary year of her passage, Pope John Paul II declared her “Venerable”.  On Sunday, December 3, 2006, she was beatified and became the fifth Keralite to become a “Blessed”.

The definitive miracle that was accepted officially to elevate the Servant of God to the beatified state occurred to T. P. Thomas.  He was a furniture polisher and he was diagnosed with bone cancer.  Surgery and radiation were prescribed by the medical experts.  His sister Rosy fervently believed in the mediation of Mother Euphrasia and prayed intermittently, begging for a miracle because she believed that a miracle was the only solution to her brother’s problem.  When the doctors repeated the scanning, they found that the abnormal growth had disappeared and he was completely cured of  cancer, without any surgery and/or radiation.

Blessed Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart did not build edifices, did not establish institutions, did not lead social movements, and did not aspire to heights of leadership in her congregation.  Leading an apparently insignificant life, shrinking her self into the lowest tasks, and seeking refuge in her Heavenly Mother and love in her Divine Spouse, the little nun  spread the largesse of her love to all around her.  Her love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus burned in such intensity that she was willing to immolate herself in it.  Her faith and dependence in her Mother was so steadfast that she forged ahead with childlike confidence.  But, to all around her, she was the “mother” who watched over them with her keen eyes and extended her hand any time there was a need, whether physical or spiritual, whether it was due to physical hunger and hard labor or the spiritual hunger of indecision over the future of one’s vocation or some emotional storms raging inside destroying all peace of mind. She was the “mother” who did not forget even after death.  This diminutive figure of a woman, with no heights of learning or other pedantic achievements or elevated ideologies that would thrill the theologians,  nurtured a life filled with prayer, suffering, and compassion.  Here, in Blessed Euphrasia, we have the true handmaiden of the Lord.

References:

  1. Euphrasiammayudé Likhithangal. Fr. A. Matthias Mundadan CMI, Euphrasia Publications, Ollur, 2001
  2. Blessed Euphrasia, Beatification Souvenir. Ed. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Offset Press, Thrissur, 2006.
  3. The Rose of Carmel. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Covent, Ollur, June 2008
  4. Fr. J. Ephrem, C.R. The Praying Mother. Trans. C. A. Regina, Neethiman Press, Choondal, 1999.
  5. Pastor CMC. Thirsting for God. Trans. Sr. Bianca CMC, CMC Publications, Thaikkattukara, Aluva, 2002.

Convictions and courage

New York Times byline – “Whither Moral Courage?

By SALMAN RUSHDIE

Published: April 27, 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/whither-moral-courage.html?pagewanted=all

COMMENT:

Growing up in Kerala in the 50’s and 60’s, one is catapulted right into the middle of political upheavals and ideological uprootings.  The Communist regime  and the popular unrest will always be part of my growing up.

The period was a time of fear in households.  Everyone has read about the Communist regime in the USSR.  A Communist government at home was met with fear and trepidation.  The awareness about Karl Marx’s stand on religion literally scared the believers of all faiths.  Rumors about secret police and and spying neighbors were rampant.  Raids on homes were fearfully expected  and,  in my family of women (grandmother, mother and the three unmarried daughters)  and one young boy, anxiety was growing each day.  My mother had iron bars installed on all doors opening out.  She even buried a fanciful knife in order not to be caught with a ‘lethal’ weapon in the forthcoming raids.  In this environment of fear, it was easy to collect all the people of varying faiths together to rebel against the government of the time.

As a twelve-year old, I probably was the youngest of the thousand and one women who picketed the Collectorate in Thrissur. This 1957 event was a headline grabber. I hung on to my sister’s coat tails and slipped in.  My sister could not be allowed go alone and I was the ‘chaperon’.  Since the event was permitted by the Church, my mother let my sister go with the proviso of my presence. It was a peaceful demonstration and only the front row picketers were picked up by the police and released.  It was  a gesture of moral indignation because a sleeping, pregnant woman named Flory was killed by the bullet fired by the police at another peaceful demonstration.  Women were deeply affected by the incident and they rose up in protest because the killing was a threat to all motherhood and womanhood.  I could feel the collective emotional response from all the women around me.  There was also fear because the armed forces of law were present and no one knew the consequences. Everything about the event was uncharted territory. One has to imagine that these women were sheltered and were not prone to public demonstrations.  The fervor of the moment is still indelibly impressed upon my psyche.  That was a time of convictions and courage.

Our schools were closed because of the new educational policies.  Only the government run schools remained open.  I had plenty of time to indulge in my favorite pastime: reading.  I like crow’s nests.  I was perched on a window sill that faced the driveway and the gate.  I had a good view of the road.  I  still do not know what prompted me to look up from my book and turn to the road.  Since it was village road, the lorry was passing at a rate slower than in the highways.  A lorry was roofless except for the cab.  This one was filled with men with corded muscles and long staffs.  The muscles were visible because the men were shirtless and appeared to be toddy-tappers.  Their Union was always Communist.  Somehow or other, the sight gave me some unease.  I ran down and told the rest of the family about it and we expected that someone was going to be hurt.  Later in the day, as news traveled like wild fire even in those days without mobile phones, we heard what transpired.  The men in the lorry were after a Congress party activist.  They knew that he had been at a jewelry store belonging to a friend.  They came with violence, but they underestimated their prey.  He was trained in martial arts.  He disappeared very quickly from the scene when he saw what was coming.  Not finding him where they expected, the attackers did what men who was looking forward to violence.  They beat up the owner of the store and returned without satisfying their wrath.

In a nostalgic moment, I decided to go through Google to check into this time in history.  I was appalled to find that history has undergone some drastic revision.  The peaceful demonstrations of my time is now pictured as violent demonstrations and the regime of the time is described as a victim.  It must have been my naivete that made me feel so shocked at this blatant disregard for truth.  The only violence was done by the government of the time.  It was the first elected Communist government of Kerala.  The sainted E. M. S. Namboothiripadu was the Chief Minister.  The education Minister Joseph Mundassery’s decisions upset the religious leaders of the day and they joined together to resist the highhanded methods of the party.  People were very much aware of the totalitarian conditions of USSR and China at the time and did not wish for the same purging methods employed in their own land.  The people were perturbed.  They went out into the streets in hordes.  But, they were peaceful.  There were occasions when the government forces used batons and rifles in dealing with the demonstrators. Fifteen people were killed when the police fired at the demonstrators.  It is a fact that Flory was killed in one of these occasions.

Those people who demonstrated against a government whose policies were repugnant to them showed their courage.  But, alas, the revisionists of today show their moral outage and make a mockery of truth.

For life and the Living

I am a Catholic who is for the lives of both the born and the unborn. Whoever wins the Presidential election will not have anything to do in overturning the Roe vs. Wade.  That action is in the hands of the lawmakers, not in the hands of the Presidents.  So, it is very hard to understand the fervor of some Bishops in inciting the congregations in support of the Republican candidates whose known policies will go against the seven Corporal Mercies of the Church. The Ryan budget and the Romney attitude towards cupidity are very anti-Catholic.  It will be  better for the laity to have spiritual leaders instead of political maneuverers.

My Keralam, My Heritage

The frothy crests from the Arabian Sea ride the surging waves and lash the sandy shores to expire later in a last hiss. The sounding cataracts rush down in relentless falls, foaming and spraying the lush greenery that abounds in their environs. The rhythm of the ‘panchavaadyam’ and ‘shingaary melam” resonate in the air and syncopate with my heartbeats. The evening breeze is cooled by the fragrance of jasmines that gleam in the waning twilight. The coconut fronds sway under the haunting moon, forming a serrated canopy and the mango trees bloom into creamy pagodas with promises of delectable fruits. And I dream, “I am home”.

Continue reading

Teacher Evaluation and Even Playing Fields

The public school education around the country had been in a process of stock taking in the face of failing student and school performances. One would assume that draconian measures from the grassroots are expected. Continue reading

SHANKAR (Keshava Shankar Pillai: Humorist and Friend to Children)

Malayalees are humorists and the special Malayalee humor is always present when a few get together to shoot the breeze.  Malayalam literature is gifted with several whose humor and wit have enlivened their literary outputs and refreshed our lives. The love of humor that is congenital to a Malayalee also leads to an appreciation of political and social satire, whether written or pictorial.  Satire is never far from a Malayalee psyche. It is no wonder that the creator of India’s Punch was a Malayalee.  He was none other than Keshav Shankar Pillai, the mastermind and artist behind the ever so memorable Shankar’s Weekly.  He was the most celebrated cartoonist of India, before and after the Independence.

Continue reading