5th June in Dalit History – Dr. Ambedkar conferred with honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by Columbia University


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2nd June 1915: Dr. Ambedkar passed M.A. examination from Columbia University

Dr. Ambedkar passed M.A. examination from Columbia University (New York) with major in economics. The other subjects were sociology, history, philosophy, anthropology and politics.

Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar

5 June 1952: Dr. Ambedkar conferred with honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by Columbia University.

Dr. Ambedkar was was to have received the degree at the hands of General Eisenhower, who was then President of the University. But due to cabinet responsibilities and later electioneering the General would not make the trip.

Check out – LL.D. Degree Certificate of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar from Columbia University

Earlier on night of 31 May, Dr. Ambedkar was felicitated at a dinner party at the Cricket Club of India, Bombay (presently Mumbai), by Dr. V.S. Patankar, Principal and K.V. Chitre, Registrar of the Siddharth College. Dr. Ambedkar left Bombay for New York by a T.W.A. flight on 1 June. A large gathering of his followers and admirers gave him a send-off at the Santa Cruz airport. On 5 June, the convocation was held. Columbia University conferred on six persons the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. While awarding him an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, at its 198th commencement exercises. The University hailed Dr. Ambedkar “as a framer of the constitution, member of the cabinet and of the council of states, one of India’s leading citizens, a great social reformer and a valiant upholder of human rights”. He received the degree before a large crowd assembled to watch 6,848 graduates of Columbia’s 17 schools and colleges receiving their degrees.

5 June 1950: Dr. Amebdkar addressed an international gathering at Colombo, Sri Lanka

In the speech he explained the rise and fall of Buddhism in India and the opportunistic conspiracy of Brahmins. Excerpts of his speech[1]:

“I disagree with the view that Hinduism has all along been the religion of India. Hinduism is the latest development of social thought in India.”

“It was during brahmanic period that Buddhism was born. This was because Buddhism opposed inequality, authority and division of society in various classes which Brahmanism had introduced in India.”

“The vedic Aryans used to worship innumerable gods. They used to please them by performing yagyas. The puja to be performed for these gods should necessarily be sacred and superb. In those agrarian times, cows were the chief wealth of the Aryans. Therefore, they used to sacrifice cows to honour their deities. In this way, Vedic dharma encouraged violence…………… They said that the Brahmins were born of Brahma’s mouth and Shudras from his feet. Can anybody believe that basic principle of any religion could be to divide the society? Yet this is what Brahmanism has perpetuated. On the other hand, equality is the main feature of Buddhism. The religion of the Buddha gives freedom of thought and freedom of self-development to all. To abjure violence is another essential teaching of Buddhism……… I would say that the rise of Buddhism in India was as significant as the French Revolution. ……….. Buddhism paved the way for establishment of democracy and socialistic pattern of society in India.”

“Buddhism appears to have met strong opposition in 184 B.C. when the last Maurayan King was assassinated by his chief commander. This was one of the awful actions of the Brahmins to save their religion. But it is a pity that the historians have not given sufficient importance to his incident. While going through the Buddhist literature, I find that 90 percent followers of the Buddha were brahmins. …….., how is that Buddhism that had flourished among the majority of Brahmins was later on destroyed by the Brahmins themselves.”

Read -  Transcript of Dr Ambedkar’s 1953 Interview with BBC - When Dr Ambedkar Said Democracy Won’t Work in India

“In my opinion the main reason for this was the family deity’s (kula deva) worship. …….. Asoka after embracing Buddhism discontinued this practice and removed the idols of such deities. ………….. This action of Asoka disturbed the bahmins very much ……………..”’

“The brahmins were of the view that after death, kings go to hell because of their errors and omissions. Therefore, they did not agree to be rulers but preferred to be the chief advisers to the kings. In order to take revenge for the loss they suffered on account of stoppage of kulapuja, brahims gave up the approved motto of being advisers only and tried to grab power. With the help of their well-wishers kshatriyas, they also organized an united Brahmin-kshatriya axis against Buddhism. The ascendancy of Brahmanism again in India society is one of the reasons for the downfall of Buddhism.”

“The foreign invasions are also responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India. ……………………..Hunds tried to destroy Buddhism. The religion of the Buddha got the severest blow from the Muslim invasion. They destroyed the Buddhist idols and killed the Bhikkus. They mistook the great Nalanda University as the Fort of Buddhists and killed a large number of monks thinking that they were soldiers. The few Bhikkus who escaped the onslaught fled away to the neighboring countries like Nepal, Tibet and China.

“Some of my Hindu friends often ask why Hinduism, which has also idol-worship, survived in India and Buddhism died. My answer is that whatsoever the religion may be, it requires the priest community to preserve it. Due to the shortage of Buddhist monks, Buddhism declined. Efforts were subsequently made by some Buddhists to raise another priesthood in order to revive Buddhism but their efforts failed. Such is not the case with Hinduism. A brahmin’s son is priest by birth. Therefore, no separate priest community is required to protect their religion. This is why Hinduism survived Muslim onslaught. Moreover, Buddhism as a religion is difficult to practice which Hinduism is not. ………”

“I do not agree with the suggestion made by many people in India that Buddhism was destroyed by the dialectics of Shankaracharya. This is contrary to the facts as Buddhism existed for many centuries after his death. In my opinion, Shankarachayra himself was a Buddhist. His guru too was a Buddhist. Of course, Buddhism declined in India because of the rise of Vaishnavism and Saivism, the two cults which adopted and absorbed many points of Buddhism. Today. Hinduism is in a very much changed form. Hinduism which taught and practiced violence earlier has started teaching non-violence. This has been copied from Buddhism. Buddhism may have disappeared in material form but as a spiritual force it still exists in India.”

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[1] Modernisation of Buddhism: Contributions of Ambedkar and Dalai Lama XIV, book by Lella Karunyakara, pg 223 – 226

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