On 26 April, a seminar to mark the 126 birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, was organised by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABO UK) and hosted by Lord Harries of Pentregarth at the House of Lords. A number of members of both the houses of British Parliament, academics, representatives of various organisations, followers and admirers of Dr Ambedkar from UK, India and Europe attended. The most of notable of them in addition to Lord Harries were Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Parekh, Baroness Flather, Baroness Verma, Rob Marris MP, Dr Alpa Shah, Associate Professor (Reader) in the Department of Anthropology at London School of Economics, Rajesh Dhabre IRS, Commissioner of Customs & Excise and Direct General of Babasaheb Ambedkar Research Institute, Pune, Ven Bhikkhu Sadanand, President of All India Bhikkhu Sangha, Siddhartha from Sweden. Siddartha represented his father Dr Pradyumna Kumar, author of, the story of the man who cycled from India to Europe for Love – PER J ANDERSTON. This annual FABO UK organised meeting to mark Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary was one of (if not the best) attended meetings of this nature.
In his welcome remarks, Lord Harries said that Dr. Ambedkar made overwhelming significant contributions to reform the Indian society through his framing of the Constitution. His work in the field of human rights can never be forgotten. He has also made paramount contributions to India’s economy and the rights of women. Lord Harries was delighted to see so many attendees who have travelled from all over the UK, India and Europe especially to attend the event at the House of Lords and other Ambedkar related events in London. He was also encouraged by the show of organisations present at this third event in April dedicated solely to Dr Ambedkar in Parliament. It is reminded that first event of April was at India House on 14 April and second- a musical tribute to Dr Ambedkar at the Nehru Centre on 24 April. Both events were arranged by FABO UK.
Ms Santosh Dass MBE, President of FABO UK remarked that the contribution of Dr Ambedkar is as relevant today as it was in his life time. She added “This key FABO UK event follows ones at the High Commission on 14 April and a concert by Mr Rajesh Dhabre and his wife Dr Bhavana Dhabre – both of whom are here today – at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair on Monday. Alongside these events, excellent progress is being made on the refurbishment of the house that Dr Ambedkar lived in Primrose Hill from 1921-1922. Bonny Dobson – the well known singer song writer who is present here today lives on the same road as the Ambedkar House. Mr Gautam Chakrovarty and I are on the Dr Ambedkar House Advisory Committee. Hopefully the refurbishment of the House that spread over four floors will be complete before the end of this year. When complete it will be a fully functional memorial and resource centre solely dedicated to Dr Ambedkar in London. FABO UK is making this dream come true” She added “Spreading the word about Dr Ambedkar’s life and works is very important. There are enough who would like no mention of his great achievements. And those who would diminish his work and legacy assign reduce to being a leader of the untouchables. So the work FABO UK is doing and the significance of having a bricks and mortar memorial to Dr Ambedkar in London is really important. And of course spreading the message to beyond the India diaspora is vital. So I’m delighted that I have a new generation of children and young people who are learning about Dr Ambedkar and his significance as a great social reformer.”
Santosh Dass MBE is also the Vice Chair of the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance. Santosh gave a presentation on the latest the recently launched consultation on the Caste discrimination in the UK. In a powerful speech she said “The UK Government has been developing law to prohibit caste-based discrimination since 2010. This has been as a result of the robust lobbying by organisations for over a decade. In 2013, legislation (under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act) made the inclusion of caste as an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010 a ‘duty’. However the government has not complied with this ‘duty’ to date. At present, therefore, the Equality Act does not expressly prohibit discrimination on grounds of caste. This has made it difficult for those facing caste-based discrimination to get legal redress”. Santosh explained that “On 28 March the Government launched the long awaited consultation. We have been waiting eagerly for this because the consultation was due to be the beginning of the implementation of the law agreed in April 2013. I repeat 2013. Sadly it’s not that. Given Parliament’s expressed direction to legislate, we believe the consultation should have been about how best to legislate as was originally envisaged in 2013. Instead, the consultation is presented as choosing between a preferred primary option of developing case law, which takes years and is very costly, and the second best option of agreeing with Parliament’s direction to legislate”. Santosh stressed that it was vital for the community and organisations to respond to the consultation by 17 July 2017 and demand implementation of the law agreed in Parliament in 2013.
Lord Bhikhu Parekh termed Ambedkar “the most controversial and misunderstood politician of his time” he added “He didn’t get the recognition he deserved as a result of many reasons. So far Dr Ambedkar is tagged with one community and all his followers and admirers must let him go to the wider audience in and outside India.
Paying tribute to Dr Ambedkar, Lord Alton said, “Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years, the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves, he awakened a sense of human dignity and self-respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.”
Dr Alpa Shah updated the meeting on her latest research on Caste, tribe and inequality in contemporary India. Alpa expressed her anguish over tribal people’s displacement in the name of development and their struggle for their land rights. She said, “Dr Ambedkar fought for all minorities and was able to provide some provisions in the constitution. As a result, we may have achieved a little comfort in our lives but there are millions still suffering. As human beings, it is our duty to help them achieve a better life. India achieved a freedom from British but it is still far from a free democratic country that Babasaheb dreamed of.”
Speaking on “Social harmony -the facts and challenges in India….An Ambedkarian Perspective”, Mr Rajesh Dhabre stressed that Dr Ambedkar didn’t work for Dalits only but his contribution is enormous for the whole of India. He worked tirelessly towards gender equality, labour movement, power regeneration, dams, agriculture, industrialisation, education, finance etc is often ignored. He further added that “he not only emancipated women and Dalits but the whole of India. The fundamental rights and directive principles in the constitution have helped to keep social harmony in society. We cannot imagine modern India without Dr Ambedkar.”
Mr Rob Marris MP from Wolverhampton said that Dr Ambedkar and Karl Marx were both socialists but they differed to bring change and set up a socialistic pattern of society. Dr Ambedkar believed that changes can be brought in a peaceful manner. As a Labour politician, Rob considered himself more an Ambedkarite than Marxist.
Two young adults aged 13 and 11, David and Adam Orsulik explained that they read about Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others in the school next books but never heard anything about Dr Ambedkar until Santosh Dass talked to them about him. They said, the more they learn about him, the more they are fascinated by his personality and work. They advocated for the inclusion of Dr Ambedkar to the curriculum in UK schools.
Baroness Flather robustly spoke against caste discrimination here and in India and treatment of women in India. She appealed to the Government of India to remove these two black spots from Indian society if they want to progress.
Siddartha represented his father Dr Pradyumna Kumar (PK), author of, the story of the man who cycled from India to Europe for Love – PER J ANDERSTON. Siddhartha registered his father’s apologies for not being able to attend the meeting. He said his mother Charlotte was from the Swedish aristocracy and had driven with a group of friends from Sweden to India in her early years. It was there she met his father PK who was living as a painter in New Delhi. PK later cycled from India to Sweden to meet Charlotte again. They later married. Siddartha said his father PK never forgot his Dalit background and the significance of Dr Ambedkar.
The seminar concluded with a vote of thanks from the Chair, Lord Harries. He remarked that the contributors were heartfelt, considered, challenging and academic. The meeting was very relevant and went well the Ambedkar thought.
General Secretary FABO (UK)
A few pictures from FABO celebration –
FABO UK organised a musical tribute to Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar at the prestigious Nehru Centre in London on 24 April 2017. Mr Rajesh Dhabre IRS, Dr Bhavana Dhabre and their team especially came from India to give their performance. A few pictures from the concert.