By Santosh Dass MBE*
Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar remains a paramount champion for social reform both in India and beyond. In his Constitution, he far-sightedly incorporated principles of equality and human dignity by outlawing the perniciousness of Untouchablity which remains a scourge in India and the diaspora, Britain included. In it he framed a set of fundamental rights to equality, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and personal liberty. His work in the 1950s championing the liberation of women in India will continue to inspire people around the globe for generations.
In spite of the principles of Dr Ambedkar’s Constitution, crimes against Dalits continue to rise. Furthermore, reported crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. Each day two Dalit men, women, or children are murdered and five Dalit women are raped. Toleration, freedom of religion and the personal right to choose ones faith particularly in the context of Dalits, and freedom of speech are being eroded while sadly the Government remains silent or mouths platitudes. In the wake of this, Dalits, Ambedkarites and groups that represent such communities in the UK have justifiably raised their voice against these atrocities and against Modi’s visit.
The Prime Minister visited the Ambedkar Museum in London against a background of rising tensions in India and robust and vocal indignation about Modi’s visit here. Many see Modi’s visit as appropriating Ambedkar’s name for party political gain. Babasaheb stands tall above this. I hope his visit to the Ambedkar Museum is his commitment to take a lead in translating his message and his legacy into real action in India and deliver real social change at home.
There is an urgent need to reform local, state, and national justice systems and to make the police force register, process and prosecute crimes against Dalits. As the dismal conviction rates indicate, justice for Dalits is wanting in a casteist society where more often than not the perpetrators walk free. Where this happens, punish the police for dereliction of duty and pursue corruption. Modi and his government are under international scrutiny.
The initiative of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK to acquire the house where Dr Ambedkar lived from 1921 to 1922 must be a beacon to the world for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These are the values Dr Ambedkar cherished and put into practice. When opened, the Museum ought to be the symbol of hope for those fighting for justice, equality and social reform worldwide, including those fighting for justice for victims of caste-based discrimination in the UK.
The legislation agreed by Parliament in 2013 is being robustly resisted by the Hindu groups in the UK who argue there is no such thing as caste discrimination. The true reality is, when people get off the plane in Manchester, they do not leave their caste prejudices behind in Mumbai.
In defining the partnership between India and UK, going forward from Modi’s speech in Parliament on 12 November, Modi committed to drawing on the life’s work of Dr Ambedkar in terms of “building a future of social equality, opportunity, and dignity for all humans and peace among people.” This now needs to be backed by concrete actions, and not just rhetoric by the Government of India. The Ambedkar Museum needs to be developed and managed transparently in order to deliver the purpose it was bought for. This can be achieved only with the involvement of Dalits and Ambedkarites in UK in its making and administration.
*President, Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhists Organisations (FABO) UK, Southall, West London. FABO was formed in 1985 as a voluntary and non-profit making organization and propagates the teachings of Dr Ambedkar and Lord Buddha. Based on letter written by Dass to Modi