Dr Ambedkar Jayanti on 14 April 2000 in UK

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News Release: Glowing tributes to Dr. Ambedkar

The Ambedkar Millennium Hall was opened by Sharad Pawar MP, President of Nationalist Congress Party, on Friday 14 April 2000 at 12.30pm at of 12 Featherstone Road, Southall, Middlesex. The newly built hall was full beyond capacity. Local and national organisations were represented and prominent Indian leaders were present.

Four years ago, Buddha Vihara, was opened after extensive refurbishment. The Bharatratna Dr Ambedkar Library was opened by Dr L M Singhvi, then High Commissioner for India on 14 April 1996.

Ramdas Athawale MP, President of Republican Party of India, introduced Sharad Pawar, former Defence Minister of India and former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, is a highly respected figure in Indian politics. While Mr Pawar was chief minister. Also during his government, Marathawada University was renamed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University. Recently, he greatly helped in making and releasing the Dr Ambedkar feature film. He is a great supporter of Dalit causes and an admirer of Dr Ambedkar as a crusader for social justice and a great champion of human rights. Needless to say, millions of people in India and abroad get inspiration from Dr Ambedkarís life and mission.

Mr Pawar said," Dr Ambedkar was not only a crusader against the caste system, but a valiant fighter for the cause of the downtrodden in India, an international leader whose contribution in the form of the Constitution of India will be cherished forever by posterity. In fact his fight for human rights as an emancipator of all those enslaved in the world, give him international recognition as a liberator of humanity from injustice, social and economic. There is a vital need to preserve the thoughts of this great son of India as expressed by him in his writing and speeches. While I was Chief Minister, in 1979 the Government of Maharashtra began to publish the complete written works of Dr Ambedkar, now in the year 2000, it has reached volume 18.

Councillor Phillip Portwood, Millennium Mayor of London Borough of Ealing, attended the opening ceremony. Cllr. Portwood said he was proud of the cultural and religious diversity present in Southall and was pleased to see the addition of the Ambedkar Millennium Hall to this diversity. He praised the attendance of the representatives of the wide variety of different cultural and religious groups. He appreciated the work of the members of the Buddha Dhamma Association and the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Trust, for building this commemorative Hall in the millennium year. He mentioned, the hall will be recorded in history.

Mr Gurvinder Singh, Minister, represented the Indian High Commissioner. H L Virdee, General Secretary of Buddha Dhamma Association, welcomed the distinguished guests and Bakshi Birdi, President of the Association, gave the vote of thanks. Ven Dr Vajiranana, head of Buddhist Order, blessed the occasion. The programme commenced with the offering of Dana ( food ) to the venerable members of the Sangha ( union of Buddhist monks ). After the enjoyable lunch, those present departed for the gathering at the House of Commons.

House of Commons tributes

At 3.30pm, House of Commons tributes were hosted by Mr Barry Gardiner in the Jubilee Room. Mr Gardiner spoke of a parallel between Jesus Christ and Babasaheb in the way Jesus Christ reached for the dispossessed to alleviate their suffering and readdress social inequality.

Dr N Srinivasan, President of Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK, reminded the gathering we are fighting amongst ourselves - reason for the conflict is the rising awareness in the minds of the Dalits, in their rights, social, political and economic. Progress as a nation, if we cannot learn to live in peace and harmony, between ourselves. Progress as a nation is very limited in a competitive world where global boundaries are narrowing all the time.

This was self reflected in the speech given by President K R Narayanan, on the eve of Republic Day celebrations. We lamented those 50 years into our lives in the Republic, we find social and political justice remain unrealised dream for millions of fellow citizens, used to being described as Dalits and tribal. The nation of India is not private property of the certain group of people. Under delusion who claim that segregation, subjugation and subordination have a devine ordination and should remains so. From history it is very well known, that our nation has had several rulers who have left there imprints on us. Let us not give opportunity for the divisive and reactionary forces to fragment the Indian people. Wherever we live, in Kashmir or Kanyakumari, Calcutta or Kutch, we are Indian first and Indian last.

Dr Sanjay Chahande, Director of Social Services in the Government of Maharashtra, said we should demonstrate we are Buddhists by the way we live, we should aim for equality not as converted equals, but genuine equals, with others in society.

Rev. David Haslam, author of "Caste Out", spoke about his experiences during a sabbatical journey to India of the caste system. Rev. Haslam a sympathetic outsiderís glimpse into Indiaís caste system and the liberation struggle of the Dalits. His considerable experience of struggle for racial justice in Britain and elsewhere, has greatly helped him in identifying the similarities between racism and casteism.

Ven. Prof. Chandra Bodhi, Dhamma Nayaka, Head of Dr Ambedkar thought and philosophy at Dr Ambedkar National Institute of Social Science in Mhow (where Dr Ambedkar was born), said the modern concept of the republic is not new, but existed 2600 BC in the form of the Bhikkhu Sangha, during the time of Buddha. Non-violent revolution has been preached and is not new either, the principle was founded by the Buddha and Babasaheb brought it back to India.

Mr P C Halder, Minister of Co-ordination, from the Indian High Commission extended, his heartiest greetings on this auspicious occasion. He praised Babasaheb as a great man of India, who lived for the unity and cause of India. The other speakers were Dhammachari Priyananda, Director of Karuna Trust and Ramdas Athawale MP.

Floral and musical tributes at India House

As on previous Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations, held since 1970 at India House, the acting High Commissioner for India, Hardeep Singh Puri hosted the event at 5.30pm. Floral and musical tributes were given. After speeches from eminent guests, a vegetarian buffet dinner was served.

The eveningís programme commenced by Ven. Chandra Bodhi administering Buddhist prayer. Mr Puri garlanded the portrait of Dr Ambedkar, followed by a bouquet presentation by the President of the Federation, the deputy mayors of Slough and Greenwich and other distinguished guests.

The introductory address was given by Gira Chakravarty, of the Federation: "The 14th of April is the Jayanti Day, the day of joy, the day when the great crusader for social justice and pathfinder, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was born. His life and mission enabled the oppressed masses of India to lead a life of equality and self-respect. On this great day, let us take refuge in his thoughts and guide ourselves in the noble path for the welfare of mankind. The contribution of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar remains a testimony to the hope for freedom, enlightenment and emancipation. Whoever fights for that hope, fights on behalf of us all. The life of Babasaheb has given inspiration and hope to the people of India and also been extended to the people of the world. With these words, I extend my greeting and Jai Bhim to all followers and admirers of our beloved champion, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar"

Quoting from the Presidential address on the golden jubilee Republic Day, Gira Chakravarty said:

"This is a day when we take pride in our achievements, but it must surely also be a day of honest self-analysis and self-questioning about where we, as a people and a society, are headed? Fifty years into our life in the Republic we find that Justice - social, economic and political - remains an unrealised dream for millions of our fellow citizens. The benefits of our economic growth are yet to reach them. We have one of the world's largest reservoirs of technical personnel, but also the world's largest number of illiterates; the world's largest middle class, but also the largest number of people below the poverty line, and the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition. Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest tier of society, whose discontent moves towards the path of violence. Dalits and tribal are the worst affected by all this. In parts of rural India forms of sadism seem to be earmarked for Dalit women. For Dalit women it has become a common experience in rural areas, but what is astounding is that it has been extended as one of the methods of ragging in our elite colleges and universities.

It is to-day an accepted fact that literacy and education is at the root of human as well as economic development. Why is it that as a nation we do not feel the desperate urgency of making our people literate? I hope that vested interests have not been fearful of awakening the masses through education. On the contrary we should have faith in the people. We should organise a mass movement for literacy. Cannot we involve the millions of our students, teachers and civil servants to spread literacy among the masses, at least on a part time basis? Through such a movement not only literacy but national and social causes like population control, environmental consciousness could be spread among the people, not to speak of awareness of and opposition to many ills that are plaguing our society. Fortunately civic action in India have multiplied during recent years. The civil society should be further encouraged to grow and address social, cultural and environmental challenges confronting the nation. We need a comprehensive policy to promote the growth of civil society interacting with various branches and levels of Government.

There is our greatest national drawback: the status of our women, and our greatest national shame, the condition of the Dalits, the erstwhile untouchables. Fifty years after our Constitution, the plain truth is that the female half of Indian population continues to be regarded as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unless the status of women in Indian society changes, the 'Equality' spoken of in our Preamble will remain hollow. It is against this attitude of society and the habit of discrimination prevalent in society that the demand for constitutional reservation for women in the Legislatures and Parliament has become a compelling necessity.

We have to ponder over the condition of not only women in our society, but of the Dalits, the tribal and other weaker sections. Untouchability has been abolished by law but shades of it remain in the ingrained attitudes nurtured by the caste system. Though the constitutional provision of reservation in educational institutions and public services flow from our Constitution, these provisions remain unfulfilled through bureaucratic and administrative deformation or by narrow interpretations of these special provisions. It seems, in the social realm, some kind of a counter revolution is taking place in India. It is forgotten that these benefits have been provided not in the way of charity, but as human rights and as social justice to a section of society who constitute a big chunk of our population, and who actually contribute to our agriculture, industry and services as land-less labourers, factory and municipal workers. There are signs that our privileged classes are getting tired of the affirmative action provided by Constitutional provisions. On this Golden Jubilee of India as a republic, I would like to say that let us not get tired of what we have provided for our weaker sections, for otherwise as Dr. Ambedkar pointed out, the edifice of our democracy would be like a palace built on dung heap."

Others to address the gathering at the India House were: Hardeep Singh Puri, acting High Commissioner for India, Ven. Bhadant Rahula Bodhi, Maha Thero, Vipassanacharya, Founder President of Social Educational and Cultural Centre, in Mumbai, Dhammachari Lokamitra, President of TBMSSG and Karuna Trust, Ramdas Athawale MP, President of Republican Party, Arun Kumar of the Federation. A vote of thanks was proposed by H L Virdee, general secretary of the Federation. The musical tributes were performed by: Kiran Pal Singh on santur, Charanjiv Singh on tabla and vocals by: Haridan Gadhvi, Gira Chakravarty and Rashmi Lal. The vegetarian buffet dinner was provided by courtesy of Shehanshah Restaurant of Southall.

H L Virdee, General Secretary (Tel: 020 85715131)

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