Hats off to Dalit NRIs

Chandra Bhan Prasad.
Sunday, January 15, 2006


Marquis de Lafayette [1757-1834] is a name the two great revolutions - American War of Independence [1775-1783] and the Great French Revolution [1789-1793], remember and revere. Lafayette was a French, but joined George Washington's army to liberate America from the British. Back home, he joined the French Revolution to unleash the era of democracy and capitalism.

Of the five famous leaders (Mao Tse Tung, Chou-En-Lai, Deng-Xiao-Ping, Liu Shao-Chi, and Chu-Te) of the Chinese revolution (1949), the latter four had studied abroad. Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856-1918), arguably, the Russian Marxism, developed his ideas in Europe while in exile. Of the twenty 25 first presidents of the Indian National Congress, 14 of them had either studied in England, or been there. The philosopher of Dalits' emancipation Dr Ambedkar himself, was educated in US and Europe.

Ever since the post-Ambedkar India has been dreaming of similar foreign hands, to unleash the Dalit revolution-phase two. That dream came true when Dr Laxmi Berwa fired the first shot - on the very land of Lincoln. Born in Revari district of Haryana, the Washington DC based Dalit doctor had walked on the streets of the US capital protesting visit of Smt Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, over the neglect of Dalits back home.

That single act of Dr Berwa, a la Dalit Rosa Parks, fired imaginations of Dalit NRIs in the US - "we must do something for our brethren back home." With the result the Dalit NRIs begun celebrating birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar in a more organised fashions. A movement was thus born. No wonder then, the first Dalit website www.ambedkar.org/ was launched in the US. Sashi Kanth C, an IT professional may have turned multimillionaire had he opened an IT firm. Instead, he launched the website, admired and viewed by thousands of Dalits each day. The Dalit NRIs in the US and Canada, hosted the first Dalit conference with a clear cut agenda in Vancouver in the year 2003. Needless to add, most Dalit NRIs fund schools meant for Dalit children back home.

Dalit NRIs are on move, creating a variety of movements. That collective churning amongst them has thrown up leaders like Sashi Kanth, Dr KP Singh, and Benjamin Kaila, each with agendas of their own, mutually complementing. The list is endless. Benjamin along with Rama Krishna Bhupati, both California based software engineers have started the Ambedkar Fellowship Movement since 2003. Under this programme, dozens of deserving Dalit school children are selected from Andhra Pradesh, who awarded Rs 5000 each or, Rs 500 a month in a ten month academic calendar. Students are selected from Government run Welfare Hostels meant for poor Dalit.

The very process of selecting students and awarding fellowships costs a considerable amount of money. This year, the award function was held on January 13, in the Capital city of Hyderabad. Thirty six students were given fellowships, along with a copy of Dr. Ambedkar's biography. When Benjamin started this movement in 2003, he could organise only two fellowships - from his own pocket. Setting an example himself, he appealed to the Dalit NRIs, and the year 2004 saw 20 recipients. The fellowship movement has now got an institutional framework-a website, ambedkarscholarship@yahoo.com/ a transparent system of selection of the awardees, and a committee to monitor funds received.

"I want to introduce giving as an integral element in Dalit personality", he told me over phone from California. "Mine is a small endeavour every affluent Dalit must fund education of at least one needy Dalit child", he added. There are thousands of non-Dalit IT professional earning billions in California, who may spend millions on cow shelters, but not on Ambedkar Fellowships. This is what India's caste system is all about - social segregation as its very basis of existence.

The modern Dalits too must understand the caste system in its entirety. It is not billionaires Narayana Murthy or Nandan Nilkerni who would institute Ambedkar Fellowships, but, it would require a Benjamin and Bhupati to do that. Forced to make a choice - either award Rs. 5000 to a needy Dalit student, or throw that amount in the deep sea, the Infosys duo would rather opt for the latter. This validates Dr KP Singh's resolve even more. "Create a Dalit Capitalism which will take care of Dalits." Hats off to Dalit NRIs on the move.


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