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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

London house to become museum to Indian activist Dr. Ambedkar

I have written quite a bit about Dr. Ambedkar, one of my Indian Heroes who gave us one of the best democratic constitutions in the world, with several similarities  to the US Constitutions - Mike Ghouse

London house to become museum to Indian activist Dr. Ambedkar
Courtesy: The Guardian

Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of founders of modern India and critic of caste system, lived in the house in Primrose Hill in 1921-22

A six-bedroom house in north London is set to become a museum to one of India’s most revered – but still controversial – campaigners and political figures after being bought for £3m-£4m by a provincial government in the south Asian country. 

Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a politician, social activist and lawyer who drafted much of the Indian constitution, lived in the house in London’s Primrose Hill while a student at the London School of Economics in 1921 and 1922.

Ambedkar was a Dalit, or “untouchable”, from the lowest rank of the tenacious social hierarchy known as caste. However, he escaped poverty and discrimination to win scholarships to study economics at LSE and Columbia University, New York and to qualify as a barrister in London. A fierce critic of the caste system, he became India’s first law minister when the country won its independence in 1947. Ambedkar is still revered today by Dalits there and across the world.

The house will be turned into a museum and library, with rooms available for Dalits from India who are studying, like Ambedkar, at the LSE on two new scholarships. It will need up to £1m of refurbishment and conversion work if the sale goes through.

Arun Kumar, general secretary of the UK-based Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, said: “It is a historical place. [Ambedkar] came to London and was exposed to an atmosphere of freedom and equality and went back to India building on everything he had seen and saying, ‘If in western countries there is equality, why not in India?’”

Ambedkar was born a Hindu but converted to Buddhism before he died in 1956, convinced that caste discrimination was intrinsic to his original faith. Remembered as one of the founders of modern India, his portrait hangs in many homes of India’s 200 million Dalits. “He is a hero to us, a saint, like our god,” said 38-year-old Radhika Kumar, a Dalit and a cleaner in Delhi.

Though some of the harsher aspects of the caste system have been moderated in recent decades, Dalits still suffer systematic discrimination. In some regions, particularly the poor northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, caste tensions can lead to violence. When a statue of Ambedkar in Punjab state was vandalised this weekend, roads were blocked by local Dalits in protest.

Ambedkar’s views on caste contrasted with those of Mahatma Gandhi, the revered independence leader whose statue was recently unveiled in Parliament Square. Gandhi condemned caste discrimination, but believed its causes were not religious and that parts of the caste system should be maintained.

The museum is being funded by the government of Maharashtra, the Indian state where Ambedkar’s family was from. Dalits are an important constituency in India and wooed by politicians. Next year is the 125th anniversary of his birth.

“This is a historical moment for us because it is not just a house but has the emotions of all Indians attached to it,” Rajkumar Badole, Maharashtra’s minister of social justice, said in London this year. Badole pledged too to fund an Ambedkar chair at the LSE and scholarships.

Supporters of the museum say it will have relevance in the UK, too. Research by the British government has found evidence of caste discrimination among Britons of Asian origin in the workplace and in schools. Legislation is due to be introduced this year to make caste discrimination an offence in Britain. “It is important to send a message here, too,” said Kumar.

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