Dalits and Adivasis

Dr Bhimrao R Ambedkar(1891–1956) and his legacy

Dr B. R. Ambedkar is followed by millions of people around the world. He was a great visionary, a politician, lawyer, barrister, economist, a prolific writer, staunch egalitarian, non-violent revolutionary, a progressive humanist, and a key figure in the revivalism of Buddhism in India. Dr Ambedkar is a figure on par with Dr Nelson Mandela, and Dr Martin Luther King when it comes to civil rights.

Dr Ambedkar was born in a military cantonment town of Mhow in the Central Provinces of India (now in Madhya Pradesh) on 14 April 1891. His family was from Maharashtra and belonged to a community treated as the lowest of the low in India’s caste system. Dr Ambedkar was a very bright student and benefited from scholarships. He had degrees and doctorates from India, America and the United Kingdom. This includes a Phd in 1917 from Columbia University, Doctor of Science in 1923 from London School of Economics, and a Barrister at Law in 1922 from Gray’s Inn, London – the internationally recognised seat of jurisprudence.

With sheer determination, overcoming great obstacles, Dr Ambedkar became involved in the negotiations for India’s independence campaign. He published journals that advocated political rights and social freedoms. On 20 March 1927 he led a satyagraha [passive resistance movement] in Mahad, Maharashtra to a fight for the right of the so-called Untouchable community to draw and drink water from the main water tank of the town. 20 March is observed as Social Empowerment day in India.

Dr Ambedkar attended the three landmark 1930-1932 Round Table Conferences in London on the future of India. There he championed the needs (political, social and economic) of the so-called Untouchables after Independence. His robust lobbing resulted in the British colonial government’s announcement in 1932, of the formation of a separate electorate for “Depressed Classes” in the Communal Award. Mr Mohandas K. Gandhi opposed this. And when Mr Gandhi went on a fast unto death by way of protest in prison in Poona, Dr Ambedkar reluctantly on 25 September 1932 signed what is known as the Poona Pact.  This fast by Mr Gandhi resulted in significantly reduced pro-equality representation for the Depressed Classes in the Provisional legislatures within the general electorate.

In 1936, Dr Ambedkar published a bold, and significant undelivered speech, the Annihilation of Caste.  The Jat-Pat-Todal Mandal, the organisers of the Conference in Lahore, withdrew their invitation unless Dr Ambedkar made changes to the content of the speech.  The Annihilation of Caste is Dr Ambedkar’s unapologetic truth of the caste system, and the impact of it on the so-called low-Caste and so-called Untouchables. The messages in it were directed at Hindus, and Hindu reformers in a pre-independence, pre-Partition, pre-self-Raj India. The speech is as relevant today as it was then.

Dr Ambedkar held numerous significant roles in politics. He was India’s first Minister of Labour (22 July 1942 – 20 October 1946) in the British Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee  (29 August 1947 – 24 January 1950) and the chief architect of India’s Constitution. He incorporated in the Constitution, the principles Justice, Liberty, Equality, leading to Fraternity. This saw the abolition of Untouchability and the introduction of affirmative measures in the form of reservations for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in public sector jobs. This levelling up agenda’s aims was, and continues to be, to uplift the SC and STs economically. As India’s first Law minister (3 April 1947 – 6 October 1951) Dr Ambedkar oversaw laws to improve labour rights. He promoted trade unions, reduced working hours for factory workers to eight hours a day, and introduced maternity rights for working women. He also promoted the rights of Hindu Women in the Hindu Code Bill giving women the right to a divorce and inheritance.

Dr Ambedkar died on 6 December 1956.  In 1990 he was posthumously conferred with the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. Dr Ambedkar left a huge body of works.

In London after intense lobbying by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABO UK), there is a museum dedicated to him at 10 King Henry’s Road NW3 – a place where he lodged in the 1920s whilst studying at the London School of Economics and Gray’s Inn. On 30 June 2020, after lobbying by FABO UK, Gray’s Inn unveiled a room dedicated to him. He is the first Indian to be given such an honour.  A new portrait of Dr Ambedkar by David Newens commissioned and donated to the Inn by  FABO UK. Gray’s Inn now has three portraits of Dr Ambedkar and tree named after him in The Walk. On 30 June 2020, the LSE (that already has a portrait and a bust of Dr Ambedkar) launched an online exhibition “Educate. Agitate. Organise.” Ambedkar and the LSE”



A new book Ambedkar in London (2022 Hurst Publishers) co-edited by William Gould, Santosh Dass, and Christophe Jaffrelot gives an account of his time in London, and the movements that he inspired in the UK.

Dalit and Adivasi women

The report “Turning Promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” UN Women’s flagship report found a woman’s caste in India increases her exposure to mortality because of intersectional discrimination, poor sanitation and inadequate healthcare. The report points to a shocking disparity in mortality figures with an average Dalit woman dying 14.6 years younger than an average Indian woman in India.

At least 10 Dalit women are raped every day in India in 2019 according to official National Crime Records official figures. But we believe this is not a true reflection as we hear reports of Dalit women not reporting the rape due to family honour or the police refusing to or deterring reports of rape. 

The ACDA regularly raises its voice against atrocities against Dalit women in India and is deeply concerned about the recent trend victims of gang-rape bodies being cremated to destroy the evidence.

ACDA promotes the education of Dalit girls and women.


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