South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, (SANSAD) hails the formation of the Bhim Army in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, as the instrument of fight-back against persistent caste discrimination and the recent spate of violence against Dalits.


The Bhim Army, named after Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the great champion of Dalits, has been in the forefront of the opposition against upper-caste Rajput violence against Dalits in Saharanpur which has been aided by the state. Two Dalits have been killed in this violence and sixty Dalit homes burnt while the state has arrested several Dalits and is conducting a witch-hunt against the leader and members of the Bhim Army. In protest the Bhim Army organized a rally of thousands in New Delhi on May 22 at the popular site of Jantar Mantar in defiance of the police refusal to grant them permission.


The Bhim Army was created by the young Dalit lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad in 2015 in response to the discrimination experienced by him and his fellow Dalits in school, where they were beaten up for drinking water, not cleaning benches or sweeping floors, or for studying too hard and what he learnt of the ordeals of his father, who as a chamar, a member of the leather-working caste, had faced constant humiliation for his low social status despite being the headmaster of a school. In two years it has spread across several states and attracted more than 40,000 members. It also runs 300 schools for Dalit children in and around Saharanpur. Its tactics of direct action have appealed to long-suffering Dalits who are disappointed at the absence of mainstream Dalit politicians from the scenes of violence. Many have come out in support of the Bhim Army in the face of the former Chief Minister of UP and leader of the BSP, the party of Dalits, Mayawati’s comments (The Hindu, May 28, 2017) labelling the Bhim Army the creation of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, BJP. Prominent Dalit public intellectual, Anand Teltumbde has called the Bhim Army a byproduct of the failures of BSP and sees in it the “potential to transcend the BSP and present a new politics of emancipation of the Dalits” (Indian Express, May 29).


Against this background SANSAD commends Chetna Association of Canada, Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation, Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University, and Department of Asian Studies, Centre for India and South Asia Research, and Buddhism and Contemporary Society program at University of British Columbia for coming together to establish the annual Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver, BC. This South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy important lecture series was announced at a celebration of Dr. Ambedkar Day held in Surrey Centre Library on April 10. The event was dedicated to the memory of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad who was pushed to suicide by societal, political, and administrative oppression in February, 2016.


Dr. Anne Murphy and Dr. Sara Shneiderman, representing UBC, said “Dr. Ambedkar has shaped our world today in fundamental ways, through his work as an activistscholar; as architect of the Indian constitution and, through it, the implementation of structural forces for equity within an inequitable structure; and as Buddhist philosopher, organizer, and practitioner. Bringing greater knowledge of scholarship about Dr. Ambedkar and his work, as well as about issues related to caste and inequality in South Asian societies in broader terms, to students, faculty, and the public at large will allow for a fuller understanding of South Asian societies and histories, and will resonate deeply with ongoing issues in Canadian society.”


Institute for the Humanities, SFU said in a message: “Dr. Ambedkar, as well as Rohith Vemula, exemplified the moral compass that we so desperately seek today at a time when we are witnessing the ascendancy of a despotic intolerance.


Dr. Ambedkar once said: ‘cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.’ With the marriage of the corporeal and the corporate, we are at a unique juncture in human history that threatens to destroy the essence of our humanity. By instilling a passion and commitment to justice, education could provide the necessary counter force to this trend.


The Institute for the Humanities are committed to Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy of social liberation and justice. We are honored to be partners in this homage paid to this legacy through the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture, which embodies Dr. Ambedkar’s important message. ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’


The message from Hari Sharma Foundation read, “Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy remains vital because it challenges all settled beliefs and orthodoxy and calls for a fundamental examination of society in order to topple its structures of oppression. It calls on scholarship to provide the ground for a social transformation in which the annihilation of caste will also be the annihilation of class and bring about the liberation that will be the coming into being of the truly Human.” South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) is proud to stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Dalits in India and the diaspora and honored to report the establishment of the Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in Vancouver that will extend this struggle.

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