York University honours B. R. Ambedkar, India’s iconic champion of social justice

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as a young man. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as a young man. “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress women have achieved.” Dr.B.R.Ambedkar (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

York University honoured a pioneering thinker and leader in the realm of social justice and equality, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, with the installation of a bronze bust in the Scott Library. The event took place Dec. 2 at the University’s Keele campus.

Facilitated by the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), the bust was donated by the Ambedkar International Mission (AIM) Canada, Toronto. It was unveiled in the Scott Library by the High Commissioner of India to Canada, Vishnu Prakash.

“I am humbled at the opportunity to unveil the bust of Bharat Ratna Dr. Ambedkar at York University, one of the greatest temples of learning in Canada,” said Prakash. “A great son of India and architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar devoted his life to the cause of social justice, gender equality and the promotion of education. York University has not only honoured a great Indian, a jurist, an educationist, a humanist, a social reformer, but it has also honoured 1.2 billion people of India.”

Ambedkar was born in 1891 into a Dalit (untouchable) community in India

“Having begun life as a child who had to sit separately so that other children would avoid his touch, Dr. Ambedkar became a leading voice in India’s anticolonial struggle, its struggle for justice, equality and democracy and freedom from discrimination. He not only overcame the obstacles in his own path, but he changed the path for others,” said Professor Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “For our Faculty, Dr. Ambedkar’s trajectory is of special significance. He derived his understanding of equality and justice from an exploration of many disciplines — history, philosophy, religion, economics and sociology. He then became an academic, an activist, a practitioner of law and finally a legal luminary who drafted the constitution of the world’s largest democracy. Our Faculty tries to achieve exactly this kind of seamless interconnection between liberal and professional education, between scholarship and practice, between active citizenship, activism and critical thought that Dr. Ambedkar’s life portrays.”

In 1990, he was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), for his role in supporting justice, freedom, equality and fraternity.

Bhimra Ramji Ambedkar
The bust of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

“Celebrating luminaries like Dr. Ambedkar always serve as a reminder of the work we still need to do to address critical questions of justice, locally, regionally, nationally and globally,” said York’s Vice-President of Research & Innovation Robert Haché said in his speech. “York University has a well-known mandate for social justice, which it strives to realize through its teaching, scholarship, creative activities and engagement.”

After the unveiling, Professor Emeritus Sukhadeo Thorat from Jawaharlal Nehru University delivered his keynote speech. Thorat is a renowned scholar on Ambedkar’s life and is currently Chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research in New Delhi, India. Thorat explored Ambedkar’s thoughts on some of the central contradictions of political equality co-existing with structural inequality in the economic and social realms.

“As a scholar of multiple disciplines, Dr. Ambedkar has inspired many to undertake studies on several issues, particularly on problems of discrimination and on social institutions like the caste system, which exists not only in India, but in many countries around the world,” said Arun Kumar Gautam, president of the Ambedkar International Mission, Canada, Toronto. “We hope that his presence will inspire students and scholars of York University to undertake research on areas to which Babasaheb Ambedkar dedicated his life.” (Babasaheb is the name by which his supporters fondly refer to him.)

Booklet coverProfessor Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and special advisor to the president on Community Engagement, also spoke at the ceremony. He mentioned that in a recent popular opinion poll in India, Ambedkar was voted by the people as the “Greatest Indian since Gandhi.” Twenty million votes were cast in this poll.

The installation “has happened in a very auspicious year — Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary,” said Mukherjee-Reed. “As we step out of this room and go our different ways, let us remind ourselves of the tasks that lie ahead of us. If Dr. Ambedkar’s presence in our midst is to have any real meaning… I hope we will come together as a university, a community, scholars, activists, thinkers to take forward the issues of social justice.”

A commemorative booklet was also released at the event. A digital version of the booklet can be viewed at: http://digital.yorku.ca/i/613632-dr-bhimrao-ramji-ambedkar.