University of Edinburgh, UK, to celebrate Dalit History Month
Tag Archives: Dalits Abroad
The following photos are of the road named after Dr. Ambedkar in New Jersey City, USA. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar avenue on Tonnele and Pavonia intersection. Perhaps this is the first road outside India that is named after Dr. Ambedkar.
Photos Credit – Sanghapali Aruna Lohitakshi
Today, in Dalit History we explore the Dalit Women’s Declaration at the Hague. In March 2006, After international advocacy that began as early as 1996, over 200 gathered at the historic Hague Conference on Dalit Women’s Rights, which led to the drafting of the Hague Declaration on Human Rights and Dignity of Dalit Women.This gathering was led by Dalit women’s organizations and was a clarion call to action to the international community.
Dalit women are one of the largest socially segregated groups in the world and make up more than 2% of the world’s population. In addition to their poverty is the grief of caste-based sexual violence, and the harrowing reality is that over 67% of Dalit women have faced some form of sexual violence.
This declaration was a watershed moment; for the conference brought Dalit Women leaders from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka to give testimonies of violence and exclusion. More importantly, the delegates developed a key advocacy and strategic declaration aimed at being the blueprint for the next phase of the Dalit Women’s Movement.
This included a plan of action to incorporate Dalit women’s issues into several UN documents including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The Hague declaration also called on South Asian governments to fully support Dalit Women in their assertion, and to ensure Dalit women and girls were brought on par with the general population in terms of overall development within a period of 5 years. And beyond implementing the rule of law, to end the culture of impunity. Finally, the Declaration also called upon the international community to undertake and support this in possible measure.This blueprint compelling vision is still relevant today and is a snapshot of history into the rise of the international Dalit women’s movement.
Read the declaration and the report here.
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Today in Dalit History we honor Ayyankali, the Dalit firebrand in Kerala who fought Caste apartheid through innovation and resistance that inspires even till today. A contemporary of Ambedkar he was born into the Pulaya community in Thiruvananthapuram. He burned with the injustices his community faced. Dalits were landless and exploited, punished for crossing into caste hindu areas, and both men and women were targets of violence forced to into draconian states of undress.
In the face of this violence Ayyankali took it as his life mission to challenge every form of Caste discrimination. His rebellion began with an ox-cart. Ayyankali dared to break the Caste restrictions by riding on the public road while also wearing caste hindu clothes. Though attacked by the Upper Castes, his bold move launched the Southern Kerala movement for Dalit Rights that eventually won in 1900 the right for Dalits to walk along the public roads.
Ayyankali went further and launched the first schools for Dalits with Dalit teachers. Though the school was destroyed by upper caste thugs, this educational revolution could not be stopped. In 1907 the Travancore government passed an order mandating that all Dalit children be admitted into the schools. Despite this law, Upper Castes blocked its implementation to which Ayyankali led a statewide Dalit strike.
Through much difficulty the strike held and the battle for education extended to Dalit rights as exploitative landlords started whipping workers who dared to wear clothing and who also protested the landlords’ sexual exploitation of Dalit women. The outraged landlords started setting the homes of workers on fire. Ayyankali responded by setting the landlord houses on fire. Stricken with fear, never knowing when they might be attacked, the landlords sued for peace.
Through this and all his efforts he constantly faced terrible violence and a state that abetted caste perpetrators. He often did not hesitate to retaliate with violence seeing it as a form of raw protest of the oppressed. He even banded together teams of brave Dalit men and women and organized martial arts training for them. This group became the “Ayyankali Pada” (Ayyankali’s Army). With the failure of the state implementing the rule of law for all, he then established his own people’s courts, including a supreme court!
Finally, he took on the Caste apartheid dress code for Dalit women where Caste hindus insisted Dalit women could not cover their upper bodies. His challenge overturned this measure in 1916 and sent a message that the upper caste sexual exploitation of Dalit communities was unacceptable.
To his enduring spirit of rebellion we salute Ayyankali! JaiBhim!
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In recent years, Dr. Ambedkar (1891-1956), India’s great Dalit leader, social reformer and first law minister after independence has gained increasing recognition in academic and political circles in Germany. Within the realm of scholarship at the South Asia Institute, his mediating role in the framing of the Indian Constitution has been adequately recognized (Kulke, Rothermund 1998: 394) as well as the implementation of constitutional safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Conrad 1995: 419) through so-called reservation of seats in politics, education and administration. His political role, especially the social movement initiated by him, has been subject to a dissertation in political sciences (Hust 2000) as well as part of a more elaborate discourse on the part of Dalits in social movements in India (Fuchs 1999; 2003).
In the fields of German Indology and History of Religion, Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism at the end of his life caught considerable academic attention. His cast of Buddhism was understood as theology of liberation (Gensichen 1995: 197) as well as an original development under the heading of civil religion (Fuchs 2001: 205). In addition, fieldwork among Mahars in Maharashtra focussed on the social relevance of Dr. Ambedkar’s Navayana Buddhism (Beltz 2001). Textual studies focussed on a comparison of Buddhist sources with Dr. Ambedkar’s “The Buddha and His Dhamma” (Buss 1998; Fiske/Emmrich forthcoming), projecting Dr. Ambedkar’s cast of Buddhism as an effort to reconstruct the world (Beltz/ Jondhale forthcoming).
Ambedkar studies apart, the concern with Dalits has been the focus of a number of studies in social anthroplogy in the urban (Bellwinkel 1980) as well as the rural setting (Randeria 1993) setting. The most comprehensive project in this respect was an interdisciplinary research project, financed by the Volkswagen Foundation and linked with the Department of Modern Indology, South Asia Institute and the Department of Sociology, Delhi University. Under the heading of “Memory, Violence and the Agency”, the topic was the role of Dalits as victims and perpetrators in Bombay and Kanpur (Fuchs forthcoming).This project set an example for the Memorandum of Understanding between Heidelberg University and Delhi University in common fieldwork for the exchange of scholars and students.
During my fieldwork among Dalits in Kanpur (Bellwinkel-Schempp 1998), I was often asked to give a speech, which I used to do with the introductory words, that I was born at Bonn in Germany, the town where Dr. Ambedkar studied Sanskrit. I had found the reference of a short, three months stay in 1923 in Dhananjay Keer’s Dr. Ambedkar biography (Keer 1995: 49). My projection of benevolent German indology, transgressing the Hindu norms of reserving Sanskritic knowledge to the upper castes and caring for the Dalits, was highly appreciated by my Dalit audience. It made me even think of a Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti in 2003 in Bonn, why not, perhaps with the German “Dalit Plattform” and concerned scholars and Dalit activists.
This idea made me visit the University Archives at Bonn on the 14th of January 2003 to find out more about Dr. Ambedkar’s studies at Bonn university. Within no time I found * Dr. Ambedkars application for registration with the Prussian Ministry of Science, Fine Arts and Public Education, a CV in German (!) and his registration into the university ledger on 29 April 1921, which reads as follows:
Father’s profession: General; religion: Hindu; previous universities: Bombay, Columbia, London; number of semesters: 18; school leaving certificate: yes; subject: Economics; date of birth: 14.4.1891; place of birth: Mhow; home town: Bombay; district: Bombay. So he delightfully upgraded his father’s military rank. Noteworthy is also his religious affiliation- at the early stage of his life- certainly before he was contemplating on the question of conversion, he wrote Hindu under the heading of religion. Amazingly, Dr. Ambedkar registered for Economics and not for Indology.
In his handwritten CV he stated that he knew German well, because he had taken it as a minor at Columbia University: He continued: “I would like to mention that the University of Bonn through the kind help of Prof. Dr. H. Jacobi granted me to submit a Ph.D. thesis in case I show adequate performance and I am enrolled for three semesters there.” It is not clear in which subject he intended to submit his dissertation, or how he got in touch with Professor Hermann Jacobi (1850-1937), who was the leading German Indologist of his times.