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Bombay Academic Visits Statue of Indian Patriot, Alumnus Ambedkar

By Abigail Beshkin

Balchandra Mungekar, vice chancellor of Bombay University, points to a statue of B.R. Ambedkar, one of the architects of the Indian constitution. At left, Yogesh Varhade, founder-president of the Ambedkar Center for Justice and Peace.

In a corner of Lehman Library at the School of International and Public Affairs sits a stately bronze statue of one of the most important Indian leaders who ever lived. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) is considered the father of the Indian Constitution and a leading champion of rights for India's "untouchables," those once considered to be of such low caste that their very touch was to be avoided.

Ambedkar also spent many years in the early part of the last century at Columbia and formed many of his ideas about equality and social justice studying under John Dewey, whose ideas on democracy and education helped shape America's education system. Ambedkar earned his master's degree in 1915, and his Ph.D. in economics in 1928. In 1952, Columbia presented hm with an honorary doctorate of law.

In June of this year, SIPA held a ceremony to install a bust of Ambedkar, and since then, the bust has become a sort of stopping point for visiting dignitaries from India. On Fri., Dec. 1, Balchandra Mungekar, vice chancellor of Bombay University, visited the University, in large part, he said, to pay homage to the man who played such a role in shaping Indian society.

"I thought it was important to visit, because Dr. Ambedkar has been the emancipator of the untouchables," said Mungekar. "He fought against the caste system."

The sculpture was originally donated in 1991 by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organizations of the United Kingdom. The pedestal was donated by the Ambedkarites of New York and New Jersey.

Ambedkar, born an "untouchable," overcame prejudice to obtain an education, eventually earning advanced degrees from Columbia and the London School of Economics. As Minister of Law in India's first post-independence government, he drafted the constitution of India, which was adopted on January 26, 1950. Ambedkar's work on the constitution provided the legal framework for the abolition of many oppressive features of Indian society and gained rights for India's 60,000,000 untouchables.

"Dr. Ambedkar is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century," said Gauri Viswanathan, director of the Southern Asia Institute at SIPA, who hosted Mungekar's visit to campus. "So many of his views about social justice were developed on this campus."

Published: Dec 06, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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