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Dalits, inspired by Obama, seek recognition during Asia tour

By Emily Wax

On Saturday, President Obama spent the afternoon in the seaside mega-city of Mumbai visiting the old-style house of Mohandas K. Gandhi, whom the president hailed as "a hero not just to India, but to the world."

Still, some social activists and business leaders in India are hoping that Obama will honor a lesser-known freedom fighter, B.R. Ambedkar, who hails from India's lowest social caste, once known as untouchables.

While Gandhi was working for India's freedom, Ambedkar left his impoverished village in India and received a scholarship to study at Columbia University and later at the London School of Economics. He then returned home, becoming the architect of an independent India's new constitution and a symbol of empowerment for millions of desperately poor Dalits.

At a time of widespread discrimination against his caste, Ambedkar became one of the first untouchables, or Dalits as they are now known, to earn a college education. Today, statues of Ambedkar dot thousands of squares in Dalit villages, far more than busts of Gandhi. They are also a symbol of Dalit aspirations and advances, especially as India's economy continues to soar.

"Dalit" means "broken people," and they fall into India's lowest caste in the ancient social order. But they make up nearly 200 million in India's population of 1.2 billion.

Dalit leaders say they are not asking the American government to rearrange Obama's schedule. They just requested a symbolic gesture or even a mention of Ambedkar in a speech to show that Obama understands civil rights history in India.

The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce, for example, recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Mumbai requesting to meet with Obama. They have not heard back. But they said they weren't upset. They really just wanted thank the president for being a source of optimism.

"The Dalit group wanting to see the president has no demands," said Chandra Bhan Prasad, an author and activist. " It's about showing gratitude that U.S. society is more forthcoming in addressing social racial contradiction than any society in the universe. The parallels between the Dalits and the African Americans in the U.S. are striking. Like millions of my fellow Dalits, I, too, take inspiration from the exemplary strides that the African Americans have made during the past four decades."

By Emily Wax  | November 6, 2010; 10:55 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  | Tags:  Asia, Gandhi, India, Obama, President Obama, foreign policy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Aspiring to be the 'Indian Obama'
Next: First impressions: Obama treading carefully in Mumbai


Obama, Ambedkar and USA

Dr. Ambedkar was a great humanist and great leader. He was not less fortunate but most fortunate, who became leader of the oppressed masses, in a country like India, where 85% of the population is controlled by 15% of Hindus. He was the shining star of India.
Even US was more discriminating to women and had no right to vote,but he was the one who wrote India's constitution and gave the right to vote to women.
Gandhi has not done much for India, but he was elevated bu Hindus, he was in very much favor of untouchablity.Read the book by G.B.Singh, after that you will feel he was curse on India
Obama did not speak openly about human rights and abuses. In South India, Priests in the temple have Davedasi girls starting from 8 year to 20 years old and used them for sexual abuse, even now a days. Every body knows that, When they feel these girls of no use for their sex pleasure they are kicked out and sent to brothel and their children have no place to go.

Obama did not touch any thing about human rights, but aligned with Hindus and made no comments on violation of human rights specially Dalits. Just Naming Ambedkar means nothing.
We will have to go to him as one of the delegates and make him aware the plight of Dalits, who earn less then $2/day and discriminated at every step.

God Bless America and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar.

Posted by: wakeupcall_1 | November 10, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Please post the part II to complete this story. If you have any question feel free to email me.


Posted by: upliftthem | November 8, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Part III
so the bottom line here is to use the good office of the president and these great opportunity to help resolve this centuries old caste system that has been buried out of world's attention by casteists.

I also hope you have read the recent UK Parliment's enactment of Equality Bill 2010, in which the British govt took serious steps to curb caste discrimination in UK. The dalits in US and world wide requested President Obama to pay some attention to it and warn the Indian govt of this human rights abuse, but somehow and quite interestingly he has done the opposite, praising gandhi and making pompousness statements on India's growth and technology without knowing that the real India is in dark and under caste discrimination.
It would immensely help to tell the truth to India and make them accountable to fix this bigger than atomic bomb caste discrimination, instead President Obama's speech hardly had a few lines inserted on the third day of his visit after going thro' gandhi stuff for three days. Is it the same thing the casteists been doing all along?.

I urge writers and journalists like yourself to do the diligence when writing instead of calling Dr.Ambedkar lived in abject poverty which is not true, please write the real background. Also, though the caste system been damaged and destroyed so much of dalits life, but there are so many great leaders came up from this society, there are lots of doctors, engg, scientists, Technology experts and socialists are in the making, because of Dr.Ambedkar's constitution and reservation (affirmative policies), it is still a minuscule progress, there is so much to be done and so much upliftment work has to be done. Dalits need no sympathy, but they need appropriate story telling of their plights, there is no lower class or upper class but great humans with dignity, journalists are supposed to be mindful when they pen the stories not to use derogatory words that further damages the minds.

Please send a team of genuine and honest writers from Washinton Post to India, let them travel all over India into small villages, you will be shocked and terrified by this real India. As Americans with great human values, we treat every human is equal and all men are born equal, it is our duty to teach those discriminators when we get a chance, and we must do this as a good Americans.

Thanks Emily and Washington Post for publishing my critic.
~~ Saint

Posted by: upliftthem | November 8, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Rejoinder or Editorial
Part I
Dear Emily Wax,
Thanks for writing about the recent visit of President Obama to India and the activities wherein he mentioned Dr.Ambedkar in his speech. You are one of the few American journalist regularly write about dalits, caste system and other issues in India. I applaud your effort it certainly is for a good cause, but every time there are some mistakes that are not simple but huge blunder. In this piece, you wrote that Dr.Ambedkar lived in abject poverty?. That is absolutely wrong, he was a son and grand son of Army officials, both his father and grand father served in British Army (British East India co.). Even though this is his background, he was discriminated in every walks of life because of his "Mahar" caste, as you and the readers must be aware that Indian society has been splintered into thousands of castes, sub castes and what not?. It is a Grand scale pathology that destroyed India's rural society for centuries, 800 million people live in poverty and 360 million so called dalits (ex untouchables) been discriminated, tortured and most unspeakable atrocity is been committed against dalits and there is not a day go by without such caste discrimination. Dr.Ambedkar was one of the first to educate, as untouchables were kept out of education, abused and discriminated, no chance was given to them due to this social evil, his Army background and well learned father brought him up with education later supported by the local King, he was able to not only come out of terrible hindu terrorists who tormented the dalits, he went to Columbia University here in US and Oxford to further study at the top educational institutions. Dr.Ambedkar emerged as the greatest scholar, lawyer, humanist, socialist and revolutionary leader ever to happen on this face of this planet who was born in a very simple and ordinary family, he did not live in poverty but lived thro' so much tragic discrimination. Even after he became the first law minister and even after became the father of Indian constitution, gandhi like racists discriminated and sabotaged Dr.Ambedkar's effort to get a separate electorate for dalits.

It is a system created to subjugate fellow men and woman in the name of religious stupidity, caste system is the beliefs and social structure created as part of the hindu religion, a divisive force that transcended beyond 21st century, but if it is not for Dr.Ambedkar, Iyothee Thaas, Iyankali and Phule like great humanist and social reformers of 21st century, we will see India in the darkest period of human civilization, I would like to invite you to go to India, travel to villages, about 640,000 villages, pretty much the majority of population about 70% or more live in villages, untouched by any progress, technology and science/medicine, untouched by any growth, the caste system discrimination is so vivid and far widely, deeply practiced in villages, go and see for yourself. The hindus consist only of 3-10% of total

Posted by: upliftthem | November 8, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

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