‘I am untouchable’

The News, April 16, 2007

Karachi, Pakistan -- Speakers from India and Pakistan paid tribute to Indian scholar and social activist Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar at an international seminar, “I am untouchable”.

The event was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Professional Sciences (PIPS) on his birth anniversary which fell on April 14, to condemn the concept of untouchability — a severe human rights violation.

Although born to a poor family belonging of the “untouchable” community in India, Dr Ambedkar was the first political leader from the community, who also went on to become the chief architect of the Indian constitution after being able to complete his college education, unlike anyone else in the community.

The seminar highlighted various aspects of his life as a jurist and a political activist. A victim of harassment himself, Ambedkar witnessed the mistreatment of the members of his community since childhood and, unable to put up with the discriminatory practices in the Hindu caste system, he converted to Buddhism along with a number of followers.

In fact, the sparking-off of the Dalit Buddhist movement also goes to Ambedkar’s credit.

Talking about the influence of Ambedkar in India even today, Prof Dr Pradeep Aglave informed the audience of a similar upcoming movement by one million Dalits in India to convert from Hindu to Buddhism on May 27.

A speaker from India, Fakhrudin Banner, stated, “He was a determined fighter and a crusader in achieving the socio economic justice and equality for all.”

Journalist Ghazi Salahuddin drew the audience’s attention to Ambedkar’s struggle for emancipation of oppressed classes across the South Asia. “India is known to be the biggest democracy in South Asia because of an exemplary figure like Ambedkar who did not just draft the constitution to establish equal rights, but followed it too.”

Justice (R) Majida Rizvi pointed out that similar discriminatory practices exist in Pakistan. “The poor in our country are also ill-treated due to their lower economic status. They do not enter banks because they feel inferior but thanks to the microfinancing, the situation has improved” she said.