Showing posts with label Dalit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dalit. Show all posts


Studies in South Asian Diaspora

by M.K. Gautam and M. Seenarine

2023 Xpry Press. 303 pages. ISBN: 979-8378740017

Available on 

Over 1.75 billion people in the world are South Asian. The “South Asian Diaspora” refers to people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives who live outside their country of origin. With 20 million living beyond the region, the South Asian diaspora represents the largest group of people who have spread or been dispersed from their homeland.

These five articles on the South Asian diaspora offers historical and contemporary perspectives on immigration, with a focus on Surinam, Trinidad and Guyana. Authors include Dr. Mohan K. Gautam, Dr. Radica Mahase, Dr. Moses Seenarine, Alice Bhagwandy Sital Persaud and Mrinal Kant Pandey.

Dr. Mohan Gautam is a lifelong scholar of Indian culture and world languages. Gautam has lectured extensively across the Globe and has written 36 books and 150 articles on Indian culture, music, anthropology, literature, and museology, in Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi, Bengali, English and Norwegian. 

Dr. Moses Seenarine is a graduate of Columbia University and a sociology professor in Los Angeles. Seenarine is the author of Voices from the Subaltern: Education and Empowerment Among Dalit (Untouchable) Women in India (2004); and Cyborgs Versus the Earth Goddess: Men's Domestication of Women and Animals, and Female Resistance (2017). 

Table of Contents

1 - "The Construction of the Indian Image in Surinam: Deconstructing Colonial Derogatory Notions and Reconstructing Indian Identity" by Mohan K. Gautam    

9 - 69

- "From Plantations to Parliament: Indian Contribution to the Development of Trinidad and Tobago, 1845 Onwards" by Radica Mahase    

70 - 96

3 - "recasting indian women in colonial guyana: gender, labor and caste in the lives of indentured and free laborers" by m. seenarine    

97 - 209

4 - Autobiography of Alice Bhagwandy Sital Persaud (1892-1958)     

210 - 250

- "Diffusion and Dispersal of Indian Diaspora" by Mrinal Kant Pandey    

251 - 285


286 - 290

social realist

the long-standing tension 

between integration 

and separation

is part of many social movements

and marginalized discourses

from radical feminists

to critical 'race' theorists

brave activists have faced reality

to counter endless positivism

with a dark social realism 

based on crystal-clear recognition 

of the solidity of the status quo

and lack of structural change

social realist 

imagining a future 

in which sexism and racism 

casteism and colonialism

patriarchy and eurocentric supremacy

not only continues

but strives and intensifies

for female and racialized activists

indigenous and dalit reformers

marginalized change-makers everywhere

the choice is clear

integration has mostly been in vain

therefore aspects of separation 

have to become part of change

from de-centering and de-coupling

to reservations and quotas

affirmative action and reparations 

until social bias is over

Ambedkar King Study Circle Annual Conference 2018

Ambedkar King Study Circle Annual Conference 2018

Saturday, September 8 at 9 AM - 6 PM

20589 Homestead Rd, Cupertino, 
CA 95014-0450, United States


Struggle and liberation of one oppressed group is tightly coupled with struggle and liberation of all oppressed groups, AKSC stands for such united struggle to liberate all the oppressed.

Thank you for all your overwhelming support for AKSC activities and programs for the past two years. We hold an annual conference to debate and discuss and formulate the right strategy and tactics to advance our program in the coming years.

Speaker and Session page:
Registration Page:
Contacts: 831-200-3282 , 415-683-0525 and 408-307-8913e-mail:

India's Population Bump and Its Consequences

India's Population Bump and Its Consequences

 Is India's growth rate sustainable and equitable? 

by Moses Seenarine

(This article was published on OpEd News on 08/04/2017)

Growth for Who?

India is a young country with a fast growing annual GDP of above seven percent in 2016, up from two percent at Independence in 1947. India's per capita income rose from Rs. 7,513 from 1950 to Rs. 69,959 to 2014, yet according to the World Bank, it had the largest number of poor people in any country in 2012.

The country's economic growth is lauded by the ruling class, but is India's growth rate sustainable and equitable? What is the cost of decades of growth in terms of environmental degradation and social exclusion? India is portrayed as one of the world's top greenhouse gas polluters, but India’s extended period of economic growth is driving energy consumption, not necessarily its people.

Economic growth has remained positive since the mid-1970s and has hovered above five percent since the 1990s. Exports grew from $59 million in 1958 to over $30 billion in 2013, while food grain production rose from 51 million tonnes in 1950 to 257 million tonnes in 2012. Widespread belief in a raising GDP is viewed as a solution for all India’s social and political problems, and the growth rate is the only indicator of progress to which all Indian politicians pay homage. But there is an annual negative balance of trade of $13 billion, and total external debt of $470 billion.

The youth unemployment rate hovers around 13 percent officially, but the actual figure may be much higher. The Rangarajan study estimated that 363 million, or close to 30 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people lived in poverty in 2011-12. The study considers people living on less than Rs 32 a day in rural areas and Rs 47 a day in urban areas as poor. A vast majority of the poor come from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities.

Population Bump

The median Indian age is under 27 years, slowly raising from its low of 19 years in the 1970s. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. The population growth rate is falling, and the pace of the decline has increased in the last few decades. The first decade of the new millennium saw fewer people added to India’s population than in the previous decade.

Women are the main reason for this decrease in growth rate. Indian women are having fewer children, and they are choosing to stop having kids early, so the mean age at childbirth is falling. The average fertility is 2.3 children, well down from 5.9 births per female in 1951, and is expected to further decline to the replacement rate of 2.1 by 2025. The rural fertility figure is 2.5, and in urban areas it is 1.8, close to the European Union’s 1.6. The urban population is around a third of the total, around 400 million people. The number of female births for every male birth in India is very low and just above that of China, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The sex ratio was 944 females for 1000 males in 2016, but this disparity should start to improve by 2020, when male and female child mortality is expected to be similar.

While the tremendous decline in fertility rate means that India does not represent a population bomb, there is a significant bump ahead due to demographic momentum that can still lead to resource problems and ecological crisis. Indians already represent a fifth of the world's humans, totaling over 1.3 billion in 2016, so the current slight value above the replacement rate translates into hundreds of millions of people in the coming decades. According to a 2017 United Nations' report, India will overtake China to become the world's most populous country within the next seven years. And, India's population will continue to grow until 2061 to over 1.7 billion people, by which time China's numbers is expected to decline to 1.2 billion.

Consumption Bulge

In 2012, India had the tenth-largest economy in the world but was the fourth-largest energy consumer, trailing only the United States, China, and Russia. Primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011. India was the fourth largest consumer of oil and petroleum products in the world in 2011, after the United States, China, and Japan. India relies heavily on imported crude oil, mostly from the Middle East, and became the world's sixth-largest liquefied natural gas importer in 2011.

India's power capacity increased from 1,323 MW in 1947 to 240,000 MW in 2013. Coal is India's primary source of energy; the power sector accounts for more than 70 percent of coal consumption. India's dependence on imported energy resources and its inconsistent energy sector reform may make it difficult to satisfy rising demand. Because of insufficient fuel supply, the country suffers from a shortage of electricity generation, leading to rolling blackouts.

Due primarily to religious restrictions, vegetarianism is widespread in India, but very few Indians follow a plant-based diet in which all animal products are avoided. Milk and other dairy products are avidly consumed across a large portion of the country. There are high levels of meat consumption in Indian states such as Goa, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Kerala. In Bengal, even Brahmins, whose dietary restrictions are pronounced, are allowed to eat fish.

India is the largest milk producer in the world by a good margin, having recently surpassed the entire European Union, and Pakistan ranks fourth. Milk is India’s leading agricultural commodity, produced on some 75 million dairy farms, most of which are quite small. Urban dwellers, being wealthier on average, tend to drink more milk than rural dwellers. Ghee, or clarified butter, is an essential component of many Indian dishes.

To appease Hindu conservatives, 18 states have banned the slaughter of cattle. Three states require permits for the slaughter of cattle and seven states allow cattle to be killed. These tough restrictions did not stop India being a major player in world beef markets. According to the USDA India was the largest exporter of beef in 2014, ahead of Brazil and Australia. India exports mostly buffalo meat which largely fall outside of the cattle bans, plus the animals are needed to keep India's huge domestic dairy industry going. Beef earns India more export dollars than basmati rice. Further, the country's leather trade accounts for 13 percent of the world market.

Sales of beef, lamb and chicken in India have all increased steadily over the past six years and rising wealth is a big reason for the growth. India's disposable income has surged 95 percent since 2009, and meat consumption has nearly doubled over that time.

Climate Change Ahead

India occupies 2.4 percent of the world's land area but supports close to 20 percent of the world's population. India is already experiencing a warming climate and 13 of the country’s hottest 15 years on record has occurred since 2002. The former union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, admitted that India is the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. For one, no country in the world has the demographic expansion which India is currently experiencing.

Around 60 percent of India's agriculture is rain-fed and the number of rainy days have decreased which lessens ground water recharging. India is subjected to irregular monsoons, flooding, and higher temperatures. The Himalayan glaciers are receding which impacts the perennial rivers of north-India. And rising sea-levels will adversely affect millions of people living along the country's 7,500 km of coast line.

The reason India is so vulnerable to climate change is because it is a large country with many living in poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of government planning to deal with complex weather systems. Climate change will exacerbate the risks faced by the country's poor, including storms, droughts and heat waves. Warming temperature trends over the last three decades have already been responsible for over 59,000 suicides throughout India.

High temperatures in the growing season reduce crop yields, putting economic pressure on India’s farmers. Crop losses could permeate throughout the economy, causing both farming and non-farming populations to face distress as food prices rise and agricultural labor demand falls. With no limit on global warming, about 30 percent of the region could see dangerous wet bulb temperatures above 31 degrees C (88 degrees F) on a regular basis within just a few decades.

By the end of the century, wide swaths of northern India, southern Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh may become so hot and humid it will be deadly just being outdoors. Such conditions would threaten up to a third of the 1.5 billion people living in these regions. Most of those at risk are poor farm workers, outdoor construction laborers, women and children.

The poor lack air conditioners, and up to 25 percent in of India’s population still has no access to electricity. In some areas that have been deforested for industry or agriculture, the disenfranchised may not even have very much shade. Women and girls from Dalit and other marginalised communities are disproportionately affected since they have to go outdoors to search for firewood, fetch water, wash clothes, and so on.

Floods and other natural disasters can affect affects crops, livestock, infrastructure, roads, electricity, communication links, and more. Abrupt climate change in South Asia may necessitate cooperation and fraternity with India's traditional rivals, China and Pakistan. And a belligerent Hindu raj posturing for votes may prove disastrous for tens of millions of climate refugees. India needs to remain democratic and collaborative with its neighbors to mitigate this unprecedented crisis.

The Indian diaspora will also be significantly impacted by climate change. A vast number of overseas Indians reside on islands and in countries below the sea level. Will India allow millions of climate migrants to return from overseas communities? Diaspora organizations should include climate change in their agenda and help communities in affected countries to become more climate resilient.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's emphasis on liberty, equality and fraternity points the way forward for India and its diaspora. As he stated, "These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy.”

Bengaluru Declaration: Revisiting Reservations

Bengaluru Declaration: Revisiting Reservations

Reclaiming Social Justice and Human Rights in the 21st Century

by Moses Seenarine

(This article was published on Medium on 08/07/2017)

Persistent Bias and Poverty

For over half a century, there have been legal restrictions against caste-based and sex-based discrimination in India, yet both forms of oppression continue to affect the lives of hundreds of millions nationwide, especially Dalit and tribal Women. For example, in terms of literacy rate, income level, health access, and other factors, Dalit and tribal Women are among the lowest in the country.

As the main architect of India's Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's legacy includes legal interventions specifically designed for ensuring inclusion of Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities in the public sector. Due to Ambedkar's influence, reservations and other policies were enacted which have slightly opened up political and social spaces forbidden for centuries to these groups.

In addition to limits on the political and social empowerment of the historically underprivileged, the nation has a long way to go towards ensuring that basic needs are met for vast numbers of Indians. The Rangarajan study estimated that 363 million, or close to 30 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, lived in poverty in 2011-12. The study considers people living on less than Rs 32 ($0.50) a day in rural areas and Rs 47 ($0.75) a day in urban areas as poor. A vast majority of the destitute come from disadvantaged communities who are victims of inter-generational impoverishment. The existing education and employment provisions for Dalit and others are limited to the public sector and many avenues remain blocked, especially at the higher levels.

Legal provisions and reservations are like paper tigers, and powerful groups find ways to circumvent and block their application. Lack of implementation of the law is a huge issue, and Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities face consequences for daring to attend school, contesting elections, and so on. Given the persistence of bias and deprivation, and the shortcomings with implementation of existing policies, there is a need for discussion and ideas on how to improve the current impasse in inequality.

The Bengaluru Declaration offers a broad set of recommendations that could prove useful for a wide range of issues facing Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities. The Declaration's framers used the platform provided by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference, held from the 21-23 of July, 2017 in Bengaluru, Karnataka to draft an extensive list of recommendations that “hopes to be a dynamic blueprint that addresses the needs and aspirations of all Indians, and a starting point for an “alliance of equity” of all progressive forces committed to safeguarding the idea of India." In order to be effective, the suggested programs must have accountability, and there should be consequences for individuals, businesses and organizations who continue to practice discrimination and bias.

Bengaluru Declaration's Recommendations

The Bengaluru Declaration contains 41 recommendations in six broad sections. In the first one, there are two sets of propositions for “Safeguarding the People,” - one focuses on upholding the rule of Law, and the other on protecting individual rights and freedoms. The second section contains three proposals for “Strengthening Democratic Institutions.” The first recommendation is on reforms to enhance political representation, the second is for protecting media freedoms, and the third focuses on judicial reforms.

The 22 suggestions in the third section for “Deepening Social Justice” represents the heart of the Bengaluru Declaration as it tries to comprehensively address “the needs and aspirations of all Indians, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalised, such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Women and Minorities.” The list of undertaking range from establishing an Equal Opportunities Commission and studying Ambedkar in the school and college, to legislating reservations in the private sector and granting agricultural land to landless Dalits.

The fourth section centers on the needs of the poor with six propositions for “Enhancing Human Development.” This section declares that health, housing and education should be universal rights and asks the state to allocate six percent of GDP for education and three percent for health. It calls for establishing a Farmers Income Commission, and attaining universal secondary education. It also wants provision of nutritional support for poor children, and halfway homes to support employment.

Three suggestions in the fifth section for “Ensuring Responsive Governance” focus on mechanisms for public feedback and government accountability. The last section of the Bengaluru Declaration contains six proposals for “Promoting Social Security.” It calls for universal Social Security and a living wage for the unorganised sector, and ensuring dignity in retirement through enhanced pensions and an enhanced safety net. It proposes starting a fund for landless labourers, and finally, it wants low cost housing for the urban poor in all private housing layouts.

If fully implemented, these 41 proposals could help to alleviate many of the problems faced by India's poor and historically disadvantaged communities. However, the widespread recommendations are complex and extend over several economic and social sectors, and involves disparate areas of governance. Successful implementation will require intricate coordination by multiple agencies, critical assessment, and accountability.

Many of Bengaluru Declaration's recommendations in education are basic and should be part of a growing democracy, but successful implementation will depend on gainful employment and upward mobility in all sectors of society for female and poor students. The Declaration's educational proposals include (i) curriculum changes in school and college, (ii) access to quality English medium education from secondary school level, (iii) residential schools for vulnerable children, (iv) universal access to hostels, (v) reservations in private Higher Educational institutions, (vi) and universal secondary education.

Bengaluru Declaration on Education

Recommendation number 16, “Reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in Private Higher Educational Institutions,” is essential in educational access for students, and employment of academics, from historically disadvantaged communities. There is a limit to what the public sector can do, and as the Declaration states, “Considering the expansion of higher educational institutions in the private section, reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in these institutions shall be made mandatory.”

Private Higher Education Institutions should be required to submit bi-annual reports on student enrollment and staffing to show compliance with reservation policies. At the end of a grace period, Private Higher Education Institutions should submit plans to fill reserved spots and prove they are non-discriminatory, or face fines for non-compliance. After a certain period of repeat, unwarranted non-compliance, Higher Educational Institutions should face oversight or having their accreditation suspended.

The Bengaluru Declaration realise that English instruction can be empowering and Recommendation number 13 declares, “the State shall ensure access to quality English medium education from secondary school level onwards.” The important reason for this curriculum change is to ensure SCs, STs, OBCs, Women and Minorities “are able to stand as equals with forward castes.” English is commonly used in urban areas, so English literacy will help disadvantaged groups to participate more fully in urban economies.
To provide quality English-based instruction, teacher credentialing must include an English proficiency test. English courses should be integrated into Education departments and all prospective teachers should take classes in English grammar, speech and composition. In addition, English courses in debate, literature, non-fiction, technical and narrative writing should be available for students pursuing Education degrees and teacher credentials.

The Bengaluru Declaration's proposal for Navodaya type residential schools for vulnerable children in Recommendation number 14 will provide basic and essential social and educational services that can help increase graduation rates for poor children. There should be separate Navodaya schools for girls and boys, and over 50 percent of the staff must be reserved for women from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities. These residential schools should be taught in English medium and infuse Dalit Studies across the curriculum.

The call for universal access to hostels for SCs, STs and OBCs in Recommendation number 15 is part of non-discrimination laws and a basic human right. Individuals who ignore anti-caste laws should be charged and penalised if guilty. Anti-caste and housing commissions should make it simple for victims to file housing complaints, and these commissions should have the power to impose fines on property owners and businesses.

Recommendation number eight calls for curriculum changes in school and college for "Ensuring study of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma Jyotirao & Savitribai Phule in School and College Curriculum: To inspire and educate future generations on ideas and movements of social justice, curriculum in schools and colleges should mandatorily include the study of the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule."

Dalit Studies, including the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule, will help to inspire excellence in all Indian students, and especially those from historically disadvantaged communities. Cultural empowerment is essential to motivating marginalized groups and to raising the self-esteem of impoverished girls and boys. This form of secular education can aid in the removal of historical stigma and bias by raising awareness and bringing individual and community experiences into the classroom.

Implementing Dalit Studies in schools and colleges requires several administrations and programs, and thousands of trained and qualified teachers. There should also be independent Dalit Studies Institutes that focus on legislation, research and assessment of policies and programs for disadvantaged communities. Women from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities should comprise 50 percent or more of the staff as program administrators, department chairs, professors, researchers, instructors, and teachers at all levels.

To provide instruction in Dalit Studies, a curriculum committee should establish content and assessment criteria for Dalit Studies for each standard of school, and year of college. The curriculum committee should contain representation from various Dalit sub-groups, professions, and income levels. The curriculum should be available and taught in English at all levels.

The curriculum committee should determine basic, intermediate and advance levels of knowledge and understanding of Dalit Studies at the college level, including curriculum and assessment for courses in art, culture, economy, history, language, literature, music, media, pedagogy, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, sociology, and women's studies. The field of Dalit Studies could be added to Arts, Education, Humanities, Interdisciplinary and/or Social Science departments in college, or have its own field with degrees at the bachelor's, masters and doctoral levels.

In terms of sequencing, there should two or more units of Dalit Studies at the Primary School level, and four courses of Dalit Studies available in Secondary School. There should be one course on Mahatma Phule, another on Savitribai Phule, and two classes on Dr. Ambedkar. Completion of at least one course in Dalit Studies should be a requirement for Secondary School graduation for all students. A Bachelor's degree consisting of 12 or more college-level courses in Dalit Studies should be required to teach this subject in Secondary School. And, one or more Dalit Studies course should be a graduation requirement for all college students.

The Dalit Studies Departments in college should have linkages to other fields through dual-majors, inter-disciplinary studies, and so on. The work of Savitribai Phule and Dalit Women's issues should comprise at least a quarter of coursework at all college levels. Classes in Computers, Technology and Social Media should be part of course requirements, and there should be opportunities for experiential or field-work through departmental linkages to social welfare agencies and schools that provide services to Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities.

The Bengaluru Declaration's educational proposals will be more effective for historically disadvantaged students and workers if they are supported by social services mentioned in other recommendations, such as "Halfway Homes to Support Employment." Extending reservations into the Private Sector is essential for progress, and there also needs to be implementation of existing policies, such as filling up backlog vacancies in reserved posts.

As with any set of prescriptions for social reform, the Bengaluru Declaration do have some shortcomings. There is lack of recognition regarding sex-differences, and the recommendations have to focused on better serving the needs of Women and Children. Despite this limitation, the 41 proposals are a good starting point for discussion and can help guide the work of activists and advocacy organizations alike.

Asserting Secularism and Global Equity Through Ambedkar

Asserting Secularism and Global Equity Through Ambedkar

Human Survival Requires Secular Values, Not Machismo Fundamentalism

by Dr. Moses Seenarine

(Photo: Martin Luther King lll at the Quest For Equity conference with Congress VP Rahul Gandhi, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, and Chief Minister of Karnataka. Credit: GOK)

(This articles was published on Medium on 08/07/2017)

The conference, “Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambedkar,” held from 21-23 July, 2017 in Banglauru, Karnataka, was historic in many ways. First, it was the first international conference that brought together hundreds of scholars from all across India and the world to focus on the life, thoughts and influence of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century – Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (14th April 1891 to 6th December 1956). Although hardly known outside of India, B. R. Ambedkar is a distinguished leader in the history of South Asia, and a pivotal figure in the global quest for equity and freedom for the oppressed.

In an age of rapacious economic neoliberalism and rampant, machismo nationalism, Ambedkar's trenchant demand for equality, and his ardent call for freedom, equity and fraternity, have never been more relevant. Climate change in South Asia will necessitate cooperation with India's traditional rivals, China and Pakistan, and blindly following parochial, belligerent Hindu-based regimes may prove disastrous for hundreds of millions of climate refugees due to environmental disaster, land degradation, and uninhabitable conditions. India needs to remain democratic and cooperative with its neighbors to mitigate this unprecedented crisis and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar offers a way forward.

As the chief architect of India's Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar was a scholar par excellence, a philosopher, visionary, and emancipator of over 200 million 'Untouchables' or Dalits oppressed globally under hierarchical Hinduism. Born in an out-casted group considered ritually polluting to Hindus, Bhim Rao led a number of social movements to secure human rights for women, workers, the poor, and the depressed sections of society. Dr. Ambedkar is a towering symbol in the struggle for social justice globally, and stands as the South Asian equivalent to Sojourner Truth, Fredrick Douglas, W. E. B. Du Boise, Marcus H. Garvey, and Martin Luther King in the USA. The Indian Constitution is a testament to his vision of a civilized society with its numerous protections for the disadvantaged.

The Bengaluru Declaration issued at the conference was framed from input provided by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference. The Declaration contains a broad set of recommendations to address a wide range of issues facing the poor. Although written for India, the 41 proposals could be adopted to improve the lives of Women across the globe, People of Color, minorities, and populations in the Global South.

Secondly, the conference offered a bold secular alternative to the ecocidal religiosity and genocidal militarism currently sweeping the world. To mitigate the impending effects of abrupt climate change, humans will need to become more secular, that is, learn to believe in ourselves, behave in a responsible way to others, and act as if we belong to a global community. Survival and adaptation to the deepening ecological crisis requires us to have unbiased perception, clear thinking, an open mind, and acute awareness of our local surroundings and conditions across the globe. At its core, to be secular is to maintain a naturalistic worldview in which belief in anything is always proportioned to the evidence available, and no leader exemplifies these values and qualities as much as Bhim Rao.

In a seminal undelivered speech to reformist Hindus, later published as the Annihilation of Caste, Dr. Ambedkar argued, “An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words there should be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen (and women).”

Speaking on the opening night, Martin Luther King III presented a clear-headed, secular analysis of politics in India and the USA, and deconstructed the cunning appeal of cultural fundamentalism under which social intolerance is stroked. The son of the famous civil rights leader observed that the “Trump and Modi administrations have unleashed a ferocious animosity in both countries” and highlighted various mob and racially-based atrocities against females, African Americans, and Dalits. He concluded that both populist leaders, “have limited regard for the poor and the underprivileged.” Martin Luther King III's keynote speech linking the struggle against caste and race is an important contribution to Pan-Africanism and in theorizing the Global South, and should be read by activists worldwide.
The most anticipated speaker of the opening night also hinted to the dangers of religious ideology and narrow-minded nationalism. In his address to the packed auditorium, the current vice-president of India's Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, warned against distortion of the truth and glorification the past to guide the present. Taking a principled, secular position on caste and religious issues, Rahul observed, “There have been good and bad sides to India, and we need to accept it and change it.”

Like King III, the grandson of the famous Indira Gandhi cited numerous examples of Hindu intolerance and their growing violence against Dalits and Muslims. Commenting on the systemic denial of caste-and religious based oppression, Rahul Gandhi stated, “The Modi government is trying to wipe out history and create a perfect India, thereby strangling the reality of Vermulas and Akhlaqs” - men who died as a result of religious bigotry.

Thirdly, the conference presented valuable insights into Ambedkar's global relevance as speakers connected his writings and activism on caste, religious and cultural oppression to the histories of enslavement, bonded labor, gender construction, labor, migration and other social issues. B. R. Ambedkar's legal prescriptions for women, the poor and disadvantaged, including safeguards for political representation, education and employment reservation was compared to affirmative action policies for women and minorities in the Caribbean, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Pacific Islands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, UK and USA.

The successful non-discriminatory safeguards implemented in Northern Ireland can be applied elsewhere, and similarly, lessons can be learned from the political shortcomings of Sri Lanka's affirmative action polices after the civil war. Moreover, the conference showed that Ambedkar's stringent opposition to female oppression under traditional culture and his prescriptions for women's equality are applicable worldwide.

Given the significance that Bhim Rao placed on female representation in all spheres, it was disappointing that the list of keynote speakers on the opening night did not contain a single female. The token female on the dais, a regional actress whose sole role was to dutifully introduce the eleven men on stage. Her marginality is symbolic of the far road that lies ahead for caste, race, sex and class-based inequality, but Ambedkar's guidance can help us achieve faster and safer passage to a more equitable and rewarding future.

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