The 125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon and architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar was observed at the North-Eastern Hill University on March 14 at the Vice-Chancellor’s Conference Hall. Conducted by the Department of Political Science, the programme saw a lively discussion on the contributions of the Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer. Some of his famous quotes were seen dotting the walls of the hall.
The programme was chaired by Dr. H. Srikanth from the Department of Political Science and attended by the officiating Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A.C. Mohapatra, teachers, students and staff.
In his keynote address, Prof. R. K. Satapathy from the Department of Political Science briefed the gathering about the early life of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, his struggle and subsequent achievement in academics which led him to be the first Matriculate and Graduate from among the Dalits. His exposure to western education and his time at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, where he earned a law degree and various doctorates, inspired him to uplift the plight of his own people back home, Prof. Satapathy said adding that some of the issues most dear to him were the abolition of the caste system and the importance of individual liberty. Outlining the various contributions of Dr. Ambedkar in the field of politics, economics and social reforms, Prof. Satapathy said Dr. Ambedkar was a true nationalist whose legacy continues to be relevant even today. It is no wonder that for the first time, the United Nations (UN) celebrated the birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, Dr. Satapathy informed.
Likening the treatment of Dalits even in this day and age to slavery, Prof. Mohapatra said Dr. Ambedkar is living proof that a Dalit is as intellectual as anyone else. Prof. Mohapatra said the most admirabale qualities of Dr. Ambedkar were his intellect and rationality. “He was a modernist and to think of him as just a Dalit is a great disservice to the idea of Dr. Ambedkar,” Prof. Mohapatra said.
Giving an insight into the turbulent years of the nationalist movement, Dr. Srikanth said that at the peak of the movement, Dr. Ambedkar decided not to enter politics but rather to focus more on the social and cultural issues. “There was a need for social and cultural reform to take place alongside the nationalist movement. But our leaders were more concerned with political freedom and not social freedom,” Dr. Srikanth said. Dr. Srikanth was of the opinion that even now we do not have social and cultural freedom and it is here that those in academics can figure out how useful Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas can be to promote a just society.
Others too had something to say about India's first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India. According to a law student, Dr. Ambedkar is synonymous with social justice, equality and rule of law. “We need to practice what he preached,” was his opinion. Another suggested the placement of a statue of the great man at the campus and the teaching of his ideology in schools, colleges and universities.
According to Prof. Xavier P. Mao from the Department of Philosophy, occasions such as these should not be a mere ritualistic exercise. He said the decision of the UN to observe Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary should be an important sign for our country to stop the exploitation of the weaker sections of the population.
One of the qualities of Dr. Ambedkar that captivated Prof. Manmohan Singh from the Centre for Science Education, was his ability to differentiate between directive principles and law, which none of us understand. “He has discarded rules, whereas we are only bothered by rules and if we cannot carry this message in an institution like NEHU, then celebration of this nature is having a very limited value,” he added. The senior professor also stressed on planning, the concept which Dr. Ambedkar introduced. “This university is missing planning right from the beginning and if the department of political science cannot advocate the necessity of effective planning with a clear understanding and logic, then I think we are failing,” he concluded.
The programme also saw the felicitation of winners of a quiz competition organized on March 13. The programme finally came to an end with a vote of thanks by the Dr.J.N. Nayak, Registrar.