Raja Sekhar Vundru

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Ph.D on Dr.Ambedkar's Electoral System from the National Law School, Bangalore (NLSUI) Currently working as Deputy Director General, UIDAI, Government of India , New Delhi +911123752322 (office)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

INDIA AHEAD OF US - Remedies against discrimination

INDIA AHEAD OF US - Remedies against discrimination

New Indian Express, 12 November, 2008


EXACTLY hundred years ago in 1908 the United States of America was rocked by the Springfield race riots in Illinois, where mass destruction of black homes and businesses and killing of black citizens took place. In Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln, white mobs killed, wounded and drove out black citizens from the city.
Another hundred years later American citizens queued up before the polling stations to vote and elect a black man from the same city to be the President of their country.

The Springfield riots of 1908 were a watershed event in the history of America. A few months later in the first week of January in 1909, a few eminent black leaders met in a small New York apartment to form the National Association for Advancement of Coloured people (NAACP), which went on to play a historic role in the civil rights movement of the blacks and continued to sustain the spirit. After a 100-year wait for NAACP, a black will now shift house from Illinois to take over as the President of United States in January, 2009.

The America of today is a dream destination for many young urban Indians.

But more than a century ago it influenced two of the major thinkers of modern India not with its promise of prosperity, opportunity or whiteness — but they were influenced by the struggles of its coloured people against racial discrimination and slavery.

The first one was Jyotirao Phule, who learnt about the struggles of black people and dedicated his greatest work Slavery (1873) to “the good people of United States as a token of admiration for their sublime disinterested and self sacrificing devotion in the cause of negro slavery…” Four years after NAACP was formed and Harlem in New York was becoming the epicentre of all black cultural and literary renaissance, in 1913 Dr B R Ambedkar, a follower of Phule, entered the precincts of Columbia University in New York.

There can be no doubt that the American peoples’ struggle for equality and liberty; their fight against discrimination influenced Dr Ambedkar to shape the fundamental rights and freedoms in the new constitution he drafted for independent India. Young Ambedkar who lived in New York city during the transformative phase of black history contin , ued to compare the situation of untouch ables of India with those of the black Americans, all through his writings.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution of 1868 which secured constitutional rights for former slaves became a rallying point for Dr Ambedkar who went on to secure similar rights for the untouchables during the round table conferences in 1930-1932 held by the British colonial government.

Imbued with the philosophies of egalitarian democracy and influenced by his Columbia teacher John Dewey, Dr Ambedkar led the fight against caste discrimination and untouchability in preIndependence India.

It was only in 1932 that Dr Ambedkar charted a new course that overtook even the African American movement for civil liberties. He secured the right to political representation for untouchables by 1932 and India could see the transformation happening with the first elected dalit member of a legislative assembly in 1937 itself. Not only Dr Ambedkar ensured representation in legislative bodies, but fought his way to see representation in the cabinets of the provincial governments in 1937.

When independent India saw the first dalit members of Parliament in 1951, in US the blacks were still fighting for their free right to vote, full citizenship and equal rights that culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights movement. Dr Ambedkar ensured universal adult franchise in 1950 and women in India had equal voting rights even when many western societies were struggling to grant voting rights to their women.

While Indian society accepted the untouchable and adivasi representatives in the Indian parliament as early as 1951 and successively ensured their representation, filling up more than one-fifth of the house, there were only five black Senators in US history (since 1870).

Even though Dr Ambedkar used American Civil Rights laws of 1866 and 1875 as a referral point for creating remedies against discrimination, he drew strength from the existence of equal employment opportunities in the form of reservations already in vogue in princely states in India by then.

Dr Ambedkar deftly pushed equal opportunities in employment and education in 1932 through the Poona pact when he saved Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

The remedies against discrimination such as equal opportunities to dalits and adivasis in India in political bodies, jobs and education are way ahead of the conceptual framework by which the US tried to make its society inclusive. The Untouchability Offences Act, 1955, initiated by DrAmbedkar as Law Minister provided for equality of access to public streets, hotels and public places, when US society was struggling with segregation laws at that time.

The form of reservation in legislative bodies, employment and access to education created by Dr Ambedkar in India ensured a faster transformative process within India.

The lessons learnt by Dr Ambedkar while roaming around the streets of Harlem as a young MA student with an eleven-and-a-half dollar scholarship, helped him to see the struggles of one oppressed community and to save the other of his own country.

As the two great democracies, India and the US, make big strides in making their societies more equitable and inclusive, it was the younger generation in the US which made a change possible. The young generation of India needs to come out of ‘youth for equality’ mindset to sustain the change already brought in by the framers of the Constitution to create a more equitable and non-discriminatory India.

(The author is an IAS officer, and the opinions expressed here are his own.)


Blogger RADHAKRISHNAN said...

It is a good contribution. I enjoyed reading it. I would have liked to post a reply. Unfortunately the space available in the newspaper is very limited. Keep up your critical scholarly pursuits.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Subhash said...

Respected Sir,

Mr. Prashant V. Bhosale (IIT-Delhi) has given your reference to get your advice and help in the matter of SC/ST reservation Bill-2008. Under Section 4 of this bill, all the IITs, IIMs,NITs, and other top level institutes are exempted from reservation of SC/ST candidates, which prevent us to enter into resource full institutions. Kindly look into the matter.
Copy of Bill may downloaded from

Thanking you,

Yours in Dhamma

(Subhash C. Arya)
Faculty, ISMU,Dhanbad

4:10 AM  

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