Braving cold weather, members of the local South Asian community gathered in Surrey on Saturday (December 18) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a towering social justice activist in India.
Ambedkar was born and raised in a family of Dalits, or so-called untouchables, who faced systemic discrimination in a caste-ridden Hindu society.
Despite many challenges, he rose to become a nation builder and authored the constitution of India. The country's brutal caste-based oppression led Ambedkar to adopt Buddhism before his death on December 6, 1956.
The commemoration was organized by the Dalit activists in the Dr. Ambedkar Room at the Surrey Central library branch. The event opened with Buddhist prayers.
The speakers unanimously condemned the ongoing caste violence and growing attacks on religious minorities in India under the current right wing Hindu nationalist government led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
Incidentally, BJP supporters demolished an ancient mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The date chosen was the death anniversary of Ambedkar.
The BJP came to power in India with a brute majority under Narendra Modi in 2014.
Modi was chief minister in the western state of Gujarat when it witnessed an anti-Muslim massacre in 2002 following the burning of a train bringing Hindu pilgrims from the disputed site of Ayodhya. More than 50 people died in the incident, which the Modi government blamed on Muslim fundamentalists.
Eyewitnesses maintain that the Modi administration was complicit in the violence that was organized to terrorize Muslims. For many years, Modi was denied a U.S. visa because of this until he became prime minister in 2014.
One of the key organizers of the event, Paramjit Kainth, noted that Hindu extremism has continued to grow since 1992 and threatens the philosophy of equality and secularism that was preached by Ambedkar. Kainth pointed out that violence against Dalits has also grown under Modi government.
Books authored by Mohan Lal Karimpuri, a devout Ambedkarite, were also released on the occasion. Karimpuri insisted on the unity of Dalits and other minorities to defeat the designs of ultra-Hindu nationalism.
Harmesh Owen, another Dalit activist warned that the supporters of Hindu nationalism are also widening their network in Canada and penetrating within the Dalit community.
Others who spoke on the occasion included Varinder Bangar, Surjit Bains, and Paramjit Banga. Those in attendance included education activist Sukhi Dhillon, as well as Jai Birdi with the Chetna Association.