In Pursuit of Ambedkar
This memoir, and the DVD of a documentary feature that accompanies it, offer a dalit perspective on key events in modern Indian history: August 1947, the ‘moment of Independence’ that Das recalls as ‘Hindu Raj’ and as a time when ‘untouchables were afraid’; his unambiguous critique of Gandhi; and his unmasking of the ‘valmikisation’ of the sweeper community as nothing but fiction.
1943, Shimla. Bhagwan Das, all of 16 and a keen member of the Scheduled Caste Federation, waited seven hours to meet the man his father called ‘Ummeedkar’, the Harbinger of Hope-Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. That meeting defined the trajectory Das’ life would later take in his single-minded pursuit of Babasaheb’s ideals. After serving in the Royal Indian Air Force as a radar operator during World War II, Das worked with Ambedkar as a research assistant in the last years before Ambedkar passed away in 1956. Six years later, Das began to compile and edit Ambedkar’s speeches in the four-volume Thus Spoke Ambedkar. After four decades of dedicated activism, Bhagwan Das, supported by a coalition of dalit organisations, testified on untouchability in August 1983 before the UN Subcommission on Human Rights in Geneva, much against the wishes of India’s official delegation at the conference.