I took the opportunity today to press the U.K. to do more to work with the Indian Government to lift the Dalits and Tribals out of the Caste system and to fulfil the hopes of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar the Dalit who was author of the Indian Constitution.
22nd July 2021
I want to thank my noble and rt revd friend, Lord Harries of Pentregarth for initiating this important debate. India is a truly great country for which I have great affection and admiration.
One of the greatest Indians was Dr B R Ambedkar, the Dalit who became a lawyer – an alumnus of Gray’s Inn – a parliamentarian, and social reformer, and who crafted India’s Constitution.
Last month I was honoured to take part in the unveiling of a new portrait and the opening of the room at Gray’s Inn dedicated to the only Indian ever to be awarded such an honour. Dr Ambedkar’s great-grandson Sujat Ambedkar was present.
Santosh Doss and Ali Malek QC Master Treasurer of Gray’s Inn, the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK all deserve our congratulations for bringing this project to fruition. .
For all Indian citizens the story of Dr Ambedkar and his Constitution is an inspiring route out of enforced misery, a pathway out of servitude, a road map to emancipation justice, and equality.
It sign posts the way to social, economic and political justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and above all, the fraternity and dignity of its citizens.
But as Dr.Ambedkar once said: “If I find the constitution being misused, I shall be the first to burn it.”
He would surely be greatly disturbed that millions of Dalit and tribal people still remain excluded from their rights guaranteed in that Constitution and that the BJP Government has presided over the steady erosion of those hard won gains.
Take the incarceration of human rights defenders, academics, and lawyers without bail or prospect of an early trial. Dr Anand Teltumbde, Dr Ambedkar’s grand son-in-law is one of those in incarcerated without bail. He is aged 71.
Those jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case have consistently, and robustly denied the charges against them. Yet some have been in jail for years – without bail under dubious sedition laws – bequeathed by the British – on trumped up charges and on flawed evidence.
Many are elderly and have medical health conditions. Along with Dr. Teltumbde, the 80-year-old human rights activist and poet, Varavara Rao, the 60-year old trade unionist, activist and lawyer, Sudha Bharadwaj are languishing in jail. All of them are in extreme danger of catching the Covid virus in jail. All have been denied bail.
And think of Father Stan Swamy who spent his life defending the rights of Tribal peoples in India. A frail 84-year-old man with Parkinson’s. Yet despite applications on health grounds, the authorities denied him bail. His death was unjust. It needs to be investigated impartially.
Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, said following Father Swamy’s death in custody: “There is no excuse, ever, for a human rights defender to be smeared as a terrorist, and no reason they should die the way Father Swamy died, accused and detained and denied his rights”. I echo this.
The rapes and punishment rapes of Dalit and tribal women and girls also has to be of the gravest concern to us.
I welcome the reply the noble Lord Ahmad gave me on 19 July about the British High Commission’s project to provide legal training for Dalit women to combat violence against them. I really hope this will make a real tangible difference and can be measured in due course.
Finally, India, like other countries, has suffered grievously under Covid. We have all seen the heart-breaking reports. The long-term health and economic impacts of Covid on Dalits and Tribals people who would frequently be the daily labourers or bonded labourers must be researched. The human rights that Dr Ambedkar championed all his life must be protected.
In his book “The Annihilation of Caste” Dr.Ambedkar said “A just society is that society in which ascending sense of reverence and descending sense of contempt is dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society”