Baisakhi & Dr. Ambedkar Day – Reflections on Triumphs & Struggles- by JAI BIRDI
Dr. Ambedkar was born on April 14. Baisakhi falls on either April 13 or on April 14, depending on whether the lunar calendar is being used or not to observe this great day.
Dr. Ambedkar is being recognized globally as one of the greatest champions of human rights. He is also being celebrated for his contributions to the framing of the Indian constitution.
Baisakhi is being celebrated as a day of equality. This was the day when the 10th Guru of Sikhism established Khalsa Panth and required the followers to sit together and have meal prepared in the communal kitchen and served in the same eating area- regardless of one’s caste, economic, or social identity. Establishment of the Panth led to a very powerful social movement that was successful for many years and it lived up to the ideals; in some areas of the world, it continues to do so!
Similarly, since the constitution was enacted 69 years ago, we have already noticed many fruits of the transformation.
We have witnessed India producing female prime minister; female chief ministers; presidents who hailed from the Sikh, Muslim, and Dalit communities. We saw the powerful legacy left behind by His Excellency KR Naraynan who served as an ‘executive president’ and used his authority to have the lawmakers to reconsider the list of nominations for the chief justices of Supreme Courts and the Chief Justice of India and see that the qualified judges from the marginalized communities were also included. Former Chief Justice of India, Hon. Balakrishnan ji, was an outcome of this due diligence undertaken by His Excellency Shri. KR Naraynan Ji.
We had also seen the Behan Mayawati ji, becoming the first Dalit woman Chief Minister of one of the largest States in India, Utter Pradesh, not once, but four times!.
In framing of the Constitution, Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar ji envisioned democracy at three levels:
- Economic, and
Political democracy was indeed achieved when the constitution took effect on Jan. 26, 1950. This gave equal right of one vote for each adult citizen of India. However, it is of concern that the usage of EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) without paper ballets and arrests of intellectuals and activist for crimes they have not even committed is causing for some a great loss of confidence in the political democracy. For democracy to survive, it would be critical that “We, The People” have the confidence needed in the machinery of the state and see that it is operated objectively and fairly.
Democracy at economic and social levels also seems to be falling behind further as the gap between rich and poor is getting even wider.
We have people of India who are now at top of lists of the richest people in the world; and yet, we have also many who have daily income of less than $10 a day.
And about the effectiveness of democracy at the social level, one has to read a great compilation of stories (Mochi Da Putt) by Mohan Philauria.
Through these stories, Philauria highlights how many of those who hail from the Dalit ancestry and have even attained positions of higher authority and economic status, still do not have the needed confidence to be fully integrated and included in the social circles that cuts across all caste lines. Or worse, there are many who allege that were even excluded from being invited to social gatherings by their peers or colleagues.
The 10th Guru of Sikhism also wanted to eradicate caste distinction from the minds of many. Founder of the faith, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, gave a powerful direction and message: Rehat Piyari Mujh ko, Sikh Piayara Nahin, implying that the Guru favored people whose lifestyles were based on equality, liberty, and fraternity or similar values – displayed throughout the day to day interactions.
Regardless of how far the caravan of transformation has moved or the pace of at which it is moving, it is critical that the activists and the leadership continue to support having dialogues and debates and generate new and innovative ideas to give life to the vision of the 10th Guru ji and Dr. Ambedkar ji.
It is also encouraging to see the Province of British Columbia proclaiming April as the Sikh Heritage Month. The Province has also received suggestions that the month of April be proclaimed as Dalit History Month. These are important milestones and initiatives that can complement and support interests and desired of both constituencies. If utilized effectively, these initiatives can assist immensely in realizing the vision of the Great Gurus, thinkers, reformers, and leaders.
Greetings to all on the Baisakhi and the Dr. Ambedkar Day
Jai Birdi is general secretary of Chetna Association of Canada, a non-profit organization with objecting of creating casteless societies and building communities & democracies.