THE purpose of the Dr. Ambedkar International Symposium on Emancipation and Equality Day Celebrations was to rethink, re-strategize and rebrand the struggle and pathways for accomplishing emancipation. Delegates and panel members were fully engaged and impactful in stimulating discussion and formulating strategies and actions.
The symposium opened on April 21 with a session on contemporary Buddhism, as envisioned by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and prescribed in his monumental book, Buddha and His Dhamma. The session was moderated by Dr. Jessica Main, Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia. Panel members included Bhante Dr. Saranpala, H.L. Virdee, Raj Kumar Osho, and Dr. Rajratana Ambedkar. Dr. Main was introduced by Manjit Bains, Chair of Chetna’s Women Empowerment Committee.
The day concluded with a session on how India’s legal framework enables emancipation. The session was moderated by advocate Lovleen Gill and the panel comprised Indian Consul General Manish, Neetu Badhan-Smith, Los Angeles County Court Supreme Judge, and Leela Aheer, Alberta MLA.
A full day session was hosted at the Sauder Business School at the University of British Columbia. The first session provided an opportunity to reflect on the International Dalit Conference that was hosted in Vancouver in 2003. Panel members shared their reflections on what has been gained over the past 20 years and highlighted areas of improvement and potential actions to consider. Panel members included Harmesh Sandhi (Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha of Ontario), Jagiri Bance (Entrepreneur and political leader from Ontario), and Major Mal (President, Ambedkar International Mission – Calgary).
A session on caste in academic settings in Canada and other jurisdictions provided opportunity for students and faculty to share their perspectives and observations on the presence of caste and highlighted a need for adding caste as a protected category. This session was moderated by Dr. Priti Narayan of Center for India and South Asia Research at UBC.
Other sessions for the day focussed on entrepreneurship, and youth and women empowerment.
Dr. Ambedkar’s Collected Speeches and Writings were gifted to the University of the Fraser Valley by Harmesh Sandhi and other delegates from Ontario. A portrait of Dr. Ambedkar, made by Raghavendra Rao Karla, was also presented to the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford. Title of the painting: ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the idea of dissent, towards the creation of a working democracy”.
On Sunday, April 23, delegates visited Guru Ravidass Community Center in Burnaby and paid respects. They were welcomed and honoured by the management committee of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha.
The evening offered a gala reception where delegates and business sponsors were honoured for their support and contributions. Songs of self-respect and dignity were performed by Jyotika Jasuja and Pamma Sunner.
On April 24, a celebration was hosted at the WAC Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University, where the City of Burnaby was honoured for being the first city outside of India to proclaim April 14 as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Day of Equality. Simon Fraser University’s Vice President of External Relations, Dr. Joanne Curry, Dean of Libraries, Gwen Bird, and Cree-Métis scholar, Dr. Deanna Redder, welcomed the delegates to the library. Indian Consul General Manish also shared his greetings for the equality day and commended the organisers and partners for hosting the symposium. As part of the Equality Day Celebrations, the library exhibited a sample of writings on Dr. Ambedkar and caste issues.
Songs were performed by Jyotika Jasuja and a theatrical performance on women empowerment was presented by Simran Kranti.
In the evening, some delegates visited the City of Burnaby and attended the open council meeting to witness the City’s motion on adding caste as a protected category to its existing policy framework. The motion was approved unanimously and it was a remarkable experience to see history in the making.
April 25 started with a journey to Victoria, where over 25 delegates observed the Question Period at the BC Legislature. Parliamentary Secretary Aman Singh welcomed Dr. Rajratana Ambedkar and delegates to the legislature and acknowledged the symposium that was being hosted across various settings in British Columbia. Delegates also met BC’s first South Asian Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Raj Chouhan, in his office. Mohinder and Krishna Ralh of Victoria and members of Chetna Association of Canada hosted a lunch for the delegates.
In the afternoon, delegates visited the law school library at the University of Victoria and observed Equality Day with Dr. Rita Dhamoon and Dr. Pooja Parmar. The discussion focussed on developing a pathway for emancipation based on the recommendations made during the symposium.
The final day for the formal component of the symposium was hosted at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Abbotsford. Dr. Satwinder Bains, Director of South Asian Studies Institute at UFV, facilitated a session and presented an overview on the caste structure and explained what actions UFV was contemplating for adding caste as a protected category to its policy framework on equity and inclusion.
What is the impact of the symposium?
According to the organisers, the symposium succeeded at having a meaningful dialogue and exploring pathways to emancipation.
“While there are many pathways to Emancipation, right pathways need to be selected that are effective and efficient,” noted Jai Birdi, co-chair for the symposium and General Secretary of Chetna Association of Canada.
“We believe the process provided for the meaningful and inclusive dialogue helped in developing effective strategies and actions,” concurred Parm Kainth, co-chair for the symposium and Vice President of Ambedkarite International Coordination Society.
Organisers are very grateful to the delegates, partners, and supporters who contributed in one form or another.
The organisers are also thankful to the team, led by Dr. Rita Dhamoon of University of Victoria, for compiling a summary of discussion held and recommendations made during the symposium. Organisers plan to establish a working group to review the summary and develop an action plan so the progress can be monitored and evaluated to support the implementation of the recommendations.
– JAI BIRDI AND PARAM KAINTH
Co-chairs of the Steering Committee for the celebrations