I knew the history of identifying the place and putting up the plaque there which was entirely to the credit of FABO. And also I knew how much efforts FABO and personally you put into this acquisition project. But the larger question I raised remains: to what extent we offer ourselves to be fooled by the ruling classes in the name of Ambedkar. The ground realities are terrible in every which way one can imagine. This identity game only helps our enemies and paradoxically we take pride in it.
Ambedkar after all may have stayed in one of its rooms for a couple of years. But the apt memorial could have been the house he built and, if we are really discerning, then those two rooms in an innocuous chawl where he stayed many years of his impressionable age. I am not enamoured with memorials personally because they do more harm in distorting history than enlivening it. But just to test the bhakti of Ambedkarites, I would like to see the objects indicated by me being turned into memorials with their own money.
Please do not take it amiss. I have great respect for your work and commitment but some one needs to speak out these bitter truths and it appears to have fallen on me.
An interesting wake-up call, one that highlights serious issues that should concern us all.
I don't wish to comment on the politics in India when it comes to Dr Ambedkar's legacy. I thought though that I might clarify the position about the recently acquired house in London by the Government of Maharashtra (GOM). Let's be clear - this was in no way an initiative lead by the Indian Government or GOM. Until the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhists Organisations UK (FABO UK) formally approached GOM on 1 September 2014, 10 King Henry's Road NW3 (10KHR) wasn't even on their radar.
10KHR, like other houses in the UK that notable people have lived in at some point, had already been recognised by EnglishHeritage in 1991 as a building of great significance. EH had installed a 'blue plaque' on the exterior of the property. It reads: "DR BHIMRAO RAMJI AMBEDKAR 1891-1956 Indian Crusader for Social Justice lived here 1921-22". This plaque was initiated by the Ambedkarite community under the auspices of the FABO UK as part of the centenary celebrations of Dr Ambedkar's birthday in the UK.
10KHR has long been a place of pilgrimage for Ambedkarites and people interested in equal rights. This was the house in which Dr Ambedkar enriched his academic studies and strengthened his resolve to challenge the impact of the Caste System and British Rule in India. Furthermore, he wrote his thesis The Problem of the Rupee: Its origin and its solution during his stay at 10KHR. It is Dr Ambedkar's significant contribution to monetary economics. Its importance has lasted until the present day. So the house is very significant for FABO UK and others.
Incidentally, to add a wider perspective, this September, campaigners in the UK finally managed to raise £520,000 to buy a cottage that the great poet, artist and visionary William Blake lived in for several years. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/sep/23/campaigners-buy-william-blakes-cottage-and-his-vegetable-patch. Collection of the funds was a huge struggle for the campaigners. Whilst collecting something like that sum from private donations might have been in the realms of possibility for 10KHR, raising the whole sum would have been impossible in the time available. There was even talk of people in India offering to donate parts of their salaries for this initiative. However, the realities and time scales of the commercial marketplace meant other action was necessary.
If it wasn't for the help of committed Ambedkarites such as Mr R K Gaikwad IAS (Former Secretary of GOM) and Mr Ramesh Katke, Deputy Registrar Department of Cooperation inMumbai, FABO UK would not have been able to make the formal approach to GOM to fund the purchase of 10KHR. As it was, it took almost a year of intense lobbying here in the UK and India to finally get GOM to seal the deal. At times we feared the innate bureaucracy and resistance by some to meet critical deadlines would lose us the house. At times the prospect of turning 10KHR into a memorial that visitors could actually visit and from where we could focus on internationalising the significance of Dr Ambedkar and the rich legacy he has left us all seemed nothing less than a dream.
It took hard work and the dedication of many individuals to secure 10KHR as a public property. Happy as we are that the house has been saved intact (retaining many of the original features from the time of Dr Ambedkar's stay), we are not naive about the challenges going forward.
There is much work to be done to ensure that GOM deliver on its commitments to turn 10KHR into a memorial to Dr Ambedkar. The intension is that the house is developed and maintained for the purpose it was bought. This will enable future generations of Ambedkarites and people interested in the history of freedom struggles whether they are Indian, Japanese, African, American or European.
We welcome your support.
President, FABO UK