Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference 2017 opens with a New Deal for India

July 21st Bengaluru: 300 scholars from across the globe and different parts of India, 81 speakers and 9000 expected participants over three days set the tone for the inauguration of the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference – Quest for Equity, the largest Ambedkar Conference in the world, in Bengaluru today.

The Conference, spearheaded by the Karnataka Government, opened to a full house of prominent international and national academics, social activists, policy makers and politicians. The Conference was inaugurated by Shri Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the Indian National Congress, Mr. Martin Luther King III, social reformer and activist, Shri Prakash Ambedkar, advocate and activist, Shri Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Laureate and activist, Shri Siddaramaiah, Hon. Chief Minister of Karnataka and Dr. H.C Mahadevappa, Hon. Minister of Public Works, Government of Karnataka and Convener for the International Conference.

The International Conference titled “Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambedkar” in Bengaluru will last three days from the 21st to 23rd of July, 2017, one day after Dr. Ambedkar exhorted the nation to “Educate, Organise, Agitate” on the 20th of July, 1924.  The Conference seeks to leverage Babasaheb’s life and work as an inspiration to critically reflect on the contemporary significance of social, political and economic justice in India, and across the world. 

Inaugurating the Conference, Shri Rahul Gandhi addressed the gathered audience with powerful words saying, “Truth and Power are not the same thing. Truth is what stands up to power.” Citing some of the most influential leaders and change makers in the world including Gandhiji, Martin Luther King and Babasaheb Ambedkar, he pointed to the fact that what they all had in common was the ability and courage to speak the truth to power. 

“Today, there is no doubt that the emperor is completely naked but there is no one with any courage to point it out”, said Mr. Gandhi talking about the systemic oppression of the most important institutions in the country and the blatant subversion of democracy to serve the purposes of a few.

Mr. Gandhi drew parallels between Hitler’s assertion that reality was best understood so that it could be strangulated with what he called a dangerous, new global epidemic that sought to distort the truth. Remembering Rohit Vemula, Mohammad Aqlakh and the many farmer suicides in the country, Mr. Gandhi sought to show a mirror to the current narrative of Indian past glory that was unblemished, countering it with the fact that every country including India would always have its strengths but also its flaws, in our case casteism and untouchability. 

He warned that the aim of the current government and the RSS was to mutilate the Constitution given to us by Babasaheb Ambedkar and the need for more dialogue and discourse like the one that the Conference promises to encourage. He exhorted the nation to do what Dr. Ambedkar had made famous – Educate, Organize, Agitate.

Martin Luther King III began with a tribute to his father, talking about the fierceness, passion, spirituality and compassion that led him to become one of the most prominent names in the world that stood against oppression and for affirmative action. Mr. King drew attention to the many similarities between Dr. King and Dr. Ambedkar, calling them leaders with tough minds and tender hearts.

Speaking about the current scenario, he then went on to point out to the common challenges that face the United States and India because of its leadership, calling out to the inherent danger of both. He talked about the fact that both nations were being led by personalities that seek to unleash divisiveness and cater to majoritarian forces that stand against the very spirit of democracy and equality.

Mr. King said, “Like Donald Trump’s campaign, the election of Modi has unleashed a ferocious animosity against minorities. Parallels abound between the “allt-right” in the US and the “hindu-extreme right” in India.

Welcoming guests, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah talked about the rich heritage of Karnataka saying, “Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas resonate profoundly with Karnataka’s long, rich and heterogeneous legacies upholding social justice and equality. From Basavanna, vachanakaras, the Bhakti, Sufi and tatvapadakara traditions to the freedom struggle, Karnataka has always had an egalitarian outlook towards life.”

He went on to say, “Dr. Ambedkar had rightlywarned us that political equality cannot become a reality unless we ensuresocial and economic equality. Over the last 4 years all our policies andprogrammes have been designed to ensure economic freedom to ourcitizens particularly those who are marginalised, stigmatised anddisadvantaged.  We in Karnataka also believe strongly in Prof. AmartyaSen’s categorisation of‘Development as Freedom’.  

Pointing out to the state of the nation today, theChief Minister said, “Today, we are told that being a good Indian means wehave to ignore the inequality and exploitation in our midst; that we need toadhere to rigid norms regarding food, clothing, language and free speech; thatwe have to privilege the majoritarian view of India. I reject that view astotally opposed to the letter and spirit of our Constitution.”

Talking about the B. R. Ambedkar InternationalConference, he said, “Some of the world’s finest minds have gatheredhere to comprehensively assess the contemporary challenges and opportunitiesthat India faces. Through their deliberations, the Karnataka Government willlaunch the Bengaluru Declaration, which will outline specific constitutional,institutional and policy responses to the concerns of social justice, humanrights, freedom and democracy. To borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, “out ofthe mountain of despair, a stone of hope”.   

Dr. Mahadevappa, Minister PWD, Government ofKarnataka and Convenor of the Conference said, “Itis imperative for all progressive forces committed to safeguardingthe idea of a pluralistic India to keep aside their differences and worktogether. Over the next few days, all of us will engage in a healthy dialecticto critically analyze what has been, and what can be. 

To borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, I have adream, that one day, like the World Economic Forum, we will be able toeventually convert this platform as the World Equity and Development Forum.” 

The Conference will host 83 international, 149national and 80 state-level speakers including the foremost academics,activists and policy-makers. In addition, it will see over 9000 participantsfrom all walks of life.

The Conference is a coming together of all progressiveforces committed to safeguarding the constitutional idea of India.

The Conference will also launch the BengaluruDeclaration, which will outline specific constitutional, institutional andpolicy responses to concerns of equity, human rights, freedom and democracy(matters that have become especially pressing in the last three years). 

For more information on the Conference, please log onto www.questforequity.org

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