- The event marked the culmination of a four-year-long endeavor by the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple.
New York played an important role in Dr. B. R Ambedkar’s life as a graduate student at Columbia University in 1913. It was instrumental in shaping his “understanding of caste in his formative years,” according to Akash Singh Rathore’s new biography “Becoming Babasaheb: The Life and Times of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.” In an expert shared by The Quint, “Young Ambedkar’s emerging academic understanding of caste was helping him give systematic expression to his many prior years of the lived experience of systemic caste prejudice. Alongside and as an impetus to this were also his widening experiences on issues of race, class and gender. To some extent, this new exposure came more experientially, from treading the streets of Upper Manhattan and Harlem.”
Ambedkar told his biographer C.B. Khairmode that he “thoroughly enjoyed himself for the first few months in New York,” according to Ambedkarite Today, a Dalit civil rights magazine. “Compared to his experiences in India, things were pleasantly different,” the magazine said. “Ambedkar played tennis and badminton, went dancing and sledding, and attended classes with men and women from across the world, and shared dormitories with other students and spent long nights conversing with friends.”
Earlier this summer, the jurist, economist, social reformer and political leader, was honored for his association with New York, and his work of eradicating social inequality in India by co-naming a street intersection after him. Amidst the resounding chants of “Jai Bhim,” many New Yorkers, mostly people from different Dalit communities, congregated in the Queens borough of New York City on June 25 for the unveiling of the street plate on the intersection of 61st Street and Broadway and 61st Street in Woodside bearing the words “Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Way.”
The event marked the culmination of a four-year-long endeavor by the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, a place of worship for members who follow the Ravidassia sect within Sikhism, described by SikhWiki as “a Sikh Hindu sub-group that originated from the caste of leather tanners and shoemakers known as Chamar.” Ashok Kumar Mahi, the president of the temple, told Documented it was a historic moment and a tribute to the unacknowledged founding figure of modern India. “People typecast Ambedkar as a Dalit leader, but he worked to secure the rights of all citizens of India. Today he is a global figure.” Balbir Chand Chumber, a community leader at the temple told the investigative watchdog and journalism project that “before Babasaheb, we were a dead community. He breathed life into us.”
Attendees included several officials like New York City council member Julie Won, Congresswoman Grace Meng, New York State Assembly member Steven Raga, and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, along with Randhir Jaiswal, the Indian Consul General in New York. Won said “Ambedkar was deserving of the street co-naming since he became an international symbol against caste discrimination through his life and work,” the Sunnyside Post reported. “As the district that’s home to Shri Guru Ravidass Temple of New York and thousands of Dalit community members, I’m honored that we as a community commemorated the life and contributions of Dr. Ambedkar with this street co-naming,” Won said. “Dr. Ambedkar spent his life overcoming adversity and fighting against the discrimination of Dalits, women, and religious minorities. His commitment to equality and justice is an inspiration to us all.”
“Co-naming the intersection symbolizes the city upholding his ideals of equality, justice, and dignity for all,” read a Facebook post by Hindus for Human Rights, a non-profit advocacy group. “Let’s carry forward Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s legacy and continue to work together for a more inclusive and compassionate world.”