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A dream finally coming true – An International Memorial to Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar in London

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On 24 January 2015, Mr Vinod Tawade, Minister for School Education, Sports and Youth Welfare, Higher and Technical Education tweeted that Government of Maharashtra (GOM) will buy 10 King Henrys Road NW3 (where Dr Ambedkar lived in 1921-22), and turn it into a memorial for Dr Ambedkar. There has been considerable worldwide media interest in this since the news broke that the house had been put up for sale. Mr Tawade’s announcement has been received with considerable delight and pride by Ambedkarites here in the UK and around the world. 10 King Henrys Road is already regarded as a significant and culturally historic site for Ambedkarites. It is in this house, Dr Ambedkar enriched his academic studies at the London School of Economics and Grays Inn, and strengthened his resolve to challenge Untouchability, and British Rule in India.  As part of the celebration of the centenary of Dr Ambedkar’s birth organised under the auspices of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABO UK), English Heritage recognised in 1991, 10 King Henrys Road, NW3 and installed a ‘blue plaque’ on the exterior of the property with the words “DR BHIMRAO RAMJI AMBEDKAR 1891-1956  Indian Crusader for Social Justice lived here 1921-22”. When the house came on the market for £3.1 million and was brought to the attention of Ambedkarite groups by Mr Harbans Lal Virdee at the end of August 2014, Ms Santosh Dass MBE, President  FABO UK immediately wrote to Mr Prithviraj Chavan, the former Chief Minister Maharashtra with a request that GOM fund the purchase of the house and allow Ambedkarites to turn it into a fitting memorial for Dr Ambedkar. She followed this up with letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi too. Since then, Ms Dass and colleagues in Mumbai – Padma Shri Kalpana Saroj, Mr Ramdas Athawale MP, Mr R K Gaikwad, IAS (Former Secretary GOM), Mr Ramesh Katke, Deputy Registrar Department of Cooperation, GOM have worked non-stop to secure the house – particularly in the last 14 days when there was a serious risk the house would be sold to a private developer. Mr Gautam Chakravarty FABO UK together with Mrs Saroj also lobbied the Government of India and met Mr Ajit Doval in Prime Minister Modi’s office on 31 December 2014 and handed copies of Ms Dass’s letters to the CM GOM and Prime Minister Modi. This coincided with Mr Chakravaty’s visit to India for his very successful World Peace Buddhist Convention in Surat, Gujarat, in January 2015 in which over 30,000 people participated. After months of email exchanges, phone calls and meetings, on 22 January 2015 by Ms Dass and colleagues in India, Mr Rajkumar Badole, Minister for Social Justice and Special Assistance finally (with the thanks to Mr Gaikwad) emailed an official letter to the Estate Agent with copies to Ms Dass and the High Commission in London. On the same day Tawade, who was on an official visit to London,  invited Ms Dass to a meeting with him on 23 January at 10am in London where he broke the news personally about the GOM’s decision to buy the house. Ms Dass invited the minister to the view the house and straight after that she accompanied the Minister to a meeting with Mr Ranjan Mathai, India’s High Commissioner to London. In response, to Mr Tawade’s announcement Ms Dass said,”I am delighted that the Government of Maharashtra has begun the legal process to secure the Architect of the Constitution of India – Dr Ambedkar’s –  former residence in north London. This follows my letter to the former CM of the Government of Maharashtra, on 1  September 2014 and the robust lobbying since. Mr Vinod Tawade gave me this good news on 23 January 2015 in person at meeting in London.  I invited the Minister to come with me and visit 10 King Henrys Road NW3. Fortunately he was able to adjust his diary and obliged just before he flew back to India. Straight after visiting the house we met India’s High Commissioner in London where the Minister asked the High Commission to begin the legal process to acquire the house. I am thrilled with Mr Tawade’s public statements that the house will be turned into a memorial to Dr Ambedkar. We have a lot of work to do still to make sure we achieve this and deliver Dr Ambedkar’s legacy. Just for this initiative to get this far has already brought so many people together from across the continents wherever the South Asian diaspora has reached. For untold generations of people to come, 10 King Henry’s Road will become a place of pilgrimage for people around the globe inspired by the fractious history of civil rights, the potential successes of social activism and, of course, Dr Ambedkar’s legacy. With this fillip, the cause can only grow from strength to strength.” GOM’s decision to buy the house on 22 January – at such a critical point in the sale of the House – will be remembered by Ambedkarites around the world. Arun Kumar, General Secretary, FABO UK said,  “After a prolonged suspense, timely decision is made to secure this property otherwise we would have lost a very important piece of our heritage and history. This is the biggest tribute to Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution on the Republic Day of India. This memorial can provide a national and international centre for people to visit to learn about Ambedkar, his life, his ideas, his achievements, and his work.” FABO UK was established in 1985 to take Dr Ambedkar’s contribution on democracy, human rights and social justice to the wider world. The dedicated hard work of his followers have resulted in Dr Ambedkar’s statues have been installed in Columbia University, London School of Economics and Simon Fraser University in Canada. These places have become a source of inspiration for students and teachers alike and also places of pilgrimage for the visitors. Similarly the new Ambedkar Memorial in London will provide a national and international centre for people to visit and learn about Ambedkar, his life, his ideas, his achievements, and his work. At the unveiling of the blue plaque on 6 December 1991, Mr Hattersley MP, the then Deputy Leader of the Labour Party said he was greatly honoured to be asked to unveil the plaque and he mentioned that Indian democracy as advocated by Babsaheb Ambedkar was still continuing as the largest democracy in the world. Ms Glenda Jackson, actress and now an MP said she was “delighted to be there to honour the memory of the great man.” She recalled Dr Ambedkar’s pioneering work for the cause of the deprived classes and expressed the hope that the commemorative plaque would continue to serve as a reminder of Dr Ambedkar’s achievements. The then Acting High Commissioner for India, Mr Krishna V. Rajan said “One of the things he [Dr Ambedkar] stood for was strengthening India’s unity despite its great diversity,” he added  “I thought it would be useful to remind ourselves of this when we reflect on his life and work. In other words, Dr Ambedkar, a champion of human rights with unimpeachable credentials and father of the Constitution, made it clear years ago that human rights should not be confused with, nor used as a pretext to achieve, self-determination for parts of our land. ” Mr Rajan concluded by praising “the dedication and the commitment” of the Ambedkar Centenary Celebration Committee UK, of its President Chahal, General Secretary Gautam. In response to the latest developments Mr. Gautam Chakravarty Joint General Secretary, FABO UK said:  “We began the work to install the memorial plaque outside 10 King Henrys Road in 1974. It took us until 1991 to secure the necessary permission and unveil the blue plaque. To be in a position now in a matter of months and have an official commitment by the Government of Maharashtra that the house will be paid for by them and turned into a memorial is like a dream come true to me. We have to thank Ms Santosh Dass, FABO UK’s President, and colleagues in India for working so hard on this since September 2014”

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