Ambedkar birth anniversary celebrated in Wellington



Indian High Commissioner Neeta Bhushan with Karuna Muthu at the Ambedkar Birth Anniversary in Wellington

Venu Menon
Wellington, April 14, 2023

The High Commission of India in Wellington remained closed on April 14 to mark the birth anniversary of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as the father of the Indian Constitution.

At an event held on April 13 to honour Ambedkar on his 132nd birthday, High Commissioner of India to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan recalled the formation of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the Constitution in the wake of India’s independence in 1947.

“Our leaders at that time thought that the Indian Constitution must reflect the best features drawn from other constitutions around the world. We have celebrated 75 years of our Independence recently and we are moving towards 100 years. Even today, the Indian Constitution stands out as a masterpiece,” High Commissioner Bhushan told the guests assembled at the high commission premises on Pipitea St in Wellington.

Ambedkar was a multi-faceted personality who distinguished himself not only as the chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution but also as an economist, jurist and a social reformer, she noted.

“Ambedkar is an inspiration for me because he said a country is judged by the levels of achievement of its women. India is one of those countries where women have been in the forefront in all fields, from freedom fighters, civil servants, police, and now in the army and defence services as well. This was the vision that leaders like Ambedkar had for India,” High Commissioner Bhushan said.

She quoted Ambedkar’s advice to “be educated, be organised and be agitated.” Ambedkar was a staunch advocate for social justice and “the principles of democracy, socialism and secularism.”

Second Secretary (press, information and culture) Durga Dass enlightened the audience on the time taken to draft the Constitution. Holding aloft the “true copy of the Indian Constitution,” Dass said it took nearly “two years, 11 months and 18 days” to draft the “largest hand-written Constitution in the world.”

Next up, the audience was introduced to 16-year-old Satak Singh, a medical student at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who gave a stirring speech on unity and diversity in the context of India.

He was followed by Karuna Muthu, president of the Wellington Mutamizh Sangam and a candidate for Parliament in the upcoming 2023 general election. Muthu recalled his upbringing in Madurai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu under the shadow of social reformer stalwarts such as E V R Periyar and Ambedkar.

“My father was an ardent follower of both. He was a lieutenant of Periyar. He used to say India is like our hand whose fingers are of different shapes and sizes. But if the fingers don’t work together, there is no use having a hand,” Muthu said, adding, “So, despite all the diversity, differences and challenges, India prospers and is a beacon of hope among nations, especially post-colonial nations.”

Editor’s Note: Karuna (Karunanidhi Muthu)’s father, the late Madurai Muthu was also one of the founders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which is the current ruling party in Tamil Nadu.

Sunit, a diaspora member, recalled the scenes of people celebrating Ambedkar’s death anniversary on the streets of Mumbai with flags and chants of Jai Hind many years ago. “New Zealand does not have a written constitution, but India has one,” he observed.

Prof J. Shaw, the final speaker of the evening, highlighted Ambedkar’s notion of “dharma.” Noting that Ambedkar opposed the caste system prevalent in India, Prof Shaw said: “Some people exploited the caste system. The son of a Brahmin does not mean that he will be a Brahmin, unless he exhibits certain characteristics.”

“The caste system has nothing to do with heredity,” he explained.

Ambedkar “talked about equality, which is part of dharma,” Prof Shaw said.

The function opened with a video presentation of the Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial in New Delhi.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington.

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