Tue | Dec 6, 2022

Ambedkar was India’s Marcus Garvey, says diplomat ahead of Tower Street renaming

Published:Monday | May 16, 2022 | 12:10 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) introduces Ram Nath Kovind, president of India, and his wife, Savita, to Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Lisa Hanna at the Norman Manley International Airport on Sunday. To Hanna’s left are Foreign Minist
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) introduces Ram Nath Kovind, president of India, and his wife, Savita, to Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Lisa Hanna at the Norman Manley International Airport on Sunday. To Hanna’s left are Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith and Education Minister Fayval Williams.
Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman (right) escorts Ram Nath Kovind (third left), president of India, shortly after his arrival at the Norman Manley International airport on Sunday.
Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman (right) escorts Ram Nath Kovind (third left), president of India, shortly after his arrival at the Norman Manley International airport on Sunday.
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Offering parallels with the advocacy of Jamaica’s first national hero Marcus Garvey, Indian High Commissioner Masakui Rungsung has described the decision to rename parts of Tower Street after his country’s civil-rights leader, the late Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, as a touching tribute.

The request, which was made in the latter half of 2021, was formally approved by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) during a special sitting at the Jamaica Conference Centre on May 6.

“It was a tremendous and fascinating moment for me. It was very emotional, too, because more than 15,000km from India, the KSAMC debated, deliberated, and articulated very beautifully and forcefully in favour of this,” Rungsung said in a Gleaner interview on Sunday.

Comparing Ambedkhar to Garvey, whose message of black empowerment fuelled race pride globally and nationalist movements in Africa, Rungsung said that the late Indian rights lobbyist was “an iconic figure” who spearheaded the creation of that country’s constitution.

“He was the father and architect of our constitution, the constitution of the largest democracy in the world. After 75 years of our independence, this constitution stands and has served us while many constitutions in other parts of the world have faltered,” said Rungsung.

Ambedkar, who served as India’s first minister of law and justice, was an advocate against discrimination throughout India, especially for the ‘untouchables’, the country’s lowest caste.

India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, due to efforts by Indian nationalists like Ambedkar, but rigid class lines continue to hold sway in much of its society.

In 1990, Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, for his contribution to national development.

Rungsung said Ambedkar’s strident tenacity in the face of adversity was driven by his own personal experiences.

“He was from a very low stratum in society, a humble and discriminated background. He himself faced serious discrimination during his lifetime,” the high commissioner said.

Not only did Ambedkar wage a war against discrimination for marginalised communities, but he was also a champion for women’s and children’s rights during a time when those issues were taboo in India.

“He was far ahead of his time even today. During his time, he spoke about equal inheritance rights for women, even that illegitimate children should have equal rights in the family and inheritance law in India. That was more than 75 years ago before our constitution came into force and he was fighting for that,” Rungsung added.

At a KSAMC meeting earlier this month, Tivoli Gardens division Councillor Donovan Samuels said Jamaica had a rich history of honouring and supporting human-rights lobbyists.

Samuels, who described Ambedkar as “a champion of the poor and lower class”, said it would be fitting to recognise the late campaigner.

And councillor for the Papine division, Venesha Phillips, called for the erection of a monument in honour of Ambedkar.

The official ceremony to rename sections of Tower Street to Dr B.R. Ambedkar Avenue will take place on Monday, the second of a four-day visit by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind.

The president will this morning lay a floral tribute and pay respects at the grave of National Hero Marcus Garvey. Kovind will also address lawmakers in Gordon House on Tuesday.