Text of the talk delivered on April 22, 2016 at the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo on the occasion of B. R. Ambedkar Commemoration.
Ambedkar’s Legacy: Critique of Religion, Quest for Social Justice and the Paradox of Constitutionalism
Jayadeva Uyangoda, Senior professor of Political Science, University of Colombo
May I begin my talk this evening by thanking His Excellency Y. K. Sinha the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo for inviting me to deliver this lecture on B. R. Ambedkar? This event is part of a series of celebrations in connection with the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, which fell on the 14th of April. I am afraid my talk may not celebrate great Ambedkar’s memory and legacy as such. It will only present some disjointed and hurriedly constructed thoughts about the life and legacy of this great son of South Asia.
Ambedkar’s name is well known in Sri Lanka. In Sinhalese society, the popular culture of which I am somewhat familiar with, Ambedkar is known as the leader of India’s Harijan communities. The word dalit is not in much use in Sinhalese society. The Gandhian neologism of harijan is better known. Ambedkar is respected as the Harijan leader who embraced Buddhism along with several thousands of his followers. Sinhalese Buddhists are particularly sympathetic to Ambedkar and his social reform movement. For them, Ambedkar’s project constituted a critique and a rejection of Hinduism. This is despite the fact that Buddhism has historically and in terms of elite as well as popular practices been closely interwoven with Hinduism. Quite independent of Ambedkar, Sri Lankan Buddhists have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Hinduism and Hindu traditions as well. It is almost like their ambivalence towards India in general, as some of their intellectuals and professionals seem to be inclined to demonstrate these days. Continue reading “Jayadeva Uyangoda on Ambedkar’s Legacy”