Ambedkar Symposium in Toronto

Sun Mar 10 01:38:20 UTC 1991

Status: RO

Dear Colleagues:
As you may be aware, 1991 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the
birth of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, president of the commission that drafted
the constitution of India upon her independence. The Indian
constitution that resulted from that commission is a remarkable
document, which not only outlaws the inequities that had
characterized Indian society for millennia, but also provided
measures to help rectify the imbalances in economic power and social
influence that had resulted from those inequities.
Ambedkar was born into that stratum of Indian society known
as the Untouchables. That he eventually rose to a position of
influence is a testimony both to this man's remarkable talents and
to the currents of change that were being experienced in some
sectors of Indian society.
Ambedkar's memory is respected in many quarters, but he is perhaps
remembered most fondly by the people whose lot he dedicated his life
to trying to improve. Ambedkar spent several decades researching the
various religious traditions that have taken root in Indian soil,
and he concluded that Buddhism was the religion most suited to those
of the formerly untouchable classes, because in Ambedkar's opinion
the teachings of the Buddha most embodied the spirit of universal
respect and offered most encouragement in the direction of social
equality. In the last year of his life, therefore, Ambedkar formally
became a Buddhist lay person, and some half a million former
untouchables almost immediately followed suit. Today, many Buddhists
of Indian background belong to the Ambedkar Mission, a society
dedicated to carrying on the spirit of social reform by the peaceful
methods encouraged by the teachings of the Buddha.
As part of its commemoration of the centenary of Ambedkar's birth,
The Ambedkar Mission of Canada wishes to sponsor an open discussion,
in an academic setting, of the social and even religious reforms for
which Dr. Ambedkar stood. The Centre for South Asian Studies at the
University of Toronto has agreed to cooperate in conducting a
one-day symposium on the issues around which B.R. Ambedkar built his
career. The purpose of the symposium would be to take a critical
look at several different areas of inquiry: 1) the extent to which
Ambedkar's appraisal of Buddhism as a vehicle for radical social
reform can be sustained, 2) the record of effectiveness that the
affirmative action programs have had in India since independence,
and 3) the political measures that have had to be taken to implement
the social equalities guaranteed by the Indian constitution and the
consequences of those measures.
A number of scholars from Canada, the United States and India have
already indicated their eagerness to participate in such a
symposium. All of those who have so far agreed to participate in
such an event, if it can be organized, have also agreed to come, if
at all possible, at their own expense; and those for whom this is
not possible will be financially assisted by the Ambedkar Mission of
If there is a chance that you would like to attend this symposium,
or at least send a paper to be read there (it is hoped that the
symposium papers can be subsequently published), or if you wish
further information, please contact me by e-mail or by conventional
post as soon as possible.
Dr. Richard P. Hayes
Faculty of Religious Studies
McGill University
3520 University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
H3T 1H7
Tel:     (514) 398-4121
e-mail:  CXEV at MUSICA.McGill.CA

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