Vancouver’s International Symposium on Dr Ambedkar explores course for emancipation of Dalits


By Jai Birdi and Param Kainth

As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, such was the case with the Dr. Ambedkar International Symposium on Emancipation and Equality Day Celebrations.

The week-long symposium was organized in Vancouver from April 21 to 26 by the Chetna Association of Canada with other partners. The purpose was to rethink, re-strategize, and rebrand the struggle and pathways for accomplishing emancipation. The symposium succeeded at having a meaningful dialogue and exploring pathways to emancipation.

The symposium opened on April 21 with a session on contemporary Buddhism, as envisioned by Dr. Ambedkar and prescribed in his book, Buddha and His Dhamma.  The session was moderated by Dr. Jessica Main (Associate Professor at University of British Columbia) and panel members were Bhante Dr. Saranpala, H.L. Virdee, Raj Kumar Osho, Dr. Rajratana Ambedkar.  Dr. Main was introduced by Manjit Bains, chair of Chetna’s Women Empowerment Committee.

India’s legal framework on emancipation was also discussed. The session was moderated by Advocate Lovleen Gill and on the panel were Consul General Manish (Indian Consulate General of India, Vancouver), Judge Neetu Badhan-Smith (Los Angeles County Court Supreme Judge), and Leela Aheer (Alberta Legislative Assembly). 

Sauder Business School at the University of British Columbiahosted another dialogueson entrepreneurship, and youth and women empowerment. Panel members included Harmesh Sandhi (Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha of Ontario), JagiriBance (Entrepreneur and political leader from Ontario), and Major Mal (president, Ambedkar International Mission – Calgary, Canada)

Dr. Ambedkar’s Collected Speeches and Writings were gifted to the University of the Fraser Valley by Harmesh Sandhi and other delegates from Ontario. A portrait of Dr. Ambedkar, made by Raghavendra Rao Karla, was also presented to the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford.  Title of the painting is, ‘Dr. Ambedkar & the idea of dissent, towards the creation of a working Democracy”.

On April 23, delegates were welcomed and honoured by the management while visiting Guru Ravidass Community Center in Burnaby. A gala reception was organized the same day to honour delegates and businesses for their support. Songs of self respect and dignity were performed by JyotikaJasuja and PammaSunner.

On April 24, a celebration was hosted at the WAC Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University where City of Burnaby was honoured for being the first city outside of India to proclaim April 14- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Day of Equality.  Simon Fraser University’s Vice president of External Relations (Dr. Joanne Curry), Dean of Libraries (Ms. Gwen Bird), and Indigenous Studies (Dr. Deanna Redder) welcomed the delegates to the library. Indian Consul General Mr. Manish also shared his greetings for the equality day and commended the organisers and partners for hosting the symposium.  As a part of the Equality Day Celebrations, the library exhibited a sample of writings on Dr. Ambedkar and caste issues.

April 25 started with a journey to Victoria, capital city of the Province of British Columbia, where over 25 delegates observed the Question Period at the BC Legislature.  MLA Aman Singh welcomed Dr. Rajratana Ambedkar and delegates to the legislature and acknowledged the symposium that was being hosted across various settings in British Columbia. Delegates also met BC’s first house speaker, Hon. Raj Chouhan, in his office. Mohinder and Krishna Ralh of Victoria (and members of Chetna Association of Canada) hosted a wonderful lunch for the delegates.

In the afternoon, delegates visited the law school library at University of Victoria and observed Equality Day with Dr. Rita Dhamoon and Dr. Pooja Parmar.  The discussion focussed on developing a pathway for emancipation based on the recommendations made during the symposium.

A final day for the formal component of the symposium was hosted at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Abbotsford. Dr. Satwinder Bains, Director of South Asian Studies Institute at UFV, facilitated a session and presented an overview on the caste structure and explained what actions UFV was contemplating for adding caste as a protected category to its policy framework on equity and Inclusion.

Dr. Rita Dhamoon of University of Victoria compiled a summary of discussion held and recommendations made during the symposium. 

In future the organizers plan to establish a working group to review the summary and develop an action plan so the progress can be monitored and evaluated to support the implementation of the recommendations.

Jai Birdi and Param Kainth are co-chairs of the Steering Committee for the Dr. Ambedkar International Symposium on Emancipation and Equality Day Celebrations 

May 2, 2023