How London shaped Ambedkar : The Tribune India

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How London shaped Ambedkar

How London shaped Ambedkar

Ambedkar in London Edited by William Gould, Santosh Dass and Christophe Jaffrelot. Rupa. Pages 352. Rs 995

Book Title: Ambedkar in London

Author: William Gould

Ranbir Singh

Edited by William Gould, Santosh Dass and Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘Ambedkar in London’ is a contextual exploration of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s experiences in the British capital, utilising a refreshing interdisciplinary approach. Merging the methodologies of history, urban studies, archival research and political thought, the book sheds new light on the profound impact of Ambedkar’s London sojourn on his anti-caste ideology and activism.

One of the most striking contributions of the book lies in its innovative methodology, especially with regard to the scholarship on Ambedkar. Rather than simply recounting his biography, the editors delve into a previously underutilised resource: the archive. This archival focus is particularly evident in Part One, which meticulously reconstructs Ambedkar’s student life in London. Chapters by Gould, Donnelly and Payne, and Gasztowicz utilise unpublished archival sources, including Ambedkar’s student file at the London School of Economics (LSE), to paint a vivid picture of his academic journey and potential intellectual networks. These details allow the book to move beyond the well-trodden biographical terrain, revealing the formative influence of specific courses, professors and fellow students on Ambedkar’s evolving political ideas.

This focus on the archive extends beyond academic life. Dass, in Chapter 6, utilises letters, emails and media narratives to offer a first-hand account of the campaign to establish the Ambedkar House Museum at 10 KHR, his former residence. This detailed reconstruction not only illuminates the challenges and triumphs of preserving Ambedkar’s legacy in London, but also showcases the relevance of his work.

The book’s engagement with the archive is not merely about recovering the past. By delving into unpublished materials and personal correspondence, the editors demonstrate a crucial link between Ambedkar’s London experiences and the enduring struggles against caste discrimination. For instance, Chapter 7 by Dass, drawing on her own experiences as a founding member of CasteWatchUK, connects Ambedkar’s pioneering legal battles in London to the contemporary fight for anti-caste legislation in Britain. This approach underscores the enduring global impact of Ambedkar’s work.

Furthermore, the book breaks new ground in its exploration of “spatiality”, moving beyond the confines of rural India. It examines how the urban environment of London shaped Ambedkar’s understanding of caste. This lens, as highlighted in the introduction, reveals the stark contrast between the oppressive realities of village life for Dalits and the potential for a measure of social mobility within the city.

This focus on urban studies and geography offers valuable insights into Dalit politics and the ways in which archival traces can illuminate the spatial dimensions of social movements.

‘Ambedkar in London’ is more than just a critical addition to writings on Ambedkar. The editors’ personal connection to Ambedkar’s legacy, evident in their involvement with the Ambedkar House Museum campaign, infuses the narrative with a sense of immediacy.

By researching through the path of archival sources, the book is a time capsule of Ambedkar’s London years, which shaped his intellectual and political trajectory in the years to come. This innovative approach, combined with its interdisciplinary lens and focus on spatiality, sheds new light on a pivotal figure in the fight against the caste system.