Gray’s Inn in London unveils the Ambedkar Room and a new portrait

Master Ali Malek QC, Master Treasurer, Gray’s Inn, unveiled the Ambedkar Room at Gray’s Inn on 30 June 2021, dedicated to Dr Ambedkar, known internationally as an extraordinary academic, writer, politician, socio-political reformer, economist, and jurist. He also inspired the Buddhist movement in India. As the chief architect of India’s Constitution, he abolished Untouchability, and secured social and fundamental legal rights and equality for its citizens.

The Ambedkar Room will be used by barristers in training and as a meeting room and is the result of discussions over the years between Ms Santosh Dass MBE, President of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABO UK) and Brigadier Anthony Harking OBE, Under Treasurer, at the Inn.

Master Ali Malek QC unveiled a new portrait of Dr Ambedkar by Buckinghamshire-based artist David Newens. The portrait was donated by FABO UK for the Ambedkar Room and was unveiled in presence of Sujat Ambedkar, Dr BR Ambedkar’s great-grandson. The new portrait commissioned by FABO UK in 2020, is based on a photo of Dr Ambedkar taken for LIFE magazine in May 1946 by one of the most respected photojournalists of her time in America, Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971).

David Newens’s portrait shows Dr Ambedkar in a relaxed mood on his veranda in his beloved garden at 26 Alipur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi. He stands in the summer sunshine with a hint of a smile with a cascade of magenta pink bougainvillea beside him.

Arun Kumar and C Gautam, FABO UK, presented a copy of India’s Constitution to Master Ali Malek QC. Alumni of Gray’s Inn, Ambedkarites, academics including Dr Suraj Yengde, and other distinguished guests took part at the reception hosted jointly by Gray’s Inn and FABO UK. David Newens and the parliamentarian Lord David Alton of Liverpool also attended. Covid restrictions meant a larger event could not take place as originally planned.

Dr Ambedkar at Gray’s Inn

As India’s Minister of Labour under the Viceroy’s Executive Council, between 1942 and 1946, Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar (14 April 1891–6 December 1956) secured significant legal protections for workers including a reduction in factory working hours, compulsory recognition by employers of Trade Unions, a requirement for settlement of industrial disputes and a minimum wage. He also secured maternity benefits and equal pay for equal work for working women. He was independent India’s first Minister of Law and Justice. With the Hindu Code Bill, he helped pioneer reforms that abolished polygamy, gave women the right to divorce, and the right to inherit property.

Dr Ambedkar spent two periods study at Gray’s Inn whilst also studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The first stint was from October 1916 to July 1917 – straight after he had completed his studies at Columbia University. Unfortunately, his studies in London were cut short when the Diwan (‘Minister’) of the State of Baroda (present-day Gujarat) recalled Dr Ambedkar to India because his scholarship had ended. The second stint began when Dr Ambedkar returned to London in July 1920. This time he relied on his savings, supplemented by loans. He was called at the Inn in June 1922.

Two portraits of Dr Ambedkar already hang at the Inn. The Ambedkar Memorial Committee of GB donated the first one in 1974. The Government of India donated the second in 2016 to mark Dr Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary. The 2016 portrait features on the back cover of Gray’s Inn book An Illustrated History of Gray’s Inn (2018) alongside the portraits of eleven other distinguished alumnus of the Inn. A short biography Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution’ under 1947 is contained in the same publication.

There is an Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides) in The Walks dedicated to Dr. Ambedkar. The then-High Commissioner of India to the UK, Mr L. M. Singhvi donated to the Inn in 1997.

In 1991 one of the Ambedkar Centenary Celebrations Committee’s receptions under the auspicious of FABO UK was held at Gray’s Inn. Lord Goff of Chieveley called Dr Ambedkar the “Moses of India”. Mr Anthony Scrivener, Chairman of the Bar said: “To honour Dr Ambedkar is to honour the importance of dignity of each human life, for it was he who fought for equality for the under privileged, for the poor and for the forgotten.

The Gray’s inn scenes in Jabber Patel’s 2000 film Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar were filmed at the Inn and FABO UK supported this. The Ambedkar Room unveiled on 30 June 2021 is the culmination of Gray’s Inn and FABO UK working together for a number of years on ways to raise the profile of Dr. Ambedkar at Gray’s Inn, and more generally in Britain.

The new portrait commissioned and donated by the FABO UK by David Newens based on a 1946 photo by the American photojournalist, Margaret Bourke-White now hangs in the Ambedkar Room at Gray’s Inn.

Ambedkar Museum London 

On 2 September 2014, FABO UK wrote to the then-Government of Maharashtra (GOM) with a proposal that they fund the purchase 10 King Henry’s Road, NW3 3RP where Dr Ambedkar lived in the 1920s, and turn it into a memorial. The house was bought by GOM a year later after intense lobbying. In March 2020, following a Public Inquiry in 2019, it was agreed this house – known as the Ambedkar House London since September 2015 –could have museum status. The museum is open to the public. For more information please contact: Santosh Dass MBE, President, FABO UK on +44 7902 806342 or Sam Hutchinson, Chief of Staff, Gray’s Inn on +44 207 458 7981

Remembering Dr Ambedkar 

Master Ali Malek QC said: Today we proudly celebrate the connection Dr B. R. Ambedkar had to Gray’s Inn. He could not have known that over half a century after his passing, his portraits would grace his Inn, that the Walks would boast a tree dedicated in his name, and people would gather to dedicate a room to his memory. Even for a man of his talents, that may have seemed too much – but one does not shape a nation in the way he did without the capacity to dream. Dr Ambedkar was an agent for change. From today, he will be woven much deeper into the fabric of his Inn, reminding us that no challenge is insurmountable and that the law can be a vehicle for social evolution that may previously have been considered impossible. Today I am honoured to unveil the Ambedkar Room and the graceful new portrait donated to the Inn by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK.”

Ms Santosh Dass MBE said: For a number of years The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn and I discussed ways in which we could raise the profile of Dr. Ambedkar at Gray’s Inn. Dr. Ambedkar was one of most educated people of his generation with degrees from India, America and Britain. He was a politician, socio-political reformer, economist, jurist and prolific writer. He inspired the Buddhist movement in India and was the chief architect of India’s Constitution. It is therefore demeaning when he is merely reduced to a leader of the ‘Untouchables’. He was much, much more than that. Dr. Ambedkar ought to be part of the British school curriculum. The social and economic reforms he passionately steered have helped change the lives of millions of people for the better. Dr Ambedkar believed in good and fair laws. He believed in secular society. We can imagine his outrage at the draconian laws that are being liberally used by the Indian Government now to incarcerate without bail, academics (including Dr Anand Teltumbde), human rights activists who raise their voice against atrocities against minorities or corruption, and the lawyers who defend them.  

I am confident the new Ambedkar Room and the new portrait donated today by FABO UK will arouse legal students’ curiosity to look into, and learn about Dr. Ambedkar’s accomplishments. I would like to thank Under Treasurer, Brigadier Anthony Harking OBE for his unswerving support and the many hours of discussion we have had over the years that have made the Ambedkar Room possible. This is a great honour for all Ambedkarites around the world.” 

Lord David Alton of Liverpool said: “It is remarkable, and highly instructive, just how frequently Dr B. R. Ambedkar is still referred to during debates in both Houses of Parliament – not least when we have deliberated the rank discrimination still experienced by Dalits and Adivasis, or issues such as modern slavery and human trafficking, and the plight of persecuted minorities.”

“The story of Dr Ambedkar’s life represents a route out of enforced misery into to emancipation, justice, and equality. The life of this extraordinary man continues to offer hope and encouragement to millions of downtrodden people, living on the periphery of society because of caste or stigmatisation.”

Gray’s Inn’s decision to dedicate a new portrait and room to his memory is a wonderful way of introducing him to generations yet to come and we should also take other opportunities – such as an annual conference, marking Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, perhaps hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dalits – to explore the many facets of this wonderful man’s heroic life.”

Sujat Ambedkar said: “I am delighted to be here at Gray’s Inn to witness this historic unveiling of the new Ambedkar Room and the new portrait for the room donated by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK. It makes us very happy to see the new painting of our great-grandfather looking very relaxed and happy in his beloved garden at his home in New Delhi in 1946. His love of bougainvillea’s magenta pink form is family lore. We are grateful to Gray’s Inn and FABO UK for this unique honour that marks his 130th birth anniversary.  Our great-grandfather was a remarkable man who helped change for the better the lives of millions of people in India. He continues to inspire millions more around the world. The Ambedkar Room and the new portrait will no doubt inspire many more to learn about him.” 

Dr Suraj Yengde, Harvard University, and University of Oxford said, “Barrister Ambedkar was a fearless, fierce fighter. His career as a lawyer was noteworthy in that he could have easily become the luminous judge occupying the highest office of court in the state. But Barrister Ambedkar instead utilized his legal training to practice with merit and argue for justice. His diverse clientele is a proof of his successful legal career. FABO’s organizing efforts have been inspirational to many and especially me. With another London landmark bequeathed to Ambedkar’s story, an archive for the pilgrims has been inaugurated. The believers in Ambedkar’s idea of caste free society and democratic equality will find a sought-after shrine in this august space at Gray’s Inn. Like the LSE, where I just participated in a panel on Dr. Ambedkar and witnessed the inauguration of his archive, London Ambedkar is an important city in the history of the Dalit struggle.” 

Mr Arun Kumar and C Gautam, Joint Secretaries of FABO UK said“FABO UK’s members’ association with Gray’s Inn spans over half a century. In 1991, under the auspices of FABO UK, the Ambedkar Centenary Celebrations Committee organised a reception at Gray’s Inn. It was a marvellous event that lives in our memories still. Since then, FABO UK’s association with the Inn has grown. In 1999, we were grateful when the Inn allowed the filming of the Gray’s Inn scenes in the film Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000). Today we express our deepest appreciation to The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn for the new Ambedkar Room. We had hoped it, and the new portrait could have been unveiled in 2020. That would have marked the centenary of Dr Ambedkar’s return to Gray’s Inn.”

Global Indian Stories team

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