Dr. B R Ambedkar’s Visit to Nepal in 1956: Impact on the Dalit Movement

By Om Prakash VK Gahatraj

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was an international hero, the chairman of the constitutional drafting committee of India. The constitution of India is considered to be the most democratic in the world, and his remarkable contributions to social transformation and the development of Buddhism are widely recognized. His intellectual capacity was highly acclaimed throughout the world, and he was a revered leader of the Dalit movement in India and South Asia, including Nepal. Inspired by the doctrines of Baba Saheb Dr. B R Ambedkar, social workers, and Dalit leaders in Nepal have created movements to spread his message widely across Nepal. Dr. Ambedkar made a remarkable contribution to maintaining relations between Dalit leaders in Nepal and India.

In connection with organizing the 4th International Buddhist Conference, then-law minister of India and veteran Dalit leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (Baba Saheb) officially visited Nepal in the second half of November 1956. It was the government of Nepal and the Buddhist community who had invited Dr. Ambedkar to Nepal. He arrived in Kathmandu to participate in the Fourth Conference of World Fellowships of Buddhists, held in the second half of November (15-21 Nov.) 1956. Before Kathmandu, other world conferences were held in Sri Lanka, Japan, and Burma, respectively. He was one of the main pillars to organize the World Buddhists Conference in Nepal.

Dr. Ambedkar gave a remarkable speech at the closing session of the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in the State Gallery Hall in Singh Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal, on 20th November 1956 (5th Mangsir 2013 BS), where King Mahendra of Nepal was the chief guest. The government of Nepal and the Buddhist community hosted Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in Nepal. While staying in Nepal for the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, he stayed in the government guest house, Sheetal Nivas in Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, which has now been converted to the state’s presidential residence. Dr. Ambedkar also played a vital role in the success of the International Buddhist Conference in Nepal, in collaboration with the Buddhist monks of Nepal, including Bhikku Amritananda Mahasthabir and others. At that time, the international conference in Nepal was a matter of pride, especially for the Nepalese people. The state authority also played a vital role in facilitating the international conference. The conference ended successfully, sending a positive message to the world that Nepal was committed to keeping peace through Buddhism.

After completing the conference, Dr. B R Ambedkar met with Dalit leaders of Nepal at Sheetal Nivas in Kathmandu. Mr. Sahashra Nath Kapali, then president of Nepal Pariganit Jana Vikash Sangh, led the team of Dalit leaders of Nepal to talk to Dr. Ambedkar. The father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar, had several discussions there with Dalit leaders of Nepal led by Nepalese Dalit leader Mr. Sahashra Nath Kapali. The discussion between Dalit leaders of both countries was held at Sheetal Nivas in Maharajgunj.

After the meeting, Dr. Ambedkar was interested in seeing the localities of Dalits in Kathmandu. Nepalese Dalit leaders planned to guide him to Dalit localities, and specifically, Mr. Sahashra Nath Kapali, the president of Nepal Rastriya Pariganit Jana Vikash Sangh, initiated taking him to most of the highly-dense Dalit settlements in Kathmandu city. At that time, most Dalit leaders were working under Nepal Rastriya Pariganit Jana Vikash Sangh (Nepal National Ignored Peoples Development Organization).

Being a tall and heavy person, Dr. Ambedkar could not walk by foot up to the localities. He was taken there on a sedan chair, specially handled by Dalit leaders Mr. Mohan Lal Kapali, Mr. Chandra Prasad Kapali, and Mr. Drabya Man Shahi, who were physically stronger.

Dr. Ambedkar visited Dalit areas, especially Deopatan (around the Pasupatinath temple), Sahagal (Lalitpur), Dhalku-Chettrapati (Kathmandu), and Bhaktapur. During the visits, Dr. Ambedkar asked about the spots where Dalits had fought a heavy battle at Deopatan (around the Pasupatinath temple) in 1954 to get easy entry to the temple for the so-called lower caste people. This battle was called the Pasupatinath Temple entry movement.

After Deopatan, Dr. Ambedkar visited the dwellings of Dalit communities in Pode Tole of Bhaktapur, Chhetrapati-Dhalku, Jaisideval, Sahagal, etc. At that time, the Pode Tole (Locality of Dalits) of Bhaktapur and Chhetrapati-Dhalku were very dirty, spreading with bad smell. The government had never given attention to those settlements of Dalits, whereas they were mostly the sweepers and cleaners of Kathmandu valley. The government had ignored such important groups for years. They were mainly deprived of pure drinking water, health services, and education.

After witnessing all those deplorable conditions of Dalits living in Chhetrapati-Dhalku, Baba Saheb Ambedkar became upset, seeing the worst condition of Dalits. Dr. Ambedkar advised Dalits at the spot to engage in a large-scale struggle to get human rights and dignity. After visiting Dalit localities, they returned to Sheetal Nivas and evaluated the situation.

After returning from visits to settlements of the Dalit community, the leader of the team of Dalit leaders, Mr. Sahashra Nath Kapali (Eldest brother of Mr. Mohan Lal Kapali), organized a tea reception in honor of Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar at Sheetal Nivas. Then, Dr. Ambedkar addressed the Nepali Dalit leaders. At the reception, Baba Saheb Ambedkar called on the Dalits of Nepal to launch a struggle for their rights. He said that rights could not be achieved by requests; they should be taken by fighting, and that they should “go ahead and struggle for rights; we are with you.” He always used to say, “Be united, be educated and struggle, and only then it is possible to get the expected result.” He was saddened to see the worst and inhuman condition of Dalits in those areas. He advised Dalit leaders of Nepal that “rights cannot be achieved without struggle; struggle, fight to the end and achieve rights.” Dr. Ambedkar had assured Nepalese leaders to give full support to eradicate untouchability and caste-based discrimination. He had talked to King Mahendra and then-Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Tanka Prasad Acharya to take effective action to eliminate untouchability and caste-based discrimination prevalent in Nepalese societies.

One important thing to remember here is that Dr. Ambedkar used to ask dignitaries of Nepal, including the Prime Minister when they visited Delhi, about the condition of Dalits in Nepal. According to Dr. Ambedkar, even Prime Minister Hon. Tanka Prasad Acharya had said to him in Delhi that the condition of Dalits in Nepal was improving, and the government had given due attention to them. But Ambedkar himself saw in Dhalku (Pode Tole) and other places of Dalit settlements in Nepal just the opposite of what he was told in Delhi. After the completion of the visit of Dalit localities, Babasaheb must have been deeply disturbed on seeing the condition of the Dalits in Nepal. A government officer (liaison officer) who had accompanied him during the visit reported the entire situation to Prime Minister Hon. Tanka Prasad Acharya. When the liaison officer informed the Prime Minister about all those situations, Prime Minister Acharya called Dr. Ambedkar in Sheetal Nivas. The Prime Minister invited Baba Saheb to his residence to talk about this matter, but Baba Saheb was visibly angered with the situation he saw in Dalit localities in Kathmandu. So, he showed his reluctance to go to his residence. Then Prime Minister Hon. Tanka Prasad Acharya himself came to Sheetal Nivas and assured Baba Saheb that due attention would be given to improving the condition of Dalits in Nepal since then.

Dr. Ambedkar (Extreme Right) giving a speech in the presence of then king Mahendra (Extreme Left) in Kathmandu on 20th November 1956.

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was the pioneer of the relation of Dalit movements of Nepal and India. He was the first Dalit leader of India to visit Nepal. He had also assured that he was always with the campaign of Dalits of Nepal to fight against untouchability. Since then, the relationship between the leaders of Dalit communities of both countries has continued and strengthened till now. His grandson, Mr. Prakash Yeswant Ambedkar, is active even now in politics in Maharashtra, India. Mr. Prakash Ambedkar is trying his best to emancipate Dalits from social difficulties through politics. After the completion of the World Buddhist Conference, Babasaheb Ambedkar returned to Delhi. Dr. Ambedkar was angered by the attitude of the Nepal government towards the Dalits in Nepal.

On his return to Delhi, he told journalists that he felt betrayed by the political leaders and government officials of Nepal regarding the issues of Dalits in Nepal. He felt he had been misinformed about the Dalits of Nepal. Dr. Ambedkar was worried about the terrible condition of the Dalits in Nepal, and he had sentimental ties with Dalit leaders in Nepal. He always encouraged Dalits in Nepal to seek humanity and dignity. This was the beginning of a relationship between the Dalit leaders of the two neighboring countries. A few days after returning from Nepal, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar died on December 6, 1956, in Delhi. If he had lived for a few more years, he would have visited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Delhi in 1959.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar were contemporary leaders of America and India, respectively, who fought against racial and caste-based discrimination. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited India in 1959 and studied the situation of untouchability and caste-based discrimination in India. After returning from Delhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told reporters in the USA that the nature of caste-based discrimination in India was similar to racial discrimination in America. If Dr. Ambedkar had been alive at that time, we could expect that he would have spoken to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about the untouchability problem in South Asia, including India and Nepal. This would have made sense to draw international attention to the problem of untouchability in South Asia. Unfortunately, Dr. Ambedkar had already died when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited India in 1959.

(Om Prakash VK Gahatraj is the Chairman of International Dalit Development Forum-Nepal)