Browned over time, a treasure trove of letters and other memorabilia belonging to Dr B R Ambedkar belong to the Mumbai University library, soon to be digitised to extend its shelf life and keep this part of history alive.
In one such letter, dated November 28, 1921, addressed to his wife Ramabai, Ambedkar asks her to not worry about their son Gangadhar’s illness. Addressing her as ‘Ramu’, he tells her to sell her jewellery for the money, and that he would redeem it all once he returned to India. He ends the letter asking her why he has not been informed of his son Yashwant and nephew Mukund’s education.
In another such letter, dated June 23, 1920, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur has addressed ‘Sir Alfred’ of the London School of Economics (LSE), introducing him to Ambedkar. He writes, “The present scheme of self-government of India will not make the people free and equal but will only make Brahmins more powerful… The non-Brahmins have failed to get a hearing from the several ‘shahu lekhapati’ administrators in India but they are hopeful of finding sympathy at the hands of the British public.”
Besides these two letters, the collection at MU also includes a transcript of Ambedkar’s mark sheet, dated March 24, 1965, from Columbia University, New York, from where he completed his PhD.
The library received the documents from Changdev Bhavanrao Khairmode, known for writing extensively on the Ambedkarite Movement, including Ambedkar’s biography.
The collection also boasts of newspaper articles penned by Ambedkar in newspapers such as Janta, Vividh Vrut, Samta and Prabuddh Bharat. Personal notes, over 60 index cards used by PhD scholars then, written neatly in black ink; memorabilia from his student days at LSE like his student union and library passes are kept inside a neat file.
A letter, dated January 5, 1931, by His Highness Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda addressed to Ambedkar announces a donation of 150 pounds for the welfare work of “depressed classes”. The daily routine as well as the diary of Ambedkar’s private secretary Nanak Chand Rattu is also a part of the collection. There is also an old copy from 1935 of the constitution of Harijan Sevak Sangh.
The proposal to digitise the collection was first made in 2012, but was awaiting a donor since, said librarian Anjali Kale. “We initiated digitisation at our own level but collections such as these require experts,” she added.
The MU library has received several such donated collections, including letters to freedom fighter Annie Besant, Lokmanya Tilak and sari samples belonging to renowned Marathi stage actor Bal Gandharva, known for playing female roles.
The digitisation project of Ambedkar’s collection is being funded by city-based welfare group Birhad Bharatiya Samaj. “When we heard about the condition the documents belonging to Dr Ambedkar were in, we decided to approach the university. This heritage will be destroyed if we don’t preserve it. We have agreed to pay Rs 30 lakh for the project, of which Rs 15 lakh has already been given for the first phase,” said secretary Shripad Halbe.
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