Barrister Saunvedan Aparanti is an inspirational and historic figure for all of us. He is the 1st Ambedkarite Buddhist Barrister in U.K. to graduate from Gray's Inn 99 years after Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Dev Vrat Arya from CEDE talks to Mr. Aparanti about his journey of becoming a Barrister, his activism and his future ambitions.

Dev - First of all, hearty congratulations on becoming the 1st Buddhist Ambedkarite Barrister to graduate from Gray’s Inn after Babasaheb Ambedkar himself. What we would like to know is your journey behind this historic moment?

Thank you so much for your wishes. With regards to my journey, I would take you a little bit back because the journey doesn’t start with me, it actually starts a few decades ago. It starts with my grandfather, he was one of the first converts to Buddhism at the hands of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956. As you remember, there was a mass conversion that took place at Nagpur by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar with about half a million people. And in that my grandfather was present in order to receive the new religion and convert out of Hinduism and its caste system. So this was the beginning.

So as you see the thread that runs throughout the family is that moment when he converted into buddhism and brought the religion and its principles into the family. My grandfather's participation in that event has been a social justice sort of an environment in the family where we have tried to behave and also tried to incorporate all of the tenets that Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar delivered in the form of the 22 vows that my grandfather took at the conversion ceremony. So as a result my parents were really influenced by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s teachings and we have a very strong Ambedkarite buddhist ideology and identity running in the family because after the conversion the identity of Hinduism was lost.

My father, Dr. Sanjay Aparanti, was very active in the Ambedkarite movement and Dalit Panther movement in the 70s and the 80s. He is a trained medical doctor from Grant Medical College, Mumbai. Shortly after medical school, he decided to serve society in a more direct capacity by joining the Police force as a Class 1 Police Officer. So you see, the journey was unusual for him because he wanted to not just do something for society but also give our society a sort of an inspiration in the form of having or being in seats of power because as soemone from a disenfranchised communities it is hard to find some kind power or status in a society which constantly degrades you. My mother, Mrs. Vandana Aparanti, a social activist in her own right took on the role of a homemaker for the sake of my education and upbringing. She is now a Domestic violence officer in London.

I had a very nomadic childhood because we used to move every couple of years because of my father’s transferable job. We travelled to all the corners of the state of Maharashtra, from Raj Bhavan in Mumbai to Bramhapuri, Chandrapur in Vidarbha. I therefore found myself in a new school in a new town almost every year and I moved to around 7 different schools by the time I finished my 10th standard education, from boarding schools in Panchgani, Satara to dusty mofussil schools in the countryside.

By the time I had finished my 10th standard, I got offered by Rotary Club Nashik to go to the United States for a year on their International Youth Exchange Programme. The goal of this programme is to foster tolerance and understanding of different cultures in the world by allowing their youth to live and study in their host countries for a period of one year. Therefore, I first left India when I was 15 years old, in the year 2000, on my own, for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I lived with 3 American host families in a town close to Pittsburgh while attending the Canon-McMillan High School. It was one of the richest cross-cultural experiences of my life as I lived as a part of their family and not as a guest.

I returned to India and completed my 11th and 12th standard education in Jaihind College and St. Xavier’s College respectively, in Mumbai. I then left for England, as an 18-year-old, to pursue my undergraduate education in Social Science and Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent. I spent the next three years studying in the medieval cathedral town of Canterbury and enjoying the idyllic English countryside surrounding it.

After completing my undergraduate studies, I secured admission in UCL to study Human Rights for my Master’s and moved to London. UCL has historic connections to India, both M.K Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore studied at UCL. However, I chose UCL as it was the first entirely secular university to admit students regardless of religion. It was also the first university to admit women on equal terms with men. You can see the golden thread running through my decision to go to UCL, as even though I had offers from other universities, I wanted to go to an institution that stood for equality and secularism.

While at UCL I realised there was a movement in the country to include caste as an aspect of race in the Equality Bill at that time which later became the Equality Act. This was in order to make caste-discrimination unlawful. As I had my masters in Human Rights I decided to participate in this movement. Being an Ambedkarite buddhist, you can understand how close it was to my heart. I joined the campaign by participating in street protests outside the British Parliament. After several years of campaigning and surmounting massive opposition from caste-supremacist groups, caste was successfully included as an aspect of Race in the Equality Act 2010.

This was a major victory, and all the years of campaigning sparked my interest in law. That was the time I thought about entering the legal profession as years of successful human rights campaigning had brought me to the conclusion that to be an effective human rights campaigner, one also needed to be a lawyer and an advocate. I leapt off my chair and feverishly started looking for the path to become a Barrister.

Then I started my journey by doing L.LB then L.LM and went to Gray’s Inn, the same institution as Babasaheb Ambedkar.

D : How was your experience at Gray’s Inn?

S: As you can see from the pictures of my graduation day. There is a huge portrait of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar hanging in one of the main rooms. I took inspiration from that, I used to visit that room everytime I could. So basically I had a guiding hand at Gray’s inn. As Babasaheb Ambedkar was the first person to study there and almost a century later, me being the second.

My Bar course was taught in a building in Gray’s Inn itself, known as the Atkin building. My classroom overlooked Gray’s Inn’s beautiful gardens, also known as “The Walks”. It has a large walkway in the middle surrounded by large leafy trees providing shade to the benches below. I couldn’t believe the surroundings I was studying in. I would sit in class, absorbing all that was being taught and occasionally gaze outside the window, imagining Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar walking in the garden, nearly a century before me. It’s as if time had stood still, nothing had changed, and I had been transported into a different era. So doing a course here was sort of like a pilgrimage for me.

D : How has your experience been in this anti-caste movement and what are your future ambitions for it?

S : I would be very specific in this answer because I have some experience of actually implementing and making a change in law. When i was doing my Masters the movement here was to make sure that caste is included as a part of the equality legislation so that anykind of casteist discrimination could be made unlawful. So this is what I call the UK model because we were successful in making caste illegal in this country. For this UK model to be implemented across the world is my ambition. So, I want people from caste affected communities to feel safe, wherever they travel in the world and to feel that they would be given legal protection if there is any kind of caste-discrimination that happens abroad. I had success with making changes in the English law and I have given a speech in the British Parliament on this, on importance of illegalising caste discrimination.

I believe the next step for me is to lead a movement in which all countries in the world accept and adopt some kind of legislation in order to make caste discrimination unlawful. The reason for that is because of globalisation we have a strong population of Indians abroad and the issue is that wherever Indians or rather South-Asians go, caste comes with them. Therefore, there is a need for International law to take account of these problems and legislate accordingly.

D: Can you highlight the casteist practices in the Education system of the UK which maybe are similar to India?

S: So there is a problem with education in the UK with regards to name calling and the youth discriminating against the erstwhile untouchable castes and also the so called lower castes. Even though people from South-Asian population are born in this country, they have been learning about the caste system in their family. So there is a lot of evidence here amongst the students not just in schools but also in universities. The same way discrimination is practiced in some colleges and universities in the metropolitan cities of India. The problems are the same, it's just that they are happening in the UK. As a result, it becomes very difficult for youngsters to understand there is a strong movement of Ambedkarite ideology back home when they lack that kind of backing here. So in fact they are more exposed to casteist discrimination in this country because the ambedkarite movement is quite nascent here. There is much more awareness of it in India. I am trying to inform the younger generation in the UK that even though you are born in this country, the roots of this social evil are quite deep and it goes back a long time. So the answer out of it is to learn and read about how Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s ideology can be empowering. We have a lot more youngsters in the movement who are coming forward, understanding that they could give an answer to casteism that they face through the words of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Therefore, the legacy is being spread now in the western societies of the world where caste affected youth is really getting on to reading Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and actually finding the solutions to the problems that fortunately the people in India have been having because of the strong movement especially in places like Maharashtra.

So UK being a western and perhaps more modern and more democratic country, is also vulnerable and a victim of the caste system. Caste system does exist here among south asians like it does in South Asia other neighbouring countries. Therefore, solutions have to be in the form of empowering people with the thought and ideology of Shahu, Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Amebdkar.

" have to be in the form of empowering people with the thought and ideology of Shahu, Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Amebdkar."

D: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us. Is there anything further you’d like to mention?

S: 99 years later, an Ambedkarite Buddhist becomes a Barrister from the same space, Gray’s Inn, as his mentor, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. As I became a Barrister at my Call Ceremony in July 2021, I realised that the greatest legacy of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was giving us Buddhism. Once again, the golden thread that ran through Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life, also ran through my grandfather’s conversion to Buddhism, through my parents’ anti-caste agitations and now through me as I become a Barrister.

Thank you Babasaheb, you saved us. Jai bhim.

Barrister Saunvedan Aparanti's speech from Gray's Inn

Speech of Dr. Sanjay Aparanti, Father of Saunvedan Aparanti

Significance of Gray's Inn library for Ambedkarites (Marathi)

Last video of Saunvedan Aparanti before leaving Gray's Inn