Saunvedan Aparanti: 1st AMBEDKARITE BUDDHIST BARRISTER
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?
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.
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.
D : How was your experience at Gray’s Inn?
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?
D: Can you highlight the casteist practices in the Education system of the UK which maybe are similar to India?
D: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us. Is there anything further you’d like to mention?
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