Kamlesh Ahir was born in Nakodar city in Jalandhar district, Punjab, India. She studied political science and economics at Guru Nanak Dev University in Punjab, and was pursuing a Master’s degree in political science when her parents arranged her marriage in Canada. She moved to Surrey BC in October 1993 to join her husband, Sutey Parkash Ahir. She tells us that “When I was unmarried my father encouraged me to do social work, and after marriage, my husband give me full power to spread the message of Baba Saheb Ambedkar Ji. If I’m still active, today, this is only because and and behalf of my husband.” When she was a high school student, there was a very powerful Ambedkarite movement started by Manyawar Kanshi Ram Saheb that organized the Bahujan (“majority”) people under BAMCEF, DS4, and other groups, and then under the political party the BSP or “Bahujan Samaj Party.” Ms. Ahir was very active in that movement and worked hard on women’s issues in that context: one important initiative she was involved in was the movement to free Phoolan Devi from jail; Ms. Ahir notes that “when Phoolan Devi was released from jail, it was only because of the efforts of Saheb Shri Kanshi Ram Ji.” Kanshi Ram introduced Ms. Ahir to Buddhism and to the work and mission of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and gave her the slogan “Jai Bhim Jai Bharat”, “Victory to Bhim [Rao Ambedkar], Victory to India,” and that slogan has remained hers since then. Her husband also worked with Kanshi Ram, and they continued to spread the message of Dr. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram in Canada. They worked to install the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar bust at SFU; Dr. Ambedkar’s portrait in Burnaby City Hall, and to dedicate a room at the Surrey City Central Library to Dr. Ambedkar in 2012. She has visited New York, UK, Barcelona Spain, Italy, Paris, UAE, and Toronto to spread the Ambedkar-Phule ideology. She tells us that “as a Ambedkarite activist, I’m still working to ‘Ban Castism’. I’m speaking the “Jai Bhim” slogan on the media boldly, too.” Ms. Ahir has one daughter and one son, both of whom are university educated. She has worked at multiple jobs in food services, sewing, housekeeping, health services, and management, and continues to be active in the “AISRO” or “Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization.”
Short promotional video, 1: How does the caste system affect Indian marriages?
Short promotional video, 2: How do we respond to the caste system’s persistence in Canada?
Short promotional video, 3: How does caste interact with female identity?
Full interview, Part 1:
Full interview, Part 2 :
Full interview, Part 3 :
Banner image: Collage of photographs, from left to right, interview of Surjit and Manjit Bains with Dr. Anne Murphy (courtesy of Jai Birdi); the Guru Ravidas Sabha Vancouver (courtesy of Anita Lal); Kamaljit, participant in the project; portrait of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by Raghavendra Rao Karkala, now in the collection of the University of the Fraser Valley Library (acrylic on canvas); Mohan Lal Karimpuri, author and activist; Vipasna Nanal, project participant and video interview editor.