From Kandivli Slum to White House: Dileep Mhaske Charts New Course for the Ambedkar Caravan

The US-based activist is striving to raise awareness of caste discrimination as a human rights issue, recognizing the everyday struggles and aspirations of India's most vulnerable classes and is using AI to empower Dalit youths.
Mhaske's mother from village to United Nations along with UN chief Ameena Mohmmad
Mhaske's mother from village to United Nations along with UN chief Ameena Mohmmad

A grand celebration is in the works to commemorate the 132nd birth anniversary of Dr. BR Ambedkar, the ' Messiah of the Downtrodden', on April 14 at the global level. Delegates from 100 countries,  several agencies and program coordinators of the United Nations, including the World Bank, WHO, UNHCR, UNESCO etc. are expected to participate in a remarkable gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, to contemplate Ambedkar's ideologies and advocate for equality.

At the helm of this global movement towards recognition of his dream for empowerment of the marginalized communities in India, particularly the Dalits, who have suffered from humiliation and discrimination for decades, is Dileep Mhaske, a US-based social activist who is currently serving as a federal employee for the US Government. He worked with last four presidential campaigns including two for President Obama, Hillary Clinton and President Biden. Mhaske's key contribution is with White House technological team for using AI to serve people. It may seem implausible that a man like Dileep Mhaske, who reports directly to the US President, has come so far given his formative years spent in the Kandivli slum of Mumbai.

His work at UN started in 2004 and since then he has chaired many committees and testified in front of UN for marginalized communities. Last 20 years he has advocated community issues in more than 100 international forums through his organisation called The Foundation for Human Horizon. Mhaske has worked with the US government, UN and other international bodies while building advocacy groups to Dalit movement. It has been the fruit of his constant persistence that since 2016, the UN has been celebrating Ambedkar's birth anniversary as " Equality Day".

Changing the narrative from Dalits to Ambedkarites

In an exclusive interview with The Mooknayak, Dileep Mhaske shared his vision of uniting different communities around the world, including Indo-American and African communities, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQA under the 'Ambedkar Umbrella.' He says that not everyone would relate with Dalit issues but every oppressed class easily relate themselves with the Ambedakar ideology. 

Making of Khairlanji massacre movie with famous Marathi actress Kishori Shahane
Making of Khairlanji massacre movie with famous Marathi actress Kishori Shahane

"Hence, it's time to change the narrative of the movement and move beyond identifying oneself solely as a Dalit. I identify myself as an Ambedkarite and the Ambedkar Caravan should be taken forward because Baba Saheb stood for social justice and equality for all, not just the Dalit community" Mhaske said in an assertive note. He also believes that Ambedkar's ideology resonates with all oppressed and deprived sections of society across the world. To gain global support for the movement, Mhaske aims to bring everyone under the Ambedkar Umbrella and work towards achieving social justice and equality for all.

Pressure flow from top to bottom

Dileep Mhaske strongly believes that discrimination, whether based on caste, gender, or any other form, is as severe as racial discrimination. He says, "The Dalit community in India continues to face discrimination, regardless of the government in power. Political power and financial empowerment are essential for real change. It's only when marginalized communities attain political power that they can break free from the vicious circle of discrimination. I am making efforts to raise awareness about the severity of the situation among top officials of the United Nations . Once, that if these officials are convinced, they may draft a policy and then,  UN can intervene to help eliminate the discriminatory practices prevalent in India. So this would be pressure transmission from top to the bottom" says the smart strategist who had closely campaigned for four American Presidents in the past. 

Through various platforms and the special birth anniversary celebrations on April 14, Mhaske aims to mobilize global communities, urging the United Nations to recognize caste discrimination as a subject of grave concern  and thus further urge its member states to eliminate discriminatory customs and policies in their respective countries. With the support of world leaders, CEOs of multinational companies, diplomats, and global influencers, Mhaske hopes to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by most vulnerable groups worldwide.

Lacking synchronicity in efforts 

Mhaske expounded that even though several active Dalit organizations and groups in India and abroad continue to champion Ambedkar's ideology, there is lack of synchronicity as organisations do not participate in each other's event." "Though everyone likes to call himself/herself an Ambedkarite, organizations do not see eye-to-eye with each other. Concrete and concerted efforts are required, and Ambedkarites across the world need to gradually come together under one umbrella. We should all press for equal status, an end to caste-based discrimination, equal opportunities for promotion and access to health and educational facilities," he said.

Mhaske with US President Joe Biden
Mhaske with US President Joe Biden

During the discussion, Dileep Mhaske mentioned the movements against caste discrimination that have taken place in Seattle, Canada, and California. He explained that in the US Congress, a bill has been pending since 2010 that seeks to recognize caste as a protected category and ban caste-based discrimination. Unfortunately, the number of votes required to pass the bill is substantial, and the strength of marginalized communities in the US is insufficient to do so. However, Mhaske believes that the Seattle, Toronto Board, and Californian bills are incremental steps towards building an international diaspora and eliminating caste discrimination altogether. He remains optimistic that the US Congress will pass the bill against caste discrimination someday.

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Using AI for empowering youths

Mhaske expressed his desire to use artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool for empowering Dalit youths. He aims to provide training in AI to these youths, which they can use to bring about a revolutionary change in the mindsets of people through social media platforms. Mhaske believes that using AI as a tool can help to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and bring their issues to the forefront. By providing training in AI, he hopes to provide a platform for the Dalit community to express their thoughts and opinions, find new opportunities for growth and empowerment, and help them break free from the vicious cycle of discrimination.

UN and the Ambedkar Jayanti

Deelip Mhaske has been a vocal advocate for Dr. Ambedkar's legacy, and has worked tirelessly to promote his ideas and philosophy on an international level. " In 2006, we began advocating for the UN and other international bodies to recognize Dr. Ambedkar's birthday as a day of significance. Despite numerous delegations and requests to the Indian government, no action was taken until 2015, when a strong lobby at the UN finally approved our request to celebrate Dr. Ambedkar's birth anniversary on a permanent basis" Mhaske said in an ecstatic voice. 

However, after two years, an Indian officer decided to cancel the event within the UN and hold it outside instead. This decision was met with strong protest and the officer was transferred, but the Indian government still decided not to include any Dalits in the event. A petition was filed with the UN Secretary-General, and eventually, after a long struggle, the Indian government agreed to include Dalits in the event.

However, despite these victories, the fight for Dr. Ambedkar's legacy on the international stage remains unfinished. " Last year, the Indian government installed a statue of Gandhi in the UN building, rather than Dr. Ambedkar's. My goal is to have a permanent statue of Dr. Ambedkar in the UN building, to ensure that his legacy and contributions to social justice and equality are recognized and celebrated globally" , the activist said determinedly. 

The Humble Background

Dileep Mhaske was born in Bhatepuri, a small town in Jalna district in Maharashtra. He belongs to the Mahar community, which was Dr. Ambedkar's community. His parents, Champabai and Dattatraya Mhaske, were landless farmers. Due to drought in Jalna, Dileep's family moved to Damunagar slum in Mumbai's Kandivli area.. His father worked as a laborer, and his mother worked as a rag-picker to support the family. Dileep completed his early education at a government school where he faced discrimination and humiliation due to his Dalit background. Mhaske's brother and cousin endured brutal assaults from upper-caste individuals in their village. He recalls experiencing humiliation since childhood, such as when the milk supplier would pour milk from a distance into an empty container held by him.

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However, he never gave up on his dream of pursuing education and making something of himself.

He received admission to a Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, where caste and religion had no place, and completed his schooling until 12th grade. The education he received in the Navodaya school turned out to be a turning point in his life.Despite their financial struggles, Dileep's parents supported both his and his sister's education. His sister went on to become an advocate at the Mumbai High Court.

The Khairlanji massacre case

After completing high school, Dileep Mhaske joined the prestigious Government Law College Mumbai - the institution where Dr. B.R. Ambedkar once served as principal. After finishing his law degree, Mhaske started practicing atrocities cases in the Mumbai high court, and gained recognition for his work on the infamous Khairlanji massacre case. He even did a three-day hunger strike in front of the United Nations building and was later allowed to testify in front of the Human Rights Council about the case.

During his first year in law college, as part of his fieldwork, Mhaske visited several prisons and realized that many undertrials belonged to marginalized communities. In response, he founded the Foundation For Human Horizon, which supported bail applications for children in prison for petty crimes and established educational centers in Mumbai slums. As these children were on bail, they needed to re-enroll in schools through the United Nations "No One Left Behind" scheme.

The Foundation For Human Horizon, which Dileep Mhaske founded, has been actively supporting slum children and slum rehabilitation work in Mumbai since 1995. One of the largest cases and protests they handled was the Damunagar slums demolition by the Maharashtra government, which rendered more than 500,000 slum dwellers homeless overnight. The Foundation engaged in advocacy with international organizations to support these devastated communities.

While practicing law, Dileep Mhaske also pursued higher education and completed a Master's in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and an M.Phil from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

The Global Reach

While attending a conference on HIV/AIDS in South Africa in 2004, Dileep Mhaske's story caught the attention of the World Health Organization chief, who offered him an internship. This internship eventually led to a job with the United Nations.

Six months later, Mhaske received a scholarship to attend a PhD program in the United States. Since then, he has completed education at esteemed institutions such as Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Rutgers University, and Johns Hopkins University, and has received five master's degrees. He is one of the few Dalit students to have obtained more than three master's degrees from the United States. Currently, he is waiting for confirmation of his doctoral degree.

Dileep Mhaske has an impressive professional career, having worked with some of the highest levels of the US government. He has worked with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all intelligence agencies in the United States, including the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security, among others. This agency reports directly to the President of the United States.

Mhaske has also worked with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) and the Department of Defense's Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO). Both of these agencies report directly to President Joe Biden. Mhaske's work with these agencies has allowed him to make substantial contributions to the field of artificial intelligence and its applications in national security and defense.

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