It was a long time coming: B.R. Ambedkar Way- in Queens, NY

Co-naming of a road after Indian leader B.R. Ambedkar in June 2023. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

As Indians in New York are getting ready for India’s Independence Day Parade and as patriotic sentiments are running high, it is only apt that New York City’s Borough of Queens pays tribute to a well-known Indian social worker and political leader.

If you come to Broadway and 61st Street in Woodside, you would see the intersection adorned with two flags – that of India and that of America. Community activists in New York, as well as, scholars, and admirers of one of the most renowned and respected leaders of the Indian independence movement, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, finally got their wish on June 23, 2023 when the street was co-named Dr. Ambedkar Way, named after the man who belonged to the Dalit community, and had ties to the Big Apple as Columbia University alumni, the man who led the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, and fought for social justice.

Around 900 people including community activists, scholars, and others from around the tri-state area and other countries including India, Canada, U.K. etc. came to the co-naming of a road after social reformer and leader B.R. Ambedkar, June 25, 2023. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as he was fondly called, was not just Indian, he was also a New Yorker, having lived in New York from 1913 as a student at Columbia University, contributing greatly to the student life at Columbia.

Close to 900 people from New York City, and surrounding states, and from Canada, India, United Kingdom and elsewhere, came together to launch the newly co-named street in a ceremony to the accompaniment of recital of Sant Ravidas’s poems and hymns. Also present were Councilwoman Julie Won, and India’s Consul General in New York Randhir Jaiswal, as well as representatives from Mayor Eric Adams’ office, and Congresswoman Grace Meng.

Among those present in the co-naming of a street to B.R. Ambedkar Way, were India’s Consul General in New York, Councilwoman Julie Won who represents the 26th District, and others on June 25, 2023, in Queens at the intersection of 61st and Broadway. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

It took more than 3 years of efforts by the Guru Shri Ravidass Temple which stands right across the street to accomplish the co-naming. Community members led by Ashok Kumar Mahi, president of the Temple along with the management, had long been asking the City of New York to co-name the road across from their Temple after Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Ashok Kumar Mahi, president of the Shri Guru Ravi Dass Temple, speaking at the co-naming of street to B.R. Ambedkar Way, June 25, 2023. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok K. Mahi
India’s Consul General in New York Randhir Jaiswal, speaking to a crowd at the inauguration of B.R. Ambedkar Way in Queens, June 25, 2023. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

The temple located at 61-01 Broadway in Woodside, Queens has been doing great community work in Queens for worshippers and also for other Queens residents, especially during the pandemic, distributing free food to everyone in need.

“We applied before COVID hit, so it was all delayed,” Mahi told Desi Talk. He said the application process sent it from the New York City Council to the Mayor’s Office and finally to the Department of Transportation. “The NY DOT sent us a letter in May this year informing them the co-naming was approved,” Mahi said. And he and others scrambled to organize the launch event. But that was only part of their application.

“We applied to the City Council for other things too, including installing a statue of Babasaheb in a public park here but that is still to be approved,” Mahi said, emphasizing that both the monument and street co-naming at a public place “is a great honor.”

Large poster of Indian independence movement leader and leader of the Dalits, B.R. Ambedkar in the backdrop of the plaque for renaming of a street in Queens, after him. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

Balbir Chand Chumber, 71, who was responsible for founding the Queens Temple, said, “The road name is a symbol in the United States of America. We feel proud it has that name.”

Chumber said the co-naming was very important to him. “Babasaheb fought against the caste system and for the poor people all his life,” he said. “Babasaheb Ambedkar was the person who took every part of Indian society in India, especially women, and gave respect to them and they were equal to men,” he said, adding, “And he gave the right to vote to everybody, whether a king or a poor person.”

Councilwoman Julie Won, left, India’s Consul General Randhir Jaiswal, center, Congresswoman Grace Meng, right, and community leaders who were behind the campaign to co-name a street after B.R. Ambedkar, India’s leader and framer of the Indian Constitution, June 25, 2023. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

The Temple worshippers are from Ravidassia sect which is based on the teachings of Sant Ravidas or Sant Raidas who was a ‘chamar’ by birth yet had achieved great spiritual growth. He was the Sant Raidas whom poet Meera visited for spiritual guidance after  leaving the houses of her husband and her uncle. Like Meera, Raidas was also a mystic poet of the Bhakti Movement. Born in Varanasi, he became well known and respected as a spiritual guide in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Raidas’s devotional poems became part of Guru Granth Sahib. The Sant Ravidass Temple is named after him.

A section of the audience, including devotees of the Shri Guru Ravi Dass Temple, listen to speeches at the June 25, 2023, inauguration of B.R. Ambedkar Way in Queens. PHOTO: courtesy Ashok Kumar Mahi

That Ambedkar was a brilliant student and earned both a Master’s and a Doctoral degree in Economics at Columbia in a short time is a known fact. He also simultaneously got a Doctoral degree from the London School of Economics. But Ambedkar did much more. He contributed to the thinking and awareness, bringing with him his own experiences of being considered ‘untouchable’ and similar experiences of thousands of his community. Ambedkar visited the Mount Olivet Baptist Church at 120th street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem regularly. The struggle for the freedom of the African Americans contributed to Ambedkar’s own thoughts of social justice. It was there in company of his African American friends that his final ideas of equality and justice were formed.

When he returned to India, Ambedkar came to hold important positions in the government of free India, including that of heading the drafting committee of the Constitution of India, and being the Law and Justice Minister in the first cabinet. He also became actively involved in finding social justice for the Dalit community and became the leader of more than half a million Dalits who converted to Buddhism along with him.



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