Ambedkar Jayanti: A year of turbulence and some hope

Last Updated : 14 April 2018, 12:40 IST

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On April 14, the nation celebrated the 127th birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution. In the last one year, members of Dr Ambedkar's community -- the Dalits -- were in the spotlight for positive and negative reasons. We look back at these events and incidents.

On Friday, Prime Minister Modi dedicated the Ambedkar National Memorial in New Delhi to the nation. The Government had converted Ambedkar's residence at 26 Alipur Road into a memorial at a cost of Rs 100 crore. Modi had requested all BJP leaders to spend time with the Dalits beginning Saturday. Modi himself flew to Naxal-hit Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh to launch a couple of schemes for the underprivileged including Dalits.

Early this week, the painting of an Ambedkar statue in Uttar Pradesh in saffron and later re-painting it to blue had grabbed headlines. This was after a statue in the same site was demolished by miscreants.

The 'Bharat Bandh' called by Dalit organisations on April 2 against the Supreme Court's dilution of SC/ST PoA Act, 1989 saw the uprising of Dalits. There was violence against the community following the Bandh. The resentment over violence and government's failure to argue for atrocities law is still a cause of concern for the community.

The good news, however, is that they are celebrating April as 'Dalit History Month', which is in its third year. Several programmes are being organised across India to create awareness about the contribution of backward communities to history.

The last week of March brought to light a murder in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. It is alleged that the upper caste people angered by a 21-year-old Dalit man owning a horse killed him. Police, however, claimed that the reason for the murder was because the man was harassing girls.

The statues of leaders, including that of Periyar and Ambedkar, were demolished after BJP's Tripura victory and the demolition of Lenin's statue. In last one year, there were several such incidents across India.

The year began with the news of violence on the Dalits in Bhima Koregaon, a village near Pune. The village is known for the last Anglo-Maratha war. Every year the Dalits visit the memorial here to celebrate the victory of English army led by the untouchable Mahar warriors against the upper caste Peshwa-Maratha.

This year also marked the 200th year of the battle. Hindu outfits, including some Maratha groups, had unleashed violence against the people visiting the memorial in Bhima Koregaon.

In December 2017, an Ambedkarite, Jignesh Mevani, won the Vadgam constituency seat of Gujarat Assembly. He has been leading the Dalits after the flogging of four men accused of cow slaughter in Gujarat's Una. Mevani, a young face of the community, contested as an independent candidate with the backing of Congress. The Gujarat election also showed the discontent of voters especially those from the lower castes against the incumbent BJP government in the state and centre.

Maharashtra government declared that Students' Day will be celebrated on November 7 to mark the enrollment of Ambedkar in Satara's Pratapsingh High School on the same day in 1900.

For the first time, a Dalit became a priest in a Kerala temple after the government made changes in temple appointments. That apart, the Kerala government instructed authorities to use the word 'Scheduled Caste' instead of 'Dalit' in official documents. The order was justified as the Dalit is just a political term with no caste attached to it.

Dalit youths hit the social media with selfies showing their moustaches and using the hashtag #JativaadNaVirodhMa. The alleged beating of Dalit youths by upper caste people in Gujarat for keeping a moustache and lynching a Dalit man for attending a Garba event led to the campaign.

There were clashes between Thakurs and Dalits in May and September in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The first clash broke out after BJP took out an Ambedkar Jayanti rally through a Muslim-dominated area on April 20. In May first week, the second one happened when the Dalits objected to the celebration of the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap. The Thakurs vandalised Dalit settlements alleging the murder of a Thakur man. Subsequent protests and clashes continued for at least two weeks.

A huge rally in Delhi, led by Bhim Army, a Dalit group, whose leader was Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, wanted the culprits of Saharanpur clash to be punished. The police arrested Bhim Army leaders including Chandrashekhar Azad. He got bail in November but the government imposed the stringent National Security Act on him and put him behind bars.

During his address on Ambedkar Jayanti last year, Prime Minister Modi launched the BHIM App after the first-name of Ambedkar - Bhimrao. This app facilitates digital payment.

Unlike other founding fathers of India, Ambedkar continues to be alive in the Indian socio-political life. He is the only one leader with huge followers. Since his followers are untouchables according to the caste system, they continue to undergo oppression.

The community has been in the growth mode by living the motto of Ambedkar - Educate, agitate and organise.

Timeline of BR Ambedkar's Life

Published 14 April 2018, 12:14 IST

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