The untended grounds of 26, Alipur Road, in New Delhi’s upscale Civil Lines neighbourhood, give a telling foretaste of the overall neglect of the building. It’s hard to believe that this is the Dr Ambedkar National Memorial, where the man spent his twilight years and breathed his last. The visitor’s book here reveals more than the walls themselves—scribbled in by the few visitors it receives, some all the way from Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, are urgent requests, not only for a ‘better’ memorial, but for basic amenities like fans, lights and some ventilation. One of the scant names in the log is Ramesh Sabharwal, an Ambedkarite who visited from Sonepat, Haryana, just last month. “I have visited the memorial a few times before and I spend a lot of time reading Ambedkar’s books at the library. But this time, I found it hard to bear the heat, with no fans and no drinking water. This is hardly what I expected at a place of such historical importance,” he says. Other guests complain that while the memorial has its highlights—in particular, a collection of rare photographs of the leader is on display in the bedroom-turned-photo gallery—even those are not without jarring incongruencies: of what use are pictures without accompanying captions? The day we visit, the helpful security guards—the only sign of life at the memorial—usher us in, saying, “We get very few guests here, so many of the rooms remain closed.”
And thus it lies in its current state of neglect. A few years ago, there was again a bit of interest generated around the memorial, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ambedkar Foundation and the ministry of social justice and empowerment. The bungalow was whitewashed, the lawns were beautified and the galleries were cleaned up. Yet, what the place needed was not simply such sporadic repair, but a complete overhaul. It calls for an entirely new structure, as befits a memorial—large halls, a proper library, the identification and proper display of Ambedkar’s material possessions for visitors.
The issue, though, has grown to become much larger than the premises of a building in general disrepair, and the subtext has been difficult for Ambedkarites to ignore—much less swallow. Many point to the fact that the movement to convert the bungalow into a memorial slowed once the UPA came to power in 2004. “It could be a deliberate move on the part of this government to neglect it,” says Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiah. “The Congress has never accepted Dr Ambedkar—even after his death,” believes Prakash Ambedkar.
What has also been hard for his followers to come to terms with is the step-motherly treatment that has been meted out to the Ambedkar memorial when compared to the historical sites related to other national icons, chiefly Mahatma Gandhi. “The current government has cheated us on this count. Our long-standing demand has been that there should be an Act for the Ambedkar memorial—like the Rajghat Samadhi Act for Gandhi’s samadhi—that will ensure the upkeep and preservation of the site. Why are they so clearly discriminating between Gandhi and Ambedkar?” wonders National Dalit Mahapanchayat president Indresh Gajbhiye. He recently oversaw the Ambedkar Parinirvan Bhumi Samman Samiti serving the government an ultimatum to start work on the Delhi memorial. Incidentally, the three other Ambedkar sites of significance, in Mhow, Nagpur and Mumbai, have already been developed.
As it stands, there seems to be renewed interest in officialdom to take up the case of the neglected memorial. Last year, prime minister Manmohan Singh directed a high-level committee to get the ball rolling. Officials claim the report from the committee is close to being ready and, once approved, will see the current bungalow demolished within a year and a new structure erected in its place, with a provision of Rs 100 crore. But Prakash Ambedkar is cynical about the project taking any shape all. “Not as long as the UPA government is at the Centre,” he says. While some of Ambedkar’s followers argue that a Rs 100-crore fund dished out by the NDA government has already been frittered away by the current government, others like Gajbhiye prefer to see a silver lining amidst the debris. “I have just sent off a letter to home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde relaying the sentiment that our faith may have been broken, but we will fight this out to the very end. We need this central memorial to strengthen Ambedkar’s revolutionary views, to carry them forward and to continue to be an inspiration to all of us.”
Whether the Ambedkar memorial will see the queues that throng the Nehru Memorial, though, remains to be seen.
Have The Body?
Framing the law of the land needed an iron will. Maintaining its sanctity required a stronger box.
The preamble to the Constitution of India stands framed on the wall in one of the galleries at the National Ambedkar Memorial. Below it is a wooden display box with a red velvet cloth and a glass lid to hold a copy of the Constitution, fitting in a memorial dedicated to the ‘Father of the Constitution’. Only, the copy is missing at the moment—a fact that puzzled Ramesh Sabharwal on a recent visit, for he had seen it earlier. “I wondered why it had disappeared, and since there were no officials around at the memorial, I asked the security guards. They told me it had been taken away for safekeeping. I was disappointed.” On probing further, Outlook learnt that the copy of the Constitution in question, a limited edition publication meant for public display, had been put away in a locker because of security concerns. It appears that the lid of the wooden box had been damaged and there was fear that the Constitution could be stolen.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT