Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, social reformer and chief architect of India’s Constitution, fought relentlessly for the economic and social empowerment of Dalits in the country. The staunch leader passed away on December 6 1956, a day that India observes as 'Mahaparinirvan Divas'. Every year on this day, thousands of Dalits and followers of Ambedkar pay tribute to the legacy of the Dalit icon.
Remembering his contributions and ideals have especially become important at a time when Dalits in the country continue to demand equal access to public spaces and resources, along with defying oppression at multiple levels. More than 75 years after India gained independence, has the Dalit community got freedom? Atrocities against Dalits are taking place regularly across India.
However, from the Dalit Panthers movement that was started by poets and writers to fight against caste oppression, to other movements that emerged, resistance and agitation to demand freedom has continued.
In one such cultural event for marking assertion over public spaces, tens of thousands of Dalits congregate at Chaityabhoomi in Mumbai's Dadar to understand the importance of education.
Every corner of Chatiyabhoomi, the final resting place of B R Ambedkar, is decked up with stalls that hold booklets, pamphlets and quotations that emphasise one of the major slogans that Ambedkar gave the Dalits to move forward in their struggle for equality: educate, organise and agitate.
This year too, over six lakh people are expected to visit Chaityabhoomi on December 6, to pay their respects to Ambedkar. Apart from Chaityabhoomi, Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, a vibrant slum pocket in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai is also an active hub for Dalit activism. For them, December 6 is a day to understand the relevance of a person who gave them an identity.
Recognition of Ambedkar's ideas has grown over the years since his demise in 1956 as leaders, especially those with a Dalit background, have rallied Scheduled Castes, an influential voting bloc, and other weaker sections around Ambedkar's push for education, constitutional agitation and consolidation for their empowerment.