The state of Dalits in his hometown won’t make Ambedkar very happy
The 60-year-old was up at 5 am and returned to his home in Haat Maidan locality late at night. (Source: Express photo by Milind Ghatwai)
Much before lip service began to be paid to promoting entrepreneurship among Dalits on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on April 14, Prahlad Dhande was busy making tea and doing the dishes at a kiosk not far from the memorial of the principal architect of India’s Constitution in this cantonment town.
The 60-year-old was up at 5 am and returned to his home in Haat Maidan locality late at night. He wanted to visit the memorial that attracts tens of thousands of people on this day even though it would have cost him day’s wages.
He avoided going there not because he wanted to save wages, but due to the nagging worry about possible demolition of his kuccha house built on land that does not belong to him.
“In any case, I have never visited the memorial since it came up a few years ago. I never got the time,” says Prahlad, one of the Dalits of Maharashtrian origin who are struggling to eke out a living in this town, where Dr Ambedkar was born in 1891.
In March 2014, several of these illegal houses were pulled down after the residents were evicted using force, “but we came back because we have nowhere to go.”
The worse off among the Dalits live in Haat Maidan, Peeth Road and Gujarkheda localities. The men here sell balloons, collect scrap or work as labourers, the women as maids in nearby areas. Poor and mostly illiterate, they are unsure about their future.
“They came here ten years ago to evict us. We threatened to spill blood. No one turned up for a few years,” recalls Prahlad of how his and other makeshift houses were saved from demolition. He is no longer sure if the settlement can prevent demolition because an advocate who had filed a case on their behalf lost in the High Court.
“There is no stay against demolition now,” admits Advocate Majid Darbari, who did not charge anything. He is not sure when and if he will move the Supreme Court.
Pralhad was lucky that his hut was spared last year. But Dilip Gavarguru, who lives a few hundred feet away, was not. The 35-year-old balloon seller says his hut was demolished on March 28, 2014. His large family includes a crippled sister, Mayawati, who is often taken out to beg on a wheeled platform that barely accommodates her. He rebuilt the house, but is unsure how long it will stand.
In her mid fifties, Shakuntala Morkhade toils through the day at a junkyard. From her meager income she funded her son’s education and thought he would find job as a teacher after completing his diploma in education. After being unemployed for more than a year, her son Sahebrao has started accompanying men who fit electricity cables.
Stories like these are common among Dalits in Mhow, about 30 kms from Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh.
“They lead a life worse than that of animals,” says president of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Jayanti Utsava Samiti Mohanrao Wakode.
Buddhist flags and makeshift/pucca structures housing bust or full statues of Buddha and Ambedkar mark out parts inhabited by Dalits in such settlements where squalor and filth is a common sight.
Many accuse the Dalit community of being partly responsible for its plight. “They produce a lot of children, consume liquor and have other vices. They don’t want to progress beyond a point,” says a local, pointing out they don’t send children to school even when education, uniform and books cost nothing.
Mukund Das Kardak, whose father Vitthal Kardak was among those who converted to Buddhism along with Dr Ambedkar in Nagpur in 1956, says the Dalits faced relatively less discrimination in Mhow during the British period.
Unlike Dalits who have migrated in the last few decades, those who had moved from Maharashtra a century ago are much better off.
Mukund, 70, a retired Reserve Bank of India (RBI) employee, says fewer Dalits in Mhow converted to Buddhism because they did not suffer untouchability.
Though Ambedkar was born here he spent little time in the town because his father Ramji, who was employed in the Army, retired and returned to Maharashtra within a few years of his birth. “His birth place is important only because of the symbolism attached to it. His karmabhoomi was always Maharashtra,” says Director General of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar National Institute of Social Sciences Dr R S Kureel.
Incidentally, it took a lot of effort to locate the place where Ambedkar was born in Mhow. Till decades after his death in 1956 there was no memorial here. The present memorial was inaugurated in 2008. The state government had demanded more land to develop the memorial further to provide for night stay of pilgrims.
The Ambedkar institute came up in 1988, three years before Ambedkar’s birth centenary. Now, it will become a university with more budget and more courses.
The BJP, which came to power in Madhya Pradesh in 2003, held the first ‘Mahakumbha’ for Dalits in 2007. This is now an annual feature with the state government making all the arrangements.
Though the number of visitors is on the rise, most visitors still come from Maharashtra. Some of them visit the memorial on his death anniversary and the day he converted to Buddhism.
The town and the Assembly constituency now bear Dr Ambedkar’s name with plans to name the railway station after him too.
Former Congress MLA Antarsingh Darbar from Mhow, however, accuses the BJP of appropriating the work done by his party. “I have documents to prove that the BJP is falsely taking credit for doing work that was started during the Congress regime.”
Source:: Indian Express