Friday, June 21, 2024

Why are Hindutva militants vandalising Ambedkar statues?

Architect of the Indian constitution and arguably greatest Dalit icon Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on 14th April in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh’s Indore district in 1891. Overwhelmingly invisibilized from India’s imagination, Ambedkar’s iconography was shaped through statues installed by Dalit activists for decades. But a wave of attack on Ambedkar’s statue leaves some unsettling truth about India.

Ambedkar’s statues have been a victim of vandalisation and hatred among so-called upper castes of the society. Lately, frequent incidents have been reported from several regions of Madhya Pradesh where his statues were vandalised. The State which gave birth to Ambedkar has become the top state in India yielding Dalit brutality.

Vandalising his ideology not the statue marks his foot-marked principles vanishing.

Recently his statue was vandalised in Muskra village of Madhya Pradesh’s Sehore district in March. in February, Ambedkar’s statue was vandalised by miscreants in the State’s capital Bhopal. Last year in November, a similar incident was reported from his birthplace in Khanpur village of Sarai Lakhansi area in Mhow district where his statue was desecrated.

Similar incidents have been reported from Uttar Pradesh in Meerut, Khanpur village, Rampur Asli village, Gohaniya village in Siddharthnagar, Ghunna village in Saharanpur, Nagla Ramkuwar village of Narkhi (Agra Zone). Statues were disfigured in Kerala and Tamil Nadu too.

The vandalization of Ambedkar’s statue is not just a criminal act of miscreants but hatred psychology which has been long enough crawling back into the Indian society since the BJP-led NDA government has come to power in the centre.

Though the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Dr BR Ambedkar for drawing up a constitution that protected the rights of backward classes and attributed his political success to the Dalit icon in a public meeting in Jangla in Chhattisgarh’s Maoist-hit Bijapur district in the year 2018 the ground-reality is somewhat opposite.

Incidents rates pertaining to atrocities on minorities especially Dalits and Muslims have climbed significantly. Such incidents contradict the claim of the BJP respecting Dr BR Ambedkar and his ideology.

As Ambedkar warns in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India (1940), “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.”

Similarly, a sudden increase in atrocities against Dalit communities has been recorded in all parts of the country. An incident in February of this year occurred where Shashikant Jatav (an RTI activist), 33, was beaten up in a closed room and forced to drink his own urine by several people at Panihar village, in Gwalior.

In 1927, Ambedkar launched active movements against untouchability. He began public movements and marches to open up public drinking water resources and allow the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town.

He also began a struggle for the right to enter Hindu temples but much hasn’t changed in the society in 95 years.

A Dalit woman, Pooja Khande from Khargone, MP was stopped from entering the temple and offering puja on the occasion of Mahashivratri this year. The temple priest told her that because she belongs to the Harijan community, she cannot perform the puja rituals inside the temple premises; she’ll have to perform her prayers outside the temple.

Similarly, two Dalit children were mercilessly beaten up by members of the Lodhi community for touching a water utensil, in Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh last month. In December 2020 a 25-year-old Dalit youth in Chhattarpur was beaten to death on touching the plates of ‘upper caste’ men during a party.

All these incidents are a clear sign of caste-based discrimination & untouchability still prevailing in Madhya Pradesh. Not much has changed since the time of Dr BR Ambedkar. Oddly so his values and principles have started fading in our society.

In recent months Madhya Pradesh State has appeared among the top states in India to record incidents pertaining to atrocities against the Dalit community. Not only members belonging to the upper caste but the police as well as government officials are offenders.

Not much has been done by State bodies for protecting their rights and fundamental freedoms. On the contrary, the state is promoting these brutalities on the minority community. Though the government in the centre hails Ambedkar on one side, on the other side one sees the arrest of Anand Teltumbde (68) scholar, public intellectual and husband of Ambedkar’s granddaughter, Rama Ambedkar.

Prior to his arrest under UAPA charges, he wrote a letter that reads, “in my voluminous writings comprising over 30 books, and numerous papers, articles, comments, columns, interviews, published internationally, not an insinuation of support to violence or any subversive movement could be found. But at the fag end of my life, I am being charged with heinous crimes under the draconian UAPA.”

Teltumbde is one of many examples of how Dalit activists are being implicated and subjected to judicial harassment at the hands of the State. The Human Rights Watch reported in the context of caste violence that, “The perpetuation of human rights abuses against India’s Dalit population is intimately connected to police abuse”.

“Local police officials routinely refuse to register cases against caste Hindus or enforce relevant legislation that protects Dalits. Prejudiced by their own caste and gender biases, or under the thumb of influential landlords and upper-caste politicians, police not only allow caste Hindus to act with impunity but in many cases operate as agents of powerful upper-caste groups to detain Dalits who organize in protest against discrimination and violence, and to punish Dalit villagers because of their suspected support for militant groups.”

Last month a 26 yr old Dalit woman was gang-raped at gunpoint in front of her children in Rajasthan’s Dholpur district.

More than a dozen incidents are recorded every month not only in the state of Madhya Pradesh but also in other states of India where Dalits are subjected to caste-based discrimination, police brutality and untouchability in public spaces.

Despite the abolishment of caste-based discrimination, untouchability and oppression of Dalits, many such cases go unreported. With such discrimination in Indian society, just celebrating his anniversary and remembrance is enough for us to do justice to Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.

Akansha Deshmukh is a Bhopal-based investigative journalist who focuses on serious crimes and political corruption. She can be reached at [email protected].

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