The touchable god.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There is no one here other than The Delhi Walla. This is the memorial of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Indian constitution and a leader who championed for the rights of Dalits, the low-caste groups once known as untouchables, but now officially referred to as Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs).
Spread over three acres, this place in 26, Alipur Road, North Delhi, was the last home of Ambedkar — he died in 1956. Close to Delhi University, the house belonged to the rajah of Sirohi (Rajasthan) and was later purchased by an industrialist who demolished the building to make a new bungalow. It was acquired by the government in 2003 and declared a national property.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was entrusted with the task of turning it into a memorial. But from the road it still gives the aloofness of a private residence.
Inside, the security guard is reading a newspaper. The lawn isn’t uniformly clipped. The plants are turning brown.
A board placed against a flowerpot says:
Please remove your shoes
The central hall in the museum is dominated by Ambedkar’s bust. The floor is of marble. The pink and yellow walls are decked with Ambedkar’s portraits and photos. Some frames list the milestones of his life. Others highlight his famous speeches.
Remember that the age of helpless has ended. A new epoch has set in. All things are now possible because of your being able to participate in the Politics & Legislatures of this country.
Delhi’s upper-caste opinion makers might be puzzled by such sunny optimism.
In January 2013, Ashis Nandy, a Nizamuddin East resident who is considered one of India’s most brilliant intellectuals, said at a literary gathering in Jaipur:
“How should I put it? Almost a vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes. And as long as this is the case, [the] Indian Republic will survive… Also, I’ll give an example. One of the states with the least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal, that is when the CPI(M) was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last hundred years nobody from the opp… , nobody from the OBCs, the Backward Classes, and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.”
[To this day a large segment of touchable — and educated — Indians think of Dalits as ‘unclean’.]
There is no one in the library. One shelf has the following books:
The Untouchables in Contemporary India
From Untouchable to Dalit
Development of Untouchable Peoples
The Untouchables in Modern India
In 1997, Arun Shourie, a Satya Niketan resident who is considered one of India’s finest journalists, wrote a book on Ambedker challenging his contribution to India’s freedom struggle. Its title was: Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar and the facts which have been erased. In his book Mr Shourie suggested that Ambedkar sided with the British. How does that make him a ‘false god’? Wasn’t he engaged in a much more significant freedom struggle?
A board outside a hall in the library building says:
Collected Works of Baba Saheb
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
In Hindi & Regional Languages
The hall is empty and there are no books.
Where 26, Alipur Road Nearest Metro Station Vidhan Sabha Time 9 am to 6 pm