Historic Ambedkar Bhavan demolished

By 27 Jun 2016

At 2am on 25 June, the Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar East, Mumbai was demolished. What made things suspicious was the demolition was carried out in the wee hours of Saturday (2am to be precise). According to media reports, a rare collection of books, the office furniture plus the printing press went under the rubble. Some of the books were further damaged by water.

Picture credits: www.ambedkar.in

All this to make way for a 17-floor commercial building.

According to the reports, Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B R Ambedkar, has filed an FIR in Bhoiwada police station against senior members of the People’s Improvement Trust (a body formed by Dr Ambedkar to look after the structure), including Madhukar Kamble and former IAS officer Ratnakar Gaikwad, for the demolition of the structure.

Acquiring PhDs from the LSE and Columbia University, where his professors included the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, Babasaheb Ambedkar returned home with a vision of India’s future. He was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, and succeeded in implanting within it some of its most radical ideas, including the principle of affirmative action.

Prior to that, in 1930, Dr BR Ambedkar purchased a land right in the heart of Dadar and built a structure which was established as a press and library to print and disseminate the anti-caste literature.

Later on, Ambedkar Bhavan went on to function as a big press along with book stall and meeting halls, rooms and space for public and private events of Ambedkarite and other progressive groups in Mumbai.

The bookstore in the property was set up in 1991. The space had books in Hindi, Marathi and English and included recently published titles like Hatred in the Belly, published by The Shared Mirror apart from biographies and works consisting of notes and essays by Ambedkar.

Dr Ambedkar’s plan was to turn it into a hub of social and cultural activity. The Bhavan was a hub where all important decisions of the Dalit movement took place.

A method in the madness?
In February of 2013, when the Siddhartha Vihar Hostel in Wadala was brought down, by the BMC, again Mumbai’s history associated with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was annihilated.

This was the building that Ambedkar had constructed to provide affordable accommodation to Dalit students. The building was said to be in a dilapidated condition, wholly due to neglect.

Surprisingly, in the same year, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved a proposal to purchase the three-storey bungalow situated in London where Ambedkar lived while pursuing higher studies for an estimated Rs 40 crore.

The Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar too was said to be in dilapidated condition, which further emphasises neglect from the governments in the centre and the state.

Dr Anand Teltumde, an Ambedkarite said, “The same government that is trying to appropriate Ambedkar and celebrating him is also trying to demolish the original traces that Dr Amebdkar left behind. This is a direct attack against Dr Ambedkar, his thoughts and the Ambedkarite movement.”

Our view
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar saw educational equality as the bedrock of a genuinely democratic society. Whatever the legal tenability of the Trust's actions, the demolition of the Ambedkar Bhavan shows disregard to the books, the printing press, and rare handwritten manuscripts. While the nation is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the father of the Indian Constitution, the action shows disrespect to Dr Ambedkar's ideals of fraternity and parity for all.





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