The man behind a million smiles

Dr. Ambedkar's legacy lives strong in his followers

Credit : Madhura Karambelkar

Heading towards Chaityabhoomi to observe the Mahaparinirvan Din, right from Dr. Annie Besant Road, 2 kms away from Chaityabhoomi, one could see a long, long que! This unending queue of white clothes, carrying travel bags on their heads and sometimes, small children in their arms, was heading towards the Chaityabhoomi. People across the state had come for visiting the memorial and pay their homage.

Babasaheb 2(Photo credits; Madhura Karambelkar)

There were hundreds of other volunteers across the road who were just making sure that all the visitors get enough water, food and help everything go in an organised manner. It was much more than a memorial day or an organised event or any yatra that Indians do, it was like a huge family coming together sincerely to give their recognition to their beloved- most important family member.

“Babsaheb comes before anyone and everything else in this world. He comes before my father or even my husband” says a lady from Jalna district of Maharashtra, who has been waiting in the queue for more than 12 hours now. She and her family of 8 people are farmworkers in one of the villages there. They come here every year to pay their tribute. They go to Nagpur each year too.

There was a family from Ahmednagar, they reached Mumbai a day before and were staying in the Shivaji park ground with thousands of other people coming from across Maharashtra. They stood in the queue to pay homage to Babasaheb since last night. Babasaheb for them is their world. He is the reason for our existence. If it were not him, women couldn’t even come out of the house.

babasaheb3(Photo credits; Madhura Karambelkar)


There were many other families from far off cities like Nagpur and Aurangabad too. They too, had come with these luggages on their heads, listening to the speakers and enjoying the performances on the stage. There were few men who got up and started cheering as soon as the speaker would share one of the works of Babasaheb. “It is only because of him, our people have grown and have become so empowered today. We identify ourselves as him, we are a part of him.”

Some women from Kurla, Mumbai, say, “We have come here, but we won’t go to the memorial because we live in Mumbai, we can visit it anytime, but our people have come from far just to have a look of the memorial. So we, the people of mumbai would give them first chance and rather prefer participating in the volunteer work to provide our people food and water. Our people have come since 5th December morning , we should be there to support them unconditionally. Bababsaheb aamche sanglyanche baap aahey. Aamche bapache baapache baap aahe, aamcha pahila baap aahe Babasaheb (Babasaheb is our father, the father of our fathers...he is our great father.)

babasaheb(Photo credits; Madhura Karambelkar)

Samta Sainik dal, a trained volunteer group of scouts,  are looking after the arrangements and to take care that everything is in place. “Babasaheb has done so much for us , the least we can do is stand here just for one day for our own people. Babasaheb went through lot of struggles just for us, he gave us everything. Whatever we are today it is because of him. This is nothing that we do as compared to what he did for us,” one volunteer says.  

A member of the Bandra Pragatik squad, another volunteer group, says, “We want to spread Babasaheb’s real message to the world. We all can never give back what he has given to us. He is our Mahapurush (Idol). Babasaheb actually gave us freedom, he made the women independent by giving them their identity. He did not do all of this only for Bauddha Samaj, but he did everything for everyone, for everyone in this country, for all the upper caste and class too,” he says, elated, adding, “He is not only ours, he is everyone’s. People have such a wrong notion about Babasaheb. He gave resignation for all of us, for all the women of this country. The government stopped the services of Employment card started by Babasaheb but it was one of the most effective programmes for the unemployed.”

babasaheb5(Photo credits; Madhura Karambelkar)

At the book stall of the Secular Ambedkar Sangathana, Vikhroli, books related to advocacy, social issues, education of the poor are on sale for a negligible cost. The organisation has people coming from different backgrounds, some are engineers, some advocates, some journalists, some professors, teachers, IAS officers etc.
“We organise the book stall since past 20 years. We are always there on 6th December and 1st January at Bhima Koregaon, all the big programs. This book stall is one of the ways we want to spread the word of Ambedkar. We sell books written by Ambedkar, Phule and something related to them -  in English and Marathi. And also books of Buddha in Pali language.” One of the sellers says.

“Our most selling books are copies of the Constitution, Buddha and his Dhamma, Annihilation of Caste and some basic pali books are also sold. We recommended books like Buddha and his Dhamma, Castes in India, Buddha and Karl Marx, which is relevant to today’s capitalist scenario, Babasaheb tells us about the reality of Capitalism with the perspective of Karl Marx, every person should read this book. 75 percent of our books get sold. Today we sold more than 3000 books.”

At another book stall sells books of noted author J.V. Pawar, who closely worked with Namdev Dhasal, Raja Dhale. “We are selling books for the past 45 years. JV Pawar, is one of the biggest names that we publish and sell. He wrote Babasaheb’s thoughts in simpler, evocative language,” the seller says, adding, “People need to know what babasaheb wanted to convey, even well educated people or as a matter of fact our politicians and leaders don’t know about Babasaheb. If this was London or any other country, Babasaheb would have been revered. What recognition he gets from the mainstream, is nothing. Our best selling and most recommended books are Revolution and Counter-Revolution and Annihilation of Caste.”

babasaheb6(Photo credits; Madhura Karambelkar)

As an outsider to their world, the experience of seeing the love, adulation and respect with which throngs of people come to Chaityabhoomi to pay homage not to a mythical figure but to a real human being who gave meaning to their very existence, was overwhelming. Having heard of Jai Bhim only as an offensive adjective in the savarna circles for the longest time;  seeing and understanding the significance of that call amongst Ambedkarites and their solidarity where several Ambedkarites in Mumbai on this day skip the visit of Ambedkar’s resting place at Chaityabhoomi to give the chance to fellow Ambedkarites coming in from across the country was immensely awe-inspiring. Seldom do we see this cohesion and harmony at other festivals, celebrations and gatherings.

It’s shameful how little attention the mainstream media gives to this magnificent display of reverence for a man who we, as a country and society owe so much. Amongst the privileged castes and probably decidedly so,  there is an utter lack of awareness of Babasaheb’s body of work beyond his contribution to the Constitution and the reservation policy. It is sad that this is the popular narrative as opposed to the vast work done by him.

With inputs from Madhura Karambelkar