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Pilgrimage to Parliament: Dalits Paint Sansad Marg Blue on Ambedkar Jayanti

The participants talked about the dilution of punishment in the SC/ST Act and of police atrocities during the April 2 'Bharat Bandh' protests.

Rounak Kumar Gunjan | News18.com@Rounak_T

Updated:April 14, 2018, 11:40 PM IST
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Pilgrimage to Parliament: Dalits Paint Sansad Marg Blue on Ambedkar Jayanti
At least 10,000 supporters, gathered from across the country to commemorate Ambedkar Jayanti, filled up the Parliament Street leaving not enough room for visitors to even walk. (Photo: News18)
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New Delhi: Only on exceptional occasions does one find the two-km long Sansad Marg full of protesters. On Saturday, this historic road leading up to the Parliament was overflowing with a sea of blue.

At least 10,000 supporters, gathered from across the country to commemorate Ambedkar Jayanti, filled up the Parliament Street leaving not enough room for visitors to even walk.

Though Dalit rights activists and Dalits themselves have been assembling at Parliament Street for over last five decades, this Ambedkar Jayanti had a bigger turnout than many previous years. The participants talked about the dilution of punishment in the SC/ST Act and of police atrocities during the April 2 'Bharat Bandh' protests.


This Ambedkar Jayanti had a bigger turnout than many previous years. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan/News18)

Dalits traversed a long distance to reach here, not just to commemorate their idol's birth anniversary, but to join forces and assert their identity.

"This year's gathering is different because it comes after an especially tough spell for Dalits. We are protesting against what happened on April 2. There are more protests to follow. This gathering also gives us an opportunity to unite and spread the word," said Ashok Das, editor and publisher of Dalit Dastak, a magazine focused on Dalit issues, who was present at the venue.

A little away from the crowd, 72-year-old Tej Singh was waiting for the gates of Parliament to open. Singh has been coming to Sansad Marg on every April 14 for the last 50 years.


The 14 April assembly at the Parliament Street was a pilgrimage of sorts. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan/News18)

"This is year is not just about Dr. Ambedkar's birthday. We are also here to showcase our anger against what happened. I know of people who were out on the streets protesting and were injured due to the attacks on them by the upper castes. We will continue to protest till the guilty are held accountable," says Singh, a resident of Rohini in Delhi.

The 14 April assembly at the Parliament Street is a pilgrimage of sorts. Dalits, Ambedkarites, and anti-caste activists arrive at Parliament streets every morning on every Ambedkar Jayanti, walk down to the Parliament, whose gates are opened to allow the visitors to have a look at BR Ambedkar's statue, and pay their respects.

At the far end of the queue, waiting to walk down to the Parliament, a group of young Ambedkarites are shouting slogans against the dilution of the SC/ST Act. Every member in the group has a blue flag in his hand. Everyone in the group is wearing black tee etched on which is an image of Ambedkar.

 


"We are here to voice our opinion on the Supreme Court tweaking the SC/ST Act. Ambedkar himself taught us to struggle for our rights. That's what we are doing," said Rakesh Kumar, a student of Ambedkar University.

Moving further ahead one encounters stalls providing free food and water for everybody who turns up. Jitendra Kumar is a teacher with East Delhi Municipal Corporation. The East Delhi SC/ST teacher association has set up a food stall in the carnival. Kumar tells News18 that while they do not collect money from upper caste colleagues at school, they do invite them to Parliament Street on every April 14.

Kumar tells News18 he came here for the first time four years back. Next year he got a few people along and distributed free water bottles in a car. Aiming for more, Kumar got in touch with Samas, the group that allots places and organises the huge April 14 events.


The fag end of the street had sections of the crowd dancing to folk music, some singing while others playing songs on speakers lauding Dalits. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan/News18)

"We do not collect money from the upper castes, friends, neighbours or colleagues, to show that we are also able to organise these things. It is all the more important during this time to put out the message that look, we are no less," said the teacher.

The teachers started with a total collection Rs 10,000 four years ago. This year they have accumulated approximately Rs 1.5 lakh. The association has organised for 75 kg of sweets and 75 kg of rice.

Once the participants have had a mouthful, they move towards stalls selling Ambedkar posters, keychains, paintings, bandanas and other mementos.

The largest stall in the carnival is that of Sukhbeer Singh Baudh. It has been put up right at the end of the street. The Meerut-based trader has been setting up his stall of Ambedkar-related-showpieces for the last three decades, after he adopted Buddhism in 1990.


Dalits traversed a long distance to reach New Delhi, not just to commemorate Baba Saheb's birth anniversary, but to join forces and assert their identity. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan/News18)

"My guru showed me a video consisting of photographs of Dr. Ambedkar. I thought if Baba Saheb can work then why not me. I started writing, making audio CDs and setting up this stall everywhere I deemed fit. I travel the country and set this up in all gatherings such as World Book Festival," said the Dalit man.

As one reaches the end of the street, there are still more people pouring in. The gathering is getting bigger. The fag end of the street has sections of the crowd dancing to folk music, some singing while others playing songs on speakers lauding Dalits. Between pauses of music and revelry, one hears the crowd shouting "Jai Bhim" in unison.

The sun setting on the street means just the end of the day. Events to mark Dalit anger are scheduled through the coming weeks. One such event has been scheduled on May 1, the International Labour Day. National Coalition of Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribe organisations announced a nationwide peaceful protest on International Labour Day.


Dalit activists marched ahead amidst loud chants of 'Jai Bhim'. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan/News18)

"We will observe one day peaceful demonstrations in all the district and state headquarters, including New Delhi, against the Supreme Court's decision to dilute certain key provisions of the SC/ST Act 1989," said Ramesh Nathan, general secretary, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, part of the National Coalition.
| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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