It is a well-known fact that India has the lengthiest constitution in the world. Compared to the U.S. constitution, the Indian constitution is thirty times bigger and hence, contains several more articles and legal provisions. These provisions ensure that India’s citizens and residents feel well-protected and secure within its confines. When discussing the Indian Constitution, it would be imperative to recognize its Chief Architect, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Although Ambedkar is widely known for delineating the nation’s rule book, he was also a distinguished lawyer, economist, and teacher. However, one of his most notable life achievements includes demanding and winning rights for India’s huge Dalit population.
Born in a lower-caste Mahar family in Maharashtra, Ambedkar understood the disadvantaged position that Dalits were put in. They were denied equal opportunities and treated as inferior members of society. During his time, they were even denied access to basic facilities like clean water, housing, jobs, education, and public transport. By staging several protests and peaceful demonstrations against the discriminatory treatment that they received, Ambedkar brought attention to the issue of Dalit rights. He was perhaps one of the first Indian freedom fighters who shed light upon the unfair treatment accorded to Dalit citizens. He believed that India would be truly independent if all its citizens, including lower caste members and Dalits, were provided equal opportunities to learn, grow and progress. Therefore, he also included several measures in the Indian constitution to guarantee equality and justice to lower caste communities.
Ambedkar statues: Face of the Dalit community
To serve as a stark reminder of the justice and equal treatment that several Dalits and lower caste communities in India deserve even today, numerous Ambedkar statues have been erected throughout the country. Political symbols play an important role in conveying political messages and giving voice to pertinent cultural issues. These symbols include statues, posters, flags, objects such as the lotus and the charkha, to name a few.
Most statues of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar usually depict him carrying the Constitution in one hand and pointing to an imaginary crowd with the index finger of his other hand. However, researchers and travelers have discovered that Ambedkar’s statues and their designs vary greatly from one part of the country to another.
His suited statues have become a cultural icon, and he has been touted as the torchbearer of Dalit rights. His statues, which have been stationed in various small cities and towns in India constantly inspire Dalit citizens to demand equal rights and continue the struggle that Dr. Ambedkar pioneered. Most importantly, Ambedkar’s statues give voice to and make visible an entire community of a historically disadvantaged group of citizens. His presence reminds us of the trials and tribulations that Dalits and untouchables have undergone and the government’s duty to undo the injustices suffered by them. The installation of Ambedkar statues in public places can also be interpreted as an action that sanctions the access of public places to every citizen. Be it in a garden, on a narrow street, on a transport station, or in the middle of a crossroad, Ambedkar’s statues represent everyone’s right to public spaces and public facilities.
It must also be noted that most Ambedkar statues display the Constitution as well. It tells all citizens, especially the disadvantaged communities, to make use of the constitutional provisions and measures sanctioned to protect and uplift them. By taking help of the law, minority and discriminated members of society can demand equality and justice from the government. Ambedkar ensured that India’s constitution was well-equipped with laws and articles that can safeguard the rights of the minority. The extensive and lengthy document is perhaps the most crucial tool at the disposal of Indian citizens to acquire equal opportunities and rights.
In recent years, several newspapers and websites have reported that local governments and municipalities have had to build protective fences/cages around Ambedkar statues. This is because statues around the country are being vandalized and torn down by anti-Dalit and anti-reservation groups. Ironically a leading freedom fighter who ensured the protection of rights of minority groups now needs his statues to be protected from the common public. Rebel groups view Ambedkar’s statue as a reminder of the “unfair” system of reservations and the “undue” privileges accorded to lower caste communities. They believe that casteism has ceased to exist in India and that one need not abide by Ambedkar’s policies to uplift Dalits anymore. However, as headlines of newspapers show, Dalits continue to endure casteist atrocities and discrimination every day. To them, Ambedkar’s statues encourage them to continue to fight for justice and equality. Recognizing the significance of Ambedkar in the fight for equality, the government of Maharashtra has sanctioned the construction of the Statue of Equality- a monument dedicated to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
Pratha Content Writer