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Unique Shobhayatra, highlighting common legacy of Gandhi and Ambedkar, culminated into rally on April 13

By Our Representative 
Finally, a unique event, organized by Gujarat’s human rights organizations, meant to make people understand that BR Ambedkar is not just a Dalit icon but one who stood for equality of all who had much in common with Mahatma Gandhi, came to its conclusion on April 13, on the eve of his birth anniversary. A Shobhayatra was taken out, starting at Anand Ashram, Sarkhej, Ahmedabad, at 10 in the morning. Taken out in the form of a procession, it  passed through Sonal Cinema Char Rasta, Boot Bhavani Temple, Vejalpur, Jivraj Park, APMC Char Rasta, Mahalaxmi Char Rasta, National Institute of Design, and will culminate at Sanskar Kendra, Paldi in the afternoon.
Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, danseuse-activist Mallika Sarabhai, former chairman Universities Grants Commission Sukhdeo Thorat, member of planning commission Sayeeda Hameed, founder of Hamal Panchayat Baba Adhav, among others, remained present at the rally. The cultural groups from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh performed special art of drum beating. Shobhayatra had about 70 tabloids, with Dr Ambedkar's statue seated on table and chair writing the Indian Constitution placed at the very start. Fourteen children, equal number of girls and boys, representing all religions and diverse social backgrounds led the Shobhayatra. In all, representatives of 15 states joined the Sobhayatra.
As part of the preparation of the Shobhayatra, the Ambedkar statue’s journey began on April 10 at Botad. Passing through different towns and villages near Ahmedabad, including Barwala, Rojid, Dhandhuka, Rayka, Fedra, Jawaraj, Vejalka, Vataman Chokdi, Simej, Ambareli, Dholka, Ranoda, Chaloda, Badarkha, Kavitha, Rasam, Bavla, Nani Devti and Sanand, it reached Sarkhej on April 13 morning.
The idea of Shobhayatra was first discussed on October 22, 2012, at a meeting organized at Khet Bhavan, Ahmedabad, attended by over 50 representatives of voluntary organizations and a few experts. Once clinched, three representatives -- Uttambhai Parmar, Jayesh Parmar and Martin Macwan – went to Vedchhi Ashram, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, and met veteran Gandhian Narayanbhai Desai to discuss the proposal and come up a complete programme that would show how the teachings of Gandhiji and D. Ambedkar were similar. Desai supported the programme and suggested that the event must be spread out both in terms of time and different places in the state.
Ever since, various programmes were held all over Gujarat in a large number of state villages and towns to propagate how those who stood for the poor and the oppressed had similar views and should not be pitted against each other. The programmes included group meetings with villagers, seminars and cultural shows. On January 3, 2013, a reading of the theatrical performance on the life and work of well-known social worker Savitribai Phule was organized in at Gujarat Sahitya Parishad hall, Ahmedabad, on her birth anniversary of Savitribai Ppule.
Performed by Indu Rohit, Aditi Desai and Raksha Nayak, and directed by Nisarg Trivedi, the three actors read out a script from the life of Savitribai Jyotiba Phule, great 19th century social workers who fought for women’s equality, education for the deprived, and stood steadfast against the evils of untouchability. “There have been efforts to give unnecessary importance to counter-pose Ambedkar with Mahatma Gandhi. While fighting casteism in name, those who are seeking to create this divide are actually trying to drive between sub-castes”, a note issued by three NGOs, who are in the lead, Navsarjan Trust, Janvikas and St Xaviers Non-formal Education Society, said.
A writeup on Shobhayatra, by Navsarjan Trust’s Martin Macwan, regrets, “Contrary to the expectation that innovations both in science and technology would reduce the tension in society between various sections, the same has increased, as evident from several studies. Today, the distance between various castes has increased or has become stable, far from reducing.” Architect of the event, he believes, the result is, “Dr Ambedkar has been reduced to a leader of a 'caste' and a 'sub-caste'.”
This has happened despite the fact that “his advocacy for equal opportunity to achieve economic and social equality did not concern the interest of one caste alone. His move as a member of Bombay Legislative Council to ensure leaves with pay for all women workers during child birth did not concern to welfare of a caste. As a minister of labor in the British Council his efforts to protect the rights of the mine workers dis not concern the interests of a caste.”
He points out, “When Dr Ambedkar took the water from the Chavdar lake in 1927 against the social ban of Dalits to such water, he was not alone. He was not alone during his public protest programmes on burning the Manusmriti or launching the agitation to enter the Kalaram Temple… Veer Savarkar organized his public address in the premises of Vithoba Temple in Pandharpur and it was Shankaracharya Kurtkoti who agreed with Dr Ambedkar when the latter called for conversion. Unfortunately, the perception of history has become narrow and selective.”
The nearly four-month-long campaign in villages and towns tried to highlight the legacy legacy of Dr Ambedkar along with that of Gautam Buddha, Gandhiji, Jyotiba and Saivitri Phule, Achhutanand, Chhatrapati Sahu Maharaja, Chokhamela, Gandhiji, Sant Gyaneshwar, Kabir, Narayan Guru, Narsinh Mehta, Periyar, Sayajirao Gaekwad, Tukaram and others, who were concerned with issues of equality.
During the campaign, effort was made to remember how the Phule couple not just opened the first school for Dalit children, but served oppresses Brahmin widows. During those days, widow re-marriage was banned and many Hindu widows were forced to resort to Sati. Young women who would become widow in young age would either resort to abortion or leave their illegitimate children to their fate. They established orphanage for such children, even as give protection to pregnant widows. Viewing the pathetic condition of widows and unfortunate children they decided the open an orphanage. Savitribai Phule especially took care of young widows, including from upper castes.
The Shobhayatra was held to highlight how untouchability and manual scavenging have been the scourge of our society. During the programme, 100,000 balloons symbolizing freedom from manual scavenging, were released in the skies to draw the attention that Gujarat, a “progressive” state, has 64,000 manual scavengers out of a total of 7.5 lakh in the country. Issues such as caste violence, continuing despite legal protection and special legal provisions, providing employment opportunities to replace caste-based occupations, right to land and natural resources were organized during the campaign.
The campaign, the organizers found, was an interesting experience. While over Rs 10 lakh was collected as donation for the preparation of the Shobhayatra, several villages showed how untouchabiity and refusal to allow Dalits into temples were being fought. In Sundariyana village of Dhandhuka taluka, there was a time when the postman would not enter the Valmiki street to deliver the post. The meeting was organized in the premises of the community temple, which was never accessible to women, witnessed a large presence of women, including two Valmiki women.
In Chanasma town of Patan district, at an unscheduled meeting, the Dalits apprised the campaigners that even today they cannot enter the Ramji temple. There was discussion about sub-caste discrimination in the Dalit community. In Chotila (Surendranagar district), the teachers listened to the discussion on untouchability practices on public schools where Dalit children were seated separately during the mid-day meal.
In Sordi village (Dhrangdhra taluka, Surendranagar district), people were disturbed with the fact that alcoholism is on rise as is the case in other villages and all communities. In Kesariya village of Lakhtar taluka of Surendranagar district, people related incidents suggesting a long history of slave like caste oppression. Earlier Dalits were forced to provide free labour. In Untadi village of Limdi taluka, Surendranagar district, the Devipujaks complained about the illegal sand mining by the mafia which was pushing them to the verge of deprivation of their livelihood. They depended on the berry trees for two generations, which were being uprooted now.
In Ghana village of Anand district, poverty and victimization seemed rampant among Dalits. Most people depended on the farm labour and the wages they were paid were far lower than the prescribed minimum wages. In Sandhana village of Matar taluka of Kheda district, most of the participants were the farm labourers. The campaigners were told, Dalits here were deprived of their title on the land that was awarded to them many years ago on a yearly lease. Good relations of Dalits with the Muslims had turned little hostile after the 2002 communal flare up.

Comments

NEERAV PATEL said…
if Ambedkar had 'much in common with Mahatma Gandhi', why did he deem it fit to expose him with his book ' What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables' ?

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