India: Dalits in Telangana Village Win Struggle to Erect Ambedkar Statue

Clarion India

 

The application of building Ambedkar’s statue took some months to be sanctioned because people from dominant castes were averse to the idea of having the statue close to the Hanuman temple, and so, they came up with different reasons to stall permission

Nikhat Fatima | Clarion India

HYDERABAD – Building a statue to honour Dr. B R Ambedkar, architect of the Constitution of India and social reformer, has proved to be an arduous task for villagers of Nallamadugu in Nizamabad district of Telangana. But, finally, they won the day.

The Dalits comprising 25% of the small village applied for permission to erect a statue of Dr Ambedkar in the centre of the village near the bus stand.

The application took some months to be sanctioned because people from dominant castes were averse to the idea of having the statue close to the Hanuman temple, and so, they came up with different reasons to stall permission.

“The dominant castes feel that the village will be deprived of rains if we have a statue of Babasaheb. Then, after some days, they said ‘Why don’t you have the statue in Dalit wada? After all, you got your education and job because of Ambedkar, so you should have his statue in your colony’. Finally we managed to convince the panchayat members that Ambedkar belonged to everyone, not just Dalits” shared Konda Sanju, a youth of Nallamadugu village.

Sanju, who is the first generation in his family to be educated, is among the few youths who have managed to move out of the village and educate themselves and get a job.

After the gram panchayat gave a unanimous decision, the Dalits went ahead and performed a small pooja and dug a pit in March with the intention of starting the erection of the statue. A group of people from the dominant castes came upon the site and started hurling abuses at the Dalits, calling them ‘low-caste bastards’, saying ‘Ambedkar is a Dalit and his statue does not deserve to be built beside the Hanuman temple’.

Then they attacked the people present there and beat them up after which they held out a threat that if they managed to build the statue, they would beat the statue with chappals. They also hurled stones at the gathered crowd, forcing them to flee.

“We filed a complaint with the police against the 8 persons who abused and attacked us; they registered an FIR but refused to take any action. Instead, they kept advising us to take back the complaint” said Sanju, who is also part of the Ambedkar Sangam and the Buddha Priya Welfare association. The accused also kept threatening the Dalit youth to withdraw the complaint and also drop the idea of erecting the statue.

After a few days, the Circle Inspector of Police and the Tahsildar called 5 persons from both sides, counselled them and gave assurances that they would resolve the matter amicably. The Dalit youths believed them and hoped that they would resolve the issue.

But in the last week of March, the lockdown was announced and everything came to a standstill.

Taking advantage of this situation, the influential caste-Hindus gathered at the site proposed for building the statue and began filling up the pit in the night. As soon as the Dalit youths got wind of this, they rushed to the spot and asked them to stop filling the pit and wait for the orders from the Tahsildar.

Said another youth, Metu Shekar, a graduate and also part of Ambedkar Sangham “But they were in no mood to listen. They were about 20 and we were just three of us and we did not want violence because they are all our village people but they started hurling abuses in the name of caste. They also threatened that ‘if the statue is built, they will blast the statue and kill at least 10 of us.”

Shekar, who was hit by a stone, dialled the police so that the fight would not be aggravated. “The police came and took us to the police station and put us in the lock-up while the perpetrators went back to their homes,” said Shekar expressing anger at the action of the police.

A second FIR was filed against the miscreants and yet again no action was taken against them.

“The Hanuman temple was built only 3 years ago. There is a temple committee but there are no Dalits in that committee. So you can see how discrimination runs deep in the village,” said another youth. “It is not just in this village, everywhere you see upper-caste Hindus paying respect to Dr Ambedkar, garlanding his statue and talking highly of him but, deep within, their attitude is different,” he added.

Since the Dalits refused to take back the complaints, they were socially boycotted. Nobody spoke to them, no one employed them in their fields and farms, they were not allowed to walk on public paths and even shop-keepers refused to sell anything to them.

They had to go to the next village for their needs. The situation was getting out of hand. With the police not bothering, the youths of Ambedkar Sangham wrote to the National Human Rights Commission with the help of Karthik Navyan, their lawyer. Copies were marked to IPS and IAS officers as well as Inspector-general of Police.

After several months of unsuccessful attempts to resolve things, the local MLA Jajala Surender who is also from Nallamadugu came to the village and initiated talks between both the parties.

With his intervention, the upper-caste people gave in and the statue of Dr Ambedkar is all set to be built soon at the same proposed spot in the centre of the village near the bus stand close to the Hanuman temple.

“We are thankful to the MLA for his intervention. We hope there won’t be any hurdles now” said Sanju. “Atrocities against Dalits have not stopped even in these modern times. We are now educating ourselves and are finding ways to resolve our problems,” he said in conclusion.

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