On April 14, two events, taking place a few kilometres apart shaped the destiny of an 80-year-old building built by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar that houses his printing press.
In Dadar (West), chief minister Devendra Fadnavis laid the foundation of a 17-storey structure to stand in place of this historic structure. At the same time, in Ambedkar Bhavan, Radhika and Raja, the mother and brother of Rohith Vemula — the Dalit PhD scholar at Hyderabad University whose suicide sparked outrage across the country — bowed before a photograph of Dr Ambedkar and converted to Buddhism.
The first was the building’s future foretold, whereas the Vemulas’ conversion spoke of the ground plus one storey structure’s continuing significance for the Dalit movement. From hosting significant meetings where Ambedkar would decide his political stance to, later, becoming a symbol of the larger movement around his teachings, the Bhavan had seen many a momentous occasion.
At 3am last Friday, men wearing t-shirts sporting Ambedkar photographs demolished the Bhavan, with instructions from People’s Improvement Trust (PIT), which owns the land. The PIT was founded by Dr Ambedkar himself in the 1940s.
The demolition sparked a bitter war, one which can possibly lead to a mobilisation of the splintered Dalit movement and, more urgently, mean a fresh headache for the BJP government.
On one side are Dr Ambedkar’s three grandsons and on the other is the PIT. Incidentally, both parties allege the other is trying to usurp the land. This plot, spread over the 3,000 square metres, is valued at over Rs 30 crore.
But Prakash Ambedkar insists the family isn’t after the land. “We only wanted to preserve the structure. Rebuilding the Bhavan would mean erasing the identity of the Dalit struggle.”
Prakash met CM Fadnavis this Friday, pushing for the arrest of those who were instrumental in demolishing the structure.