His fading eyesight and shaky legs didn’t deter Pundlik Godbole (76) from taking a strenuous 1,100-km journey to Mumbai from Kodadongari, a tiny village in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwada district.
“My faith in Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar has brought me to Chaityabhoomi (the Dalit leader’s Dadar memorial),” said Godbole, one of the lakhs of Dalits to arrive in the city to pay respects to their messiah on December 6, Ambedkar’s 50th death anniversary.
“We had just one leader in Dr Ambedkar. The rest — living or dead — compromised with the respective governments for their own benefit. I don’t give any importance to the so-called Dalit leaders any more,” said the frail farmer who couldn’t pursue studies beyond Standard IV.
“I wanted to visit this place before I die,” added Godbole who’s accompanied by wife Manjulabai (70), local friend Tikaram Guarkhede (77) and neighbour Krishnabai Jamgade. They will be staying in the state-provided tent at Shivaji Park before leaving for home on December 7.
Before this reporter could ask them about the Khairlanji killings, Godbole himself spoke about it. “It is because of our hopeless leadership that our brothers are killed and the women raped.”
Godbole proudly stated that his two sons have got government jobs under reservation. “We all thank Dr Ambedkar for giving us reservations.”
Devidas Renale (45) from Nagpur, said, “Ambedkar’s teachings made us gather courage to take up the issue with the government, which acted against the culprits, although late. The upper castes still want us to live like the cattle and take orders from them.”
However, Siddha Kuwar (55) from Badarbeliya in Uttar Pradesh was optimistic. “Earlier, there were so many atrocities against the lower castes. But now they don’t dare ill-treat us as we’ve learnt to raise our voice.”
Deva Moghare from Nagpur feels there’s a limit to what one can endure. “We swallowed injustice against our people at Khairlanji, the murderers are still roaming free. But to look the other way when it comes to Babasaheb is akin to being a traitor.”
Hardad Damoji Bedad (60) said, “It’s sacrilege, what these wretches have done! The injustice has to stop. It seemed that the authorities needed a wake-up call to be galvanised into action.”
(With inputs from Sonali Kokra)