The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, which added a portrait of social activist and scholar Durga Bhagwat to its iconic Darbar Hall last Friday, received a letter from Dalit writer JV Pawar that criticised the trust for not having put up Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's portrait so far.
Pawar, 68, one of the founders of the Dalit Panthers movement of the 1970s, had written an article in a Marathi paper on July 31, where he mentioned that the Society had rejected a proposal to put up a portrait of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar about a decade ago. He also criticised the decision to put up Bhagwat's portrait, citing that she had written against Dr Ambedkar in some of her books. Pawar sent a copy of the article to the Society with his letter on Friday.
“Bhagwat had anti-Dalit ideologies, and had written against Dr Ambedkar’s decision to change his religion. If the Society can put up her portrait, why have they not put up one of Dr Ambedkar, who was a world-renowned thinker and whose contributions have been more significant?,” asked Pawar, who is also a member of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, a party led by Dr Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar.
However, Aroon Tikekar, president of the Asiatic Society, said that the trust has never received a such a proposal. "If anyone wants Dr Ambedkar's portrait to be put up, they can send us a proposal,” he said.
“We decided to put up Bhagwat's portrait solely on the basis of her scholarly contributions as a sociologist and an anthropologist. Her association with the Asiatic Society spanned four decades,” said Tikekar. He added that funds for the portrait were raised through lectures and through donations from Bhagwat’s family.
“I discussed the matter with some Dalit members of the Society, and they were of the opinion that the letter should be ignored,” Tikekar said about the letter.