‘Jai Bhim’ was the slogan of the day as a sea of people gathered in an annual pilgrimage to Shivaji Park and nearby Chaityabhoomi, to pay homage to their leader, Dalit icon and framer of the Indian Constitution, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Monday was Ambedkar’s 54th death anniversary — he was cremated at Chaityabhoomi, near Dadar Chowpatty — and devotees dressed in white, waving the blue flag of the Dalit community — braved sweltering heat and serpentine queues for a glimpse of his shrine.
“We wait for this day all year,” said Santosh Londhe, 37, who travelled from Pune and waited in line for four hours. “Ambedkar gave a reason and a meaning to our lives.”
Uttam Nikhale, 54, travelled to Mumbai all the way from Nanded — an annual ritual.
“In 21 years, I have never missed the Mahaparinirvan Din [death anniversary]. It’s a pilgrimage,” he said. At Shivaji Park, a community fair of bookstands, poster stalls and refreshment kiosks drew lakhs of visitors.
“I visited the shrine last Wednesday so I could concentrate on the business,” said Manoj Badawe, his stall surrounded by customers. Badawe has been selling books on Ambedkar for the past week. “December 6 is always a huge day for sales,” he said.
Across the 28-acre park, volunteers, non-governmental organisations and municipal workers distributed free food and conducted free health checks.
For some, it was a chance to create awareness on issues like the ills of smoking and alcoholism, via street plays and folk songs. Surekha Chaugule, secretary of the Riddhi Siddhi Mahila Mandal, a women’s organisation from Lower Parel, organised a street play on the ills of alcoholism.
“This is our first Mahaparinirvan Din performance,” Chaugule said. “It’s one of those rare occasions when you can reach out to people from across the country and we wanted to send out a social message on how alcoholism can ruin a family.”
Back in the queue for the shrine, Gaikwad (who did not wish to give his first name) from Satara seemed elated, despite the heat, the crowds — and the effort of balancing his son on his shoulders. “At least my boy will get a glimpse of our God,” he said. “I will keep waiting till we get there.”