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Indian Dalits have arrived but Ambedkar still relevant

A Call To Get Educated

The wrinkles on his face give away his 87 years but the spring in his step on Sunday defied age.

In khadi and a starched Gandhi cap, Brahmjeet Singh was one of the thousands who reached the Parliament lawns to pay homage to Babasaheb Dr BR Ambedkar on his 122nd birth anniversary.

The crowd had a significant middle class representation made up of educated dalits.

On the lawns, bold posters greeted the eye, there was fiery literature and the air resonated with slogans "End untouchability! Annihilate caste!".

Brahmjeet's eyes softened as he remembered 1942 when Babasaheb held his hands. "Padho... padhna mat chodna (Study... never leave studying)," he coaxed the youngster. A crusader for dalit rights, Brahmjeet has spent most of his life propagating Ambedkar's message.

One of the founder members of NACDOR (National Confederation of Dalit Organizations), the old man left his home in Vishwas Nagar in east Delhi at 5.30am to reach Parliament.

Reasons For Ambedkar's Popularity.

What makes Ambedkar so popular even today? Brahmjeet is clear on this account. "Babasaheb's slogan for every dalit was ”Shikshit bano, sangathit ho, sangharsh karo (Imbibe education, organize yourselves and keep up the good fight).

Now that more and more dalits have empowered themselves with education, the movement is growing," said Brahmjeet, watching a large rally of youth on Patel Chowk dancing to drumbeats holding large pictures of their icon.

The traffic signal in front of All India Radio headquarters was a convergence point. A small economy came alive around Ambedkar for half a day as people made the most of food on offer.

Chairman, NACDOR, Ashok Bharti spoke of the dalit's journey from near-destitution to mainstream society. "The dalit is ubiquitous. You find him in government offices, temples and corporate houses. He is the street vendor who sells you the packed water bottles and the rickshaw driver you hire. Dalits are a huge success story but the government is not ready to accept it," Bharti said.

He added that the numbers also indicate the growing sense of unrest among marginalized who now face a subtler form of exploitation.

His views were supported by Kiran Kumari, a government school teacher. "My father was not allowed to sit on a chair in the classroom because he was dalit. He grew up to be a teacher. He had to leave his job due to anti-dalit discrimination. My daughter is an engineering student. The discrimination is no longer overt but latent and this bothers us," Kumari said.

A senior manager with a bank, Bhim Sen and his friend Sher Singh, an ex-banker, attended from East of Kailash. "We have been coming here with our families since 1971. This is also an opportunity for reunion with old friends," Sher Singh said.

Caste Barrier Broken By Students

Anjali Godyal is a first-year BSc student at St Stephen's College. On Sunday when she received the Pratibha Award for excellence in academics from chief minister Sheila Dikshit, her proud father, Ajay Kumar, a corporation safai karamchari, said, "This is just a beginning, we have a long road ahead."

Anjali never shies away from her roots. She takes pride in her parents' struggle to overcome untouchability and talks of their work with sensitivity and dignity.

Like her, Ashish, studying to be a mechanical engineer, also got the award on the Ambedkar Jayanti, celebrated for the first time as Prerna Diwas by the Delhi government, at a programme organized by the Delhi Safai Karamchari Commission.

His mother, Sushil, is also a corporation safai karamchari and wants dignity of work. "I don't want a tip for the good work; I want respect."

Ashish admits he never shared his background with classmates during childhood. But he overcame the barrier in Class XII. Ashish's father, Raj Singh, a government clerk, and his mother sent his three sisters and him to school.

"My eldest sister is doing her PhD at DU. Another sister is doing her MA while the third one is about to graduate. My parents are our inspiration and my eldest sister a role model."

Anjali's mother Gomti said, "Once when her teacher made a discriminatory remark against her, I went to her school and protested. The teacher had to accept her mistake."

Citing the latent sense of discrimination in society, Anjali said a friend at St Stephen's could not believe that "a pretty, well-dressed girl like me could come from such a background. I politely told her it's time to change this mindset". courtesy TNN

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