July 1997:Statue desecrated,ten dead,26 injured in police firing.
A decade after the desecration of the statue of Dr B R Ambedkar at Ramabai Nagar Colony in Ghatkopar,its back on its pedestal. The recent resurrection of the 10-foot-high statue saw a spurt in political activity in the area,making the residents who had been demanding it happy.
But the struggle of residents continues and the visit of political leaders to inaugurate the statue has done little to lift their spirits.
They are now awaiting a Mumbai court verdict in the case against an SRPF officer who ordered his team to open fire on people who were protesting against the desecration in 1997.
According to the residents,during the installation of the new statue,leaders gave political statements,but said nothing on their prolonged battle.
Political leaders,including Chief Minister Ashok Chavan,Congress MP Gurudas Kamat,Social Justice Minister and Guardian Minister for Mumbais suburbs Chandrakant Handore,Peoples Republican Party (PRP) president Joginder Kawade and several other ministers had lined up last week for the inauguration.
Everyone spoke about his (Ambedkars) greatness,but said nothing about the 11 people shot at by the police. They are still attending court as accused in the case. Three of them have died in the meantime. We made several requests to the leaders to discharge these innocent men and women,but no one wants to look into the truth. The police who indiscriminately opened fire have still not been brought to book, said Kailash Kedar,whose cousin Ram Hire was shot at by the police and is an accused in a case filed by the police.
The leaders did not even make a passing reference to the victims. Their families were not invited to the inaugural ceremony. Most of us refused to attend, added Kedar.
I never used to step out of my house without my husband. Now I attend court proceedings. The Ambedkar statue is our pride. But the leaders could have once stepped into the colony and asked us what we want. We want to be discharged from the false case registered against us, says Sudevi Giri,a resident who had received a bullet in her palm in on the day of the firing. She says she was making her way home carrying her infant,trying to save themselves from the bullets,when one hit her.
On July 10,1997,some miscreants had desecrated the statue. The next day,police officer Manohar Kadam had ordered his men to open fire on a mob of protesting Dalits. Kadam is now facing trial in the Sessions Court.
It was a political game well played and well gained. Besides the 11 against whom the case was registered,Dalit leaders from across the city who had called for morchas demanding that Kadam be booked,were themselves booked. These cases are still pending in the lower courts. Leaders promise that Kadam will soon be brought to book,and victims continue to remain accused persons. It is sheer double standards by the state, said activist Shakil Ahmed,who had aided the S D Gundewar Commission,which was set up to inquire into the incident. The report had indicted Kadam for ordering indiscriminate firing on the people.
Our delegation met government representatives to get the new statue erected. The issue was taken up by Kamat. Its just a coincidence that the inauguration came before the elections and one must not read much into it, said G D Gangurde,an ex-serviceman and a staunch RPI (Athawale) faction supporter,which is in alliance with the ruling Congress-led coalition in the state.
But many local residents take it with a pinch of salt. We hear that a huge sum of Rs 33 lakh was spent on the exercise,including money from the MPLAD fund. We cant even question it as its a matter of emotion. If we object,people claim we are anti-Ambedkar. But we have lot of other local issues that was never addressed ever by these politicians, said a local activist,Kishore Kardak.