Amid warnings to steer clear of the sea and heavy traffic snarls, thousands gathered at Chaityabhoomi at Shivaji Park, Dadar, to pay homage to Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar on his 61st death anniversary on Wednesday. The coastline was on alert in the wake of cyclone Ockhi, which, civic officials feel, contributed to the low turnout at Chaityabhoomi that was a fraction of last year’s turnout of about 3 lakh.
Despite doubling the arrangements for Mahaparinirvan Diwas, the footfall was about 10 per cent of the total footfall last year. According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), only about 30,000 people turned up at the venue in central Mumbai until 7 pm on Wednesday. To make sure that rain does not become a dampener for those who visited Chaityabhoomi, both police and the BMC sprung into action. The BMC had on Monday offered temporary accommodation to visitors at 70 of its schools. Free snacks were distributed at the rain-soaked venue apart
from food and water arrangements at the temporary accommodation.
Temporary sheds, 320 mobile toilets and 320 makeshift bathrooms were installed at the venue. Nine medical rooms with 200 doctors and 19 ambulances were arranged at the venue by the BMC. “We were prepared to manage a crowd of more than three lakh. All arrangements were in place. However, due to the cyclone warning, the crowd was very thin. We did, for once, think that the footfall might go down this year. However, it was shocking that only 30,000 people made it to the venue,” said Ramakant Biradar, Assistant Commissioner of G north (Dadar-Shivaji Park-Mahim) ward.
Shouting slogans of “Jai Bhim”, groups of visitors were seen alighting from trains at Dadar station on Wednesday afternoon to reach Chaityabhoomi.
Babban Kambli (29) was part of one such group and had come to Mumbai from Satara for the first time to pay homage to Ambedkar on his death anniversary. Part of a group of 25 people, Babban and his brother, Karma, and sister-in-law, Shalu, came to Mumbai like thousands of others to go to Chaityabhoomi.
“I had only heard that lakhs throng the city. Today, I saw it too. I got married two months ago. Hence, my husband and I decided to come to Chaityabhoomi to pay homage to Babasaheb and take his blessings. Today, we are respected because of Babasaheb,” said Shalu Kamble (18).
From the elderly people who travelled barefeet and arrived from far-flung rural areas of the country to the suave professionals, lakhs of Dalits gathered at Chaityabhoomi.
“The strength of the crowd thronging the place has been growing with each passing year. However, this year due to cyclone warning and rains,
the footfall was not too high. We were otherwise expecting over 8 lakh people,” said a BMC official from G north ward.
Making the best use of government facilities, including free travel by public transport, many visitors prefer reaching a day or two earlier and decide to stay back for a few days. “This time, the BMC has even provided makeshift bathrooms. Everything else was similar to previous year’s arrangements,” said 79-year-old Lalna Devi from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh, who claims to have visited Chaityabhoomi 16 times with her son.
“My relatives warned me this time due to the cyclone and rains in the city. However, I don’t know if this could turn out to be my last visit to Chaityabhoomi. I will stay for a few days at my nephew’s place and leave on December 8,” she said. “After paying respect to Babasaheb, we have planned to visit places like the Gateway of India, Haji Ali, Girgaum Chowpatty, Marine Drive and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. I have promised my kids to take them to all these places this year. We will leave Mumbai on Monday,” said Shanta Kumar from Chhattisgarh, who had come to Chaityabhoomi with his wife and four children.
No book stalls at the venue this year
Rain played a dampener even for sellers of books and paraphernalia, many of whom returned without setting up stalls. “There are many who come from Nagpur and other places across the state to sell books. They usually stay at the stalls from December 5. Due to the rains, there was mud and sludge all over. Many of them returned without setting up stalls,” said Deepak Goregaonkar, who had set up a stall near Shivaji Park. Inside Shivaji Park, too, very few stalls remained.
Demand for Dadar station to be renamed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Terminus
In a protest of sorts, a group of Ambedkar followers forcibly put up posters and flexes that read: “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Terminus” over Dadar station board and all over the station. It is not the first time that such a demand has been made.
There had been debates over renaming Dadar station as Chaityabhoomi or Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Terminus. In 2013, Marathi Bharti, a Mumbai-based organisation, held a signature campaign to press for the demand of renaming Dadar station after Dr Ambedkar.