AMID chants of Jai Bhim, thousands of followers of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar alighted from trains at Dadar station on Friday, all headed to his memorial Chaitya Bhoomi at Shivaj Park. The city’s civic authorities expect that by Saturday morning, nearly 10 lakh followers of the Dalit icon will be in Mumbai, camping around Shivaji Park before they pay homage to the architect of the Indian Constitution on his 58th death anniversary.
Yashwant Kamble (28), part of one of several hundred groups of travellers, has come to Mumbai from Satara. It is his first visit to the big city. Part of a group of 25 people, Yashwant and his brother Karma and sister-in-law Manda have come to Mumbai like lakhs of others to for their annual pilgrimage place on the ‘Mahaparinirvan Diwas’, the death anniversary of Ambedkar.
“I had only heard that lakhs throng the city. Today,I saw it, too. I got married two months ago and I and my husband decided to come to ‘Chaitya Bhoomi’ to pay respects to Babasaheb. Today we are what we are because of him,” said Manda Kamble (19).
From elderly people, many of whom have travelled barefoot and have arrived from far-flung rural areas of the country, to suave professionals from urban hubs, lakhs of Dalits gather at Chaitya Bhoomi in a show of faith.
Making the best use of government facilities, including free travel through public transport, many visitors prefer to reach a day or two ahead and decide to stay back for a few days. “This time the BMC has provided makeshift bathrooms. Everything else is similar to the arrangements in previous years,” said Maina Devi from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh who claims to have visited Chaitya Bhoomi 16 times before this with her son.
People do not even care about food or sleep. They board any train or bus that will bring them to the Mumbai. It is one day that every Ambedkarite wants to have a glimpse of the place where their leader was cremated.
“On Saturday, after paying homage to Babasaheb, we have planned to visit places such as the Gateway of India, Colaba Market, 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 Manjunath Kuruappa from Karnataka, who has come to Chaitya Bhoomi with his wife and three children.
This year, around 2,000 police personnel have been deployed at Chaitya Bhoomi itself, including State Reserve Police Force (SRPF)and Quick Response Team (QRT).
In a first, on Saturday, Ambedkar will be given state honours as per CM Devendra Fadnavis’s directives. Flowers will be showered from a helicopter on the memorial.
Education minister Vinod Tawde and state minister for social justice Dilip Kamble visited Chaitya Bhoomi on Friday to check on the preparations at the venue.