TEN Dalits died here in 1997, a fact that residents of Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Ghatkopar often discuss. “How many more must die?” asks Anjali Chandramore, a resident of the slum colony along the Eastern Express Highway and an aunt of Nandu Katare, one of those who died in 1997.
Among the protesters on the streets, Chandramore, in her fifties, was at Bhima Koregaon on January 1 when the attack took place. “I am protesting on the streets demanding justice for victims of the riots that took place in Bhima Koregaon. I had gone there. The incident of stone pelting happened when I, along with 50 other women were returning in a bus. The rioters were pelting stones from a building. All of us hid under the seats,” she says.
Nandu Katare was one of the 10 persons killed in police firing at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar on July 11, 1997. The crowd was protesting the desecration of a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar in front of the colony when the incident took place.
Chandramore says she believes that the rioters saw blue flags and photographs of Dr Ambedkar on their buses as identifying marks of vehicles to target. “The police were present but did not help us. The people behind the riots have been named and they should be punished for the riots. The culprits are still free. Does the government want to spark violence across Maharashtra?” she asks.
Referring to the 1997 deaths, she says: “So many Dalit lives were lost here in the 1997 already. How many more Dalit lives does the government wants to take?”
Chandramore also believes that justice is selectively available. Stating that the victims in the Khairlanji massacre were not given justice, she said: “But in the case of Kopardi rape and murder, the death sentences have been awarded to the accused. It means when something happens to us, there is no justice. So many atrocities have been taking place against Dalits. Action should be taken against the culprits in all those cases,” she adds.
Bhagubai Aadhav, 60, another woman protester at Ramabai Nagar, said a stone hit her leg during the Bhima Koregaon incident. “It was for the first time that I went to Bhima Koregaon. I came from Nashik after my daughter, who stays in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, called me. If they wanted to hit us, they should have hit us from the front rather than hiding their faces,” she said.