Mumbai- Chaityabhumi, a hallowed site, holds profound significance for the Dalit movement in India. It was here that the final rites of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, often hailed as the architect of the Indian Constitution, were performed on the fateful day of December 6, 1956. Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his life to breaking the chains of caste oppression, igniting a revolution that challenged the very foundations of society.
Now, in a captivating musical film directed by Somnath Waghmare and presented by PA Ranjith's Neelam Productions, the rich history and cultural politics surrounding December 6 at Chaityabhumi come to life. This documentary explores the profound relevance of this public event in contemporary India, shedding light on how the Dalit community unites to commemorate this momentous day. More than a mere celebration, it delves into the intricate web of political implications it holds for the identity and empowerment of the Dalit community.
The teaser of this remarkable documentary, a tribute to the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and the resilience of the Dalit movement, was unveiled on a recent Friday. Now, on Tuesday, October 24th, it will be presented at the prestigious London School of Economics, an institution deeply connected to Dr. Ambedkar's academic journey, where he pursued his MSc in 1921 and submitted his DSc in 1923. This screening is not just an event; it's a significant moment that links the past to the present, showcasing the enduring impact of Dr. Ambedkar's vision on a changing India.
Chaitya Bhoomi, the place where Ambedkar, the emancipator of the oppressed, has been cremated, attracts millions of followers each year, particularly on December 6th, the day when Baba Saheb Ambedkar breathed his last. The resting place has also attracted dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The structure is square in shape with a small dome divided into ground and mezzanine floors. In the square-shaped structure is a circular wall about 1.5 metres in height. In the circular area are placed the bust of Ambedkar and a statue of Gautam Buddha. The circular wall has two entrances and is furnished with marble flooring. On the mezzanine floor there is a Stupa, besides the resting place for Bhikkhus. The main entrance gate of the Chaitya Bhoomi is replica of the Gate of the Stupa of Sanchi while inside a replica of Ashoka Pillar is made. The place is adorned with inscriptions and other markers commemorating Dr. Ambedkar's life and his dedication to the cause of social justice. The stupa and the site have become a focal point for various social and political events.
The Chaitya Bhoomi was inaugurated by Meerabai Yashvant Ambedkar, the daughter-in-law of B. R. Ambedkar, on 5 December 1971. Here, the relics of Ambedkar are enshrined. In 2012, the Central Government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cleared the transfer of Indu Mills land to the Maharashtra Government for constructing a memorial.
The place is also known as Ambedkar Memorial Chaityabhumi in Mumbai's Shivaji Park and is intricately attached to the sentiments of millions of Ambedkar's followers, most of whom are Dalits. Although Ambedkar breathed his last in New Delhi, he was laid to rest in Mumbai because it was his Karambhoomi, i.e., workplace.
Documentary filmmaker Somnath Waghmare's documentary "Chaitya Bhoomi" attempts to showcase the essence of the place, which is often confused with Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur, the place where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism on October 14, 1956, a few days before his death.
In an enlightening conversation, The Mooknayak spoke to Rahul Sonpimple, a distinguished Dalit scholar and activist, who takes center stage in the documentary alongside Prakash Ambedkar, Dr. Ambedkar's grandson, and other notable figures. Sonpimple intricately interweaves the profound struggles of the Dalit community with the symbolic importance of Chaitya Bhoomi.
He passionately emphasizes, "Caste transcends mere untouchability and touchability; it also penetrates the realm of social and physical space. For too long, Dalits have remained on the fringes of society, ignored and deemed surplus human beings, burdened by negativity." He eloquently posits that the marginalized have been denied the joyous celebrations enjoyed by others and instead live mundane lives.
Yet, places like Chaitya Bhoomi and Deeksha Bhoomi have evolved into transformative spaces where the Dalit community reclaims its human dignity. These sites serve as sanctuaries, forging an avenue for the oppressed to reassert their identity and stake their rightful claim within society.
Citing the example of Ganesha Chaturthi, he says that "the celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi proceeds as normal, and people adjust to disturbances like traffic jams and noise within the limits of their cognitive balance. However, the celebration or congregation at Chaitya Bhoomi disturbs their cognitive balance; the upper castes say they go on vacation for a week when the crowd comes to Chaitya Bhoomi."
"So the celebration at Chaitya Bhoomi is not a blind celebration that one attends for the sake of it; I see it from the lens of a conflict approach as it breaks the protected ignorance of the upper castes and brings the real nature of society to the surface, exposing upper-caste anxiety, as otherwise, there is a thin veneer of normalcy." He says that only when the real nature of society comes to the fore will the downtrodden rebel against the upper castes.
Somnath Waghmare, the director of the documentary, has previously helmed projects like the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, which garnered immense critical acclaim. His directorial debut was a short film, "I Am Not a Witch" (2017). He is an alumnus of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
The documentary has been produced by Neelam Production of PA. Ranjith, the filmmaker known for making mainstream Hindi and Tamil films like "Kaala" and "Kabali." Notably, both films had Dalit assertion as a subtext.
Shakuntala Banaji, Professor of Media, Culture, and Social Change in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, will chair the screening of the documentary.