ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ambedkar's Death Anniversary and the Politics of Urban Space

An account of the observance of B R Ambedkar's death anniversary on 6 December 2013 reveals the caste prejudices still at work, albeit muted or disguised, when dalits seek to lay claim to public space to observe public holidays of special signifi cance to their community in the midst of the city's everyday life.

On Friday, 6 December 2013, I landed in Mumbai around 1 pm. I got to my hotel close to the airport, and asked for a car to go to the Shivaji Park neighbourhood in Dadar west, where I hoped to see how lakhs of people observed the 57th death anniversary – Mahaparinirvanaparva – of B R Ambedkar. I was advised against going there; the traffic and crowds would be unmanageable, said the hotel staff. Nonetheless, I insisted and headed out at about 2 pm.

Trying to think of a landmark, I requested the cab driver to take me to Prakash, an old, low-budget Maharashtrian-style eatery close to the Shiv Sena Bhavan, known for its authentic local food and its prices reminiscent of a time before malls and fast-food chains. It was another cab driver some months earlier who had originally introduced me to Prakash, but this one seemed not to know it. Traffic was indeed heavy and slow, compounded by the closure of several arterial roads, parallel to one another, in order to free up the area for pedestrians. Buses, jeeps, lorries and trucks carrying Ambedkarite activists crawled alongside cars and scooters.

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