A pilgrimage spot for many, Dr. Ambedkar’s memorial in Delhi lies in neglect with no concrete plan to develop it further and no permanent employees to look after it
Delhi is home to many memorials that have been built in memory of the founding leaders of modern India. The prominent ones that figure in the visitors’ lists are Rajghat, Gandhi Smriti, Nehru Memorial and Indira Gandhi Memorial. Though not mentioned in the Delhi Tourism Board’s itinerary, Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial is a place which his followers make it a point to visit.
Located at 26, Alipur Road, it is a pilgrimage site for dalits who come from all over the country to pay respect to their beloved ‘Babasaheb’ at the place where he breathed his last on December 6, 1956. After resigning from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet in 1952, Dr. Ambedkar had vacated his official residence and was invited by the erstwhile Raja of Sirohi to stay at his mansion. It is at this mansion that the memorial currently stands. The dalit leader lived here from 1952 till he attained Mahapariniban.
The memorial is located right opposite the Delhi Assembly’s old secretariat building in Civil Lines. Though functional, not enough has been done here to showcase the leader’s legacy. As you enter the main entrance, your expectations rise at the site of a nice lawn decked with ornamental plants, and a banana grove on the right. The portico is flanked by two identical buildings — one houses the bust of the leader, along with photographs that trace his journey through public life, and the second sports a library of sorts along with a book store.
The building, now under the custodianship of the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, was turned into a memorial in 2003 as a tribute to mark Babasaheb’s birth centenary. The plan for the memorial had been mooted way back in 1992, but went largely ignored.
Like its initiation, the place looks like an ad hoc arrangement bereft of any resemblance to a memorial. The library functions without a librarian and the book store without a keeper. In fact, there are no permanent employees to look after it. The only notable feature is the photo gallery, though there is no in-house guide to walk you through it.
“There are many photographs that depict the Untouchable Movement led by Babasaheb, and in comparison to this memorial the Dalit Prerna Sthal in Nodia is an honest attempt to showcase the grandeur of the leader’s achievements. The sentimental value of Babasaheb having lived here and the inspiration we derive from it are the only saving grace,” said Sanjay Dharia, a student activist, who takes new students every year to the memorial on April 14 (Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary) and December 6.
On these two special days official functions are organised here every year by the Foundation. Discourses are rendered by Buddhist monks and cultural performances by local artists. Special events are also organised for children during the year.
In May this year, a committee constituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by Dr. Narendra Jadhav, Member, Planning Commission, submitted a report which envisages developing the memorial in tune with Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy. The architectural design recommended by the committee is inspired by Buddhist architecture. Many, however, are sceptical of the report’s outcome, even as they feel that the architect of the Indian Constitution deserves better.