The house Ambedkar built in Mumbai gets scant notice

A legacy in danger: Descendants of B.R. Ambedkar live in this house built by the social reformer in Mumbai. Photo: Omar Rashid

A legacy in danger: Descendants of B.R. Ambedkar live in this house built by the social reformer in Mumbai. Photo: Omar Rashid  


Both structures, three-storey high, are historical reminders of the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar.

But as of today, their fates are somewhat different — while one has sprung into limelight, the other remains little known, off the radar of political activism.

After an extended delay, the BJP-led Maharashtra government looks set to acquire the London bungalow where Dr. Ambedkar lived during 1920-22 as a student at the London School of Economics. The deal will cost Rs. 31 crore.

The government overcame several hurdles in acquiring this piece of history. But right here, in Central Mumbai, the house the social reformer intricately built in 1934 and spent many constructive years in, lies in official disregard. Its caretaking is restricted to his descendants.

When Dr. Ambedkar settled in the city in the 1930s, he built himself a house in the Hindu Colony in Dadar area. He supervised the design of the structure, which was initially constructed to store his books, and named it Rajgriha, after the ancient Buddhist kingdom. Later, a second floor was built, which served as a hostel for students, mainly from deprived backgrounds, of Siddharth College till the 1960s, when the Ambedkar family moved in again.

“After Babasaheb’s death, a dispute ensued over the property. My father eventually bought it for Rs. 85,000,” says Anandraj Ambedkar, Babasaheb’s grandson, who now lives on the second floor, along with other family members.

Two rooms on the ground floor of the house today serve as a small memorial, storing a few photographs and Dr. Ambedkar’s ashes, which are open to darshan. The family lives on the floor above, which also has his study and bedroom, which remain closed. Six tenant families occupy the top floor. Each year on December 6, thousands of Ambedkarities flock to Rajgriha to pay homage to the leader on his death anniversary, Mahaparinirvan Diwas. The rest of the year, the Rajgriha stays off the radar, with little to remind of its historic value.

The building is currently under renovation. On April 14, Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, it was painted a fresh white. However, the State has not offered any support to the Ambedkars in maintaining the house.

The last time a plan to convert Rajgriha into a memorial surfaced was in the 1990s under the Sudhakarrao Naik-led Congress government. A vacant plot was picked to possibly relocate descendants of Ambedkar, but Sharad Pawar allotted the land to a police housing project. The plan was cut short. Since then, successive governments have not shown any initiative or approached the Ambedkars. “There was simply no follow-up after Sudhakarrao Naik. They didn’t bother,” Mr. Anandraj Ambedkar says.

Asked why the family did not approach the government after that, Mr. Anandraj Ambedkar said: “It doesn’t look nice for us to do it. If the government considers him a great man, ideally, they should come forward.”

Minister of Social Justice Rajkumar Badole, who has personally overseen the purchase of the London bungalow, said, “If the family was willing to part with it, the government will proceed with a positive approach.”

It was pointed out to him that the Ambedkar family thought it improper to approach the government themselves. Mr. Badole responded: “Now that it has come to our notice, we may also approach them. It’s no problem for us.”

Mr. Anandraj’s elder brother and former, MP Prakash Ambedkar said he was in favour of converting the ground floor into a museum. He seemed reluctant to give away the entire house to the government. However, if given an alternative house in the same locality, he said, “We will think over such a proposal.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 2:48:10 PM |

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