Mumbai: A day with Ambedkar devotees at Chaityabhoomi

On the occasion of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 59th death anniversary, Ankoor Anvekar discovers the hard work and dedication involved in organising the day year after year

Every year devotees from across the country gather in the city in large numbers to pay respects to their leader Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar at Chaityabhoomi in Dadar on his death anniversary.

There were two shelter pandals of 1 lakh sq ft each for devotees to stay, along with a food pandal spanning 11,000 sq ft. Pics/Onkar Devlekar and Satej Shinde
There were two shelter pandals of 1 lakh sq ft each for devotees to stay, along with a food pandal spanning 11,000 sq ft. Pics/Onkar Devlekar and Satej Shinde

This year too on his 59th death anniversary, also known as ‘Mahaparinirvan Din’, the devotees showcased their show of strength and flocked to Shivaji Park. mid-day decided to get a glimpse into the lives of the devotees and spent 24 hours with them at one of the city’s largest grounds.

The organisers had arranged 270 drinking water taps around the park region along with 15 additional water tankers
The organisers had arranged 270 drinking water taps around the park region along with 15 additional water tankers

We started the day by visiting Shivaji Park on Saturday afternoon, as it is the day when people in large numbers from across the country throng the city. The area surrounding Shivaji Park was bustling with activity, with devotees taking shelter at the accommodation arrangements made on the Shivaji Park ground. Banners, caps, idols and scarves were sold at every corner of the street around the Park region.

Arrangements at Shivaji Park
The area around the park was kept under heavy police bandobast. People had started flocking in large numbers to the ground. Security checks were mandatory at five entry points of the park.

Every bag coming inside was screened and two huge makeshift shelter pandals were made available for devotees to stay, that also had multiple mobile charging points. Further, several free medical camps for check-ups were installed inside the park. Two fire tenders and four ambulances were also stationed at the venue.

There were several stalls set up by various federations and associations inside the park that supplied food
There were several stalls set up by various federations and associations inside the park that supplied food

Speaking to mid-day, Ramakant Biradar, assistant municipal commissioner for G-North ward, said, “We have deployed 4,000 cleaning staff and 200 BMC officials at the venue. More than 2,000 policemen are maintaining law and order around the park.

There are two shelter pandals of 1 lakh sq ft each for devotees to stay, along with a food pandal spanning 11,000 sq ft. For the event we have also stationed 200 doctors and nurses coming from different medical backgrounds. As far as toilet blocks are concerned, they are 402 in and around the park with further 170 bathing blocks stationed inside the park separately with drainage system.”

Long queues were witnessed outside the toilet and bathing blocks
Long queues were witnessed outside the toilet and bathing blocks

He further revealed that 270 drinking water taps were arranged around the park region along with 15 additional water tankers. The park gets a footfall of approximately 3 lakh people during this period, Biradar added.

By Sunday morning, the park looked filthy with plastic cups scattered all around
By Sunday morning, the park looked filthy with plastic cups scattered all around

While moving around the park throughout the day, mid-day noticed that BMC workers regularly cleaned the park premises along with the toilet blocks. However, the condition of some toilet blocks remained filthy due to overcrowding.

Streets had turned into bathing and dustbin centres
Streets had turned into bathing and dustbin centres

Lost and found
There were five watchtowers inside the park, which were utilised to make missing person announcements. Police officials at these towers told mid-day that from the past three days, they have attended to over 200 complaints of people getting lost in the crowd, who were later reunited with their family members. In addition, there were 470 stalls inside Shivaji Park that included food stalls, medical camps, exhibitors of books on Ambedkar and other showpieces.

Overcrowding
By Saturday evening, arrangements made by the BMC seemed insufficient as the crowd kept on increasing, leaving no space for accommodation inside the park. Many slept on the footpath outside the park. These people had to rely on water taps made available at various spots for bathing and drinking.

On early Sunday morning, the streets had turned into bathing and dustbin centres, as devotees had no other option. Those living on the footpath relied on water tankers and taps for bathing and drinking. Meanwhile, the situation inside the park early in the morning was no different. People had got up early to freshen up for the day’s event.

Very long queues were witnessed outside the toilet and bathing blocks where women and senior citizens also were forced to wait for their turn. “The overall facilities inside the park are good. However the most crucial facility — providing toilet blocs — should have been more knowing the number of people coming here for the event,” said a 65-year-old Gyanba Karkare, who had come from Bhandara district of Maharashtra.

By 6 am on Sunday, streets around the park looked filthy with plastic cups scattered all around. Water utilised for bathing was also spilt all over the place. When mid-day visited the Dadar beach stretch close to the Mayor’s bungalow early in the morning, a few were seen defecating in the open.

Local residents
mid-day also asked the local residents whether they found the crowd coming to the park disturbing their privacy.

“We also celebrate our festivals to the fullest; likewise, even they have faith in Ambedkar and hence we do not find it disturbing as it is only a matter of 2-3 days,” said Jyoti Nalavde, who resides near Shivaji Park.

“As this event of Ambedkar is not more than a few days, people staying in housing societies nearby do not mind people’s presence outside their building premises,” said Vinayak More, a watchman of a housing society near the park.

Free food for all the devotees
On Saturday, mid-day managed to find a place to rest inside the pandals. People had already gathered in large numbers and a few also had to sleep on the footpath outside the park due to lack of space inside.

There were several food stalls set up by various federations and associations inside the park, which supplied food for 24 hours. Variety of simple local cuisine was provided, which mid-day also tried. Overall, the quality of food was found to be good and consumable.

Anil Naik, president of the All India SC/ST Railway Employees Association who has been distributing food at this event for the past 20 years said, “Every day we manage to provide free food to over 25,000 people and set up our stall a few days prior to the main event.”

Another food supplier, Anil Kamble, who is the founder of the Bahujan Udyog Federation told mid-day, “We have been providing free food to the devotees coming to the park during Ambedkar’s death anniversary for the past several years. This year too we have arranged a system of unlimited food for them.” Throughout the day food was also supplied outside the park region through food trucks.

By the time it was sundown on Saturday, the crowd started gathering at the park and occupied the vacant open space of the ground apart from the shelter pandals. Many slept on the open using shawls and bed-sheets that were laid on this beautiful cricket ground. There was a nip in the air and it finally seemed like winter was here.

Confusion over anniversary
An advertisement by the Central government on Sunday claimed the death anniversary to be the 60th Mahaparinirvan Din of Babasaheb Ambedkar. A press release issued by BMC on Friday states the date as the 59th.

When mid-day verified the fact with BMC officials on Sunday, they maintained that it was the 59th year of Ambedkar's death anniversary. Followers of Ambedkar told mid-day that Mahaparinirvan Din is not considered as the death anniversary by them, but instead is the year Ambedkar passed away.

“If it was an anniversary it would have been the 60th year, however it is the 59th year of his death. There is confusion prevailing over this date, but this year we maintained it as 59th only,” said Anil Naik, an Ambedkar follower.

Transport arrangements
BEST operated extra buses towards Shivaji Park from December 5 and 6 onwards. Eight extra buses were run on the route of bus numbers 241, 351, 354 and 16. Similarly, another 35 more buses plied on the route of bus numbers 27, 53, 63, 13, 165, 241, 305, 354, 357, 385 and 521. Meanwhile, the railways cancelled the Sunday mega block on all three lines including Central, Western and Harbour.

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