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State leaders throng Marathi poet Namdeo Dhasal's funeral

Memorial service for Dalit leader and one of the founders of Dalit Panthers was held at Ambedkar College yesterday; he was later cremated at Shivaji Park crematorium

The renowned Marathi poet, author and co-founder of the Dalit Panthers, Padma Shri Namdeo Dhasal, was cremated last evening at the Shivaji Park crematorium, following a guard of honour. Dhasal’s cousin and Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Jaideo Gaikwad, of the Nationalist Congress Party, performed the last rites.

Thousands of followers walked in poet Namdeo Dhasal’s funeral procession. Pic/Atul Kamble
Thousands of followers walked in poet Namdeo Dhasal’s funeral procession. Pic/Atul Kamble

Earlier in the day, thousands thronged the Ambedkar College ground in Wadala yesterday, where the Dalit leader’s body was kept between 11 am and 2 pm so his followers could pay their respects. Dhasal (64) died in the early hours of Wednesday in the ICU of Bombay Hospital, after a prolonged battle with colorectal cancer. He is survived by wife Malika Sheikh and son Ashutosh.

He had a good rapport with leaders across party lines, and many of them came to the service to pay homage to the leader. Home Minister R R Patil, cabinet ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Varsha Gaikwad, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, former chief minister Manohar Joshi, mayor Sunil Prabhu, Samajwadi Party’s state chief Abu Azmi, BMC standing committee chairman Rahul Shewale, Communist leader Prakash Reddy, Congress MP Eknath Gaikwad and BR Ambedkar’s grandsons Anandraj and Bhimrao were among the many who were seen at the Ambedkar College ground yesterday.

Leaders from various factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI) Ramdas Athavale, Jogendra Kawade, Avinash Mahatekar, Manoj Sansare, JV Pawar and retired IAS officer Uttam Khobragade also paid their respect to the departed leader. Thousands of Bhim Sainiks walked the cortege around 2 pm, shouting slogans in memory of Dhasal. Many of his followers came from various parts of the state, such as Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar, to see him for the last time.

Dhasal’s first and most famous volume of poems is Golpitha published in 1973. His other famous works are Moorkh Mhataryane, Tujhu Iyatta Kanchi, Khel, Priyadarshini and Ambedkari Chalwal. The RPI has organised a condolence meet on January 24 in Ambedkar College’s Siddharth Hostel, where Dhasal had stayed for a while when he was young.

63-yr-old from nashik arrived A few minutes too late
“I came to see him alive, but missed him by a few minutes, and was left to pay my last respects. It is unfortunate. The news has left me shocked,” said Shantabai Jawale, Dhasal’s 63-year-old follower, who came from Nashik to Mumbai to visit the leader while he was still alive. But by the time she got here, it was too late.

Shantabai Jawale came from Nashik to Mumbai to pay a call on Dhasal while he was unwell
Shantabai Jawale came from Nashik to Mumbai to pay a call on Dhasal while he was unwell

When Shantabai came to know that the Dalit leader was unwell and had been admitted to Bombay Hospital a few weeks ago, she decided to come see him. Late on Wednesday night, she left from her home in Bhimwadi in Sahakar Nagar in Nashik. She took the post-midnight bus to the city, which started from Nashik at 12.30 am. She reached Mumbai around 4 am and went straight to south Mumbai to the hospital. But there, she came to know that her beloved leader had breathed his last just a few minutes ago.

“I had known him for the last 25-30 years. Whenever he’d come to Nashik for party work like organising a rally or for meetings, he’d stay at my home, eat lunch and dinner with us. He was like family to me. Though he will never visit my home any more, he can never leave our hearts,” said Shantabai. She returned to Nashik after the funeral.

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