Ambedkar Statue : Dalits Stall Kerala Assembly Proceedings
(From Mukundan C. Menon)
Thiruvananthapuram, March 7 : The United Dalit Forum activists led by Kerala Dalit Panythers (KDP) created a stir in the State Assembly this morning shouting slogans protesting against Kerala Government's refusal to install Dr. B. R. Ambedkar statue in front of the new Assembly complex. The five protesters - Sreedharan, Vincent, Anil Kumar, Thycaud Vijayakumar and Mathew - were physically thrashed-up by the Assembly watch-and-ward staff while forcibly taking them from the visitors' gallery. They staged the novel protest at zero hour following completion of question hour.
The entire episode took an altogether different turn when the watch-and-ward staff also attacked television cameramen, press photographers and reporters in an attempt to prevent media coverage of the incident. Those who faced attacks included the cameraman of ruling CPM-controlled "Kairali" TV channel. The whole incident created loud shouts, noises and fist-fights on the Assembly corridors. Even the interference of senior MLAs who came outside the House failed to stop the unruly watch-and-ward staff. They eventually stopped the attack only after the Speaker M. Vijayakumar came out of the House. Following protests from journalists, the Speaker promised to take "stringent action" against "those found guilty" among his erred staff.
Notably, this marked the first-ever slogan-shouting protests from Speaker's witness gallery amidst official proceedings in the Rs. 80 crore new Assembly building which was opened early last year.
It is to be recalled that the collective Dalit community of Kerala were demanding installation of Ambedkar statue in the new Assembly complex since long. However, rejecting their demands, the CPM-led LDF Government installed the statue of Marxist leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad on the same premises which was formally unveiled in February last week by Vice-President K. Krishna Kant. This was the immediate provocation for the Dalits to stage today's militant protest within the House. It is to be recalled that even before Namboodiripad's death, the KDP had organised peaceful agitations, including relay Sathyagraha for months before the State Secretariate, demanding Ambedkar statue at the new Assembly complex. Later they formed a United Dalit Forum and a Joint Action Council for Ambedkar's statue. Notably, even after completion of 50 years of Indian Constitution, the much-acclaimed "fully-literate, progressive and communist state" of Kerala still remains as the lone major Indian state without a public place, institution, district or main road named after Ambedkar, the chief architect of the same Constitution.
Incidentally, while MLAs protested to the Speaker against the unruly behaviour of the watch-and-ward staff towards the Press, none of them, including Dalit MLAs belonging to both ruling-opposition fronts, raised their voice against thrashing-up of Dalit protesters. However, the five Dalit protesters had earlier gained their entry into the Assembly hall with visitors' passes issued by two Dalit MLAs, P. K. Kumaran and A. K. Mani.
Later in the evening today,the Dalits staged a protest demonstration through Thiruvananthapuram streets.