Baring the brunt of violent attacks on the community in Gujarat, around 100 Dalit families from a village in Ahmedabad district came together to celebrate their identity by taking part in a one-of-a-kind garba, which they have named as the “Ambedkar garba“.
Speaking to the media over phone, Kanu Sumesara Mangalbhai, main organizer of the event in Rampura village, said:
This is the first time that something like this has happened in Gujarat. It took me five years to convince people in my village that praying to Ambedkar is better than praying to gods and goddesses. People in my community are very superstitious and believe that the gods will uplift them.
Giving more details about the event Mangalbhai said that it started with an aarti performed with ‘Mein toh aarti utaroon rey Ambedkar sahib ki… jai, jai Ambedkar baba, jai, jai, jai’, set to the tune of the popular song from the Bollywood film ‘Jai Santoshi Ma’.
This Ambedkar garba celebration was a result of a series of heinous attack on Dalits last week, including one that led to the killing of a youth in Anand, allegedly by upper-caste men for watching a garba at a temple.
Thereafter, a Dalit boy was attacked on Tuesday evening, allegedly by upper caste men, for sporting a moustache. This was the third such attack reported from the region, prompting Dalit men from villages around Sanand to adopt as their WhatsApp display picture a logo of a twirled moustache with a crown and “Mr Dalit” written on it.
Staging the garba for the Dalits in his village was not an easy task for Mangalbhai, especially when the village has more than 150 Thakur, 30 Patel, 20 Jain and 50 Darbar families also living in it. Mangalbhai said:
The other Dalits in the village thought I was mad when I first proposed the idea. Some told me that during Navratri, one has to pray to the goddess and replacing her would bring doom. But I kept telling them that the goddess is the same for everyone but in our village we are not allowed to dance during Navratri with members of the upper caste.
For me, the teachings of Babasaheb are empowering and that is why I thought that instead of worshiping idols, people should worship him.Advertisement
What made our garba different was that the songs spoke about the values and teachings of Babasaheb. These are songs written by Dalit activists Hemant Chauhan and Dashrat Salvi, which I saw online and downloaded. The songs tell us to break the shackles of caste and ask us to fight for our rights.
In Rampura, Mangalbhai is also known as “decoration wala bhai” because of his profession as a decorator for parties and events. The son of a farmer, he says he worked for three years from 2007 to 2009 at a milk company in Johannesburg before returning to the village:
I decided to become a decorator as I had seen many events in Johannesburg and wanted to replicate them in the village. I am now looking for sponsors to support the 2018 Navratri. We plan to give Babasaheb t-shirts and black trousers to all those who want to dance. I am also encouraging children in my village to write songs that we can use for the garba. Today, I am known as decoration wala bhai but I want to be known as Ambedkar garba wala bhai.