11th July (1997) in Dalit History – 10 Dalits were massacred by police in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar Colony, Mumbai


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11 July 1997: Desecration of Dr. Ambedkar’s statute followed by indiscriminate killing of 10 dalits in Ramabai Ambedkar nagar colony, Ghatkopar, Mumbai

Dr. Ambedkar probably has the highest number of statues erected for any man in history. It is because his following has transcended generations. His relevance—political, social, ideological, religious, economic—will persist as long as the clamour and struggle for justice and equal rights exists[8].

Residents of Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, a predominant Dalit populated urban colony in Mumbai, woke up to find their statue of Dr. Ambedkar desecrated by a garland of sandals around his neck. This was an act of extreme disrespect and denigration.[9] When residents complained of the desecration to Local Beat No 5 Pantnagar Police, located ten feet away from the statue, they were told to lodge a complaint at the Pantnagar police station. By 7:00 a.m. the growing crowd began protesting and blocked the eastern Express Highway in front of the colony. Within minutes, members of the Special Reserve Police Force (SRPF), who are usually deployed at the time of emergency, led by Sub-Inspector M Y Kadam, arrived in a van and stopped in front of the colony, hundereds of meters away from the statue and the protests on the highway. SRPF constables opened fire on the pedestrians on the service road in front of the colony and later into alleys between colony houses. The firing lasted for 10-15 minutes and killed 10 people. Most of the victims were shot above the waist. Sub-Inspector Kadam and his SRPF constables left soon after the firing, only to be replaced by the city police and other SRPF members. [10]

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Four hours later, at 11:30 a.m., at the site 150 meters away from the firing and 300 meters away from the desecrated statue, an angry crowd set fire to a luxury bus at Nalanda Nagar. At 2:00 p.m. 20-25 police officers entered Ramabai colony, started spreading tear gas, and began lathi-charging residents in their homes. At 4:00 p.m. they lathi-charged again. By late afternoon, 26 persons had been seriously injured, and Local Beat No 5 had been destroyed by protesters.

Sub-Inspector Kadam, who ordered the firing, had a number of cases of atrocities against Dalits pending against him. Kadam’s former supervisor and SRPF commandant Vasant Ingle had previously charged Kadam with being “anti-Dalit”. He had accused Kadam of mistreating a subordinate for “castiest reasons” and had ordered his suspension for violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.[11]  Ingle had also charged Kadam’s excessive use of force in dealing with Ramabai residents was a direct result of his caste prejudice. Kadam denied this charge. [12]

The Ramabai incident led to significant unrest through-out the state of Maharashtra, including rioting and social boycotts against the protesting Dalits. A two- member team of the Indian People’s Human rights Commission (IPHRC), a Mumbai based NGO, visited the districts of Nagpur, Amrawati, Yavatmal and Wardha in October 1997 to investigate violence against the Dalits in the wake of the disturbances related to protests against the Ramabai incident. According to an article in the Times of India[13] the team concluded that in various villages, “the police had abetted support of the ruling Shiv Sena- BJP alliances… in committing atrocities on Dalits and terrorizing them” and that “the people owing allegiance to the ruling alliance parties had made determined efforts to terrorize and punish Buddhists (converted Dalits) for having dared to protest against the shameful act of desecration of Ambedkar statue”. According to IPHRC, such efforts included the stripping and parading on 14 July 1997, of Ramatai a Dalit woman in Karanja- Ghadge villages in Wardha district. She was later reportedly framed for murder by the police after she complained of her ill-treatment.

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11th July 4

Soon after the firing, the Maharashtra state government appointed a commission of inquiry, headed by justice S D Gunderwar.

Accordingly to several eyewitness accounts and fact-finding reports, including that of the Indian Peoples’s Human Rights Commission the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Air Corporation SC/ST Employees Association the firing went on intermittently for atleast 15 minutes. In a statement of a claim submitted before the Gunderwar Commission of Inquiry, an eyewitness described the manner in which the police firing began. Before firing they “did not lathi-charge, burst tear gas shells, fire a few rounds in the air or… make any serious positive efforts to disperse people” but instead, “in a designed manner, deliberately intentionally opened fire on innocent masses.”[14]

In February 1998 Human rights watch visited Ramabai colony and spoke to many of its residents. Bhante Kashyap (a monk), an eyewitness, told Human Rights Watch on 2 February 1998 about the sequence of events in the early-morning firing:

“I heard screaming; I went out to see. It was early. I was standing outside about 30 meters away. They didn’t shoot me, because I was wearing my monk’s robe. They told me to leave. Everyone was sleeping. I saw 40 or 50 people saying, “Rasta roko” (block the road). Two police cars (city police) went straight through and did not stop. An SRPF van came. One or two protestors must have thrown stones at private cars. First they hit Kaushaliyabhai Patare. The bullet went through her and hit the medical dispensary 150 meters away. She was 45. She died on the spot. I kept watching. They said, ‘Sadhu (addressed as hindu monk), get out of here.’ I came inside but kept looking though the window. Sukhdev Kapadne was there. They grabbed him and put him in the car. Then they asked him who he was. He said he was a social worker and they told him to go. Then they shot him in the back. The bullet came out of his chest, and he fell forward. He was 50 years old”

Bhante Kashyap also witnessed the shooting of Sukdve Kapadne, Kaushaliyabhai, Amar Dhanawade, Vilas Dodke and Anil Garud, all of whom “died on spot”. Bhante Kashyap narrated the story to Human Rights Watch that once they were fully inside the colony, the firing continued. Most residents were caught completely by surprise. Once of the bullets hit Bablu Verma and killed him: ”He trembeled like a fish and died. If someone tried to help they would shoot at him too. He was 26 years old.” Shridevi Giri was also injured by bullets. “I was hit in the arm twice,” she showed the scars to the Human Rights Watch. Another woman stepped into the alley and saw her husband shot. Babu Phulekar was also standing in the alley and was injured.

V S Khade, a prominent member of the dalit community in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar Colony described to the Human Rights Watch how he lost his nephew’s son in the firing: “He used to stay with us more after his mother died in 1994. On that day he was going to work. The crowds wouldn’t allow him to cross the highway. So he came back and told my wife and my daughter not to go outside. Then he went to inform his father, who was one kilometer away. Before he could get there he was shot and killed. His brother and uncle went to pick him up, but the police shouted, “Don’t touch him or we’ll shoot you too.” I heard the shots. When I arrived he was already dead. He was only 17.”

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Milind, a 19 year old studying in 10th standard, victim who suffered injuries, was put in a police van to take take him to the hospital, where, after an hour and a half doctors stitched his wounds. He was then taken to the police station at 6:00 pm “to take his statement”. His parents also reached there. As of 11:30 pm he had not eaten and as told that he would not be fed. “I asked for water, and they said, ‘Drink your urine.’. They kicked out my parents at 2:30 am and said, ‘Go home or you’ll also be arrested.’ Then they threw me in the lock-up and started beating me. They shouted, ‘Ramabai people destroyed our police station. You won’t get food or water.’ They started beating me with their sticks; on my back and legs. Blood started coming out of my legs. Inspector Marate came in. I told him what his officers were doing, and he called me a motherfucker. ‘Ramabai’s people should be treated this way,’ he shouted. He was talking about Dalits. The he slapped me and told me to go to sleep. I went to bed without any medicine or food.”

In response to all the above and as defense, an amateur video of events was submitted by the police as department’s claim that the firing was necessary to control a move that was on its way to setting gas tankers on fire. The India People’s Human Rights Commission issued a scene-by-scene analysis of the two minute video, exposing inconsistencies between shots and that the video was clearly doctored. Closer examination of the video, eyewitness reports and NGO fact-finding missions all confirm that the burning of public property that the police used as justification for their actions at 7:00 a.m. in fact took place much later in the day at Nalanda Nagar a site 300 meters away from the statue. Although a luxury bus was set on fire, this occurred at around 11:30 am, more than four hours after the Ramabai firing began. Moreover, according to eyewitnesses, two seemingly empty tankers were brought in by the police themselves and placed behind the burning bus in order to “hide their blunder: and to fabricate a defense to the firing.

 In its response to allegations received from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the Government of India out forwards the same defense: The gathering became violent and started damaging private and public property. It also tried to set fire to a LPG gas tanker. In order to discourage the mob from doing so and for self defense, the Police reported to a “Cane-Charge” and subsequently having failed to control the mob, opened fire. Unfortunately, 10 persons died and 24 persons were injured in the firing. 8 police personnel were also injured. [15]

The government also asserted that allegations such as those received pertaining to caste “do not fall within the mandate” of the special rapporteur.

 On 7 August 1998 the Gundewar Commission report was presented to the Shiv Sena- Bhartiya Janata Party government[16]. In December 1998 the report was tabled in the state assembly. The commission held Sub-Inspector Kadam responsible for an “unjustified, unwarranted and indiscriminate firing which (took place) without warning.” It further recommended that the government terminate his services. The Shiv Sena- BJP government accepted the report and declared that Kadam would be suspended.[17] Many activists protested the suspension and demanded that Kadam be dismissed and charged with murder under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code.[18]

 The case was opened in 2001 and charges were filed by CID in 2006. On 8 August 2009, a Session Court awards life sentence to the Sub Inspector Manohar Kadam convicted of homicide amounting to murder. He was fined of Rs. 1000. The high court, in May 2009, suspended the life sentence and left him on bail of Rs. 50,000.

 In realizing the State Forces action resulted in massive killing over protests, a Dalit-Marxist artist, Vilas Ghogre, felt there is no reason in advocating his revolutionary poems/songs and hence committed suicide on 17 July 1997. 

A poster in Ramabai colony still reads: Fifty years of independence. The salute of fifty bullets. Ten Dalits murdered. This is our independence. The poster includes pictures and names of those killed during police firing.

cops-surround-boy

A man is being rounded up for protesting the police firing in Ramabai Nagar that killed 10 Dalits on the afternoon of 11 July 1997. (Source – Caravan Magazine)

Tragic remains People killed in the police firing in Ramabai Colony in 1997

Tragic remains People killed in the police firing in Ramabai Colony in 1997.

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[8] Raja Sekar Vundru, The other father, Outlook, magazine pg 46, 20 August 2012

[9] A fact-finding report by the National Allaince of People’s Movements, a human rights NGO, explained the significane of the statue and the reaction brought on by its desecration: “To anyone who knows the symbolic importance of Dr. Ambedkar statue for the dalit identity and the deeo and ingrained relation the Dalits have with Dr. Ambedkar’s ideology , to the role he and his leadership played in giving them self confidence and a place in human society-its socio-economic-political arena – the reaction (emotional) can be easily understood, justified and rationalized.” National Alliance of Peoples Movements, “A report and Statement of Facts on the Incidents of Atrocity against dalits in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Mumabi (Bombay), on July 11, 1997, : [ no date].

[10] Indian People’s Human Rights Commission, “Gunning Down dalits: Police firing at Ramabai Ambedkar Colony, Mumbai on 11th July 1997” (Bombay); Human rights watch interviews, Bombay, February 2, 1998

[11] “I had no tear gas shells, says SRPF sub-inspector,” The Times of India, July 20, 1997; “Govt will not be dismissed despite pressure, feels CM,” The Times of India, July 16, 1997

[12] Indian People’s Human Rights Commission, “Gunning Down Dalits…,” p 36

[13] Dalit woman stripped and parade naked, says IPHRC report, The Times of India (Bombay), 1 November 1997

[14] Statement of Claim (Case)/Version on Behalf of Namdev Dam Ubale, before the Commission of Inquiry (Hon’ble Shri Justice S D Gunderwar) into Desecration of Dr. Ambedkar Statue Violence, Police Firing on 11th July, 1997 at Ghatkopar, Mumbai,” Bombay November 18, 1997, p12

[15] Government of India, “Response of the Government of India to allegations received from the Special Rapporteur on the Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Ralated Intolerance, “19 June 1998. The allegations were submitted by a coalition of NGOs based in India, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

[16] “Gunderwar Commission report submitted,” Express News Service, August 8, 1998

[17] “Row in Maharashtra Houses over panel reports,” The Hindu, December 31, 1998; “Gunderwar panel blames In realizing the State Forces action resulted in massive killing over protests, A Dalit-Marxist artist, Vilas Ghogre, felt there is no reason in advocating his poems/songs, committed suicide following the event. SI for firing,” The Hindu, December 25, 1998.

[18] “Dalits demand Kadam’s dismissial,” The Time of India, January  1, 1999

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