Feb 2, 2012,  By Javed Iqbal, Mumbai, DNA

Early on the morning of July 11, 1997, at Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, a woman claimed to see the statue of iconic leader BR Ambedkar desecrated. Within a few hours, angry Dalits had gathered on the highway in protest.

By 7.30am, a police van would stop 450mt away from the protesters, disembark and immediately start firing. They would fire over 50 rounds within 20 minutes into small lanes and by-ways and into people’s homes and into the homes of people who were not even protesting.

They killed 10 people.

Young Mangesh Shivsharan was shot in his head, right in front of Namdeo Surwade who was shot on his shoulder.

“The boy’s brains were all over my father,” said Manoj about his father Namdeo Surwade, a handcart puller who could never work a day after the injury and died a few years later, becoming the eleventh victim.

But there was another casualty of the killings at Ramabai Nagar.
Vilas Ghogre, Dalit poet and singer, committed suicide horrified by what he saw at Ramabai and the realisation that “this country is not worth fighting for anymore” as witnessed by his friend, singer Sambhaji Bhagat in Anand Patwardhan’s new film Jai Bhim Comrade, screened at Ramabai Nagar on the eve of the nation’s 63rd year as a Republic.

For three-and-a-half hours, over 1,500 people saw the film on a makeshift screen, many standing through its entire duration. The film details not just the life of Vilas Ghogre and the police firing but its aftermath — the movement for justice that led to the police officer who ordered the firing to spend less than a week in hospital (not jail), before being let off on bail by the High Court.
It tells other stories — the martyrdom of a young Dalit Panther Bhagwat Jadhav, killed by the Shiv Sena at a protest rally in 1974; the incisive and fiery oratory of Panther leader Bhai Sangare that possibly led to his martyrdom in 1999; the Khairlanji massacre and continuing atrocities in the countryside. It examines the assault on the Constitution and the slow appropriation of radical Dalit leaders into mainstream Congress or hardcore right-wing politics while also critically examining the role of the left in dealing with caste.

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