These Kids of Municipal Workers Captured Ambedkar in Their Lives
A photo series that captures Ambedkar in contemporaneity. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)
A photo series that captures Ambedkar in contemporaneity. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)

These Kids of Municipal Workers Captured Ambedkar in Their Lives

Many leaders of the Indian freedom movement are known for their work towards varied, important causes, making them national icons in more than one regard.

But with Babasaheb, it’s been more about appropriation instead of national glory.

The architect of India’s constitution, BR Ambedkar was a pioneer of women’s rights and worked relentlessly for the oppressed classes – but is remembered solely as a Dalit icon today.

Which is why a series on Ambedkar and how he continues to be in the daily lives of people is refreshing.

A series on Ambedkar and how he continues to be in the daily lives of people is refreshing. (Photo Courtesy: Sudharak Olwe/Photography Promotion Trust)
A series on Ambedkar and how he continues to be in the daily lives of people is refreshing. (Photo Courtesy: Sudharak Olwe/Photography Promotion Trust)

Padma Shri Sudharak Olwe – an acclaimed photographer who has repeatedly brought to the fore stories of oppression, prejudice and class division through his lens – has put together an exhibition on Ambedkar, called ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary reiterations’ about which he says,

Ambedkar’s thoughts are extremely relevant in today’s context. We chose to document his life because it is important to recognise and celebrate him as a national icon – he spoke against social discrimination and gave rights to women at a time when the Indian society was regressive.
“Ambedkar’s thoughts are extremely relevant in today’s context,” says Olwe. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)
“Ambedkar’s thoughts are extremely relevant in today’s context,” says Olwe. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)

Pushing the Feminist Movement in India

The first law minister of Independent India, Ambedkar was a pioneer of women’s rights. “We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…” wrote a young Ambedkar, during his studies in New York.

Ratnesh Katulkar, an Ambedkarite activist from Madhya Pradesh and Research Scholar further says that apart from his academic writings, women’s issues came foremost in his fortnightly Mook Nayak and Bahiskrit Bharat.

“We chose to document his life because it is important to recognise and celebrate him as a national icon.” (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)
“We chose to document his life because it is important to recognise and celebrate him as a national icon.” (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)

He believed in women led movements and in July 1927, he addressed a meeting of about 3,000 women of depressed classes, where he said that “I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women had achieved” and said to these women –

Never regard yourself as Untouchables, live a clean life... Never mind, if your dress if full of patches, but see that it is clean. None can restrict your freedom in the choice of your garments. Attend more to the cultivation of the mind and spirit of self-help.… Send your children to schools. Education is as necessary for females as it is for males. If you know how to read and write, there would be much progress. As you are, so your children will be.
The children, most of whose fathers work as sweepers with Mumbai’s municipal corporation, revere Ambedkar as god. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)
The children, most of whose fathers work as sweepers with Mumbai’s municipal corporation, revere Ambedkar as god. (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)

The series of photographs showcased by Olwe capture this facet of Ambedkar beautifully.

Dr MR Singariya, in his research paper, talks about how Ambedkar stressed on women’s right to education, equal treatment with men, right to property and involvement in the political process – all of which resemble today’s global feminist demands.

He strongly advocated for family planning measures for women in the Bombay Legislative Assembly and even introduced a Maternity Benefit Bill in 1942. Ambdekar also introduced the Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament and highlighted the issues of women’s property rights – which found strong opposition from many well-known political leaders.

“Through their photographs, they captured class division with great clarity.” (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)
“Through their photographs, they captured class division with great clarity.” (Photo Courtesy: The Series ‘Blue Icon: Contemporary Reiterations’)

He went on to resign from the cabinet because of the bill’s non acceptance.

Photos That Speak of Class Division

The series that has been showcased in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, consists of photographs sourced from the Ambedkar family and the government and these were first digitally restored.

The other half of the series was clicked by children of conservancy workers in Mumbai.

We have worked with these children for over a year and have given them photography workshops to hone their talent. When I asked them to capture Dr Ambedkar in their daily lives, their observations stunned us.
Sudharak Olwe
The photographs were sourced from the Ambedkar family and the government and were first digitally restored. (Photo Courtesy: Sudharak Olwe/Photography Promotion Trust)
The photographs were sourced from the Ambedkar family and the government and were first digitally restored. (Photo Courtesy: Sudharak Olwe/Photography Promotion Trust)

The children, most of whose fathers work as sweepers with Mumbai’s municipal corporation, revere Ambedkar as god.

Children have a keen eye and they aren’t prejudiced. Through their photographs, they captured class division with great clarity. Ambedkar may have been systematically pushed out of the national consciousness but the relevance of his works is stronger now than ever before. Not just for a Dalit or Buddhist, Ambedkar is for everyone because he spoke of equality. The amount of work he has done for women and the oppressed classes is immense.

(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)

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