It’s been more than 75 years: Lawyers demand Ambedkar statue at the Supreme Court

19 December 2022
A sanitation worker garlands a statue of India's social reformer BR Ambedkar on the occasion of his 64th death anniversary, in Amritsar on 14 April 2020. Ambedkarite lawyers have asked that a statue of BR Ambedkar be installed on the Supreme Court lawns.
NARINDER NANU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
A sanitation worker garlands a statue of India's social reformer BR Ambedkar on the occasion of his 64th death anniversary, in Amritsar on 14 April 2020. Ambedkarite lawyers have asked that a statue of BR Ambedkar be installed on the Supreme Court lawns.
NARINDER NANU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

On 6 December, members of the group Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Lawyers for Social Justice, submitted a letter to DY Chandrachud, the chief justice of India, asking that a statue of BR Ambedkar—India’s first law minister, often called Babasaheb—be installed on the Supreme Court lawns. In recent years, BALSJ members have led efforts for the official commemoration of Ambedkar, who spearheaded the drafting of the Constitution, at the country’s highest court. The letter has raised important questions of who is commemorated and honoured in public memory.

Pratik Bombarde, a member of BALSJ, told me, “Ever since I joined practice here, I looked around the Supreme Court and I was shocked not to see a single photo of Babasaheb. I spoke to several others and they too agreed we should demand it.” The BALSJ was founded by six lawyers in 2014, and the installation of a portrait was among their first demands.

Their request was accepted by Dushyant Dave, then president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, or SCBA. A portrait of Ambedkar was installed in the SCBA Library-1 of the Supreme Court annexe, situated across the street from the main court campus. The portrait was painted by Paresh Maity, a Padma Shri winning artist, and was inaugurated in an event on Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary, in 2015.

The library already had portraits of several other lawyers, including MC Setalvad, CK Daphtry and RK Jain. Ambedkar, the president of the drafting committee of the Constitution, had not been pictured or commemorated until 2015. 

Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, 14 April, is a holiday in the Supreme Court. “So, we started to gather at the library on 13 April to pay homage to Babasaheb,” Bombarde said. They also began to gather there every year on 6 December, Ambedkar’s death anniversary. Each year, the number of attendees grew.

Abhay Regi  is an assistant editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: BR Ambedkar Statue Supreme Court of India
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