CHAITYABHUMI - Film Screening & Tête-à-Tête with Director

Key information

5:30 pm to 8:00 pm
SOAS, University of London
Djam Lecture Theatre

About this event

This event is open to SOAS students/staff. Limited seating available, entrance on a first come basis

Cinematography & Direction: Somnath Waghmare

Presenter: Pa.Ranjith, Neelam Predications

Language: Marathi, Hindi, Pali with English Subtitles

Running time: 1 hour 15 minute


Mumbai, or Bombay, as it is called so lovingly to this day, has always been a city of dreams, drawing millions of people from all corners of India. It is a city of hope where people seek a better life. This bustling metropolis is not only a melting pot of cultures but also the centre of the Hindi film industry, Bollywood. However, something that often gets concealed behind the dazzling city lights of Mumbai is its long history of social struggle, which reflects the challenges and inequalities faced by its diverse inhabitants today.

At the same time, it also stands as a testament to the resistance and vision of the oppressed to create a just society. One of the most significant places in Mumbai that exemplify this resistance and vision is Chaityabhumi This holy site holds excellent importance for the Dalit movement in India, as it is where Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's last rites were performed after his passing on December 6, 1956. Dr Ambedkar, often called the father of the Indian Constitution, dedicated his life to fighting the chains of caste oppression and bringing revolutionary change. He was a guiding light for the oppressed who dismantled discriminatory barriers and empowered them to reclaim their dignity and their rightful place in society.

Dalits, also known as the ex-Untouchables, find themselves trapped within an unjust social order. Caste, a deeply ingrained system, categorises society into hierarchical divisions based on birth. Dalits are relegated to the lowest rung, labelled as impure and untouchable. They face relentless discrimination, enduring daily humiliation and the denial of fundamental human rights. This cycle of oppression has persisted for centuries and continues to this day. For this reason, Mahaparinirvan Din, the day of Dr Ambedkar's departure, holds immense significance for the Dalit community. Every year, from December 1 to December 6, millions of Dalit-Bahujans from across the nation make a pilgrimage to Chaityabhumi in Mumbai. They stay close by, at a sprawling public park called Shivaji Park and spend close to a week in the city. Most of them are landless Dalit labourers who travel in passenger trains with just a pair of clothes and dry food packets. Many Nepalese “and Sri Lankans also visit Chaityabhumi. This week-long commemoration is a heartfelt tribute to their revolutionary leader, a time to honour his memory and the profound impact he has had on their lives. It is a powerful symbol of their ongoing struggle for justice and equality, a day when their hearts beat as one, united in their unwavering resolve to carry forward Babasaheb's legacy.

During this time, the Ambedkar Memorial Chaityabhumi in Mumbai's Shivaji Park transforms into a vibrant hub of activities. It becomes a cultural festival where many books are sold and purchased, music fills the air with many emotions, and cultural performances occur. Unfortunately, however, outside the reverence and celebration in this compound that is situated in one of the poshest localities of Mumbai, Dadar, there is a sense of disdain from the city's media and elite. It is this disdain that translates into the media’s silence on a significant event and discomfort of the elite residents as millions of people from marginalised communities flock to the “posh” locality. Piercing into these layered emotions and attitudes around this site, the documentary film seeks to illuminate the history and cultural politics behind the commemoration of December 6 at Chaityabhumi, shedding light on its significance in contemporary India. The film delves into the tensions that arise from the intersection of caste and the public sphere in Mumbai. It explores how this peaceful event is viewed and received by different segments of society, bringing to the forefront the complexities of caste dynamics and the struggles faced by the oppressed in their quest for social justice. Informed by interviews, personal stories, music and evocative visuals, it tells a story of a community, dynamic and diverse, united by shared struggles and history.  

This documentary showcases how organisations and individuals in the Dalit movement independently arrange the event at Chaityabhumi and reclaim this public space in Mumbai, otherwise dominated by the city's upper castes. Through music, songs, paintings, books, and theatrical performances, they carry forward the legacy of their leader, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, even 68 years after his passing. The SSD's cadre (Samata Sainik Dal) manages the security of this entire mass public event with Mumbai police. 

Speaker: Somnath Waghmare, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai

Chair: Sushant Singh, President Student Union, SOAS, University of London.

Somnath Waghmareis an Indian documentary filmmaker based in the state of Maharashtra. His most prominent and most recent film, Battle of Bhima Koregaon, was critically received and screened in India and abroad. Till now, all his films have been documentary films and they have dealt with various social issues like the persecution of women and Dalit assertion in Maharashtra. He made his directorial debut with the short documentary feature I Am Not a Witch (2017). His upcoming films are Chaitybhumi (which is the resting place of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and is a symbol and place of celebration of Buddhist identity) and Gail and Bharat.

Sushant Singh is a first-generation learner and a Dalit individual, has emerged as a Human Rights Lawyer in India. His educational journey includes the attainment of an LLM in Human Rights from SOAS, University of London, and a B.A. LLB (Hons.) from the National Law University Delhi. He is the President of the Student Union at SOAS University for the second term. He has also initiated the Global Ambedkarite Scholar Association (GASA), fostering an international diaspora to unite the brightest minds within the Dalit Community, further amplifying his impact on the global stage.