Ambedkar’s Statuary: Signifiers of Assertion & Solidarity -A photo-essay by Aatika S

Dalit History Month
4 min readApr 1, 2024

The photo essay honors the resilience and thought of a young Sumesh Kumar who was shot dead by police, after a conflict ensued regarding the installation of an Ambedkar statue in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh on 28 February, 2024. The photo essay looks at some of the lesser-known public sculptures of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution, who remains an icon till date due to his anti-caste intellection and monumental legacy. The essay foregrounds the set of photographs through the lens of, ‘Endurance. Solidarity. Liberation.’

Archival photograph. Sunil Kumar & others with Babasaheb. Delhi. 2024

Parmeshwari Devi with Babasaheb. Bareilly, Aatika Singh, 2023

Dalit communities, as majorly artisan castes, have always nourished sturdy counter-cultures of poetry, sculpture, language, and many other art forms rooted in firm ethos of dignity. In this vein, the soft & vernacular statutes in the photos signify assertion and solidarity emanating from the deep interiors. The unique materiality denotes a process of making that is steeped in a labor of love. The form doesn’t usually owe fidelity to the traditional canon of art history hence rendering the artisanal hand as a vehicle of consciousness.

Dev and others with Babasaheb. Jataula, Aatika Singh, 2023

The provenance of the photos is from multiple remote sites spanning the Northern Indian states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and so on. They illustrate how the surface of Ambedkar acts as an embodiment of a deep investment in a diabolic yet resistive inheritance of caste. The affect can therefore be understood as generating a panoply of radical experiences.

Alok and others with Babasaheb. Suthari, Aatika Singh, 2024

Taken as a phenomenon, the statutes are laced with multiple potent meanings of education, agitation and organization as well as showing the path of emancipation. Overall, they gesticulate towards a futurism that is ethical and egalitarian. They indicate a right — a right to place, past and permanence.

Babasaheb and I. Hansi, 2023

The Dalit community in the photographs sheds light on a historic continuum of the spatial politics of the sensorium of caste — aesthetics. The embodied approach demonstrates how a millennia of memory is condensed in the statuary. The relationship of emotional proximity to the sculptures highlights the daily dismantling of untouchability.

Mahadev with Babasaheb. Pahewa, Aatika Singh, 2024

However in many other parts of the Indian subcontinent, commemorating the memory of Dr. Ambedkar is still a distant dream for the Dalit community. The desecration, caging and erasure of Dalit iconography is a quotidian phenomenon built on the exclusion of Dalits from labor welfare, land redistribution and legal rights often with rounds of severe bodily punishment and a perpetual wait for justice. The photographs show how aesthetic fragments stage an archive of community, creation and civility.

Satendar with Babasaheb. Bhadohi, Aatika Singh, 2023

The unfortunate incident of Sumesh’s death is an apt reflection of the upper caste monopolization of social space and appropriation of representation. The incident is also a severe reminder of Ramabai Nagar riots in Mumbai in 1997 where more than a dozen were killed simply because they were protesting against the desecration of an Ambedkar statue. The brutality had lasted for days with lingering impunity decades later.

Mahesh with Babasaheb. Musilatpur, Aatika Singh, 2023

These rising incidents of atrocities committed against the cultural expressions of the Dalit community are being witnessed alongside a rise in statue making and practices of memorialisation and commemoration. Hence, it becomes necessary to ask, why do the statues of Dr. Ambedkar ignite both extreme passion and hatred?

Monu, Alok and Naz with Babasaheb. Banaras, Aatika Singh, 2023

Often, desecrated statues are arrested by the police and kept in custody as evidence of a charged encounter. The state of affairs is a stark reminder of severe caste fault lines as well as networks of fraternity. These innumerous sculptures echo resonances that have varied ramifications on Ambedkarite culture as they act as a tell-tale case of iconophobia and iconoclasm. Thus, the assault as well as the celebration of Ambedkar’s and many other anti-caste leaders statues and thinking continues unabated, complicating for us questions of endurance, solidarity and liberation.

Roshani with Babasaheb. Brandeis University, Aatika Singh, 2023

About Aatika: Aatika Singh is a PhD scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University.



Dalit History Month

Redefining the History of the Subcontinent through a Dalit lens. Participatory Community History Project