It is a massive programme. Over a thousand villages across India will hold a Prerna Sabha (inspirational gathering) on October 14, the day on which Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956. Primarily it will be Gujarat, but villages from UP and other states will join this mammoth mobilisation.

Common people will offer their shraddhanjali to the 19 year old Dalit girl who was gang raped and strangled in Boolgarhi village of Hathras and who finally succumbed to her injuries a fortnight later at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.

After her death her body was denied the basic right of a human being, a respectable funeral by the authorities. She was hurriedly cremated in the dead of night while her mother begged them to let her bring her daughters corpse in the house so they could conduct the last rites. Her mother and aunt prostrated themselves before the jeep where her body lay, begging the police to allow them to apply “haldi-tilak” to her body, a last plea for an essential religious rite.

Martin Macwan Dalit rights activist and ideologue, founder of the Gujarat-based Navsarjan Trust, said, “On this day people will apply a haldi tilak on the poster that carries the impressionistic image of the victim, whose face, held in her hands, is wrapped in flames and smoke.”

Haldi tilak will be applied all over the banner image. This image is the work of a young artist Shiraz Husain from Khwaab Tanha Collective. Shiraz like many young women and men, across religion, caste and class, expressed his anguish by creating the image wrapped in flames.

‘This will be a mark of respect towards the Hathras teenage girl, who became a victim of upper caste violence’, Macwan said, adding that the event will be the fulfilment of her family’s last wish to apply haldi to their child.

When I spoke to Martin, he explained the program. “All participants will donate a pinch of Haldi powder which will be collected by volunteers. All collections will the be consolidated in a single bin. It would then be handed over to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh with the expectation that it will immersed in Ganga. The symbolic immersion will signal the fact that the state with a Yogi as CM did not respect the religious rites of Dalit victim.”

Marin Macwan asked whether the last wish was not respected because she was a Dalit? Were the mortal remains of rape victim hurriedly burnt by the state to destroy the crucial evidence required by the law.”

In contrast, the Government of India in 2010, 2012, 2013 respected the last wish of the four Nirbhaya convicts, the terrorists Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab. They ensured that their mortal remains were cremated/buried according to their religious belief.”

‘And the Hathras victim?’ She was neither a rapist-killer nor a terrorist. She was a victim first, a victim last. Uttar Pradesh, the seat of civilisation it ruined its image forever by committing the first-of-its-kind violation by any state of India – to deny religious rites to a citizen who was a Dalit, a victim, a teenager. Today people across the world hang their heads in shame at this example of human debasement.

I offer one prayer this moment; that this sacrifice and its commemoration on Oct 14 may herald a new dawn. As Sahir Ludhianvi wrote

Haq mangne walon ko jis din
Suli na chadhayi jaaye gi
Woh subah kabhi to aye gi

Meanwhile The Citizen interviewed Martin Macwan to learn more about this initiative. Excerpts from the interview:

Could you tell us what has been planned for October 14—how many people are likely to be involved, what will the ceremony entail?
The ceremony, called the 'Prerna Sabha' (the meeting to seek motivation) from the young woman who was gang raped and murdered in Hathras who the program refers to as 'BHIM KANYA'. The banner raises a question to the accused: Is the rape on me or on your religion? The program ceremony is simple and in absence on any speeches or slogans. People will gather at the venue and apply a Haldi tilak to the representational image of the BHIM KANYA whose face, held in two hands is in flames of smoke and fire. People will also contribute a pinch of Haldi from their home in a bowl. Haldi, from all the villages where the program is held will be collected and sent to CM of UP to immerse it in the Ganga, to complete the dignified ritual of the person, a hindu which the State has violated.

The program is held on October 14 2020 in nearly a 1000 villages of India at this point. More villages may join in by tomorrow. These villages are from Uttar pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Bangalore (Urban) and Tamilnadu. This cuts across caste and religion.

What is the reason behind organising this program? Why do you think it is important?
The reason is this. The most disturbing and anguishing fact for Dalits was the burning of the body of the victim by the State without allowing her mother the last wish to either see the face of her daughter and apply Haldi to the boy of her daughter. It is the cultural tradition among all communities across state and often religion to apply Haldi to the body of deceased before the cremation/burial if the deceased was unmarried. India has fulfilled the last wish of Nirbhaya convicts and the dreaded terrorists such as Afzal Guru who attacked Indian Parliament and Ajmal Kasab who was among other killing 72 people in Mumbai. Apart from respecting the last wish of these convicts before hanging, the Government of India had also ensured that their bodies were laid to rest with dignity and in accordance to their religion. The same was denied to Hathras victim who was neither a terrorist, not the one who attacked the indian parliament or committed any crime in her life. She was the victim of the sexual abuse whose dinity, it was the duty of the State to protect.

Are Dalits not human beings? Can they also have their last wish? Or they are hindu but untouchable Hindu who has no right to a religious ceremony?

The program therefore is the ceremony where people across country will fulfil the last wish of the mother for her daughter and join her pain by applying a haldi tilak. Since, it was the violation of a dead persons right by the state, the haldi collected from over 25000 families will be given to UP CM to immerse it in Ganga by the State, as a Prayschit.

What is the significance of October 14?
October 14 1956 was the day when Dr. Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism in Nagpur, after he tried all his life to bring reforms in Hinduism and annihilate Caste and Untouchability, rendering Dalits to sub-humans.