Every fall, people gather in Delhi’s Mehrauli area for the “Procession of the Florists,” a festival to commemorate the return from exile of a 19th-century prince who crossed India’s British colonial rulers.
The “Phool Walon ki Sair,” as it is called in Hindi and Urdu, features the offering of a “chaadar” or a “sheet” of flowers at a Muslim shrine and floral “pankhas” or fans at a nearby Hindu temple but after nearly 200 years, its popularity is fading.
On a hot Tuesday afternoon, I walked into the recently reopened Dalit park in Noida, outside New Delhi. This is the park built by Mayawati, the 57-year-old former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, as a memorial to the class of people long known in India as “untouchables.” A Dalit herself, Mayawati is a symbol of what traditionally oppressed classes and castes in India can do with their lives.
Of course, Mayawati has been accused by her political opponents of wasting money — lots of it. She seems like an easy target, especially when she has commissioned statues of herself. For a senior Congress politician, erecting one’s own statue was an act of ‘megalomania’. But the symbolism that this structure seeks to attach itself with — asserting Dalit identity and acknowledging “sacrifices” made by people of backward classes — is hard to miss.