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.
The high central chamber of the Dalit park, which is a short drive into Uttar Pradesh from Delhi, draws heavily on Buddhist architecture. It houses statues of B. R. Ambedkar, who helped draft India’s Constitution; Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party that Mayawati now heads; and the former chief minister herself with her ubiquitous handbag, an uncommon thing for a living politician to do.
The 40-metre-high structure is surrounded by 20 sculptures of elephants, 10 on either side. The remaining complex, built at a cost of nearly 7 billion rupees ($113 million), includes bronze statues of Ambedkar and other “pioneers of social transformation,” and replicas of the Ashoka Chakra.
“The Dalits fought like anybody else in the struggle against the British. She is underscoring it that it is this part of history that you have not talked about for the last 65 years,” said Sohail Hashmi, a Delhi-based historian.