On 6 December, members of the group Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Lawyers for Social Justice, submitted a letter to DY Chandrachud, the chief justice of India, asking that a statue of BR Ambedkar—India’s first law minister, often called Babasaheb—be installed on the Supreme Court lawns. In recent years, BALSJ members have led efforts for the official commemoration of Ambedkar, who spearheaded the drafting of the Constitution, at the country’s highest court. The letter has raised important questions of who is commemorated and honoured in public memory.
Pratik Bombarde, a member of BALSJ, told me, “Ever since I joined practice here, I looked around the Supreme Court and I was shocked not to see a single photo of Babasaheb. I spoke to several others and they too agreed we should demand it.” The BALSJ was founded by six lawyers in 2014, and the installation of a portrait was among their first demands.
Their request was accepted by Dushyant Dave, then president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, or SCBA. A portrait of Ambedkar was installed in the SCBA Library-1 of the Supreme Court annexe, situated across the street from the main court campus. The portrait was painted by Paresh Maity, a Padma Shri winning artist, and was inaugurated in an event on Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary, in 2015.