Protests over 'removal' of Dr. Ambedkar's portrait by a district judge at Republic Day celebrations

HUNDREDS of people from Dalit organizations and advocates’ associations took to the streets in Karnataka to protest the alleged removal of a portrait of Dr B.R. Ambedkar from the dais before the hoisting of the national flag during the Republic Day celebrations at the district court premises in Raichur, Karnataka.

At the center of this controversy is the Raichur District Principle and Sessions Judge Mallikarjuna Gowda. The image of Ambedkar, placed next to that of Mahatma Gandhi on a stage, was said to be removed at Gowda’s direction. He allegedly directed his subordinates to remove the photo before the tricolour was unfurled. The district judge was allegedly irked by Ambedkar’s picture on the dais, prepared near the flag post.

According to lawyers, representatives of the bar association of Raichur had obtained permission from the Karnataka High Court to install Ambedkar’s portrait during last year’s Republic Day celebrations. According to them, Ambedkar’s picture was placed with Gandhiji as per that special permission.

The specific guidelines issued by the Registrar of the Karnataka high court asked the court to keep only the portrait of Gandhi during Republic Day celebrations. Several lawyers present disagree with this guidline.

The High Court has earlier approved the placement of Gandhi’s portrait on Republic Day, while the matter of placing Dr. Ambedkar’s portrait for official programmes of the judiciary is pending before the full bench of the Karnataka High Court for consideration.

In a note released on Thursday, district judge Gowda said that he had not noticed whether the photo was kept or removed, and that malicious propaganda is being spread about the episode accusing him. “I told them that the high court registrar general had informed us in our Leaders Group that the said government order was before the full bench (of the high court) and he asked us to wait till a decision was made on the matter. I requested them not to force me (on placing Ambedkar’s portrait). We later hoisted the national flag. I have not seen anybody placing or removing an Ambedkar portrait from the dais. Hiding this fact, some people propagated that I had made the removal of the portrait a precondition to hoisting the flag. I have a lot of respect for Ambedkar”, he added.

Shivana Gowda Nayaka, a Member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly [MLA] from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party [BJP] and chairman of Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd., has demanded the dismissal of the judge. Another BJP MLA, former minister Shivanagouda Naik on Thursday called the judge’s act a matter of shame and demanded his immediate sacking.

Students’ Federation of India state Vice President, advocate Shivakumar Moolimani said“Ambedkar’s photo is being kept in Bengaluru Civil court, Kalaburagi Civil Court, and no judge has objected and raised such an issue. The same judge had objected to placing the photograph of Ambedkar on November 26, which is celebrated as Constitution Day. The advocates had to strongly protest to retain the photo in the function organised by Raichur Bar Council and the District Legal Services Authority.”

According to media reports, Karnataka High Court Registrar General, T.G. Shivashankare Gowda, said that the high court has demanded a report on the incident.