Tamil Nadu: Dalit outfits seek state intervention to display Ambedkar’s portraits in court complexes

In a circular, Registrar of the Madras High Court curbed the display of portraits/statues, except those of Mahatma Gandhi and Thiruvalluvar.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Jul 21, 2023 | 10:23 PMUpdatedJul 21, 2023 | 10:23 PM

The Madras High Court's Full Court unanimously decided that except for statues and portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Thiruvalluvar, no other portraits and pictures shall be displayed anywhere inside the court premises. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ambedkarites and Dalit outfits have condemned the move of the Madras High Court banning portraits and statues of any political leader other than Mahatma Gandhi and Tiruvalluvar in court complexes across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

In a circular dated 7 July, the Registrar of the Madras High Court stated that, the decision was taken as, from time to time, representations were being received from the advocates’ associations seeking permission to put up portraits of BR Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution, in court complexes.

A section of lawyers now plan to stage demonstrations outside the Madras High Court and district court campuses across the state on 24 July, demanding withdrawal of the circular.

No more portraits/statues

Pointing to various “Full Court Resolutions” on 22 October, 2008, 20 April, 2011, 27 April, 2013, 8 December, 2013, and 11 April, 2023 that there shall be no more erection of any statute in any of the court premises, whether at the principal seat of the high court in Chennai or its Madurai Bench or in any district or taluk court subordinate to the high court, the Registrar General denied permission to display portraits of Ambedkar.

The Registrar General also stated that the decision was arrived at after taking into consideration demands from various quarters to erect statues of political leaders at different places, including court campuses, and the law and order problems that had erupted due to damage caused to the statutes of national leaders in various places.

He pointed to an April 2023 resolution of the Full Court that had unanimously decided that, except for statues and portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Thiruvalluvar, no other portraits and statues shall be displayed anywhere inside the court premises.

“If any deviation is found, the Principal District Judges/District Judges/Principal Judge/District Judge-cum-Chief Judicial Magistrate of the district court concerned, and the Chief Judge of Puducherry are directed to take action by giving suitable complaints to the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

“The above instructions shall be followed strictly by all concerned. The receipt of this circular is required to be acknowledged immediately,” the Registrar General said.

Also Read: Ambedkar’s 125-ft statue unveiled in Hyderabad

Ambedkarites seek TN govt intervention 

As the circular came to light, the Neelam Cultural Centre — an anti-caste initiative by Tamil director Pa Ranjith — condemned the move.

In a statement, the centre said that the order of the Madras High Court prohibiting the photos and statues of Dr Ambedkar — a jurist, architect of the Indian Constitution, and India’s first law minister — at places pertaining to law was an unacceptable move.

The statement noted that Dr Ambedkar’s contribution to making India a nation-state spans across law, labour, political economy, women’s rights, rights of the Scheduled Castes, etc, and, over the years, his other contributions have been ignored, propagating him as a mere figure of law and Constitution.

“The removal of his photos and statues from places significant to law is an attempt to erase his legacy and work, even in the field of law and social justice, from public memory. This act by the Bench unfurls their minds being sick from casteism. While courts are meant to deliver social justice and propagate equality, it is disappointing to witness them reproducing discriminatory and exclusionary practices, and its institutionalisation,” the centre said.

Also Read: Constitution is under threat: Ambedkar’s granddaughter

Pass resolution in Assembly

Speaking to South First, state secretary of the Dalit Liberation Movement, S Karuppiah, said that it is unfortunate that the person who headed the committee that drafted the Constitution of India and the first law minister of the country is being reduced to a mere political leader.

“When the Full Court resolves such a thing, we cannot even approach the court for a remedy. Only the Tamil Nadu government has to interfere in this issue. Chief Minister Stalin should pass a resolution in the Assembly or should proclaim it through a Government Order,” he said.

It is to be noted that the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, in August 2022, directed the installation of Dr BR Ambedkar’s photographs in all law colleges in Tamil Nadu.