(In an interview first published in the Marathi journal Khel, Raja Dhale (1940-2019) recounted the history behind his surname ‘Dhale’: soldiers that were historically the standard bearers and advance guards at forts. True to this personal history, Raja Dhale stood at the vanguard of the Dalit consciousness and articulation in Maharashtra in its post-independence evolution. On August 15, 1972, the Marathi magazine Sadhana carried Dhale’s explosive essay ‘Kala Svatantryadin’, which entrenched him, and the Dalit Panthers, in Maharashtra’s imagination. Challenging the hypocrisy of Indian society for not ending violence against Dalits, Dhale wrote, ‘They aren’t our brothers. They aren’t our compatriots. Are we outsiders?’. Under the current political climate where the Indian state is snatching away the meagre rights remaining with the oppressed sections like we saw with Kashmir and the revocation of article 370, it would perhaps be poignant to revisit Raja Dhale’s voice from forty seven years ago.)
The punctual but peaceful and relaxed city of Mumbai has been witnessing certain events and goings on. Truth be told, the times are changing, in Mumbai. For instance, student movements are descending upon the streets and taking the form of protests, marches and blockades. The anger of the students is taking real shape. A decision has been made to observe the silver jubilee of the independence day as a black day.
Mumbai is the heart and brain of Maharashtra and India. And thus it was that that the first repercussions of the injustices meted out to Buddhists and Harijan-Girijans were felt in Mumbai. It missed its heartbeat, they went haywire. The whole of Mumbai didn’t wake up. The newspapers tried to bring about an awakening. In the cultural life of Mumbai, of the four chambers of that heart, it was the chamber of the Dalit litterateurs that awakened first. Meanwhile a pamphlet from Barrister Kamble was published. Subsequently, the Yuvak Aaghadi was established. A protest was organised at the residence of the Chief Minister. Yukrand1 awakened, immediately. The Manusmriti was burned and that group joined Yuvak Aaghadi. It accompanied the Yuvak Aaghadi in large numbers to Baavda.2 Representatives of Samajvadi Yuvak Sabha and Rashtra Seva Dal were also present. Subsequently, those poets and student activists who possess a heart and a brain, along with the student sections of Left organisations were moved enough to participate in the establishment of the Vidyarthi Sangharsha Samiti.
Mumbai started clamouring; started speaking, pouring fire, because the Buddhist youth Gavle and More had given voice to this rage in the Vidhan Sabha. I’d say that if Solapur is raising its voice, Mumbai is raining fire, erupting.
During this period, Prof. Sada Karhade’s Diary of a Touchable appeared in the markets. This novel stressed on how Brahmins are treated as untouchables on the basis of economic circumstances. Meaning that wealthy Brahmins treat poor Brahmins as untouchables! The story itself is unremarkable, singletrack and melodramatic; what does become clear from this story is that the Brahmin community has been divided into two sections on the basis of wealth. A touchable section: the wealthy Brahmin. An untouchable section: the poor Brahmin. I would argue that this is so even in the Maratha community as on date, that is, the division between touchables and untouchables. Similar is the case, more or less, in the Vaishya and Shudra varnas as well. Why is it, then, that in protest against the atrocities committed against Buddhists in Brahmangaon and Bavda, it was only two boys from their community, residing in Labour Camp in Mumbai, who voiced outrage at the Vidhan Sabha, and others did not? The simple answer is, only they are moved, who are truly affected. Others aren’t affected at all by this, and so they remain silent. Otherwise the economic untouchables amongst the touchables should also have raised their voice against these atrocities – why didn’t they? This is so because, while they may be on the same strata for economic reasons, they are socially superior, on the basis of caste. Caste bars the path of the economic untouchable at each level and varna, and so it must be the first barrier to be demolished.
If the ‘superior’ untouchables and we are on the same level, why is it that they refrain from screaming against instances of atrocities inflicted upon those of us that are considered untouchables, socially? They demand only economic equality, but not social, is that not the case? Blissfully indifferent to the suffering of others!
Marathi thinkers and writers protest and issue pamphlets in defence of the play ‘Sakharam Binder’.3 Why do they remain silent when injustices are being inflicted upon the Buddhists? Or is it that such activities have their consent? (Durga) Bhagwat4 who says ‘Give prostitutes a social acceptance, because they perform a social function.’, is somebody who wants prostitutes to remain prostitutes – such is their charity! Why shouldn’t those who share such sentiments themselves discharge this social function? Such are these individuals – selfish. Though cosmopolitan in character, neighborhoods in Mumbai in principle are divided on caste-lines. Because only Gavle-More who live in Matunga Labour Camp get fired up when injustices are meted out to Buddhists. Why do the rest not do so? They aren’t our brothers. They aren’t our compatriots. Are we outsiders? Then why should we not demand a separate nation?
It even merits asking, how many mixed residential spaces exist in Mumbai? Leaving aside Bhendi Bazaar, Mahim, Bandra etc., being Muslim localities, who constitutes the majority of those residing at Girgaum, Dadar, Dombivali, Thane, Vile Parle? And who is the majority in some parts of Naigaon, Worli, Delisle Road, Wadala, Bombay Central? Is this what you mean by mixed localities? This is the casteism in Mumbai. And the instance of inter-caste love in Girgaum was resolved only through death, as the Ubale incident bears witness. Is this an example of caste-harmony?
All these questions have occupied the mind of the youth today. It is because they are aligned on these concerns, that youth from all castes and religions are setting up agitation committees, and are demanding the release of Gavle and More, moving heaven and earth to do so. They attend caste-annihilation meetings by the thousands and celebrate Gavle and More. They take the decision of observing the 25th independence day as a black day. Truth be told, while it is being said that 25 years have passed since achieving freedom where do we, the citizens, the common people, have true freedom? The lathi charges that we were subjected to under the British rule continue to be mounted upon us. What this means is that while the British have left, the democratic organs continue to inflict the same violence upon us. Why won’t the people feel that the British rule still exists? Why won’t they feel that we live under alien rule? In the past, people organised satyagraha and protested British rule. Today, we are struggling against our own government. It isn’t real democracy then. Where does it possess the form of governance of, for and by the people? If it were so, would the masses have been so dissatisfied? Is it democracy, when 105 people were martyred simply to secure a United Maharashtra? Was it the British who demanded this sacrifice, or Indians? Overall, our own government is more dangerous than a foreign government!
While the elected representatives come to our doorsteps to seek votes, they refuse to step out of the Vidhan Sabha when we urgently seek their support. Instead of stepping forward to meet us, they send out the police. Then how are they our representatives? And are these individuals going to address our pain? Isn’t it because they won’t, that Gavle and More expressed our anguish and drew attention by pouring fire? For this, they have been arrested. If so, who should they express their pain to? Who will be their messiah?
In any case, what right of the Vidhan Sabha did these two violate, how did they impede its proceedings? In order to draw attention to the acts of injustice, they stood at the balcony over the Sabha and blew out flames from their mouth by setting a lit matchstick to the kerosene in their mouth. Who was harmed by this act? Why then, were they arrested? And do separate rules apply to the Vidhan Sabha? It hasn’t fallen from the skies. People have created it. Does it not exist to address the sorrows of the people? And if the elected representatives do not discharge their duties, and people take matters into their own hands, draw attention, then it becomes a crime! Hail, such a state! And everyone is agreed over this arrest. That’s why we have arrived at the conclusion that we can recall our elected representatives at any time! Or else they will warm their chairs, snooze, sleep and so our demand is legitimate, that is, Shankarrao Patil must resign!
If such things happen in the village of a reputable minister, it means the village has become arrogant because of his ministership, and has declared a boycott on the Buddhists residing therein – and this is a case in which Shankarrao’s brother Shahajirao is the prime accused! If Shankarrao were truly a representative of the masses, then something like this would never have occurred in his own village! The elected representative of a constituency ought to resign if the minorities in his area are dissatisfied, if even one man is treated in an unjust manner. Why hasn’t Shankarrao resigned? What sort of governance is this?
Now, there’s one community that keeps calling itself a minority and the oppressed – the Brahmins. After Prof. Sada Karhade described himself as an untouchable man because of poverty, Mr. S.J. Joshi in his column in Maharashtra Times, titled ‘From Pune’ promptly stuffed Brahmins into the minority category, but does this mean their difficulties can be equated with the suffering of Dalits? As a minority they may not be in control of state power and administration anymore; but who was hitherto in control, and who are the officers in the administration? Who constitutes 80% of the workforce in banks? Our suffering is much deeper. The only thing they aren’t critical of is that they’re not in power – that they are a minority is the reality. But we don’t have our friends and relatives in the administration like the Brahmins do. Nor do we have them in educational institutions. Our economic strength is average, and over and above all this, we groan under the burden of caste structures of the three superior varnas, which is an additional challenge. So if every random individual wakes up tomorrow and decides to call himself Dalit, he will kill of the intensity of our struggle. It is one thing to call oneself Dalit simply to claim the sympathy of the masses, and another entirely to live and oppressed and deprived life of a Dalit, and taking this oppression head on.
Disrobing isn’t the fate of the Brahmin woman in Brahmangaon, but that of the Buddhist woman’s. And what is the punishment for this offence? Imprisonment for one month, or a fine of Rs. 50. The bastards impose a fine of Rs. 300 if the national anthem is disrespected. The wretched national flag is but a piece of cloth. It is just a symbol in specific colours. Punishment for merely disrespecting a symbol, but when in Sonnagaon, a living woman is disrobed then the fine is a mere Rs. 50. Are we going to shove the ‘insult’ to such a flag, along with the flag itself,up somebody’s ass? A nation is made up of people. Is the suffering of the people more important, or the insult to a symbol? What is more significant? Our honour is as good as that of a mere Saree. That insignificant. Therefore this offence must carry a heavier punishment than that laid down for disrespecting the flag. Will the people be patriotic, otherwise?
People lay the responsibility for these atrocities at the foot of the landlord class which is drunk on power centred around the sugar mills. I disagree. The entire touchable population is responsible for these atrocities. Every ass who believes in the varna system is behind this. Is the Dhangar, who decided to disrobe the women in Brahmangaon, an owner of a sugar mill? And so, along with the landlords, those who support the varna system are also involved in this. One asks, do these supporters of the varna system themselves undertake the profession allotted to them by the system? The newspapers tell of Brahmins who, having left their traditional professions, are engaged in prostitution. Similarly the Kshatriyas, having left their ancient calling… instead of joining the army, are encouraging the growth of business: are entangled in the trade of sugar mills. The tale isn’t different for the Vaishyas. They refuse to carry on the hereditary duties allotted by the varna system, but demand that others ought to stick to theirs. Clean out the carcass of dead cattle, or else we shall boycott you – what practice is this? If they can enjoy a freedom that arises from the rejection of the varna system, why shouldn’t we? Boycotts and atrocities are tactics used to restrict our freedom. We do not have freedom in this nation.
Then there are those who call themselves Maratha, but are in fact lame ducks. If Parashuram wiped out the Kshatriyas 21 times from the earth (meaning, ancient Maharashtra) then where did these Kshatriyas come from? Shivaji is called Marathi despite his origin lying either in the Sisodia clan of Rajasthan, or the Hoysalas of Karnataka. Then how is he a Maratha? If he is to be called a Maratha, then the rest of the Marathas are outsiders. Otherwise, Shivaji is an outsider. If he’s to be called a Maratha because he came to Maharashtra, then he isn’t a native Maratha. Meaning that Kshatriyas aren’t Marathas. Marathas aren’t Marathas. Then what is the origin of the Marathas? Or is it that the Marathas are just another category amongst us?
Third is the Aryan nonsense about Bijaj descendant, or Kshetraj descendant. Born in one’s region: to a woman in (one’s caste/community) therefore Kshetraj, but not born of the seed from one’s caste/community, therefore illegitimate: kshetriy: Kshatriya. Therefore Marathas should answer which of the above three are they and why and then remain within the caste system and inflict injustice on others. Otherwise its better for them to recognise who their mothers and sisters are.
These people have no idea, while accepting the caste system, about where they fit into the system, and why they are inflicting injustice on certain groups of people blindly. Do these monsters not understand that the atrocities and injustices they inflict are demanded by tradition and ritual? This is why the varna system has to be destroyed, uprooted from its very foundations. The Gita should be reduced to ashes : Hindu religion has to be annihilated.
Truth be told, since Mahatma Phule we have had numerous reformers and nationalists in this country, but none of them have been able to make revolutionary contributions comparable to that of Phule. Whereas Phule correctly diagnosed the rotten disease of Hindu religion, people with narrow vision ignored his work and invested themselves in composing Gitarahasya. So the reformers erected a debate over women’s way of wearing saree. They strove to put an end to child-marriage, and grant social sanction to widow remarriage. Despite Phule having done his work prior to them, it is an important question as to why they didn’t fight against untouchability just as he did. Of them, especially Agarkar surely did pose a challenge to tradition. But these reforms were either not for us, or the their progressive ramifications didn’t benefit us, because of the varna system.
The fact that ever today we are treated worse than beasts, means that there has been no progress either amongst us, or amongst the touchable classes. Secondly, our chief minister proclaimed a few days ago that, we should establish social unity through ensuring social equality by emulating only the ideals of Lokmanya (Tilak). But when indeed did Lokmanya ever struggle for social equality? On the contrary, during the issue of Vedokta Prakaran5 he asked why the Marathas of today should be demanding more rights than were allotted to Marathas in the times of Shivaji. Is this the social equality exemplifying his struggle? The fact is, he wanted self-rule, but not equality. Which is why semi-educated goons that were imprisoned under disparate offences, were released after independence as freedom fighters. Their intellectual capacity defines the intellectual level of the country now. These are the men running the government now. They enjoy ministerships, while the intellectuals labour under their directions. They must follow their intructions. This is democracy. In this confusion, 25 years have elapsed. Neither have Agarkar’s reforms improved our lives, nor has Lokmanya’s freedom liberated us; while we follow Ambedkar’s path to progress, these people boycott us and humiliate our womenfolk. All in all, it is their desire that we should never progress. But it is our slogan, that not only shall we progress, but we shall change this entire society. We shall tell those who seek to limit our freedom, that neither are you liberated. Because punishments shall be imposed upon you even if you organise protests. This government is not ours. While the British left, the mindset of the British still dwells in our politicians. Therefore, it is mistake to believe that we are free. Only those are free, who treat us like slaves. How can there be freedom in this slavery?
1) Yuvak Kranti Dal, a student organisation established in Pune in the year 1969.
2) Where Shahajirao Patil, younger brother of then minister for State, Shankarrao Patil, had tried to pressure a Buddhist candidate into withdrawing from local elections, whose refusal lead to a boycott against the entire Buddhist community of that village. Discussed later in this article, by Dhale.
3) The Marathi play Sakharam Binder by Marathi Brahmin playwright Vijay Tendulkar was sought to be censored in early 1972 for its ‘prurient’ contents by the Stage Performances Scrutiny Board of the Government of Maharashtra.
4) A prominent Marathi Brahmin scholar and writer.
5) Reference made here is to the controversy surrounding the coronation Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, where Lokmanya Tilak supported the refusal of Brahmin priests to conduct such a ceremony in accordance with Vedic rituals.