J V Pawar
This is a translation of a 1973 Dalit Panther pamphlet, the original in Marathi can be read here.
Dalit Panther is a one and half years old today. In this period, its activities have silenced its enemies. Mumbai is the center of many movements today. And every person is carrying an activist in himself. While at times he protests in his own interest, at others, establishes an all-encompassing movement. He comes from various corners of the state to satiate his hunger. He indulges in an analysis of his surroundings, whether or not the question of his hunger is resolved. As a consequence of his thoughts, the country’s political, social, cultural atmosphere gets affected, for better or worse.
Man does not survive solely on bread. Along with this, his intellect also needs nourishment. To some extent, newspapers play the role of providing this intellectual nourishment. The moment he opens the newspaper, he reads news of the injustices that human beings are being subjected to, women stripped and paraded naked, boycotts on villages, manslaughter, social ostracisation and riitvishtha (cleaning human faeces), the deliberate poisoning of wells, land grab… not just one or two… but thousands of instances of such news. Upon reading such news, his blood starts boiling like lava. Every inch of his body bursts into flames, and leaps into the streets, armed, to light the anger of thousands. He is prepared to become a panther at any moment, ready to rise up against of the oppressor. This agony was the reason behind the birth of Dalit Panther.
In 1948, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had told Indian legislators in the Constituent Assembly, that if in the future, the Dalits and the dispossessed have their freedom stolen from them, and the majority community keeps the ritual fire of injustice alive, then one day, this oppressed mass shall descend upon the streets and demand all-embracing change, it shall call for an armed struggle, and they shall not be in the wrong for it. Instead of the state taking serious note of this advice of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the legislators themselves harass the Dalits; understanding this, Dalit Panther took on an aggressive form and brought the youth on to the streets to resist injustice.
The artistic section of the society is always restless due to some or the other issues. This restless section… twelve Dalit writers published a letter, sending a stern message to the government in the context of the Bawada incident. If the government fails to control an instance like at Bawada, such villages would be subjected to armed attacks, and the government itself would be responsible for those attacks, such was the message. Issued by twelve Dalit writers, this message shook the government, and consequently the work of awakening the slumbering Dalit masses commenced. June 1972 was spent waking up the streets of Mumbai city. With a mega mike slung from the shoulder and black raincoat, we trudged through the slush with our propaganda. This propaganda also started receiving a response. We were only enunciating what was already in the minds of thousands of young people. Each one of them wanted to say, more or less, what we were saying. On 9 July, 1972, we called a meeting of the youth, to understand the concerns that plagued their minds. This was the first meeting where the Dalit Panther program was defined. This gathering took place at Siddharth Nagar, Bapati Road. J.V. Pawar was the convener of the meeting and A. S. Kasabe was the President. This meeting saw the participation of many youths, including Namdeo Dhasal, B. S. Sasane, Arjun Dangle, P. N. Chendvankar, Hiraman Sangare (who went on to be known as Bhai Sangare) and the Sorate brothers. In the discussion at the meeting, a proposal of a rally was put forward, and on 14 August 1972, while the silver jubilee celebrations of Independence Day would be conducted, the attention of the state was drawn towards injustices against Dalits by observing it as Black Independence Day. This rally was jointly organized by Dalit Panthers and Yuvak Kranti Dal. While Mumbai was lit up by celebration, 100 youths, with black flags, marched through the crowds, telling these lovers of the light to realise the pitch black darkness that surrounded them. Because this rally, was proceeding to the Vidhan Sabha and condemning the government, it was refused a meeting with the ministers in the cabinet, a second Vidhan Sabha was conducted on the footpath itself. This ‘external’ Vidhan Sabha started pouring criticism on the members of the Vidhan Sabha within. The police lost their sleep permanently because of Namdeo Dhasal’s speech at this Assembly. On behalf of Dalit Panther, J.V. Pawar damned the government and declared that if the Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha refused to salve the sorrows of the common people and find solutions, then we shall burn such assemblies.
Following the success of the rally on 14th August, a morning march was carried out under the leadership of Namdeo Dhasal on 15th August. Wearing black bands, this procession awakened the streets of Mumbai in the defiance of independence. Because of this, Dalit youth were attracted towards Dalit Panther. At just this point in time, the Sadhana weekly Independence Day jubilee issue was stocked up with a huge amount of gunpowder. In this period, the Saat Rasta section was set up at a small meeting. The only reason for mentioning the Saat Rasta section (of the Panther), inaugurated by J.B. Pawar, is the fact that it provided the Panthers with yuvashakti. Hiraman Sangare, Suresh Bhadrige, Vijay Kadam, Kisan Phulpagare, etc., and other youth joined the Panther with all their strength. It was on the basis of this youthful power that the initial program was drawn up. It was during this time that state minister N. Rupwate gave an interview to newspapers and stated that the government is not responsible for the injustices against Dalits, and thus refused to acknowledge the duty of the government. It was in protest against this statement of his that demonstrations were organized against him at an event that he attended. In front of the (representative/minister), Dhasal, Pawar and Ramdas Sorte were extremely critical of N. Rupwate, who, unsettled by this, ordered the arrest of Dhasal, Pawar and Latif Khatik.
Dalit Panther was invested in orchestrating a program to respond to atrocities against Dalits, within its capacity. A prior incident was the naked parade of a Dalit woman that had been carried out in Brahamangaon. Many parties and the Republican Party factions had already undertaken the unique activity of visiting Brahamangaon. The village entry organized by Dalit Panther, however, turned out to be an agitated event. Raja Dhale gave the village strongmen a stern message, that if any other such instance did occur, or if Dalits were boycotted in any way again, then their heads would be hung from the trees at the village limits.
During this period, Raja Dhale’s article in the Sadhana weekly title “Black Independence” had shaken intellectuals out of their stupor. Newspaper columns, as well as editorials, were resounding with this issue. Dalit youth and leadership were having contradictory discussions. The environment was completely transformed by the Dalit Panther and Dhale. The cases on Raja Dhale, the resignation of the Sadhana editor and S.M. Joshi’s response had given this situation an unusual significance. At such a time, Dhasal, Pawar, and Sangare traveled from place to place, persuading people of the Dalit Panther position. To ensure that this message wouldn’t remain restricted solely to the youth, and to reach thousands of people, Dalit Panther decided to organize a public meeting. In this way, the first public meeting of Dalit Panther was organized at Love Lane, Mazgaon, and the organizer of this meeting was Avinash Mahatekar. At this first public meeting, Raja Dhale, Namdeo Dhasal, J.V. Pawar and Bhai Sangare delivered speeches. News of this meeting spread like wildfire across Mumbai, locations. During this period, Babu Jagjivanram delivered a speech where he stated that reservations for Buddhists should be canceled, and traveled to Mumbai subsequently. To protest against this Babuji, and to make sure that such careless statements would not be repeated, a huge protest was organised in front of him at Tilak Bhavan, Dadar. Babuji was the Defence Minister of the country and a representative of Dalits. He was enraged, and as a consequence, 64 young people, who were protesting in a democratic manner, were shown the doors of the Arthur Road jail. This was the first instance of the government abusing democratic processes in this manner.
Unsettled, either with injustice and atrocities increasing by the month, or by young leadership, the politicians established the Anyay Atyachar Nivaran Kruti Samiti (Action Committee to Prevent Injustice and Atrocities). This Committee was organized by bringing together representatives of organizations of Dalits, especially Buddhists, both large and small. It established numerous committees and sub-committees. (Where these sub-committees have disappeared to, along with the Committee, only they know). Dalit Panther was represented by Arjun Dangle, J.V. Pawar and A. S. Kasbe. It was even decided to elevate J.V. Pawar to the secretary position of the Committee.
In a meeting of the Action Committee at Anand Bhavan, J.V. Pawar moved a proposal to criticize the government for arresting and detaining 64 Panthers for 5 days in jail. But after this proposal was not even taken up for discussion, J.V. Pawar left the Action Committee. As a result of this, the political leadership subjected Dangle to a storm of criticism and instructed him to choose between his relationship with either the Panther or the Action Committee. Dangle attempted to argue the position of the Panther, but with the hope that the Action Committee would be able to put an end to the atrocities against Dalits (by virtue of it being full of senior leaders), he declared that he was not related to the organisation called Panther. This Action Committee organised a rally, and once the newspaper columns were filled with reporting about it, the Committee assumed that its duties had been fulfilled, and fell silent, to this date. A name that was suggestive of Action, but in truth, devoid of any, was not the condition of the Panther. We were operating with the intention of putting an end to exploitative powers that subjected Dalits to atrocities and performing such acts that would make Dalits fearless. In this context, the village entry of Pisegaon is worth mentioning. In this village of Thane district, Raja Dhale, Avinash Mahatekar, Prabhu More, Anant Bachchav and others created a new atmosphere. They had laid low the village strongmen. The ‘Dada’ of the village had fallen at the feet of the Panthers. Panther teams were visiting the village and making interventions. Once the police got an inkling of this, a police team descended upon Pisegaon, but faced by the youth of the Panthers, they retreated, swallowing their arrogance.
Because of this and other similar actions, the Panthers started spreading throughout Mumbai. It had reached places like Kalyan, Ulhasnagar etc. Support started pouring in from distant places, but the support from Pune was of particular importance. Pune was the city of Peshwa and it always had been encouraging Peshwai. It was this city that forced us to wear a pot around our necks and stickbroom around our waist. This is the city that contributed a bountiful crop of regressive leaders to the Indian polity. Pune, a city that still lived in the era of the Peshwai, saw new winds blow. There were numerous leaders there who raised the banner of progressive politics. But none of them organised a campaign demanding all-encompassing change. Nobody descended on the streets, speaking the language of struggle. This, the Panthers did in Pune, which is why the city came under their sway. The Dalit community, which was directionless and disturbed, got a space of its own. It joined the Panthers with all its strength.
The Panther was continuously engaged in bringing together more youth and organising various events on the basis of their strength. For example, a few youths departed from Mumbai to organise a public meeting in Pune, and on the same day, a few others went to Chave village in Thane district. Such individuals who nurtured exploitative forces in Chave village who heard of the Panthers’ entry into Thane district, immediately escaped from their homes. The police Patil, himself in the process of fleeing, was caught. He was administered the appropriate treatment, and he became speechless due to fear of Dadabhau Salve. Till that day, the custom was for the Patil to shout out orders, and for the rest to hang their head down and submit. On that day, these signs changed. On that day, it was the youth of Dalit Panther who shouted out instructions, and the Patil listened. This was the first such instance in the Patil’s life. Of those who handled the Chave village case, some were from Thane, some were from the first public meeting in Pune and others were from Peth village of Pune district. It was in this manner that words and action were brought together by the Panthers.
After the public meeting at Pune, Namdeo Dhasal and Avinash Mahatekar went to Sangamner. There, a rich farmer had subjected a Dalit woman to inhuman atrocities. He had gone so far that he had burned her chest. On hearing of this brutal rape, these two youngsters traveled to Sangamner, enraged. They investigated the occurrence under great personal danger. Fear had descended upon the village. Nobody wished to speak about the incident, in fear of the rich farmer. As surreptitiously as possible, they investigated the incident, but before they could leave, the fact that they were Panthers had already spread in the village. They came under heavy surveillance. The local strongmen started flexing their muscles and tailed the two youngsters. Traveling on a scooter, these two outfoxed their pursuers in the hilly terrain and returned to Pune. They then informed Vasantrao Naik of this issue. The goons were probably operating under Vasantrao’s instructions anyway; ‘How terrible!’, he exclaimed, when Dhasal informed him of the incident, but he forgot his indignation when it came to investigating the incident. Regimes that forget to investigate the most important issues. Vasantrao is a jewel in that very same necklace. It would have been a surprise, indeed, had he actually failed to forget. While the Dalit Panther was organising a struggle to stamp out injustice, newspapers reported many instances of murder, rape, and poisoning of wells, aimed at crushing the organisation. Many of these reports were from Pune district. This was probably a result of the fact that Pune was the city that nurtured the Peshwa culture. It was of utmost importance to organise resistance in Pune district to crush this Peshwa culture. Namdeo Dhasal, therefore, stayed in Pune for a few months. It was during this stay of his, that the Bhugaon incident was handled. There, a Dalit woman named Pol had committed suicide by jumping into a well, as she had been raped. Upon learning this, Namdeo Dhasal, Arun Kamble, Jaidev Gaikwad and 500 others went to that village. With the intention of mounting an attack, the residents were threatened that if the perpetrators were not produced within half an hour, the village would be reduced to ashes. As a result, an MLA like Namdeorao Mate fell at the feet of the Panthers and produced the perpetrator. One needn’t be told how the Panthers then ‘took care’ of that criminal.
Meanwhile, something good thing had occurred. 1500 youth had left Pune for Mumbai after the public meeting there, who ended up with a face off with armed robbers in Chinchwad, who used to assault travelers. Benefiting from the benevolence of the police, this gun-toting gang had been stealing from travellers for years. A fight between these two occurred. Many were thrashed. While it is true that Ashok Bhambal ended up bloodied, this gang wouldn’t forget the thrashing they received for the rest of their lives. We don’t mind the injuries we received when some traveler between Pune and Mumbai (by the last vehicle) expresses gratitude to an unnamed organisation for saving him from the clutches of this gang.
Dalit Panther enlarged the scope of its activities. It was a season of public meetings in that period. The Panthers had created a different atmosphere. Hot-headed youth were prepared to annihilate oppressive forces. About thirty small and large incidents were handled in Mumbai. An incident in Mumbai’s Tardeo slums was a challenge to the Panthers. Seven beasts had raped a Dalit woman. They were backed by political power. The entire slum was disturbed. People didn’t wish to talk to each other. In such a disturbed environment, J.V. (Pawar) and Avi (Avinash Mahatekar) took charge of the situation. The seven gangsters were successfully brought into the custody of the police within 24 hours, and subsequent actions were taken. Atrocities were being committed at many places. Government was taking legal actions against those who were showing the genuine concern and were raising their voices.
On one hand, independence and democracy were being hailed, and on the other, those who were raising their voices in a democratic manner were being targeted with criminal cases and their freedom of speech and travel were being restricted in a very devious manner. There was a single charge in all these cases: Hindu religious sentiments were offended. Who shall think of how our sentiments are offended when women are stripped naked in broad daylight, Ramdas Narnaware is murdered, Waghmare is attacked, Gopinath Wadar is burned alive? We were compelled to live with the murder of our emotions for three and a half thousand years, the weapons in our hands were taken away, our brains were deadened; what are we to do if not pour fire on this tradition and those who nurture it? How is it that those who are concerned about their own emotions ended up forgetting that others have theirs, too? Narnaware was murdered to satiate a goddess, and that too in accordance with Hindu scriptures. Then why must we not set fire to such scriptures and its believers? There were no responses to questions asked by Meshram-Patil, but a regressive and Hindutvawadi organisation like Shiv Sena took up the cause of protection of the Hindu faith and threw down the gauntlet by asking who had the courage to burn religious scriptures; because of this, in the Goregaon seminar, Raja Dhale, declared that he shall burn the Gita in front of Kanitkar and others. He indicated that this burning of the Gita would take place in Mumbai itself. After this, the Dalit Panther and Shiv Sena became the topic of comparison. While Shiv Sena was a religious organisation, Dalit Panther was a secular organisation that demanded democracy for all. The teachings of Mahakaruni Gautam Buddha, such are the Buddhist faith. These thoughts had always been a source of inspiration for the Panther. Jyotiba Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who cleared the way forward for these thoughts, also carried the same thoughts. Truth be told, himalayan efforts should be undertaken to ensure that these thoughts took root in our soil. The democracy that Dr. Ambedkar desired should have been cultivated here; instead, the government nurtured elements that threatened democracy.
Take, for example, Shankaracharya. This Shankaracharya is capable of saying in the twentieth century that if a Chambhar gets educated, he should not offer prayers to god. The government has given free reign to the Shankaracharya who murders the Indian Constitution. Truth be told, the Charmakar community ought to have disposed of Shankaracharya, along with god [Khare tar charmakar mandalini devasah Shankaracharyavar aarya firvayla havya hotya]. This Shankaracharya, who preaches and practices casteism, was paid obeisance with boots by the Pune Panthers. This was the first time when a religious leader (world leader) was treated like this. After being attacked with boots by the Pune Panthers, he was to be welcomed by the Mumbai Panthers. The moment newspapers reported that the Shankaracharya was to visit Mumbai, a troop against him was prepared. Upon hearing of this, the Shankaracharya fled, never to return. There was no way to guarantee that he’d have left Mumbai, had he brought his dirty beliefs with him. To be honest, Shankaracharya and the organisers knew that if the Shankaracharya had come on the appointed date and hour, it would be his dead body that would have left; knowing this, Shankaracharya did not come to Mumbai. At numerous occasions, demands had been made to arrest Shankaracharya after due study of his speeches, but the government is of a Hindu frame of mind. It is of course because of their Hindutva tendencies that they easily catch Raja Dhale and Kumar Saptarshi and it is surprising that no political parties challenge such arrests.
We were few in number, but it was our sole demand that democracy should be protected, it should be allowed to take root. Politicians shout themselves hoarse that there is democracy in this country, but this is restricted to elections. Their theory (samikaran) is that democracy is hale and hearty as long as the right to vote is exercised. Is it not the responsibility of the government to protect the people who are remembered once in five years, for the sake of their votes? What is the meaning of this voting process if the government refuses to discharge this responsibility? On top of that, elections are being fought on the basis of caste – a Brahmin campaigns in the Brahmin alley, whereas a Dalit should stand as a candidate in a Dalit basti, how long should this continue? To destroy this, Dalit Panther declared a boycott on elections. On realising that this community is refusing to exercise the right secured to them by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the government should have pondered deeply on the future of democracy. Is it not a sign of the failure of democracy in this nation, that the government did not despair even slightly when 50 thousand youngsters in Mumbai refused to vote during the municipality elections? The fact is, political parties are responsible for sharpening caste divides in this manner. Why is it that they have never been able to question the tradition that has given rise to these issues? We, however, shall speak. How many political parties have raised their voices against religious scriptures that have given root to traditions? We are a minority. The weapons in our hands have been stolen by these religious scriptures. This is why such religious scriptures are our enemies. The Hindu scriptures have made people accept shocking slavery, and this is why, true to our word, right at the time of elections, we set fire to the Gita in Shivaji Park. This event was organised under the leadership of Raja Dhale and Vitthal Sathe. At a time like this, there was every chance of a reaction from Hindutva sympathisers. This could have led to great violence, but the Panthers, unafraid of death, successfully executed this task. They never stopped to dwell on whether they shall return alive. Instead, they accepted that was the day they would embrace death, and for having undertaken the burning of the Gita, 264 youths face cases against them, today. We shall fight these cases, even if we lose everything by doing so.
In its own fashion, Dalit Panther was protesting injustice. The government was unhappy with this. It was playing its role of supporting oppressive forces. The government started focussing on ways to place utmost restrictions on Dalits. We were restrained from entering those places where atrocities occurred. Cases were filed against our everyday speeches, and this was done by way of demanding our presence at Nagpur on one day, at Mumbai the next, and Nanded, thereafter. This was the one way in which they discouraged us from fighting, however they refused to take any decisive steps to put an end to atrocities and therefore, in defiance of the government and to ask the difficult question as to why freedom had not yet found its way to us, a massive rally to Vidhan Sabha was organised on 14 August 1973. 20,000 women and men of Mumbai participated in this rally.
Winding its way through the nooks and crannies of Mumbai, this rally, with its cries against the government, made its way to Vidhan Sabha. Simultaneously, rallies were organised in front of district collectors in each district of the state. In Pune, this was under the leadership of Arun Kamble, Nashik under the leadership of S.K. Ahire, Sangli under the leadership of Nandu Kamble, Nagpur under Bhimrao Thool, Prakash Ramteke, Thane under Pralhad Rokade. Rallies were also organised in other districts of Maharashtra. The attention of numerous political parties were focused on the Mumbai rally. This procession, the representative voice of 28 crore people, was unusual. Had these twenty thousand hot-headed and angry youth decided, anything could have occurred, but the procession made its way under the eyes of the police administration with great discipline. Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik was handed a fiery 12-page request. The delegation that met the CM included Raja Dhale, Namdeo Dhasal, J.V. Pawar, Avinash Mahatekar and Vitthal Sathe. For two hours, the delegation presented irrefutable arguments to the Chief Minister about how atrocities were occurring with the support of his police administration. He was given to understand how they frame weak cases. The Chief Minister agreed to provide extensive support and then forgot it conveniently as usual. He was clearly informed that if these incidents continued to occur, a final struggle demanding a Dalitsthan would be organised. It would be better if the government took note of this.
Instead of taking note of this, the government decided to disregard secular politics and declared that it was going to confer recognition upon some Vedic Brahmins. A huge revival has commenced in the country. Indira Gandhi is making visits to Tiruvalli, lakhs of rupees are being spent under the name of religion, such were the ideals before the state of Maharasthra, that is, of the ox and buffalo.
Saint Dyaneshwar had a male buffalo (reda) who would chant the vedas; similarly these days two-footed buffalos recite the vedas, and government decided to appreciate them; Dalit Panther protested against this ceremony. Rather than giving recognition to these bull-headed individuals, they were told to confer recognition on intellectuals and scientists, but the government did not budge. Therefore Dalit Panther, Yuvak Kranti Dal, Indian Secular Society, Samajwadi Party etc., protested together. As usual, the protestors were caught and placed in custody. MLA Mrunal Gore, Dr. Baba Adhav, Prof. A. B. Shah, J.V. Pawar, Narayan Tabde, Jagdish Deshpande, etc., attacked the government in front of the protestors. On behalf of Dalit Panthers, J.V. Pawar stated that if the government intended to repeat this event the coming year, it should announce its intention of doing so 15 days before the event, and regardless of where it would be set up, they would prevent it from occurring. Kamlakar Subhedar and others were arrested in the hall itself, along with another 200 youths, who were taken in later.
Dalit Panther was fighting on numerous questions of the residents of the city. All of these issues cannot be recorded here. Public meetings played a primary role in creating an atmosphere throughout Mumbai city. Dhale’s reputation, built on the back of his article, played a useful role in these meetings. This article of his resulted in the organising of successful public meetings. Additionally, Namdeo Dhasal, J.V. Pawar, Bhai Sangare, Avinash Mahatekar, Vitthal Sathe were regularly speaking on the stages. Once in a while, support was received from Rangnath Kadam, Mrs. Jayvantbai Jagdhane, Dagdu Gaikwad, Suresh Sawant, Bhaskar Ambavade, Kedu Gangurde, Dayanand Mhaske.
Today, Dalit Panther is not restricted to the cities but has also reached villages. That is why it is possible to take the law in one’s own hands to annihilate oppressive forces. In light of this, the Aasarkhed instance is important. Situated in Pune district, the village of Aasarkhed was home to the Dalit farmer Vithu Dagdu More, who owned 30 acres of land. A wealthy farmer and village strongman, Baburao Limbure, operated on the basis of muscle power. Because More’s was the only Dalit family in the village, his ability to retaliate was not strong. The village goons threatened him on numerous occasions with sickles and demanded that he leave the village. Fleeing from the village, More spent 6 months in heavy rains on the footpaths of Mumbai. One day, he came to Dalit Panther. Because the land was fraudulently appropriated, 92 youths of the Dalit Panther went promptly to the village. They compelled Limbure to return the lands and the Panthers secured the fertile land. This was an instance where the Panther traversed on foot more than twelve miles and made a successful intervention. These 92 youths proved to be especially patient. Upon reaching the village, J.V. Pawar, Bhai Sangare, and Avinash Mahatekar instilled terror in the hearts of the entire village and its police. It was true that Limbure fled in fear, but the Dalit Panther also secured to More 30 acres of land with standing crop. It was in relation to this incident that the Pune Panthers entered the village once again. Shocked by these two interventions, Limbure fled from the village for good. He accepted defeat and ran away from the village.
Dalits suffer discrimination in all fields. Injustice and atrocities follow them not only during their lifetimes but also after their death; a perfect example of this is from Yenere village, Junnar taluka in Pune district, where the road constructed as relief work during the drought was deliberately diverted through their burial ground. The Buddhist burial ground was thus uprooted. Dalit Panther decided to take charge of this situation and a team of four, J.V, Avi, Sangare, Phulpagar entered this village, well known for the terror of its goons. They surveyed the canals dug to endanger the houses of the Buddhist in the village. Well known for its reign of terror, the entire village was scared that day. As J.V. and Avi conducted their survey, this crowd was running around, behaving submissively (crying, ‘Saheb, Saheb’). In the afternoon at the grampanchayat meeting, J.V. unleashed a barrage of questions upon the sarpanch. And made them realize their mistake. Panthers left the village only after the sarpanch, faujdar and others admitted that this was an instance of injustice against the Buddhists, promised to demolish that road entirely and fill up the canals and were warned that upon their failure to do so, the village would be attacked. News of the Panther’s exploits in the Aasarkhed and Yenere villages spread like wildfire across the Pune district, where the land of thousands of Dalit farmers has been grabbed by the villages fraudulently. Dalit Panther has taken the lead in ensuring that such lands would be returned to their rightful owners. This leadership has recently made another successful intervention when it entered Gonavdi village. Here, 24 acres of land belonging to Dalit farmer Bhika Shankar Gaikwad was being cultivated for the past ten years by the village strongman Devram Genu Mohite, just like the Asarkhed instance. Upon hearing about Asarkhed, Gaikwad approached Panther, and 350 youths from Mumbai went to that village. Jadhav, Gaikwad, and others first went and took that strong man into custody. He started shivering when he laid his eyes on the huge team of youngsters. Not only did he immediately return the 24 acres of land, he also handed over half of this year’s produce on the spot, as well as giving an undertaking to pay Rs. 3000 for having cultivated that land for the last ten years. He was instructed that if he failed to pay up this money within a specified period, Dalit Panthers would storm the village again. In the meeting organised at Gonavdi, this man had to accept defeat. Such was the leadership of J.V. Pawar and Avinash Mahatekar.
Today, Dalit Panthers seek to turn to the villages, along with the cities; indeed, it has already done so. Villages see various forms of injustice. We have taken the responsibility of putting an end to such injustice. Additionally, Dalit Panther intends to set up a massive struggle on questions that plague slums in cities, unemployment, etc. At a time like this, our expectation that the Dalit masses shall throw their weight behind Dalit Panther with all their strength, should not be faced with disappointment. In a time when thousands of problems need to be resolved, the question is whether the entire Dalit community shall become like the Panther, and on the basis of the above information, it should have no problem in giving its assent.
Bhai Sangare: Treasurer, Dalit Panther, has printed this for Dalit Panther from C 39, Dnyanmudra, Vadala-31, and published it from D, 32, Siddharthnagar, Bapti Road, Mumbai-8. Cost, 50 paise.
Dr. Rohini Kathavate, a dentist by profession, who, along with her clinical practice, has worked with various NGOS, mainly in the field of child education in the marginalised sector, Mumbai.