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Dalit Scholars Take Anti-caste Movement and Politics from Academia to Villages

Dalit Scholars Take Anti-caste Movement and Politics from Academia to Villages

Manoj Bag

On April 14, people celebrated Babasaheb Ambedkar Jayanti across the country. Just three days before Ambedkar Jayanti, on April 11, many of those people celebrated Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jayanti in many of the villages in Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, etc. These two days were also celebrated by many students’ organisations in academic institutions in India and abroad. These are the students’ organisations, formed and led by Dalit, Adivasi, and Bahujan students, who celebrated both birth anniversaries for a week by conducting several talks, movie screenings, and cultural events in many central universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Hyderabad, English and Foreign Language University, Azim Premji University, TISS, and others.

To commemorate Phule-Ambedkar Jayanti, for them, is to read, write, and discuss anti-caste literature and arts. However, the Dalit and marginalised people living in the remote areas celebrate Ambedkar and Phule as their saviours. They know Ambedkar only as their Messiah and a leader who wrote the Constitution and gave them the rights to dignity. How do villagers, people who are preoccupied with their livelihoods, know about Ambedkar and Phule? Many anti-caste figures, such as Ambedkar and Phule, were born in Maharashtra, but how are they known to people in remote villages across Odisha and other states?

Let me explain how I came to learn about Ambedkar, Phule, and other anti-caste thinkers. In 2010, a group of people arrived in my village with blue flags bearing the image of an elephant, with Jai Bhim and BSP printed over them. They waited for half an hour until the people gathered. Once a large crowd had gathered, one of the group members started talking about Ambedkar and how he wrote the constitution, which was obviously beneficial to the Untouchables in terms of safeguarding them from caste discrimination and untouchability. They talked about Manyvar Kanshiram and Behen Mayawati, as well as the Bahujan Samaj Party, being the only political party representing Dalits. People in Dalit villages in Odisha used to be fascinated with the BSP and its symbol, the elephant. The Dalits began forming organisations such as Lakshye Ghara Ganda Samaj (Ganda community of lakh families; Ganda is an untouchable community in Odisha) [1]. The stories those people narrated were about Dalit history of struggle and resistance. These stories prompted me to think about and learn more about the people who fought for my existence and dignity.

After about two years, in 2012, Bijay Kumar Nag, one of my village boys who experienced all those catastrophic incidents that many Dalits have, arrived from Nagarjuna Training Institute (NTI), Nagaloka, Nagpur [2] (which teaches students about Ambedkar and Buddha’s ideologies and thoughts) with one of his teachers. They also discussed Buddha, Ambedkar, Phule, and other figures who fought for the rights and dignity of Dalits, Adivasis, and Bahujans. However, this was the first time I’d heard Ambedkar’s quote, “Educate, Agitate, and Organise.” Bijay enrolled in the University of Hyderabad for his higher education, making him the first student from my village to study outside of the state. Through him, I began attending a residential conference on education, youth, and social transformation hosted by Kalinga Mitra Trust Odisha [3], which was founded by many of those students who had returned from NTI and pursued higher education at various prestigious central universities in India. KMT works for marginalised students by providing information about higher education and the process involved. It also participates in sociopolitical activism to combat caste and gender discrimination. KMT has been a pillar in spreading anti-caste ideology to a larger student community and several villages across Odisha.

The reason behind the spread of the anti-caste discourse, figures and their thoughts and ideologies is those students who went to the prestigious academic institutions in India, becoming the first-generation learners from depressed castes. When they go to campuses such as JNU, HCU, EFLU, APU, PU, TISS, and other central universities, they read, understand, and discuss anti-caste figures’ ideas, writings, and speeches. They also participate in student activism and politics. During their vacation or after completing their academic education, they return to their respective places and inform their families and villagers about the history of struggle and resistance. Dalit-Bahujan history has been kept out of so-called mainstream discourse, and the community, which had been denied education for years, has never had access to it.

During the recent Phule-Ambedkar Jayanti celebration, I came across images and videos of several events in which many students who are/were involved in student activism and politics at their academic institutions celebrated the day with their own families and people in their surroundings. They are invited as guests and speakers by their own people to discuss the anti-caste movement and politics. They reveal the history of Dalits and Bahujans that they have read and discussed in their academic settings.

Rahul Sonpimple, a scholar and activist from JNU, started a socio-political organisation named All India Independent Scheduled Castes Association (AIISCA), which has been conducting several talks and conferences across Maharashtra and informing people about the need for Bahujan politics. [4].

Sumeet Samos, an anti-caste rapper and University of Oxford scholar, celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti in his own place. He wrote on his Instagram post, “In my home town on April 14…… Spoke about Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life journey and contribution in the first half while for the second, discussed about the problem as a community we face and what are the way forward we can plan. My parents too were in the audience and that was a happy thing…”[5]

Snehashish Das, a JNU scholar, wrote on his Instagram feed, “Joined as the chief guest at the Gudbhela block level Jayanti and as a chief speaker at Tentulikhunti village meeting today.” [6]

There are many students like them who celebrate Ambedkar and anti-caste thoughts and ideologies in their villages and areas. To raise awareness about the anti-caste movement, these scholars set up educational institutions in the names of anti-caste figures, teaching marginalised students for various entrance exams. They talk about the education system and how important it is for Dalits and Bahujans. These are the students who started college with no knowledge of anti-caste beliefs; today they understand and are informing their own communities in their respective regions. Any kind of academic vacation and break is not to go on a tour; these scholars give back to their society by teaching others. I believe that Ambedkar, Phule, and other anti-caste thinkers are not unknown among their people. Enrollment and participation in anti-caste discourse among Dalit, Adivasi, and Bahujan students has led to increased representation in higher education. Students’ organisations such as BAPSA, ASA, BSF, and others should continue to exist in order to uphold the legacies of our anti-caste philosophers and provide a space for students from marginalised communities to understand their own existence.










Manoj Bag hails from Odisha and is currently pursuing M.A. LLMC in English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

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