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Dalitism isn’t final, Humanism is: Panther Raja Dhale
Raja dhale


Rahul Gaikwad


One always gets a feeling of being at a crossroad whenever a luminary like Panther Raja Dhale leaves this world. After Namdeo Dhasal, he was the other stellar leader and co-founder of the Dalit Panthers. The void left by these legends is very huge for Ambedkarites and the Ambedkarite movement.


Panther Raja Dhale was such a multifaceted personality that it’s impossible to capture his persona and achievements in one article or tribute. In fact, another co-founder of Dalit panthers has already written in an edited volume ….. Still, some feel it’s not enough.

Raja dhale I would not like to claim that I know all that is there to know about him or written by him either. But as someone being in awe of his free-spirited thinking wherein he didn’t mince words even while delivering a scathing criticism of Ambedkarite movement, it’s only natural that some of his thoughts be reflected upon for they are as relevant as they were many decades ago and shall be guiding principles for the future of the Ambedkarite movement.


Dalitism is not final, humanism is final. ~ Panther Raja Dhale


Those making a commodity out of Dalit should learn some lessons in the above crisp statement of vision. He wanted to be human first so he was even against the very word, Dalit and panther too for he didn’t believe in violence either. Though his support for dalit literature was complete, but his thoughts in this quote reflect the urge to transcend this dalit identity and reclaim full humanity. An essential Ambedkarite thought!


Raja Dhale sir epitomised a free-thinking panther who never minced his words at any time, beginning with the essay “Black independence day” or while asking Durga Bhagvat to take up sex work herself for her advocacy of sex work to be seen as work, or his independent scathing analysis of the Ambedkarite movement or blasting the Goenka led Vipassana drama. He spared no one, he minced no words. That’s the free spirited Ambedkarite he was who showed the way and opined only after deep study. These are the values which should be the guiding force for Ambedkarites. 


The recurring theme one finds in Babasaheb’s writing is about humanity. He stresses that the cultivation of the human mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence. Similarly, he also says that it is the duty of the state to provide such conditions for its citizens so that they are able to develop themselves in their area of choice. Not just that he also says that our struggle is not for power rather it is for the reclamation of human personality.


Similarly, in all of his writings, Panther Raja Dhale centralizes the idea of reclaiming full humanity. In his Lokprabha interview with Madhu Kamble he clearly underscores the importance of reclamation of this humanity where he says dalitism is not final, humanism is final. So, being dalit is transcendental and one’s final goal is to be a full human.


This particular aspect of claiming of human personality is something very important to understand. It is especially crucial given moving forward the rising assertion of dalits and other oppressed has the potential for appropriation and twisting as we saw in Arundhati Roy’s case with AoC. Moreover, as my friend Gaurav said about the commodification of dalit in his article, the same sentiment was expressed by Raja Dhale in this interview way back in December 2012. He clearly says that those who are making capital of Dalit are misleading the discourse for emancipation of Dalits.


This point could not be stressed more in the age of academia’s excessive interest in the category of Dalit and even the twist being added by Indian diaspora in the US and other countries, maybe inadvertently or otherwise.


Panther Raja Dhale’s thought was an Ambedkarite assertion wherein it laid maximum emphasis on humanity than being dalit. Raja Dhale’s relevance is now more than ever before since his thoughts will have to be a guiding light for the Ambedkarite movement.


Even when the term dalit was arrived at it was after much deliberation among the then thinkers, it clearly had its relevance to a certain geographic caste society. It is definitely incomprehensible when one sees the migrant Dalits in a foreign society like the US claim dalit status where the brahmin doesn’t control the entire ecosystem, from judiciary to bureaucracy to legislation to media, and where the society is definitely not caste based.


This is not only undermining the struggle of actual Dalits in India but also against the very aspirational goals of Babasaheb and Raja Dhale alike. This is simply a perversion of the dalit identity and sets a very bad precedent especially for those youngsters having aspirations to migrate to that land. And importantly, it is making dalit a permanent mockery of the struggle of Babasaheb and others for liberation.


I also see the academia, especially the South Asia centres, pushing for this dalit terminology in foreign lands. I see this attempt only as an opportunistic one as they use mainstream means to propagate these retrograde ideas, misleading significant secions of young dalit bahujan.


I want to emphasise again, from Babasaheb to Dhale sir, the message is clear: it is the reclamation of full human personality and not to remain dalit forever. The sooner we realise this and work towards this goal it will be the true tribute to their legacies. 


Dhale sir for me remains an inspirational historical personality in the Ambedkarite movement whose uncompromising attitude and unquestionable commitment towards the movement and Ambedkarite ideals, and his studious approach towards studying any subject in its details shall continue to guide me in life ahead. 


 Jai Bhim, Panther!



Rahul Gaikwad is a social activist and researcher based in Mumbai.


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