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Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Introduction)


Translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar

Jyotiba_PhuleA brief introduction to Phule:

Jotirao Phule (1827-1890) is considered a founder not only of the anti-caste movement; in Maharashtra he is also looked upon as father of the farmers’ movement, the women’s movement, and a bahujan-oriented environmental movement. He was born in a Mali (gardener jati) community of Maharashtra, and educated first in his village, then in Pune, a city which had been formerly the capital of the Brahman-dominated independent regime, but which was at that time the centre of cultural and politicaL stirrings. He quickly became disillusioned with the Brahman leadership of the nationalist movement, and instead embarked on a career as social reformer intending to awaken the “Shudras and Ati-Shudras” to their slavery and their destiny. His initial efforts involved starting schools for untouchables and girls. Then in 1875 he founded the Satyashodhak Samaj or “Truth- Seekers” society, his answer to the various Prarthana and Brahmo Samajes which he continuously mocked. Its purpose was to encourage the education of both boys and girls, fight priestly domination, especially by organising social-religious ceremonies without them. This gained some influence in Bombay and in Pune district, and he collected around him a group of young radicals, mainly Malis in the city, but Maratha-Kunbis from the rural areas. In 1881 his major critique of the joint exploitation of the Shudra and Ati-Shudra peasantry by the British and Brahman alliance in the bureaucracy, Shetkaryaca Asud (“The Whipcord of the Cultivators”) was published.

This is one of three short books (the others are Gulamgiri, or “Slavery”; and Sarvajanik Satya Dharm Pustak, or the “Book of the Universal Religion of Truth” – the translation of titles is Phule’s own). He also wrote poetry, numerous tracts, and small plays. I have began with Shetkaryaca Asud because it is the most comprehensive of Phule’s work: it gives an account of the extortion by Brahmans in religious festivals throughout the year; of the Aryan defeat of the indigenous inhabitants (Phule was perhaps the first to turn the “Aryan theory” upside down and use it to explain Brahmanic control; though we should note that Ambedkar disagreed with him), then of the exploitation of “Shudra and Ati-Shudra farmers” by the British and Brahman bureaucracy, then a minute description of the living standards of his farmers; then his own suggestions along with a condemnation of the swadeshi movement which was beginning at that time.

A word about Phule’s language: it is raw, powerful, not simply colloquial Marathi but very cutting, so much that RSS-wallas even today have called it “obscene.” But his use of language is excellent and his vocabulary extensive. Even more, his power of description is often extremely minute; as the description of peasant households given in chapter 4 will show. This makes translation difficult; I owe much to my husband Bharat Patankar (who has the advantage of coming from a peasant household himself in appreciating Phule and his language), but he could spare little time from his current activities in organizing dam evictees, drought stricken peasants, Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan and so on. I am responsible for all mistakes and again it should be emphasized that this is ONLY A DRAFT. QUOTE AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Gail Omvedt



Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Due to the dominance of the selfish Bhat-Brahmans in all government departments, they have been able to so deceive the ignorant farmers with the sham of their self-interested religion that they have no resources left to send their tiny children to school, and even those who have some resources have no desire to do so because they are misguided by the Brahmans.

Chapter 2: Since the white government bureaucrats are mostly in a stupor due to their life of luxury, they have no time to get any information about the true condition of the farmers, and their overall carelessness allows Brahman employees to dominate all the government departments. Because of these reasons, the farmers are so much looted that they have no bread to fill their stomachs or clothes to cover their bodies.

Chapter 3: How the Arya Brahmans arrived from Iran and history of the Shudra peasants; and how the current government constantly levies all kinds of new taxes on the farmers with the aim of providing whatever pay and pensions their employees want; and how the farmers have been forced into arrant indebtedness since their wealth is extracted with such great cunning.

Chapter 4: The contemporary condition of agriculture and the farmers.

Chapter 5: Our suggestions to the Arya Bhat-Brahmans regarding the Shudra farmers and the remedies which the current government should follow: —

In writing this Asud I have had numerous discussions with so many gentlemen: among these two are noteworthy and are given here:

• A special so-called Maratha

• A Shudra saint of the Kabir cult




Without education wisdom was lost; without wisdom morals were lost; without morals development was lost; without development wealth was lost; without wealth the Shudras were ruined; so much has happened through lack of education.

This book is written to give an exposition of a few of the numerous reasons connected with religion and politics that have put the Shudra farmers in such a pitiable condition today. Due to a counterfeit and tyrannical religion, the dominance of Brahman employees in all government departments and the luxury-loving indolence of the European government employees, the Shudra farmers are tormented and deceived by the Brahman employees. The intention of this book is to protect them from this, and so it has been given the name of Shetkaryaca Asud (the Farmers’ Whipcord).

Reader, there are three main divisions of farmers at present, the pure farmers or Kunbis, the Malis and the Dhangars. The reason for these three divisions is that those original people who gained their subsistence purely from agriculture became Kulwadis or Kunbis; those who began doing irrigated agriculture to protect their cultivation became Malis; and those who did both but also began to keep herds of sheep and goats became Dhangars. This threefold division must have arisen through such various activities. However, today these three are considered separate jatis. At present almost all forms of intercourse, including interdining, go on among them; only intermarriage does not take place[1]. From this it seems that these three (Kunbis, Malis, Dhangars) must previously have been one Shudra peasant jati.

After this, the people of these three jatis have been forced to abandon their occupation of agriculture and have begun to take up various occupations to gain their subsistence. Those who have some fortitude continue to manage their agriculture and, even though they are mainly illiterate, superstitious and go naked and hungry, are still permanently farmers. Those who have no shelter left at all have begun to leave their villages to wander here and there, where there are various means of livelihood, some doing trade in grass, some in wood, some in cloth. Similarly some have taken contracts; some have taken employment as writers and finally get pensions and make a show of pomp. In such ways they earn money and accumulate estates; however the hedonistic children who come after them, with no relish for education, become like dervishes wandering begging from door to door shouting the name of their fathers. Many have ancestors who won jahagirs, inams and other estates on the basis of their military service or wisdom, and some even became rajas like Holkars or Shindes. However, since their descendants today are ignorant and illiterate, they have mortgaged or sold their jahagirs and inams and due to indebtedness some don’t even have sufficient food. Most inamdars and jahagirdars today have not even an idea in their minds of the prodigious exploits of their ancestors, or the crises they faced; it is rare to find one who has not mortgaged his jahagir or fallen into debt due to spending his days besotted in the company of wicked and dissolute people. Now, though the estate-holders are not indebted, they are surrounded by courtiers and Brahman administrators who are so selfish, cunning and politic that they prevent these Rajas and sardars from feeling any relish for education. As a result, without knowing the true origins of their grandeur, they consider that their ancestors established their states only for their own pleasure-loving purposes, and being caught in religious superstition and without capacity to manage their estates independently, they simply throw the burden on the gods and subordinate themselves to Brahman administrators, sitting happily making a show of their munificence during the day and doing sexual dalliance at night. Such Rajas and sardars have a unique possibility of doing something for the welfare of their Shudra caste brothers, but this thought never comes ionto their minds. Indeed, as long as madness that “Brahmans are my gods” is fixed in their minds, all the projects that they conceive will be in vain; and with all of this, even if one becomes ready to do something, with the culture stamped heavily into their minds from childhood, how will they find it congenial to hear even a few words spoken against the self-interested religion? The administrators surrounding them prevent such a selfless and true caste-pride from even getting a footing. Still, if one has the daring to give me the opportunity, I will with great joy present my thoughts before him.

 Now, if we conjecture about the history of all countries in the world, it can be seen that the condition of the ignorant and God-fearing Shudra farmers of Hindustan has reached a more pitiable state than that of farmers of any other country. They have sunk to a condition worse than that of animals.



1. Khanderao of Jejuri, who is the household god of the Shudras, has taken two wives from two jatis, Mhalsai from the Shudras (Kunbis) and Banabai from the Dhangars; from this it can be seen that previously the Kulwadis and Dhangars intermarried.


Read Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 2)



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