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Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 8)
Dalitbahujan Renaissance

Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 8)

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Translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar

Chapter 4

We begin this chapter not by discussing at first the ruined and pitiable state of the toiling ignorant farmers who labour night and day on the land, but rather will give on the occasion an idea of the true condition of those arrogant parading, indebted ignorant Kunbis who, because of having some mother’s grandfather’s aunt or father’s great-grandfather’s daughter given in marriage to an excellent expensive son of the Shindes or Gaikwads, beat the drums of being “Maratha” among the farmers of Mali, Kunbi, Dhangar etc. castes. 

One landowner was returning to his village in great anger from the tent of the Collector Saheb’s office, pumping his arms and legs furiously, clashing his teach and chewing tobacco as he strode among the thickly grown airy mango groves along the airy banks of the river. Aged around 40, his spirit showed few signs of breaking down. Though he had a white, well-wrapped turban on his head, a torn cloth was tied over it. He was dressed in breeches and an undershirt of khadi and old fancy Satari blunt-nosed shoes on his feet. A coarse cotton cloth was flung on his shoulder and a red cotton bag hung over that; nearly all these clothes were sprinkled with drops of reddish yellow Holi colors. While the heels of his boots were thick and strong, he was limping a bit because they had cracked open in some places from the heat. The bones of his hand were thick and his chest broad. His big mustache and beard covered his two decayed teeth. His forehead and eyes were expansive and his irises were a reddish brown color. He had a light skin and a fine overall countenance, though his face was a bit round. After reaching his house around two o’clock and finishing his meal, he went into the middle room with the intention of taking a little rest, and took a rug from the swing, threw it to cover the ground covering his face with linen, lay down to sleep with a coarse woolen shawl. But troubled since he had awoken in the morning, had met the Collectorsaheb, and “since he was stupefied in the throes of his tea and dining, he did not hear my true story and fix a time limit for my installment,” he could not sleep. So lying supine with his two hands on his chest, he began to almost rave to himself in his mind: —

“Because I didn’t bribe the Bhat-employees who do the survey and measurement like the other villagers, they convinced the Hat-wearers (Topiwallas) to double my land revenue, and since this year the rain fell only fitfully, all of my agriculture and irrigated crops were affected. At that point my father died. That led to a lot of expense, and so I took a loan from the Brahman moneylender to pay the land revenue for the first year, mortgaged a field and had it registered in his name. Then he increased the interest on capital as much as he fancied, and swallowed up my irrigated field. That moneylender’s mother’s brother is the clerk of the Revenuesaheb, his cousin is secretary to the Collectorsaheb, his older sister’s husband is a munsif, and his wife’s father is a constable in the taluka. Besides this, his caste-brother Brahmans are employed in all government departments. If I had tried to quarrel with such a moneylender, then all the Brahman bureaucrats would directly or indirectly cause my ruin on some trifling excuse. I paid the land revenue the next year by selling the jewelry worn by my wife and children; then after that I borrowed from the Gujar-Marwadi moneylenders of the village every year to pay it. From that day many of these moneylenders have brought cases against me and these lawsuits have been pending in the courts for years. I have had to give huge amounts for this, sometimes to soften the palms of the clerks and lawyers, and I have been exhausted paying the expenses of the chaprasis, witnesses and writers responsible for my case. I tried to find a government employee who won’t take bribes! But those who don’t take bribes are more useless than the money-eaters. Since they are indifferent, they have no concern for giving justice to poor farmers, and the clever selfish attorneys who show emotion before them can treat us weak farmers like dogs and tear off bites of bribe after bribe. And if you don’t bribe them, they will order whatever the moneylenders say imposed on our heads. Because of this, I no moneylender allows me to stand in front of their door! This year, all of the jewelry and silk cloth of my older girl who was married just last year was mortgaged to the Marwadi to pay the installment. Because of this, her father-in-law will not take the poor girl in his house. Oh, to avoid misfortune I have cut the throat of my girl Saguna and ruined her wedded life! Now, where will I get the money for this year’s land revenue? There’s no money even to buy new leather buckets to water the fields. The old ones are completely ripped and have become like a sieve. Because of this the sugarcane has been spoiled before cutting and the sorghum fodder is in the same condition. The corn has also dried up without weeding and aeration. It’s been many days since the chaff and husk has finished And the small stacks of grass and culm of jondhala used for fodder are almost finished up. Since the animals are not getting sufficient food, many once-hefty bullocks can’t even stand up. And with the saris of my wife and daughters ragged and torn, they have to manage by wearing the old valuable body covers bought at the time of the marriage! My sons who toil in the fields go about so naked that they are ashamed to show their faces in the village. Since the grain in the house has been eaten up, we are making our meals off of sweet potatos. Before my mother dies I have got no money to teat her with sweet and good food. What can I do about this? If I pay the land revenue by selling a bullock, how will I manage my farming? I can’t read or write a word, so there’s no question of doing trade. If I give up and go away from home, I still have not a bit of any skill to fill my stomach. Our skillful kids can somehow or another fill their stomachs. I can commit suicide by eating the poisonous roots of kanheri. But who will take care of the old woman who gave me birth, and my wife and small kids? Whose house will they beg from? Where will they show their faces?”

Finally, with huge sighs and sobbing, he slept. Later when I wipe my eyes and come out of the house, I see that he has a one-floor tiled-roofed house. In front and against the house, a shed has been made in which to tie the bullocks by throwing up a framework of thatch. His two or three decrepit bullocks are sitting chewing their cud. On one side two or three large corn-bins of 20-25 quintal grain capacity have fallen empty. Outside on the veranda to the right is an old, eight-bullock cart. An unravelled woven basket lies fallen on that. On the left side of the house a big, four-sided earthen platform has been made with a tulsi plant on it, and next to that is another platform below which earthenwater containers are set. Two or three earthen pots filled with water and a steel pot have been placed on that. Next to the water pots a there-sided frame has been built with small walls and a small bathroom has been made inside by putting tiles cross-wise. The water that flows from it collects in a small pond outside; it is swarming with insects. Beyond that, a crowd of filthy kids with naked bodies with water streaming over them, with pustules on their pimpled faces and snot collected under their noses, has gathered under a white chafter tree. Many of them are dancing, taking gobs of mud in their palms while rubbing their chest with the other and shouting “hai-do.” Some girl has put up a mock stall and set herself up as a liquour vendor, and sits like a shopkeeper before it with chappals of babhul leaves on her feet. Many boys give her a few fake coins of tamarind seed and take by turns fake liquor that looks like water, and after drinking it under her regime, make a show of falling on top of another.

Behind the house a framework has been tossed against it to make a thatched shed. In that are tied the she-buffalo which gave birth in the morning, two or three calves and one gall-backed horse. Against the walls here and there in corners, amid water pots, bugs are crawling. Clots of hair from combing have fallen on the eves of the thatched roof. A cage for hens has been made and set against it on one side. Next to that twig baskets are fallen, and on the other side a stone for washing hands and scruBhat-Brahmansing dirty pots has been set in a small open bathroom. Since remains of the meals are fallen in crevices of stone slabs, bunches of flies are buzzing around. Beyond that on one side compost pile has been made, and the shit of kids lies around it. Green flies drone over it. Beyond that and to the side in one corner small and large heaps of fodder have fallen where a pile of grass fodder has been eaten up. In another corner a heap of cowdung cakes has been built up, and next to it under a babul tree broken-down farm implements have crumbled, and below them are grown “dhotse” bushes which have come from England. In these bushes a dog has given birth and is groaning. In the remaining mess a young woman is plastering cowdung for making cakes. Both her legs are smeared with mud up to her knees from stamping the dung.

Beyond that if you look at the high deep floor of the kitchen, you can see husk and chaff from a sifter lying on the floor, with some stalks of sorted vegetables nearby. Here are fallen some half-eaten seeds, there a heap of rotted onions, with a foul odour coming from it. In the middle, on the bare ground a decrepit old woman covered by a colored shawl has fallen wailing. Near her pillow a little parched rice and a crumbled up bit of jawar bhakri are soaked in a dish of lentil juice with a pot of water set next to it. Nearby in a cradle a small baby lies crying loudly. Beside it is streaked a black streamlet of urine. Because some kid’s shit has been wiped, with the help of ash, a small piece of white ash is seen. In the house many corners have been covered with coppery-red spots from the streaming spit of tobaccochewers. In one corner lies a big quern to be turned by three or four women. In another  corner lies a long wooden pestle next to a stone mortar, and in the corner near the door a pile of waste and dirt is swept under a broom; on this the rag used to wipe the children’s bottoms has fallen. A frying pan has been set on a hearth and a pot of dirty leftover milk has been kept. Below a heap of ashes has gathered on one side of the hearth, smothering a pile of the excrement of cats and rats. On all four sides red stains from the killing of bedbugs and fleas dot the walls. Here and there some kid’s snot, and a blob of snuff have been wiped. Inside one wall niche are set a container of edible oil, an earthen dish of coconut oil, a vessel of tobacco toothpaste, a comb for removing lice, a cracked mirror, a bottle of kajal and a cachet of kumkum. On the outside, on the edge of the wall niche, three to four lampstands have been set one on top of another to make a ladder to keep the lamps at night. A line of spilled oil has trickled down from these to the floor below. All these are cleaned of bugs once a year during the waning moon period of Ashad month. In a second wall niche, near a small round basket of dal and pieces of left-over bhakri. In a third wall niche a few green chillies, garlic, coriander, and a small basket of mangos are lying near a basket for keeping jawaris, with mosquitoes and midges sitting on them, partly eating them and partly leaving shit on them. In the fourth niche a stack of old, repaired sandals and boots is heaped up. Nearby is a mortar and some pieces of flint stone. On one wall hook an old rug for throwing on the floor and a coarse blanket are kept. On the second one are blankets and throwovers. And on the third are hung torn breeches and undershirts.

Next, looking into the central room of the house, there are various cupboards built into the wall. One of them is shut with an ordinary village lock. Here also bundles of blankets and slips for the daughters and daughters-in-law are hung from place to place on wall hooks. On one wall hooks, saddle-cushions, bridles and an empty bottle of oil for the horse are dangled. On a second is hung a bamboo vessel of oil. Finally, earthen vessels of many sizes are piled one on top of the other to make a five-layered stack against one wall. Besides these a sling is slung from a rafter. On that are kept closed pots of milk for making curd and ghee. In front of those a very big shrine has been made of unfired brick. An iron axe, a scythe and blade are lying in its bottom recess. Above on a spread piece of small coarse cloth is set a small silver medallion of the family-deity daubed with red paint. On one side an oil-druBhat-Brahmanser for a lamp is set up, and on the other side the clothes-bag of a Muslim rustic mendicant is inclined beside the wall. Above a small bag of fragrance is hung from a light canopy. Below the farmer is snoring in deep sleep on a burnoose.

In one corner leans a mattress along with a torn rug and the tube of an old rifle. In a second corner are set upside-down a ploughshare, a snare for a harrow, a trowel, a weaving frame and a buttermilk churner, and in the third corner a stick and crowbar are set up. A solid loft has been built by laying scaffolding of nimb and other branches and mud and plaster on top of that. On that seeds of sesame, vatana, beans and many other vegetables are kept in earthen pots and jars. Higher up on the stanchions supporting the roof, corn cobs are dangling and five or six dried gourds are hung for sifting. In another place a milk-gourd is dangling, and in a third a kashiphal gourd has been kept. In a fourth bundles of clothing are stuffed and parts of sowing implements are hung. In between paper ornaments to be worn during marriages are hung. Looking up it can be seen that since the roof tiles have not been replaced for three or four years and the beams below them are rotted in many places, they have been covered this year with thatch so thin that there are rat holes here and there. There is not one window in the whole house to let in fresh air. All the beams and rafters are blackened by a tar-colored smoke. Throughout all the empty spaces spiders have woven their fine delicate webs with great ingenuity like mosquito nets, and thousands of baby spiders are playing on these. On the thatches on the roof small piles of dust mixed with the poisonous excrement of caterpillars, rats and cockroaches have gathered, no broom having touched them in four to five years. Since it is summer, they have become very pungent so that even before the violent rain starts, wind-driven crowds of dust have gathered on the tiles, and then the nose and face of the snoring farmer is filled with the noxious dust and he suddenly wakes sneezing. The he becomes so enveloped in a poisonous fit of coughing that he finally falls a little unconscious and begins to groan loudly.

With this, his bedridden aged mother comes rushing from the middle room to his side, and after putting some rolled up rags under his head, she places her hand on his chin and looks crying towards his face, saying, “Oh Bhagwantraya, open your eyes and look at me. According to the advice of Ram Bhat, so that the evil spirits should not torment you, I deceived you and sold grain from the bin to Stub-nosed Gujar many times! I set Brahman muttering prayers before Maruti! Many times, child, without you knowing it, I did Satyanarayan puja behind your back, in Ganbhat’s house, to keep the Brahman satisfied. Then why didn’t he go to stand before the Collector saheb today to help you getting a convenient settlement for the land revenue? Oh, you filthy knavish Bhat, you have always extracted fancy dinners and gifts from me by pattering of vows and Satyanarayan. Oh, in the name of my one and only Bhagwantraya, you have from his birth up until today snatched hundreds of rupees from me, intimidating me with the nine planets and all that. Now, where has this holiness of yours gone? Oho, you have tire me out so much with religious chicanery that with all that money I could have paid the tax and saved the neck of my Bhagwantraya! Ah – among you, Raghu Bharari at first wrote to the Englishman for two annas and brought him to Talegaon. It was you who told false tales to those white misinformed Saheb people with coaxing honeyed speech, and made us Malis and Kunbis into beggars, and you, now, in the name of the English you set our heads spinning. Not only that, today just as the Malis and Kunbis become beggars and you find you can’t fill your stomachs by deceiving them as before, you Brahmans pollute the Topiwalas, putting boots and pants on your legs and applying a white handkerchief to your heads, and many fair young girls from among the Chokhamelas who have become devotees of Christ, and stand in front of the village square and tell the Malis and Kunbis, ‘Whatever books were written by our Brahman ancestors are all selfish and fabricated. There is no truth in the stone or metal idols they built. These are all malicious fabrications made to fill their stomachs. Just recently they set up a Satyanarayan among the foreigners in the battalion and made all of you ignorant Malis and Kunbis to dance there. When will you understand their fraudulence? Really, you should not listen to those negligent Brahmans and do puja to stone or metal idols. Don’t let Brahmans stupefy you to take out loans to do Satyanarayan. ‘Search for the formless God and you will find salvation.’ Instead of teaching this to Malis and Kunbis you should go to the lanes of your caste brothers and tell them, ‘You should burn your fraudulent religious books, do not fill your stomachs by giving false advice to farmers.’ If this kind of avice is given to them and they are made to change their practice accordingly the farmers will get easily convinced. The second thing is that if we should act according to what you padre Brahmans say, then it is your caste-brother government employees who evade the white employees’ supervision and give many reasons to leave the farmers’ wives and children in a pitiable state” – at this point the farmer came awake and throwing his arms around the neck of his mother, began to cry.

Now I will give a little information about the current situation of all the remaining ruined, impoverished, ignorant Mali, Kunbi and Dhangar farmers who toil night and day to carry on their agriculture; I will be very grateful if everyone pays attention. Brothers, any time you yourselves search, you can be easily assured that in each and every big and small village and hamlet, the farmers’ houses are of two, three or four meters of tiled or thatched roofs. In every house, in the corner of the hearth there is an iron spatula or sycle, a wooden pan and blowpipe, a frying pan, an earthen pot for milk, and below in the cavity a metal or earthen vessel for boiling; in the nearby corner some copper vessel, a big pan and brass eating plate, , bows or small bowl; or if not an old leaking drinking vessel near a green earthen stick and small earthen platters. Next to those are four or five pots stacked one on top of the other, with a little stored wheat, corn, dal, noodles, groundnuts, fried turmeric, ears of wheat, spiced balls of dal flour, salt, turmeric, cardamom, chillies, cumin, pepper, green chillies, onions, tamarind, garlic and coriander. Next to these below on the ground in the evening some old, stone-filled jawar has been brought from the pensioner-moneylender Goldbolya Bhat. Packets of lentil stalks are kept against the wall one on top of the other. On one side on a hanging stick are coarse woolen blankets, and small saris made wearable from pieces of old torn saris sewn together one on top of another; a wooden peg is pounded into the wall and on that is hung dangling a loose bundle of rags and nets to carry chaff, husks and dried cowdung. In a wall-niche for a lamp are kept a bit of oil in an earthen pot and a small bottle for kumkum with combs; on top on a loft, dried cakes of cowdung and fodder will be kept neatly stacked near some … fuel of prickly pears. Below, on the ground, will be in various corners a hoe, an axe, a sickle, a noose for a harrow, an instrument for weeding, a ricepounder, a handmill, a mortar, a pestle, and near a broom a small earthen pot for spitting. Outside the door on the left side will be a spot for bathing, a pot to carry water, and a large earthen pot for storing water, and beyond that an open bathroom made of loosely piled up stones. On the right side a framework will be put up to make a thatched shed for tying up bullocks and other animals.

The woman who goes out, after cleaning up all the mess in the house, and works alongside the men throughout the day to complete the work in the field wears a woven cotton sari and blouse, a small silver bracelet on her arm and if this is not available a tin bracelet, a mangalsutra of one to one and a half measures of gold around her neck, jingling tiny rings on her toes, tobacco tooth powder smeared on her mouth, kajal on her eyes and kumkum spread all over her forehead; she will be extremely fortunate to have anything else for beautifying herself. The boy who wanders barefoot and nearly naked the whole day tending the buffaloes and goats can’t manage a silver wristlet and wear instead tin bracelets on both arms and with a small brass ear-ring hanging from the right ear. As far as any other body ornament, one might as well holler. The farmer who toils night and day in the field in winter’s cold and summer’s burning heat has a sash around his waist taken from a tenth part of a sari, a khadi loincloth, a ragged turban on his head, and since he cannot get even a plain dhoti, a black blanket on his body and patched used sandals or ones woven from rope on his feet; since aside from these all the rest of his body is smooth and glossily open, he finds it difficult to work in the rainy and cold seasons. Since he is illiterate and has no capacity for long-term thinking, he wastes time in listening to the teaching of the cunning Bhats and trusts in the barren tales of such meaningless books as the Hari-Vijay, and makes pilgrimages to Pandharpur and elsewhere, does Satyanarayans, celebrates the birthdays of Krishna and Ram, and wastes night and day listening to tamashas, howling for “Ramuji.”

Instead of bringing the benefits of education to the notice of the farmer, [16] because he is no liking for it and is ignorant, he has been completely barred from education[17] with the intention that he should remain forever in the clutches of slavery. In that way, even if our current government does not show any evil-mindedness in this respect, all its external behavior shows that the employees of the education department do have no compassion at all about making the farmers learned. For until today, in the name of providing education, the government has simply swallowed up hundreds of thousands of rupees of the farmers in the local fund, and all the quantity of that wealth has not been able to produce to this date even one person from among the farmers who has the education required to manage a Collector’s post. All the schools in the village are staffed by Bhat-Brahman teachers; how will those insolent arrogance-parading teachers, who are sluggish and only know how to talk, who make their living off of farmers but whose value is less than that of the Beldars and Kumbhars who work in mud and earth, who have not the slightest idea of how to hold a farmer’s plough but consider themselves to be the most superior of human beings – how will those arrogant teachers whose ancestors made all others inferior give systematic and appropriate education to the children of farmers? These are those who don’t have energy to get jobs in the cities but give a petition to the Brahman employees of the Education Department and fill their stomachs in one way or another by serving as teachers in the villages.

However, a few children of the many farmers who have migrated to the big cities to do whatever casual labour they can find instead of dying of hunger without even a bare subsistence form their land in the villages have got a nominal education. However, since in nearly all government departments the Brahman intellectuals have put their stamp on the white European employees, these seven and a half deficiently educated children of farmers keep their mouths tightly closed and never expose and bring to the ear of the government how the Brahman government employees completely ruin their other ignorant farmer castebrothers. On the contrary they only become darling companions of the Brahmans and lift their voices as a chorus of meaningless hollering against the name of the government in the Sabhas of these Brahmans. If they do not go along with this pretence, the newspapers of these people can publish such great calumnies and heap fire on them. Besides that, since the taluka officials, orderlies, magistrates, engineers, doctors, judges etc. are all Brahman employees (if some government reporter is by religion a Christian he is still by bones a Brahman) and with the government departments being filled with all these Brahman employees, the terrible fear patters through the minds of these seven and a half deficients that if they ever bring a court case it may not be accepted for one reason or another, or that if a case is accepted the foot will be on their stomach. Not only this, but many educated Bhat- Brahmans, without worrying about the restrictions of purity, use the money of these seven and a half meddlesome educated Shudras to go to England and after coming back again make a show of their caste in their presence. Once these seven and a half idiots have been swallowed up, they become ashamed of their ignorant farmer brothers and instead call the Bhat-Brahmans to their houses and have various kinds of rites and drink the water off their feet. Shall we call this brazenness or not? If they say it is because without the support of the government Brahman employees they can’t fill their stomach, the fact remains that in the villages there are so many xxxx whose stomachs get filled!


16. A Sepoy Revolt, by Henry Mead, page 293

17. A Sepoy Revolt, by Henry Mead, page 288

Read Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 7) here. And (Part 9) here.