Bhimabai said: “It has been always ‘my’ honour to be known as the wife of my husband…, I am seen as responsible for raising his children and caring for his family… I am also seen as a great support to him, he always… always praised me for my humble nature, cooking for him, feeding him on time… taking care of his schedules. But he never asked me whether I was interested too, to step outside the home? For him it was a foregone conclusion – who else would work for his home, otherwise, which was also important… (smiles)
In my life everything belonged to ‘Him’, his children, his family, his career, his life… Now after 70 years I am asking myself, where do I stand? Who am I? Why had it never been his honour to have me as a wife…, to have a thinking person with him… Why was it he who stepped outside home.. worked for the masses, women leaders alongside him.. Were those women different from me? (I regret being so inconsiderate)…
Unlike other women in the neighbourhood I was never ill-treated, he never beat me…, he never asked me to not talk to other men. He was a liberal (he said), he only told me to take care of his family while he worked for the community.
I appeared alongside him in public only after 50 years, when he received the life achievement award. I was so shy to even sit with him on the dais. He stood up to receive the award and I could see that he was taller than me, physically stronger than me, wearing well ironed white clothes. The signs of being a 70 year old man were hardly seen, he looked no different from how he did 30 years ago…But I was only half as tall as him.. I had extreme back pain, I couldn’t even stand straight next to him, my back pain was that killing. I could not even see properly because I never realised that my eyesight needed some attention. I looked like a very old woman...
They asked me to say a few words… I just couldn’t…, his presence was so stark, it was so strong.. that I couldn’t feel my existence itself.. My eyes filled with tears… for what I cannot say… they simply started streaming down… That was the moment when I asked myself, Bhimabai, where were you for all these years? Where did you spend your whole life? For whom did you live? What do you have of your own?…
I suddenly tried to stop these thoughts, on the other side, my mind asked me, why these questions? Why are you being so selfish… you are not supposed to ask such questions, you should have respect for your husband, he is a great person… I’ve not been able to find a single answer.”
Those are Bhimabai’s words. Her husband was a Dalit activist who too had sacrificed his life for the movement. I entered her house and she smiled at me; she could hardly see without her glasses. I met her the way I meet other people whenever I go on field work. She was Bhimabai, that’s it. She amazed me by the way she spoke.
Namantar Shahid Smarak, Nagpur
Over the last few weeks I have been meeting activists who were never seen on the front lines of the Namantar* struggle. During one of these visits I met Bhimabai. Her words threw light on the aspirations of Dalit women, being wives, sisters, mothers of the male leaders in our movements. Her words put forth the difference between the two categories of women within our communities – that is, women who were directly involved, physically present in the marches, processions and campaigns and the women who were at home taking care of the household. Her narrative was very different from the more circulated ones which are always perceived by others as mere generalizations of Dalit women’s lives.
Bhimabai’s narrative is a strong counter to the generalizations….
*Namantar Struggle or Andolan was a Dalit movement to change the name of the Marathwada University to Dr B R Ambedkar University. The violence and repression unleashed on the dalit struggle impacted thousands of Dalits. Dalit women were at the forefront of the Namantar movement.
(Bhimabai’s narrative is my first effort at translating the memories of dalit women from around the time of the Namantar struggle)
Pradnya Jadhav says:
I’m a free-lance researcher, working with Dalit and NT/DNT women in Aurangabad. My interests are reading, writing and reflecting..