Dr. Dhammasangini Ramagorakh
#Woman from Pardhi community spoke in VBA assembly at Malinagar
#We are also human beings, take us into your fold
#Don’t we belong to India?
On 3rd of February 2019, there was a Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi gathering at Malinagar; a small town in Solapur district. We (Sheetal Sathe and I), were talking amongst the audience sitting over there. Sheetal Sathe was done with her Shahiri Jalasa (ballad singing) and the political speeches had just begun. We were asking the people randomly and casually, from where they came, which organization, and the party they are affiliated with, which community they belong to etc.
Sheetal said, “These women belong to Pardhi community and they had felicitated Balasaheb (Prakash Ambedkar) sometime back.” After inquiring a little more, they said that ‘some Jaibhimwala made them come to the assembly’. We asked them, “How come you had responded to his call immediately and came here?” Everybody started responding at the same time creating a chaotic noise.
“He is a very good human being. He staged a protest and demonstration for our cause. To get a domicile certificate, living certificate, caste certificate, government housing scheme for us, he tries his level best. That’s why we came on his call. Now we will assure Balasaheb our trust and force the officers such as Talathi, Gramsevak, and Tahasildar to work for us. Now we will fight for ourselves.”
“Madam, Tell me, how we will be able to get the benefit of education if we don’t get caste certificate?” one among them spoke in a non-stop manner.
While speaking, Pardhi women use the singular pronoun for an individual and not plural, as the Brahmanical patriarchal norms have not yet percolated to them. So they do not use words in plural forms to showcase their reverence and obedience to the addressed person which is part and parcel of Brahmanical culture.
I got an interesting idea. I asked her, “Will you speak about all this on stage?”
She said, “Who will allow me on the stage?”
I responded saying, “This stage is meant for all of us, tell me if you will speak or not?”
Then she said ‘yes’ by bobbing her head up and down in a repeated fashion.
A literate woman from that group came forward and said, “I will speak. She does not know about politics.” After that, her brother who had to leave D.Ed. course, as he did not have the caste certificate, jumped in and said, “I can speak better than them.”
They started arguing among themselves on who will go on to the stage and speak.
“Stop a bit! Only if organizers agree, we can go and speak”, I made them understand.
What can be done? I was not able to think and act.
Then I called down Sachin Mali, who was sitting on the stage and told him my idea. He liked it but the question in front of him was how to change the program schedule when it had already started? He was not scared of doing this but his hesitation was how to break the protocol of speeches and adjust one more in the order.
I had the confidence that Balasaheb will never say no to this. However, who will ask Balasaheb about the same? I just came to the assembly along with Sheetal and Sachin by finishing the program of ‘Supportive front of Bharip (Bhartiya Republican Party)’ in Baramati. Sachin was the scheduled speaker but he was hesitating to ask Balasaheb directly.
I felt that it was very important for a woman from the Pardhi community to be on the stage. The necessity was, whatever she was telling us has to go to the public, from the stage. But, it would have been too much from my side to go to the stage breaking protocol and convincing Balasaheb. Moreover, there was no chance for Balasaheb to pick my call in the middle of the program that was already going on.
Then I wrote a note and sent it to Balasaheb. ‘Will you allow a woman from Pardhi community to speak for five minutes on the stage if possible?’- Dhammasangini.
Sachin gave the note to Balasaheb. And with a smiling face after reading the note, ‘send’ was the response from Balasaheb. Sheetal and I were taking her to the stage but along with us, other folk came. Now, permission was granted, but again that educated woman and her brother with D.Ed were adamant to go on the stage. To persuade me, they came up with the convincing logic, “Anjana Pawar is illiterate. I can speak well as I am literate or send my brother. He is a good speaker”. After listening to their point, I was determined to send Anajana as speaker.
I said, “the idea that ‘only literate are wise and illiterate are unwise’ is not right. Everybody has wisdom. Anjana only will go.” But they were reluctant to have trust in Anjana. They repeatedly kept saying that Anjana will not be able to deliver a good speech. At last, Anjana also said, “Send Usha or her brother. I may not be able to speak well.” But I wanted to break the conviction of everyone including Anjana. “Only Anjana will go”, I said and stopped others and took Anjana to the stage. Her folk also climbed onto the stage, but I had to forcefully ask them to go down and had compelled them to believe that, “What she will be telling has to be listened to by everyone, and she will be doing it right. Just see!”
From Left, Sheetal Sathe, Anjana Pawar and Dr Dhammasangini Ramagorakh
Finally, the matter had been resolved. Anjana settled down on the stage. Her name was announced. She was called to speak, “Respected, Anjana Pawar” by an anchor of Malinagar Assembly. Anjana, hiding her pain deep inside the heart, got up with the charm on her face to address the audience. What she had spoken, must be heard by everyone. (YouTube version of the speech can be watched here).
She said, “We are also human beings. Take us with you. People harass us, exploit us. They put allegations of theft. If someone gets work, why will he/she steal? We also want caste certificates, domicile certificates, ration cards and land for tilling. We request Balasaheb to look after our problems and solve them.”
“When we go to their office, they hide. They ask us to get out of the office. The person who does not give us residential certificate is tahsildar of Magalweda Taluka and that is why we came to Balasaheb expecting solutions to our agonies. Take us Balasaheb! Take us to the human fold. We are all from the Pardhi community and will stay with Balasaheb. We want only Balasaheb. All people of the Pardhi community from Magalweda have decided to be with Balasaheb!”
Balasaheb was listening to her speech with great attention. Everybody was astonished!
Later Balasaheb in his speech, referring to Anjana Pawar, said, “If we come to power, we will make such a system, in which no woman from Pardhi community will need to come forward for such problems again.”
Anjana spoke without fear. She had a reason for fearlessness. Her brother’s name was also Balasaheb!
We all appreciated and praised her for the speech. Usha kept saying, “I would have done it better, with clean and pure language.” I explained to her that no language is unclean and impure and every language is good. In the meanwhile, Anjana told something unpredictable and different.
She said, “If nobody is ready to mix with us, then how do we speak and learn good language? They did not allow even Babasaheb Ambedkar to learn in the school and think of us. We are Pardhi! But today we are going to fight from the side of Balasaheb.”
She added, “Next week, we Pardhis from this area, are going to assemble. Will Balasaheb be able to come and meet us at that time?” I asked her about the number, how many people will gather. “100- 200 Pardhis will come,” she replied. I was in a dilemma, thinking about how to ask Balasaheb to address 200 people within his hectic schedule? Anjana said, “Please fulfill our wish madam! If Balasaheb comes to us, we will celebrate the moment. We will celebrate in an unimaginable fashion more than a festival. Now we are going to elect only Balasaheb Ambedkar.”
One woman had asked if Balasaheb will be replacing Modi. I had no answer to give and I looked at Sheetal. She said, “Yes but not now! It will definitely happen but requires time!”
One more woman asked us whether they look beautiful or not, look clean or not.
I said, “You look extremely beautiful”.
Then Anjana and Usha sat very close to us. They kept talking to us by taking our hands into their hands. “If people mingle with us, include us with them, why will we be excluded? Villagers harass us a lot. Also, the police harass us every day. But you please ask Balasaheb to pay a visit to us.”
I responded, “We will think of Balasaheb later on, but Sheetal and I will come to your village before.”
“All right! Come and see how we live in small tents and see the difficulty we face in our daily life.”
They were talking in an unstoppable manner.
How do they manage to possess smiles of hope on their faces in spite of having many problems, innumerable agonies, uncountable negligence, oppression, suppression and exploitation?
Sheetal and I decided to go to their village, help them get their documents by meeting respective officers of that area. Some Jaibhimwala is already working for them. We have decided to boost his morale. And most importantly we have to raise leadership from the women of the Pardhi community. Problems will be solved one day. I am still sensing their touch in my body. Initially, these women were scared to touch or shake hands but later they touched with full rightfulness expecting to get trustworthy, truthful, and compassionate company in their life. This is making me a more sensible human being. They are able to identify with their empirical lived experience and understand who is standing with and against them. They are very sensible and deeply emotional from inside but outside only chaos, commotion and noise are seen. Let their emotionality, deep sensibility intact with them until they get the rightful people, a company which understands them. Or in Sheetal’s words, “Till the time deprived bahujans enter into the corridor of power”.
P.S: After reading Anjana Pawar’s account, many people have asked me to give a theoretical touch or introduction for the same so that it will be a perfect piece of articulation to get published. I rejected that for two reasons.
What Anjana Pawar spoke was perfect and needs no further explanation or analysis; otherwise, it would have been an act of displaying unnecessary academic intellect. In the field of knowledge production, there is a huge politics of agency or leadership. People with secondary position collect data, provide information and the head of the project analyses and describes or decodes the data. I wanted to keep the agency of Anjana Pawar intact in the narration.
Sojourner Truth set her name forever in the discourse of black women by posing the question ‘Ain’t I a woman’ to the white feminists who neglect issues of black women. I could see Sojourner Truth in Anjana Pawar. As a feminist scholar, I do not want to write anything which may destroy or dilute the agency/ leadership of Anjana Pawar.
Everybody knows that marginal OBC communities are at the center stage of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). Like there are other power-deprived communities under VBA, there are nomadic tribes and de-notified tribe communities at the base of VBA who are struggling to get their essential documents and identity as Indian. The fact that VBA is giving voice and the stage to such people is important to take note of.
We have seen the tactics of the established the upper caste and progressive circles on how rather than giving voices to the marginalised, rather than letting them speak, rather than giving them leadership and agency, they appropriate, establish and impose their leadership on the marginalized. Giving voices to voiceless communities and when they get their voices, standing at their back, has to be considered as real progressiveness. VBA is setting a unique example by following the conditions of being progressive as mentioned above.
A person such as Anjana Pawar from the Pardhi community, having no aura or political identity attached to her, who never gave a speech on the stage, and whose name was not included in the order of scheduled speakers, getting an opportunity to speak on the stage to put forth her problems displays immense hopes. I feel rather than discussing success or failure of VBA, it is very important to narrate these stories to the readers. Stories of the people, process, and events by which VBA is paving the way towards social democracy by keeping intact agency and leadership of oppressed, marginalised in the narration.
Dr. Dhammasangini Ramagorakh is an activist, academician and spokesperson of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.
Translation – Mahipal Mahamatta