Jai Bhim Comrade, A Soulful Song Of The Nowhere People
By Dr Anand Teltumbde
06 May, 2012
A Review of Jai Bhim Comrade, a documentary by Anand Patwardhan
The code of Manu had fenced off Dalits to their ghettoized existence for millennia; the code of modernity in India is doing the same or worse in numerous sophisticated ways. Leave apart the caste ridden society; sadly even the most radical of the Indian communists are not the exception. And the state, wearing the façade of egalitarian constitutionalism is the vilest of all, in pushing them into their caste confinement. When a Dalit discards his sectarian caste politics and sees his emancipation along with all oppressed through class struggle, he suffers exclusion among Dalits as a Marxist, in the left as an Ambedkarite and repression from the state as a naxalite, all together. He is thus pushed back to his caste cocoon where he belonged by birth. This cruel and complex reality of the contemporary Dalit existence is brilliantly brought forth by Anand Patwardhan in Jai Bhim Comrade (JBC) through an innocuous and unlikely medium of song and music.
Anand Patwardhan has given us landmark documentaries in past on some of the burning issues of our times. International and national acclaim poured in on them as a routine each time. But the biggest tribute came from the Indian state which tried comically to block them every time just because they held a mirror to it to show steins on its face that it did not want to see. Each time he had to get them released through lengthy court battles. Interestingly, Jai Bhim Comrade, his latest documentary, arguably with equal, if not more, exposure of the state and its minions and far bigger potential for radical transformation of Indian politics through the agency of Dalits, India’s organic proletariat, is his first documentary that sailed smooth through the state channels. Perhaps the state has realized its folly or has already gone beyond caring for such irritants.
A Power-packed Metaphor
Jai Bhim Comrade is an enigmatic metaphor to salute a revolutionary balladeer Vilas Ghogare, who anchors the theme of the film, to depict the plight and dilemma the radical Dalits necessarily face should they come out of their ‘assigned’ politics, as an amalgam of Marxist and Ambedkarite ideologies and tensions associated with it; as the indignation towards the state’s antipathy towards Dalits, as an empathy with the innocents who suffer brutal repression at the hands of the state just for using a radical idiom and general pathetic state of Dalits despite 60 years of operations of the constitution taken as an epitome of social justice.
The film starts with a clip from Anand’s 1985 film Bombay Our City wherein Vilas is seen leading a revolutionary choir. The next frame shows him dead, having hanged himself in protest of the gunning down of 10 innocent dalits by police in Ramabai Nagar on 11 July 1997. That morning noticing the bust of Babasaheb Ambedkar in the colony with a garland of footwear, the angry mob of Dalits comes out and does the rasta roko on the adjacent Eastern Express Highway. Nothing untoward happens for an hour or so beyond halting the traffic. Suddenly, a posse of state reserve police arrives there and within minutes opens indiscriminate fire on the bystanders. Four days later, on 15 July Vilas Ghogare commits suicide in his hutment in Siddharth Nagar, a Dumping Road slum in Mulund.
Vilas’s death saddened and surprised many. Given the manner in which the grave incident of insulting the Dalit icon happened (it was not an act of ordinary miscreant but one that was enacted at the instance of some big politician, as it was rightly suspected but not followed up), and the manner in which police under the Shiv Sena-BJP government killed innocent Dalits, the helplessness with which Dalits had to take it all without any support from their leaders moved many Dalits with anger and indignation. The intense sense of injustice and frustration at not being able to do anything was so overwhelming that anyone of them committing suicide would have been taken as a natural reaction. But it was Vilas, who not until many years ago had exhorted people through his revolutionary lyrics and high pitched gripping voice to rise against injustice, who did it. The frustration of Vilas came from elsewhere. Vilas was a comrade, the driving force of Aawhan Natya Manch, a cultural front of the radical left, the naxalites in Maharashtra. The devastation of his dreams of revolution, which he reared with extreme sacrifice and dedication for a decade, must have been the driving cause. Vilas, the comrade had to be seen off with a jai bhim of his castemen and not a lal salaam of comrades!
Caste of Comrades
Dalit politics after Ambedkar was completely hollowed by incompetent self-seeking leaders within a decade. The disillusion in the new generation of college-educated Dalits, taking inspiration from international sources found new radical expression in the form of Dalit literature, which led to formation of Dalit Panthers, in emulation of Black Panthers, a militant youth movement of African Americans in the US. The militant idiom of Panthers brought Dalits closer to the naxalite movement, which itself had broken out around then from the parliamentary communists. Unfortunately, the Dalit Panthers proved a flash in the pan because of its fuzzy ideology and gave way to new wave of opportunism for some and to attraction of the naxalite movement for some other. When the naxalites regrouped in 1980s and launched their mass organizations, many Dalit youth joined them. The appeal of the naxalites lay in their castigation of the mainstream communist parties, against whom Dalit had historical grudge for having undermined the caste issue as well as in their focus on dalit-adivasis as potential anti-feudal forces in the new democratic revolution.
Vilas verily symbolized the unease of the Ambedkarite youth and consequent attraction of the radical left politics. A prototype of a Dalit, a little educated, with precarious economic condition (he was a peon in a high school in Mulund), a slum dweller with a hovel as home, but sensitive to a fault with innate poetic fire, Vilas plunged into the movement. With his unexceptional talent, he became a natural core of the Aawhan. While he threw himself into the movement body and soul, completely giving up performances for dalit programmes that fetched him much needed extra income, there was not much appreciation of these facts by the leadership. He was still seen with skepticism because of his Ambedkarite background, to be replaced in course of time by some other Dalit who was not seen as such. What lay beneath this ideological euphemism was ugly play of sub-casteism. On the ideological level also, Vilas experienced discomfort with the romantic superficiality of the English-educated upper class/caste youth (claiming to have declassed themselves) who constituted leadership of Aawhan. His songs, which came straight from the oven of proletariat experience, were distorted in the name of politics. Tilaks, Chaphekars, Phadkes, the Chitpawans who militantly fought against the British understandably for regaining their lost kingdom (peshwa rule), considered as social reactionaries by the Ambedkarites, were the revolutionaries who adorned the walls of the office along with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.
Instead of sincerely introspecting how an exceptionally talented person like Vilas having made huge contributions to class politics has to end up with his caste identity, the left self righteously persists with its own stereotypes. The JBC subtly brings this issue to the fore: a Dalit when he comes to the left movement continues to be a Dalit whereas he becomes an outcaste as communist for his own people. It is an enormous psychic cost Dalits incur upfront while entering the left movement. The left which has not realized over nine decades of its existence the very basic fact that its agenda of revolution is impossible with multitude of Dalits remaining alienated from it is not likely to understand such a subtle aspect of reality. All the high sounding theories of the left prove useless in face of this basic flaw in the left praxis.
At the level of theory, one finds slight shift in the left position on caste in response to the pressure from their cadres (in case of the non-parliamentary left) and demands of electoral politics (in case of the parliamentary left). While they are sanguine about this enlightenment, it utterly falls short of the expectations of Dalits. They still play up with the Marxian metaphor of base and superstructure to undermine anti-caste struggles. They hardly realize that even literally the dialectic sense with which Marx uses this metaphor does not lead to their inference that anti-caste struggles were unimportant and secondly that they are grossly wrong to relegate caste to superstructure as it is the life-world of the people in the subcontinent and pervades all aspects of life. This realization should have made the metaphor useless but the Marxist still swear by it and would not budge from their position, while awkwardly claiming distinction of their position on castes from that of the other. The things are worse at the level of practice. The lack of appreciation in the left about the pervasiveness of caste makes them inattentive of their own behavior. While they reckon the need to declass themselves, they assume they are innately above caste. Caste is not just touch-me-not’ism; it manifests in thousand subtle ways. One needs to be on guard against it. These discomforts, undercurrents of castes and sub-castes, accentuated by the organizational crisis that befell the Maharashtra party culminated into removal of Vilas from Aawhan. Vilas could never recover from these blows.
Red, Blue or Purple
Vilas lived through very disturbing phase of 1990s until the firing in Ramabai Nagar pushed him to end his life. Before killing himself he had scribbled on the wall of his house, “Condemn the police firing! Respectful salutes to the Bhimputras (sons of Ambedkar) who lost their lives in the firing! Long live the unity of Ambedkarites! – Shahir Vilas Ghogare”. He had tied a blue scarf (headband) round his head before hanging himself, emphasizing his dalithood, and his Ambedkarite identity. His death bared a profound truth about Dalit existence that whatever the convictions or actions, a Dalit cannot escape his caste. Vilas had journeyed from Ambedkarism to Marxism-Leninism with all sensitivity and sincerity but he found himself pushed back to his own identity as a Dalit. It corroborated experiences of scores of Dalits who sought to transcend sectarian mould of caste and make common cause with people of their class that society kept pushing them back to their ghettoized identity. The folly of the left is that it imagines itself beyond this societal paradigm. What made Vilas, who asked people through his songs to give up castes and creeds to unite for class struggle, highlight his dalithood? The comrades barely realize that it is their grave failure that Vilas tied a blue scarf while bidding farewell to the world.
On the contrary, the comrades of Vilas, true to their political culture, refused to come to terms with reality and quibbled over the colour of the scarf, whether it was really blue. One of them would go to the ridiculous extent of suggesting it was purple, in attempt of owning up a part of him when he was no more. They lamented ideological adulteration in him smacking of their own puritanical streak that could well be traced to Brahminism. Sad that they do not yet realize that much of their failure in India could be attributed to these brahmanist ethos. Making a pothi (scripture) of Marxism, using borrowed moulds to assess reality, developing intellectual arrogance, valorizing cerebral over the life-experiences of people and such like things that stem from Brahmanism have been responsible for alienating masses from them. Their attitude towards Ambedkar and his movement is surely a part of this package. How else one understands their blindness to inimical Brahmanist influences in their ideology but allergy to Ambedkarist adulteration? It can surely be argued that Ambedkar’s Fabian socialism and courage to confront the real issues facing India was far better than the Brahmanic socialism and doctrinaire attitude of the official communists.
The life world of Dalits refuses to reckon the boundaries of radical left and Ambedkarite politics as Vilas demonstrated in his life as well as in death. It is the failure of the left to empathize with the Ambedkarite movement and treat it as its natural ally. The JBC captures this intricate dynamics beautifully through some conversations and a song by a Dalit shahir dismissing attempts of the left to appropriate Vilas—“mrutyula kavatalile bandhun nila shela, shahir vilas ghogre jhala shahid jhala” (Vilas Ghogre became martyr by embracing death with a blue scarf tied round his head.) It took legendary Gaddar, another Dalit born comrade of Vilas from Andhra Pradesh, to pay tribute to Vilas’s talent and contributions. He described how Vilas had translated his Telugu songs into Hindi and Marathi with extraordinary felicity.
The anti-Dalit State
The understanding of the state has always been problematic in the Dalit circles. During the formative days of the Ambedkarite movement the colonial state was assumed as neutral arbiter in the social conflict between the caste Hindus and Dalits. Dr Ambedkar explained this conception in terms of his strategy not to have another front for Dalits to battle. This strategic outlook towards the colonial state turned into hardened attitude even after the colonial state had gone. The state as a neutral arbiter or even benefactor was further reinforced by the notion that Ambedkar was the architect of the Indian Constitution and the post independence state was ordained by his design. Although Ambedkar disowned it, his explanations were conveniently ignored by the vested interests that developed among Dalits to keep Dalit masses state bound. Of course reservations as the state dole and caste contradiction as aspect of civil society have also helped in perpetuating the notion.
It is therefore that the fiery orator Bhai Sangare deflects the concrete crime of the state onto an abstraction when he says Manohar Kadam, the police inspector accused of killing, was not instructed by any minion of the state but by Manu. While the facts of Ramabai Nagar were glaringly pointing at the complicity of the state, Dalits, even the victims themselves, completely forgot it. Dalits are conditioned to relish abusing Manu because that absolves them from any action and lets their leaders to do everything in the name of fighting Manu. The state ultimately being the contrivance to manage the long term interests of the ruling classes can never be neutral or benefactor to lower strata including Dalits. It can only be tamed by the conscious struggles of the latter. In every instance of atrocity on Dalits the true character of the state gets bared but the political culture of Dalits blinds them from seeing it. There is a multi-layered exposure of this character of the state vis-à-vis Dalits.
The fact that firing was purely premeditated was exposed by the very first fact finding by the CPDR, of which this reviewer was a member. In order to cover it up, the police issued a concocted story that the agitators were to set an LPG tanker on fire. Although, this white lie was severally exposed by civil rights activists through their fact finding reports, it comes out far more effectively in the film causing instant disgust for the liars. It captures all the acrobatics the state indulged in to protect Manohar Kadam, the petty police inspector, hated by Dalits as the butcher of Ramamabai Nagar. In support of the tanker story, the state submits a doctored video purportedly taken by a private individual. JBC squarely nails his lie. Even then Dalits would not smell rot with the state as an institution; rather they would accuse individuals dominating its apparatus for the evil it reflects. The persistent contrary experience with their own people occupying high positions in the state apparatus, as in the case of Khairlanji, also fails to dispel the misfounded notion in them that state cannot be their benefactor. The state as a system is more than the sum of its constituent parts!
Under the heat of Dalit wrath, Kadam was suspended by the then Shiv Sena-BJP government but was soon reinstated. To assuage mounting public anger, the government later set up a commission of enquiry, the Gundewar Commission. The Commission dismissed the ‘tanker’ theory and termed the firing unjustified holding Manohar Kadam as guilty. Kadam gets arrested but is sent to hospital instead of jail and manages bail within a week. Despite, public uproar for a decade and serious indictment by the commission, Kadam never goes to jail and rather gets promoted. All these facts are well known to Maharashtra Dalits but never have they come out with such deadly impact exposing the anti-Dalit fangs of the state. JBC effectively shows the utter insensitivity of the state to lower strata of its population, its haughtiness that it can do what it likes, trampling all democratic norms with impunity. As the facts that came to limelight clearly indicate Kadam had to be protected as he was merely an executioner of some sinister plan of political big wigs. The real culprit was they and the state that did their bidding.
Sell-out of Dalit Leaders
Many reasons might be attributed for the degeneration the Dalit movement suffered after the death of Babasaheb Ambedkar but one ostensible factor that marks it is the cooptation by the Congress. What came handy for Dalit leaders to jump onto the Congress Bandwagon was the alibi of Dalit interests, which meant various things at various times. Ambedkarism was skillfully reduced to abusing Manu and pursuing power, which legitimated any degenerate move of anyone without losing the label of Ambedkarite. It is therefore that we find ‘ardent’ Ambedkarites in every party, interestingly more in numbers in BJP, identified as the Brahmanic Hindutva party. Dalits, particularly in Maharashtra, perennially yearn for unity of these leaders, partly out of innocence and partly as intrigued by some political planner, not realizing its impossibility and even uselessness. JBC captures this aspect of contemporary Dalit movement most effectively.
Namdeo Dhasal, the stormy petrel of yesteryears had a vertical fall from the Marxism of Dhalesque [Raja Dhale, Namdeo’s comrade accused him of being Marxist and caused the split in Panthers] conception directly into the laps (or feet) of ultra-reactionary Bal Thackeray. He is seen on the podium of Shiv Sena as Thackeray spews his worst venom against Muslims and the civil rights activists who had assisted the Shrikrishna Commssion that indicted him: “.. showing so much love for the landyas (circumcised). Who the hell are these human rights wallas? They should be shot with stengun. They say these encounters are fake .. there is no question of true or false… This specie must be exterminated right there …the hows and whys can be investigated by courts… they have lots of time.” Each word of Bal Thackeray violates the spirit of Ambedkarism and still Dhasal (and by now the entire tribe of Dalit leaders tailing Ramdas Athawale) found refuge in him! The killing of Bhagwat Jadhav by his sainiks in the Worli riots in 1972 or innocent Dalits in Ramabai Nagar by the government of his ally made no difference to them.
The most comic scene JBC captures is the shameful capitulation of the self appointed sarsenapati (commander-in-chief) Jogendra Kawade. Of course, it was not the first time for him to sell himself out in the political market. The most disturbing fact of the matter is that such leaders still enjoy respectability among Dalits. The ire of Dalits against Ramabai Nagar massacre had literally chased them away in 1997. But within ten years, everything changed. In February 2007, just two months before the national elections, the chief minister Ashok Chavan comes to inaugurate the life size statue of Ambedkar (in place of the desecrated bust) in Ramabai Nagar and he gets full throated praise from Jogendra Kawade. Two months later, he finds himself in alliance with BJP-Sena (under the Bhimshakti-Shivsahakti formula) and in company with the likes of Narendra Modi to canvass for Kirit Somaya. This sarsenapati unashamedly declares that the lotus of BJP was the lotus of Babasaheb (sic)! He terms this self seeking an act of guts, a daring experiment of social engineering. He exalts Narendra Modi crossing all limits of sycophancy by saying that Modi would make Gujarat of Maharashtra and exhorts Dalits to vote for Somaya.
JBC painfully recorded how Ramabai Nagar residents jubilantly supported Shiv Sena-BJP in the election following these very comprador leaders, completely forgetting that this very combination perhaps caused it and surely sheltered Manohar Kadam. Ambedkarism is used by these charlatans to hoodwink Dalit masses. None of the mainstream Dalit leaders is seen in the picture either in the struggle for justice launched by some radical Dalit youth or dealing with ordinary Dalits slogging in filth of the Deonar Dumping Yard or bonded labour family of a girl who suffers ignominy and atrocities at the hands of a rich farmer or with that an old Dalit lady who takes on the mighty upper caste criminals so that they do not dare to ‘crush us under their feet’. They are also not seen in the Kabir Kala Manch episode in which the young talented boys and girls of this cultural troupe have been arrested for being Naxalites.
Casteism or anti-Dalitsm
JCB brilliantly captures one more characteristic of our era – the resurgence of caste in the times of globalization. India has always been a living hypocrisy, thanks to the hegemony of its upper caste/class elite. The multifaceted crisis globalization unleashed on most people propelling them to seek shelter in their identities; the euphoria of GDP growth transcending decades long spell of humiliating hindu rate of growth coupled with the rise of Indians in the USA as successful migrant community, brought back the elite confidence in ‘India’ (which meant its customs, traditions and whatever that shamed people for long). The people began openly to flaunt their caste identities through caste sammelans (conferences) since past two decades. We get a glimpse of one such sammelan, of the Chitpawan Brahmans, the most well-to-do caste in Maharashtra, with all its venomous rawness. The other one is of Marathas for demanding reservations. JCB also shows a militant rally of Maratha brigade vehemently resenting reservation policy.
The tone and tenor of all these demonstrations in some way are directed against Dalits. From the podium of Brahman sammelan Shalinitai Patil, a known Dalit hater, lends expression: “what is casteism.. If Brahmans oppose anything, it is ignorance, illiteracy and uncivilized tribalism. The Atrocity Act is excessive and is used to blackmail the upper castes and get them arrested… so, the Atrocity Act should be completely scrapped.” The fact remains that despite the Atrocity Act the atrocities on Dalits have been consistently rising and today hover around 35,000 a year with abysmal conviction rate. Therefore raising the bogey of Atrocity Act is just another way of expression of prejudice against Dalits. Reservations have been variously (from the raw ‘son-in-law’ epithets to sophisticated merit arguments) used to express prejudice against Dalits. As a matter of fact, Dalits were not alone to get reservations. The reservations were granted to Tribals also along with Dalits but it is only Dalits who are singled out for humiliation. From 1990s, the Mandalite reservation brought in many shudra castes under the purview of reservation but none looked down upon them as one did on Dalits. The only possible explanation is the inveterate abhorrence in the society for Dalits as outcastes.
The messy world of castes among the so called scholars that tends to see castes as ritual hierarchy comes clear in JBC. There is a heart rending testimony of a Dalit family in Beed district of Maharashtra, which was kept bonded by a rich farmer who belonged to Vanzara caste, probably a Mandalite backward caste. The manner in which these rich farmers habitually exploit Dalit girls, if resisted, beat up their entire family without any fear of law, is presented in a testimony of victims. In another case of a brutal attack on a Dalit family, JBC presents a lone woman from the family, who is battling against the powerful criminals in the courts with exemplary courage rejecting their bribe to withdraw the case. She voices her resolve to punish them for the sake of posterity, lest they should dare to touch Dalits in future. In all these cases the perpetrators of atrocities are the people from middle castes, none belonging even to their upper layers. This is the reality of contemporary castes that escapes understanding of our scholars. The capitalist development from colonial times through the post-independence era have wrought in many changes in caste configuration and the resultant castes today present themselves mainly into a divide between Dalits and non-Dalits. The crux of casteism therefore reduces to pure and simple anti-Dalitism!
This hatred for Dalits is exposed in JBC through the voices of residents of the Shivaji Park area on the eve of the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar on 6 December. One could be stunned by the unique phenomenon in the world that a person could be so revered by ever increasing numbers while he gets distant in past. Every year over two million people come to pay their homage to their Babasaheb at Chaitya Bhoomi (near Shivaji Park in Mumbai), the place his mortal remains were assigned to flames. The crowd displays amazing degree of self discipline insofar as there has not been any untoward incident in the history of last six decades. But the way the upper caste resident view these poor people with disgust is revealing. A young girl probably represents these views: “we never come out of the house.. so many people who are scheduled castes think… they are “reservation” people.. I think this is dividing the country.. we actually hate some of the people who have reservations and then we do not feel like talking to them … Ambedkar is a god for them. That’s why they come here from long distances...” The people who speak out against Dalit nuisance for a day confined to a small area around Shivaji Park do not realize that they proudly relish the public nuisance of Ganesh festival over the entire city for ten long days!
The imperialist US intrigued in creating 9/11 for unleashing its War on Terror and authorizing herself to bomb any nation which is ‘not with her’. This doctrine has emboldened the petty imperialists, the rulers within countries to variously curtail voice of their people in the name of national security. In India, the doctrine came handy to castigate Muslims and Dalits, the traditionally abhorrent people to the ruling classes; the former as terrorists and the latter as Maoists. The Goebbelsque propaganda machine magnified Maoist movement to Frankenstein proportions to project as the single biggest internal security threat to the nation. Such is the power of propaganda that once you label someone as Maoist, people including Dalits distance themselves from the victims. Scores of Dalit youth, trying to explore meaning of their pathetic existence and to seek avenues of emancipation away from the muck of the mainstream Dalit politics have become prey to this strategy of the state. JBC illustrates this lucidly and most effectively with the case of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a cultural troupe formed by the exceptionally talented Dalit/BC youth working among Dalits to awaken them to the reality around and introduce them to radical Ambedkar.
KKM has been around for some ten years and known to Pune-Mumbai people. They have published two CD ROMs and booklets of their songs, which can hardly be construed as Marxist, leave apart Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, the ideology of the naxalites. But the state has already pounced upon them painting them naxalites. The Maharashtra ATS has arrested some of the KKM activists and driven others to go underground. Even earlier students in Chandrapur area working among people as the Deshbhakti Yuwa Manch were incarcerated in jail for years with multiple fake cases slapped on them. This process has created a veritable data in the public domain which cry out malafide intention of the police to keep the radical youth behind bars as long as possible. The only fallout of the process is that whether the person is sympathetic to Maoism or not before arrest, after undergoing torture intrinsic to the process and having been devastated in life (by losing education and career opportunities), all for no fault of his, he comes out as a hardened hater of the state, and possibly a Maoist. Police, paradoxically with their behavior, have proved themselves as the biggest recruitment agents of the Maoists.
Most people are arrested for their suspected Maoist connections. It does not matter to the police that Supreme Court has categorically adjudicated that being a Maoist is no crime; being even a member of the outlawed Maoist Party is no crime until a person commits a criminal offense. Sudhir Dhawale, who flashes more than once in JBC as an activist is today in jail despite the entire who’s who of progressive Maharashtra had come out to plead with the Home Minister for his release. But nothing would work. The police kept on hampering on his sympathies for Maoism, citing as evidence the third person statements from his published books and hoodwinking the courts into denying him even bail. He continues to be in jail like any other to complete his term of a few years until court acquits him. What would be the fate of the boys and girls of KKM who have gone into hiding? How long they can survive like this? Is there any option left for them by the state than either wasting their active life in jails for years or becoming Maoists? The JBC holds forth this question that is not likely to get answer in the current system.
One of the touching and most disturbing moments in the film is the narrative of Sheetal Sathe’s (Sheetal is the lead singers of the KKM) mother. Unlike most characters in the film who are typical Ambedkarites (who discarded Hindu gods), her homestead in Pune slum resembles a veritable temple with all kinds of goddesses. An old fashioned, god-fearing, and unlettered person, she with her melancholy demeanor displays tremendous fortitude. Amazingly in tune with present, she attributes her children’s going beyond the family barriers to their education. Police keep pestering her about the whereabouts of Sheetal and others saying they are naxalites. Police say that so far no crime has been committed but what they do next may be a crime. What a great logic under the rule of law! She innocently speaks out: “they (KKM) would never take up arms .. that they would change the world only through song and drum.” She is not a wee bit disturbed by the impending police harassment and shows her confidence that what her children were doing was for the good of humanity. She wants them to come out of their hiding and tell the world that they spoke out for the poor. By calling them naxalite, the state was defaming the legacy of Savitribai Phule. It was shutting out the entire worldview of Babasaheb Ambedkar. With a melancholy smile she asks of the state “what kind of world you run?” A veritable slap on the face of the state from an innocent mother that what it does is unjust and wrong!
The Nowhere People
Despite the grandiloquent vision of the constitution and a plethora of provisions in their favour the state of Dalits masses remain precarious. JBC provides several disturbing glimpses to it: Dalit as bonded labourers, the existence of which might not be admitted by any government; Dalits as victim of casteist forces and neglect of government; and Dalits as the dirt-workers as in the Deonar Dumping yard. A miniscule section among them that came up chiefly through reservations has hijacked the agenda of such Dalits who constitute vast majority. These people monopolized all material benefits for themselves and kept the masses mired in identitarian emotionalism. Dalits are a hugely talented lot but their entire talent is squandered in promoting identity. At the time of building the movement or of renouncing Hinduism one could concede the necessity of creating alternate icon and identity. But persisting with it in a competitive manner, well past the requirement mark, through not only songs and music but speeches and writings, smacks of the decadent culture of devotion to gods, albeit with replaced godhead, surely inimical to the spirit of Ambedkarism.
Dalits in the globalization era are disabled in multifarious ways. The constitutional cover that sheltered them from discriminating behavior of the society and promoted their interests has been effectively undermined by the neoliberal ethos of globalization. The stigma associated with it however remained intact, whereby they are looked down upon by the society. For example, humiliation of Dalits as the undeserving beneficiary of reservations continues unabated even though reservations have proliferated and have rather come to an end in net terms. A plethora of Acts on paper, such as Atrocity Act for protecting them is grudged against by non-Dalits even though they are largely ineffective in practice. As a part of the poor people, they have been variously disadvantaged by the pro-rich policies of globalization. The changes in caste configuration of the society wherein the baton-holders of Brahmanism have been multiplied manifold, has meant huge disadvantage to them. For instance, at the time of Jotiba Phule’s movement, Dalits suffered discrimination from a small minority of the upper castes, along with the shudra castes, and hence there was a possibility of conceiving them together as shudra-ati-shudra. Today, these shudra castes, which constitute a majority caste cluster have themselves assumed the baton of Brahmanism to harass Dalits. The classical Jajmani ethos of interdependence having collapsed as a result of the spread of capitalist cultivation; Dalits are reduced to be rural proletariat, pitted directly against the rich farmers, who draw support from vast shudra caste people using their caste ties. The independent political voice of Dalits having been variously decimated by the Poona Pact of 1932 and subsequent co-optation and other ruling class strategies, their politics is reduced to marshland of opportunism. The communist left, their natural ally, hopelessly fails to comprehend their core problem of caste because of their ideological blinkers that smack of Brahmanic influence. The state of yesteryears swearing by welfarism has fundamentally undergone change to be the biggest tormentors of Dalits. They are socially fragmented with the layers of classes emerging within them speaking in discordant voices. While the process has pushed a small section of them to fly off the threshold of dalithood, a majority is held back as the nowhere people.
Jai Bhim Comrade portraying the complex reality of these nowhere people makes a contribution that is surely worth trillions of words.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst, and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai. E-mail: email@example.com
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