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Bahujan Literature: A past of struggles and what lies ahead

The literature of the Bahujans has its own history. The saints of Charvak, Buddhists and Sant tradition have contributed significantly to the building of the literature. Sant Namdeo, Sant Gadge Maharaj, Sant Saavta, Sant Chokhoba and Sant Tukaram of the Sant tradition were original thinkers

The Bahujan Sahitya Sammelan was held in Gadchiroli, a remote district of Maharashtra, on 5-6 September 2009. The convention was conceived at the OBC Sahitya Sammelan held in Nashik on 16-17 February 2008. Author and activist Shrawan Deore chaired and addressed the Bahujan Sahitya Sammelan and we present here translated and edited excerpts of his speech in Marathi. Printed copies of the speech were distributed at the convention. – Editor

The place of literature in the history of human civilization is an oft-discussed issue. I associate literature with the process of creative thinking. What set human beings apart from other occupants of this earth, even in the primitive stages, was their capacity to think. This faculty was initially used only to generate means of survival and for the betterment of the human race – for discovering the means of production.

The Bahujan ideals: Jotirao Phule, Chhatrapati Sahu and B.R. Ambedkar

Literature, which came later, was the product of the union of the material and mental worlds. That is why literature does not merely reflect the social life of a particular period but it also presents a dynamic picture of the evolving world of thought. If we can decipher the inner consciousness that drives the litterateurs and their characters, no literature will fail to inspire us to work for change.

Different books with the title Ramayana have appeared in our country and works based on them are being read and heard for hundreds of years. On the surface, these books seem to be leading instruments for strengthening the caste and varna system – at least that was the impression they created on the Indian psyche. But when visionary philosophers like Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar and Sharad Patil read them, they discovered that they were also tales of the struggle against slavery based on varna, caste and gender; they discovered stories of Tratika and Shoorpnakha and Sita and Shambuk in them. These pointed at a glorious tradition. The same texts turned into an inspiration for their revolutionary battle. Today, the Ramayana can be rewritten as “Shambukayana” or “Sitayana”.When Ram was killing Tratika, he was driven by patriarchal sentiments. But when he demurred for a while, his feminist inner consciousness was at work. The feminist social system says that murdering a woman is an unpardonable sin. In a patriarchal society, killing women who challenge the system may be considered a heroic deed. The Ramayana is thus about a society that was transitioning from one value system to another. The story of Sita and Shambuk only underlines this fact.

Creative literature comes into being by the interaction of material world with the human consciousness and inner consciousness. If this fact is kept in mind while reviewing literature, it can definitely inspire us for building a new society. Let us now try to understand what inner consciousness is.

A portrayal of Bahujan society (painting by Lal Ratnakar)

Comrade Sharad Patil in his book Abrahmani Sahtiyanche Saundaryashastra, published in 1988, says, “Inner consciousness is built of such old impressions on mind, the origin of which is neither known to the litterateur nor to the characters of his works. We can cite Amrapali, the Ganika of Vaishali, in the Buddhist era as an example. She was an ‘uttama vaishya’ (a fine prostitute) but the development of Vaishali depended on her. Her Licchavi ‘owner’ addressed her as ‘amb’ or mother. Amb+pali means worshipper of mother goddess and the word ‘ganika’ basically means head of the ‘gana’. This is recorded in the inner consciousness … Tripitaka is extraordinary folk literature – not only a religious scripture.”

Today, there are a dime a dozen Bahujan-OBC litterateurs. But they never even think of writing even a few lines on Baliraja. The reason is that the works of Bahujan litterateurs are based only on their consciousness. Any creation of man, even if it is the product of a conscious effort, has elements of inner consciousness in it. Reading, writing and imbibing are conscious efforts. Though the caste system barred these activities, rural Bahujan litterateurs did spin tales of Baliraja and sang songs idolizing mother goddesses. These works were products of the inner consciousness. The human mind is divided into two sections – the consciousness and the inner consciousness or the sub-conscious. Neurologist [Sigmund] Freud discovered it. But two philosophers – Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda – credit Buddhist philosophy with the discovery. Buddhist philosophers and writers Vasubandhu, Dignaga and Dharmakirti used these two tools for acquisition of knowledge for creating new literature and a new aesthetics. That is why contemporary Buddhist literature turned out to be revolutionary. This literature infused a revolutionary sentiment into the people, who, thus inspired, staged a non-violent revolution that destroyed the Varna system and this new world developed and prospered for 700 years without a break.

Historical materialism of Marx and Phule and Ambedkar

With the exit of Buddhist Dhamma from India, the institution of caste became stagnant. It lost its flow. Ordinary people were forcibly deprived of education and ultimately of the creative thought process. The revolts that came about in such a society were confined to spiritualism (Sant tradition) and politics (Chhatrapati Shivaji to Sambhaji) – and were failures. We had to wait for the Phule-Ambedkar era for a decisive and aggressive assault on caste. With the arrival of the British, the institution of caste started flowing somewhat and as education spread, the attack on the institution of caste became fiercer and stronger. How and why this assault stopped and what relationship did it have with literature? The answer to this question can tell us a lot about the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary role of literature.

Whether the battle is for changing geographical boundaries or transforming society, it needs historical inspiration. It is said that an army marches on its stomach. But besides food, the army also needs mental energy. War cries like “Har har Mahadev”, “Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji”, “Ya Ali”, “Din Din” or “Allahu Akbar” were designed to boost the self-confidence of armies. Armies source their mental energy from their glorious history. The Muslims, who were considered aliens, and the British – both wanted to establish their kingdoms in India. If the Indian Shudra-Ati Shudra classes fought for the Muslim rulers or the British imperialists it was not to help them establish their rule in the country – but to initiate social change. These armies were not marching only on their stomachs; they were also marching for freedom from the unjust and oppressive religion of Brahmanism. If a handful of Mahars could kill hundreds of soldiers of the Peshwa’s army, it was not only for the sake of filling their stomachs. What was inspiring them? The same is true of the battle for social change. Phule and Ambedkar rewrote history. There is no difference between the historical materialism of Marx, which unravelled the secrets of economic exploitation, and of Phule and Ambedkar, which bared the brahmanical machinations for social exploitation – except that they were conceived thousands of miles apart. Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule used Baliraja and Shivaji Raja as symbols of equality. Babasaheb Ambedkar used the symbol of Shambuk for the same purpose. Phule-Ambedkarite literature revolves around these and similar symbols. The contemporary movements took inspiration from this literature to march on the path to annihilation of caste. As a reaction, the brahmanical lobby took to counter-revolution. We will now see how the struggle between the revolutionaries and the counter-revolutionaries played out on the battleground of literature.

A painting on display at the Phulewada Museum, Pune, shows Jotirao and Savitribai Phule teaching girls

Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule presented Chhattrapati Shivarai as “Kulwadi Kulbhushan” Chhattrapati. This means that Shivaji was the king of the Bahujans, of the Shudras and Ati-Shudras and was an egalitarian ruler. To impress this image of Shivaji on the masses, Phule wrote Pradeergh Powada (a long poem describing the valour of kings). This powada became the springboard for scores of Satyashodhaks, who based their writings on it. This literature led to the swelling of the ranks of the anti-caste camp. A large number of Shudras joined the camp, turning this battle broader and more aggressive. However, the brahmanical lobby was ready with its counter-attack. It began by presenting Chhatrapati Shivrai as “Gau Brahmin Pratipalak” (protector of cows and Brahmins). It planted falsities in historical tracts to back their claim and used them to write many books and articles. An army of ‘historians’, including V.K. Rajwade, Balshastri Hardas, S.N. Banhatti, V.D. Savarkar, Chandrashekhar Athalye, D.V. Apte, Vasant Kanetkar, Ranjit Desai, Bhalji Pendharkar and Baba Puradare was deployed for this purpose. They created a vast corpus of literature, including powadas, stories, novels, plays, film scripts, articles and books harping on this theme. The common man fell under its spell and as a result, the Shudras who should have been with the Satyashodhaks, sided with the brahmanical camp.

The same is true of Baliraja. Tatyasaheb tried to organize the Shudra peasants using the symbol of Baliraja. But the Brahmanwadis responded with Ganesha to once again push Baliraja into the netherworld. Today, the farmers celebrate Ganeshotsava – not the festival of Baliraja (Bhaldev) – in the month of Bhadrapad not only in Maharashtra but also in the rest of the country. The farmers forgot the glorious history of the struggle of Baliraja, which could have inspired them to fight against their social and economic exploitation. That is why they are opting for suicide rather than standing up to their oppressors and exploiters. Once you deprive your enemy of his inspiration, he surrenders. And when he gets sick of life as a surrendered person, he chooses to end his life. Why couldn’t the 15,000 farmers, who have ended their lives over the past 10 years, become harbingers of a revolution? Why they couldn’t rise against the moneybags, the Brahmins and the officialdom? Revolutionary organizations like the (Red) Kisan Sabha, Shetkari Kamgar Paksha, LNP, etc, raised their flags and waited for the farmers to come under them. But the farmers did not even spare a glance for them. They flocked to the camps of Sharad Joshi and others of his ilk, who created an illusion of liberating them from their problems.

How do Sharad Joshi, Datta Samant, Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray become people’s leaders overnight? Why do we find the camps of Dange, Randive, Rangnekar, Parulekar and others, who risked their lives to further the cause of the workers, deserted? The money of the capitalists, the devious mind of the Brahmins manning the media and the power-wielding Maratha community, which provides political protection to them, are behind this conspiracy. But no one gives a thought to how this trio’s conspiracy is so successful. If you plant a seed, it may germinate in a day or two. But you have to prepare the ground for it. Literature and associated thoughts and philosophy are the ploughs with which this ground is prepared. The money of the capitalists and the protection of the politicians are the manure and water that help the seeds of brahmanvadi thoughts grow. Literature works incessantly to create this ground and that is why the Joshis, Samants and Thackerays flourish overnight. A true leader of the workers can never even germinate, let alone grow, in a soil mixed with the poison of brahmanical notions of religious, linguistic, regional and caste domination. If, somehow, battling all odds, a leader like Kanshi Ram does manage to grow, the entrenched establishment ensures that his Mayawati-like disciples are deftly used to uproot him.

Intellectuals have great responsibility

Now, we will come to another important point. The intellectuals of the brahmanical camp write tons of literature on false historical notions like Shivaji being the protector of the cows and the Brahmins and on phony religious and linguistic issues. They achieve their objectives, too. Why don’t the litterateurs who poignantly depict class-, caste- and gender-based slavery succeed? The works of litterateurs labelled “progressive”, the evidence they offer and their aesthetics are limited and thus are unable to depict the exploitative practices of the Indian ruling class and the societal system. That is why their sub-conscious assessment is also misleading. This is the basic issue. But instead of dwelling on it, we shall talk about a specific part of the issue. What is said and written by brahmanical intellectuals is considered gospel truth, even when it is totally false. On the other hand, the literature written by others, which is 80-90 per cent true, is not able to touch the hearts of the people. Why? One reason, as we discussed earlier, is that the brahmanical intellectuals have done the groundwork necessary to make their writings acceptable. But this is only one of the many reasons, not the sole one. More importantly, where are the intellectuals who can beat the brahmanical intellectuals in their own game? What are they doing?

Another important point is that the intellectual class that has emerged among the Bahujans does not have a common objective of annihilating caste and hence it is not united. It is not trained either. As compared to it, the brahmanical intellectual class is bound by the common interest of protecting the caste-class system. No wonder it is united, despite divisions of religion, caste, political parties, states, languages, etc. It is eternally vigilant in ensuring that the Indian people don’t take a single step in the direction of annihilating caste. It uses its religion, philosophy, language, political party and region for that purpose. The brahmanical intellectuals even use a global revolutionary philosophy like Marxism to serve their ends. It also uses the different religions and languages for it. The leftists and the Dalit progressives are not using even one per cent of the opportunities offered by the Indian Constitution and the democracy. The brahmanical elements, on the other hand, are using them to the hilt. A handful of intellectuals are so powerful that they lay out the agenda and have others execute it – whether it is communal riots or razing of the Babri Masjid. From the bylanes of small towns to the corridors of power in Delhi – it is their writ that runs unchallenged. They also commit mistakes but they learn from them and keep on improving their strategy and honing their skills.

A painting of Mahatma Buddha by Nitin Sonawale

The state of the Bahujan intellectuals is just the opposite. The religion, sect, ideology, language, region, culture, philosophy, etc, with which they are associated, do inspire them to work for the annihilation of caste but for want of willpower and vision they are handicapped. You will be able to understand this better with an example. Babasaheb had said that Dalit power is the harbinger of the battle for annihilation of caste. This is even truer today. So, Dalit intellectuals should take their responsibilities more seriously. The organizations of Dalit intellectuals at the national level, which mainly comprise government officers and employees, are well organized. But are they powerful enough? The brahmanical intellectual class has complete control over the Congress, the BJP and the leftists, as well as over the organizations associated with these parties. But do the Dalit intellectuals exercise the same control over RPI, Panthers or BSP? The answer is an emphatic no. The RSS can dump even the top BJP functionaries, no matter how formidable their popular base is. It was the RSS that conspired to keep pro-OBC Arjun Singh and Antulay, who raised the issue of the mysterious murder of (Hemant) Karkare in Parliament, out of power. Can organizations of Dalit intellectuals at least exercise control over Phule-Ambedkarite organizations? And if they cannot, why? What would have to be done to make them capable of it?

Every revolution or counter-revolution has both short-term and long-term programmes. In a modern democracy, the political parties and their organizations should be given the responsibility of executing the short-term programmes while intellectuals should take up the long-term programmes. Short-term programmes mean movements that are relevant (to the present), including movements against injustices and atrocities. Then, there are elections, which afford an opportunity for gaining political power. If 51 per cent of the people are with you, you can come to power. Bringing 51 per cent people on your side is a long-term programme, which should be executed by organizations of intellectuals. It is their job to reach out to the 51 per cent people and win their loyalty. Literature is the weapon at their disposal.

Now let us see how brahmanical intellectuals execute their long-term programme. Even when the Buddhist revolution was at its zenith, the Brahmins openly supported the caste system and insisted that they were superior. But as they were not in power, they were on the defensive. Even as they waited for the right opportunity to come their way, their preparations for staging a counter-revolution continued unabated. As soon as Pushyamitra Shunga gauged that the propaganda of the brahmanical intellectuals had gained enough ground, he slayed Buddhist king Brihadrath and initiated the counter-revolution. Then, Brahmins wrote many stories, slokas, mantras, etc, justifying their higher status. They came up with myriad rituals, fasts and so on to permanently etch their ideology on the minds of the people. The Smritis and the Puranas were written in this period. With time, new gods and goddesses emerged and so did tales associated with them. New rituals and sacraments were designed according to the changing times. Initially, Brahma and Vishnu were the gods. Later, they were linked to the popular Rama and Krishna. For the brahmanical elements, Rama and Krishna and Shivaji were Shudras but the Brahmanvadis linked them to the gods only to fool the Bahujans, to evoke a feeling of pride in them. If they were successful, it was because they were amply aware of the hold of the sub-conscious on humans. That was why their literature (meaningless and illogical mythological stories) caught the fancy of Bahujans and their counter-revolutionary propaganda became part of the psyche of the people. The intellectual class trained in brahmanical universities of Kashi (Banaras) handled this work. This intellectual class readily adapted to the changing times and continued to craft new weapons and tricks to perpetuate caste-based dominance.

After the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, the OBC government employees, including officers, were awakened to a certain degree and started building organizations at the departmental levels. But they also could not achieve much. They were unable to find new issues, write on them and create public awareness in such a way that it also had an impact on the political arena. One example will suffice to substantiate my point.

The Nachiappan committee, appointed by Parliament, made some revolutionary recommendations that could have brought the OBC, Dalit and Tribal movements on one platform and taken the campaign for the annihilation of caste to its next stage. It has now been four years since the report was tabled in both the Houses of Parliament (2005), but to date, no organization of Dalit-OBC intellectuals has even cared to publish the report in the form of a book. During the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls [2009], the illogical and immoral demand for reservations for Marathas was vociferously raised in Maharashtra. This demand was against the Ambedkarvad and Phulevad. As a quid pro quo, the brahmanical media gave disproportionate publicity to the demand and its protagonists. However, it never gave such prominence to the Nachiappan Committee report. This begs the question whether elections in India are really democratic. I wrote a booklet on the report and sent it to some organizations of intellectuals and also to unions of OBC officers and other employees. I expected them to publish the booklet and make the report an issue in the next elections. But they did absolutely nothing. Ultimately an OBC leader called Hanumanrao Upre published it and a non-OBC friend bore the expenses. Are the OBC officers and other employees, who have taking advantage of reservations for the past 17 years, so short of funds that they have to beg a non-OBC for money to publish a small booklet? Let the unions of OBC officers and other employees and organizations of OBC intellectuals answer this question.

What happened subsequently is even more significant. The booklet, which was supposed to be published keeping the General Elections [2009] in mind, was ultimately published for use in the assembly elections that followed. Mumbai Patrakar Sangh, Azad Maidan, published it. It was the manifesto of the 52 per cent OBCs. We had called on the Left parties, Republican Party and Phule-Ambedkarite candidates to focus on the Nachiappan Committee report during their campaign. Many revolutionary leaders, who quoted Marx, Phule, Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, at the drop of a hat, were in the fray in these elections. Some of them also claimed to be intellectuals. Umrekar ji sent 1000 copies each of this booklet to all such candidates at his expense. The idea was that if the issue figured in the election campaign, it would make the people aware of the report, its contents and its implications. What became of the booklet? These candidates covered their constituencies with posters and banners carrying their photographs; they distributed thousands of copies of their manifestoes; but the bundles of the booklet, which were sent to them for free, lay in post offices and parcel sections of bus stands, unclaimed.

Long-term programme

Babasaheb had said that elections should be fought on the basis of ideologies, beliefs and thoughts. Besides politicians, the intellectuals have also conveniently forgotten this. Then, how can we blame the small-time worker who sells out during elections? The fallout of all this was that in the district in which Khairlanjhi massacre took place, the total tally of votes polled by egalitarian candidates did not exceed 5000 while those who had caused the massacre won with margins of lakhs of votes. Let the intellectuals and the politicians, who describe themselves as egalitarian, hang their heads in shame. Collecting money from the Dalit-OBC officers and other employees in the name of Ambedkar and Phule, organizing glitzy conventions spending lakhs of rupees and using them to fulfil their desire of delivering speeches seems to be the only objective of the various unions and federations. Who will then do the job of presenting new thoughts to society and movements? Who will create new means for taking the struggle of the OBCs forward? Who will put together pressure groups? Even paupers launch daily newspapers and run them successfully. These organizations have lakhs of rupees, they have a nationwide network, they have captive readers. But they cannot even bring out a single daily. What is left to say? Which organization of intellectuals is making effective interventions in the fields of literature, culture, philosophy, religion, education, politics, media or research? The employees’ federations of Dalits are at least 25 years old and OBC unions have been around for a decade now. But they cannot go beyond organizing conventions and meetings.

Ambedkar addresses a crowd in Nagpur on 14 October 1956 after converting to Buddhism

We are putting the egalitarian intellectual class in the dock. Hence, it is our responsibility to find out why it is behaving the way it is. For, merely blaming others does not serve any purpose. It does not make us blameless. So, why is the intellectual class behaving like this? That is because the curricula of the schools and colleges where its members studied were brahmanical. Then, how can they be egalitarian?  Should they be egalitarian only because, besides their textbooks, they have also studied Marx, Ambedkar and Phule? Since the authorized curricula are brahmanical, their contents catch hold of the minds of the students at an impressionable age. They do read Marx, Phule and Ambedkar later in their lives but then, often, what they have learnt in the schools and colleges clouds their judgment and overpowers their Marxian or Ambedkarite leanings. What is the way out? Ambedkar and Phule have suggested a way out.

Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Dr Ambedkar did not only built schools and colleges. They also wrote books that could form a part of the curricula of schools and colleges. But these books are just gathering dust in libraries. They find no place in the curricula.

We tried to bring the revolutionary literature of Marx, Ambedkar and Phule out of the cupboards of libraries and infuse it into the minds of the students at an impressionable age. We prepared our own curricula and established Satyashodhak Chhatrapati Gyanpeeth and ran it for 15 years without any support from the government, any godfather or any organization of government employees or intellectuals. We ran it for 15 years without a break. We were hopeful that it would become the precursor of an egalitarian university at the national level, along the lines of the famous Buddhist universities of yore. When we can do so much at the personal level, imagine what all the extremely resourceful employees unions and federations can do! The work on the Gyanpeeth has come to a standstill for the past three years. But I don’t think organizations of intellectuals, who love to call themselves egalitarian, feel any sorrow or remorse.

You may well ask why we are describing these organizations as organizations of intellectuals. After all, intellectuals are those people who study the past and come up with new thoughts and programmes that can be implemented in the present so as to ensure that the particular section of society that they represent can enjoy power for the coming hundreds of years. One can only pity the organizations of Dalit-OBC employees and intellectuals. Even today they are in such awe of the Marathas that they are openly supporting reservations for them. This is indicative of their intellectual bankruptcy. What is the difference between Athawale and Kawade, who are supporting reservations for the Marathas due to the political clout of the community, and these intellectuals?

Issue of nomenclature

This literary convention has been named “Bahujan Literary Convention”. Of late, some people have started objecting to the use of the word “Bahujan”. They say that this word is “filthy”, that it emanates unbearable stench. Fine, then what are the alternatives they suggest? They say “Maratha” can be an alternative to “Bahujan”. Suffice it to say that as glorious a history the word “Bahujan” has, “Marathas” has a dark, if not a darker, past. It was 96 aristocratic Marathas who spread the word that Chhatrapati Shivrai was not a Maratha (Kshatriya) but a Shudra. They joined hands with their foreign enemies, the Brahmins, to oppose Shivaji’s coronation. If you find this act of treason by the Marathas old, here is a latest example. Who betrayed the Satyashodhak movement for a few crumbs of power? Who aligned with the Brahmins to grab power and then launched a systematic programme to destroy social movements? Who unleashed a reign of terror in the rural hinterland – the Marathas or the Brahmins? Who did once oppose reservations for OBCs but are now trying to infiltrate into their ranks? If someone can cite only a single good thing associated with the word “Maratha”, I am ready to quit social movements. When some Ambedkarite intellectuals give weight to the word “Maratha”, which is filthier than sewage, and Maratha organizations, I seriously doubt whether they have any understanding of Ambedkarism.

A painting shows Bahujans at work

Conversions gave a new philosophy to the Dalit movement and from it arose Dalit Literature. The nationwide movement of the landless led by Padma Bhushan Dadasaheb Gaekwad met with unprecedented success and gave an impetus to the Dalit movement, which lasted for a couple of years. When it started petering out in the 1970s, the Dalit Literary Movement revived it. The rebellion of the Panthers was the product of the Dalit Literary Movement. Subsequently, drawing inspiration from this literature, the OBC Literary Movement, which was dismissed as rural, carved out a niche for itself. A question that I often ask myself is: When literature can be named after Dalits and Tribals, why can’t it be named after OBCs? Why should it be called rural literature? We separated brahmanical literature from the traditional rural writings. Dalit Literature was the first to dissociate itself from brahmanical literature. Later, Tribal Literature followed suit. If you remove Brahmins, Dalits and Tribals from villages, what remains except the OBCs! Over the past ten years, the Maratha community has also built its own independent literary movement. Rural literature is OBC literature. Describing it as rural is an attempt to crush farmers under caste domination. If OBC literature gets a distinct identity, it will promote the creation of literature by all castes of this group (dhobis, badhai, lohar, nabhik, etc). I cannot understand why some people are insisting that OBC Literature would be a retrograde nomenclature. Are they also under the spell of the Marathas? Playing down the literary movement of 52 per cent OBCs, dismissing them as nobodies – what is this? Braving the brahmanical assaults over the past 5,000 years, the OBCs kept their Baliraja culture alive. Whether the Phule-Ambedkarites are aware of the revolutionary potential of the OBCs is anybody’s guess but the Manuvadis definitely are. They did not seriously oppose reservations for the Dalits and the Tribals but when it came to reservations for OBCs, they pulled down two central governments to stall it. They razed the Babri Masjid and they pushed the country into a cauldron of communal riots. This should make the Marxists and Phule-Ambedkarites realize the potential of the OBCs. The importance of the OBC movement cannot be measured using the scales of Marxists and Ambedkarites. Neither are free from the notion of social stratification – neither at the conscious level not at the sub-conscious level. Only on this understanding can a literary movement of the OBCs be built.

In this presidential address, we have discussed what policies and programmes are needed for the creation of revolutionary literature, for reaching out to the conscious and the sub-conscious mind of the people and for building a wave of awakening. If we create a glorious literature, a wave of enlightenment could sweep across this nation as had happened during the Buddhist era in this land and later in Europe. This could bring about a democratic revolution leading to the annihilation of caste. We will have to do this if we want to march on the path that leads to the annihilation of caste. Otherwise, we will have no option but to say “Jati nahi wah jati” (That caste won’t go away).

When we are bored with the monotony of our daily lives, we rush to forests for relief – and freedom from our artificial existence. A famous pop singer had once told an interviewer that whenever he wanted to create a new tune, he would go to an Adivasi settlement and stay there. When we are tired, we want to sleep in the lap of nature. Most of the medicines for various ailments are sourced from naturally occurring herbs and roots. The tribal communities still have knowledge about these herbs and roots and how, where and when they work. When the protagonists of social revolution feel tired and dreary because of repeated failures, they can be sure that they will get the remedies in Tribal settlements. If this literary convention, held in the jungles of Gadchiroli, can send out this message to the Marxists and Ambedkarites of this country, I will consider it more than successful.

Also important to note is that nowadays literary conferences of different castes, communities and classes are being frequently held. They have the common objective of annihilation of caste. While keeping their independent identity intact, they can come together under the common banner of a federation of non-Brahmin litterateurs. Comrade Sharad Patil had drawn up the form, philosophy, policies and programmes that such a non-Brahmin literary federation should adopt. It can be accepted after due consideration.

It is high time we went beyond merely organizing meetings, conferences and conventions. We should do something to create permanent institutions. They can include research and training institutions. We can think of building a university that will draw up and implement an egalitarian curriculum. We can think of launching daily newspapers to take the cause of egalitarianism forward. We should also work on programmes for giving cash awards and other awards to established and budding artistes and critics who write literature that promotes the cause of social change, so as to encourage them.

In the rural areas, the labourers, though illiterate, write and sing powadas; they create folktales. There are songs, bharuds and so on that are sung on festive occasions, marriages, etc. All this should given the status of literature so as to encourage the villagers and the OBC workers concerned.

Due to unnecessary importance attached to artificial festivals like Ganeshotsavas, rural-OBC fests, such as the Baliraja festival, which were scientific and were linked to farming, are becoming extinct. In rural areas, Baliraja festival is celebrated in a big way. It is a matter of concern that in an agricultural country like India, no farm festival is celebrated at the national level. Baliraja festival should be given the status of national festival.

It may be mentioned here that Tatyasaheb and Babasaheb had developed their historical materialism by a clinical examination of ancient literature and by closely studying the traditions and customs of rural areas. We should do similar, newer research so that we continue to contribute. And the outcome of this research should reach the people in the form of research publications, novels, poems and stories. It should also become a part of the curriculum. We should develop a dedicated institution for this purpose.

I believe that no society is monolithic. There are divisions of clans, classes, castes, varnas, etc. Since these are also mechanisms for exploitation, the divisions run deep and the different classes, castes and varnas have their own literature. Indian society is divided in terms of varna, caste and clan. As the upper-caste Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishayas are exploiters, they have also sought to oppress the Shudra and Ati-Shudra varnas and castes. They have done so using not only weapons of war but also social weapons.

Bahujan intellectuals created their own literature to take on this highbrow, Manuvadi literature and to free the Bahujans from the mental slavery of the varna and caste system. Bahujan literature has a rich past. From Charvak to Buddha to the saints of the Bhakti era, it has had a string of distinguished writers. Sant Namdeo, Sant Gadge Maharaj, Sant Saavta, Sant Chokhoba, Sant Tukaram – all have contributed with their original compositions and writings.

What are the signs that a society is progressing? Power and prosperity. But these are not the trees; they are only fruits. To ensure that these fruits continue to be available to the coming generations, it is necessary that the tree also grows and prospers. And for that, it is necessary that the roots of the tree spread deep and wide. We don’t think about the kind of manure that will help the tree grow healthier and stronger. Today, the members of the OBCs, Denotified and Nomadic Tribes are getting power and money. But these are fruits that are hanging from the trees of another. The upper castes own huge orchards. These fruits are growing in the trees of these orchards. We are plucking them because even though these orchards belonged to the upper castes, it was us who were working as labourers in them.

If you think that we should have our own fruit-bearing trees, then we should first create fertile land to grow them. To make the cultural ground fertile, we would have to add the manure of language and literature to it. But we would first need to create literature of essence. This literature should be acceptable to all. Such literature can be created only by wise men. Such a class of wise men has yet to emerge among the OBCs, Denotified and Nomadic tribes. The reason is that we are still watering the trees in the orchards of the upper castes. The OBCs, Denotified tribes and Nomadic tribes do have their litterateurs but they are content with serving water in All-India Marathi Sahitya Sammelans. These conventions are nothing but gatherings of Brahmanical writers. Tatyasaheb Mahatma Jotirao Phule had revealed this truth to us way back in 1885. But our litterateurs can still be seen serving water there. That is because they don’t have their own platforms.

(Ashok Dhuldhule translated the original Marathi into Hindi. Amrish Herdenia translated the Hindi into English)


For a deeper understanding of Bahujan literature, see Forward Press Books’ The Case for Bahujan Literature. The book is available both in English and Hindi. Contact The Marginalised, Delhi (mobile: 968527911).

Or, find the book on Amazon:

The Case for Bahujan Literature (English edition), Bahujan Sahitya ki Prastavana (Hindi edition)

And on Flipkart:

The Case for Bahujan Literature (English edition),  Bahujan Sahitya ki Prastavana (Hindi edition)

About The Author

Shrawan Deore

Shrawan Deore became associated with the progressive movement in 1978 while he was still in college. He joined the movement for the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1982. He has been elected the vice-president of the Maharashtra OBC Association. In 1999, Deore set up the OBC Seva Sangh for the OBC Employees and Officers and became its general-secretary. He is often the main speaker and chief guest at events organized in different parts of Maharashtra to raise awareness among the OBCs.

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