Budh Sharan Hans: ‘Had OBC leaders stood with Ambedkar, India would be different today’

Budh Sharan Hans is counted among the leading Dalitbahujan thinkers. He tells Arun Narayan that it was the OBC leaders’ indifference to Ambedkar adopting Buddhism that turned their communities into the biggest advocates of Brahmanism

Born in Tilora village in the Wazirganj area of Gaya district of Bihar on 8 April 1942, Budh Sharan Hans belongs to the rare breed of writers who practise what they preach. He has used his short stories, poems, biographies, autobiography and his skills as an editor and publisher to telling effect for spreading the ideology of Phule and Ambedkar. He has so far published four collections of short stories, five volumes of his autobiography, an anthology of poems and dozens of booklets targeting religious status quoism. He has been publishing a magazine titled Ambedkar Mission for years and also runs a publishing house of the same name. From 1969 to 2000, he was a Bihar State Administrative Service officer. He has been conferred with the Ambedkar Rashtriya Puraskar by Bharatiya Dalit Academy, Delhi. In 2002, the Bihar government honoured him with Bhimrao Ambedkar Puraskar. Here are edited excerpts of his long conversation with Arun Narayan, a young critic from Bihar.

Please tell us about the milestones in your journey from your birth as a Paswan Dalit to your adopting the name of Budh Sharan Hans.  

I was born into an extremely poor family. My elder brother Bhagirath Paswan was educated. He named me Dalit Prasad. He believed that the name reflected the fact that I came from a poverty-stricken family. When I was being admitted to standard 8, the headmaster asked me my name. I requested him to write Dilip Kumar Rai. He asked me what my pet name was. When I said it was Dalit Prasad he told me that there was a leader called Bhola Paswan. “So, from today you are Dalit Paswan,” he said. This name went with all my academic degrees.     

I heard the name of Ambedkar after joining the state government service. It was at a meeting in Ranchi. I had done my post graduation in political science but no teacher had told me about Ambedkar. Neither had I read his name in any newspaper. I became curious to know about Ambedkar. When I delved into his thinking on untouchability, humiliation, caste discrimination and religious conversions, I was deeply impressed. I felt I should embrace Buddhism. In those days, Rashtrapal Bhikshu used to run Sadhna Kendra in Bodhgaya. I wrote to him saying that my family and I wanted to adopt Buddhism. He wrote back saying that I was welcome anytime. In 1978, I went there along with my family – my wife and our daughter. I was put up at the ashram for two days. They made all the arrangements for our food and stay. We converted to Buddhism at the main temple in a ceremony that lasted two minutes. They asked me to take certain vows – that I won’t steal, tell lies, drink liquor, indulge in adultery or engage Brahmins for conducting religious rituals. Yagnas, pujas and places of pilgrimage are the dens of Brahmins. 

It was on this occasion that I changed my name to Budh Sharan Hans. He [Rashtrapal Bhikshu] was a Bengali. I explained the meaning of my name to him. I told him that when Buddha was a young man, his brother, Devdutt, shot a “hans” (swan) with his arrow. Buddha saved that swan. Our bodies are stricken by untouchability and the social and economic exploitation by the Brahmins. I have taken “sharan” (refuge) in Buddha because I am hurt, injured. He was very happy with my answer. He said that he had never seen such a convert.

When did the publication of ‘Ambedkar Mission’ begin? Did you face any problems in bringing it out? 

I began publishing Ambedkar Mission in 1993. In the first year, it was published as a quarterly. In the second year, I made it bimonthly. Subsequently, we began publishing it every month. Magazines of this nature have to be published monthly to have some impact. The readers want us to comment on current affairs. They want guidance. The reader appreciates our opinions on the daily developments.

The cover of an issue of Ambedkar Mission

Which ideology has been driving the magazine? Did financial problems come in the way? How many copies does the magazine sell and in which areas? 

The magazine is based on the ideology of Ambedkar and Jotirao Phule. We have brought out special numbers on Ambedkar, Jotirao, Savitribai, Fatima Shaikh and recently on Manyavar Kanshi Ram. Social evils like religious hypocrisy, casteism and death feasts have always been our target. We have been trying to develop scientific temper among the people. We have never accepted any advertisement – neither government nor private. There were some problems in the early days but later, several individuals with missionary zeal joined our endeavour. They would purchase copies of the magazine in bulk for circulation in the areas of their influence. Currently, the circulation of the magazine is 5,000. It has sizeable presence in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Jharkhand and Bihar.  

Do you think a section of the Bahujans wants to take up this kind of work?  

Of course. A section of the Bahujans has been taking great interest in this kind of work. But the intellectuals of the Bahujan community are not coming forward to guide their people. Had the intellectuals done that, the picture would be very different – a big change would have come about in the Bahujan community. Today, the Bahujan community needs training. Had the Bahujans been taught to collectively oppose death feasts, weddings, griha pravesh and other such hypocrisies, the community would have been much ahead. But it was due to the idleness of the intellectuals of the community that its members are still caught up in the trap of Brahmanism. When Phule, Ambedkar, Lalai Singh and Jagdev Prasad aren’t talked about in the villages, how would you expect the people to break free from ‘Satyanarayan ki Katha’ and Brahmanism?

My experience is that the common man is aware. His thinking is clear. The problem lies with our leaders and the so-called intellectuals. Politicians lie at the heart of this mess. They used every ounce of their energy to make as much money as possible, but they never helped build a good-quality school or hospital. Had they laid down policies enabling Bahujans with small capital to start ventures like hotels and water kiosks, it would have helped the community. People of the community have been ruined due to migration. These politicians have no plan to develop villages and agriculture. Mayawati installs statues of Shahu Maharaj and Akhilesh, of King George. A park was named after Janardan Mishra. Bahujans will never be able to take on Brahmanism if this game of one-upmanship continues. 

OBC leaders do not think much of Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Your view?  

Had the leaders of the backward classes backed Ambedkar when he raised the banner of Buddhism, things would be much different now. It was their indifference at the time that has translated into the OBCs emerging as the biggest advocates of Brahmanism. At the time, Babasaheb had requested Periyar Ramasamy Naicker to take the initiative for conversion to Buddhism. But Periyar rejected the idea saying that if they got converted to Buddhism, they would lose the right to criticize Brahmanism. His argument was flawed. He was a much fiercer opponent of Brahmanism than Ambedkar. He had slapped the idols of Ram and Krishna with slippers and shoes. But I do not find merit in his argument that he would not be able to speak against Brahmanism after conversion to another religion. Is it necessary to live in India to criticize her? We can always criticize India while living outside the country. After all, we would only be criticizing what is wrong. It is, however, true that both Ambedkar and Naicker had participated in a Buddhist conclave in Burma. Earlier, Naicker had organized a mega conference of Buddhists in Erode [Tamil Nadu], where he had spoken a lot on the religion. The speech is available in the compilation of his speeches and writings. However, it was because of his stand that Buddhism could not spread in the South. That is why there is no separate column for atheists [in the Census]. They have to write ‘no religion’. Similarly, in North India, leaders like Ramswaroop Verma, Maharaj Singh Bharati and Shivdayal Singh Chaurasia formed Arjak Singh. Lalai Singh Yadav fell ill and could not travel to Nagpur. Similarly, R.L. Chandapuri and Jagdev Prasad from Bihar did not take part in the event at Nagpur. Had these OBC leaders backed Ambedkar, the entire Hindi belt would have become Buddhist. 

Tell us about your experiences as an administrator.

It was great working in the government. I worked hard. I took the orders of my superiors seriously. So, I faced no problems on that count. Whenever I was summoned by a senior officer, I used to carry a book on Ambedkar’s speeches, besides my notebook and pen. While I noted down his instructions, the officer would flip through the book. I would tell him that if he wanted to read it, he should buy a copy. He would buy one and feel good about it, too. When I was in the transport department, I found that the truck owners were harassed to no end. I went to the commissioner and told him that costly vehicles were standing idle – let us issue permits to them at the earliest. My thinking found favour with him. My advice was sought whenever necessary. 

In 1991, on the day when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the Commissioner of Bettiah, where I had been posted, convened a meeting of the officers. I also received a phone call. I told him on the phone that there was no need for a meeting if he ordered patrolling in the Christian and Brahmin localities and had the schools and colleges shut. I asked why he was summoning me. This had a positive impact on him and he followed my advice. 

When I was posted at Chaibasa (now Jharkhand), the manager of a cinema used to come to our office to obtain a permit. One day, an Adivasi man came to me and said that he had borrowed Rs 15 from the manager and he had been paying interest on the amount for five years. The very next day, I summoned the manager. I had him face the Adivasi. I asked him whether he knew the man. He began grovelling, saying he had committed a mistake. I asked him to return the money he had taken from the Adivasi. This kind of exploitation was common in our area. 

When I was posted at Chakradharpur, a leader of socialist leanings approached me. He wanted his daughter’s marriage solemnized in accordance with Buddhist rites. I had never conducted such a wedding. But traditions begin with a single act. I told him that I would be the priest at his daughter’s wedding. The devious Brahmins have crafted a lot of rituals for marriages. They need earthen lamps, ghee, curd, rice, water – what do they have to do with a wedding? The Brahmin hypnotizes the householder; makes him sprinkle a kilo of rice, gets ghee burnt and milk spoilt. I said that nothing of this sort would happen at the wedding. Petals would be showered, Bahujan heroes would be remembered and the wedding venue would have pictures of the paternal and maternal grandparents. The wedding was conducted under my leadership. The people were happy with the marriage. It brought happiness, too. 

Tell us about burning the Ramayana, the Vedas, Upanishads, etc in Vaishali at your initiative.

It happened in 1974. I was the chakbandi (land consolidation) officer at Mahua in Vaishali. I lived in a rented accommodation in the Tiwari locality of the town. The local police station was nearby. At the time, my daughter was in standard 3. I was looking for a tutor for her and ended up hiring one Tiwari ji. My neighbour, Sharma ji, was from the Lohar community. I was friends with him. One day, Tiwari ji, the tutor, invited me to his home for a meal. I went and ate at his place. The next day, Sharma ji told me that he had heard people saying that the utensils in which food was served to me were borrowed from a tailor living nearby. He told me that Tiwari ji had insulted me. I had the tailor come to see me and then I checked out his utensils. Sharma ji was right. Food was served to me in the same utensils. I thought about what my next move should be. Then I had an idea. I won over the Yadavs of the area to my side and decided to hold a function to celebrate the Ambedkar Jayanti. Rajputs and Yadavs were in a majority in the area. I also cultivated the local mukhiya, sarpanch and teachers. I trained them. Parshuram Rai, Kanteev Rai and Raghunanda Rai came forward. I collected copies of the Ramayana, the Vedas and the Upanishads and burnt them at the Ambedkar Jayanti function. Around 6,000 people were present. All of them joined in the “Swaha Yagna” of these scriptures. Eggs were distributed as prasad to all attendees. 

Rajendra Chaudhary, a Maithili Brahmin, was in charge of the police station. By the evening, he had let the Superintendent of Police of the district know that Hindu scriptures were set ablaze. I got to know of the development in the evening itself. I gathered the leading Yadavs of the area and instructed them to take the stand that nothing of the sort had happened – that no scriptures were burnt. The next morning, an enquiry began. It was led by the district collector. When asked, I said that I had myself read these books and that their copies were safe at my home. A set of the books was seized from my home. They asked the others but no one admitted witnessing any such development. They became very confused. A recommendation was made to the Home Department to terminate me. It was said that my continued posting at the place would endanger the law and order situation. So, I was transferred to Chaibasa. It was also ordered that no work should be given to me for six months and a close eye should be kept on me. Mantreshwar Jha was the deputy collector in Chaibasa. When I went to meet him, he said, “So, you are the person!” I said, “Yes sir.” He could not believe that a person facing such charges could be so simple a man. He told me even if a crow came to Chaibasa, it would catch a fever. I retorted – both of us would catch the fever. He didn’t react. I was neither given any work nor allotted a chamber. One day I asked the nazir to place a chair for me in the courtyard of the office. I hung a board from the front leg of the chair, which said, “Complaints of the poor are heard here.” The next day, a man came complaining that his daughter was not getting a scholarship. I wrote a letter to the Welfare Officer saying that his grievance should be redressed. Then I received a complaint from someone that he was not getting kerosene, and from someone else that his bullock had fallen ill. I reminded all the officers concerned of their duty. This kicked up a furore. “OK, so this man has brains. He has become the most popular person here. Paswan’s work has become the most important here,” they said. Subsequently, I wrote to the department saying that I wanted to do a PhD. That did the trick. They didn’t want me to do a PhD. So, I was soon allotted the complicated work at the registry. 

It is said that you were very close to Lalai Singh Yadav. He had also stayed with you. Would you like to share his memories?

Lalai Singh Yadav had become a pen friend in 1977. At the time, he used to run Ashok Pustakalaya at Jhinjhad village, near Kanpur. I used to buy copies of his books Shambuk Vadh, Ramayan Ki Chabi and others and distribute them among the locals. In 1979, he came to Chaibasa as the chief guest for the Ambedkar Jayanti function. He stayed at my place for three days. He looked like a real Buddhist monk. He used to wear a patched red pajama. He was a pure vegetarian and used to work out in the mornings. He was twice my age. He was so simple and unassuming. He readily mixed with my children. He used to tell them how they should study. 

Before I eventually hosted him, he had come to Arwal where his play Shambuk Vadh was being staged. He had a close shave when some anti-social elements fired at him. 

Later, in 1992, he was invited to Lauria and Nandangarh in Bihar, where 10-12 thousand people converted (to Buddhism). The programme was organized by a Brahmin Mukhiya of Lauria. He was a Brahmin in the mould of Rahul Sankritayayan. That was why such a big event passed off peacefully. Everyone ate in an orderly manner. The mukhiya also offered to donate his one-acre land for building a Buddhist Vihara. But I could not pursue his offer as I was transferred. Later, he contested an election on a BSP ticket but lost with a narrow margin. After returning from this programme, Lalai Singh passed away on 7 February 1993. His wife had already died. They didn’t have any children.

Lalai Singh was a fighter. He read a lot and walked the talk. He was a complete missionary. You could learn many things from him. His personality was such that he easily gained others’ confidence. He made foolproof and practical plans. Had he got the backing of his people, a new stream for propagation of Dhamma would have started flowing. He had retired from the military service of Gwalior State. He had revolted against the military and was in jail. After Independence, he was released from jail. He got a pension all his life. The way he translated Periyar’s Sacchi Ramayan and popularized it and the way he fought a legal battle against a ban on the book are unique and exemplary examples of his missionary zeal.  

You have written short stories exposing Brahmanism and religious hypocrisy. Why didn’t you write a novel?   

I had written a novel in my early days. It was titled “Adhura Sapna”. In the novel, I emphasized the rebuilding of villages. I proposed a new way of building houses. I said that the houses should be square or rectangular. There should be a joint kitchen, a library and a reading room. Farming should be communal, and in keeping with the Muslim concept, the boys and girls should marry within the village. It was a 250-page novel, which I had written in 1962. I had no experience of publishing, so I approached Hanskumar Tiwari in Gaya. In those days, his publication, Mansarovar, was well known. He discouraged me. “Does anyone publish this kind of book?” he asked. After that, I didn’t write another novel. The manuscript of that novel is still with me.

These days, Budh Sharan Hans runs the ‘Savitribai Jhola Pustakalaya’ project. Interviewer Arun Narayan and Budh Sharan Hans pose with the ‘jhola’

I am told that as a student you used to publish a hand-written magazine. What was its name and what kind of content it used to have? How many issues were published? 

Yes. The name of that hand-written magazine was Ujjawal Prakash. It was a monthly. It carried stories, poems and some pieces on ethics, behaviour and so on. I brought it out for two years. All contributions were handwritten. At that time, there was no carbon paper or photostat machine. Only one copy of the magazine was published. One of my friends, Ramdev Prasad, was a good artist. He used to make the cover of the magazine. He would sketch Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and others. He was very good. Because of him, the magazine got a good look. It was attractive. He went on to become an Income Tax Officer. He is no more. Company Gehlot, who went on to become a clerk in the Reserve Bank of India, also wrote for the magazine. We published this magazine for two years. When our teachers saw it, they were very happy.

How was your college experience?

The atmosphere was academic. I spent more time in the library than in the classroom. I sat in the library, read books and critically analyzed them. The librarian used to say that I am a reader, an examiner and a critic – all rolled into one. I noted down the lectures given in the class. My notes were accurate and my handwriting was good. In fact, many teachers sell my notes as “guess papers” [study aid for exams]. 

Would you like to share your interactions with your teachers?

Batte Krishna used to teach the history of Hindi literature. He often used to say that the Kshatriyas were born from the “agni kund” [pool of fire] in Mount Abu. I used to stand up and ask whether humans can be born from fire. This would anger him. “Are you an atheist? Humans can be born from fire,” he would say. This was his historical thinking. Another teacher, Vishwanath Mishra, was the principal of the college. Every student was supposed to write a dissertation that could fetch a maximum of 300 marks. The topic had to be approved by a panel of three-four teachers. You had to choose a topic of their liking, for, otherwise, they would not allow you to clear the examination. They were the final authority. Most of my classmates chose Nirala’s Ram Ki Shakti Puja and the depiction of nature in the poetry of Sumitranandan Pant as their subject for the dissertation. I chose linguistics and my topic was “Glossary of words spoken by the occupational castes of Bihar.” My objective was very clear. In our area, barring exceptions, words used by Chamars are not found in any Hindi dictionary. Similarly, the words used by the cow-rearers for the rope used for tying the animals to a peg, nose rope and so on are not found in dictionaries. Similarly, the words used by artisans like ironsmiths, carpenters, copper smiths and others, don’t find a mention. After I shared my idea with the principal, he asked me how they would verify what I had written. My answer was that they could always talk to the members of the castes concerned. The moment I said this, the principal tore up my project file and flung it on my face. “Have we fallen on such bad days that we would have to interview a Chamar?” he said. I told him that I was quitting his college. Later, I did a course in Ranchi as a private student under the guidance of Ramkhelawan Pandey. 

What are your future projects? 

For the past few years, I have been running a project called “Savitribai Jhola Pustakalaya”. I have, so far, distributed more than 500 jholas (bags). These jholas have even reached America and Canada. Brahmins carry conch shells with them, our men will carry jholas. Anyone who likes the Jhola can get one. There is no fixed place or time for it. Religious hypocrisy is deeply entrenched in our villages. People read a lot but not about the religious rituals and hypocrisy. Our country won’t progress till our villages have intellectuals and rationalists. A jhola with 15 books costs Rs 500 and the one with 30 books is priced at Rs 1000. The village secretary gathers the villagers and encourages them to read these books. The 15 books are read by the villagers one by one for a year. Then, money is collected from them and a new set of books is supplied. This experiment has been going on for the past two years. I can say with a sense of responsibility that wherever the jhola went, ‘Satyanarayan ki Katha’ stopped. I have been told that yagnas are not being held in the temples of these villages anymore. We want the jholas to free people from the stranglehold of Brahmanism and become vehicles for the spread of Buddhism. I am not getting any younger and I am not as energetic as I used to be. But my next target is to publish the writings of Dr Ambedkar included in volumes 35 to 40 of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, in the form of booklets and take them to villages. These volumes contain Ambedkar’s writings on a variety of topics. When even the scholars do not read fat volumes, how can you expect villagers to read them? But they will read them if they are published in the form of booklets. We publish 10,000 copies of books. Our people buy them in bulk and distribute them. Our intellectuals have killed Raidas and Kabir. That is why the Bahujans have become slaves to Brahmanism. Their conscience has not been awakened. That is why they are performing yagnas. That is why we lag behind in every arena. In politics, we are with the BJP or the Congress. No national party of Bahujans has emerged so far. It is not without reason that Brahmanism is gobbling up politics, literature and even the thought process. A part of Ambedkar is still alive. He had said that if our caravan does not move forward, it doesn’t matter. But it should not be allowed to go backwards. I feel that if the caravan of Savitribai Jhola Library is taken forward, Babasaheb’s dreams may start taking shape. 

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

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The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

Forward Thinking: Editorials, Essays, Etc (2009-16)

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