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As I saw Hari Narke

Drawing inspiration from Dr Ambedkar, Hari Narke acquired an education. He was a brilliant student. While working in Telco, a Tata group company, he did his graduation and postgraduation from Pune University, winning gold medals, recalls Prof Shankar Borade   

I first met Prof Hari Narke (1 June 1963 – 9 August 2023) in 1985 at a Vishamta Unmulan Shivir (Inequality Elimination Camp) organized by Dr Baba Aadhav under the aegis of Samta Prathishthan. Besides Narke, Narendra Dabholkar, Anil Avchat and Sanjeev Saane attended the camp. Anna Hazare talked about rural development and delegates from Gujarat presented an eyewitness account of the anti-reservation agitation in their state. Ongoing movements seeking annihilation of caste, naming of the Marathwada University after Ambedkar, emancipation of Dalits and women, and “Ek Gaon Ek Pyaoo” (One village, one water kiosk) campaign were discussed. 

Such camps used to provide the activists of those times some food for thought. Acting on the slogan “Jati Todo, Manushya Jodo” (Break caste, join humans) young men and women were opting for inter-caste marriages. Narke also did the same. 

An article making fun of Mahatma Phule, written by Bal Gangal, was published in Sobat, a weekly edited by Ganpati Vasudev Behere. It enraged Maharashtra. Protests were held in different cities. We held a protest meeting at Sinnar. Among those who spoke were Runjaji Madhav Handage and Prof Sharad Deshmukh. A teacher called Unhavane boldly registered his protest. Our young friend Sanjay Sonwane, too, took time out to attend the meeting and voice his opposition. We announced at the meeting that for Maharashtra, G.V. Behere was dead. He actually died a few days later. The protest meetings only voiced the people’s anger and their emotional attachment with Jotirao Phule and his life and works. But Narke studied Gangal’s article thoroughly and came out with a research-based authoritative rebuttal. Narke’s quest for truth that began with this piece continued till his last breath. 

Later, the Maharashtra government constituted the Mahatma Jotirao Phule Charitra Shodhan Prakashan Samiti, which published ideological writings by and on Phule.  

Mahatma Phule Samagra Vangmay, an epochal compilation brought out by the Samiti, was edited by Dr Yashwant Dinkar Phadke. The first edition of this book flew off the shelves, selling more than 10,000 copies in just two days. The following edition was edited by Hari Narke, who included Phule’s will in it. This document was located by Narke, who also included an image of the original will in the book. It was Narke’s speciality that he did not rest till he had completed the job at hand. He worked all his life to bring to light the unpublished works of the Satyashodhaks.        

Dr Baba Aadhav’s Samta Prathisthan used to publish a magazine called Parogami Satyashodhak. Dr Aadhav had dug out many rare documents pertaining to the Satyashodhak movement. Many of these works were edited and published in the form of books, such as Dinkar Rao Jawalkar Samagra Vangmay and Jagritikaar Palekar. The latter was edited by Sadanand More, who also wrote a long introduction. The book helped me a lot in my doctoral research on the topic “Jagtrikar Bhagwantrao Palekar’s Complete Works” done under the guidance of Dr Dileep Dhondge. 

Hari Narke edited a research work based on the thinking of Satyashodhak Keshvrao Vichare. Neelu Phule had supplied a copy of this work to me. Purogami Satyashodhak published a special issue titled Aamhee Pahilele Phule (“Phule as we saw him”). Hari Narke also contributed to the special issue. Later, Narke published a compilation of the articles published in this special issue. The title of the compilation was also Aamhee Pahilele Phule.

Hari Narke was born into a family that lacked both education and finances. Drawing inspiration from Ambedkar, he acquired an education. Eklavya practised archery treating Dronacharya as his symbolic guru and had to pay the price when the guru asked for his thumb. Narke drew inspiration from Dr Ambedkar and turned out to be a brilliant student. While working in Telco, a Tata group company, he did his graduation and postgraduation from Pune University, winning gold medals. Even at the university, Narke did not just quietly listen to lectures. He questioned his teachers and argued with him. He also wrote about one such argument with Professor Anand Yadav.

Narke’s appointment to Mahatma Jotirao Phule Charitra Shodhan Prakashan Samiti enabled him to use the resources of the state. He worked for Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission. He became the coordinator of the committees constituted for publication of the writings of Ambedkar and Phule. He edited several volumes including Mahatma Phule Gaurav Granth. He highlighted such aspects of Phule’s personality which were unknown or were distorted.  

Today, the government is stressing on vocational education. Jotirao and Savitribai did that 170 years ago, noting that such an education to girls and boys would help them acquire skills needed for labour-intensive vocations. To make students self-reliant, in 1852, they proposed that schools should have an industries department, where the students can learn useful vocations and crafts that would enable them to earn their livelihood with ease after they leave schools. And they did create such a system (Mahatma Phule: Shodh Ke Naye Raste, Preface, p 20). Hari Narke threw light on this. He dug out and studied the original documents and devoted his life to making Phule’s thinking accessible. He also located the writings of Savitribai Phule and published them. He travelled to different parts of the country for this purpose.

Professor Hari Narke (1 June 1963 – 9 August 2023)

Narke was a member of the Pathare Committee constituted to secure the status of a “classical language”, a tag now reserved for Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Sanskrit. The committee submitted its report to the central government. Narke dug out several supporting documents, which were appended to the report. There is no denying the fact that Marathi is a classical language. However, the Government of India is yet to accept the claim. The acceptance of the claim during Narke’s lifetime would have added to the list of his achievements. 

Narke closely studied the problems faced by the castes categorized as OBC and spoke and wrote about them. As an active member of the Mahatma Phule Samta Parishad, he raised the issues related to the OBCs, backed by facts. This Satyashodhak (truthseeker) could easily quote references from memory.

Chhagan Bhujbal was the head of the reception committee for the 94th Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Sammelan. He had prepared his welcome address diligently. Yet, he sent it to Narke to ensure that everything was in order. Narke added some references to the document. Bhujbal’s speech drew accolades because it talked about the cultural backdrop of Nashik, besides beautifully presenting the Satyashodhak ideology.    

At the Sahitya Sammelan, Narke and I had a conversation over the phone. Narke had been invited to address a session and his name figured in the brochure. He said, “I have to speak at a seminar for farmers. We cannot discuss literature by ignoring the issues related to farming,” he said. In his address, he dwelt on the difficult situation the farmers had been caught up in.  

Narke had a fair idea of the power of the modern media. He was consistently active on social media. His writings on different issues based on facts made for serious reading. 

Narke delivered thousands of lectures. He was always on the move, which led to him being afflicted by several ailments. He got himself treated at well-equipped hospitals. But he had to bear the consequences of a healthcare sector that is in disarray and still finding its feet, and departed on an eternal journey.

Social movements and our society, marching towards progressivism, needed him. His demise at this juncture has created a void which can never be filled. 

(Translated from the Hindi by Amrish Herdenia.)

About The Author

Shankar Borade

Shankar Borade is a retired professor of Pune University, prolific author in Marathi and social activist.

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