Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Dalit Panthers : An Authoritative History - Book Review

Dalit Panthers : An Authoritative History -Book Review
J V Pawar,  Dalit Panthers : An Authoritative History ,Translated from Marathi by  Rakshit Sonawane, Forward Press / The Marginalised, IGNOU Road, New Delhi-110068, ISBN 978-93-87441-0(Paperback); 978-93-87441-05-7(Hardback), pp  246, Price Rs. 500
Harnam Singh Verma
Arranged in very short 50 chapters, this is a book that tells the tale of  Dalit Panthers by J V Pawar, someone who was its General Secretary and pivotal  organizer of all Dalit Panther actions, and who kept meticulous records of Dalit Panther events. These 50 chapters are also not vey long as is the case with the celebrated  historical treatises of noted Indian  and foreign historians.
As is well –known, the Dalit Panthers was formed by  Raja  Dhale, Namdev Dhasal and J V Pawar on 29 May,1972 and  just after its national attention –catching tumultuous journey  in Mahashtra,it was disbanded on 7 March,1977. It was a militant Dalit movement that attracted world-wide attention and carried  the erstwhile Ambedkarite movement  from passive resistance to inequality, atrocities, violence and exploitation of the Dalits to a new militant level where they  began taking appropriate  corrective actions  without waiting for the  unwilling government machinery to redress them .  The sub-title of the book  deems it as an ‘authoritative history’ of Dalit Panther movement. However, Pawar  himself states in the Preface that it is a ‘sketchy history’. On the basis of an objective assessment, Pawar’s account is both ‘sketchy’ as well as ‘authoritative’ ! It is authoritative in terms of details of events, specific participants in them and the elaborate description of nuts and bolts of their organization and outcomes, changing configurations of its organizational journey. Dhale and Dhasal  have also written  their versions of Dalit Panthers’ history but they lack  objective descriptions of the organization as well as its programmes during its short-lived existence. Pawar is  dead right when he states that only three  Dalit Panthers , Raja Dhale, Namdev Dhasal, and he himself, could have written its history. It so happens that all three have written this tumultuous history, and their accounts , but when compared , are  found to be often at variance with each other. I would agree with Pawar that he has the best credentials  to claim the adjective “authoritative” for his history of the Dalit Panthers since he was its Secretary, kept all the records, was organizing most of the consequential events, and compared to  highly emotional  and  often irresponsible Dhale and Dhasal ,was the more down to earth operative  of the Dalit Panthers.
The back page jacket of the book has assessments of Anand Teltumbde, Bhau Torsekar, Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat, Yogesh Maitreya. Neelkanth Khadilkar, Avinash Dolas, and Raja Dhale, and each one of them attests the credentials of Pawar to write Dalit Panther history authoritatively. However,  my review is my own assessment that is unaffected by these opinions. After reading the book carefully, I would say that the book is “authoritative” in  detailing –not analyzing--what it covers but there are obvious and  far too many gaping holes.  I would not enumerate them all but give  example of one significant one. One such gaping hole for example does not cover one of the significant contributions of the Dalit Panthers, namely starting and developing a Dalit tradition of literature in Marathi in Maharaashtra which rubbed off its sheen on literary Dalits active in languages such as Hindi to produce an alternate view of the Dalits and their socio-economic-cultural- political existence! In Pawar’s personal and Dalit Pathers’ context ,this is all the more galling omission since  apart from Raja Dhale and Namdev Dhasal, Pawar himself was  a leading  Dalit literary figure who brought out outstanding  Dalit literary output that debunked  the mainstream Marathi literary view of the empirical  reality in Maharashtra. That this is indeed so  is very competently analyzed by Eleanor Zilliot in her book, From the Untouchable to the Dalit, especially  when juxtaposed with mainstream Marathi literature, how Dalit literary view depicts an altogether new and far more truer  perspective of  Dalit literature, culture, art and   history! Pawar mentions Eleaner Zilliot in his narrative  all right but  conveniently  forgets to record the conclusions of  her analysis dealing with the contribution of   Dalit Panther literature  in developing a Dalit view of social reality  of Dalits in Maharashtra and how it is different from the mainstream Marathi literary works!
 Pawar’s history of Dalit Panthers is  detailed descriptive account of the  post-Ambedkar context in which the movement burst on the political  turf of Maharashtra. Pawar identifies two major causes of the birth of the Dalit Panthers as an organization: the unwillingness of the Government of Maharashtra to take any concrete steps to redress the grievances of the Dalits, and  no  decisive attempt by  the  Republican Party of India  to fight for Dalit causes due to its split in to various factions to enjoy   the crumbs of power  conferred by the Congress rulers. Informed readers know that in spite of the foregoing, unlike the ground reality of the Dalits in  most other states, Maharashtra’s  society possessed what Harish Wankhede(  Return to a  Radical Past : Bhima-Koregaon Protests Reflected Acts that Define Dalit Consciousness And Its Agenda, The Indian Express, 17 January,2018 ) calls Ambedkar Civil Society  consisting of numerous NGOs, cultural fronts, social cooperatives, Buddhist faith- based organizations and other self motivated groups, which functioned  along with many intellectual forums, social activists and students’ organizations to propagate the ideas of Ambedkar. Even Wankhede does not label it correctly.  In fact Maharashtra possessed Bahujan Civil Society and-not only Dalit Civil Society- that included the other deprived sections of the  society like the OBCs and the Scheduled Tribes. Pawar  certainly refers to them in his 50 short chapters of  history of Dalit Panthers but appears to downplay their contributory role in the success of the Dalit Panthers. In fact, as Wankhede states  this Ambedkar Civil Society has continued to function effectively even  after the  disbanding of the Dalit Panthers  in 1975 as for example  seen in 2017 episode at Bhima Koregaon . It has carved an independent space in the socio-cultural domain without directly attaching itself to political fronts. These engage in independent acts of Dalit/ Bahujan resistance in the social sphere  in an arena of conflict between the proponents of the Brahminical Hindu social order and defenders of social equality. Thus,  the  Dalit civil society  was present in the post –split period of the Republican Party of India as it is today in the post- Dalit Panthers era and subsequent to its disintegration in 1975 :  it  had distanced  itself from  the political milieu and  is engages in transformative social change periodically . Pawar mentions their contribution in his narrative throughout  but  does not prominently  acknowledge their role in  contributing  to the success of  the Dalit Panthers. As Harish Wankhede  argues, it is these everyday social ,cultural and intellectual activisms that define Dalit consciousness and its agenda today. The Dalit protests on the streets of Maharashtra testify that the Dalit movement has retained its radical and progressive character against all odds (and despite absence of militant organizations like the Dalit Panthers of the mid 1970s).
Pawar’s history of Dalit Panthers has elaborate detailing of important Dalit Panther events but not necessarily in either logical or historical sequence. However,it is honest, fairly self-critical participative account outlining of birth and development, functioning of the Dalit Panthers movement, its inherent organisational, and operational weaknesses including individual whims and fancies of its important pall bearers. What comes out of his account is the repetitive, and painful story of very strong , potent  ,and pulsating movements succeeding in the shortest possible term but also disintegrating in short time span. The Dalit Panthers movement had all elements of empowerment and yet did not sustain itself despite enormous goodwill even from segments such as the  OBCs and the tribal deprived . It shows  the contrasts   of short –period success of a militant outfit like Dalit  Panther  in the socio-political terrain of Maharashtra and  that  of a far more politically broad-based movement of BSP   on one hand in the 1990s and the  still birth of Bhim Army in  UP in 2017 where a civil society of all three deprived sections of the society is still non-existent!
Pawar’s Dalit Panthers history, although decidedly authoritative looked at from one viewpoint, is incomplete once a comprehensive overall view of Dalit Panther movement is taken, and  the book must be read in conjunction with the  similar accounts separately brought out by Pawar as well as other Dalit Panther notables. Pawar himself has authored some  aspects of accounts of the Dalit Panthers movement  like the contribution of Dalit  Panthers literary output  in separate writings . Since these are not included in this book,  it  must be read  along with writings of Pawar, and fellow Dalit Panther notables like Raja  Dhale and Namdev Dhashal on the one hand  and  analyses of noted researchers like Eleanor Zilliot, Gail Omvedt, and Anupama Rao.
Pawar’s book is an honest, fairly self-critical participative account outlining of birth and development, functioning of the Dalit Panthers movement, its inherent structural, and operational weaknesses including individual whims and fancies of its important pall bearers. Raja Dhale and Namdev Dhasal in their accounts of Dalit Panther movement have shown excessive emphasis on their own role; they have even not been truthful in some of their descriptions. Pawar is just the opposite: unlike Dhale and Dhasal, he has  been self critical and has acknowledged his mistakes! And it goes without saying that no one—including  Anupma Rao,  Gail Omvedt and Eleanor Zealot-- has Pawar’s depth and specification.
Pawar’s book is not analytical : it is descriptive, episode by episode, quite often not arranged  in sequential in its narrative  : it is not history in the styles of say historians like BB Mishra. However, I am not inclined to term his book lacking analytical rigour. It is deliberately written in a very simple language.  I know that Pawar  has been a notable literary figure in Marathi literature  whose poetry has been outstanding exhibit of rich Marathi  literary expression. This book does not reflect that literary genre. It is written in low key  language that a typical Maharashtrian uses in his day-to-day life!  What he has done is writing people’s history for people’s  consumption! However, this history, although decidedly authoritative looked at from one viewpoint, is incomplete once a comprehensive overall view of Dalit Panther movement is taken ,and must be read in conjunction with the   similar accounts separately brought out by other Dalit Panther notables. Raja  Dhale and Namdev Dhashal on the one hand  and  analyses of noted researchers like Ellinear Zilliot, Gail Omvedt, Anupama Rao and Shoorykaant Waghmore on the Dalit Panther movement.
 Given the detailed auto-ethnographic character of Pawar’s history of Dalit Panthers, its price tag of Rs 500 for a 246 page book  fixed by the  Forward Press/ The Marginalised is surely is very reasonable. Had it been published by upstream publishers like international publishing firms such as  Holt Rhinehart, OUP,   Sage , and McMillans it would have been not less than Rs. 1000! This is my sincere hope that the Forward Press/The Maginalised would also bring out  its Hindi version  shortly.
                                                      (Posted on the FB on 21 January,2018)                                                                                                              
{ Copy Right: 2018: Harnam Singh Verma, C/O Neeta Verma, Piaggio Residential Colony, R-2, MIDC, Baramati-413133(Pune): Email: vhsbbk42@gmail.com:  phone: 08756894213 }
(After reading the Book review, the author,JV Pawar spoke  to the reviewer  personally on 23 January ,2018)

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