• Like Hindu-Muslim binary, Brahmin-non-Brahmin binary ‘denies’ women their rights

    Vidya Bhushan Rawat

    December 2, 2019

    For anyone to understand Jotiba Phule, it is essential to understand that change begins at home. We speak a lot, lecture others about change, and communicate with people in such a language unknown to them or not understandable to them. Many a time, I have found, people display their 'knowledge', without understanding the needs of the audience.
     

    In India, the biggest challenge for those who claim to be intellectuals or are in public life is the vast gap between their 'public image' and their personal life. Not that we want to know about everyone's personal life, but the gap in perception and ideological framework is huge. When your ideology in public is different than what you practice in person, then the ideological framework turns into an illusion and will collapse anytime.


    I am saying so because we all remember our great leaders and philosophers, remind others what they did and read out their 'biographies', but rarely do we attempt to learn from their life and mission, which is important for all of us.
    Seen in this context, Jotiba Phule remain the biggest revolutionary of India, an ideal person who not only built leadership qualities in his wife Savitri Phule but also encouraged her to take up the leadership.


    One wonders: How was it possible to allow a woman to lead from the front some 240 years ago when people are not able to do it even in today? If Jotiba could do it two centuries back, there is reason to ask: Why has not been followed subsequently? Why women are out of sight and thought of our movements?


    The answer lies in the deeply-entrenched Brahminical thoughts in our minds which keep women subjugated and those who still think that women don't have any mind of their own and need to be controlled. This is the biggest failure of our movements. We continue to despise independent women.


    One of the weaknesses of our movements has been to turn everything into a Brahmin-non-Brahmin binary. Like the Hindu-Muslim binary, this Brahmin-non-Brahmin binary too is an attempt to deny women and other segments their right and space. The binaries are often created to help the dominant and vocal communities, and leave others out of representation.


    A sweeping generalisation is dangerous, and therefore Brahminism has to be understood the way Baba Saheb Ambedkar described it: Graded inequality, leading to increased differences among the oppressed, a division among them.


    We need to address the issue of participation and representation, and not look at issues from narrow minds. Each community seeks representation, but binaries deny the most marginalised this space. Every time an issue comes up, challenging the monopoly of a leader or a community, we come up with numerous conspiracy theories.


    This has resulted in stagnation and dominance of self-proclaimed leaders, who want to lead, not in a collective spirit but in a highly individualised way, imitating the Brahminical politics of brand building.


    If anyone has to learn from someone's life and mission, we have to look beyond and see how the Phules operated and acted. He remained down to earth, and not only provided an extraordinary critique of Brahminism, but also gave humanist alternatives to all.


    It is not enough to critique an ideology, one must provide alternatives. Jyotiba's concern was not merely women from the most marginalised sections, but Brahmin widows, too, who were victims of the oppressive Brahminical system. Indeed, Brahminism victimised Brahmin women, too, with the highly oppressive social structure, which had no space for widows; they were ostracised.


    Jotiba was a master communicator. His works "Gulamgiri" and "Kisan Ka Koda" are masterpieces and must be dramatised and popularised in India's northern belt. My complaint is addressed to those friends and politicians in the north who speak about Bahujans but have nothing to promote and encourage the wonderful and path-breaking work of Jotiba Phule. It is the need of the hour that our children know not only what is discrimination but, most importantly, what is the alternative.


    Today, a number of people are demanding 'justice' from those who are violators. We seek space in media, but if we want to learn from Phule-Ambedkar-Periyar, then we should create our own autonomous spaces, and not get licence of legitimacy from the mainstream media.

    "Can we build a narrative against the 'external' enemies, ignoring the exploitation of the 'internal' caste imperialists?"

    Unfortunately, our farmers' movement does not remember Jotiba, or his "Gulamgiri" or "Kisan Ka Koda", because kisans too have their castes. They might join hands when we talk about problems of kisans, but at the same time when issues of Dalits or land reforms are highlighted, the same kisans fall into caste identity.


    It is essential therefore that we build movements on the historic legacy and the analysis provided by Phule. Savarna leaders of the kisan movement have actually carefully delinked the current condition of the farmers and the "wrongs" that have been committed in history.


    Bahujan political forces rarely highlight farmers' or land reforms issues; they mostly confine themselves to identity issues, thus leaving the field and leadership of these huge segments to be captured by the savarna elite, which does not want to talk about caste oppression.


    Can any movement related to farmers and other communities succeed without speaking of annihilation of caste, even as respecting the autonomy of communities? Can movements be built without understanding the historical wrongs committed against the Bahujan samaj? Can we build a narrative against the 'external' enemies, ignoring the exploitation of the 'internal' caste imperialists?


    Jotiba was far ahead of his time. A revolutionary who understood the pains and miseries of women, he at the same time realised that it won't be possible to build a strong movement without women's participation and representation at all level.


    Baba Saheb Ambedkar followed Phule's path and the movements that he built in different parts of the country, including the historic Mahad movement, had a huge representation of women leaders and participants. Disturbingly, after the demise of Baba Saheb, we have not seen the same zeal to build women leaders in our organisations, and those who have brought women in are seen wanting to control them, too.


    A true tribute to Jotiba Phule would be possible and real when we support Dalit Bahujan women's leadership in our structures, whether political, social or cultural, otherwise Brahminical forces would grab things in the name of feminism. Dalit Bahujan leaders should know that if they fail to support Dalit Bahujan women's initiative in their organisations and social spaces, they will have none to blame except themselves.


    A change has to start from within, and has to be encouraged fully till the goal is achieved. Jotiba not only encouraged Savitri Mai but stood with her through thick, and thin and both became complimentary to each other. Let us celebrate the wonderful work of Jotiba and Savitri Phule, promote it, feel it and follow it to build a democratic and equitable society.


    First published in COUNTERVIEW.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.