Not all books have the force to disrupt our prejudices. Many books reiterate centuries-old oppressive notions in the garb of poetic language. They nourish our instincts in a way that makes us forget about breaking free from the oppression around and within us. Often, we find books provide intellectual stimulation, which we mistake for learning. But how many books have helped us find our roots? How many offered blueprints of our memories of oppression and resistance? How many disrupted our lives irrevocably the moment we were done reading them?
These questions are not relevant to those who always had a presence in any country’s cultural and intellectual domains. These three questions only haunt those whose stories were ripped off and uprooted from what we understand as history. In the Shailesh Narwade-directed Marathi movie Jayanti, we do not derive the kind of feelings that films that seek to entertain us evoke. The reason is amusingly simple. As a caste society, we never perceived art as a means to educate our emotional world.
The patriarchal actions of dalit-bahujan men sprout from “also being victims of caste”, as opposed to the position of power which gives brahmin men assertiveness in personal and public life.
Jayanti is remarkable as it introduces a protagonist who questions his casteist, patriarchal past and creates the image of a man who can change his circumstances to liberate himself from this past. Suppose we ask ourselves which Indian movies carries the power, like a book has, to change a man and make him realise his oppression and how it led him to oppress others. Then we would certainly struggle to recall a single movie. Jayanti fills this void. It gives us the hero we all could become in our lives.
In her remarkable book, The Will To Change, Bell Hooks writes, “To heal, men must learn to feel again.” Jayanti is a story of the healing of a man who is a victim of caste and whose victimisation aggravates his patriarchal upbringing to the extent that he is unable to express his love. Jayanti is a story of a healed man.
What conveys to us that men are feeling and expressing pain? There can be no better evidence than men who express the failure they were, accept it, and come to terms with it. Caste society shaped dalit-bahujan men in two ways. It gave them absolute power as men inside homes and an ascending level of respect-power as per the hierarchy of caste—and a descending level of contempt-powerlessness as per the descending order of castes. Dalit-bahujan men carry patriarchal attitudes, but their existence is not devoid of the vulnerabilities they witness and bear in public life. Their patriarchal actions sprout from “also being victims of caste”, as opposed to the position of power which gives brahmin men assertiveness in personal and public life.
More often than not, the pain of dalit-bahujan men is cosmeticised—the way make-up conceals complexion—by their desire to be assertive at home. They want to get rid of this pain without dealing with it. Being a patriarchal or ‘real man’ is the only outlet casteist society has given them, which allows them to feel. And it is where men in brahmanical-patriarchal society are created every day. They get pushed farther away from feeling their pain and failures as people. Who is the agent who lets men realise their pain and helps them accept their failures as a person? How should a male member of caste society express and learn to feel his pain and accept failures? Jayanti offers us an idea of such a man.
Santya (played by Ruturaj Wankhede) is a lower caste man, not too educated, who lives in a basti of dalit-bahujan-tribal people. His family follows brahmanical rituals at home, but Santya is not too interested in such religious acts. He hangs out with dalit-bahujan boys from his basti who, like him, are not very educated and do hooliganism in the locality. Santya never realised how frustrated he was in his surroundings. He has a crush on a studious dalit girl who is determined about her life goals. But Santya does not possess a means to express his feelings. Growing up alienated from the truth of his position in caste society and lack of education have deprived him of ways to understand his life. Celebrations of the birth anniversaries of Shivaji Maharaj and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar have become stunts local politicians perform, who feed and give Santya and his friends money to do his bidding.
Santya, loyal to the politician, represents the thousands of dalit-bahujan men politicians use for petty interests. The situation is depressing, and Santya is in the thick of it, far from knowing who he is and where he belongs. But the rape of a tribal woman from the basti shatters his belief and rekindles his conscience. The politician for whom Santya works supports the rapist, who happens to be a savarna builder.
In India’s brutally divisive caste society, it is nearly impossible for men to seek to educate themselves emotionally.
Santya feels frustrated. He feels cheated. But he has neither language to understand the system that acts against the truth and supports culprits, nor does he know how to fight for justice. But he has an unquenchable rage, which is his guiding light. He decides to take things into his own hands and attacks the builder. But he is arrested. Although he gets bail, a college professor from basti convinces his family not to accept it. The professor has a Utopian plan to transform Santya into a better man.
In jail, every day, Santya is given a newspaper to read. Not in the habit of reading, he avoids it for days. One day, he begins to read. Gradually, he reads books such as Who Were the Shudras? by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar or Who Was Shivaji? by Govind Pansare. Digging deep into the pages of these books, he begins to imagine his own self and its location within history—who were his ancestors, what this country made them, and how that is related to his deterioration as a human in the present. Santya learns to unlearn what patriarchy taught him and comprehend how the caste system has been the primary agent in his life and history, both bringing devastation into the lives of millions like him.
Books educate Satya’s emotions while nurturing him intellectually, allowing him to dare imagine a new future for himself. In India’s brutally divisive caste society, it is nearly impossible for men to seek to educate themselves emotionally. Men are made into a pathological species here, who repeatedly assert their quest for power rather than love and justice. A crying man is considered to symbolise weakness. Consequently, men are made to hide their pain, and this repression makes them even more vulnerable. They never learn to express love in a just way.
Santya understands all this through reading from the anti-caste tradition. Those books convince him that it is essential that a man seeks love alongside justice to grow as a human being. Journeying with books, he confronts his vulnerabilities, cries, and weeps. No more does he become masculine. Books make him a sensitive person who now dares to imagine a new future for himself.
Reading allowed him to educate himself, grow, and annihilate notions of caste and patriarchy that shaped his earlier personality.
Bell Hooks writes, “Since emotional pain is the feeling that most males have covered up, numbed out, or closed off, the journey back to feeling is frequently through the portal of suffering.” Santya understands what it means to feel one’s vulnerabilities while reading books that do not entertain but educate him: Books that inform a man subsequently educate him emotionally.
When he emerges from jail, he works hard to establish himself as a man with dignity, which is only possible by working hard. His ways of feeling and expressing the necessity of love change as he becomes more attentive towards his crush. He has learned to listen. This alteration is the most significant evidence of what books could do for a man. He decides to contribute a part of his earnings to a movement fighting for justice for the rape survivor.
Santya starts to feel because he realises he is suffering within. Books taught him how wrong he was all this while. Reading allowed him to educate himself, grow, and annihilate notions of caste and patriarchy that shaped his earlier personality. He decides to change because he learns to feel his sufferings.