By Vidyadhar Date
17 October, 2015
Some writers have their ears much closer to the ground but remain neglected because they write in regional languages. A dalit writer in Marathi wrote a play attacking the concept of Hindu Rashtra seven years ago, long before the current controversy.
In fact, the play actually broke records as six performances were staged on a single day by the same cast from 7.30 a.m. till past midnight at Ravindra Natya Mandir in Mumbai.The play’s title Shuddha Bijapoti conveys the theme, it relates to the concept of racism, the so-called pure race.
Premanand Gajvi, the writer, does not like being called a dalit writer as writers like him feel they need to be recognized in their own right as writers, not because of their caste.
He is a major writer but is little known in the English language media or literary circles because of inbuilt prejudices against regional languages as inferior. One has to see the condescending way some of these worthies talk with people speaking in regional languages.
In this play Gajvi lay bare the politics of Hindu terrorism much before it attracted media attention with the Sadhvi and Col. Purohit case investigated by the widely respected police officer Hemant Karkare.
The main character is a fundamentalist Brahmin history professor, who opposes his daughter’s marriage to a dalit boy and advocates extermination of minorities in India. The play is never shrill, has a lot of action and satire and never loses its seriousness.
The lead role was powerfully played by Girish Oak, himself a Brahmin, and a doctor-turned actor in the mould of Shreeram Lagoo and Kashinath Ghanekar.
The play was directed by Ram Daund who has acted in the play Yada Kadachit, which pokes fun at Hindu gods and goddesses and whose performances were stopped by Sanatan Prabhat, a fundamentalist group.
It is commendable that several prominent writes are now returning their literary awards in protest against growing communalization. But most had failed to read the signals even after the murder of the Communist leader Govind Pansare last February.
In fact, so stark was the absence of protests from literary quarters that I had focused on the issue in my article at the time on the murder. And even the secular and respected writer Kiran Nagarkar had not taken cognizance of the murder in his lecture in Mumbai delivered less than a week after the killing.
There is clearly a need to bridge the gap between the liberal writers and those on the Left. How many of our liberals have even heard the name of Amar Shaikh, a radical Shahir, folk singer, who roused thousands of people with his songs of working class solidarity in Mumbai in the fifties and sixties ? His birth centenary is to be celebrated in Mumbai next Tuesday with a day-long programme in the university campus in the hall which was named after him some years ago.
Amar Shaikh is particularly important in the current atmosphere not only because of his left-wing ideology but also the fact that he was a Muslim and a very fluent Marathi speaking one steeped in the indigenous culture. His wife was a middle class Hindu. Most people are familiar with his son in law the prominent dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal but not Amar Shaikh . Dhasal’s wife Mallika is also a poet and her sister married another left wing writer Anil Barve.
It is this vast gulf between the upper class and the reality at the ground level which was in evidence when the Sanatan Sanstha’s role came under the scanner in the recent murders of rationalists in Maharashtra. There was complete ignorance in this class about the organization. Even good NGOs working for communal harmony seemed to have not a ghost of an idea.
The first account of the deeply violent nature of the organization was rendered by a little known writer called Srikant Patwardhan in an article in Loksatta, the Marathi daily, last month. He cited extensively from its publications. And by Alka Dhupkar in Mumbai Mirror after an interview with the Sanatan chief in his ashram in Goa.
Even well-funded academics have little idea about such developments. One reason is they do not know the regional languages, says history researcher with a social conscience, Rusheed Wadia. It is in these languages that so much information can be obtained but no one bothers, again this is because of intense class prejudice.
And while some of the liberals have woken up to the danger of fascism, they are quite happy with capitalism which is actually its close ally. The thinker Max Horkheimer’s statement may seem rather harsh but he has a point when he says you have no right to attack fascism if you don’t want to criticize capitalism. The Shiv Sena is now again in focus but people forget that it is essentially a creation of the business and industrial class. This issue is usually buried under the carpet in even serious discussions on communalism.
And does anyone remember the Muslim social reformer Hamid Dalwai who questioned orthodox Islam and came under severe attack from fundamentalists before his untimely death in the seventies ? There was an active group called the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal in Maharashtra run by Marathi speaking Muslims from Western Maharashtra. Dalwai’s book on reform has an introduction by A.B. Shah, the then president of the Indian Secular Forum. The movement was backed by the socialists. Mr Sharad Pawar had supported Mr Dalwai and ensured police protection for him. Today, it is doubtful if he would support such a secular group considering the change in politics. Dalwai’s wife Mehrunnisa has written an interesting autobiography in Marathi. Dalwai led a simple life in a small house in Andheri without a television or a frig.
That apart, common people everywhere now face more serious problems than in the past, as the prominent Israeli intellectual Yuval Noah Harari pointed out in Mumbai on October 13.
Formerly, the ruling classes needed common people to run the system. Now, with new technology people are becoming disposable, said the author of the acclaimed book A Brief History of Humankind in a programme organized by Asia Society at the Museum.
Inequality is now set to grow further. Earlier, there was no biological difference between the rich and poor. Now, the rich are set to acquire superior bodies and brains with new advances in medical science. Governments and politicians are now losing power, they are merely becoming managers, they are not leaders.
Our intellectuals in league with the establishment need to learn that people are no longer going to believe in the trickle down theory. The system simply does not need the poor now. The ruling class is now increasingly divorced from ethics. People need to seriously unite and organize themselves against this new onslaught.
(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the Era of Climate Change. Walking, Cycling, Public Transport need priority).