By Rajiv Shah/ Last month-end, a Dalit poet, Jayesh Jeeviben Solanki, passed away. I learned this from Facebook. Innumerable FB friends, including Gujarat’s topmost Dalit rights politician Jignesh Mevani, who won as an independent MLA with Congress support, paid glowing tributes to Jayesh. Young, perhaps in his 30s, the very name suggests that he wanted to proclaim himself to be: that he is not a patriarch. The middle name is Jeeviben, which, I think, should be his mother’s (he wasn’t married) – unusual, as in Gujarat’s patriarchal tradition, it’s a tradition to put father’s name in the middle.
Be that as it may, as I didn’t know Jayesh personally, and had perhaps never met him, I decided to look up if there was any news about him. I didn’t know how he died. I wondered, whether he succumbed to the cruel pandemic, nothing unusual in the Covid times. None of the initial FB posts would say how he passed way, what disease was he suffering from, and so on. I scanned through several Gujarati sites, including those controlled by top papers Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, but none had any news about Jayesh. I wondered: If was such a good poet, why was he ignored?
While I have never read his poems (I am not an avid reader of Gujarati literary works, though sometimes I do scan through, randomly, some of the writeups), I wondered, why should a person, variously described as an excellent Dalit poet, die by suicide?
Finally, I read one FB post – which, while paying glowing tributes to Jayesh, went so far as to compare his suicide with that of Dalit rights leader Rohith Vemula, who was a student of the Hyderabad Central University.
It sounded strange to me, as unlike Vemula, Jayesh wasn’t, apparently, involved in any major Dalit protests which would have put him in direct confrontation with the state apparatus, leading to his suicide. So, I decided to ring up some friends to find out exactly why was he forced to commit suicide. The general answer that I got was, he “had gone into depression”. Reason? I was told, he had “no work.” The result was, he would “drink a lot” to overcome his “depression.” In fact, someone even said, “He was adamant not to accept any job offered by a private company.”
I didn’t understand the logic, so I decided to dig a little more: I was told, though a good poet, he wasn’t much educated; at one point he “worked as a manual worker”, but lately he had even stopped doing that; he “knew” most Dalit rights leaders and civil society activists across Gujarat, including Mevani, with whom he went right up to Una as his comrade-in-arm – the “historic” Ahmedabad to Una march to protest against chaining and beating up of four Dalit boys in broad daylight – yet “none seemed to take care of him”, and so on and so forth.’
All this made Jayesh “extremely bitter”, I was told. One of his friends told me, “His poems reflected his bitter feelings about civil society, even Dalit leaders, and in personal talks with any and everyone he wouldn’t hide his anger. The result was, those whom he criticised, sort of, left him in the lurch, never talked to him, and he found himself increasingly isolated, leading to his extreme step.” Terrible, I thought.
Yet, ironically, if the information I receive is correct, there wasn’t any police inquiry into his suicide. In fact, on October 30, 2020 a Besna (gathering in memory of the departed soul) also took place, unusual in Covid times.