How Bahujan Activism Ruined Dalit Literary Movement in Karnataka

April 10th, 2017 (written for commemorating 126th Ambedkar Jayanti)


In the recent UP elections, BSP’s debacle despairs the Dalit community across the country. What should Dalit-bahujan do? Now it’s time to revisit the basics. The Bahujan activism has misread Babasaheb Ambedkar’s forewarn by just focusing on politics. Paraphrasing Ambedkar, “political power is the key to all social progress”, the famous slogan of Kanshiram, “political power is the master-key for Dalit liberation” is a misinterpretation.

It’s important to be clear what do we mean by politics. History has taught us, politics is the system of relations of power within a society, and it has limitations. Perry Anderson, world’s leading Marxist thinker says: “Politics in a society doesn’t go inside the whole of society; it’s a specific area of society. Politics is about power–the inequalities or equalities of power. There are many other relations within a society, for example, relations of meaning which are to do with the culture which can overlap with Politics but don’t go inside.”

Cultural transformation within the Dalit community is a neglected mission. Babasaheb has always stressed on education as a means for the cultural transformation of all the lower castes and he warned them seventy years ago regarding what they should do and also what kind of education India needs, he says, “not mere education but we need education in such a manner as to promote intellectual, moral and social democracy, this is what modern India needs and this is what all well-wishers of India must promote.”

He meant education is not just a tool for the emancipation but in a much deeper sense what great American philosopher John Dewey, one of Babasaheb’s most influential teachers at Columbia, held the opinion that education is a social process; Dewey says “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”.

It’s now clear that Dalits can’t fight the Hindu Nazism with the Bahujan theory alone which merely focuses on acquiring the political power for the Dalit-bahujan. It is the time to invoke Ambedkar’s famous aphorism “Educate, Agitate, Organise”. Dalits need to focus on education. Education is the panacea for all the Dalit problems and even to fight the fascism.

For Ambedkar education is a life’s mission. In his last days, from 1952 to 1954 Babasaheb visited Bangalore twice particularly in connection with establishing a training school for educating people. He then took a survey visiting the Dalit hostels and addressing students; he was quite impressed with the mobilisation of the Dalits and their literacy attainment and awareness of education in the princely state of Mysore, those days. It was due to the benevolence of reformer king Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV who advocated the reservations for the backward castes way back in the 1920s and also his predecessor activist Gopalaswamy Iyer’s campaigning for the Panchama schools – separate schools and hostels for the Untouchables in old Mysore region in the early 1900s.

Babasaheb’s last message was very clear, beforehand he has been writing elaborately on what Dalits should do in his unpublished manuscripts often gave lectures on this issue on various occasions. His last message was ‘educate’.  And he believed that education alone can change the conditions of Dalits.

These days, there are Dalit activists who advocate the economic empowerment and believe this alone can liberate the Dalits from sufferings and slavery and uplifting the community. But in believing this they are making a mistake by not heeding to the US-educated founding father’s warning that is the importance of education for lower castes. On the importance of education for the lower castes, Babasaheb further writes, “The backward classes have come to realise that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight. We may forego material benefits . . . but we cannot forego our right and opportunity to reap the benefit of the highest education to the fullest extent.”

Today, BVS (Bahujan Vidhyarti Sangha) is one of the biggest student organisations not only in Karnataka but in the country. Though they have been organising protests and solidarity programs for the social justice, “they train cadres but no intellectuals. It is evident from not producing any literary works since the post-DSS activism” says Surya, a former Dalit student activist, Yuvaraja’s college Mysore.

In Karnataka, Dalit movement has come to a crossroads and its activists have to introspect and contemplate to reinvent the great struggles of their forerunners from 11th century Dalit writers Madara Chennaiah, Dohara Kakkaiah, Holayara Haralaiah to our times late Professor B. Krishnappa, Devanura Mahadeva, Dr. Siddalingaiah, K. Ramaiah, Dr. Arvinda Malagatti, Dr. Ma Na Javaraiah, Indudhar Honnapura, Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy and many other writers, defying hegemony, who produced resisting literary works since the 1970’ s.  Interestingly, at the turn of the 20th century, two prominent Dalit poets D. Govinda Das and Sosale S. Siddappa also took the literary path to articulate the Dalit cause.

Particularly in Karnataka, after the 1990s, the impact of BAMCEF (Backwards and Minority Communities Employees Federation) activism and the rise of Bahujan movement have created sort of anti-literary environment amid Dalit students and youngsters, in particular. Since then we hardly find any literary works. There are young writers from the Bahujan activism but they have only produced Ambedkar worshiping empty slogans – eulogising him and his writings. To paraphrase the great writer Rudyard Kipling, I believe that those who know only Ambedkar, what do they know about Ambedkar? It is only by reading his writings, understanding his practice and vision in the context of other thinkers and personalities Dalits can grasp things better and achieve a deeper sense of Babasaheb. Therefore, the Dalit-bahujan movement mandate and path should be of Babasaheb’s way, what he envisioned for the future of India, we should make it into a reality. It is in our hands.

Thus, besides student politics, the main objective of the Dalit student movements should be of serving the educational needs on basic aspects of politics, culture, and society for common people to understand the reality. This is what Dalit students should do, what’s happening in the Dalit-sphere on the social media platforms whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or on WhatsApp? All you see is the sloganeering nothing but empty slogans. We need slogans but when and where? Slogans are the inspiriting words meant for specific events; a campaign, protest etc., but if you keep on chanting slogans all the time and in all the occasions it will become mantras, one like Brahminical rituals and will only end up producing idiots and fanatics. Mere slogans are not contemplative and critical so it makes them anti-educational. They are just for heartening, not for education. So they do not play any positive role in any sort of intellectualization of the masses. And education is a different activity altogether, what kind of education Babasaheb wanted? He wanted an education that is reflective and learned, and education as a community activity and an education for the community and, ultimately, for all the humanity.

Further, on educational activity, Dewey says reflective thought as ‘active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’. With all these insights from great historical personalities the Dalits follow, they should see themselves in the mirror to realise that what are they up to and on what path they are marching? A democratic or the brahminical way! Which is their educational path? Will they not realise the difference until the damage is done?

In the wake of the famous Boosa movement, Mysore region has been the epicentre of resisting and revolutionist Dalit literary works, but today as Dalit writing, there is too much of idolising, deifying and mere Ambedkar worshiping literature is being produced by self-styled Bahujan movement, in Kannada. What is its nature? How does it work in educationally underdeveloped and deprived communities like Dalits? Is it any better than a hero-worshipping chant? We all know very well and heard many times, what Babasaheb said and warned us against the hero-worshipping: “For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship plays a part in its politics unequaled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

As I already mentioned, across the country and mainly in Karnataka the seventies bestowed the Dalit literary movements which offered resistance to the upper caste cultural dominance and supremacy. Inasmuch as, isn’t it a time for an educational movement amongst Dalits? Indeed! For our times, reinventing the legacy of the Boosa movement and its resistance that spread through poems, fictions, novellas, short stories that came in the name of Banadaya sahitya (includes non-Dalits and progressive writers), is need of the hour for Dalits and lower castes for challenging the cultural hegemony of fascist politics in the country.

Long ago, Babasaheb has already given a warning to the Dalits, he says, “What must the Untouchables strive for? Two things they must strive for is education and spread of knowledge. The power of the privileged classes rests upon lies which are sedulously propagated among the masses. No resistance to power is possible while the sanctioning lies which justify that power are accepted as valid. While the lie which is the first and the chief line of defence remains unbroken there can be no revolt. Before any injustice, any abuse or oppression can be resisted, the lie upon which it is founded must be unmasked, must be clearly recognised for what it is. This can happen only with education.”

Chittibabu Padavala, a former journalist and Dalit scholar, says, “in the Hindusphere, there was never any Renaissance, there was never any Enlightenment. So we have to do it now”. For this reason, the Dalit emancipation lies in education, Babasaheb has shown Dalits the way to the enlightenment. Eventually, in Karnataka, the Dalit-Bahujan activists should realize and substantiate that “knowledge is power but power is not knowledge”; it is a time for bringing about a change through educating the masses through literary works by invoking what Babasaheb Ambedkar has already warned long ago, which is unheeded by today’s Dalit student movements: struggle for education and spread of knowledge for understanding the reality and to fight the cultural hegemony. Will Dalit-bahujan realise it?


Babasaheb Ambedkar visits student hostel (near Lal Bagh) in Bangalore in the 1950s




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