A giant has gone. I had met him several occasions and found him extremely dedicated to Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s mission. His command over language and subject was complete. He was forthright to the extent of calling a spade a spade. Raja Dhale, one of the founding fathers of Dalit Panthers movement passed away in the morning today at his Mumbai Residence. Born on September 30th, 1940, Dhale had seen Baba Saheb from his child hood. According to him Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s name was part and parcel of the lives of Dalits and backward communities in Maharashtra.
The first time, I met him was at the Chaitya Bhumi in Mumbai where I had gone on December 6th, 2016 to see the huge mass of people gathered at the place where Baba Saheb was creamated on December 7th, 1956. He was very pleasing personality and asked me to visit him at his home two days later. When I went to meet him along with my friend Vivek to record the conversation, we discussed things and about the people. He was very upset with my just taking the name of a senior scholar activist from Maharashtra and said that these English speaking people with their connection with the ‘communist’ editors in Delhi, capture all the space in the name of Dalit identity. He was certain that many of those “Panthers” who rarely worked with the people, gained ‘national’ and ‘international’ fame because of the brahmanical ‘intellectuals’ who patronised them. He was dead against the whole attempt to ‘patronise’ the movement and then co-opt it. And that was reason why he felt upset with me when I informed him that a friend has informed me about him. It took a lot time and we recorded the conversation next day.
Dhale was a man of literature and had always complained the ‘left’ trying to use those people who succumb to them. Prior to him, I had the impression that Dalit Panther’s movement was influenced by the Marxian-Ambedkarite ideology but he categorically blunted the theory. In fact, at the end, he did not even like the term Dalit or Panther. He was clear that the only identity that he had was of being a Buddhist.
He was also categorical that for the Bahujan movement, it is Phule-Ambedkar ideology and identity which remain supreme. He never wanted to use even Chatrapati Shahoo ji Maharaj in the company of them. He abhorred those who were putting so many ‘icons’ of Bahujan Samaj in their meeting and platform reducing Phule Ambedkar one among them. He wanted categorically that it is the ideology of Phule Ambedkar that will ultimately emancipate and revolutionise the Bahujan Samaj so they dont need to confuse by bringing so many others into it.
I would say, he was the Tiger of the Dalit Panther’s movement. A man of deep convictions. In fact, when we met in Mumbai for the recording of the conversation on December 8th, 2016, he said now the OBCs too are embracing Buddhism and asked me to come to Nagpur for the ceremony on December 25th, 2016. I made a point to visit there when nearly ten thousand people took deeksha from Bhadant Nagarjun Surai Sasai.
Raja Dhale left his government job for the cause of the movement. During the conversation he said :
“What’s the big deal in that? It’s a job, you throw it like you pick it. It was never the case that I never found something to eat. The ones who work only for food [material gains] are fools. There is more to life than that, and we should work for it. Of course, everyone does not possess this quality. In my family, I was the youngest amongst all my siblings and cousins, and that’s why everyone always helped me, and I learnt from them. One of my brothers became a doctor, being the first few students to enroll in the new Siddharth College; he even has a photo with Baba Saheb. Such were the sources of inspiration during my youth, and from there began my creative journey, through which I joined this movement. There were two writers from Worli, who were not highly literate, but they established the Maharashtra Dalit Sahitya Sangh under the guidance of Babasaheb. At the age of 15, I was a member of the Sahitya Sangh.”
He faced charges under Sedition laws too for his article published by a Magazine called Sadhna. Narrating the entire incident Dhale said that it happened in 1972 after the establishment of Dalit Panthers :
” There was a Brahmin village in Marathwada, where there were two women – Kalavati, and I forget the other’s name, but she is in my article – who were paraded naked because they had crossed the Brahmin fields. This was covered in the newspapers, so I decided to visit the village personally, and made some inquiries. That night, we arranged a meeting there, where the magistrate was also present. After I spoke, they filed a case against me. A month later, a man came to give me the court documents. I was sleeping, but I let the man in. He told me that I should go with him since I have a warrant against me, and if I don’t comply, there will be problems. I told him I am not coming, and he can inform the magistrate. The man then started begging saying his job is on the line. He then just wrote that I will come, and disappeared.”
His case became an eye opener and exposed many of those brahmanical ‘ideologues’ who claimed to defend freedom of expressions and human rights but police and administration could not do anything to Dhale. Such was the power of the Panthers in Maharashtra.
The Namantar movement in the 1980s was its glorious chapter when thousands of people asked the government to name the Marathwada University as Baba Saheb Ambedkar University while Shiv Sena kind of organisations were pushing people to oppose it. It was a disgrace how political parties opposed the name of the University but ultimately the power of Panthers compelled government rename the University as Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad. That was a great victory of the Ambedkarite movement and the role of Dalit Panthers will always remain heroic in that.
Raja Dhale was closely associated with Bhadant Anand Kauslyayan, who devoted his life for strengthen the philosophy of Buddhism. Kauslyayan had translated numerous book of Baba Saheb in Hindi and encouraged young dynamic Ambedkarite in the movement. Infact, it was Bhadant who got Dhale’s marriage solemnized according to Buddhist traditions.
The passing away of Raja Dhale is a great loss to Ambedkarite movement in India. His contribution remain enormous. His writings were mainly in Marathi and he often charged that the English speaking people get bigger publicity without doing their work while those close to the movement and native language rarely get the credit.
Raja Dhale was born on September 30th, 1940 and passed away on July 16th, 2019 and though he might have aged, he was very active till end. His death is a great loss to the Phule Ambedkarite movement as he was not afraid of communicating his mind. In our interview, he has named people and former friends who now crossed over to the Hindutva side and termed them easily purchasable, people who make organisations to survive and promote themselves and their interest. He categorically said that he was not among those who built organisation to his own benefit.
Dhale never compromised. He remained Tiger till end who roared according to his convictions. Though he was founder of Dalit Panthers, at the later stage, he dissociated with the world and never really liked it. He wanted to be called a Buddhist of the Phule Ambedkarite movement and that is what he wanted everyone to follow. Perhaps, the Bahujan movement need to follow the enlightened path as espoused by Raja Dhale, if it really want to challenge the brahmanical hegemony. Our sincere tribute to him.
I am sharing a long conversation here with Raja Dhale Saheb nearly two and a half years back. The conversation was recorded at his residence with my dear friend Vivek Sakpal taking me to his place and recording it. I hope to also share at some point of time, the transcription of the conversation in both in English and Hindi
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat Twitter @freetohumanity