For any one to understand Joti Ba Phule, it is the pre-essential quality that change begins from home. We speak a lot, lecture others about change and communicate with people in such a language unknown to them or un-understandable to them. Many times, I found, people speak of their ‘knowledge’ and not what the audiences want.
In India, the biggest challenge for those who claim to be intellectuals or in public life, is the vast gap between their ‘public image’ and their personal lives. Not that we want to know about every one’s personal life but the gap in perception and ideological framework is big. When your ideology at public is different than what you practice in person, then, the ideological frame is just an illusion and will collapse anytime.
Why I am saying so because we all remember our great leaders and philosophers, remind other what they did and read out their ‘biographies’ but rarely attempt to learn from their life and mission which is important for all of us. And that way, Jotiba Phule remain the biggest revolutionary of India, an ideal person who not only build up the leadership qualities in his wife Savitri Phule but also encouraged her to take up the leadership.
How was it possible to allow your woman to lead from the front some 240 years ago when people are not able to do that even in todays time. And when Joti Ba did it two centuries back, then why it was not followed subsequently. Why women are out of sight and thought of our movements ? And the answer lies in deeply entrenched brahmanical thoughts in our minds which keep women subjugated and those who still think that they dont have any mind of their own and need to be controlled. This is the biggest failure of our movements that we despise independent women.
One of the weaknesses of our movements have been to turn every thing into Brahmin-non Brahmin binary. Like the Hindu Muslim binary, this Brahmin- non Brahmin binary too is an attempt to deny the women and other segments their right and space. The binaries are often created to help the dominant and vocal communities and leave others out of the representation. A sweeping generalisation is dangerous and therefore brahmanism has to be understood in the way Baba Saheb Ambedkar described as graded inequality which actually create further differences among the oppressed, a division among them. We need to address the issue of participation and representation and not to look issues from narrow minds. Each community will seek representation and binaries actually deny the most marginalised their space. Every time, an issue come up and challenges the monopoly of a leader or a community and we come up with numerous conspiracy theories. This has resulted in a stagnation and dominance of self proclaimed leaders who want to lead but not in a collective spirit but in a highly individualised way, imitating the Brahmanical politics of brand building.
If any one has to learn from the life and mission, then we have to look beyond and see how the Phules operated and acted. He remained down to earth and not only provided an extraordinary critique of Brahmanism but also gave humanist alternative to all. It is not enough to critique an ideology but provide your alternatives too. His target was not merely women from the most marginalised sections but the Brahmin widows too who were victim of the oppressive Brahmanical system. It was clear that the Brahmanism victimised its women too with highly oppressive social structure as there was no space for widows and they were ostracised.
Jotiba was a master communicator. His work Gulamgiri and Kisan ka koda are master pieces and must be dramatised as well as popularised in the northern belt in particular. My complain with all those friends and political parties in the north who speak about Bahujan but did nothing to promote and encourage the wonderful and path-breaking work of Jotiba Phule. It is the need of the hour that our children should know not only what is the discrimination but most importantly what is the alternative.
Today, a number of people are demanding ‘justice’ from those who are the violators. We ask for space in media but if we can learn from Phule-Ambedkar-Periyar then please understand to create your own autonomous spaces and not to get a licence of legitimacy from the Manustream media. Unfortunately, our farmers movement does not remember Jotiba and Ghulamgiri or Kisan ka koda because the Kisan too have their castes. They might join hand when we talk about the problem of the kisans but the same time when the issue of Dalits, land reform come, the same kisan fall into his ‘caste’ ‘identity’. It is essential therefore that we build these movement on the historic legacy and the analysis provided by Phule. The Savarna leaders of the Kisan movement have actually carefully delinked the current condition of the farmers and historic wrong. The Bahujan political forces rarely brought the issue of farmers and land reform and mostly confined to identity issues thus leaving the field and leadership of these huge segments to be captured by the savarna elite which does not want to talk about caste oppression.
Can any movement related to farmers and other communities which are nature worshipers succeed without speaking of annihilation of caste and respecting the autonomy of the communities. Can these movement be build strongly without understanding the historical wrongs committed against the Bahujan samaj ? Can we just build these narrative against the ‘external’ enemies and ignoring the biggest exploitation of the ‘internal’ caste imperialists ?
Jotiba was far ahead of his time. A revolutionary, who understood the pains and miseries of women but at the same point of time realised that it wont be possible to build a strong movement without their participation and representation at all level. Baba Saheb Ambedkar followed Phule’s path and the movement that he build in different part of the country including historical one at Mahad, had a huge representation of women leaders and participants. Disturbingly, after the demise of Baba Saheb, we have not seen the same zeal to build up the women’s leadership in our organisations and those who brought women independently wanted to control them. A true tribute to Jotiba Phule would be possible and real when we support Dalit Bahujan women’s leadership in our structures whether political, social or cultural otherwise the brahmanical forces are ready to grab things in the name of feminism. I want to warn the Dalit Bahujan leaders that if they fail to support the Dalit Bahujan women initiative in their organisations and social spaces, they will have none to blame except them. A change has to start from with in and has to be encouraged fully till the goal is achieved. Jotiba not only encouraged Savitri Mai but stood with her through thick and thin and both became complimentary to each other. Let us celebrate the wonderful work of Jotiba and Savitri mai, promote it, feel it and follow it to build a democratic and equitable society.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity