Hari Narke, Phule Ambedkar scholar, died in his prime

Hari Narke

He was such a good scholar and more than that such a good fighter for social justice.

Politicians in Maharashtra constantly invoke social reformers Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar in their speeches while betraying their legacy through their corruption and opportunism. Hari Narke truly served the cause of Phule and Ambedkar. He was barely in his twenties when he confronted a mean and defamatory article on Phule published in the conservative but widely sold Marathi Weekly Sobat in 1989 written by Bal Gangal.

He wrote a booklet exposing the distortion and falsehood. I wrote on this in the Times of India then and subsequently on Narke’s prolific work Sadly, Narke passed way on August 9, it was a shock for all, he was barely sixty years of age, hardly an age to go for anyone and more so for such a fine researcher and scholar, one expcted a long more fruitful innings from him. He was a real Satyashodhak, a researcher for truth, as Shraddha Kumbhojkar, head of the department of history in Savitribai Phule university in Pune, observed. Narke had a role in giving the name of Savitribai, pioneer in women’s education in Maharashtra in the 19th century, and wife of Mahatma Phule, to the university.

He wrote extensively and with zeal on Dr Ambedkar and the Phule couple, gave lectures all over, braving all inconveniences, he often complained that the organisers in many cases did not properly look after him or did not pay him though they had all the money in the word. But he was so dedicated, he took it all in the stride. Because he was not from the majority caste, he was paid a pittance while ordinary speakers from the dominant caste were paid big sums.

He derived inspiration from Dr Baba Adhav, socialist activist, and Dr Y.,D. Phadke, scholar of modern history Hari played a leading role in bringing out the multi volume collected works of Phule and Ambedkar for the Maharashtra government. In his ceaseless campaign of spreading the message of Phule and Ambedkar he perhaps took too much of stress on himself and perhaps did not take enough care of his health. He was also a major campaigner for OBC reservation and this brought him in close contact with former minister Chhagan Bhujbal, perhaps to close. His opposition to Maratha reservations was based on Constitutional provisions and his deep study , but brought him much hostility.

His daughter Pramiti has been carrying on his legacy through her portrayal of the role of Savitribai in stage and television performances.

A couple of days before his passing away he wrote on facebook on the sad state of reading books in Maharashtra. Many districts did not have a single book shop. Sadly so true, as Arjun Dangle, prominent dalit write and scholar, told me many people from Marathwada had to go to Aurangabad or Nanded to buy books.

Rich tributes were paid to Narke at a meeting held in Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya in Dadar, Mumbai, last evening organised by the Dalit Ambedkar Mahila Manch,. Dr Bhalchandra Mungekar, former vice-chancellor of Mumbai university and Ambeedkarite, ecnomics scholar, presided.

Sambhaji Bhagat, popular folk singer, said Hari was like a very good lawyer who made a forceful case with solid evidence.

Shravan Devare, OBC reservation campaigner, recalled that his guru Sharad Patil, a senior scholar in Indian culture and history, would spare none in his criticism but he respected Hari’s scholarship, that was an exception. He published Hari’s early polemical work in Satyashodhak Marxwadi journal.

Dr Mungekar, while paying high tributes to Narke said unfortunately, there is no intellectual ferment now, there has been little in the last fifty years since the days of dalit Panther and dalit literature.

Among other speakers were Vandana Mahajan, head of the department of Marathi, Mumbai university, Lata P.M. researcher, activist, Sandhya Nare Pawar, Nitin Vaidya, journalist and media company head, Urmila Pawar, Asha Kamble, dalit writers and Kiran Sonawane, journalist.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport

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