Report On First Village conference Ajuha Bazaar, District – Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh June 8 to 10 2006
The first village conference in the series of six focused on Dalits was organized by Dalit Resource Centre (hereafter referred to as DRC), GB Pant Social Science Institute at Ajuha Bazar in district, Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh for a period of three days i.e. 8-11th June, 2006. This conference forms part of the Project ‘Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere: A Project for Research, Documentation and Advocacy’ funded by the Ford Foundation, New Delhi.
Freedom- The Theme of the Conference
The first village conference focused on the theme of ‘Freedom’. The term freedom has become polysemic. It denotes different meaning for different people in different societies on account of socio cultural diversities rooted in the historicity and subjectivity of that society. Thus, freedom has many modes of expression and realization. One experiences freedom in disagreeing with some but sharing with the other, without causing harm to one another. Thus, it entails co-existence, mutual tolerance of each other’s views as well as to dissent. So, freedom is both discursive and dialogical in its mode of individual expression. It is not confined to exercise of right to vote only but also in right to access of economic and cultural resources. It includes designing and creating new cultural forms in terms of art, literature, life-style, festivals, and also protests against elements obstructing it. Also, freedom consists in having dialogue with the future in the light of past and the present. In context of Dalits, the term freedom carries multiple meanings of a different nature- deconstructing their pejorative images and reconstructing an alternative hegemonic identity; creating space to capture political power and whetting freedom of expression and designing cultural parameters for Dalit communities through popular writings. Hence, the concept of freedom carries greater significance for Dalit communities on account of their past deprivations and negligible socio-economic achievements with hope for substantial accomplishment in present and future.
Objectives of the Conference
The conference attempted to understand how Dalit writers, organic intellectuals, community members and social leaders conceive the term freedom. The conference succeeded in eliciting responses to such vital questions as, what freedom means for them? What mechanisms are they employing to attain this freedom and what they intend to gain from this freedom? How are they transmitting their concept of freedom to others both within and outside community? What gains they expect from this freedom and to what extent are they hopeful of attaining the kind of freedom they aim at? What is the extent, to which they feel, have obtained that freedom in different spheres of their life? How they experience freedom in contemporary political, social, and cultural areas? What is their perception of democratic institutions available to them for realization of freedom? What models of freedom have they conceived for their future? Such issues pertaining to freedom of Dalits in the established hierarchical hegemonic social order were discussed in this conference, participated both by Dalits and non-Dalits intellectuals.
Identification of Village
As DRC is located in Allahabad district, it was found imperative that its objectives and activities be transmitted amongst Dalit communities in the neighbouring region. Guru Prasad Madan, on whom the conference focused, hails from village, ‘Ajuha Bazar’, in Kaushambhi district, located in South-West of Allahabad district. He was born and brought up in this village and it was here that he encountered various forms of physical and mental tribulations for being a Dalit. Such experiences pushed him to commit himself to write for liberty and dignity of his fellow beings. The idea was to bring the writer close to the people to whom his booklets are addressed. This was the motivating factor for identifying this village inorganizing the first village conference.
The village ‘Ajuha Bazar’ is located in Sirathu tehsil, of Kaushambi district in Allahabad. It is on National Highway- 2. Village, stretching in North-South direction and is socially segregated on caste basis as Chamar basti, Paasee basti, Baniya basti, Gwal basti, etc. The population of the village is approximately 10,000, of which 20 per cent are Scheduled Castes. The village is dominated mainly by Sunaars (goldsmith) and Baniyas (business men). Among Dalit communities, Paasees are numerically in majority, followed by Chamars, Kori, Khatik, Dhobi, Kuchbandhiya and Santrash. Educational status of Dalits is deplorable. Few have passed middle or intermediate examination. Abject poverty among Dalits push their children to leave school and join labour market. ‘Ajuha Bazar’, is a popular business centre in leather, vegetables, and jaggery. It is an important market for buying and selling of animals. As Dalits own no agricultural land, they serve as agricultural labourers in fields of rich farmers hailing from Thakur, Baniya, and Muslim communities or pursue their traditional occupations e.g. tannery piggery, washing clothes, cleaning toilets, vegetable selling, agricultural labourer, and stone breaking. Currently, the village has the status of Nagar Panchayat- a category allotted to lowest urban settlement by the government.
A Brief Introduction of the Writer
Guru Prasad Madan, a social activist and author of many Dalit popular writings was born on July 5 1942, in village Ajuwha Bazar, district Kaushambi. His father, Sri Bhiku Lal, a poet and a social reformer, worked assiduously for the uplift of Dalit communities in the village. Madan was first Dalit in his village to obtain degrees in graduation, post-graduation and law. He refused jobs; and vowed to awaken the slumbering masses of Dalit communities to the light of freedom and dignity, with his pen. Since then his writings, including biographies, poems, couplets, etc. have touched upon multiple Dalit issues, with a mission to empower Dalit communities. His writings have contributed immensely in the area in the area of Dalit assertion and uplift. He has more than 12 Dalit popular writings to his credit, like Jhuthi Azadi; Bodhisatva- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar; Sone Walo Jag Uthho, Ambedkar Ek Parichay, Toofani Tarane, Baudh Dharma Deepika, etc. He was inspired by the writings of Swami Achhutanand, Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu, Ramachandra Banoudha, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Kabir, and Rut Ram. He has been associated with various processions, meetings, protest march, and rallies. He has been receipt of several honours, prominent among them being, ‘Certificate of Honour’ by Bhartiya Dalit Sahitya Academy, Madhya Pradesh, ‘Dr. Ambedkar Fellowship-2005’, by Bhartiya Dalit Sahitya Academy, New Delhi. He was also chosen as ‘Man of the Year’ by an American Institute. His enthusiastic involvement in Dalit movements got him elevated to the position of General Secretary of Scheduled Caste Federation of India. He relentlessly encounters the existing social and financial crisis in his personal life and continues unrelenting struggle for establishing an egalitarian social system in which marginalized Dalit communities would be able to live with freedom and dignity.
Swatantrata Chaupal (Freedom Meet): First Day of the Conference, 8th June 2006
Ravindra Kalia Chairman, Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad, Calcutta was the chief guest with Prof. Bishnu Mohapatra, Dr. Devendra Choubey, Mohandas Nemisharay, all from New Delhi, Angane Lal, Rajkumar Itihaaskar and Madhuri Devi (from Lucknow), A. R. Akela (Aligarh), K. Nath, Rani Nath and Dev Kumar(Kanpur) and Bhadant Tishya asspecial guests at the conference.
The conference began with the welcome speech of Dr. Badri Narayan. He informed the audience of idea behind organizing such a conference. It was aimed at bringing the mainstream writers face to face with the grass root Dalit writers. He further said that Ajuha village was chosen for organizing DRC’s first village conference because this was the birth place of Shri Guru Prasad Madan who had contributed immensely towards awakening of Dalit masses through his booklets. And the need was also felt to bring him closer to people to whom his booklets are addressed. This was precisely the reason behind naming the conference as “Apna Lekhak Apna Gaon”.
After this Shri Guru Prasad Madan conducted the whole the day’s proceedings. He gave a very brief introduction of the village and explained how the village came to be known as Ajuha. He told that according to a story, when Lord Buddha left Kaushambi, he on his way came to a place named “Ujuwa”. Gradually the name Ujuwa became Ajuha and so it was a matter of pride for the inhabitants that their village had a historical linkage with Lord Buddha himself. This story, he said, has been transmitted from one generation to another and thus was ever alive.
Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra, appealed the Dalits present to come out from the vortex of their asphyxiating past and express views from the platform erected for them to voice their silent opinions and concerns on issues confronting and pricking them. It enthused common Dalit villagers to share their experiences of life hardships and pains that they had to bear in their life. They revealed the nature and content of deprivations and its traumatic impact in their lives into which they were pushed by the Varna System, which had created a hierarchy in which the lowest in it could never dream to uplift himself. The conference succeeded in inviting substantial participation by local Dalits from both in and around the village Ajuha. Many people had come from Fatehpur, an adjoining district to attend the conference including women. The conference also offered an opportunity to non-dalit literateurs to learn about hidden social realities. Ravindra KAlia, president Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad, Calcutta confessed that the conference had extended his literary horizon.
On first day of the conference, a Poster Pradarshini (exhibition) was also displayed. In it posters made by the Dalit painters were displayed. It drew large crowd, and Dalits were seen reading each line of it quite carefully, which spoke of their level of interest in their community history and the urge in them for asserting their separate identity. The posters prepared around the theme of the conference ‘freedom’ had quotations from the booklets on freedom. The pictographic content helped in adding more meaning to the theme of freedom. Photographs of their heroes thrilled them. Pictorial medium seemed to be a big success in disseminating the message of liberty among the non literate section of the villagers as they were seen engrossed in analyzing the contents of the posters.
Itihaas Charcha (Discussion on History): The Second Day of the Conference, 9th June 2006.
Main objective of deliberation on the second day was to sensitize Dalit communities of their glorious past to enthuse them to understand and construct positive identity of their community. Discussions revolved around heroic deeds and benevolent acts of Dalit social reformers, freedom fighters, socio-political leaders, and writers. of Oral histories, multiple in numbers, consisting both of myths and facts, exist in diluted and confused form in memories of the both Dalit writers and the community members. These histories are passed down to the coming generations, without being documented in the form of texts, hence, vulnerable to numerous distortions. Therefore, audiences were encouraged and motivated to share their memoirs and utilize the conference as a medium and platform to popularize and disseminate oral history of their community to all in coherent and authentic mode. This could be accomplished only if documented in textual forms and would help in elevating the morale of the members of Dalit communities in respecting and reposing faith in their own community history. It would also facilitate in discovering their rich cultural past, and link their identity with hoary history of their community leading to vertical mobility in personal, social, and political areas.
Shri Guru Prasad Madan invited Ram kishore, retired Judge and a Dalit writer of popular booklets from Barabanki to preside over the session christened “The Memoirs of Struggle for Freedom from the Bondage of Slavery”.
Madanjee highlighted the role played by Swami Achutananda in awakening consciousness of Dalit population and informed the audience about his relationship with Mahashay Bhiku Lal, his father. In Ajuha both of them organized and led various movements for emancipation of Dalits of the region. The movements were against three unjust practices namely, a). Hari Begari Practice- Under this the labourer was given 700 grams of rice for a day’s work, known locally as ‘teen pau’. Even this amount of rice could be substituted by some other coarse grain without enhancing the quantity. b). Another revolutionary movement was against what was called in those days as “Raat Basna” (staying at night). Under this practice chamar women were summoned by upper caste families for cutting the umbilical cord of the new born and spend six days with the mother and the child in their service. During these six days she had to do all servile work to keep both the mother and the child clean. Despite this inhumane job these women got only humiliation for they remained to be treated as untouchables. Even the nursing mother whose child they used to nurture did not touch her. c). Thirdly, Swami Achutananda and Mahashay Bhiku Lal discouraged Dalits from lifting dead animals from upper caste localities, a practice that had been thrust upon them. Whenever an animal died it had to be thrown and lifted only by a low caste person. Both also sensitized people of their right to protect themselves and their self respect. Madanjee told that during these movements it was Ajuha that had become the centre of all these activities.
The Dalit writer of the village, Guru Prasad Madan recalled Swami Achutananda’s contribution to instituting of the “Mulki Hakh Batwara Andolan”, which was not only a political movement but also a social movement. He succeeded in bringing in this movement not only the educated class but also the uneducated section of this community. Highlighting the cultural importance of his village Ajuha, Madanjee said that the place was famous for such cultural mode of expressions as “Dhobia Naach” and “Chamar Nacha”, in which they revealed their painful experiences of life through dance and music. He also spelled out the contribution of Scheduled Caste Federation of India, Republican Party of India, BAMCEF and BSP in the social, political and economic elevation of the Dalit communities.
Shri Devendra Choubey, (JNU, New Delhi) speaking on the occasion, deliberated the concept of liberation and freedom. In India to him whenever one talked of freedom the common perception was that of political ‘freedom’ only. For Gandhi and Jinnah the term frredom had different connotation limited to political sphere only but for Ambedkar it was something more than political freedom. For him social and economic freedom were equally important and it was from here that the second concept of freedom in India sprouted and grew. Indian social system being based on the Varna System subjugated Dalit communities. Therefore, only those Dalit books that were/are being written against Varna order and its unjust propositions can be labeled as Dalit literature or Dalit writing. He reiterated that the essence of this freedom was liberation from the Varna supremacy. For this education and power were two most important aspects of any Dalit’s development.
Continuing the discussion, Mohandas Nemishray, a famous Dalit writer, encouraged the audience to participate fearlessly in expressing their viewpoints. The fabric of the Indian society to him was such that one community cannot live without the other community. He said, even the Brahmins cannot live without the Dalits. This is so because each caste has specific occupations and the task which one caste could do, the others cannot do. The concept of untouchabiltiy, he said, is superfluous as the temples that are made by the Dalit labourers are frequented by Brahmins but prohibited for Dalits. This was the acme of hypocrisy Exposing the evil practices directed against Dalits, he narrated the ancient practice of ‘Devdasi’, whereby young Dalit girls were made objects of sexual satiation. He therefore stressed the need for educating women, as in one of his surveys he had found that even today nearly 50% of women are unaware of the name of Ambedkar and his contributions to Dalit concerns. Hence, the education of women was highly important for a secured future.
Shri Avinash Choudhary, Shri Sohanlal Jee, Shri Vijay Shankar Chaurasia and innumerable villagers who participated in the conference also spoke on this day and occasion.
Third Day of the Conference, Role of Popular Literature, 10th June, 2006.
“Struggle for Freedom and the Role of Popular Literature and Culture” was the theme of the third and the final day of the conference, presided by Shri K. Nath, a Dalit writer abd social activist from Kanpur. The programme began with the presentation of a song by 85 years old Shri Jageshwar. He has been an MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly, Uttar Pradesh) for five times and also health minister of U.P. The song he sang was quite popular during the revolutionary days of ‘Hari Beggar Movement’. Its message was to awaken people’s consciousness against bondage of slavery. He shared his reminisces, how he with Mahashay Bhiku Lal, the messiah of Dalit movement, worked for the uplift of the depressed people in the area.
Visiting faculty with the institute and an economist Jean Dreze known for his long yatras and academic works was the guest of honour on the occasion.
Rajkumar Itihaaskar, a Dalit writer from Lucknow and K. Nath were the other two important speakers on the occasion. Bemoaning deplorable social status of the Dalits in India, which has not yet undergone substantial changes even after India’s Independence, he found Indian Independence as mere tokenism for Dalits.
K. Nath so moved by the conference’s contents promised to write and publish a book on Ajuha.
Cultural performance by Munni lal, Munni Devi and Master Ravi, etc was another parts of the third day conference. The songs conveyed the message to the audience on how to attain freedom and reconstruct their future. Some songs were also sung in the praise of Buddha and Ambedkar, projecting them as the ideals for their emancipation. There were some songs that also revealed the yearnings of Dalits for socio-cultural well being and not only economic gains as commonly supposed and articulated. So Dalit communities must were injected with zeal to protect their self respect creating space for themselves where they recover dignity and respect.
The last session of the third day was devoted exclusively for Dalit women. A large number of women from the village interacted openly and shared their experiences of life. One of them narrated her painful experience of life which she had to face her continued humiliation in the village by upper caste people, which obstructed progress of her children as she could not educate them. Today they are jobless. Female participants present in the discussion told that they were doubly oppressed. First was the gender repression and second their untouchabiltiy. Hence, they were unanimous in their opinion that an end to atrocities on women is possible only if they educate themselves. Only then they could fight for their rights vis-vis males as well as upper castes.
Cultural Activities a the Conference
Poster Pradarshini (Poster Exhibition)
On the first day of the conference itself, posters made by the Dalit painters were displayed. It drew large village crowd. They were seen reading each line of it quite carefully, which spoke of their interest in their community history and the urge for asserting their separate identity. The posters made around the theme of the conference ‘freedom’ depicted quotes, songs, poems and couplets, etc. from the booklets on freedom. The exhibition also added to the theme with the help of pictures and images of Dalit heroes drawn on posters. Covers of popular Dalit booklets, sketches and other pictorial illustrations, igniting the need for freedom of Dalits, was presented in an attractive manner to the audience. Pictorial medium seemed to be a big success in disseminating the message of liberty among illiterate and semi-literate sections of the village.
Mela (Fair of Dalit authored booklets and unpublished manuscripts)
Some of the writers attending the conference brought with them books and unpublished manuscripts forming part of their personal collection. People enriched themselves with such rare exhibition of booklets and manuscripts and rich archival collection of old Dalit newspapers and magazines.
Kavita Goshti (Poetry Recitation)
In this programme the authors read out poems on freedom from their popular booklets. As the writings of Dalit popular booklets emanate from cultural encounters and experiences it is linked with author’s own existential questions and questions confronting their fellow beings. Themes such as Dalit experiences of humiliation, suffering, dominance, exploitation, etc., and their dissent, subversion added with their democratic aspirations, were read. These poems created a common platform for both authors and the audience.
Another aspect of the conference was “Dasta Natak” which was presented on the second day of the conference, revolving around the theme of freedom by Shri Dev Kumar (Dalit writer and dramatist) and his troupe. This helped in expressing basic constituents of freedom in a more explicit and concrete form. A large number of villagers gathered to watch this play. This play focused on the plight of the original inhabitants of India i.e. the people of Dalit communities who were reduced to drudgery by invaders i.e. Aryans. The play explored the role played by Ambedkar in mobilizing Dalits for their rights and mandating it for them through constitutional mechanisms.
The first village conference thus helped in creating a common chord among all participants, even those not belonging to that region. Writers of that region who were lesser known were also invited to read out from their writings. This helped in boosting their morale, which would definitely serve as a motivating factor in their future works and also expanding the group of authors.
These were in a nutshell the programmes organized in the first village conference at the place mentioned heretofore. The centre has not undertaken its impact analysis. But certainly it inspired us for future conferences when a Dalit writer uttered following words:
“There was a time when on being asked to tell our names we felt ashamed. But today we feel proud that the day has come when we are honoured as Dalit writers”.
A. R. Akella, Dalit Writer, Aligarh