Essay Series on What Babasaheb Ambedkar Means to me
Babasaheb's people have held him high in their hearts without waiting for him to die and appear in any textbooks. The supreme form of Ambedkarism is reflected in the songs about Babasaheb, which are popularly known as Bhimgeete, way before he became a matter of intellectual inquiry. The masses who were deprived of education were the first people to understand Ambedkar. They honoured him with a respectful name as "Babasaheb" and often conversed with him by addressing him as "Bhima". These songs by our foremothers documented the history of Babasaheb's life in a wholesome manner. The songs would start with the mention of Babasaheb's birth in 1891, the happiness it brought to his parents Ramaji and Bhimai, the difficulties Babasaheb faced being an untouchable student, his journey abroad for higher studies, the contentment of his community when he received the degree of Barrister-at–law, and becoming the Minister of Labour. The songs mark the events when he laid the foundation of Scheduled Caste federation and Samata Sainik Dal, and when he erected the stone of social revolution, the Mahad Satyagraha-Kalaram Mandir Pravesh. The verses take the listeners through the preparation of Hindu code bill followed by the agony he faced with the signing of the Pune pact, while celebrating Babasaheb becoming law minister and drafting constitution for India. These songs further claimed that our Babasaheb created an equal law for all, despite facing betrayal by this Nation and that he attacked the rigidity of fundamentalist religion and offered us Buddhism which is humane. The Bheemgeete with such rich meaning and historical rendering of his life events as a founding father of a large democracy are sung in our families and communities to keep reminding how hard Babasaheb's life was and how we should not let him down.
The Bheemgeete are sung during the naming ceremony of a newborn so that the baby grows up taking the character of Babasaheb and is blessed with Babasaheb's presence throughout his/her life. The Bheemgeete are also sung during death ceremonies so that the people in mourning get the strength to deal with the loss, accept death as natural to human beings, allow the dead-body to rest in serenity and let it take Babasaheb along in the very last journey.
During the death ceremonies, the group of singers comprise of Mahars and Matangs. The words from the mouth of a Matang praise Babasaheb and empathize with the loss, and show that our communities live by supporting each other. They do not draw extreme margins of difference. This relation counters the projection of Babasaheb being the leader of only Mahars or Neo-Buddhists, but on the ground these communities are the real torch bearers of spreading true Ambedkarism.
Babasaheb's birth for us was the beginning of a new age towards a noble life, his legacy continued in its truest form through the rendering of Bhimgeete, it reached every person in the community. Wamandada Kardak committed his whole life to spreading the message of Babasaheb; his songs defined what Ambedkarism is! Wamandada braided each word of Babasaheb in his songs, and hence, even Babasaheb had claimed that "My eight speeches are equal to Wamandada's one song". Wamandada with his full honesty towards Babasaheb inculcated Ambedkarism in his songs. He claimed Babasaheb as being the Mother of our people, in whose shelter of love and care we are fearless, we are loved and we are humans. What else would we have addressed Babasaheb with? The Bheemgeete do not just praise Babasaheb and articulate Ambedkarism, it questions the society, it addressed the people who left the path of true Ambedkarism, and it critically analyses Ambedkarite movement.
Bheemgeete or songs on Babasaheb are not only pieces of poetry or expression of our lives, these songs are perhaps the conversations with the society, our conversation with Babasaheb, and an emotional appeal to him to come back. These Bhimgeete have always stood for self-determination, they did not cry about being oppressed but asserted that we have the capability to change our lives. When our generations remained in the darkness of illiteracy these Bheemgeete were the only means to find our way out, to keep Babasaheb alive. These songs say that we do not fall prey to hero-worshipping of Babasaheb but we aspire to become like him; though the interpretation of Bhimgeete is a subjective affair Wamandada's one song "Jagatali Dekhani... Bai me Bhimachi Lekhani" strongly asserts that "world's most beautiful is Bhima's writing, we are Bhima's writing, we are his pens". Wamandada being a man writing as a woman says "I have broken the fort of Manu and buried him then and there; my mind is full of happiness as I have now become friends with the revolutionary Bhima". Wamandada would walk from village to village to awaken Babasaheb's people through his songs. Wamandada, Annabhau Sathe, Harendra Jadhav, Pralhad Shinde, Vitthal Umap continued singing for the Muknayak. Vithhal Umap carrying the chord from Babasaheb in his song "Me Hindu Dharmat Marnar Nahi" memorializes Babasaheb's declaration "I will not die in the Hindu Religion". Through their compositions they brought Babasaheb to our generations, they introduced him to us.
The title of this essay is inspired by one of Wamandada's popular songs-"Sena Bhimachi Wadhnaar Aahe", Bhima's force shall keep growing, burying the evil of caste, as it states the optimism in continuing Babasaheb's legacy.
We as a community have always admired and expressed our indebtedness towards Babasaheb through our actions, songs, writing and so on. I remember doing a strange thing as a child. Probably many would have done that. I would see the image of Babasaheb on the wall, and it would look like he is looking at me whichever direction I go. I would feel he can move his eyes as per the direction I moved. I would think he must have had supernatural powers to have written the constitution for such huge nation, and this enables him to see me through the image.
Innumerable songs about Babasaheb were written and sung when he was still alive and active among people, while many facets of his life were still unraveling, and yet there was no dearth of his praising. Listing down the work done by Babasaheb would be an endeavor, yet we strived to conceptualize his existence in our lives.
Babasaheb enabled us to break the shackles of enslavement. Babasaheb stands as a beacon for our liberation. Babasaheb is the only answer for all our questions and that is the place he holds in our lives. He lived with us each day when we were growing up and also escorted our journeys end. We called him as our Father and Mother, as a dear friend to share our lives with. Babasaheb has given us the rationale to stay alive and work towards building a better place to live for our next generations. On this note we humbly say, Babasaheb, indeed your force shall keep growing!
Wamandada Kardak was an Ambedkarwadi Shahir and activist because of whom Babasaheb has reached every last person in our society. He dedicated his whole life in spreading Ambedkarism among the most deprived people. Wamandada prolifically talked about Babasaheb, his life and mission through his songs. His contribution to the Ambedkarite movement is incredible. His munificent quest to spread Ambedkarism was noted by Babasaheb himself.
Vitthal Umap a staunch follower of Babasaheb, a folk artist breathed his last while performing on onstage at Deekshabhumi, Nagpur on 27th November, 2010.
Pradnya Jadhav is a student at JNU, she is part of the editorial team of SAVARI and is a regular contributor to Round Table India.
Drawing by Aniket Khajekar