"Don’t guide us, we know what to speak": The Dalit women of Kabirnagar

 

Pradnya Jadhav

pradnya 2015I had been waiting for a long time to meet Jamanabai and her daughter Sangita, and today I was going to meet them. Almost everyone who I have met in the past few days regarding my research has suggested me to meet Jamanabai and Sangita. Finally, I managed to meet them today. They live in the nearby Osmanpura area. When I was a child I used to go there along with my mother whenever she had to make visits to inspect the municipality corporation’s vocational training centers. I loved spending my entire day there, watching them stitch children’s dresses and make soft-toys. We had several relatives in Osmanpura and getting pampered by them was something I adored the most. Today, after a long time I visited there again, the locality has changed a lot.

The several hidden alleys and narrow lanes of Osmanpura are known as Kabirnagar, Phulenagar, Gadgenagar, Milind Nagar and Nagsenagar. Osmanpura is one among the many other slums in the city. Situated along the railway tracks, it covers most of the Dalit and partly Muslim population. The families settled here came a few hundred years ago leaving their villages and throwing away the slavery imposed upon them. The context in which it evolved as a shared living space for the Dalits is no different than the stories of other slums in the city. The entire area is divided into five different colonies, named after Phule, Nagsen, Milind, Kabir and Gadge Baba by its residents.

Jamanabai’s house is in Kabirnagar, near the railway tracks. I went there to meet her without carrying any interview schedule or anything of that sort because I never feel comfortable using it. I simply wanted to talk to Jamanabai and her daughter Sangita. During the agitations for Namantar of Marathwada University, Jamanabai was one among the thousands demanding the renaming of Marathwada University after Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s name. Jamanabai was now in her 80s.

I reached Jamanabai’s house along with 5-7 men and women whom I had asked for her address from the beginning of the lane towards her house, they too accompanied me showing the way. Someone from outside called her “Jamana Aai (Mother Jamana), come out… someone has come to meet you”, she did not come out and asked a little rudely “who is it? What is the work? Wouldn’t you people let me have my food peacefully?” again a child who was standing beside me whispered, “Tai (Sister), don’t mind, this granny is little wayward, but she will come out. Wait for some time”. While I was getting nervous thinking whether will she entertain me or not, to my surprise, Jamanabai came out smiling. Seeing her smile I felt relieved. She was happy to see my mother and Paithane Aaji (Grandmother). This was another revelation for me that my mother knew Jamanabai already. Paithane Aaji and Jamanabai are acquaintances. Jamanabai welcomed us gleefully. I introduced myself to her and told her about my intention of visiting her. She said, she is used to it and smiled and she said, “But I don’t understand why do people interview me alone, when our whole mohalla was participating in the agitations, we had collectively raised our voice during those days, our dream came true only when the government announced renaming of the university, when Babasaheb’s name was given to the University we all felt contended.”

My mother too was visiting Osmanpura after a long time; during her work here she had built strong bonds with people, and their affection for her had not vanished. By this time many people had come to Jamanabai’s house to meet my mother. Jamanabai, pointing towards some of the gathered people, said: “see, these all people were there in the agitation, we used to prepare for the processions, cook food for our community people who would come from outside Aurangabad to participate in the demonstrations ….and these media people want to meet me alone…” Someone from the group interrupted her in between saying “Jamana Aai (Mother Jamna), tell about Sangita.” She shouted at that person and said “don’t guide me, I know what I have to speak… shut up!”

When Jamanabai started to talk she first asked me my name, when I told her my name she said “but, I will call you Tai only, I wouldn’t be able to pronounce your name correctly and these brats will then laugh at me…” the small boy said to her “Jamna aai, Tai’s name is very simple you can try saying it once.” Jamanabai refused and insisted upon calling me as Tai. She narrated the incidents in such a way that I felt she was reading them out from a book. She said, “all the memories of those days are fresh in my mind even though it is the past now.” Yet another time she expressed her discomfort in telling the same things, again and again, saying “our participation for the name of Babasaheb is a past now, why can’t we talk about our future?”

She started to recount, “in 1978, Vasant Dada Patil, a congresswala man had won the seat of Chief Minister. His government had decided that no institution will be renamed, they wrote about this decision on a Sarkari Kagad (Government resolution). In the same year, he was supposed to visit Aurangabad in this regard. Our activists had decided that they will meet the Chief Minister at the airport itself and give him the memorandum of our Namantar Demand. On the day of his arrival our whole Mohalla boarded the train early in the morning and went to Chikalthana, and from Chikalthana railway station we walked to the Airport. Now Chikalthana is merged into the town but in those days there were fewer options for transport, so we had gone there on the train. We all gathered outside the Airport very early in the morning. So many of our people from different mohallas had gathered there, we must have been in thousands, Baya-Manse (Women-Men), Mhatare-Kotare (Elderly-Old), Tarne-Thathe (young), Lekare-Bale (Babies-Children) had all assembled there to meet the CM. Several policemen were guarding the gates of the Airport, as soon as the CM came outside, we gheraoed his vehicle. Police started lathicharge to scatter our crowd, but we did not leave. Inspite of the huge crowd his vehicle began to proceed. I was holding in arms my 2-3 months’ old daughter Sangita, I screamed and said “Jai-Bhim” and kept my baby on the way to stop CM’s motorcade, and tightly closed my eyes… CM’s vehicles had stopped then and there. Our activists had told us an evening before his arrival that the CM is opposing our demand for renaming and hence we would need to meet him and tell him about our stands. We were even ready to die for our Babasaheb’s name.”

Jamanabai’s story was not new to anyone who was there today, but they were listening to it patiently. She further said “cruel Police again started to lathi charge, I was standing still without realising anything as if I was in some another world. Police started to beat me, Sangita was lying on the road, no one had picked her up, she was crying. Police were asking me to hold her but I refused, I too was crying, it is beyond my words to express the pain I felt then. It was terrible to hold on to my emotions of not lifting my crying baby but I dared to do it, I did not pick her up. Finally, a lady constable took my baby and we all were taken to the Collector’s office until then I had not touched my daughter, she had miraculously survived. Later on, the same day, we were taken to Harsool Jail. We were jailed for another four days. When we came home I realised Sangita was not able to move her legs, she had lost her legs in that incident, and I continued going to the agitations carrying her. When 15-18 years later, the Naamvistar was announced all my sorrows went away. It was not merely for Babasaheb’s name that we fought for the renaming. We wanted to ensure that our children get an education, live a respectful life, and reach the heights alike our Pradnyasurya (Sun of Wisdom) Babasaheb. I have five children, three daughters and two sons, Ranu, Panchashila, Sangita, Sirsaji, and Baban. One of my sons Sirsaji has passed away and Baban is missing since past six years, but we are leading our lives confidently. We have no regrets, I sell vegetables, flowers for my survival and I am happy.”

Jamanabai added, “Some people have felicitated me on several occasions, but whenever I go there they start talking about my poverty, my disabled daughter as if my act has become the defining feature of my life. Who says I am poor, I am able to manage a square meal without begging from anyone, I sell vegetables and earn my own money there is no one like my boss, I have tried in my capacity to literate my children, my work keeps me engaged and lively, my needs are very basic.” After narrating the whole episode from that day, she pointed towards other elderly women saying, “See, this Satputebai, Indirabai, and myself we all were there”.

I had heard about these incidents from other places, but listening to Jamanabai was a different experience for me. I was sitting opposite to Jamanabai, and while listening to her I did not realise that Sangita had come in and sat among the group almost an hour ago. She continued from where Jamanabai left off. She said, “I cannot remember what had happened on that day because I was a toddler. People forget the pain of piercing the nose or ear. Just like that, I too cannot recall the intensity of my pain. My mother never told me how I started walking differently than the normal physically fit people, it was only later as I started growing up that I came to know about the incident from people in our neighbourhood. My mother used to take us to the processions, it was same for every other house in our locality and I started learning the meaning of our fight.

In our Mohalla near Babasaheb’s statue, programmes of Bhimgeete used to take place. In one such song I came to know about Pochiram Kamble, who was unsparingly killed by the upper caste people, I looked at my legs and convinced myself that I am not an incapacitated person. I too sell fruits, vegetables, flowers in Gulmandi (a local market in old Aurangabad) for my survival. My life is no different than any other normal human being; I am married, able to earn some money. Yes, life is not easy. Sometimes, when I walk in the sun, I faint. That is when I feel miserable about my situation. Nonetheless, I feel tremendous pride that with the efforts of lakhs of people like my mother, Namantar could take place. The contentment of renaming of the University is overwhelming. I only feel sad that after renaming, none of our leaders took interest in building movement for the higher education of our children, I have barely studied till fourth, I would not at all wish my children and future generations to remain in the darkness, our self-respect is what I regard the most, that’s why we no more talk to any media people”. After having another round of cup of tea we left from there.

The day was well-spent for me. Now that I am writing about my visit, several questions are haunting me, and yet again making me realise that it is our worldview which is important. I had listened to a story long ago, about an old woman who lived a dark hut alone. One day she loses the keys of her box. She starts for searching them in the veranda of her house, her entire day she spends in searching for the keys, seeing her in veranda for the whole day, a young boy who lived next to her house comes to ask her about the matter, she tells him that she lost her keys. The young boy too starts searching for the keys, and yet both of them were unable to find out the keys. Finally, the boy asked the old woman, “do you remember where you lost your keys?” she says “Yes, I do remember, it was inside my house.” The young boy was surprised to know her response and again he asked “then why are you searching it outside your home, why not inside?” to which she replies “I could have searched in my house, but it is dark inside there, can’t you see how old I am and my weak eyesight? So I was searching it out in the sunlight.” the young boy stood confused seeing the old lady.

After visiting Kabirnagar today, I felt being like the old lady in the story. I realised that how do we tend to apply complexity in our actions and thinking process. The notion of a (woman) activist is confined to someone who has no family life, who is having a complicated relationship with her male partner, who is busy attending social programmes, but it could be Jamanabai and Sangita, it could be everyone in the Kabirnagar whose stories are no less heroic. Jamanabai’s annoyance over telling one incident in her and Sangita’s life clearly defines how natural and spontaneous her act was. Sangita’s honest statement about overlooking the aspect of the higher education of Dalits reveals the aspiration of the community to get an advanced education. Jamanabai, Sangita and everyone else in their mohalla does not have jargons to articulate their participation in the Namantar, yet their unfolding of events leaves a powerful impact. Neither have they proclaimed their ownership over the movement nor do they bear the burden of ‘Movement Building’.

The assertion of their demand was an act they viewed as inherent to their lives and as simple as breathing so that their present is improved and the future, more progressed. One realises how strenuous it would have been without their actions to achieve what we have today. Their sharing is devoid of pretensions and glorification; their contribution is self-illuminating in itself, not fitting any definite theoretical framing. They define the real meaning of emancipation. Jamanabai and Sangita sharply make it clear that they will not engage with the people, who would make them into the objects of inquiry and take them away from their fellow community members. While the talk on identity assertion goes around, Jamanabai, Sangita, the whole Kabirnagar insists upon holding equal identity. They did their part and moved ahead, Sangita looks at her legs as the sign of victory in the Namantar. Visiting Kabir Nagar told me that there would be other thousand and lakhs of Jamanabai and Sangita, leading their lives uncompromisingly, and I could meet one among them today.

I am so looking forward to visiting Osmanpura again.

 ~~~

 

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.

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