Jotirao Phule: An incomplete Renaissance

The sharp and manifold increase in the caste and communal struggles of the recent past has made Phule's thought and action more relevant than ever before. A report on a seminar which evaluated his relevance in the present crisis.

JOTIBA PHULE has once again been in the news, discussions, debates, etc, and rightly so at the time of his death cente-nary. Phule born at Pune was a pioneer activist and thinker of his times who fought against upper caste domination, exploitation, hypocrisy, and social in-justice, and led the Satyashodhak-non- Brahmin movement in late 19th century.

His manifold contributions to the under-standing of Indian society left a deep im-print on Maharashtra society. Unfor-tunately, so far he has remained as a 'regional thinker' of Maharashtra, despite his pioneering contribution. Many sections of Indian society have been trying to appropriate the 'legacy of Phule' not with a view to continue his un-finished mission of democratic revolution but to legitimise their own interests. It is not a coihcidence that the recent crises in India not only reflect the interests of those sections but also suggest the emergence of new caste-class alliances in the process of 'democratic revolution'. Seeing the need to understand Phule's contributions dispassionately against such a background, and liberate his image from the shackles of regionalism, the Centre for Social Studies, Surat, organised a seminar, first of its kind outside Maharashtra, to evaluate his thought and action and understand his relevance in the present crisis. The seminar was held from January 9-11, 1991 with financial support from Western Regional Centre of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). About 50 leading scholars and activists from various parts of India par-ticipated and 13 papers were presented. These papers were discussed in five dif-ferent sessions: (i) Culture, Counter- Culture and Ideology; (ii) Peasantry and Peasant Movements; (iii) Relevance of Phule in 20th Century; (iv) Education, Reservation and Caste Politics; and (v) Women, Dalits and Social Oppression. An impressive bibliography of about 300 titles relating to Phule and Phuleism was also distributed by the Centre to all the participants.

 

Satyakam Joshi and K. S. Raman,

Source: EPW, Vol. 26, No. 21 (May 25, 1991), pp. 1325-1327