Tribute to Raja Dhale: Panther Who Once Set Bhagwad Gita on Fire


Pardeep Attri

Born on 30 September 1940, Raja Dhale, one of the founders of the Dalit Panthers, died today (16 July 2019) at his residence in Mumbai. He was 78. His life struggle is as inspiring as that of many other Dalits who struggle and fight against the caste system enshrined upon us by Brahmins.

Rajabhau Dhale

Disheartened from the fragmentation of Republican Party of India and taking inspiration from the Black Panther organization of the USA, Raja Dhale along with Namdeo Dhasal, J V Pawar and others founded the Dalit Panthers, a social organization, on 29 May 1972 at Siddharth Vihar, Bombay, to raise the voice of Dalits more aggressively. Raja Dhale was elected as a President, Namdeo Dhasal as Defence Minister, and J V Pawar as General Secretary. Raja Dhale emerged as a star among the Panthers for his radical writings and speeches.

On 25th Independence Day, Marathi weekly Saadhanaa, planned a special issue focusing on the Freedom of Dalits. Dhale wrote an explosive article in the same which was titled "Black Independence". In 1972, Dhale had suggested that Dalits celebrate Independence Day as "Black Independence Day" as Dalits don't have equal rights in India. The article brought Dalit Panthers into the limelight and became so popular that it was sold in the black market for 10 times the original price!

"A Brahmin woman is not disrobed in Brahman gaon, but a Buddhist woman is. And what is the punishment for it? Imprisonment for one month or a fine of Rs 50! If a person does not stand up to show respect towards the national flag, the fine is Rs 300. The national flag is just a piece of cloth, a symbol in specific colours, yet disrespect towards it invites a heavy fine. But if a woman in flesh and blood worth her value in gold is disrobed, the fine is just Rs 50. What is the use of such a national flag? Is it to be shoved in the arse? A nation comes into being due to its people. Is the grief of showing disrespect to a symbol more than that of showing disrespect to people? What is more? The value of our dignity is not more than the price of a saree. Hence, such offence should invite a severe punishment. Or else, how will patriotism thrive?" (excerpt from the book by Pawar, J.V., Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History)

This article made Congress leaders angry and they started accusing Dalits of insulting the national flag and demanded arrest of Raja Dhale. Raja Dhale was arrested in Mumbai on 10 November 1972 for showing disrespect to the national flag.

Dr Ambedkar Vichar Darshan Association of Patkar College, Goregaon, hosted a seminar on Raja Dhale's controversial article in Saadhanaa on 9 October 1972.

While speaking at the event, Dhale criticized the holy books, including the Vedas of Hindus, pointing out that they were composed by non-Aryans in Prakrit script and later translated into Sanskrit by Brahmins. He rubbished the claim of Hindus that the Vedas were not written by human beings but were divinely ordained. Referring to the anger of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray over Buddhist youths not showing respect towards holy books of Hindus, he said that Buddhist youths would gather at the next Shiv Sena rally in Shivaji Park to make a bonfire of such holy books. After the seminar, all eyes were on Shivaji Park, where the bonfire was planned. Dhale became a much-sought-after leader, with several organizations in Mumbai and suburbs vying with one another to host his talks. (excerpt from the book by Pawar, J.V., Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History)

Gita was a book of idiocy written by a cowherd said Dhale in another meeting at Goregaon, Mumbai.

On 6 March 1973, around 500 Dalit Panther members gathered at Shivaji Park where Dhale delivered a small speech elaborating on the need to burn Hindu religious texts, on the similar lines as Dr Ambedkar did. Dhale then set the Gita on fire. It was a symbolic act to protest against the religious diktats that brought untold suffering to Dalits, notes J.V. Pawar.

On 26 September 1974, a barbaric act was committed in Dhakli village of Akola district. The eyes of two Gavai brothers were gouged out for standing against those who had raped the daughter of one of the brothers. The chief minister Vasantrao Naik offered Rs. 1000 as a compensation for the loss of their eyes and that made Raja Dhale very angry so while speaking at a public meeting in Siddharth Colony, Chembur, he said that if someone would gouge out the chief minister's eyes, he was willing to pay Rs. 1,000 to the chief minister as compensation. Such normalization of horrific incidents can still be seen without casteist society realizing it.

While caste never stopped to play an important role in every day's life, on 26 January 1975 Dhale said that till the time Dalits continue to face discrimination and till the time constitution is not implemented properly, Dalits would treat every Republic Day as Black Republic Day. Till today, we can see the constitution being misused or its provisions not being implemented.

Dalit Panthers emerged at the time when atrocities on Dalits were on the rise and state as usual had its eyes closed and ears blocked not to see and hear misery of the Dalits. Dalit Panthers, with the ideology of "all means necessary" to fight injustice, was in confrontation with the oppressors. Dalit Panthers visited "atrocity" sites, organized marches and rallies in villages, and raised slogans of direct militant action against upper caste aggressors. Raja Dhale, who could speak English fluently, was one of the main members from the Dalit Panthers who helped the spread of Dalit Panthers outside Maharashtra.

J. V. Pawar and Raja Dhale also played a vital role in the pursuing Maharashtra government and family members of Dr Ambedkar to publish Dr Ambedkar's books. Struggle and life of leaders of Dalit Panthers has inspired various social organizations such as Bhim Army and would continue to inspire Dalits for generations to come. Raja Dhale's contribution to Dalit movement cannot be ignored.

"I consider the nurturing of the movement by Raja Dhale as important", writes J. V. Pawar. Dhale had authored several books based on his work and faced police arrests multiple times as a member of Dalit Panthers. Raja Dhale's last rites will be performed at Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai on Wednesday (17 July 2019).

Salute to the Panther!



Pardeep Attri blogs at http://drambedkarbooks.com/ and tweets at @AmbedkarCaravan

Picture courtesy: the internet.

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