Tracing the word Bahujan as a political term

There is a lot of confusion about the word Bahujan. People think it is a recent term, most prominently associated with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Kanshiram, who endeavoured to bring all Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes together as one consolidated group. But this term has a history of at least a century.

The oldest usage of the word that I have so far been able to trace to is the year 1920, when an important leader from Maharashtra, Vitthal Ramji Shinde, found a political organisation called Bahujan Paksh (paksh means party in Marathi). I also came across this term in the introduction to Satyashodhak Dinakarrao Javalkar’s controversial book Deshache Dushman (देशाचे दुष्मन, Enemies of the Nation), published in 1925.

The word Bahujan or the phrase Bahujan Samaj can also be found in a compilation of articles published in 1928 as a tribute to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule on his birth centenary, and a pamphlet published in 1936 to advertise the iconic Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, where Ambedkar had delivered his famous Mukti Kon Pathe (What Path to Salvation) speech. Let me reproduce the passage in question from the pamphlet below (original in Marathi, translation mine).

Since the work ahead of us is enormous and vital, we will need a great deal of monetary support and human resources. Therefore, we request all the Mahar brothers and sisters in Mumbai city and Mumbai province to keep their personal differences aside and participate in the conference wholeheartedly to make it a success.

The contribution amounts given below, have been set such that the Bahujan Samaj will be able to participate in the conference.

Members of welcoming committee ₹5, (b) Associate members ₹3, (c) General associate members ₹2, (d) General members ₹1.

The term Bahujan was commonly used in the anti-caste discourse of post-Phule Satyashodhak, non-Brahmin movement in Maharashtra, the centre of which was Pune. Bahujan is a Marathi word. The nature of Indian languages is such that some of the words are common across languages. The word Bahujan is used in Hindi with almost the same literal meaning as Marathi. Bahu can be translated as many, most, or majority. Jan means people or individual(s).

I am not well versed with anti-caste politics of other regions. But whatever evidence I have come across so far, it seems like the origin of the terms Bahujan, Bahujanvad, Bahujan Samaj as political categories/terminologies is anti-caste politics of Maharashtra, especially of the early 20th century. The word Bahujan became popular in electoral politics, and also in other languages (most notably in English and Hindi) with the formation of BSP by Kanshiram in 1984.

Right now I am working on the shorter version of Bahujan Paksh’s manifesto released in 1920 by Vitthal Ramji Shinde, which delimits the boundaries of the Bahujan Samaj. Do wait for my next update if you would like to read it.


Arrival of a bookshelf

I am not a person who likes to invest in material objects; besides the point that I don’t have much money, nor any aesthetic sense. But recently I bought a bookshelf from an e-retailer who thankfully was ready to deliver it to my remote village, and I feel especially elated about it.

My books previously occupied one compartment of that peculiarly named village furniture item — showcase. Village households hardly have anything to ‘showcase’, so the primary purpose this furniture item serves is to host the TV set. The compartment in our showcase, which housed my books, was getting fast filled, and had also started to show signs that it might crumble soon under the weight of the books. My mother said that I should make an alternate arrangement. I was only too happy at this suggestion as it gave me a legitimate reason to buy a bookshelf.

My fascination for bookshelves is partly ideological. A bookshelf declares a certain class and status, which I don’t care much about. Bookshelves are found exclusively in upper class households. Wooden furniture is not the prerogative of upper classes, but the reading culture is. I haven’t read up on the history of the bookshelf but I am assuming that its origin can be traced to Europe, and my hunch is, it would have been adopted by Indians in colonial times itself. The early adopters must have been the Brahmins because historically Brahmin men had kept the right to participate in the knowledge economy to themselves.


It is very hard to find bookshelves in the villages in my area because, one, there are no Brahmins, and two, there is no reading culture here. Nobody buys and reads books, so what purpose a bookshelf will serve? I came to Mumbai in 2008 and as I started having some money, I started buying books. Especially in last two years, I bought lot of books. So now I have enough number of books to have a use for a bookshelf. Bookshelf as a furniture item is as prominent in its size as a showcase; whoever enters the rooms, cannot miss it. My bookshelf has no doors. I encourage people, especially my younger friends, to borrow books from me. I now have enough numbers of Marathi books too. I want my bookshelf to induce some sort of aspiration in people, encourage them to browse books, even borrow, and at some point in their life, buy books for themselves, and eventually, maybe a bookshelf too.

बहुजन विद्यार्थी आणि शिक्षणाची भाषा

आपल्या घरामधे बोलली जाणारी भाषा आपण आपसुकच आत्मसात करतो. श्रवण आणि आकलन हि दोन कौशल्ये अवगत करण्यासाठी व्यक्तीला शाळेत जाण्याची गरज भासत नाही. पण वाचन आणि लेखन शिकण्यासाठी शाळेत जाण्याशिवाय पर्याय नसतो. आपल्या शिक्षणव्यवस्थेमध्ये वाचन लिखाणावर खूप भर असतो. विद्यार्थ्यांचं एकूण मूल्यमापन तो विद्यार्थी किती चांगलं वाचू आणि लिहू शकतो यावर अवलंबून असतं. कारण परीक्षेमध्ये चांगले गुण मिळवायचे असतील तर पाठ्यपुस्तके वाचून काढायला हवीत तसेच परीक्षेच्या दिवशी उत्तरपत्रिकेमध्ये चांगली उत्तरं लिहिता यायला हवीत. त्यामुळे शिक्षण आणि भाषा हा प्रश्न खूप महत्वाचा बनतो.

माझी मातृभाषा मराठी आणि माझं दहावीपर्यंतचं शिक्षणही मराठीतून. पण माझी मराठी आणि पाठ्यपुस्तकातील मराठी यांच्यात साधर्म्य नव्हतं. माझ्या बोलीभाषेमध्ये ‘ळ’ हे अक्षर नाही. आम्ही कमळाला ‘कमल’ म्हणतो, शाळेला ‘शाला’ आणि बाळाला ‘बाला’. ‘ण’ हे अक्षरही नाही. त्यामुळे आम्ही बाणाला ‘बान’ म्हणतो आणि फणसाला ‘फनस’. मी ‘ळ’ हे अक्षर तिसरी–चौथीपर्यंतच आत्मसात केलं, पण ‘न’ आणि ‘ण’ मधील भानगड सोडवेपर्यंत नववी उजाडली. माझ्या जोडीची काही मुले तर हा फरक कधीच शिकू शकली नाहीत. त्यांना त्याची गरजही वाटली नाही. काही शब्दांचं ही तसंच. लग्नाला ‘लगीन’, रक्ताला ‘रगत’ आणि विहिरीला ‘इर’ म्हणतात. बोलीभाषा आणि पाठ्यपुस्तकातील भाषा यांच्यातील ह्या फरकामुळे माझ्या वर्गातील अनेक जणांचे खूप वांदे व्हायचे.

मी कॉलेजच्या पहिल्या वर्षाला असतानाची गोष्ट. मी कॉलेजच्या प्रवेशद्वारावर उभा होतो. बाजूला वर्गातील एक मैत्रीण कुठेतरी जाण्याच्या गडबडीत होती. मी तिला विचारलं, “कुठे चाललीस?” तिला प्रश्न कळला नाही. “काय?” ती म्हणाली. मी पुन्हा विचारलं, “कुठे चाललीस?” “ओ, कुठे चाललीयेस. चाललीस नाही, चाललीयेस,” ती चाललीयेस शब्दाच्या प्रत्येक अक्षरावर जोर देऊन म्हणाली. मला माझी चूक पटकन कळली. मी अनवधानाने माझ्या बोलीभाषेत जसं बोलतात तसं बोललो होतो. त्यामुळे ते वाक्य त्या बिचाऱ्या ब्राह्मण मुलीला कळलं नाही. तिची काही चूक नव्हती, माझीही काही चूक नव्हती. पण मला खूप अवघडल्यासारखं झालं. तिथून अद्रृश्य व्हावंसं वाटलं.

माझ्या कॉलेजमध्ये सगळे अभ्यासक्रम काही अपवाद वगळता इंग्रजी माध्यमामध्ये होते. पण बरीचशी मुलं मराठी असल्यामुळे मराठी बोलणंही खुप व्हायचं. एका बाजूला इंग्रजी बोलण्याची कसरत करावी लागायची तर दुसऱ्या बाजूला ‘शुद्ध’ (प्रमाण) मराठी. बोलताना माझ्या घरच्या मराठीचा एकही शब्द घुसणार नाही याची दक्षता घ्यावी लागायची. माझं वाचन लहानपणापासून चांगलं असल्यामुळे मला तसा फार त्रास झाला नाही. पण मी बाकी मुलं पाहिली आहेत ज्यांना ‘शुद्ध’ बोलणं, ‘शुद्ध’ लिहीणं हे किती कठीण जायचं/जातं. मला आठवतं चौथीला असताना वर्गातील एका मुलाने ‘माशी’ऐवजी आमच्या बोलीभाषेतला ‘मासकी’ शब्द लिहिला होता उत्तरपत्रिकेत. बाईंनी भरवर्गात त्याचा पेपर वाचून दाखवला होता. सगळी मुलं त्यावर फिदीफिदी हसली होती… मीसुद्धा.

पाठ्यपुस्तकातील मराठी हि एका विशिष्ट अभिजन वर्गाची बोलीभाषा आहे. पण त्यांची बोली, ‘भाषा’ समजली जाते तर इतर सर्वांची मराठी बोलीभाषा. त्यातल्या त्यात आमची बोली प्रमाण भाषेपेक्षा खूप वेगळी नाही. त्यामुळे माझ्या वर्गातील मुलांना जरी पाठ्यपुस्तकांतील भाषेचा त्रास झाला तरी ते जुळवून घेऊ शकले. पण डहाणू किंवा जव्हारसारख्या भागातील लोकांची बोली बरीच वेगळी आहे. तिकडे पाठ्यपुस्तकातील भाषा मुलांना अभ्यासापासून परावृत्त करते. आणि जर शाळेतील शिक्षकही इतर भागातील आणि त्यामुळे स्थानिक बोली बोलता न येणारे असले तर परिस्थिती आणखीच बिकट होते.

मराठीची ही परिस्थिती असेल तर इंग्रजीचं विचारायलाच नको. बरेच विद्यार्थी दहावी बारावी इतकंच काय, पदवीपर्यंत शिक्षण घेतात पण त्यांना इंग्रजीमध्ये एक वाक्यसुद्धा लिहिता किंवा वाचता येत नाही. घरी, गावात, शाळेत इंग्रजी बोलणारं कोणी नसतं. इंग्रजी वर्तमानपत्रे, चित्रपट, गाणी, पुस्तके यांच्याशी दूरदूरचाही संबंध नसतो. इंग्रजी शिकवणाऱ्या शिक्षकांचीच इंग्रजी भाषेच्या बाबतीत बोंब असते. बारावीपर्यंत ठीक असतं पण पदवीसाठी जेव्हा विद्यार्थ्यांना शहरामध्ये जावं लागतं व कॉलेजमधील पूर्ण अभ्यासक्रम इंग्रजीमध्ये असतो त्यावेळी त्यांना त्या परिस्थितीशी जुळवून घेणं शक्य होत नाही. अशावेळी कॉलेजमधील वातावरण ग्रामीण भागातून येणाऱ्या विद्यार्थ्यांचे प्रश्न समजून घेऊन त्यांना सामावून घेणारे नसल्यास अनेक मुलांना ड्रॉप लागतात किंवा मुले कॉलेजच सोडून देतात.

माझ्या कॉलेजच्या पहिल्या वर्षात आम्हाला वर्गात पुढे जाऊन ठरवून दिलेल्या विषयावर बोलायला लागायचं. मी माझ्या पहिल्या प्रेझेन्टेशनसाठी चांगली तयारी केली होती, नोट्सही काढल्या होत्या. मी प्रेझेन्टेशनची सुरुवात चांगली केली पण मधेच मला जे बोलायचं होतं त्यासाठी इंग्रजी वाक्य बनवता येईना. मी समोर तसाच ठोंब्यासारखा उभा बराच वेळ. अख्खा वर्ग पाहतोय माझ्याकडे. शेवटी बाई म्हणाल्या की जा जागेवर जाऊन बस, पुन्हा तयारी कर आणि नंतर सादर कर. त्या प्रसंगाने माझा आत्मविश्वास इतका खालावला कि पुढची दोन वर्षे माझं प्रेझेन्टेशन म्हणजे कागदावर लिहिलेलं वाचून काढणं, जे मला मुळीच आवडत नसायचं. पण पुन्हा उत्स्फूर्त बोलण्याची हिम्मत झाली नाही.

अभिजन वर्गातील विद्यार्थ्यांना अशा प्रसंगांना फारच कमी वेळा सामोरं जावं लागतं कारण त्यांच्या घरी बोलली जाणारी भाषा आणि प्रमाण भाषा (किंवा शिक्षणाची भाषा) एकच असते. स्वतःची भाषा सोडून एक दुसरी, वेगळी प्रमाण भाषा किंवा परदेशी भाषा शिकण्याचं अधिकचं ओझं केवळ बहुजन विद्यार्थ्यांच्या डोक्यावर लादलं जातं. आणि त्यामुळे जिथे भाषा हे शिक्षण घेण्याचं एक केवळ माध्यम असायला हवं, तिथे ते एक ‘अभ्यास’, चिंता करण्याची गोष्ट बनून जातं. शाळेचा अभ्यासक्रम अभिजन वर्गाला डोळ्यासमोर ठेवून बनवला जातो. कॉलेजमधील वातावरणावरसुद्धा ह्या अभिजन वर्गाचीच छाप असते. त्यामुळे चांगलं शिक्षण घेऊन शाळा-कॉलेजांमधून बाहेर पडायचं असेल तर अभिजन वर्गासारखं बोला-लिहायला शिका, नाहीतर फुटा अशीच परिस्थिती असते. ही परिस्थिती जोपर्यंत बदलत नाही तोपर्यंत आपल्या शिक्षणव्यवस्थेची गुणवत्ता वधारणार नाही.

(हा लेख प्रथम ‘आगाज’ नियतकालिकाच्या ऑगस्ट–ऑक्टोबर २०१७ च्या अंकात प्रसिद्ध करण्यात आला होता.)

Resist Saffronisation of Ambedkar

[The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, will visit Nagpur on 14th of April. Deeksha Bhoomi is also a part of his visit where he will pay tribute to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, on his 126th birth anniversary. This write-up is a compilation of inputs from various sources (blogs) by Tejaswini Tabhane to discuss the aspects of his visit through the eyes of an Ambedkarite.]

Modi paying respects to Dr Ambedkar

This visit has raised several questions which need to be answered by the Prime Minister who calls himself a ‘Bhakt’ (Devout) of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Modi has said the “iconic leader was a ‘vishwa manav’, not just the messiah of Dalits but someone who raised the voice for all the downtrodden and suppressed people (speech delivered at Ambedkar Memorial lecture).”

Now it is obvious to ask Narendra Modi who has written a book dedicated to Golwalkar titled Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak as to how come could he write such words of praise for a communal and anti-Constitution person and appreciate Ambedkar at the same time? Communal and anti-constitution, eh? Yes. MS Golwalkar disparaged democracy (as well as the Constitution) as alien to Hindu ethos and glorified Manu by calling him “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.” The same Manusmriti that Ambedkar burnt on 25th December, 1927. So our Prime Minister must be an exceptionally intelligent person to be a ‘Bhakta’ of two ideologically almost opposite persons!

I do not want to rest my claim merely on ideology but also on facts and figures. The vibrant Gujarat model which gave Modi a ticket to 7 RCR has a long history of Dalit oppression during his regime as chief minister of the state. The fact is that Gujarat has the dubious distinction of consistently ranking among the top five states in terms of incidence of atrocities on Dalits. In 2013, when Narendra Modi’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ mantra had reached the crescendo in the wake of ensuing general elections and his imminent coronation as the prime ministerial candidate, the number of atrocities per lakh population of the Scheduled Castes (SC) was 29.21, up from 25.23 in the previous years, marking it as the fourth worst state in the country. In 2014 (latest available data), only 3.4% of crimes against SCs in Gujarat ended in convictions, against 28.8% nationally. These facts speak volumes about the hollowness of Mr. Modi’s claims of following Ambedkar’s ideals.

Let’s talk about the ideological parent of Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is suddenly portraying Ambedkar as a ‘Hindu Nationalist!’ Strange that it took less than 70 years for RSS, an organization surviving on the precept of ultra-Hinduism, to recognise Ambedkar as a great son of India who always spoke about ‘annihilation of caste’ and never subscribed to the principles Hindutva.

Ambedkar is anything but a Hindu nationalist. It is indeed an example of classical paradox that an organisation which had severely criticised Ambedkar in various editorial of its mouthpiece Organiser are now laying claims on his legacy. In a democratic country, like any other organisation or individual, the RSS too has the right to change its mind and approach about Ambedkar and project him as its ideological maharishi. But it must have some rationale. Its words and deeds counter each other.

Behind this façade there lurks the dangerous design to saffronise the most secular and pluralist ideals and concepts. The RSS, and particularly the Modi government, has brought Ambedkar to the centre-stage of national conversation to curb various Dalit movements that echo the message of ending Brahmin hegemony, particularly after the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad. Their aim is to woo Dalit vote bank while holding the strong base of Upper Castes. That’s why the idea is to portray Ambedkar in a wrong saffronised way to suit their interest. The appropriation and deliberate misreading of Ambedkar’s life and vision will delegitimise his egalitarian ideas, demolish and demoralise the struggles to usher in justice and fraternity and lead to the continued enslavement of the marginalised groups. It is therefore important to protect Ambedkar from these saffron thugs.

As the Prime Minister is coming to Deeksha Bhoomi, the place where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and broke the chains of Hinduism forever, he must also read Ambedkar’s words and I quote him, “Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” “I will not believe in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Neither would I worship them.” Does the Prime Minister have the guts to reverberate these words in front of the whole nation?

Believe me these are some questions, the RSS and Prime Minister will find tough to answer.

Lastly to repeat Rohith Vemula, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.” They reduced Rohith to a number, they are trying to do the same with Ambedkar. We must resist this appropriation lest we lose the only thing that we have — the precious legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and his thoughts.

Jai Bhim!

(Reproduced with permission from Tejaswini)

Vitthal Liberated


Vitthal and Rukmini have been liberated!  In a recent Supreme Court decision, the tyrannous Badwes and Utpats, hereditary priests at Pandharpur, have been stripped of their powers.  This climaxes years of agitation and movement activity directed against the priests.

Vitthal (Vithoba, or Pandurang) is the favorite deity of Maharashtra. His Varkari cult is supreme.  Every year lakhs of devotees walk hundreds of miles on the “Vari” or pilgrimage to Pandharpur.  During the medieval period, for centuries a strong bhakti movement lived, centered on Vitthal, ranging from Namdev and Dnaneshwar to Cokhoba and Tukoba.

From Namdev and Cokhoba onwards to Tukoba there was opposition to the Badwes and Utpats controlling the temple rites and preventing untouchables from entering the temple, doing so-called religious rites of puja in a brahmanical manner.  From 1948, Sane Guruji, a socialist leader of the freedom movement, sat in an indefinite fast demanding the entry of untouchables…

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