Why Dalit History Matters


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This article was first posted at Round Table India.

If you want to destroy a society, destroy its History and the society will get destroyed automatically – Dr. Ambedkar

Dalit History Month

Dalit History Month

Nobody till now has questioned winners; neither will anyone in the future ask them, how have they won? Fiction is “generally accepted falsehood” or “non factual literature”, whereas the History is “systematic continuous record of events”. Dalit history has been maligned and distorted since ages. Historians ought to be freeless, sincere, open minded, open hearted, truth seeking & also courageous to show the truth at any cost but it is the misfortune of the Dalits of India that historians have always presented a distorted picture & never showed the truth to the people. Being Dalit, we have been taught to hate ourselves, we have been taught that Dalits’ don’t have any history; we have been taught Dalits can’t do any good. Who taught you all this? The upper castes did. Hence, almost everyone confuses history with fiction & historians have made people blind, deaf & dumb – have disabled people from thinking rationally. Historians have made us believe and worship fictitious characters such as Krishna and Rama.

A few years ago, the Punjab School Education Board came up with a 4th standard book in which Guru Ravidas was shown worshiping King Rama and Sita. But in reality, Guru Ravidas was against idol worship and he never worshiped any of these two deities. Not only this, the names of Guru Ravidas’ parents, his date of birth and even the Guru’s name were wrongly published! Further, it was taught to us that Guru Ravidas was a disciple of Ramanand but nowhere in Guru Ravidas’ bani (teachings) will you find Ramanand’s name mentioned even though the names of other saints such as Saint Kabir, Saint Namdev etc., are mentioned in his bani. A few days back, Mohan Bhagwat from RSS was claiming that Dr. Ambedkar believed in RSS’ ideology!

In movies, Dalit characters are distorted – remember ‘kachra’ from Lagaan? Famous quotes by Dr. Ambedkar are distorted and are used by Brahmins for their benefits. Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Same has been done by Brahmins to us; Dalits don’t know much about their heroes and ideals and their struggles and mission. But the same Dalits will know more about Mahabharata or Ramayana, which are works of fiction written to suppress them. I have visited the homes of many educated Dalits in Maharashtra and Punjab, and seen pictures of Dr. Ambedkar, but along with that I also found the pictures of either Sai Shirdi Baba or some devi devta on the walls! These people don’t understand that these two pictures can’t stand together and the latter shouldn’t have any place in Dalit homes. These are the signs of slavery or ignorance; people even after getting education are still in chains because they were told these devi devtas are their saviours. These Dalits who say they are free, are wrong, they have no knowledge that they are still slaves. Slaves in the hands of the caste lords. If we were free there would have been no need for protests and the fight for equal rights.

Brahmin scholars have ignored all the Dalit- Bahujan revolutionaries such as Ayyankali from Kerala who fought for the poor Dalits’ rights. Birsa Munda – tribal leader from Bihar, Mahatma Jotiba Phule – father of social revolution, Savitribai Phule – first women teacher of India, EVR Periyar – great revolutionary from Tamil Nadu. Where are all these great personalities in Indian history? None of these revolutionaries are in the history books, no one bothers to write about them. It seems Indians have forgotten the struggle of all the greatest revolutionaries. India’s history is nothing but our forefathers’ struggle for equality but these Brahmins have taught us something different. Our forefathers built this society, it is time to learn how our forefathers literally built this society and provided its foundation.

Until the time we keep on forgetting our history or do not celebrate it, these so called Brahmin scholars will keep on saffronsing it and we will keep on hating it or being confused with it, which in actual fact is filled with stories of bravery and fight for equal rights. Not teaching Dalit history all the year around leads to Dalit students not realising who they really are and what contribution their idols made towards India despite being humiliated by the so-called upper castes.

The important question to ask is: who benefits from not teaching Dalit history? For thousands of years we weren’t allowed to read and when we got the right to read we were taught the history written by the upper castes who have no interest in depicting real history and thereby lose control over the masses.

The content of history books changes with the changes in government in the states. All governments want to show only their own heroes or idols etc by ignoring the real heroes & idols who worked for the betterment of the whole society. So, nobody cares about Dalit history. Nobody will find more than this one line on Dr B R Ambedkar in the history books: that Dr B R Ambedkar was the chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution! The life history of the person who wrote the largest constitution in the world, and one of the world’s greatest economists is missing in the history books. But one will find them filled with people like Savarkar, and Parsuram. How long can we accept this injustice and until when can we ignore our heroes?

There is an endless list of people who worked for the upliftment of Dalits and the poor, and also behind every Dalit’s life there is a strong battle for existence against the Manuwadis. Lord Buddha, Guru Namdev, Guru Ravidas, Guru Kabir, Guru Trilochan, Guru Sain, Guru Tukaram, Mahatma Jotiba Phule, Dr B R Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule etc. are some of the people we should respect and take inspiration from. Further, many Dalit heroes and idols were killed, such as Saint Tukaram, or were targets of attempts to kill, such as Mahatma Jotiba Phule. So, from history we can learn how to stay ahead of these Brahmins and beat them at their own game. How to remain alert and how to run the movement – all this we can learn from our history.

Mischief done by the Brahmin scholars to historical research to uphold the prestige of their forefathers as the founders of the caste system is obvious. Today, the Manuwadis are trying to hide the past mistakes of their forefathers by representing history in their own way & defending it even at the cost of the truth. They are also continuously trying to change the Dalit history according to their needs so that it can help them.

Read -  [Transcript] Dr. Ambedkar Speaks on M.K. Gandhi and Poona Pact (BBC Radio) - 1955

Dalit history has been distorted to such an extent that people think Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu, Guru Ravidas worshiped Ramanand, and Dr. Ambedkar supported RSS etc. These are just a few examples which show how Brahmins have made fools of all of us. Many Buddhist monasteries such as the Tirupati temple of Andhra Pradesh, the Ayyappa temple of Kerala, and the Bodh Gaya Temple of Bihar etc have been captured by the Brahmins. This will continue happening if we keep on forgetting our history, our culture, and the struggles of our leaders. All this has to change and we have to write our own history, so Dalit History Month matters.

By depriving Dalits of their history and culture, the upper castes want to prove that Dalits are not citizens of India. But we are citizens of India and we demand equal rights. We don’t believe in second class citizenship, we are either citizens or not citizens at all. There is nothing as second class citizens; give us equal rights, give us equal share in history books. We are not demanding special rights; we are demanding rights which have been promised to us by the constitution of India.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. How can we forget the struggles and sacrifices of our forefathers? Our history is full of struggle and fight against injustice. Our forefathers fought a long battle for equality so by celebrating Dalit History Month, we commit to the cause of equality and celebrate the history of change.

We need to reclaim our history so that we can get organised; organising functions and gatherings will give us the strength to believe in ourselves and we can get inspired by our fellow Dalits. By celebrating Dalit history we will show that we don’t believe in the ‘love your enemy’ philosophy. You will never be labelled as ‘wise’ if you let anyone exploit you. Only by knowing our history can we give a fitting reply to the so-called upper castes who continuously try to malign Dalit history. You will never be labelled as ‘brave’ if you let your rich history die in the hands of anyone. We must learn to shed this attitude of ‘love your enemy’; we must learn to protect and respect our icons and to assert our rights rightfully.

History is crucial as it explains how society developed but by erasing Dalit history the masses have been denied the right to know the truth. Knowing how problems were created leads to an understanding of how to solve those problems. Without knowing real history one can’t solve problems efficiently. Not understanding the significance of important historical events is dangerous! We need everyone on the same page in order to create meaningful dialogue to address critical issues pertaining to Dalits.

Indian history has been shaped around the marginalization and exclusion of Dalits in all the areas. As a result, obstacles were created that kept Dalits from becoming fully integrated or recognised in Indian history. Our accomplishments have been excluded, e.g. Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution as an economist isn’t recognised in India and today’s so-called feminist movements don’t recognize Savtribai Phule’s contribution towards women. What a shame! There are many things those are kept hidden from all of us (Read here a few) What I see as the purpose of hiding all these facts and great achievements of Dr Ambedkar is that it is aimed at distracting Dalit-Bahujans from the right path. And that Dalit-Bahujans don’t get inspiration from their own history and smash the upper caste hegemony. As Dr Ambedkar said, “Let the slave know that he is a slave and he’ll break the chains of slavery.” We need to find more about the “truths of our rich history”, “our role models”, “our culture”, and “realities of caste” etc. Only then can we do something better for our society.

How can Dalits forget about the brave men and women who fought for their rights to sit in the same classroom, drink from the same wells, and eat at the same tables, as other castes? I will never forget about my courageous forefathers who endured mistreatment at each and every step of life because of their caste so that we can today breathe and live freely. I will never forget countless Dalit men and women who were beaten, abused, and murdered so that I might have the right to read, write and vote.

The pain and struggle of Dalit heroes is what connects me to Dalit history, and it’s the promise and hope embodied in Dalit history that makes me read it. The lessons of leadership, community and love are as relevant today as they were then, and with a growing Dalit population in India, now is the time to reclaim and rewrite our history. We have a long way to go, but if we continue sharing and learning from our history, progress will surely be made.

The Dalit History Month project is important because education and knowledge is important. This will provide a common base of knowledge to understand different problems and will lead to innovative thinking that will provide solutions to social inequalities.

Most of our heroes don’t appear in books, stamps, newspapers, news channels, google doodle or anywhere. They are kept alive by a few hard working individuals. It is a race between how fast the so-called Dalit Messiahs from upper castes make us forget our history and how fast Dalits can reclaim the true history! I salute all those Dalits who are working hard to stay ahead in this race.

I thank our forefathers for their sacrifices and salute all of them for their bravery. Let’s pledge that we will not let their sacrifices, stories and contributions be forgotten. Greatness is measured by what has been overcome. Our forefathers have overcome so much pain and we have to carry forward the caravan. Are you ready to learn and raise your voice? Let’s remember everyone who has ever stood for Dalit rights did so because Dalit Lives Matter and so does Dalit History. Finally, till the time, Indian History doesn’t teach Dalit History, we will and we must celebrate Dalit History.

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