Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

While I write this at night
it’s three o’ clock
Though I want to have a drink
I don’t feel like drinking.
Only I want to sleep peacefully
And tomorrow morning see no varnas

- Namdeo Dhasal

Namdeo Dhasal now makes news only for moving further away from the cause he stood for, that is for moving away from Marxism to the Shiv Sena and now to the Sangh Parivar’s fountainhead- the RSS- organizations that he had once bitterly opposed.

But once Namdeo Dhasal had founded the Dalit Black Panthers movement in 1972, and heralded the era of Dalit poetry, though the term Dalit Poetry had existed since 1958.

Anand Teltumbde places his poetry in the context of his times (the early seventies):

The times were just ripe for the protest movement of dalits to germinate…. The most notable example of this protest came in light in the form of Golpitha- a collection of poems by Namdeo Dhasal. Golpitha – name of a red-light district in Mumbai, depicted the tough life of a dalit there and is considered as Dhasal’s most stellar work. People were shocked by the raw energy exuded by each of its word entirely unfamiliar to the established literary circles. They had never seen quite like it before. Its proletarian lingo, iconoclastic imagery, defiant idiom and terrible anger shook the establishment to its very foundation. A spate of poetry followed

Dhasal’s poetry is powerful and poignant, and very raw.

Dhasal’s poetry is shocking to those who have not experienced the excruciating circumstances of caste exploitation:

In one of his poems Dhasal describes how caste society and male domination deformed his mother, making her into a “machinery for the production of worms.” Identifying with her spiritual butchery at the hands of a bigoted society, he tells her, “Just as I have been stripped bare, so have you.” This identification with his mother, however, doesn’t lead him to inner healing; instead, it hardens him and gives his despair an unpredictable edge. With a baiting bitterness, he asks her, “On the day you cut my umbilical cord, why didn’t you slash my throat with your fingernail?” He then proceeds to rail at her some more, accusingly but also as an act of self-mutilating triumph over any possibility of romanticization –

You didn’t even moo once from the depths.
You didn’t stir the sky with a shrill cry.
The earth didn’t crack.
How easily you lived, wrapped in rhinoceros hide.

In What More Than This Can Be, he wrote:

I am a common man of this contemporary history
I have put down the head guard out of self-humility
I wish to embrace deeply my innermost being
That will end up the essence,
Do not shed the innocent skin of this grammar
After all this heinous world belongs to human beings
Power is not in words but in the desire
This fever-stricken, exaggerated pretention
Will bother the deep relations
Clear away the self-chosen inhuman path
Seasons come and go
Who are you waiting for?

Dhasal has since then moved across the political spectrum from Leftist leanings to now sharing the stage with RSS leaders. It is a left handed tribute to the Dalit Panthers’ movement that even the Shiv Sena, once a backward caste outfit opposed to the Dalit cause, now allies with one or the other splinter groups. Ram Puniyani explains the phenomemon well:

Dalit panthers came up as the most promising organisation for dalit rights and their path was that of alliance with the other oppressed sections of society. They broadened the definition of dalits to include workers, minorities, adivasis and women. This indicated the line of allaince to be followed. This last concerted effort fell to pieces with different leaders of dalit movement getting co-opted by one or the other political power or personality.

Though Dhasal now has his own convoluted explanation:

“But Dalits have come into political power in some places,” Namdeo said. “They are accused of corruption, but they learned it from the Brahmins who ruled before them. The reservations do not work as they now stand. I believe that our people will start to make more demands and the Hindus will be forced to submit to them.”

Dilip Chitre considers him to be one of the towering poets of the 20th century:

Namdeo is a big poet in the sense Whitman, Mayakovsky and Neruda are big. But unlike them, his poetry contains large chunks of a real and dirty world peopled by have-nots and their slang. Henry Miller once said, “I am not creating values; I defecate and nourish.” Namdeo did precisely this for Marathi poetry. He restored its soil-cycle by feeding it the very excrement and garbage that could fertilise it for the future.

The interview with Namdeo Dhasal alone makes VS Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now worth a read.

Poetry is politics, he once stated. Undoubtedly, his current politics will not cast a shadow on his poetry and Dhasal’s poetry will live long after his current politics is dead.

***

More on Namdeo Dhasal, his poetry and his political drift from Marxism to the Sangh Parivar.

Picture: Dalit poet and leader Namdeo Dhasal shakes hands with RSS chief K Sudarshan at a book release function in New Delhi on Wednesday (Acknowledgement: ToI)

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22 thoughts on “Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

  1. Jack Stephens

    Wow, that is truly sad to see someone of such stature to be moving further from a just and righteous cause that he helped create. I’m definitely coming to your blogsite more often to learn about India and whatever else you have to say.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Hi

    I think this is really welcome development

    Belated realisation on part of Dhasal that Marxism is the worst manifestation of neo-brahminism

    Working in tandem with Hindu forces (despite having few lumpen elemnts and many bigoted elments in their ranks,they do solid work with poor/ tribals/marginalised)is better than wasting precious time in attending seminars/talks shows and other form of pseudo-intellectual exercises organised by rich commies /pinkos/useul idiots

    Reply
  3. bhupinder singh

    Jack: Thanks for your comment and hope to see you here more often !

    Anonymous: I understand the thrust of your comment, though I do not agree with it. As a theory to understand social and classs discrepancies, Marxism remains a powerful tool. For all their work among the tribals and other sections, Hindutva ultimately is a movement for the upper castes (in essence it’s agenda is as much casteist as communal).

    This doesn’t absolve the Left of its inability to understand and address the Dalit/caste question, and to a large extent you are correct that they represent neo- Brahmanism.

    Perhaps the only ones on the Left who have provided a space for Dalit activists are the Naxalites.

    Reply
  4. Alokhttp://marcelproust.blogspot.com

    thanks for all the links. I didn’t know about it at all though I had heard of him. I am also amused by the ignorance of the anonymous commenter above.

    you have got a great blog here. Will come here more often. thanks!

    Reply
  5. Polarishttp://mirkwood.wordpress.com

    I do remember reading about Dhasal in India, A Million Mutinies Now, and I agree that it was the most interesting part of that book. Did you know that Dhasal’s poetry has been compared to T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land?

    I didn’t know about this shift in his political loyalties. I should follow local politics more.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The Deafening Silence of Dalits in Punjab « a reader’s words

  7. Pingback: Dr. Ambedkar: “Our very own Buddha” « a reader’s words

  8. Pingback: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement « Samatha India

  9. abdul rahim

    it is saddned to fall of the movement,but i am extremly happy by the work he was done intentionaly brings new enlightement among dalits.the contribution he has given to make our socity equal,libertyand fraternity is extremly priseworthy.i belived dasal related work for the development of society as devrsity community.the inspiration he brought is a rational way for the coming youths.i belive in youths energy,enthusiasm,rationality,honesty and eyes of equality for sustianable development.therfore,we need to invest upon them for the betterness of our society as whole.the contibution of the great leaders works should spread them as a guide ,way and education .

    Reply
  10. kamble devendra

    hello
    sir, i am vary impresed by reading your articles
    i am beed district dalit panter vidyarthi zilla adyaksha

    jai bhim prabudha bharat

    Reply
  11. pratik kardak

    hi
    dalit panther has given enough of itz part i salute ther sacrifice……….itz high tym nw therz need of new dalit organization i had expectations frm bsp but alas! itz alit youth need for dto get organized or else d dayz of manusmriti r no long!!1
    jai bhim!!!

    Reply
  12. nilesh

    Dear sir,
    Jai bhim, I accept all this that you mention it. but we have to come together & fight agains all antiactivitis in all ways.
    Thanks.
    Nilesh b. hiwrale

    Reply
  13. Lahu Khamkar

    Namdeo Dhasal was icon of caste humiliated refugees in the 70th decade.
    He ideolised Dalit Panther movement.Due to castist mindset of average savarna and avarna indians and psuedo humanity chunks webbed by monopolist of super structure bluffed activists, created illusion among all caste discrimination fighters. Dhasal played manyfolded strategies to counter the establishment and set dialogue with non brahmin savarnas.
    Yet he lives as ‘fakir’ he is not after accumulating wealth for future 17 generations,suffering with major nuero dieseas.All blames on him becomes unbottemed after reviewing him without prejudice. He describe himself through his poems. curious may refer and then opine.

    Reply
  14. ganan jagtap

    respectedsir , Jai bhim, I accept all this that you mention it. but we have to come together & fight agains all antiactivitis in all ways i will try to change this .

    Reply
  15. Gajendra Raj

    Namdev Dhasal is the ray of hope for all Ambedkarites. We wish he should not shake hands with opposite ideology of Dr.Ambedkar, his thinking and writting is highly inspirational, such Dalit thinker is a rare in this critical times when Dalits are under transformation. Namdev should assert the truths of Indian social reality for advantage of the majority poor and depressed people of India.Democracy is a number game and Namdev can show the direction like Voltaire of France. We wish him all the best in coming days,”Namdev as you are with us in this time, we feel a second Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is with us. Please guide us. Break the curtains of false philosophy, show us the way more clear, you do it now, still keep it up. We want your thoughts more and more ”
    - Gajendra Raj

    Reply
  16. Geddada Vijaykumar

    1. Be strong and courage….. Go ahead, don’t fear you are right, and lead the people for better society. Being a Dalit proud of you, Dalits having very important role in Indian Politics to serve the downtrodden. let us take this opportunity. National Dalitsatta Working Committee, (NDSWC)Dalitsatta- India.

    2. Dear Friends…, We can overcome these all atrocities only with Political empowerment. It is nobody offers, But has to be taken by own Initiate and Sacrifice, Politicians are not born…. They are molded and exposed in the society by Active Presence and Identification. District Dalit Committee, West Godavari, AP (DDC )Dalitsatta- India.

    3. Dear Brothers and Sisters………, We are born to be free and to change the society, not for discrimination and slavery, remember school days…”India is my country let us love our people. Be a true citizen of India. Dalit Student Federation, (DSF) Dalitsatta- India.

    4. Choose your life track…. Serve with Dalitsatta, don’t be patient, let us wake-up work together for National Integration. Dalit Trade Union, (DTU) Dalitsatta- India.

    5. Dalit Means: The people who are thrown away by upper caste Socially, Educationally, Economically and Politically. They are notified SC/ST in The Government. Scheduled Castes, & Scheduled Tribes Employees Welfare Association, (SEWA) Dalitsatta- India.

    6. Let’s don’t be foolish ourselves by watching Ads. on welfare schemes for SC and ST it is only a show. Those are linked with someone higher caste. In practical to disclose. Dalit Pradesh Committee, Andhra Pradesh. (DPC) Dalitsatta- India.

    7. Dalitsatta is open to all… Welcomes you, Dalit are everywhere, our strength is powerful, Our services are Great. Dalit Youth Brigade, (DYB) Dalitsatta- India.

    Reply
  17. rachana

    great optimism to look world as casteless, i’m also searching for such sweet roses in this world, i think if this search and fight will continue and we will achive aworld where there is no class or caste base discrimination………..

    Reply
  18. rw Post author

    To all folks who have posted comments here, my apologies for not responding to them individually. I am glad you liked the post, and hopefully, found it inspiring as well.

    Reply
  19. ravindra

    saprem jai bhim .sir mala ase sangne ahe ki ajchi paristithi baghun aplyala punha ata dalit pantherchi garaj ahe jya pramane jevha dalit panther madhil nete mandali hoti kiva ata tya vucharachi ahe parantu sadhyachi stithi baghun te ya goshticha vichar kartat parantu amlat annayasathi bhrpur vichar kartat parantu aj hi lokanchya manat dalit panthar vishai jaga ahe me swata jevha kontya aplya samajachya sthali jato tevha juni lokanmadhe dalit pantharvishi gappa goshti chalu asta ani vishay asa nighto ki aj aplyala dalit panther chi garaj ahe aj maji ashi ahe ki dalit panther punha jiwant whavi ani aplya samajawaril annyay dur karava jar apli ichha asel tar mala contact kara kinva apla contact mala dyava mi apli dalit panther jivant karnyasathi jivki pran lavil ani tasech aplya samajatil sishikshi ,tarun,bekar.berojgar mulanna gheun kam karil maze purna prayatna panala lavil tasech me apnas vinanti karto ki apan dalit panther jivant karavi jar apali ichha asel tar ti punha jiwant honar ani punha aplya vicharatun ek navin BHAI SANGARE NIRMAN HOIL.BHAI SANGARE AMER RAHE

    Reply

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