This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by abir misra. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why It’s Important To Revisit This Bold Film By Anand Patwardhan On Caste In India

By Abir Misra:

bhimrao
Still from ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’. Source: YouTube.

One fine day, a Dalit colony wakes up to the site of their revered leader’s statue garlanded with shoes. Dalits come out in outrage, only to face bullets from an aggressive team of policemen who later claim to have retaliated in response to the burning of a truck by the public, the Dalits. The video submitted as evidence in the court does not reveal anything conclusive. Meanwhile, a revolutionary folk singer from the community visits the colony only to commit suicide a few days later, adding to the sorrow and anger. The accused policeman is eventually sentenced, only to be taken to the hospital immediately after coming out of the court. He is defended on the grounds of being made a scapegoat as it is not him alone but the ‘system’ itself that is flawed. The system, to put it more explicitly, is casteist.

Anand Patwardhan’s film is an exercise in the breaking of an extended silence. A silence that exists not because there is no sound, but because our ears are accustomed to not listening. The sound is that of caste, of rape, of exploitation, of humiliation, of frustration, of suppression and of retaliation. Juxtaposed with this silence is another evil which, ironically, is voiced a bit too often and a bit too loudly than people are ready to digest. This evil is communalism, of the religious kind.

Jai Bhim Comrade (hereafter JBC) while tracing the two evils shows how the two lethally converge.

Untouchability as an issue had gained national importance by the third decade of the 20th century after the rise of Gandhi on the national stage. The Congress had officially recognised it as a problem to be eradicated. However, its policies were not found to be radical enough by sections within the Dalits who were now looking for a respectable place in a free nation that was to be born. To them, the Congress policy was of a charitable nature and they wanted to gain respect and dignity not as a favour, but as a right.

Thus rose Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a Mahar from Maharashtra, a barrister and a scholar of great merit, who led Dalits to first a temple entry movement and then the famous Mahad Satyagraha only to end up in disgust over the violent reactions from the ‘savarnas’ (upper castes) in the region. The attitudes of the savarnas led Bhimrao to become more and more suspicious of Congress’ efforts to mobilise Dalits for the nationalist movement.

His frequent criticisms and refusal to go along with the official boycott of the 1932 Simon Commission by the Congress brought him eventually in direct confrontation with Gandhi who sat on a fast in opposition to his demands for separate electorates. Eventually, a compromise was reached via the Poona Pact with untouchables getting reservation in the Assembly as well as in educational and government institutions, but not separate electorates. Ambedkar later established the Republican Party of India (RPI) to mobilise Dalits towards political consolidation.

Incidentally, it was around the third decade of the 20th century that there was the a rise of nationalist Hindu organisations. It was felt by some that Hinduism was in a crisis due to decreasing numbers and frequent conversions. Muslims and Christians were accused of being the villains here. The rise of these Hindu nationalist parties was also in part a response to the disillusionment with Gandhi and Congress who refused to make cow protection a national issue and were seen as giving too much importance to the Khilafat movement. The Hindu nationalist parties too were interested in mobilising Dalits to stop them from converting to Islam or Christianity. Hence, they too tackled untouchability and tagged it as something alien to Hinduism.

Keeping this history in mind is important as one watches JBC for it exposes how the two contradictory forces emerging in response to the Congress, the RPI and the Hindu nationalist parties, eventually converge in today’s political scenario in Maharashtra.

And yet, JBC is a much more complex film than it seems. It sheds light on a range of issues without losing its main focus. While breaking the silence around caste oppression and mixing it with communalism, it also sheds light although only hintingly, to something that is very seldom discussed – the problems within the Dalit movement today. The garlanding of Ambedkar’s statue with shoes by unknown agents comes across as a planned conspiracy to invite a predictable reaction from the Dalits which then creates conditions suitable for their slaughter. The Dalit community, in this case, seems to have failed in deciphering seemingly obvious conspiracies. They literally played into the hands of their upper caste oppressors. It is precisely here that the problem lies.

The filmmaker deserves applause for highlighting the plight of the Dalits while resisting the tendency to romanticise them as noble souls subject to oppression. Dalits come across as a community neck deep in hero worship. A major part of the film precisely showcases community gatherings as spaces for critiquing the state and caste system as well as singing praises of Babasaheb and recalling instances from his life, some factual others mythical yet significant. Bhimrao Ambedkar for them is not just a reformer but a saint in whose praise folk songs are to be composed and plays are to be directed and staged. He is a ‘bodhisattva’, showing Dalits the Buddha’s path to emancipation.

For a community forever subject to appeasement by savarna dominated political parties for votes, a community forever caught in a tug of war between leaders post the Gandhi-Ambedkar clash, for a community so political yet without a political party that can exclusively and genuinely represent it, for a community which has decided to reject every political figure of every other caste except those from its own, for a community filled with extreme and sometimes even exaggerated but not unjustified distrust and even hatred towards other higher castes, Bhim Rao comes across as a balm on their collective wounds, a ray of hope which promises a lot but unfortunately provides very little. The community is exposed to the lure of anyone who promises to erect a statue of Babasaheb or simply garlands him to appease the community.

Bound up with the issue of caste is the issue of labour. Dalits are shown working in unsafe and unhealthy environments with no safeguards that should generally be provided to them. Dealing with stench and humiliation on a daily basis, Dalits are still barely able to provide the basic necessities of life to their families. Due to their unclean and undesirable living conditions, they are not allowed to travel back home in buses due to their dirty clothes and smell. Again, for a community so eager to politically mobilise itself into a block, it seems to get very little opportunity to do so for sheer lack of free time away from family and labour. Growing frustration throughout the day is vented out at night in the form of songs and poems against caste and for Babasaheb.

While JBC is a story of lower caste humiliation and liberal upper caste hypocrisy, it is also the story of growing contradictions. Communities like that of Chitpavan Brahmins who claim to possess Parashuram’s genes, make the hypocrisy of the liberal savarnas appear saintly. Dalits are killed for leaving their traditional jobs and exploring new avenues. Refusal to work for savarnas brings death too. All this and several other instances point out to the inadequacy of the Dalit movement in bringing about a change in the attitude of the savarnas. The sheer numbers and might of the savarnas makes it impossible for Dalits to radically retaliate without suffering severely.

With the example of Babasaheb, Dalits have learnt the ways of critique but are yet to learn the ways of shrewd political practice. Young men and women with a lot of creative energy, like those who are part of the Lalit Kala Manch and now Rohit Vemula, tend to plunge into the field without fully deciphering its rules. They end up as radicals with very little political influence and run the risk of being victimised through conspiracy. For unlike critique, practice requires cooperation and negotiation with the other – the savarnas, who in retaliation to the radical critiques of the Dalits have either turned even more hypocritical or overly violent suppressors.

Jai Bhim Comrade, thus, is an insightful documentation of the Dalit discourse, its problems and as well as dilemmas. It encourages one to think about Ambedkar and also inspires you to seek possibilities beyond him. With the recent suicide of Rohit Vemula, the film deserves a definite revisit, to re-explore the complexity of the problem that we face today.

You must be to comment.
  1. Ani

    Stereotyping all Chitpavans as orthodox and following untouchability is wrong. I myself am a Chitpavan, I do not practice untouchability. Chitpavans have been at the forefront of untouchability eradication programmes. For eg- Veer Savarkar, Nathuram Godse. Whatever were his crimes, he played a part in caste eradication. Golwalkar, Hedgewar, both were Chitpavans and RSS founded and led by them worked for eradication of caste etc

More from abir misra

Similar Posts

By Vivek Verma

By Taha Iqbal

By Imran Khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below