Using a graphic form inspired by Pardhan Gond art, Bhimayana breaks popular conventions of graphic narratives published in the West. In this interview, S. Anand reveals that although the book was not planned for children, it has poten- tial as a pedagogical tool for exploring questions about caste-based dis- crimination. Anand talks about the book, its relevance in contemporary times, Dr Ambedkar and his journey in engaging with the issue of caste- based discrimination. Can you take us through the idea of the book and tell us how it came about?
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Early in Bhimayana, a boy named Bhim experiences the world through violence. Bhim is a Mahar, an untouchable. Armed with the liberal crux of reformers such as J. Mill, John Dewey, and Booker T. Washington, Ambedkar developed a model of social justice that was widely vilified by nationalists and even by Gandhi, whose own esteemed mandate of freedom comes away looking like the political charter of a posh boy fraternity. Frankly written and drawn in the mnemonic idiom of modern Gond art as practiced by the central Indian tribal politic called Gond , the book ends up beautiful, punchy, and always readable.
Bhimayana brings together writers Srividya Natarajan and S. Bhimayana was published by Navayana Publishing, a niche press founded in that focuses on the history and politics of caste in India.
Beyond this graphic pedigree, the book is also unusually germane for being grounded in present-day journalism. The barbed but seductive quality of this double narrative, the fact that yuppie ignorance is sometimes too easily mocked, makes it that much more impossible to resist second and third readings.
They were described as impure and relegated to the rank of those who should not be touched. For being linked to a Hindu god meant only more Hindu bondage. Historically, dalits were reduced to performing jobs caste Hindus found polluting. They handled dead people and animals, soil, and waste respectively as cremators, cobblers, potters, gardeners, sweepers, and scavengers.
Those who farmed were landless and indentured. Yet, all untouchables were denied basic civic necessities. Grocery shops were open to limited access. Primary schooling became available only because of British law. Using wells and temples and building imperishable houses was entirely off-limits. Verbal humiliations, thrashings, and fatal threats were givens.
Ambedkar speaking at the First Mahad Satyagraha, Collaborating with various progressives, Ambedkar became a leading voice in slowly organising dalits until finally, in , a protest march of walked peacefully to a town called Mahad where they drank from a tank so far reserved for caste Hindus. This event is known as the First Mahad Satyagraha of Symbolic but momentous, Ambedkar compared its potential to that of French National Assembly that abolished aristocracy and liberated the poor.
Later that year, he led 10, dalits in the Second Mahad Satyagraha. In , Gandhi, the holy cow of the Indian freedom movement, went on an indefinite hunger strike, forcing the British to reconsider granting untouchables separate electorates. Over the next fifteen years, Ambedkar spoke and published widely on various issues impacting dalits, such as water policy, agriculture, military reform, labour rights, and Buddhism.
Ambedkar snapped. In October , about six weeks before he died, he converted to Buddhism along with an approximate , followers. Considered to be the largest single conversion in human history, it inspired many dalits to voluntarily seek monotheistic faiths. They became Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, though conversion did little to dissolve the stigma of untouchability. Both are selectively based on his speeches and the little-known Waiting for a Visa c.
The opening scene of the preface. The narrative begins with a socially-literate woman and a blinkered man discussing affirmative action in education and jobs, the most common peeve against dalits.
The man finds setting quotas aside for dalits unfair. For two hours before being dumped into a canal, four members of a dalit family called Bhotmange were variously mutilated, raped, and bludgeoned to an audience of forty village residents.
The events were suppressed for over a month. Dalits, mainly lead by women, did not break out into mass protests until a month after the event when a popular blog described the event, suggested state complicity in a cover-up, and encouraged agitation. Predictably, the government suppressed the protests under the charge of waging war against the Indian state.
In using the word Brahminism for such vicious conventions during his time Ambedkar was of course defining more than Brahmins discriminating against untouchables. For him, Brahminism was the very pathology of Indian bigotry ingrained even in non-Hindus, including Muslims, Christians, and Parsis that he foresaw migrating poisonously in low-caste Hindus who history allowing would assume the role of Brahmins. He was right. At Khairlanji, it was low-caste Hindus, not Brahmins, who lynched the dalit Bhotmanges.
Note especially why the Bhotmanges were lynched: They were being punished for educating their only daughter, protecting their land from encroachers, and living with the maximum poise their finances would allow, basically exactly what Manu forbids untouchables to covet in the Manusmriti Laws of Manu. Book 1: Water is set in , a landmark year in Indian education as Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, is initiating educational reforms to help Indian students find better jobs.
This is fantastic news for the rich, who can afford higher education. Bhim at school. But back in Satara, Bhim is set apart at play and in the classroom.
From the school water pump to the village trough, untouchables are denied access at every turn. The child himself would love a trim, but from whom exactly?
In Baroda, unable to lodge at a Hindu hotel because he might be found out and killed , Ambedkar suffers a dungeon-like room at a Parsi inn, though even this ends in threats to his life.
For almost a fortnight he is compelled to hide in public spaces after work. Broken and disillusioned, Ambedkar quits his job and returns to Bombay. Book 3: Travel is set in Ambedkar is 43 and a recognized dalit leader with various agitations behind him.
Now he is on bus tour with a contingent of political workers. Initially thrilling, the journey ends disastrously when the bullock cart transporting him to his destination in the dalit village meets with a serious accident. The man driving the cart is an unskilled man because no regular driver would risk being polluted by the untouchable Ambedkar.
Anand story. New Delhi: Navayana. ISBN: soft cover. Storytellers S.
Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability
Early in Bhimayana, a boy named Bhim experiences the world through violence. Bhim is a Mahar, an untouchable. Armed with the liberal crux of reformers such as J. Mill, John Dewey, and Booker T.
Background[ edit ] Bhimayana is based on incidents narrated in B. These notes were written in with the objective of disseminating information about the practice of untouchability to foreigners. Navayana published them as Ambedkar: Autobiographical Notes in He is credited by Udayan Vajpeyi to be the creator of a new school of art called Jangarh Kalam. No more rectangular framing or unilinear time. No more profiled individuals. He believes that such texts will make readers more vested in the story and its message.