Kanpur-based dalit writer K. Nath is that profound anachronism: a true Ambedkarite in the time of the pragmatic realpolitik of coalition politics.
Nath was born in 1945 in the village of Duari in Kanpur Dehat. The title of his autobiography, Tiraskar, literally means insult, the dominant experience of large parts of his social life. Chapter after chapter details what it is to grow up dalit in the shameless culture of untouchability: the humiliation at the village well, going to school with upper-caste classmates, Holi in the dalit basti when processions would pass by hurling abuses at ‘untouchables’.
After he finished school, Nath moved to Kanpur where he worked at the district magistrate’s office. It’s not as if caste ceased to matter once he reached the city. Because of his caste, says Nath, he was falsely charged in a theft case, was suspended and harassed, and had his pension and other benefits restored only after much difficulty. “Even in Kanpur, dalits are concentrated in ramshackle bastis and the upper castes in their upmarket colonies,” he says. “If you want to see caste, come to our homes.” Nath himself lives in a basti of dalit brick kiln workers.
There are also some Muslim homes in his basti, with Samajwadi Party flags waving outside them. Dalits have the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) blue, but Nath is not one of them. “How can the BSP use Ambedkar when Ambedkar’s was the Republican Party!” he exclaims. The word ‘bahujan’, he says, has to do with Buddhism, and it is meant to incorporate everyone, but Kanshi Ram, Mayawati and the BSP have misused it.
Nath is not just another dalit government official who benefited from reservations and did his bit for the dalit movement. He is also part of a growing number of dalits from varying backgrounds writing about caste humiliation, invading the hitherto upper-caste reserve of the written word with their shared testimonies.
One could see why such testimonies matter when Prof Badri Narayan of the GB Pant Institute of Social Sciences, Allahabad, organised a two-day conference on Nath’s writing in his village. The conference went around the village, meeting people and visiting places mentioned in Nath’s books. “The upper-castes said that whatever happened had been done by their ancestors and that things were changing slowly,” says Nath. “The dalits, who worked in their fields, nodded. But I wonder, because dalits still sit on the ground and upper castes on the cot, you know.”
But some small changes are seeping in, Nath concedes. He talks about the time when his village had only one sweet water well, described in one of his monographs, Mere Gaon Ka Kuan. The upper castes had first rights to water, there were separate pots for dalits. Today, dalit children in Duari will not have to write about that well, says Nath; the handpump has been a powerful agent of modernity.
SHIVAM VIJ, Tehelka , Mar 17 , 2007