Jadhav has decided to return the Mahatma Phule Best Journalist award that he received in 2011 to protest against Manmohan Vaidya’s statement at JLF and against the anti-Dalit stance of the Gujarat government.
Ahmedabad: The memory of it is still vivid, he said. As a child, Sunil Jadhav would accompany his grandmother to the fields. The people of higher caste working on the field would ask him to get his rampatar (an earthen utensil used by higher caste households for Dalit guests) that was kept at a corner of the field to serve him buttermilk and roti.
Perhaps it is the sense of self-respect he learned the hard way that has propelled the 41-year-old activist and writer from Rajkot, Gujarat to return the ‘Mahatma Phule Best Journalist’ award that he received from the Gujarat government in 2011.
On January 23, Jadav announced that he will return the award that constitutes a cash amount of Rs 25,000 and a shawl given to him by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, after RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya made anti-reservation remarks at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
“Why would they [people of higher caste] treat a 10-year-old child with such discrimination? What was my fault?” he asks.
However, Jadav, doesn’t like to be referred as only a ‘Dalit writer’. In a long telephonic conversation he talked about how he came to such a decision and also discussed his works and his line of thought about the issue.
“Don’t confine me or stereotype me as a Dalit writer. It is unfair considering I have worked on an array of subjects ranging from history and the role of Saurashtra during the movement for independence, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Rajkot and its history and so on. Yet my caste and not my achievements continue to overshadow my identity,” said Jadav.
He stated that the decision he has taken was not just to protest the remark made by Vaidya but also against the anti-Dalit stance of Gujarat government.
“I am very saddened over Vaidya’s views about reservation where he has stated that the system should be reviewed and that it wasn’t meant to be continued forever. It seems that the RSS instead of trying to eliminate the casteist mindset and social inequality, is bent on eliminating an entire caste considered to be low in hierarchy and untouchables. This will add to the anti-Dalit environment already prevailing in the country,” he adds.
However, it is not just the remark of one RSS leader that he was protesting against, Jadav stated. The protest is also against the Gujarat government which he said seems to be anti-Dalit.
“The Gujarat government had assured people that the accused in the Una flogging case would be tried in a special court, but that did not happen and four of the accused are out on bail. Four years have passed since three Dalit youth were killed in a firing incident in Thangadh (Surendranagar district). But the victims are yet to get justice. The promises of setting up 26 special atrocity courts in several districts also seem to be mere lip service by the state government,” said Jadav.
Jadav has been associated with journalism and has been writing columns and reports for various Gujarati news organisations over a period of 17 years. He claims that his work for over a decade and half had made BJP government recognise his work and award him in 2011.
Besides, he has authored 16 books, all in Gujarati. Some of his popular works are Sardar-The Man of Action, Dalit Sant Dhara, Rashtra Rachna Sarthiyo, Hindi Sahitya Dalit Vimarsh and Ambedkar – The Man of Movement. Currently, he also works as a part time lecturer in a college in Kalavad, a municipality city in the Jamanagar district, about 50 kilometres away from Rajkot.
Jadav has also edited a book named Kalavad thi Kamlam (From Kalavad to Kamlam), a biography of former BJP chief and MLA Ranchodbhai Faldu. The book was launched by former chief minister Anandiben Patel in the presence of top BJP leader and current deputy chief minister Nitin Patel in Rajkot in 2015.
“Editing a biography of a BJP leader doesn’t stop me from criticising the anti-Dalit stance of the government. Former chief minister Anandiben Patel has praised my book on Sardar Patel and later the government awarded me for my work. But it seems there is a huge gap in the words and actions of the Gujarat government. It is no wonder that the situation of Dalits is still vulnerable even after 70 years of independence,” Jadav said.
“However, most Dalit movements have been confined to rhetoric. Merely shouting slogans and confining ourselves in various Dalit groups won’t help. People from mainstream politics and society have to understand and join the movement, else we won’t bring the change that we seek,” he added.
Jadav has held public meetings with many politicians, religious gurus and activists to take the ‘philosophy of Bhim’ forward, as he puts it. Through the platform of many social activities that Jadav is part of, he talks about the idea of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar and against untouchability amongst people of all strata.
“Being a Dalit is not easy in this state. Our caste identity is instilled in us as a child”, he said.
“Many of my students belong to higher caste. They respect me like any other student would respect a teacher. But they would never visit my residence as their parents forbid them from visiting a Dalit residence,” he added.
“As a child, as far as memory serves me, the identity of being a Dalit shadowed every aspect of our lives. Those days, every household would get their spices and wheat from mills. Our family would also do the same. One day, our container of wheat got exchanged with the neighbour’s container. I went to his residence to return his container. I stood and watched in shock as he put his fingers in his mouth to vomit after he realised the roti he just ate was made from wheat belonging to a Dalit household,” remembered Jadav, explaining how deep rooted casteism is in the social fragment of Gujarat.
Jadav’s decision to return his award has earned him the support of many social activists from across the state. However, most of Jadav’s friends who belong to higher castes have been aloof ever since he announced his intention to return the award. “I thought these were my people. They were there when I celebrated my child’s birth or finished my first book,” he said.
However, Jadav stands firm on his decision. “I will put Rs 25,000 in an envelope and dispatch it to the office of social justice and empowerment. The government has not reacted to the decision yet – I don’t think it will.”
Damayantee Dhar is a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to The Wire