Anand Mohan is riled at Manoj Jha for his insistence to kill the ‘Thakur’ within. Mohan’s anger represents that wind of dominant-caste counter-revolution that has always tried to smother the flame of anti-caste revolution, writes Shubham Sharma.
THE Parliament of India has been in news recently for all the wrong reasons. First came the comments by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament (MP) Ramesh Bidhuri, hurling all sorts of communalepithets at Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Danish Ali.
Jha twice clarified that he recited the poem to kill the ‘Thakur’ within, not to tarnish the image of any particular caste. The aim of his recitation was to request fellow parliamentarians to kill the presiding spirit of egotism that often comes with high power.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha has landed in hot water for reciting a poem by Om Prakash Valmiki during a debate on the women’s reservation Bill.
Yet Anand Mohan, leader of the Janata Dal (United), who wasconvicted in the killing of a sitting Indian Administrative Service officer, G. Krishnaiah in 1994, was so miffed that he threatened to rip off Jha’s tongue.
It will be pertinent to have the Englishtranslation of the poem so that an account of deep reflexivity on part of the poet could be made:
The stove is made out of mud,
The mud is sourced from the lake,
The lake belongs to the landlord (thakur)
(We have) a hunger for bread
Bread is made of millet
Millet grows in the fields
Fields belong to the landlord
The bull belongs to the landlord
The plough belongs to the landlord
The hands on the shaft of the plough are ours
The harvest belongs to the landlord
The well belongs to the landlord
The water belongs to the landlord
The crops and the field belong to the landlord
The lanes and settlements belong to the landlord
Then what is ours?
The poet is lamenting the agonising worthlessness of the marginalised castes who, despite being the actual producers, own nothing for themselves.
Historically, in Bihar, the home state of Anand Mohan (then part of Bengal Presidency), landlordism was so ruthlessly imposed that at the time of the first systematic British surveys, it had the distinction of being one of the few regions to have in place the system of agrestic slavery.
Francis Buchanan (1762–1829)estimated that in Purnia alone the total slave population stood at 24,460. Needless to say that these slaves belonged overwhelmingly to the marginalised castes.
The annual allowance given to the marginalised caste slaves consisted of only 15 maunds of grain and a piece of coarse cloth. In Bhagalpur, the allowance for slaves was even less. It consisted of meagre three seers of rice or coarse grain. There was no insurance accorded to slaves. When they got older, they either depended on their children or were driven to begging.
The kamia system of servitude was coeval with slavery, but after the abolition of slavery in 1843, it became a lasting form of serfdom in Bihar, especially in the southern part of the state.
Since the dominant-caste landlord, as a rule, would not touch the plough, he depended on the kamia to do agricultural work. Historian Gyan Prakash, in his monographBonded Histories: Genealogies of Labour Servitude in Colonial India records: ‘‘A kamia worked all his life for the same landlord, earning wages for the days that he worked and expecting assistance when needed… for his son’s marriage, he received some grain, money, and a small plot of land from the landlord. After the conclusion of this transaction, called kamiauti, the son, too, became the same malik’s kamia.’’
All the kamias belonged to the low and the ‘outcaste’ population comprising of Goalas, Kurmis, Koeries, Dusadhs, Bhuinyas, Musahars, Dhanuks and Chamars.
Even after independence, the lives of marginalised castes, especially the Untouchables, in Bihar, continued to be miserable. Despite the official abolition of zamindari (landlordism), dominant castes retained the lion’s share of the land and exercised immutable authority over the marginalised castes.
When the BJP seems to have the dominant castes in its kitty, the lure of Thakurvotes has brought the inheritors of Mandalism to the feet of Anand Mohan.
The latter were settled on the outskirts of the village. A Dalit could not sit on the cot in the presence of dominant caste individuals and worse still, the system of Dola continued wherein Dalit brides were required to spend their wedding night with the local landlord.
Things have barely improved. Land relation in Bihar is one of the most skewed in India. As per theBandyopadhyay Commission report(2008), large dominant-caste landowners who account for 0.01 percent of the population own 19.76 lakh acres of land.
In the backdrop of all this misery, Anand Mohan is riled at Manoj Jha for his insistence to kill the ‘Thakur’ within. Mohan’s anger represents that wind of dominant-caste counter-revolution that has always tried to smother the flame of anti-caste revolution.
During the anti-colonial movement in Bihar, the Indian National Congress came to be dominated by these forces. Later on, theJP agitation also nursed such forces. The political career of Anand Mohan mirrors a similar trajectory. First, he started as a Rajput crusader, opposed to reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), then he hobnobbed with the BJP, and then came close to the Mandalites. In the middle of all this, he was convicted for organising the killing of the district magistrate G. Krishnaiah.
Now, when the BJP seems to have the dominant castes in its kitty, the lure of Thakur votes has brought the inheritors of Mandalism to the feet of Anand Mohan.
After years of being in the lurch, Anand Mohan got the opportunity that most North Indian dominant-caste politicians await: To hold high the placard of caste pride. The sheer aggression that he has shown vis-à-vis Manoj Jha and the silence with which his statements have been greeted sits ill with the politics of caste census that the Mandalites are playing in Bihar.
Even a school kid knows that the inter-caste economic disparities that the caste census would throw up would open a new avenue of class-based caste struggle which might pale the Mandal agitation into insignificance, if carried at the national level.
Thakurism, i.e., a feeling of overlordship over others, too can be rife among those who do not belong to the Thakur (Rajput) caste.
Manoj Jha’s statement is both representative and constitutive of this zeitgeist. However, the failure to restrain Anand Mohan has revealed the chink in the armour of so-called samajwadi politics, i.e., accommodation and coexistence with reactionary tendencies if it promises immediate electoral ingratiation.
The call to kill the ‘Thakur within’ carries a reverberating message of anti-caste politics. Just like Brahmanism is not the preserve of Brahmins, but all those who practise and believe in the graded hierarchy of caste, Thakurism, i.e., a feeling of overlordship over others, too can be rife among those who do not belong to the Thakur (Rajput) caste.
Unfortunately, this delicate argument might just be too much for the bullheaded Anand Mohan and his ilk. Let history damn him. Meanwhile Om Prakash Valmiki’s poem and its timely recall by Manoj Jha will endure.