[Reader-list] Fourth Posting - Caste Violence in Urban Maharashtra: A Study of Worli Riots of Mumbai 1974 - A Breaking Point in Dalit Panthers Movement

Arvind Kumar arvind.access at gmail.com
Sun Aug 5 02:30:51 IST 2007

Fourth Posting - Caste Violence in Urban Maharashtra: A Study of Worli
Riots of Mumbai 1974 -  A Breaking Point in Dalit Panthers Movement

Interview with L.D. Bhonsle (Dalit Panther, Pune Chapter)

In the first phase of my fieldwork in Pune I conducted a set of
structured interviews. Here I present excerpts of the interview with
L.D. Bhonsle, one of the founders of Dalit Panthers, Pune Chapter. I
met this 58 year old activist at the main gate of Ferguson College,
Pune on a humid sunny afternoon while he was agitating in favour of
wage hike for the employees of the college. Although I had already
fixed an appointment with him, he gave me a cold reception when he
came to know that I was pursuing a PhD in JNU and was taking a field
trip enquiring about the Worli riots in Bombay.

To my surprise he was more forthcoming for the interview and
straightaway asked me; "Why do you want me to tell about any such
incident and in any case what purpose would it serve except for you
being awarded a PhD degree". Taken aback by his words I took a while
to gather myself and continued with the interview to which the man was
very cordial. I had no grievance left in me once I visited the
residence of Bhonsle right after the interview, which was situated
among a very moderate urban slum, located right behind the well known
elite Ferguson College. The following are the excerpts from the

Q. What led to the coming of Dalit Panthers?
A. Between 1970-72, there were gross atrocities on Dalits which were
covered by major dailies on Maharashtra. Since 1957 General Elections,
Republican Party of India which was sole representative of dalit voice
in this country was in alliance with the Congress. There were three
factions in RPI, one led by B.C. Kamble, other by Raja Kamble and yet
another by Wada Saheb Gaikwad. But, RPI in totality failed in
advancing the grievances of Dalits. This was the time when the Dalit
Panthers came as a force to reckon with.

Q. It is understood that Black Panthers inspired the Dalit Panthers.
Do you agree?
A. Well, the name has certainly got commonality but Dalit Panthers
philosophy/ideology was only Ambedkar and Ambedkarism. The agenda was
liberation of Dalits.

Q. How do you see Worli Riots?
A. Worli riots took place in the wake of Central Mumbai parliamentary
by-election of 1974. CPI demanded support from the Dalit Panthers.
Girni Kamgar Mazdoor Union called for a strike which was supported by
the CPI and the CPI(M). Dalit Panthers also participated. Namdeo
Dhasal addressed the crowd and said "You are not the original
communist. I am a real communist because I am poor and I still stay in
a ghetto". The Times of India reported this on the very first page.
S.A. Dange's daughter Rosa Dange was candidate of CPI. Some one lakh
voters of Dalit Panthers boycotted the election and she won. Y.B.
Chavhan, the then Congress CM of Maharashtra, with help of Shiv Sena
and police took action against Dalit Panther activists.

Q. Do you see any similarity between Blacks and Dalits?
A. Black were considered human but slaves. Dalits were 'untouchables'
hence not a human. Worli to begin with.

Q. What were the achievements of Dalit Panthers?
·	It gave grip to the Ambedkarite Movement
·	Cultural Movement grew up.
·	Movement not only produced activists but also leaders, which
inspired the young leaders.

Q. What were the failures?
A. Personally, I do not feel such movement can ever fail Yet, I see
some failures in retrospect.
·	Lot of Dalit youth left formal education.
·	Such youngsters did not get government jobs and this discrimination
is still continuing in the Indian society.

Q. How do you the future of such a movement?
A. New generation wants to do less labour and extract more profit.
Thus, revolutionary movement is defeated. Individualism has increased.
Sacrifice is difficult and hence revolutionary valour is declining.

The final words of Bhonsle were, "I am old and I have already
sacrificed everything. I do not aspire for big things in life,
therefore, I'll remain an activist till I am alive".

More information about the reader-list mailing list