Activist-writer – Dhale, a co-founder of Dalit Panther, has left behind a rich legacy

JV Pawar

With the death of Raja Dhale, a co-founder of Dalit Panther, we have lost a true icon. Raja was a strong Ambedkarite throughout his life. He fought and worked for the survival of true Ambedkarism. He was a writer and thinker – and at the same time also an ardent activist. Raja was my colleague and friend for almost five decades. He was with me like a family member. We were anti-establishment and, therefore, the government of Maharashtra could not dare to purchase him. For example, he never applied for a government house or for membership of any committee or mahamandal. He spent his whole life in a Maharashtra Housing Board room with thousands of books.

There were five leaders of the Dalit Panther movement. Two of them, Namdev Dhasal and Bhai Sanghare, are no more. I was with Raja till the last moment. Today he has also left, and I am alone. This is a personal loss to me and the Ambedkarite society as a whole.

In August 1972 Raja published an article on the national flag in Sadhana magazine, which created a storm in the country. He was taken to court over it, but he refused to apologise, saying the authorities could hang him if they wanted. Before 1972 he was associated with a little magazine movement. He was the editor of a magazine called Yeru. Bhalchandra Nemade, Bhau Paddhey, Vasant Gurjar and Satish Kalsekar were some of his colleagues.

After 1971, when atrocities on Dalits increased, Raja decided to not only write, but to fight on the streets. On January 5, 1974, Raja was beaten by police following riots in Worli and thrown in jail. Fifty-three court cases were filed against him in different parts of Maharashtra. One major incident of his life was the ‘Geeta Dahan’ in Shivaji Park – a public burning of a copy of Bhagavad Geeta.

Although he was a public servant, he fought the government fearlessly. If anyone attacked Jyotiba Phule or Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, he rose up to defend them. For example, when a writer criticised Phule’s ideology, Raja devoted an entire issue of Dhammalipi to defending the social reformer.

Raja was dead against ‘Hindu ideology’. That is why he fought the RSS. The RSS never had much respect for the national flag. Raja once hoisted the tiranga on its premises. He was a staunch Buddhist, staunch Ambedkarite.

Raja was also an inspiration for upcoming artists. Often he would visit me at Fort area and we would go to Jehangir Art Gallery to watch exhibitions.

Raja called Dalit literature ‘Phule-Ambedkarite literature’. In his school he mentored hundreds of writers. On his 50th birthday, I edited Astitwachya Reshya, in which I published his childhood poems, illustrations, stories and some articles. He has left behind many unpublished articles – on Buddha, Chaarwak, Sant Kabir, Krantiba Phule and the cast system. This is a treasure for the whole Ambedkarite society and should be published as early as possible. It will be a real homepage to him.

In personal letters to me, Raja said we were two birds perched on the branch of Ambedkarism. Now he has flown away, leaving me alone.

Jai Bhim.

courtesy- Mumbai Mirror