Voice for Dalits BSP doesn't remember

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  • Published 1.08.10

Lucknow, July 31: The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party’s ambivalence towards Munshi Premchand, who portrayed the suffering of Dalits and other downtrodden in the heartland, was underlined today as the writer’s 130-year celebrations came to a quiet end in the village of his birth.

The state’s culture ministry funded the three-day Munshi Premchand Lamahi Mahotsava at Lamahi village, 10km from Varanasi, but not a single minister or even a district BSP leader turned up.

Nor did anyone from any other party — a fact the organisers put down to present-day politicians’ “ignorance” about the arts and culture — but the BSP rebuff appeared to many to be more significant.

Santosh Prajapati, a Lucknow University researcher on Dalit politics, said the BSP never included the writer in its pantheon.

“First, because he was not born a Dalit but an upper caste. Second, Dalit leaders feel he merely showered pity on his Dalit characters and never projected a Dalit as a rebel against the Brahmanical hierarchy,” Prajapati said.

District BSP leaders confirmed they felt Premchand had “patronised” Dalits, showing them as “passive” characters. “He portrayed Chamars as kamchors (shirkers); he has depicted landlords as showing kindness to Chamars,” alleged Varanasi BSP leader Ram Jatan Lal, referring mainly to one book by the writer.

“He repainted a black blanket in black,” said Lal’s party colleague Lalit Maurya.

Similar sentiments have sometimes been heard in Bengal against Tagore — a Left Front minister had in the early ’80s raged against the poet’s “unrealistic” depiction of a kind zamindar — and many have questioned Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s qualms about allowing widow remarriage in his novels.

The BSP leaders said they did not want to show disrespect to Premchand but would not adopt him as an icon.

Others have thought differently. Satyajit Ray adapted two Premchand stories on celluloid: Sadgati — the tale of a Dalit’s victimisation and his wife’s outburst against oppression — and Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

The Lamahi festival’s coordinator, regional cultural officer L.K. Dwivedi, said the event featured dance, poetry recitation and a workshop. A few hundred turned up from neighbouring villages. “Yes, there were no VIPs but that doesn’t matter,” he said.

Lamahi has a memorial and a statue. When Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister in 2005, he had announced he would acquire 2.5 acres in the village and set up a research centre. The land is yet to be acquired, and Mulayam didn’t turn up at the festival.