Bojja Tarakam: The Dalit Leader
Prof. P. Kesava Kumar
Bojja Tarakam (1939-2016), a Dalit leader of high eminence passed away on 17th September 2016. He is a well known Dalit leader with multiple facets to his personality. He left his mark on most of the democratic struggles of Telugu society in post independent India. He is a peoples leader, civil rights activist, advocate, organizer, writer, poet and ideologue of democratic struggles. His activism has not frozen into either of the dominant streams of his times either Marxism inspired revolutionary struggles or Dalit movement. He traversed both with unparallel ease and sense of purpose. He has been critical of Marxism for its caste blindness. He did not undermine either. Instead he brought credence to both.
He was born in a village in Konaseema of coastal Andhra in an Ambedkarite family in 1939. His father, Bojja Appala Swamy was a first generation dalit leader in independent India and was responsible for establishing Ambedkar led Scheduled Castes Federation in 1942 and had been elected as a Member of legislative Assembly in 1950s.
Educate, Organise and Agitate
Tarakam was an active student leader and completed his graduation in Law. He started practicing law from late 1960s to late 1970s in Nizamabad and engaged in wide range of struggles by organizing Rythu Coolie Sangham and Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangham. He was arrested during emergency and imprisoned for his public activism on various issues of people. Later he shifted to Hyderabad and started practicing in High court and become appointed as public Prosecutor of Administrative Tribunal. Later, in protest against Karamchedu massacre, he resigned for this post and continued as senior advocate by taking up the cases of people. He was the founder vice-president of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) and a member of Revolutionary Writers Association (Virasam). Though he was active in Marxist leaning organization, he never deviated from the core of Ambedkarism. After Karamchedu masscre, Telugu society has witnessed the strong assertion of dalits and formed autonomous dalit organization by ideologically differentiating itself from Marxist politics. In formation of Dalita Mahasabha in 1985, along with another prominent dalit leader Kathi Padma Rao, he was the founder president of that organization. He took up the Karamchedu case. The Dalit Maha Sabha (1985-1991) had a creative intervention in Telugu society and consequently changed the political discourse. He then become a state convener for Chunduru Struggle Committee(1991).The political mobilization of dalits resulted in formation of Bahujana Samaj Party in A.P. and he was the founder secretary from 1990-1994. He came out of the BSP as a protest against the party for its alliance with BJP in Uttara Pradesh. He started reviving Republican Party of India in A.P and came out after Ramdas Athavale’s identification BJP.
His life was spent in writing fact finding reports, organizing press meets, public meetings and fighting for justice in courts. He believed in the philosophy of questioning the social system and state machinery rather than petitioning to them. It is clear that Tarakam has established credibility with his commitment to wide range of issues of people and a threshold for democratic struggles. He reached to the people through his writings on various issues. In Telugu society, public life was marked by ideological confrontation between left and dalit politics. Many intellectuals and writers came out of the fold of left politics with emergence of dalit politics from late eighties. But Tarakam was an exception to this trend. He was never deviated from the philosophy and practice of Ambedkarism and viewed every struggle from Ambedkarism. His struggles and writings are testimony for this. His criticism against revolutionary left is constructive and anticipated support for dalit issues. His work Kulam –Vargam(Caste- Class, 1996) ideologically clarifies his position on both caste and class. Apart from his literary writings Nadiputtina Gonthuka(The Voice That Gave Birth to the River,1983), Nalage Godavari(The Godavari is Like Me, 2000) and Panchatantram(2012), his special tracts Nela-Nagali-Mudeddulu(Land, Plough and Three Oxen, 2008) , Dalitulu-Rajyam (Dalits and the State,2008), Constitution and the Coup D’ Etat (2000) provides specific theoretical approach to key issues. In other words, we may find distinct approach of Tarakam in understanding society and polity.
Dalit Labourer as Third Bull
Tarakam’s Nela-Nagali- Mudeddulu is about the relations of feudal system and exploitation of labour. This explains the master and slave relations. Here the third bull symbolically represents the Paleru(bonded labourer)/ Jeetagadu (wage labourer). This is a story set in Indian agrarian society and deals with how the labourer is reduced to the beast. In the feudal set up, labourer does not have any rights or freedom other than working for the landlord. The landlord has control over the land. Power and status has invariable relationship with land. The landlord, social system and state machinery collectively operate to maintain the status quo in social relations. It depicts a condition of economic drudgery and mental slavery which is rooted in world view of feudal Brahminical system. When the labourer realizes that he is a human and that awareness leads to struggle. It is impossibility as imagination is etched in feudal world view. The political economy of agrarian society depicted in an impressive manner in a form of a story in this book. This is a new genre in literature informed by specifities of political economy.
State, Constitution and Dalit Movement
Dalitulu –Rajyam depicts the evolution of Indian state and marginalization of dalits. This book is continued in the above said genre and explains how dalits were kept out of politics and purview of state. In this he explains the origin and nature of state and its sustenance in protecting the interests of ruling class/caste by maintain status quo of dalits. The state has structured such a way that it controls the anger and aspirations of dalits against the ruling class/caste and state. Though the welfare state in modern times came up with egalitarian principles to uphold the dignity of the oppressed, the caste structure and its value system does not allows the state to be a welfare state based on these principles. He stretched this logic in Constitution and the Coup D’ Etat , which was written in the context of Hindutva’s design to review the Indian constitution. Though the state that based on constitution drafted by Ambedkar was escaping its role of equalizer, modernizer and liberator of the masses of the country, but it was checked by the struggles of the country. The conservative hindutva ruling classes felt the struggles of the oppressed is a threat to the hegemony. To control the masses and to continue their hegemony, thought of changing the constitution to suits their interests. By foreseeing this evil intention of hindutva forces, Tarakam argued that ‘we have to protect this constitution because it promises justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. We have to save the constitution because it guarantees the celebrated fundamental freedoms. We have to guard the constitution because it assures a welfare state.’ Tarakam maintains that if oppressed people won’t fight against injustice, state will be undemocratic and monopolized by ruling class/caste.
Literature as A Medium
Tarakam is a voracious reader and evaluated literature from a dalit perspective. He took literature as an organized activity in making people conscious. In seventies, he identified with Revolutionary Writers Association (Virasam) and in eighties he has organized all India dalit writers coference with participation of around thousand writers. In nineties, under his editorship, Nalupu has initiated the alternative cultural discourse. Tarakam’s Nadi Puuttina Gonthuka is a poetry written in the context of emergency. We can see a tone of angry young man raised voice against the authoritarian state. Through his poetry he questioned the hypocrisy of Gandhian politics, Oh! Mahatma, have you ever lived with dalits and had a real feel of suffering of dalits? Naalage Godari is later collection of poetry. To portray the larger and complex social reality, he chooses the literary form novel. Tarakam’s novel Panchatantram illustrates the problem of dalits in the background of caste and class relations in Coastal Andhra village. Viswanath is a landlord of a village and Suranna works as his Paleru(labourer). The sexual relation between Suranna and Lakshmi daughter of Viswanath leads to killing of Suranna. Suranna’s father too was killed for making an attempt to complain against landlord. The story ends up with the struggles of resistance of young Suranna who was born illicitly born to Lakshmi and Suranna. This novel depicts the cruel face of the caste in India in ordinary situation. Land, power and status are with the landlord. Rules of social system, and state machinery is subordinated the upper caste landlord. Dalits have no freedom in situations of everyday life. Any resistance to the authority of landlord was crushed ruthlessly and the institutions of state were used in their favour. The authority was later carried by Dattu, grandson of Viswanath. This casteist young man killed those who contested him (Ganganna , a dalit boy for contesting against him in school elections, and Gowri , dalit girl raped and killed by him). In both cases, the son of landlord escaped from the cases and on other attempts to implicate Suranna, rebellious young dalit man (illegitimate son of Gowri) who is the force behind Dalit victims. Suranna’s struggle has no value with the manipulation of police, courts and doctors by the landlord but Suranna stands as a moral force in this novel. The novel ends with killing of the landlord Viswanath in the dark by Sathemma another victim of Viswanath.. The novel not only depicts the discrimination, helplessness of dalits but also the resistance of dalits against the landlord in every occasion. In nutshell, the novel narrates the feudal power and how the structures of village and of state are succumbed to the power of caste and class. Tarakam believes that this situation has to be changed for a democratic society. The change has possible only through struggles of the oppressed in various forms.
Caste or Class
Kulam- Vargam is a text of Tarakam that engages with questions of significance of caste and class in transforming Indian Society. This political text has been written in a form of story to reach the ordinary readers. This has its historical significance where the ideological differences were widened within democratic struggles. This makes clear the differences between movements of radical left and dalits in understanding Indian social reality. It sets the programme for the both the camps in reconstruction of Indian society. In India, caste is the foundation on which society is organized. Caste alone determines the economic, social, political and cultural status of the people. He posed a question how can caste and class be abolished simultaneously? Both caste and class struggles are constituents of the revolution. The abolition of caste is as revolutionary as classlessness. Caste struggle is a mental-material revolution, while the focus of a class struggle tends to be limited to materialistic considerations. In both Srikakulam and Telangana armed struggles, the communist party did not addressed caste issue. The upper caste leadership of communist party failed to take up the issue of caste against the interests of their own castes. He believes that so long as the leadership remains in the hands of upper castes, no attempt will be made to bring about fundamental changes. Tarakam believes that annihilation of caste and class is an immediate political necessity. It is the responsibility of both Dalit and Marxist struggles, otherwise both will not sustain. In the process of struggle, dialogue between these groups inevitable. It needs conviction and energy to overcome immediate hurdles. Tarakam had both conviction and energy in a dream of realizing social revolution.
Multi faceted Life
He worked for the struggles of the people in his entire life. He has simultaneously involved in the revolutionary struggles and dalit struggles. He is consistent in his firm political conviction of ideology of liberation of oppressed. The organizational structures were never constraints for him. He valued every effort and struggle of the people, whatever may be the form or political affiliation. He was in forefront of all the democratic struggles of Telugu society. His politics has larger canvas. He was directly and indirectly part of all the people struggles for a period of five decades. This includes both class and caste struggles- land struggles, Beedi workers struggles, political prisoners, fake encounters, struggles against Special economic zones, struggles against SC/ST atrocities, specific struggles against Padirikuppam, Karamchedu, Chunduru, Nirukonda, Timmasamudram, Laximpeta massacres. He expressed his political position through his speeches and write ups. It bears a distinctive dalit point of view. Tarakam was not confined to the political struggles and extended himself to literary and cultural domains. He believed that politics has to be based on strong social and cultural foundations. He wrote poetry, novels, poetic prose and essays. For him, literary writing is a political necessity. To express himself and to reach people, he invented a new political genre that fused social/political theory and literature. The liberation of the oppressed is the underlying theme of all his writings. His politics and writings set against the ruling caste-ruling class and state. Tarakam is an organic intellectual in Gramscian sense. He was organized the oppressed social groups (dalits) keeping in forefront and felt the need for having alliances with other groups against the dominant ruling caste/class hegemony and state.
In establishing the hegemony of the ordinary people, Tarakam believed in Ideology of Ambedkar as a political ideology to bring about just social order. All his speeches and writings reflects the essence of Ambedkar thought. He made us to understand Ambedkar in simple terms for ordinary public. He has translated some of the volumes of Ambedkar writings and formed Ambedkar memorial trust. Rather reproducing the Ambedkar, he has creatively interpreted Ambedkar to suits the contemporary situation. He negotiated with Marxists from Ambedkarist position. He made his position clear that without understanding the caste, it is difficult to have a successful revolution. Both Marxist movements and Dalit movements have to work simultaneously for annihilation of caste and class. Tarakam’s contribution is that he opens up the category of dalit as a broad political category that have the spirit of rebellion against dominance. We can see a conscious effort on his part from the time of Dalit Maha Sabha till his last breath.
The life of Tarakam is devoted to democratic struggles having connections to diverse ideological positions and organizations. He participated in all the democratic struggles of our society. It is difficult to fill the gap of Tarakam especially to regain such rich cultural past of democratic struggles and the way he mediated contesting ideological positions in the liberation of the oppressed. The strength of Tarakam lies in moving beyond the dichotomy of Marxism and Ambedkarism. He has created larger ideological frame work for dalit liberation through his relentless engagement in public struggles which has economic as well as cultural dimension. Dalit politics in Telugu society have entered into a new phase in which assertion of exclusive identity becomes means for self recognition. It is important to celebrate the historically and culturally marginalized identity to achieve self affirmation. Unfortunately dalit politics during this phase has avoided economic and cultural issues. It has not only narrowed the scope of politics but also fails to carry out multi dimensional struggles. The dalit mobilization has become self congratulatory without focusing on suffering. Due to lack of strong political foundations, this dalit identity has not only become authoritarian but also looses on liberatory content of dalit struggles of previous decades. The direction of dalit movement has changed. There is no voice of protest and the new dalit leadership became subordinate to power of ruling castes. This kind of situation undermines dalit politics. It becomes a suicidal situation for dalit politics. One thing is clear that the generation of Tarakam had never bowed down to these ruling communities/classes and had a relentless fight against the undemocratic system. He never compromised with system and lived with honesty. When the political struggles of dalits were at low phase, he channelized his energies to literature. He never took retirement from public life and waged consistent struggle against oppressive Brahminical society and undemocratic state. Tarakam has opened up the space for dalit politics by widening dalit identity. His struggle is for dignity, political power and rights and not for subordination to the centers of power.