New Delhi - On December 4th, at Jantar Mantar, while various organizations were calling out the government for its role in the discrimination of marginalized communities, an interesting sight caught attention. A man with a worn-out bag and a big smile was interacting with the crowd, holding onto a number of books featuring Savitribai Phule’s picture. The man was Tarak Das, who had come all the way from Kolkata to attend the movement.
The Mooknayak spoke to Tarak Das, the district secretary of Paschim Banga Samajik Nyay Manch, about the motive behind the books and what he wishes to achieve from the sales. Speaking about the reason behind the decision to sell books on the prominent figure, Das said, “In Kolkata, we realized that many people in East and North eastern India don't know much about important anti-caste reformers. Specifically, they lack awareness about Savitribai Phule and Jyotirao Phule, who did a lot for the anti-caste movement. These reformers, along with others, are the reason we can speak up against caste discrimination today.”
"The fact that people in the East and North Eastern regions don't know much about these reformers shows that we need to share more information about them. These historical figures paved the way for us to speak out against caste discrimination today, and it's important to recognize and appreciate their contributions to making India a fairer and more equal place.” He added, “So, through our organization, we are trying to build awareness regarding the personalities in the areas. The inspiring life and work of Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule are being told to the common masses in my state.
Tarak Das then explained the short non-fiction book and the writer, saying, “The book I have with me today is a special one about the life of Savitribai Phule. It has been written by Devi Chatterjee, a professor at Jadavpur University passionately working around Dalit rights. We chose to publish this book because we think it's important. Our books are not too long, and they're not expensive. In fact, we only charge 25 rupees for each book. This way, we want to make sure that everyone can easily get a copy and read about the inspiring stories of great people like Savitribai Phule. We believe in making these stories accessible to everyone, so everyone can learn and be inspired.
Das then opened up about the disappointment he feels when he sees people overlooking their efforts. He said, “In our society, which often favors the Brahmanical perspective, attention and praise usually go to the works of the elite. The two individuals I've been talking about a lot have done a lot to help those who are often overlooked. Savitribai Phule, the first female teacher in our country, started a school for young girls. Jyotirao Phule, who fought against caste discrimination, has had a big impact on our nation, even if it's not always recognized as much as it should be.”
He continued, “They took these steps at a time when it was really hard, especially for women from certain communities, to step forward and make a difference. It's unfortunate that not many people know about them nowadays, and as a result, they might not fully understand the important things they did. Many of us are where we are today because of the efforts of Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule.”
Tarak Das hopes a newer audience will be provided the opportunity to know about the historical figures. Das remarked, “Savitribai Phule and Jyotirao Phule's important work doesn't get as much attention as Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar because our society often focuses more on Brahmanical figures. But, through our organization and the books we publish, we are trying really hard to change that. We want to make sure that everyone, no matter where they come from, hears about the stories of Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule. These stories are important, and we think everyone should know about the great things they did to make our society better.”
Devi Chatterjee - The Author
Devi Chatterjee is from Kolkata and is a retired professor from the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. She also is a past visiting professor in the Department of Human Rights and Human Development at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. The professor has published a number of research papers around the Dalit community, primarily focusing on their movements, often through a Marxist lens.