Anna Bhau Sathe: The Mediator Between The Blind Orthodox And Whimsical Radicals 

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Vinod Suryavanshi

Pune, 1st August 2021: Anna Bhau Sathe is one of the milestone identities in literary, social, political and cultural spheres of human liberation. He was not a blind follower of communism or a Euro-centric Communist. He transformed communism acculturating it to Indian soil.

Anna Bhau was born in the Matang Community in Maharashtra. This community is one of the communities which runs the village system by producing the commodities used in the village. It has an integrated role in the village system being part of the jazmani or Balutedari system. Though Matang is an untouchable community it is an artisan, skilled community in the village system. Being a Matang, Anna Bhau was a proletariat by birth. 

He had an awareness of the organizational structure of the Indian village and the caste system. It was a self-governing Independent system that was based on the Alutedari and Balutedari division of labour. Every caste had some specific commodities to produce according to the village mode of production. This background can explain his stand of being Communist.   

The caste consciousness of the Matang Community arose too late i.e. in the 1990s, compared to another prominent Dalit community such as the Mahar community. These people acquired identity and image because of Anna Bhau Sathe. The community people worship him like a God or a Demigod; he has become the Idol of the community, though he was Communist. We can see his statues in every corner of the villages and towns of Maharashtra.             

If we want to understand “Why did he become a Communist?”; then we have to explore the socio-political discourse of Maharashtra and India. The inception of his career was in the 1930s when India had British rule. The British rule had two facets: 

1) Exploiting Resources 

2)Civilization Mission where welfare or emancipation of downtrodden people was a prime concern.

Anna Bhau had three options of revolutionary ideologies to choose from. First, Mahatma Gandhi‘s leadership was widespread in India. Second, Marxist or Communist ideology under the guidance of Comrade Shripad Amrut Dange and Comrade Randive. This was emerging and acquiring significance in Maharashtra. Mumbai was the capital of this movement; so it became the movement of workers, labourers and depressed masses. Indian slavery was the result of British Imperialism. Imperialism and Capitalism are two sides of one coin. In short, Communist ideology was concerned with human liberation at the global level. The third option was Dalit Revolutionary Movement. Dalit Revolutionary Movement was on the verge of inception. Recently, Mahad Agitation and Nashik’s Kalararam Temple entry Agitation had occurred. The focus of this 

the movement was finding out“ How did untouchability arise?” 

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was an emerging leader of this ideology. Anna Bhau had these three options.  

Caste is a unique feature of our Indian Society. When someone accepts any ideology; the impact of his caste and perception about the caste system always influences the choice of ideology. Lokmanya Tilak who is considered to be the first leader of the National Movement passed away in 1920. By caste, he was a Brahmin from Maharashtra. At that period there was a lot of political chaos in Maharashtra. MK Gandhi’s leadership was on the verge of emerging. Followers of Tilak opposed the leadership of Gandhi. 

The issue of opposition was the caste dimension. Gandhi‘s followers declared that Tilak‘s followers are Brahmanical. Consequently Non- Brahmanical Movement started. Shahu Maharaj also financially helped the Movement. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was also part of this movement; there was no independent Dalit Movement. Meanwhile, Ambedkar realized that there is no place for Dalits in Non- Brahmanical movement either. He recognized that there would be no proper justice for Dalit issues and demands in Non- Brahmanical Movement. So, he started an Independent Dalit Movement.  

Meanwhile, Gandhi had controlled the leadership of the National Congress as well as the National Movement. Normally Savarna People were inclined to be part of the National Movement. It did not matter whether the leader was Lokmanya Tilak or Mahatma Gandhi. A few Savarna people were influenced by Communist ideology; so they joined it. Mostly, the Middle-class members became members of the Communist Party. If one is a Communist, his stand is not only the freedom of India but also human liberation of all have nots of all the people of the world from Imperialism as well as Capitalism. His understanding of caste is not merely untouchability but a skilled or production-based system with commodities and their professions.  

Anna Bhau Sathe tackled almost all genres of literature like novel short story, drama, vaghnatya, Ballad, lyric and travelogue. 

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar founded Independent Labour Party for Dalit Workers on 15 August 1936. There was a lot of conflict between the workers’ Party of Communist and the Independent Labour Party. Being Communist; for the unity of workers Anna Bhau wrote the popular song:

“Take a hammer to change the world-

So saying went Bhimrao!

This is a mouthpiece of one character from “Deshbhakt Ghotale” (Scams of Nationalist) Vaghnatya (opera) in 1946.

Anna Bhau Sathe proclaimed “The Earth is not being protected on the divine hood of Cobra but palms of workers, labourers and depressed masses”, on the occasion of the first Dalit Sahitya Sammenlan ( Literary Festival) on March 2, 1958. Here, he claimed the significance of the physical/manual labour of workers. Intellectual labour received tremendous importance in the Capitalist mode of production. By making this quote, he struck a balance between physical labour and Intellectual labour and reversed thousand years old proverbs also. 

He is the first writer who observed the wretched condition of Nomadic people and gave voice to their agonies. By using poetic justice in literature Anna Bhau Sathe realized the dream of a fair world at the conceptual level which has not become reality yet. These people have been outcasts lower than the bottom-most rung of the social hierarchical ladder. 

He prefaced the novel Vaijaynta, “Every day I have dreams like that Maharashtra should be Paradise, Let the country be happy, prosperous and civilized, Equality should be here”. It signifies that his love for his own soil and feelings of Nationalism as well as utopia where Equality and prosperity of all.

Anna Bhau’s predecessor Vastad Lahuji Salve ran a wrestling training centre in Pune where Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Phule and Vasudev Balwant Phadke etc. received training. Lahuji’s famous quote “I will die for Nation; I will live for Nation“, entailed his nationalism.  

He also helped and supported Phule for the social cause. Lahuji made the incarnation ceremony of Umaji Raj Naik. Anna Bhau wrote a ballad on Umajaji Raje Naik and worshipped the heroism of this tradition. 

Being humble and sincere; he took notice of the help and support of people, inspiration for his writings and also socio-political contributions of leaders. So, he dedicated his writings to Maxim Gorky, Lokmanya Tilak, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Com. Shripad Amrut Dange, Usha Dange, P.K. Atre, Baburao Baraskar, Shankar Sathe and Rajabhau Sathe etc.

While working with Communist Party, he realized that Brahmanical Bourgeois/middle-class leaders never identified the problem of untouchability and understood the caste system. So he was unsatisfied with the Communist party and dedicated his novel to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who worked for this cause and also supported the Movement of united Maharashtra. 

Though his writings depicted realism he also exploited myths, fantasy and surrealistic aspects of literature. Though, he was a Matang and a Communist at the same time he was cultured as an artist. So he could sympathize and empathize with the feelings of human beings or destitute. He had the sensibility of fellow associations; so he shared ethos and pathos of destitute and others who were fighting for existence and dignity as human beings. So, his literature shared sensibility across the caste, race, class, gender, region and religion etc. Finally, it has aesthetic value and a real core of life; so it is universal. 

He was not a diplomatic or politician who could have scope for adjustments; his utopian political stand was fundamental i.e. human liberation of all.

In short, he is a mediator between blind orthodox and whimsical radicals.

(The author is an Assistant Professor at Abasaheb Garware College, Pune)

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