• Retrieving Babasaheb’s Writings from Oblivion

    J V Pawar

    May 13, 2018

    The community that reads is the community that survives. The community that does not read does not survive. It means that reading is important for a community for its stability and existence. This is what Babasaheb believed. It was thus necessary to publish the works of Babasaheb in all languages for the benefit of Dalits. Some of his books had been published but most of his writings had remained unpublished. The Maharashtra government was being requested through written pleas and public meetings to publish the unpublished works as well as those published but not available, but no decisive steps were being taken. The Dalit Panther prioritized this issue and insisted that the Maharashtra government publish all the writings of Babasaheb.

    When the Dalit Panther took out its march on 14 August 1973, its delegation could not meet the chief minister because the state legislature was in session. However, later when the then chief minister, Vasantrao Naik, met us, we handed over a memorandum that was in the form of a booklet. Raja Dhale, Namdeo Dhasal and I – the members of the delegation – took up each of the points mentioned in the memorandum for discussion. While discussing “Harijan fortnight” campaign and Gandhiji’s writings, we pointed out how Gandhiji was a “dwarf” and his glorification of villages in the industrial world was deceptive, in contrast to Babasaheb’s progressive ideas. We demanded that the Maharashtra government publish officially all of Babasaheb’s writings to preserve and propagate his thoughts.

    The unpublished writings of Babasaheb had been locked away and they could only be published with his wife Maisaheb Ambedkar’s permission. It was publicly known that Maisaheb and Bhaiyyasaheb (Babasaheb’s son) didn’t get along with each other. Since they were Babasaheb’s legal heirs, we had to bring them together and get their permission to pave the way for the publication of his writings. Meanwhile, I came to know that Maisaheb used to meet D.D. Baviskar (who used to lend a hand at Chaityabhoomi) at his house. I started meeting her at Baviskar’s house. Raja Dhale and Diksha Dhale, too, met her. Some people criticized us and tried to create an impression that we had committed a crime. Anil Barve’s weekly magazine published a photograph of Dhale with Maisaheb and criticized Dhale.

    I was frequently meeting her and increasing rapport with Bhaiyyasaheb. Incidentally, the planning had begun for the celebration of Bhaiyyasaheb’s 61st birthday to be held on 3 April 1976. The chief guest for the function was going to be the chief minister of Maharashtra, Shankarrao Chavan, and Maisaheb was also supposed to attend. Maisaheb asked me to convey to Yeshwant (Bhaiyyasaheb) that he should publicly acknowledge her presence on the stage. I gave her my word that Bhaiyyasaheb would do it. Then, I conveyed the message to Bhaiyyasaheb. He agreed. She just wanted him to express affection and accept her (as his mother).

    When the felicitation function started, many colleagues of Bhaiyyasaheb were present on the stage. There were four rows of chairs and I was sitting in the last row, in the last chair, to offer it to any VIP arriving late. VIPs like Ghanshyam Talwatkar, D.G. Jadhav, B.H. Warale and P.T. Borale had occupied the first row, along with Shankarrao Chavan’s wife Kusumtai, Bhaiyyasaheb’s wife Meeratai and Maisaheb (Babasaheb’s second wife). Some people on the stage started whispering to one another when they saw that Maisaheb was also seated on the stage. The audience was wondering who the third woman (Maisaheb) was.

    Many speakers, including Chavan, extended their best wishes to Bhaiyyasaheb. When Bhaiyyasaheb rose to speak, I became anxious, because I wanted him to acknowledge the presence of Maisaheb. But I don’t know what happened. He named all those present on the stage, but did not mention Maisaheb. Once the function concluded, as Maisaheb was walking down from the stage, she twisted my ear so hard that I had to stop myself from screaming in pain. She was angry, and I did not meet her for the next two weeks.

    I wanted Maisaheb and Bhaiyyasaheb to be reconciled, but I had failed in my efforts. One bright sunny day, Baviskar came to my office, panting, with a message from Maisaheb that she wanted to meet me. Our meetings resumed. At the back of my mind was the need to get Babasaheb’s writings published. Bansod, a lawyer from Nagpur, also felt that need and offered help. We felt that only if the chief minister took our request seriously, this would happen. On 17 January 1976, I met the chief minister as part of a delegation and requested him to publish Babasaheb’s both unpublished writings and published but unavailable writings. Our delegation included Datta Jadhav from Kolhapur and Ramdas Athawale.

    Shankarrao Chavan was not the kind of leader who would say “I will see”, or “I will think over it”. His main worry was which department of the government would publish it, because it would require releasing of funds. Finally, he zeroed in on the education department. Meanwhile, Balasaheb Ambedkar (Bhaiyyasaheb’s son), Meeratai and Maisaheb gave their permission to the government to go ahead with publishing the entire writings and speeches of Babasaheb. The Maharashtra government formed “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee” for the purpose. The chairman of the committee was the then education minister, Sadanand Varde, and the deputy chairman was R.S. Gavai, the deputy chairman of legislative council. It also included some Republican leaders. Vasant Moon was given the charge of compilation and editing.

    The first volume was published on 14 April 1979, when Sharad Pawar was the chief minister. Among those in the committee were Dr Baba Adhav and Dr Kolte. Those who had pursued the demand since 1973, like Raja Dhale and me, were not included. People like Arun Kamble, who used to flatter Sharad Pawar, were appointed as members, too. Anyway, the reason we pursued the publication of Babasaheb’s writings was not to get ourselves appointed on the committee. Perhaps, we would have been made members, if, during the agitation to rename Marathwada University after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, we had accepted the option of renaming it “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University”.

    We were satisfied that the government was publishing Babasaheb’s writings at its expense. The first volume contained 496 pages and was priced at just Rs 10, because of which the first edition was sold out very soon. In the series, 24 volumes have been published so far, which includes Babasaheb’s speeches in Marathi; his periodicals Mooknayak and Bahishkrut Bharat; and a compilation of police reports. Shankarrao Chavan was initially worried about raising funds for publishing the volumes, but now the volumes are bringing in money for the government. As soon as a new volume is released, people have been queuing up to buy it. At times, the police have had to resort to lathi-charge, especially in Nagpur, to rein in the crowd of these readers.

    Today, several other state governments have been publishing these volumes in their respective languages. Youths across linguistic groups have thus imbibed Babasaheb’s ideas and been energized. Babasaheb is putting down roots in all states.

    People have loved the volumes of Babasaheb’s writings. In the 1980s, when the government released the fourth volume and some people objected to the “Riddles in Hinduism” that was part of it, over one million Babasaheb’s followers took to the streets of Mumbai saying that they would not permit even a comma to be deleted from the volume. It was a new experience seeing so many people coming out in defence of an author and his writing. The government also had to listen to them.

    I am fortunate enough to have Babasaheb’s unpublished works published because of my good rapport with Bhaiyyasaheb and Maisaheb. The writings will prove in the near future that Babahsaheb is the only true global icon.


    J.V. Pawar, one of the founding members of Dalit Panthers, has written five volumes, all are in Marathi, narrating the political history of Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra after the death of Ambedkar. This is his first book, of five volume series to be translated in English.

    This excerpt from Dalits Panthers by J V Pawar, has been published by The Marginalised Publication and Forward Press, and republished here with the permission from the publisher.

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