The Man Who Knew Ambedkar

Bhagwas Das outside his  Munirka home in New Delhi, September 2010 Bhagwas Das outside his Munirka home in New Delhi, September 2010

S.R. Darapuri, a retired police officer of Uttar Pradesh, and a keen observer of the anticaste movement, has written a moving tribute to Bhagwan Das (23 April 1927–18 November 2010) on the occasion of his fourth death anniversary. Darapuri, who knew Das for decades, writes:

He remained in close contact with Dr Ambedkar in Delhi from 1942 till his death. He also adopted Buddhism in 1956 when Dr Ambedkar launched his Buddhist Conversion Movement on 14 October 1956. He has written his autobiography which has been published as In Pursuit of Ambedkar in English and “Baba ke Charnon Mein” in Hindi. A documentary film on his life has also been prepared by S. Anand of Navayana.

Navayana also re-issued an annotated edition of Das’ first of four volumes of the Thus Spoke Ambedkar series in 2010 at the same time as it published his memoir which is accompanied by a DVD of the documentary shot on a shoestring budget. Unfortunately, almost five years after the publication of both these books the reception and sales have been abysmal. While much debate followed the publication of the annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste, the annotated editions of both Thus Spoke Ambedkar and In Pursuit of Ambedkar—books by one of the pioneers of the Ambedkarite movement, by a man associated directly with Ambedkar—have evoked little interest or debate. Both in his memoir and in the film, Bhagwan Das dwells at length on Gandhi and speaks of him as a false saint, someone who sought to make Dalits who were forced to do scavenging work love this dehumanising labour.

A lengthy excerpt from Das’ memoir appeared in Caravan magazine’s January 2010 issue (the choice of the title was a little unfortunate, done by Caravan). If this whets your appetite do consider buying the book+film priced at a low Rs 150. You could also view a short excerpt from the documentary here or watch the entire film for free here. The film was selected for screening at Film South Asia 2010 in Kathmandu and at the Persistence Resistance film festival in Delhi the same year.


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