‘My story will now live a freer life than I do.’
Baburao Bagul, when his first story was published
A shadow engulfs the world. Blood-soaked saffron flags are rising to the call of death. Bodies are shackled to the word of the state. History written in blood, sweat and tears burnt away in planned genocides, its ashes dusted off to make space for a reality of lies. For centuries now, the brutal oppressor has sought to fetter the mind, to shatter the spirit, so that the remains of the abused body can be exploited. What happens when the mind revolts? As the predictable election results come in, Navayana is proud to keep up the fight with new paperback editions of two books that directly look into the face of this saffron abyss and come away with answers.
Ramchandra Singh’s 13 Years: A Naxalite’s Prison Diary was born out of the friction between a vital mind and a spiteful system. He was pulled into the world of Naxalite politics as a teenager, wanting to ‘annihilate’ the feudal landlords ruling the villages around him. Sent to jail on account of one such annihilation in 1970, he witnessed cruel police brutality that scarred him for life, even before he could grow a moustache. Behind bars, it still rains blood and bones. The world inside breaks his body; the one outside, his heart. But his mind never loses its spark—he continues to think, write and smuggle out his writings with the help of friends. The resultant work, his prison diary, a chronicle of a soft, brave mind confronting hard truths, was rejected by many publishers due to its association with the Naxal movement. The first edition ended up finding a home in the short-lived Hindi literary magazine, Samakaleen Dastavez, in 1991. This English translation resurrects the secret diary for an audience all too familiar with the casual use of the term ‘urban Naxals’.
Since the book was first published on 14 April 2018, three personalities who praised the book, find themselves behind bars for their supposed connections with Naxalism. Anand Teltumbde presciently wrote ‘This smuggled-out account exposes the bosom of the Gulag that India has become.’ ‘Singh’s honest account of fetters, love and revolution sparkles with life,’ said Arun Ferreira. And Varavara Rao, who has now been brought to the brink of death by the terror-machine, wrote, ‘Ramchandra Singh raises our spirits with the earthy fragrance of his ‘criminal’ life. His memoir bears the fragrance of fire.’ All three now are victims of a cruel ideology that can brook no thought of a more equitable society. This fascistic ideology has spread across the nation through years of capturing impressionable minds and twisting them with hate.
Bhanwar Meghwanshi entered one such Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha as a young and passionate boy of thirteen. He spent years in the organization, giving them his all. He hated Muslims. He joined the karseva to Ayodhya. But when the Caste Hindu elders refused to eat the food lovingly sent from his home, just because of his caste status, something in him broke. They offer explanations, justifications. Meghwanshi forces his fingers through their gaps, and pulls apart the facade of nationalism that the RSS uses to hide its hateful, exclusionary, brahminical agenda. He learns how they treat him as an Untouchable and what it means to be Dalit.
Meghwanshi begins attacking the RSS using their own tactics—newsletters, magazines, on-ground social awareness, even cassettes of him shouting out their casteist, Islamophobic lies. He becomes a formidable force, working hard to ensure that Dalit youth don’t fall prey to their lies the way he did. Once ready to die for the cause of the Ram mandir in Ayodhya, Bhanwar now lives to question it. In I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS, we see a critical dissection of the RSS by an insider who can see through its mechanisms, system and essential aspiration for graded hierarchy. Nivedita Menon captures Bhanwar Meghwanshi’s clarity and humour superbly in Navayana’s English edition of the memoir, first published in Hindi as Main ek kar sevak tha.
Both books debuted as elegant hardbacks to much acclaim. Both works have been translated into Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi. This book has brought Bhanwar into the forefront of the anti-Hindutva fight. Watch him call Hindutva’s bluff here in this video. Bhanwar says selling a book such is much a political act as writing it. We can’t agree more. In these times, when across the Hindi belt, and beyond, the saffron star doesn’t seem to fade, these two books offer visions of another world that was and is possible. Get the new editions today.