Baba bails us out this Dalit History Month

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

In October 1929, Bhaurao Gaikwad along with other followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar launched the Kalaram Temple satyagraha in Nashik. The struggle lasted a few years, and was an attempt to ‘pinch the noses’ of the Caste Hindus, an expression Ambedkar was fond of using. The flavour of this very Marathi idiom must be savoured: “See how the mouth does not open until the nose is pinched!” (Naak dablyashivay tond ughdat naahi te ase!)

The Kalaram temple drew hundreds of devotees every day. In Bhaurao’s reckoning, their temple-entry movement here was not motivated by religious reasons, but to secure access to the paths and waterways around the temple that had been historically denied to the Depressed Classes: It was an assertion of equality. On 5 November 1932, three years into the struggle, a massive rally was organised. Ashok Gopal, author of A Part Apart: The Life and Thought of B.R. Ambedkar, describes the event:

The district administration issued orders prohibiting assembly of more than five persons around the Kalaram Temple, and the priests kept all the outer doors closed. However, on 6 November, the north door was opened, and one of the satyagrahis, Sitaram Haate, slipped into the temple and shouted, ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar ki jai!’ He and eight other satyagrahis who were near the north door were arrested. The next evening, the north door was opened again, and this time twenty-three satyagrahis were arrested. Subsequently, forty-one satyagrahis were arrested. Cases were filed against twelve satyagrahis, and on 12 November, they were sentenced to one month’s simple imprisonment. One of the sentenced satyagrahis was a twelve-year-old boy, Keru Tejale, who told the judge, ‘The person who will stand bail for me, Dr Ambedkar, is abroad.’ He was sent to jail for ten days.

The sassy Keru Tejale’s name appears in the Janata report of 14 November 1931. And then he falls into the cracks of history. While the Dandi Salt March of 1930 is forced down our throats in textbooks and tales, the sweet jubilations and triumphs at Kalaram have evaporated.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

In the long history of the struggle for equality in India, the spectre of Ambedkar is ineluctable. Every emancipatory movement must contend with his ideas and is indebted to his efforts. Recall the anti–CAA/NRC protests. We were once prisoners of the ancien régime. Baba the Barrister paid our bails. [In the image: Anant Hari Gadre (left), a Brahmin sympathiser, and Amrutrao Rankhambe, both garlanded, at the Kalaram Temple entry satyagraha in March 1930. Is Keru Tejale among the children in this picture?]

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

This Dalit History Month, we are proud to bring into the world Ashok Gopal’s A Part Apart—the most complete English-language biography of Ambedkar yet. The book recounts the turmoil, setbacks and victories that accompanied the evolution of Ambedkar’s thought. It is also populated by scores of forgotten figures, like Sitaram Haate and Keru Tejale, who travelled alongside Ambedkar in his momentous chalval. A Part Apart is a balance sheet of the debt we owe to Ambedkar and to these unarchived individuals, a debt to be repaid by carrying forward the ideals they stood for.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

The book is available throughout the month at a discounted price of Rs 899 on the Navayana website. We are also offering free shipping on all orders over Rs 999 this Dalit History Month. Check out some our latest offerings—Douglas Ober’s Dust on the Throne, Shailaja Paik’s The Vulgarity of Caste, Tho Paramasivan’s The Sweet Salt of Tamil, Gita Ramaswamy’s Land, Guns, Caste, Woman, Jalalul Haq’s The Shudra. All these books tell tales of people and ideas caught between tyranny and emancipation.

The bail is set. Set yourselves free.

Jai Bhim.


(Watch, read and listen to Maya Angelou read her poem in full here.)