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Bin Savalyanchya Gavat review: A study of the lack of a dalit narrative in Pune's heritage

Release Date: 18 Nov 2018 / 01hr 03min


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Suparna Thombare

Gouri Patwardhan's documentary delves into the non-existence of the dalit community's history during the rule of the peshwas and the ongoing reclamation.

The violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon in Pune district this year on 1 January, an important date in the dalit calendar, is still fresh in our memories, and Gouri Patwardhan's documentary, Bin Savalyanchya Gavat, begins at the same spot, with dalit crowds gathering at the victory column built to mark the fall of the Maratha empire at the hands of the East India Company in 1818.

Around 500 soldiers from the Mahar community had fought with the British to defeat a strong peshwa army.

While the event is often seen as the sad end of Maratha resistance to the growing power of the British in the subcontinent, it also marked a revolt against decades of subjugation of the so-called Untouchables by the peshwa system which worked within the rigid confines of the caste system.

On 1 January 1927, Dr BR Ambedkar visited and paid his respects to the martyrs at the spot, making the memorial an important reminder of the ongoing fight against caste discrimination.

This documentary manages to put into perspective why this reclamation of dalit history is important. The battle was the beginning of a revolt against the custodians of the caste system and an assertion of the so-called lower castes' right to dignity and self-respect.

The memorial at Bhima Koregaon is a reminder to continue reclaiming lost history and dignity.

Patwardhan's documentary discovers, through Pune's heritage sites and conversations with history teachers and social activists, how the city's dalit history is almost non-existent, with their heroes not even remembered, let alone celebrated.

While it is easy to find heritage sites, buildings, memorials and roads named after influential people attached to the peshwas during the 18th and 19th centuries, there is no sign of the dalits anywhere.

Most of the peshwa rule is viewed as a golden period in Maharashtra's history. With the patronage of the Maratha empire, the peshwas built houses, roads, temples, bridges, schools, parks, and lakes, and Pune flourished. But the prosperity was limited to the so-called upper castes, mostly the brahmins, the caste the peshwas belonged to.

The documentary, while educative, feels like a lesson in history at times. The narrator makes several statements in the early part of the film instead of letting us discover for ourselves. What makes it interesting is the first-hand stories that put forth a narrative that hasn't found space in Pune's political and social conversations.

Patwardhan delves into how, while the glory of the Maratha empire and the peshwas is protected and celebrated throughout the city even today, the system of violence used to suppress the lower castes in those years is brushed under the carpet — a glorification of feudalism and a wipeout of its atrocities.

Rich and poweful moneylenders, Kokanastha brahmins like Raste, Bhide, Gadgil and Khare, among several others (who acquired lots of property under the patronage of the peshwas) have had their houses declared as heritage sites and marked with blue plaques in the brahmin-dominated localities of Pune like Sadashiv Peth, Narayan Peth, Rasta Peth and Nana Peth.

The Sadashiv Peth heritage walk covers revolutionaries like Vasudev Balwant Phadke, who was inspired by Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade and Dadabhai Naoroji's speeches and decided to rebel against the British, Gadre Sahukar, who built the Khunya Murlidhar temple, Vasudev Balwant Gogate, who shot then Bombay governor Sir Ernest Hotson, among several others. Blue plaques adorn the doors of those residences.

But there are no such signs when you look for dalit revolutionaries or leaders in Somwar Peth, Mangalwar Peth, Ganesh Peth, Ravivar Peth, Bhavani Peth, Ganj Peth, Ghorpade Peth or the cantonment areas which had a predominantly dalit population. In fact, most of the history, houses and efforts have been lost. 

Social activist Baba Adhav narrates how hard it was to even get hold of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule's pictures and how it took years of protests and rallies to get his house restored, declared a heritage site, and turned into a museum.

Phule began the anti-caste movement from Ganj Peth, started a school for the Untouchables, and fought hard for the rights of the lower castes. Despite his great work, he got his first statue only in 1929. Patwardhan looks into the politics of why it has been so difficult to acknowledge a hero like him.

While Phule at least has a presence in the city today, the likes of Shivram Janba Kamble, who led the Untouchable movement after Phule, has almost been forgotten. 

The director also touches upon the politics of how the Parvati temple in Pune houses the peshwa museum, but there is no placard mentioning a 30-day satyagraha by dalits who were barred from entering the temple.

The director describes how the loss of history is in part because of the lack of writing skills within the community as they were prohibited from seeking education and knowledge by the brahmins.

The dalit narrative was almost non-existent until the early 20th century and most of it will likely never be recovered, but the process of reclaiming the past is what is the most rewarding part about watching this documentary. 

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