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The 'Other' History

Anupama Rao

By Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon
Zubaan Books, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 358, Rs. 595.00


Wandana Sonalkar’s timely and elegant translation of Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon’s account of the Ambedkar movement and its key women activists, Amhihi Itihas Ghadavila—first published by Stree Uvac in Marathi in 1989—extends the frame of a masculinist dalit history which is typically narrated as ‘history before and after Ambedkar’. But the volume simultaneously reproduces a movement-centric account of dalit political subjectivity. As Sonalkar notes, ‘[The book] was written at a time preceding the recent political assertion of dalit women’s separate identity. . . This book documents the historical roots of that process in modern times. However the paradigm in which it is written belongs to an earlier stage of this process. It largely takes the ideology of the Ambedkar movement as given . . .’ (p. 9). Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is not merely a political leader, of course, but the constitutive ground for writing the history of how the untouchable became dalit. Dalits’ millenial suffering, their memories of historic humiliation and injustice, found expression in Ambedkar’s cogent analyses and angry exhortations. He is the starting point for dalit history and its main protagonist. We Also Made History replicates this temporal structure, albeit with a difference.   The difference lies in the volume’s focus on women’s contribution to the imagination of a distinctively dalit future, but also in the text’s structure and organization. The first half of We Also Made History documents women’s involvement in associational politics between 1927–1956. The second half comprises forty-four oral interviews with women activists. This time span correlates with Ambedkar’s leadership of the Mahad satyagraha, and culminates with the Buddhist conversion on October 14, 1956, and Ambedkar’s death shortly thereafter, on December 6, 1956. Events of popular significance—dalit activism in Vidarbha and the Konkan from the turn of the twentieth century; the Mahad water satyagraha where the Manusmriti was publicly burnt; struggles to enter the Parvati temple in Poona and the Kala Ram temple in Nasik between 1929–1935; the conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi in 1932 and the ensuing Poona Pact, conversion—punctuate the narrative. However the focal point of the book is the reform of the dalit intimate which was undertaken in conjunction with, and as a crucial aspect of the refashioning of the dalit self.   It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of this collection, long a key resource for scholars of the dalit movement in Maharashtra. In addition to evidence of women’s involvement ...

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