Download the Dalit Panthers

A new project revisits the vociferous activist movement of the 1970s and will use Whatsapp to share its work

Co-founders of the initiative behind The Dalit Panther Project, Nayantara Bhatkal, Shrujana Shridhar and Prem Ayyathurai at Shivaji Park on the occasion of the death anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar asking visitors to register for their WhatsApp films. Pic/Satej Shinde
Co-founders of the initiative behind The Dalit Panther Project, Nayantara Bhatkal, Shrujana Shridhar and Prem Ayyathurai at Shivaji Park on the occasion of the death anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar asking visitors to register for their WhatsApp films. Pic/Satej Shinde

It is possible that 2016 has seen the greatest surge of Dalit thought and movement in recent years, right from the nation wide reaction to the suicide of Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula to the Dalit uprising after cow vigilantes attacked four tanners in Gujarat. It is only logical, therefore, that a team of three youngsters have set up an initiative that is researching and documenting the Dalit movement India, starting off with The Dalit Panther Project, which recalls one of the most vociferous and finest historical movements for the marginalised.

“The institutional murder of Vemula shook us up. But we wanted to channel that energy into something positive and constructive, rather than reactionary. We wanted people to find hope and inspiration despite what had happened,” says co-founder Nayantara Bhatkal (26). Bhatkal, a law graduate and professional musician, set up the initiative, yet to be formally named, along with lawyer Prem Ayyathurai (26) and illustrator Shrujana Shridhar (24) soon after Vemula’s death in January this year.

Yesterday, on the occasion of the death anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the trio scoured the grounds of Shivaji Park, listing names and phone numbers of the people who come to pay their respects at Chaityabhoomi. Towards the end of December, the registered numbers will be able to access videos made by The Dalit Panther Project on WhatsApp. “The films attempt to capture the spirit and the values of the Dalit Panthers,” says Ayyathurai.

These self-funded films were shot by them in the homes and offices of current Dalit Panther supporters in Pune and Mumbai, in locations such as Worli’s BDD Chawl and Kamathipura. Film editor, Rohan Kapoor has volunteered to consolidate the visuals into the four thematic clips, which will be circulated on Whatsapp.

“In our research, a thing we commonly heard about the Dalit Panthers was about their charisma, how they were so inspirational; people called them “stylish” and “jehaal” (a Marathi word that broadly translates as “irreverent”. They would stand in the middle of the street and eloquently point rile against the Congress, the Shiv Sena, the Republican Party of India and religion. They took down everyone and captured the deep frustration that people had with the political process,” explains Ayyathurai, as he asks visitors to put down their numbers.

Many have come from as far as Solapur, Jalgaon, Nashik and even Surat and express interest in knowing more about the movement from the 1970s.

The four films, all of which use Hindi and are under five minutes, will trace the foundations of the Dalit Panther movement. Those interested in learning more about their work can log on to their Facebook page. In the coming year, they also intend to bring out a feature-length film on the same subject.

Who were the Dalit Panthers?
Founded by Marathi poet Namdeo Dhasal and JV Pawar in May,1972. Prominent members include Raja Dhale and Arun Kamble. The Dalit Panthers was a revolutionary anti-caste organisation that was modeled on the Black Panther movement in the USA. Most active through the 1970s and 1980s, they challenged the nature of established art and literature through their depiction of society and religion. The first generation of Dalit Panthers contested the caste system and organised marches and rallies in villages. They also marked a prominent time for Dalit literature and protest poetry.

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