A Panther remembers his pack

Updated: Jun 28, 2020, 07:57 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

JV Pawar, poet-writer and the last surviving Dalit Panther, features in a 100-episode YouTube series that is dedicated to the 1970s movement in Mumbai

Pawar and Dhale (both standing) with Dr Ambedkar's wife
Pawar and Dhale (both standing) with Dr Ambedkar's wife

On May 29, 1972, Marathi poet and activist Namdeo Dhasal along with litterateur JV Pawar founded the Dalit Panthers. On the same day, this year, a promo dropped on YouTube, celebrating the movement that was started to combat caste discrimination. Titled simply, Dalit Panther, this trailer takes viewers back to the 1970s when the whole of Maharashtra witnessed a revolution of a very different kind.

Created by Dr Ambedkar Thoughts Movement, a YouTube channel started in July 2018, this promo announced the beginning 100 episodes dedicated to the Dalit Panther movement. With nine episodes already out, the series is narrated by the only living Panther, JV Pawar. "My son, who runs this YouTube channel, has been at home since the lockdown. He is a videographer, and, when he proposed starting a series on the movement, I was game. While the movement's heydays lasted only till 1977, I feel it is important to remember the works of the members," Pawar, 76, tells us.

JV Pawar at his Borivli home. Pic/Sameer Markande
JV Pawar at his Borivli home. Pic/Sameer Markande

Born in Pilavali village in Ratnagiri's Chiplun district, Pawar learned about the genuis of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956. Pawar was in school then. "On December 6, 1956, a nationwide bandh was called. When I returned home from school, my uncles and cousins asked me to read the newspaper for them. Dr Ambedkar had passed away and everybody was in mourning. I didn't know why. It was after this day that I found out all that he had achieved to end caste discrimination in the country," Pawar recalls.

From then on began Pawar's journey to fight injustice perpetuated by the upper castes. With Dhasal, Pawar wrote several articles to bring about a change in society. Around 1971, the Elayaperumal Committee was set up by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As part of this, Dalit leader L Elayaperumal was asked to prepare a report on Dalit atrocities faced across the country. "The horrific details mentioned in the report moved us. We had to end caste discrimination."

So, on May 29, 1972, they launched the Dalit Panthers, inspired by the Black Panther Party, a socialist movement that sought to combat racial discrimination against African-Americans, during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, in the mid-20th century. The Dalit Panthers led a renaissance in Marathi literature and art. They advocated for and practised radical politics, fusing the ideologies of Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Karl Marx.

Pawar narrates the beginning of this movement in the first episode, and the influence that Dr Ambedkar had on the duo. In the next few episodes, Pawar also mentions political activist and social reformer Raja Dhale, who joined them later and made the movement prosper with his powerful speeches. "His public speeches drew massive admiration. But eventually in 1977, we dissolved the association. While Dhasal had a Marxist approach, Dhale and I followed Buddhist ideologies."

The YouTube series also features Tejvil Pawar, his son who talks about the organisation in its prime. Each episode is five to eight minutes long. "After Dhasal and Dhale, I am left to tell the tales of the organisation. I am glad I got the opportunity to remember the glorious days."

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmL_ 6H42Q-E

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