STORIES FROM THE SUBVERSE
In this spin off of our podcast series, The Subverse, we continue to explore the themes we’ve touched on in The Subverse, and uncover hidden and marginalised stories around nature, science, culture and social justice, but through a more personal storytelling lens. In this series, we aim to create a more immersive audio experience that moves away from the interview format and allows for different and diverse narratives.
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STORY 2 - MARCH 2023
Water and Caste: Part One - History of Mahad Satyagraha
Part one of this series has been conceptualised, scripted, and hosted by Swati Kamble, an anti-caste intersectional feminist researcher-activist. Her research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonisation, and intersectionality. In Part one, Swati guides us through the history of Mahad Satyagraha, the march for equality, dignity, and access to water, led by anti-caste leader and statesman, Dr. Bhim Rao Ramaji Ambedhkar on 20th March 1927.
This history is mired in the history of untouchability and caste apartheid as the foundational characteristics of the caste system. Strict endogamy and prohibition of social interaction sustained various historical practices and some that continue well into the 21st century such as prohibiting the former ‘untouchables’ (caste oppressed) from drawing water from a public water source. There is also a strong history of resistance and many milestones, including from 1869, when revolutionaries Jyotirao and Savitri Phule opened their private wells for ‘untouchable’ communities. What precipitated the march to the Chavdar tank in Mahad in 1927 was the following. On August 4, 1923, the Bombay Legislative Council adopted a resolution by S.K Bole, which recommended that ‘untouchables’ be given access to all public water bodies. The Mahad Municipality, which was then part of the erstwhile Bombay presidency reaffirmed this in 1924 but this law was not implemented due to upper class protest.
Swati then provides the backdrop in which water and caste overlap and entwine, through forms of social control, flouting of legal norms and continuing caste atrocities. She introduces us to her grandfather, who followed a caste occupation, one of the many inhumane traditions that caste oppressed communities were tied to, called potraj. He joined the Mahad march and that changed his life forever, and by extension hers, setting her on course for the work she does for social justice.
Two conversations underpin this story, one with advocate Disha Wadekar who provides legal and historical perspectives on how the Mahad Satyagraha influenced the anti-caste movement and played a pivotal role in the making of the Indian Constitution. Disha expertly leads us through the denial of water, access to public spaces, resources or the commons, and how the framing of Articles 15 and 17 of the Constitution was grounded in the people’s struggle to have equal access to water.
She also takes us through the events preceding the Mahad Satyagraha and the anti-caste march to implement already codified laws, then speaks eloquently on the Southborough Franchise Committee (1918-1919), Government of India Acts and the Second Round Table conference (1931) to discuss constitutional reforms and how the rights to equal citizenship were core concerns. Disha emphasises that civilizational struggles around water are about power relations, and that citizenship is not an abstract idea, but is crucial to reclaiming human dignity for those deemed untouchable and posited as lower classes.
The second conversation is with Hira Kanoje, or Grandma Hira as Swati calls her. Swati grew up listening to Hira’s fierce speeches delivered on the birth anniversaries of anti-caste revolutionaries at the labourers’ colony in Mumbai where they both lived, as neighbours. In this moving conversation, Hira ajji narrates her experiences as a young child who experienced untouchability but defiantly fought against it. Whether it was by drinking water from a forbidden pot at school or sneakily entering a village temple, she and her cousins were silent revolutionaries, whose stories remain undocumented. By including her narrative, we seek to honour her, and the unsung feminists and anti-caste activists like her.
See Swati’s, Disha’s and Hira ajji’s bios below.
This story was produced for us by Vaaka Media. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram, as well as on their website.
For this story, we commissioned Shrujana N Shridhar to create original artwork for us (see bio below).
In accompaniment to this audio story, on 4th and 12th March 2023, Vyaktitva Learning Labs, a media literacy initiative, conducted a two- part session for children on Water for All in Navi Mumbai, India which features artworks by the children.
About Swati Kamble
Swati Kamble is an anti-caste intersectional feminist researcher-activist. Her research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonisation, and intersectionality. She has a PhD in Socio-economics from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva. Her doctoral research is focused on the political mobilisation of India’s caste-affected and caste-oppressed communities, their movement history, and how this movement has shaped oppressed caste women activists into agents of change. She studied how Dalit women activists influence policy processes by negotiating and navigating andro-centric, upper-caste bureaucratic spaces of power. Additionally, she has studied the Roma women’s movement in Hungary and how the European Decade for Roma Inclusion Plan did not reflect the issues faced by Roma women, which the Roma Civil Society has been advocating for. Currently, she is researching the digital activism of Dalit women, and middle-class Dalit women’s mobility in the Indian neo-liberal market. She is also collaborating with Dalit, indigenous and marginalised groups, and organisations in India on a project around mapping and the archival of indigenous forms of knowledge and decolonisation.
About Disha Wadekar
Disha Wadekar is an independent advocate practising before the Supreme Court and various High Courts in India. Her practice focuses on representing marginalised communities on issues relating to constitutional law and anti-discrimination law. She has worked on many constitutional bench matters, notable amongst which are the Sabarimala temple entry case and the Economic Weaker Section (EWS) reservation case. In 2022, she was appointed as the Assistant Special Public Prosecutor by the Government of Rajasthan on a sexual violence case.
Ms. Wadekar has taught courses on law and marginalisation at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, and National Law University, Delhi, and has delivered lectures at various institutions. In 2021, she co-founded CEDE – an organisation working towards a more diverse and inclusive Indian legal profession and judiciary. Her work has been published by reputed journals and online portals.
You can find her on Twitter.
About Hira Kanoje
Hira Kanoje (Hira ajji) is a local anti-caste activist, from the Karjat district near Mumbai. Hira is a very politically and socially active woman, whose family were staunch followers of Ambedkar. She married a mill worker, the son of her paternal aunt at the age of 11 and moved to Mumbai in the early 1950s. As a young child growing up in a labourer’s chawl, which was mainly populated by Dalits and Bahujans, Ambedkar’s birth anniversary was usually celebrated with Hira ajji conducting Buddha Vandana, followed by a fierce speech. She is a constant in the chawl when it comes to spreading Ambedkar’s inspiring words. She is vocal about encouraging younger generations to follow the path of education and mobilisation for their rights, and pleads for social change.
About Shrujana N Shridhar
Shrujana N Shridhar is an illustrator and artist based in Mumbai. She works on children’s books and editorial illustrations. Her work centres anti-caste expression from an Ambedkarite and feminist perspective. She belongs to the Ambedkarite-Buddhist community, and runs the Dalit Panther Archive, which focuses on digitising and translating Little Magazines and literature published by the members of the Dalit Panther movement.
You can find her on Instagram.
Wild Learning: Yuvan Aves on nature as a classroom
In this story we listen to Yuvan Aves—naturalist, educator, and writer—who is certain to transport you, at least briefly, to Chennai’s beaches. Painting a vivid portrait of what a meaningful education should be, Aves is convincing in his point of view of why it’s crucial for a child’s learning to be rooted in real-world engagement and lived experiences.
Having been a nature educator for a decade now, Yuvan speaks eloquently about the need to design learning in such a way that it allows children to connect to their natural environment, and make their own discoveries. He reminds us of how important it is for schools to tap into children’s innate sense of curiosity, and keen sense of observation, which the dominant classroom in India has unfortunately failed to do. Acknowledging his own past traumas, Aves makes a strong case for nature’s ability to heal, and instill in us a deeper sense of empathy.
At the heart of education should be ecological and human values, states Aves, who was awarded the Green Teacher Award (2021) by Sanctuary Nature Foundation. Join him on his shore walk to get a taste of his school of thinking, and listen to children’s gleeful reactions as they spot creatures in their outdoor classroom.
The story was produced for us by Anupama Chandrasekharan. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
Further links :
About Yuvan Aves
Yuvan Aves is a writer, naturalist, educator and activist based in Chennai. His interests include reimagining Earth-centric and child-centric education in schools, the reciprocity between languages and ecologies, and ground-up processes of change and politics. He writes on topics at the intersection of ecology, education, human and more-than-human consciousness. He is the author of two books, recipient of the M. Krishnan Memorial Nature Writing Award and the Sanctuary Asia Green Teacher Award. He is currently travelling and documenting stories of biodiversity, people and change along the Indian coastline.