As devout followers of Babasaheb, Sonu and I strove to educate our family. Babasaheb had inculcated in us the belief that education was the solution to all our ills. As I stood with my eyes closed to pay my respects to Babasaheb, I vowed that giving my children the highest possible education would be the mission of my life. They would fulfill Babasaheb’s dream, my dream. – Damu Jadhav
Aamir Khan’s Satyameva Jayate has been criticized in some quarters due to the absence of any mention of Dr. Ambedkar. Quite ironic, given that more Indian netizens today seem to search for Dr. Ambedkar than Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Ambedkar remains an inspiration and icon for Indians, whether they are Dalits or not. However, the imprint and influence of Dr. Ambedkar remains especially strong on Indian Dalits, for whom he is a true hero.
Narendra Jadhav‘s ‘Untouchables’ brings out this impact in many different ways. From leading demonstrations for opening wells and temples long closed to Dalits, reviving the practice of Buddhism, leading the drafting of the Constitution and setting a personal example of academic achievement, Ambedkar is everywhere in Dr. Jadhav’s life. ‘Untouchables’ is written in a particularly interesting manner. It is not an autobiography of the accomplished Dr. Jadhav, who has a PhD from the US and is a member of the Planning Commission of India. It is actually the story of his father and mother. Each chapter alternates between his father’s perspective (Damu) and that of his mother (Sonu), but keeps moving forward in time. Only at the end, does Jadhav (Chotu) himself come in.
The story of Damu and Sonu is interesting enough to read just because of who they were and the times they lived in. However, a few things stood out for me as I read the book. One of these was the intense religiosity of Sonu Jadhav; she came across as an extremely devout Hindu. Indeed, the chapter where Damu proposes that the family convert to Buddhism is quite riveting, with Damu’s political interpretation of religious belief coming into conflict with Sonu’s more personal and spiritual understanding of it.
Dr. Jadhav’s description of his conquest of the Vithoba temple was another high point. Denied entry for centuries by the Hindu priestly order, the Dalit was now greeted by the chairman of the temple trust and the head priest when he arrived for puja.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had the left the priests and rushed toward the boulder. I hugged it hard, prostrated before it, and clasped it, its ragged edges bruising my palms, as startled onlookers looked aghast.
This boulder was the boundary beyond which the untouchables were not allowed to step. … The touchables had the temple. The untouchables had only the boulder. Their boulder that stood rugged and alone, a few feet outside the temple. The boulder became their makeshift Vithoba – crude, buffeted by the elements, quite unlike the richly clad, bejeweled idol of the god within.
I hugged the boulder, and a sigh escaped me. Like my ancestors, I clutched it, trying to understand what they had endured. I suddenly knew for whom I wept.