News Update 09/06/2003


Tribal 'Mahabharat' has epical deviations


VADODARA: Ever heard of the epic Mahabharat with serpent god Vasuki
as the protagonist, who fights Arjun for Draupadi? Or a version of
the mythological battle where there were no Kauravas to confront the
Pandavas for claims over a kingdom?

If you ask a member of the Doongri Bhil tribe in Sabarkantha and
Banaskantha he will sing for you a version of the epic where the most
unexpected characters crop up and wage war.

Scholars argue that tribals only have the oral tradition of passing
on their version of the epics from one generation to another.
Traditions live only in the word of mouth here. Narrators
incorporated interpolations in tune with their existing tribal
traditions to make the story more acceptable amongst the tribal

In 'Bhilo Ka Bharat', a compilation of tales from the Doongri Bhil
version of the Mahabharat, author Bhagwandas Patel says that for the
tribals the epic is not one continuous narrative as it is in the
standard text but presented in disjointed episodes.

Interestingly, the tales neither mention the Kauravas nor the exact
location of the war. The Kauravas appear only in the Abhimanyu and
Indrani episode where Indrani, who is the wife of Lord Indra, decides
to marry the Kauravas. The Kauravas, however, spurn her proposal.
Indrani finally marries Abhimanyu and Lord Indra loses a battle to
Abhimanyu when he comes to wrest his wife back.

In another instance, the book mentions an encounter between Vasuki
and Arjun. Here Vasuki seduces Draupadi who accepts his advances. An
angry Arjun wages war against Vasuki but loses. Vasuki ties him with
a hair from his moustache and keeps him captive. After several days
Draupadi realises her mistake and asks Arjun to take Karan's help to
defeat Vasuki and free her.

"Nowhere in these episodes will one find the mention of kingdom or
statehood as it is in the standard text. Tribals are unknown to the
concept of political boundaries and castes. For them the
word 'Bharat' means 'war' and not 'nation'," says head of the
publication department of Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Aruna

"Characters and episodes like that of Vasuki have been marginalised
in the standard text but glorified in the tribal version. They relate
more to nature than characters. This is precisely the reason why the
epic was interpreted to suit their needs and traditions."

"Variations and interpolations are bound to happen as the text passes
through different cultures. The tribal culture is one such case,"
says professor L M Joshi of the Sanskrit department of the MS
University. "This could be seen in the character called 'Bala Himmat'
who is Abhimanyu in the standard text. The word 'himmat' has its root
in 'ahi-mat' which means the clever serpent. Tribals give more
importance to such characters. The beauty of it all is that in the
end the moral does not change even though characters play different
roles," adds Joshi.

Guarang Jani, a sociologist based in Ahmedabad and a tribal activist,
says, "Tribals feel more attracted to episodes which talk of
displaying power, valour and prowess. Also, instances where women are
emancipated and respected are carefully read as tribals respect
women," adds Jani.


Caste cloud on Gangaajal


RJD activists tear off posters of Gangaajal at a cinema hall in
Patna. (PTI)
Patna, Sept. 5: A week after its release elsewhere, a film based on
the Bhagalpur blindings that ran into political trouble here, is
sparking a different sort of controversy.Prakash Jha's Gangaajal ran
into trouble here after Sadhu Yadav, brother of chief minister Rabri
Devi, complained that the director had tarnished his image by giving
the main villain of the film the same name as himself. Last week,
Sadhu Yadav's supporters vandalised cinema halls showing the film and
a number of petitions were filed seeking a ban on Gangaajal's
screening.The controversy died down only after Jha arranged a special
screening of the film for Rabri and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo
Prasad Yadav to assure them that his villain had nothing in common
with Sadhu Yadav other than the name. The film was officially
released here today after Laloo Prasad gave it the nod.But Gangaajal
has now sparked debate of a different kind: the clear caste divide
between the undertrials and police officers. Viewers streaming out of
cinema halls today said the movie depicted the villains as belonging
to backward castes and the officers as upper castes. But they all
dismissed the Sadhu Yadav controversy as "a politician's publicity
gimmick"."The film failed to live up to its controversy involving
Sadhu Yadav," said Dhiraj Sharma, a 45-year-old government servant.
He added that Jha was trying to portray the 1980s milieu in Bihar
when the caste divide was apparent.The movie has made politicians sit
up, for, as RJD general secretary Ramkirpal Yadav said: "The party
leadership has avoided an open controversy by allowing the release of
the film but we are discussing these issues (the caste divide) in
party circles."A social worker who runs a research institute here
said the film had sparked debate by exhibiting the social divide
between the accused and the officers. "How come not a single villain
in the movie hails from the upper castes?" he asked.Devraj Khatri,
one of the 31 undertrials to have acid poured into his eyes by
policemen in 1979-80, has an interesting take on the event. Devraj,
one of the few victims still alive, told an NGO in Bhagalpur that the
deputy inspector who picked him up off the street before blinding him
was a Brahmin. Khatri, a backward caste member, insists he was a
victim of mistaken identity.But R.K. Mishra, a Bhagalpur advocate,
says: "The officer-accused social divide might have been a
coincidence." The advocate, who is still fighting for the victims,
says cases against the officers are continuing but the government has
failed to act against them because of political pressure.But there
are people in Bhagalpur who defend the policemen's action, pointing
out that the undertrials had made local residents suffer and had many
cases registered against them, ranging from rape to robbery and
murder.To Jha's relief, viewers agree that his villain has little
resemblance with the MLA from Gopalganj. "Sadhu Yadav in the film is
nothing but an ordinary anti-hero whose characterisation has lost its
edge now due to overuse", said Monotosh Bagchi, former principal of a
Bhagalpur college. He dismissed the controversy as a political
gimmick.Laloo Prasad's remark on seeing the movie that Sadhu Yadav
could be "anybody's name" is echoed by most who have seen
Gangaajal.Even so, Sadhu Yadav had managed to prey on Rabri and the
RJD chief's insecurity last week by telling them that the film might
be another attack on the backward-caste rulers of Bihar. He reminded
them of the teleserial, Ramkhilawan CM and Family, which depicted the
state's first family in a poor light. Sadhu Yadav's supporters
forcibly stopped the screening of the film while he was abroad. While
doing so, they would bring caste into the equation, telling people
that "upper caste intellectuals" were trying to humiliate the chief
minister.But Sadhu Yadav today said he had seen the movie and found
nothing objectionable in it.


Driven out by Jats, Harsola Dalits too scared to return
KAITHAL: Chased away from their homes by Jats seven months ago, the
Dalits of Harsola village are still too scared to return, preferring
instead to live on alms within the Guru Ravidas Mandir here.

Assurances from the administration _ that had failed to stop a series
of violent attacks on the community _ and the newly set up police
post at Harsola have not changed their mind. ``We dare not go back or
else the upper castes will maul us,'' says Pritam.

Interestingly, the government's official position is that what
happened at Harsola wasn't a caste dispute. Denying that the Dalits
were attacked by upper caste people, a Haryana government official
says: ``They are responsible for their miserable state. It was an
internal fight that led to the situation.''

Balbir Singh, who has also taken refuge at the temple, has still not
forgotten what happened. ``We had gathered at the village Chaupal to
discuss preparations for the forthcoming Guru Ravidas Jayanti last
February when suddenly we were attacked by a gang of upper-caste
people from our own village, apparently over a previous dispute with
one of their youths. Many of us were mercilessly beaten up, our
houses ransacked and shops destroyed. We had no option but to flee to
Kaithal,'' he says.

Another Dalit from the same village, Birbhan, a daily wager, says:
``Our crops were ready for harvest when the incident took place. We
fled the village leaving everything, including our wages. Later we
heard the Jats had taken possession of the crops. We have no hopes of
ever recovering our money,'' he laments.

For children of the Harsola victims, it has meant an end to school as
their parents don't have the resources to get them re-admitted.
``Sometimes we feel guilty for spoiling the future of our children,
but we are helpless,'' says Balbir.

A few of the Dalits have set up a shoe-making workshop at the back of
the Ravidas temple, but they find it difficult to market their
products. Others are still struggling to find an occupation.

Haryana Congress president Bhajan Lal, former Union home minister
Buta Singh and ex-Haryana minister Kripa Ram Punia have submitted a
memorandum to the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission
demanding rehabilitation of the 270 Harsola Dalit families, and
punishment for the culprits. The National Commission for SCs/STs had
earlier called for a detailed report from the Kaithal district
administration and compensation for the Dalits for their damaged

The Dalits, however, say they have not been provided any relief.
``Living in perpetual fear, they have little or no hope of ever
returning home,'' regrets Karamvir Singh, president of the Haryana
unit of the All India Confederation of SC/ST/BC Organisations.

Pritam nods: ``We don't want to die.''

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