Srividya Natarajan, who teaches English and Creative Writing at King’s University College and Aparajita Ninan, a design intern with Navayana have authored (or should it be sketched) Jotirao Govindrao Phule's 1873 book Gulamgiri (Slavery) a scathing and witty attack on brahmanism and the slavery of India’s ‘lower’ castes that it engendered. Unlike Indian nationalists, Phule (1827-1890) saw the British as people who could tame the local elite—the brahmans who wielded power simply on the basis of birth. Inspired by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and the ideals of Enlightenment philosophers, Phule mounted a critique of the vedas as idle fantasies of the brahman mind. With the objective of liberating the sudras and atisudras, he founded the Satyashodak Samaj (Society of Truthseekers).
Phule dedicated Slavery ‘to the good people of the United States as a token of admiration for their sublime, disinterested and self-sacrificing devotion in the cause of Negro Slavery.’ Written in the form of a dialogue between Dhondiba and Jotiba—reminiscent of Buddha’s suttas, of Socrates’ dialogues—Slavery traces the history of brahman domination in India, and examines the motives for and objectives of the cruel and inhuman laws framed by the brahmans.
This revolutionary text remains relevant today, and given Phule’s rather graphic imagination lends itself almost naturally to graphic art. Natarajan and Ninan also weave in the story of Savitribai, Jotiba’s wife and partner in his struggles, who started a school for girls in Pune in 1848, despite social opprobrium.
A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule's fight for Liberty is in our Dalit Studies section, 128 pages, Rs 220, ISBN: 9788189059460