In his book Dewaji—Making of an Ambedkarite Family, Dipankar Kamble takes us on a journey to witness two-generational struggle and offers us a glimpse of the socio-economic condition of a Dalit family, societal casteism and the essence of feminism along the way. Dewaji is the story of an Ambedkarite activist Dewaji Khobragade, whose efforts led to the successful organisation of the historical Buddhist conversion ceremony in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. Dewaji made the anti-caste movement noteworthy in Vidarbha.
Dewaji—Making of an Ambedkarite Family
Author: Dipankar Kamble
Publisher: Panther’s Paw Publication, Jan 2021
Although hailing from a disadvantaged position in a caste society, Dewaji proved his distinguished position in politics and social movements. He encouraged his children to work with Dr. B R Ambedkar and directed them to follow the path shown by him. The author of this book, Dipankar Kamble, is the fourth generation descendent of Dewaji Khobragade. It is his attempt to bring justice to his legacy by giving us this authentic piece of literature.
What may be astonishing about this book for readers is the wonderful delineation of female characters. Secondly, it teaches us what feminism stands for and should ideally look like, and finally, the magnificent story of a Dalit woman. Even though the title Dewaji refers to the male member of the family, Dipankar bewitchingly showed us the dynamic role of visionary female characters.
The story of Dewaji starts with an introduction of a truly unique woman, Paikabai Khobragade. Her struggle, her urge to help society and her commitment to people is reminiscent of Savitribai Phule. Paikabai Khobragade is not only a wife, a mother and a mother-in-law, but most importantly she is an independent feminist woman. Along with being a radical woman with revolutionary ideas and vision, she must have also been the first Dalit businesswoman.
While recalling Dewaji, we recall him as a loving father, dutiful husband, son, successful businessperson, politician, social worker and so on, but none of this could have been possible without the values and teachings inculcated by Paikabai. Dewaji was merely two years old when his father died and since then Paikabai took responsibility for the family and the business. She emphasised the importance of education for her children and taught them various subjects including Mathematics. According to her, only economic independence can put an end to slavery of Dalits. In this book, we can see her impulse towards women’s empowerment and employment.
It is amusing how Dipankar dedicated nearly six chapters to different segments of her life. Paikabai was a 20th century woman, the time when Dalit women’s social conditions were miserable. During the time when Dalit women were denied basic human rights, Paikabai successfully struggled to become a leading businesswoman of the Vidarbha region.
One instance shared by the author shows the fearlessness of Paikabai when she slaps a Brahmin person who tries to molest her. She does not stop there, but goes ahead into the Brahmin locality and shouts “He got slapped by a Dalit woman named Paikabai!”
Paikabai encourages her daughter-in-law Indirabai Khobragade (wife of Dewaji) to participate in their family business. Indirabai in turn with her innovative ideas flourishes the business. Author Dipankar refers to Paikabai as a ‘tigress’. However, this simile fails to match up to her persona. She is a self-made woman who provided employment opportunities to both men and women.
Dipankar throws light on Indirabai’s contribution too. She would promote social awareness among women along with guidance on business and education. She motivated women to be equal participants in Samata Sainik Dal. She was a good financier who used to provide loans to people and never forced them to repay the loan as many of them were working as manual scavengers. Moreover, she is the perfect example of follower of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s message ‘Learn to Unlearn’, she is said to be a strong believer of Hinduism but after taking Dhamma Deeksha along with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in Chandrapur, Maharashtra and after taking twenty-two vows she packed all Hindu deities and threw them in the river.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar once said “What are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty to reform our social system which is full of inequalities, discrimination and other things, which conflicts with our fundamental rights.” These women about whom many might get to know through Dipankar are true followers of Dr Ambedkar. The world is moving towards modernisation. This in itself is not bad, but we have restricted our modernisation only to our attire. These women tell us that it is the need of the hour for our society to modernise our collective mindset.
Everyone and especially Bahujan women should read this book to understand our glorious past and about those women whose history was never taught to us in schools and colleges. I would like to thank Dipankar for acquainting us with such strong women characters which will keep on encouraging us and will keep on making us feel proud of being born in a community full of revolutionary female icons.
Mrunal Dupte is currently pursuing MSc in International Business from the University of Birmingham UK, she did BSc Economics (H) from Symbiosis International University. She won the Best Delegate at GGMUN, Bangkok Thailand and the Best position paper at AYIMUN, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She also completed her Diploma in Global Business from Harvard Business School. You can find her on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Panther’s Paw Publication