About the Grief of Mahar and Mangs
“O learned pundits, fold up your selfish priestcraft and stop the prattle of your hollow wisdom and listen to what I have to say.”
This is an English translation of a Marathi essay written by 11-year-old Mukta Salve (other accounts note her age as 14), a student in Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule’s school in Pune. The Phules were anti-caste social-reformers, educationalists and writers in 19th century Maharashtra, Mukta belonged to the Mang community. The essay was first published in 1855, in Dnyanodaya, a Marathi periodical published from Ahmednagar. This translation is from the book A Forgotten Liberator: The Life and Struggle of Savitribai Phule, edited by Pamela Sardar (educationist) and Braj Ranjan Mani (author and researcher).
The Mangs and Mahars are Dalit communities in Maharashtra – now listed as Scheduled Castes. Mukta Salve describes the reality of caste-based violence and discrimination in precolonial and colonial Bombay Presidency:
“These people [Brahmins] drove us, the poor mangs, and mahars, away from our own lands, which they occupied to build large buildings. And that was not all. They would make the mangs and mahars drink oil mixed with red lead and buried our people in the foundations of their buildings, thus wiping out generation after generation of our poor people. The brahmans have degraded us so low; they consider people like us even lower than cows and buffaloes.”
She speaks of the atrocities against Dalits under the rule of the Peshwas: ‘Under Bajirao’s rule, if any mang or mahar happened to pass in front of a gymnasium, they would cut off his head and play ‘bat and ball’ with their swords as bats and his head as a ball, on the grounds.’ When Dalit women gave birth, she says, they did not have roofs over their heads – ‘how they suffer in the rain and the cold!’
The ‘benevolent British government’, Salve says, mitigated the pain of the Mangs and Mahars – under their influence, harassment and torture stopped, human sacrifice ended, the practice of untouchability was curtailed in some places, and some Brahmins even started schools for Mangs and Mahars. Salve ends with a plea to the Mangs and Mahars to seek education: ‘Get educated and become good human beings. But I cannot even prove this. For example, those who have received good education also sometimes surprise us by doing very bad deeds!’
Focus by Shraddha Agarwal.
Mukta Salve. (This English translation of the original in Marathi was first published in the 2008 book A Forgotten Liberator: The Life and Struggle of Savitribai Phule, edited by Pamela Sardar and Braj Ranjan Mani.)