BJP trying to mislead Matua with fake and arbitrary promises, claims Dalit TMC candidate Manoranjan Byapari
The prolific Bengali Dalit writer has been influenced by the work of Left labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi and is also a disciple of noted Bengali author Mahashweta Dev
Parking his rickshaw at the side of the gate, Manoranjan Byapari enters his room at midnight. Election posters, flags and books lay scattered across the small room.
After freshening up, he helps himself to some roti and torkari (sabzi) for dinner. Then, at least two hours of reading. He says that he cannot go to bed without reading a book.
The prolific Bengali Dalit writer, who heads the Bangla Dalit Sahitya Academy, is now the Trinamool Congress candidate from Hooghly district's Balagarh constituency. He's led a remarkable and interesting life, working as a rickshaw puller, a cook, a helper at a crematorium, and even being convicted for his involvement with the Naxal movement.
Byapari has been influenced by the work of Left labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi and is also a disciple of noted Bengali author Mahashweta Devi.
He begins his daily campaigning early in the morning. On a rickshaw pulled by himself. On the seats are his supporters, who distribute pamphlets.
Comfortable in dhoti and fatua (half sleeve kurta), a gamocha at the neck. Smiling, he said “The gamocha is not a style statement. Every rickshaw puller across India has a gamocha to wrap the head during a heat wave or to clean sweat or even to cover the eyes for a quick nap under any tree.”
Byapari belongs to the Namasudra caste earlier called “Chandal”.
“Yes, I am a Chandal and I am proud of my identity,” says the writer of the award-winning book “Itibritte Chandal” or Interrogating my Chandal Life: An Autobiography.
He says has witnessed the Dalits suffer in Bengal for the past 40 years and written about it, but this time he wants to work for the development of Dalits after winning the elections.
“I've been writing about the conditions of Dalits in Bengal for decades. I've narrated stories of pain, discrimination, harassment and life. But I always wanted to work for the development of Dalits. Which you cannot do without joining mainstream politics because independently we have limited reach. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) has given me this opportunity to work for the Dalits in the Dalit Bangla Sahitya Academy and now by giving a ticket to fight the election,” he said.
Byapari says he has the utmost respect for communism and is a believer in communism. But he says the Communist Party of Inda (Marxist) and the Left Front have failed Dalits and certainly not worked for their development.
“Dalits are severely ignored in the mainstream of Left politics. Didi is the only political leader in Bengal who has taken up the cause of the development of Dalits. She developed healthcare, education, built roads at the villages and stood beside the Dalits of Bengal. She has a broad mind and a very open attitude. She understands the pains of Dalits. We do not want sympathy but if the leadership does not even have empathy then the development of Dalits cannot happen,” says Byapari.
Balagarh Assembly Constituency is a SC-reserved seat. According to the last census, Balagarh has around 80 percent rural population of which 40 percent are SC and 8 percent are ST. It has been a CPM stronghold for a long time but with time the Dalit votes began shifting to the TMC which has won the past two elections.
However, in the last Lok Sabha election, the Hooghly seat was won by the BJP's Locket Chatterjee as the election witnessed a major shift of Dalit votes.
“I am a Namasudra and my father was a Matua. We know what kind of politics the BJP is doing in Bengal. They are making fake, arbitrary and absurd promises to the Matua and trying to mislead them. We are very much citizens of India but the BJP is saying that they will give Matua citizenship through the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act). It is a pure jumla. RSS is a manuvadi organisation full of upper caste Hindus who consider us untouchable. In BJP’s Hindutva, Dalits are not allowed to enter mandirs, they do not eat the food cooked by us and to get the vote they are tricking the Matua. Dalits are not fools, we know the history of Brahminical torture and Dalits will not vote for the BJP in Bengal anymore,” says Byapari.
The matua have been core voters of the Mamata-led TMC but they voted for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha election. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP is laser focussed on wooing the Matua.
According to a report in The Indian Express, “Matuas trace their ancestry to East Bengal, and many of them entered West Bengal after Partition and after the formation of Bangladesh... Matuas are Namasudras, a Scheduled Caste group with a presence in at least six parliamentary seats. While no official count is available, community leaders put their population at 3 crore, while a state minister said there are 1.75 crore Namasudra voters.”
“How will we prove that we are a religious persecuted group? We do not have any birth certificates. We are voters and that is why we are citizens. The Dalits of Bengal are not fighting for citizenship. The BJP is instigating them with these issues. We want education, healthcare, equality and justice. The TMC is the only political party that has worked shoulder to shoulder with the Dalits and will continue to do so,” says Byapari.
Byapari is holding pow-wows at street corners of the constituency every day and going door-to-door. “We do not have much money. The people here are kind enough to provide us with their rickshaws and they are joining our rallies overwhelmingly. I am very happy to see their enthusiasm. I am focusing on the local issues of bijli, sadak, pani, education and healthcare,” he says.
He says he will hold mohalla sabhas after winning the election and take suggestions from the people. “I will work for the Dalits and will ensure equality and justice. Mamata has ensured full support. Development is our key goal. I will ensure that the demands of the Dalits are met,” he says.
Byapari wants to continue writing and maintain his down to earth lifestyle. He is a bit anxious because the work might take time away from writing but is happy to be working for the Dalits.
He is also pleased to see the faces of the people he visits. “A new story is already in my mind. It is likely to be based on the experiences I gathered during this campaign,” says Byapari.
The author is a fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre and a freelance journalist who writes on issues of governance and politics. He can be reached at @sayantan_gh