In these poems, written on the anvil of Mahaparinirvana Divas, commemorated annually on December 6 to mark the death anniversary of BR Ambedkar, Dalit-feminist poet and writer Anita Bharti reflects on the legacy of Ambedkar’s ideas and the future of anti-caste existence.

A critical reckoning with the everyday nuances of Ambedkarism, including its political distortions and Ambedkar’s uncritical deification, Bharti insists, is the need of the hour. Laying emphasis on Ambedkarite humanism; separating Ambedkar from the mould of Brahmanical appropriation; paying greater attention to anti-caste forms of gender justice and intersectional histories of Dalit struggle evoking hope, are some key themes the poet emphasises, to situate the life and legacy of Babasahab in a contemporary context.


I say to you
This is Bhimrao Baba
You reply
With a canny cheer
This is our Bhim Baba!

And you instantly begin
Worshipping him
Garlanding him
Adorning him with tilak
And incense

While standing beside you
Hope glistens in the eyes
Of a girl as she sees
Children stream inside
A school in the distance
Is it impossible for you
To help her join that queue
And sit within to reap
The dreams of her due?
(Oh, you would rather
Leave that aside)

That day you brought
Baba into the bazaar
Auctioning his abilities
You summoned them:
See! Such sorrow and suffering
Baba has always been enduring
Which all of you have given him
It’s time you must
Pay him back

Now mountains
Of their miseries
Are transforming into tickets
For all your overseas travels
In those foreign tours
Your forage for white tears
During each seminar and sermon,
You condemn the oppressors as vermin
Yet, the pain in the eyes
Of an oppressed woman
Standing near
Bypasses you completely
You choose to get lost
In the blue sky
You are yet to conquer

You have even dragged
Baba into business
Instructing people
About the profits and losses of
Adopting ‘brand Baba’
The secret of amassing interest
With symbolic capital
Whereas, your own sisters and brothers
Howl in hunger
The very siblings
Who unknowingly sponsor
Your umpteen
Money transfers

Flashing the latest range
Of Baba-accessories
In your neck
Around your wrist
In precious lockets
The new gold inheritance
Stowed away in ornate jewellery boxes
Signs, that
Degenerate dealers
Like you keep flaunting
To field yourself


Baba, when you weep
In the crypt of politics
Your Dalit children
Get crushed and maimed
Like a horde of
Screaming skeletons

When you contemplate
The multitudes enliven
Taking shape from their mangled fragments
Inner voices, faces, spirits
Slowly sediment
Making solidarities, affinities, families

When you laugh
The mutilated masses
Learn to rise from their ruins
Like flowers again blossoming
To the sound of lightning
Scattering in the blue rain

Yes, you are laughing, Baba


An Ambedkar dwells within me
An Ambedkar dwells within you
Like the blue blood
Coursing in our veins
Nourishes our hearts
Stimulates our brains

O, sathi
Don’t be distressed
We know
Only that which is
Dissolved within
Will rise again
From the earth one day
Harnessing his humanism
Beneath our skins

A new Bhimrao


Dear friend,
Krantikari Jai Bhim!
When you feel low
The entire universe lowers its head
Its eyes, like a weary campaign, exhausted
Its voice, as if coerced to chant slogans
Even the ritual of strident song-singing
Can’t break open
Your silence

I remember
That day in 1927
When your face looked
Extraordinarily radiant
Your burnished form, shining through struggle
As countless bodies, like earthen vessels
Entered and floated on water one by one
The sky thundering its applause
The stars showering their brilliance
They say, clay hardens in fire
But that day,
All the Earth was maturing
In the Chavdar talab
A wave of revolution was
Surging as your sisters were
Purging from their hands and necks
Their intimate shackles of enslavement
And you, roaring
Like a lion
Woken after centuries
Thundering at the oppressor-hunters
I still remember that day
Steeped in collective effervescence
While, on the other side
Animal-anger was reverberant

You were forging ahead
A humanist radical
With thousands of humanists in your wake
Towards that god
Who claimed to be omnipotent
But always hid behind temple gates
They stopped you, lathi-charged you
But you, never one to be ceased
Kept spitting fire
Burning in the flames assured
Along with their ancient divinity-codes

We will now etch our own history
You luminously proclaimed that day
As the bluest water
Entered you and
Electrified our collective veins
Nourishing, feeding, irrigating
All our imaginations, dreams
Thirsts and pains

Anita Bharti is an Indian Dalit-feminist poet, writer, critic, and educator. She is the author and editor of several works, including Samkaleen Narivad aur Dalit Stree ka Pratirodh (2013), Ek Kadam Mera Bhi (2013), Yathasthithi se Takrate hue Dalit Jeevan se Judi Kahaniyan (2015), and Chhute Pankhon ki Udaan (2017). An English translation from her short story collection Ek Thi Quotey Wali Tatha Anya Kahaniyan (2012) was recently awarded the inaugural PEN Presents award by English PEN.

Nikhil Pandhi is an Ambedkarite queer-feminist researcher, anti-caste literary translator, and Rhodes Scholar from India. He is currently completing a PhD in cultural anthropology at Princeton University and is also editing and translating a book of selected anti-caste Ambedkarite love stories, forthcoming with Zubaan, in 2023. He recently received the inaugural PEN Presents award by English PEN, for his translation of Anita Bharti’s Dalit-feminist short stories.