May 1991 marked the beginning of my days of struggle. It was an endless battle, fought on many fronts, with myself and with the world at large. I continued to rest my hopes in the RSS, believed that I would somehow get justice. I met anyone who would listen, poured out my woes, but nothing came of it.
During this time, I met other swayamsevaks, office-bearers and pracharaks, and presented my case. Their only counsel to me was to keep up a positive outlook. Not one of them thought the matter of caste discrimination and untouchability to be an issue at all, for them it was all very commonplace and not worth discussing.
Karsevaks had refused to eat the food prepared at my home in Sirdiyas despite my being ready to give up my life for Hindutva. I could not get over the fact that I was suddenly made to feel so small and worthless.
The acting Bhilwara district chief of Seva Bharti, an office bearer of the Sangh for around twenty years, showered me with praise for my organisation of the day’s event Finally in a very low voice, he said, “Friend, you are aware of the inequalities in our society. Despite all the efforts of the Sangh, Hindu society has not become one. As far as we ourselves are concerned, we would sit down with you any day and eat from the same plate, but today there are sadhu–sants and others also here. They will be really upset if without informing them, we give them food from a lower-caste home. They could be so angry they might leave.”
The period between May 1991 and December 1992 was one of utter despair. Living in the village didn’t give me peace, and in Bhilwara I had no place to stay. I roamed aimlessly, sometimes with nowhere to spend the night. Like the homeless I slept in parks, the very parks where I once stalked around proudly in my Sanghi garb.
Food was hard to come by. With no money, I spent entire days without a bite of a roti. I’d land up at the homes of relatives and acquaintances at meal times. Other times, I showed up at the Ambedkar Hostel where I found both food and a place to sleep.
The mass fervour for karseva and the demolition of Babri Masjid came back with a vengeance in 1992. But this time my destination was not Ayodhya. The battle now was for my self-respect. In the relentless pursuit of equality and justice that I was now engaged in, Babri was no longer an issue. Those headed to Ayodhya, I felt, were utterly misguided.
This time, no one from my family or village joined the karseva. I made it a point to speak to many people, especially those who belonged to Scheduled Castes, telling them about my experience with the RSS to try and stop them from throwing their lot with these hypocrites.
But I was alone, so my efforts were not that successful. Those who wished to go, went anyway. Not me though. I was not intoxicated by devotion to Ram this time, I felt lost, indifferent to everything, distant from all that was unfolding, like it had nothing to do with me.
Around then, I also began work with some friends to establish a students’ outfit (that eventually became Vidyarthi Adhikar Rakshak Sangh or VARS). For some time, I settled into a temple off the Krishi Upaj Mandi (a state-run farmers’ market) in Bhilwara, only to move on soon enough. My belongings were scattered across the different places I haunted – in the RSS district office, the temple, the Ambedkar hostel, and Sitaram Dharamshala, a choultry. At every place that I was forced to leave, I left something behind. With the exception of Ambedkar Hostel, I never returned to any of these places.
On the evening of 5 December, I went to meet students at the Ambedkar Hostel. By 1991, the hostel had shifted from its rented premises in Azad Nagar to a permanent building in Bapu Nagar. I was at the hostel on 6 December when we heard the news of the demolition of Babri Masjid on the radio. We did not respond to it in any way, or discuss it among ourselves. I just left, took an auto and headed to the Bhilwara market where I saw jubilant Hindus bursting crackers and distributing sweets.
By contrast, there was visible police bandobast at the mosque near the railway station. The Muslim majority areas were marked by such massive police presence that it was as if curfew had been clamped, an eerie silence reigned. Worried that the situation could get out of hand, and that I may be trapped in the town, I left that night around 10 pm for my home in Sirdiyas. There, I slept through the night.
In a few days I learnt that restrictions had been placed on the RSS for its role in bringing down the Babri Masjid. There had been a raid at the RSS office in Bhilwara, located above the Bajrang Daal Baati Bhojanalaya (Bajrang Lunch Home), and documents had been seized. The key office bearers of the RSS, fearing arrest, went underground.
When I came to know from the Maandal police that my name also figured in the documents, I too went into hiding as a precaution. But the truth is that the police were never serious about apprehending anyone. They could have easily arrested me if they wanted to. The raids had all been a big charade.
At home of course, the demolition of Babri Masjid did come up for discussion. While my mother was just relieved that her sons had not been involved this time, my father felt that what these people had done was not right. A house of god had been destroyed. He would say again and again, these Janata Party people (as he called them; these days he says BJP) are only making us fight with each other for votes.
The Ramjanmabhoomi for which I took part in the 1990 karseva, for which I suffered police brutality, went to jail, was ready to die for; the mosque I was so eager to bring down and the Ram temple for which I was willing to take lives – when all these impulses finally reached their conclusion, I felt no joy. There was neither a sense of victory nor defeat.
The Ram temple simply did not figure in my priorities any longer. Perhaps I had realised that it was all just an excuse to humiliate the Muslims, something I too had been enthusiastic about earlier. But this time, even before Babri fell, I had fallen quite low myself.
Excerpted with permission from I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, translated from the Hindi Main Ek Karsevak Tha by Nivedita Menon, to be published by Navayana by 14 January.
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