BALIJAN CULTURAL MOVEMENT
We are men and women from various suppressed and exploited castes, adivasi communities and religious communities who have come together in the Balijan Cultural Movement in order to develop the cultural foundations of the fight against Brahmanism, casteism, and Hindu fundamentalism which support the social, religious, political, and economic exploitation in India.
Following the lead of the great social revolutionary- Jotiba Phule, we take the name of “Balijan” to commemorate our roots in ancient traditions of the great and good ruler sacrificed to the creed of Brahmanism. Just as peasant women and men still say, “Let troubles and sorrows go and the realm of Bali come!” so we aim to build a society of freedom, equality and prosperity for all.
We also follow the traditions of Buddha, Jesus, Thiruvalluvar, Mohammad and the Sufi and Bhakti saints such as Kabir, Ravidas, Tukaram, Nanak and Basava. Jotiba and Savitribai Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Karl Marx, Birsa Munda, Iyothee Thass, Periyar, Ambedkar and many others are our heroes and icons.
We aim to promote and develop the self-respect, dignity, creativity, and truth seeking centered around the productive culture of the Balijan communities. Just as Brahmanism and caste are taking new forms in the globalised society in the modern imperialist era, so we also need to develop new alternative development models, new understanding, new creativity.
We also take note of the complexity of caste. Within the caste system, there is a major antagonistic contradiction between the oppressing and oppressed castes. Among the oppressed castes, there are important and rampant non-antagonistic contradictions. These have to be overcome with those oppressed castes higher in the hierarchy taking a lead in reconciliation. Out of the unity developed from this will come a strong movement for annihilation of caste system.
The Balijan Cultural Movement will take action in the following fields:
Women’s Liberation: The earliest society of Balijans was matrilineal, and like Bali, Nirruti is a symbol of this original equalitarian society. Balijan culture and religions, though affected by patriarchy, carries the seeds of this true gender equality. The end of all inequality is impossible without ending gender inequality. We will strive to bring liberation from gender oppression in all our activities and work for this in the cultural field.
Education: We will work towards debrahmanising education and building an educational system in which the Balijan peoples’ contribution to culture, science and language is brought forward. We oppose the two-stream educational system in which an elite gets quality education in English and the masses are bound in badly taught vernacular medium schools. We fight for the establishment of the common access of all children between the ages of three and 18 to quality education in English as well as their regional (recognised and unrecognised) languages. We support a 60-40 scheme where 40% of the curriculum is decided by local needs, 60% by common national standards. Sanskrit universities should be transformed into peoples’ language universities and there should be at least one central university using the regional language in each state.
Festivals: We will promote the celebration of Balijan cultural festivals, including historical festivals related to the productive lives of the people (e.g. Nagpanchami, Mahashivratri, Mahasankranti, Pongal, Balipratipada, Ghatochav, Lohari) and will remove their vestiges of brahmanic domination. We will also commemorate the birth and death anniversaries of Buddha, Jesus, Ambedkar, Phule and others and the historic dates of Balijan tradition, such as the burning of the Manusmriti (December 25), the battle of Koregaon (January 1), the birthday anniversary of Savitribai Phule as teachers’ day (3 January) and founding of the Satyashodhak Samaj (23 September) as global anti-slavery day.
Symbols: We will ensure the removal of all symbols of violence, religious and otherwise, from public places and media, and have them replaced by symbols of the productive culture of the people. In national awards, the Brahmanic names used for sports and other awards (e.g. the names of Dronacharya) will be replaced by awards in the name of Balijan heroes such as Ekalavya.
Census: We will agitate for the inclusion of caste in the 2011 Census.
Marriage: We will promote inter caste and interreligious marriages among Balijans and provide protection for those who make such marriages.
History: Liberating Balijan history from its distortion by brahmanic thinking and reconstructing the true history of the people will be a major task.
Language: We will work towards desanskritising, in vocabulary and spelling, the existing languages of India and develop these as true peoples’ languages.
Spirituality: We endorse and seek to strengthen and develop the spirituality of truth-seeking monotheism, humanism and rationalism.
Ecology: The culture of production was environmentally enriching and maintained ecological balance. Now there is an environmental crisis at a global level. Enriching the environment and sustainability can only take place on the basis of the productive culture of Balijans. We will strive to develop and widely promote this Balijan productive culture.
Diversity: The main social groups among the Balijans should be represented in all social, political, religious and economic institutions in proportion to their number in the population.
The Balijan Cultural Movement will organize people’s movements on their cultural demands and on the basis of these we will pressurise the state and its administration to concede these demands. Beyond this we will work for social transformation and the building of a new, prosperous and ecological society without cultural, economic, political and religious exploitation.
Acting President:Gail Omvedt
General Secretary:Braj Ranjan Mani
Steering Committee Members:
Than Singh Josh
S P Singh
V B Rawat
Hukum Singh Deshrajan
Waharu Sonavane Cynthia
Stephen Raj Kumar
Lalita Vijay Dhone
Bal Krishna Renke
Jayram Singh Jay
Ram Avadhesh Singh
¨ Committee on Caste Committee on Gender Committee on Language Committee on Religion
¨ Committee on Fundraising Committee on Arts and Media Committee on Research & publication
Committee on Youth
¨ Hukum Singh Deshrajan Waharu Sonavane
¨ Nagesh Choudhari
¨ Bharat Patankar, Sukhvindar Singh Siddhu Dinesh Kumar
¨ Ivan Kostka, Sagar
¨ Braj Ranjan Mani,
¨ Gail Omvedt
¨ V B Rawat, Vijay Ray Malaviya, Avinash Nimkar, Pramod Moon
Truth behind the Myth of Bali And Vaman:Braj Ranjan Mani
There is no document of civilization, in Walter Benjamin’s unsettling phrase, which is at the same time not a document of barbarism. Sadly, this is one of the odious but great truths about human history. The progress of civilization has co-existed with barbaric dehumanisation of the many. This duality, however, has always been a choice. For example, India’s dazzling economic turnaround is made possible on the cheap labour and exploitation of the suppressed majority. With people as intelligent, innovative and resourceful as those of India, the continuity of mass poverty is a choice, not a necessity. The continuance of socio-economic exclusion is the choice of India’s ruling class which subconsciously or otherwise carries forward the brahmanic mindset of discrimination, while paying lip service to democratic values and ideals. To a great extent, the lack of an inclusive spirit, justice and compassion in contemporary India results from the old and new paradigms of caste and brahmanic exclusion. The old oppressive ideas and practices constantly reinvent themselves in new forms to beat the heat from below, and the people at large fail to see how caste, class, gender, and religion-based inequalities are still being reproduced under the rubric of democracy.
In ancient India, the supposed glories of brahmanical caste culture were structured through the systematic enslavement of the toiling majority, that is, shudra-atishudra (the dalit-bahujans), and women. The Manusmriti and other Dharmashastras openly proclaim that knowledge, power and prosperity of the brahman must rest on the enforced ignorance, powerlessness and poverty of the shudra (“low” castes) and stree (women). This vicious enslavement was given a religious gloss and moral halo in many brahmanical texts. The ideological design and material recipe of mass subjugation became the “sacred” laws of the brahmanic culture and religion. There was a long egalitarian tradition of the Buddhist-shramanic and other challenges to caste and brahmanism. However, the latter after a long struggle became the dominant force in Indian society.
In modern India, beginning with the great Jotirao Phule (1827-1890), a range of dalit-bahujan activists struggled to understand the structural sources of caste and cultural oppression and undertook difficult voyages to the past. In the process they documented mind-numbing caste and gender atrocities in Indian society. They tore apart the brahmanic myth of the great Hindu civilization. They also ventured to dig out the tradition of the oppressed and their resistance to the brahmanic domination. These social radicals who struggled to build an emancipatory counter-culture, especially, Phule, Ambedkar, and Periyar have devastatingly demonstrated in their writings how what is called the “cultural treasure” of brahmanic Hinduism—studded with the often cited but rarely understood Vedas and Puranas—has an origin which cannot be contemplated without horror.
Here, we will deal with such a horror story in the famous legend of Bali and Vaman. We will see first its brahmanical version and then engage with its depiction in the dalit-bahujan folk tradition. Legends or myths give us an uncanny insight into human culture and society. Myth brings out the truth in a way that even the best of historiography is unable to. However, before we narrate the Bali-Vaman story as it emerges from the Puranic literature, it is important to remember, in the words of India’s most creditable brahman historian, “Most surviving Sanskrit literature has been the creation of Brahmins or in their possession, or in some way stamped by Brahminism” (D D Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, 1975: 101).
The Brahmanical Version
The Bali-Vaman story figures prominently in the Bhagavat Purana, Bhavishya Purana, and, of course Vaman Purana. In the Puranic narrative, King Bali is the descendant of an illustrious line of asuras or daityas (demons). Bali is righteous and benevolent, and leads a virtuous life full of meritorious deeds. As he is ever eager to do something good for his people, peace and prosperity reign supreme in his kingdom. The grateful subjects dearly love him and honour him as Mahabali (the great Bali). Impressed by his nobility and excellent governing ability, many kings from far and near accept his leadership and suzerainty. Thus, King Bali goes on to greatly expand his kingdom, and emerges as a model candidate to rule even the devas or the gods (read—the Aryan brahmans). The devas are alarmed at the prospect of being ruled by a demon king, and most worried is their king, Indra. Led by Indra, the devas approach Vishnu, their supreme prot -,:tor, who assures them that he himself will restore authority to the devas.
Vishnu’s leela (ruse) to overpower the Mahabali begins in right earnest. Vishnu incarnates himself as Vaman, a brahman dwarf, and approaches King Bali as a mendicant. Vaman begs the king to donate him land covering his three dwarfish steps. Bali who has vowed not to refuse anyone implores the dwarf to ask for something more substantial, but Vaman refuses to ask for anything more. Bali, though intrigued by the irony of the dwarf asking for such a pittance from a king of his stature, grants the wish, ignoring the warnings of his guru Shukracharya. Then Vaman rises to his monstrous form, and covers the whole earth in one step and the heavens in the second. Meanwhile, the asuras, seeing Vaman duping them, get enraged and start attacking the devas (who are accompanying Vaman) but they are restrained by Bali. For the third step, Vaman places his foot on the head of Bali and pushes him down to patala, the dark netherland. However, pleased by Bali’s supreme sacrifice and unwavering dharma (duty), Vishnu grants him the permission to visit his subjects once every year We also find a revealing Takshasutra (the verse of protection) in the Bhavishya Purana, wherein the brahman author tries to conceal the conspiratorial murderous assault on Bali, and instead presents Bali as entering into an agreement with the brahmans for eternal protection. This viciously hypocritical verse is still recited by the brahman priests while tying a thread on the hand of gullible shudras on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan whereby they are reminded to be loyal and meek like the mighty Bali.
Yen baddbo Baliraja, danavendro Mahabali,
Tentvam pratibaddhami, raksbe! maacbal maachal.
(I tie you (the devotee) today with the same purpose with which the mighty king, Bali Raja, the emperor of demons, was tied with the thread of protection. So don’t waver from your purpose. Keep steady [in your submission like Bali Raja].)
It may be pointed out that in the thread of this raksha-sutra is hidden the awareness of the shudra’s servile duty and the moral of remaining psychologically ever-ready for exploitation. The real meaning of this brahmanic abracadabra appears to erase the incendiary memory of the brutal killing of Bali from his descendants, and instead fool them with a fictional protection that was supposedly provided to their great ancestor. The mischievous author seems to suggest, concealing the actual brahmanical destruction of Bali, that the old bond of protection between the devotee (the enslaved shudra) and the protector (brahman) must continue! This is a classic case of the Devil quoting scripture.
The Dalit Bahujan Version
Folk versions of the Bali-Vaman story are well known all over India and still etched in the people’s imagination. In the brahmanical lore, Bali is an asura, a demon king, whom the brahman dwarf Vaman hoodwinks into a false position and crushes him to death. Why? Because Bali is an asura, and though he is a noble person and a good king, an asura is not supposed to be “good” or “noble;” so he has to be destroyed. King Bali, however, in the popular legend, is the noble indigenous king, who bravely wards off the attack of Aryan invaders. He keeps his kingdom free from discrimination and cruelty, crime and corruption. In this haven of safety, people do not even bother to close their doors. There is no poverty, sorrow, and disease in the kingdom, and people are happy and content. Those were the days, as Phule has said, when even the smoke was golden.
Despite variations in the details of the narrative, depending on time, space, region and language, the dalit-bahujan’s oral tradition stresses the great brahmanical treachery through which their beloved king was deceived and destroyed. Bali was killed despite his generosity by the deceitful brahman Vaman. In the dalit-bahujan eyes, Bali is a saviour par excellence, not a demon. Even in the extremely guarded and garbled brahmanic rendition, King Bali comes across as a just and kind ruler. A people’s hero, he identifies himself with his people and does whatever he can to make them happy and prosperous. Even at the time of being brutally eliminated by Vaman, the only wish Bali desires is to visit and bless his people. Even in his destruction and death, King Bali is thinking of his people.
The Utopia of Bali Raj
King Bali’s concern about his people and their welfare is majestic and touching. A parallel example of such poignant identification of a king with his people is difficult to find. No wonder, the people of Kerala still celebrate Onam, their biggest festival, to mark the yearly return of their beloved Mahabali. During the celebration, Onappottan, a symbolic representation of King Bali, visits homes and gives blessings contest has been a metaphor of the struggle between the original inhabitants and the Aryans that ravaged the subcontinent for many centuries after the Aryan invasion around the middle of the second millennium BC. The fabled brahmanical phrase for this prolonged Aryan-non-Aryan battle is devaasura sangram. Many old religio-mythical texts recount or allude to this bitter struggle. Any reader can see the explicitly racist tone and tenor of the brahmanical texts. The mere mention of asuras (read—the original inhabitants of the land) fill the anonymous brahman authors with disgust and antipathy. They use the most abusive, vituperative terms to describe the asuras whose very existence gives sleepless nights to devas, mocking their supposed superiority.
The dalit-bahujan folktales contest the garbled brahmanical narratives at various levels. The Bali-Vaman story invokes a radically different imagination in the hearts and minds of dalit-bahujans. Though the story is narrated in different idioms in different regions, the dream of the return of the ideal king to deliver his people from all sorts of troubles and sorrow still fascinates the dalit-bahujans. The conflicting brahman non-brahman interpretations of the story are sharp and clear. While the dalit-bahujans idolise the righteous Bali and consider themselves descendants of the wronged hero, the brahman’s love of Vaman and loathing of Bali still persist, as in the racially-charged Puranic narrative.
The brahmanic texts are candid enough in identifying Vishnu’s incarnation Vaman as brahman. Notice how close the very word Vaman is to baman or babhan—the way the common people all over India pronounce brahman. Still today, the village people call a brahman, a baman or babhan, not brahman, the “standard” pronunciation. Very obviously, in the myth as well as in the real life, Vaman is indistinguishable from brahman. Vaman or brahman crushed Bali to death.
Bali, on the other hand, is a part of a popular name of dalit bahujan people in many parts of India such as Baliraj and Baliram. Bali literally means sacrifice. Balidaan, the gift of Bali, is synonymous with sacrifice. There is little doubt that this meaning is directly related to the supreme sacrifice that King Bali made for his people he bravely battled with the invaders but was ultimately defeated by the organised brahmanic force which combined deception and actual violence.
We can understand the brahman-non-brahman antagonism in the story through a custom related to Bali, and known to every home in Maharashtra. Revealingly, in the homes of dalit-bahujans, the women honour the men coming home from the field with the gift of Dussera with Ida pida javo, Balica rajya yevo!—Let all troubles and sorrow disappear, and the Kingdom of Bali come! On the other hand, in brahman homes, the women observe the humiliating brahmanic custom of smashing the clay statue of Bali to felicitate the entry of their men.
Unmasking the Brahmanic Myth
It is not difficult to understand why the dalit-bahujans identify themselves with the tradition of King Bali, while those in the thrall of brahmanic culture relate to the Vaman tradition. In several significant ways, the Bali-Vaman myth gives us some crucial clues to understand India’s past which continues to have contemporary relevance. For this reason, it is important to see through the deceptive appearance and substantiate the hidden meaning and truth of this story.
Why was a kind and highly cultured king demonised as rakshas (demon), and the treacherous and violent Aryan brahmans glorified as devas (gods) in the Puranic literature? Is it innocent or viscerally racist? Does it betray the viciously racist mindset to demonise the other—in this case, the egalitarian indigenous people who were opposed to the dirty brahmanic politics?
Why did Vishnu, the god of gods, agree to debase himself in the guise of a brahman dwarf to trick a noble, magnificent ruler into giving up
power and hand it over to the corrupt and violent devas? Do the incarnated Vishnu and his fabled three steps which destroyed King Bali and his kingdom actually conceal the brahmanic conspiracy to rob the dignity and rights of the indigenous people? Was the fable concocted to mask the fraudulent and violent means through which the Aryan brahmans destroyed the ancestors of datitbahujans?
Why did Bali allow himself to be so easily befooled and robbed of his kingdom? Or did Bali, the king of the original inhabitants of the land, actually wage a war against his Aryan-brahman attackers but was overpowered, a fact which was cleverly concealed in the brahmanical narrative with a view to erase the memory of real historical struggle between the Aryan-brahmans and original inhabitants?
These are rhetorical questions as their answers are self-evident. There is little doubt though, that the Bali-Vaman story symbolises the contest between the original inhabitants and the invader Aryan brahmans over land, resources and power in ancient India. The story gives the clue that the indigenous people led by King Bali wanted a peaceful co-existence, while the Arvan brahmans were hell-bent on humiliating the indigenous people and usurping all their rights and property.
The struggle between Bali and Vaman appears to be a classic clash between two worldviews—one representing justice, peace, and equality, and the other injustice, violence and exploitation. If we read between the lines, the myth also unravels how the Aryan-brahmans would wield both ideological-religious weapons to confuse and demoralise their enemies as well as resort to physical violence to establish their monopoly power. In all probability, the brahman Vaman first stupefied and deceived the king of indigenous people with some religious hocus-pocus, rendering him confused and demoralised, and then frontally attacked and annihilated a confused and unprepared Bali.
As it appears, the brahmans knew they could not defeat Bali in a direct confrontation, so they decided to deceive him, taking him into confidence, and then sabotaged him from within with a cunning mixture of deceit, deception and violence.
Put another way, the legend tells its own allegorical tale how the Aryan brahmans employed everything-sama (manipulation), dama (coercion), danda (punishment), bhed (discrimination), niti (morality), kuniti (immorality)—to enslave the indigenous people as their dasa-shudra.
Mahatma Phule who struggled to build a cultural revolution to smash the ideological foundation of caste and brahmanism was the first in modern India to grapple with the real meaning and significance of the myth of the dispossession of King Bali by Vaman. Phule saw the myth, in his Gulamgiri, as the destruction of the equalitarian, agrarian communinity of Bali and the establishment of a hierarchical, brahmanical social order represented by Vaman. Phule lays great emphasis on first understanding the slavery of caste and brahmanism in its totality before launching a multi-pronged emancipatory struggle. For this, he underscores the need to re-read and rewrite India’s history and myth from the people’s perspective. In his Gulamgiri and other works, Phule himself attempted to write an alternative history of India which was utterly dismissive and derisive of the brahmanical version of India’s past and present.
Phule explains how through structuring a hierarchy of caste and a false religion, the Aryan brahmans devised a vicious system to enslave the native people as dasa, shudra and atishudra. Phule identifies the present-day shudra-atishudra (OBCs, dalits, and adivasis) as Balijan, the descendants of Bali, presenting them as the original inhabitants of the land, and sees the Aryan brahmans as the descendants of perfidious Vaman. Actually, Phule’s understanding of the sub-continent’s history, and his struggle for a democratic, casteless and inclusive society was centered on the symbol of Bali. Bali became for Phule the symbol of dalit-bahujan unity and struggle for an exploitation-free India. Phule called India Balistan, the land of Bali, and dreamed of Bali Raj, the reestablishment of an ideal society for which Bali lived and died. In his own brilliant way, Phule tried to retrieve the real meaning of this ancient legend and infused it with a vision for a new society.
Significantly, Phule also employed the image of Bali by recalling the Christian vision of a coming Redeemer, and the Judeo-Christian paradigm of all human history as the working out of a battle between good and evil. Phule called Jesus the “Bali Raja of the West.” He identified Jesus as the coming King Bali in many of his writings—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, seeing caste and brahmanism as an embodiment of evil, and the biggest stumbling block in the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the Indian subcontinent.
Phule’s Bali Raj was the utopia of an ideal and caste-free society. It was to be built through struggle, education, and rational thinking. He was aware that the establishment of Balistan and Bali Raj was not possible without providing a powerful religious alternative to the dalit-bahujans. Like many contemporary and subsequent social revolutionaries including Ambedkar, Phule was in the desperate search of a new and emancipatory religious identity for the caste-oppressed. His envisioning of Sarvajanik Satya Dharma (the True Religion of Truth)—also the title of his last book—was an attempt in that direction. As a social revolutionary who understood the power of culture and religion in the politics of transformation, Phule was passionate about the necessity to dismantle the caste-centric brahmanic Hinduism and build a new emancipatory religion.