Social Scientist. v 22, no. 254-55 (July-Aug 1994) p. 18.


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not meld. To illustrate, Phule cites the very different kinds of observances of the festival of Dussehra by Brahmins and non-Brahmins. For the latter, Dussehra is the day vouchsafed for the return of the beneficent King Ball to the kingdom of which he had been deprived by the perfidious agents of Aryan hegemony. For the Brahmins, however, Dussehra was the day to celebrate the banishment of the Asura king Ball. (It must be borne in mind that the context of these references is Marathi folk custom).

Far from according the Vedas the status that the German philologists and the emerging Arya Samaj movement were seeking to give it, Phule denounced the texts as part of the apparatus of Aryan hegemony. In order to overpower and keep the Shudras in thraldom for ages, he argued, the Aryans 'produced many spurious religious tracts and claimed to have received them directly from God as revelations...

They further concocted many legends in their books to the effect that the conquered people should serve the usurpers faithfully . . . But yet, says Phule, 'even a cursory and casual acquaintance with these spurious tracts is enough to explode the myth of their divine origin'.36

Phule's ideological project was of a nature that impelled him into a direct collision with those like Tilak. Yet, for two persons whose political careers partially overlapped, there is little evidence of any major interaction between Phule and Tilak. The fragmentary evidence that does exist, seems to suggest that there was never any overt tension between the two. Phule, in fact, was the moving spirit behind the public felicitation of Tilak and his associate G.G. Agarkar, after the two were released from four months of imprisonment for their courageous journalistic work against the British. There has been, for this, and various other reasons, an effort to assimilate two such divergent personalities as Tilak and Phule into a common ideological stream.37 The two are today considered equally, to be part of the great Marathi cultural and political resurgence of the late nineteenth century. This is a characteristic tendency of the Congress brand of nationalism, that seeks to fudge the ideological differences and social tensions that were manifest in the course of the freedom struggle. This is a pretence that is integral to the Congress' self-image as a single party that in microcosm, represents a single nation, in all its diversities and pluralities. But it is a pretence that is clearly wearing thin.

Tilak perhaps was cautious in his public utterances on Phule. But his close friend and political associate—in some senses, his spiritual mentor—Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar, was not so. In a series of polemics, articles and letters, Vishnu Shastri, who counted himself among the most orthodox of Brahmins, engaged Phule in a running battle. One of the characterisations he used to describe Phule was the following: 'the sorriest of scribblers with just the clothing of humanity on him'.38 Vishnu Shastri was the son of Krishna Shastri Chiplunkar,



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