Lifelong struggle against the caste system to create a life of dignity

By Yogesh Maitreya,

Sushma Andhare is well known today among Dalit/Ambedkarite movement. She is a professor and teaches sociology and political science. But that isn’t her only identity; she is an excellent orator too (her speeches especially attract women); she is active in a movement for tribals. And importantly, she is a writer.

Ms. Sushma Andhare

Her father belonged to Wanjari community and her mother Kolhati, traditionally (as per caste system) considered as outcaste in Maharashtra. Her journey to become what she is now wasn’t easy and can only be seen as struggle against society paralysed by the institution of caste.

Her early childhood was very tumultuous as she depicts:

“My father Dattarao Gutte belonged to Wanjari community and mother Kolhati. My father married twice before and since these marriages did not give him progeny, he married to my mother. There wasn’t any harmony between my parents. Hence, my grandfather kept me with him. And he had taken care of me. While registering me at the school when he was asked what the name of my parents was, he said his name and since then I become Sushma Dagadu Andhare. He used to recite Kabir’s songs for me and put great impression on my life. Today, when people suggest me to change the name, I do not do that. I am proud of my grandfather since what I am today because of him.”

Thanks to her grandfather Sushma was able to complete her education until 10th standard with relative ease but her real struggle started afterwards. After 10th, she started facing opposition for her education. Her financial situation worsened. To survive in such an environment, she started to give speeches for which she used to get paid. Through this, somehow she managed to complete her M.A, B.Ed., and Ph.d. and then came the time when she got involved into Dalit/Ambedkarite movement. While recalling to her first impression and interaction with Ambedkarite movement, she says:

Sushma Andhare at the iftar party of Minority Welfare Committee of India this past Ramadan.

“At a friend’s house, whose family was Buddhist, I first read ‘Buddha and his Dhamma’, ‘Gulamagiri’ and ‘Who were Shudras’ and my entire life has got changed. I, who used to read to give speeches and earn money, now I started reading for myself. And this is how I started reading literature from Ambedkarite movement and became an activist.”

This has gained her confidence and dignity. So when there was an issue over celebrating Dr. Ambedkar’s anniversary at her earlier college, she says:

“few students decided to celebrate Ambedkar’s anniversary to which I lend my full support and it has created chaos and uneasiness among few people there, so I gave my resignation from that college.”

Further, on such issue she has given resignation from the post of editor of Dainik Loknayak. This only illustrates her respect for the movement and uncompromising attitude when it comes to dignity and truth; but it had some consequences too. Though, she says this with ease and confidence, her journey to reach here is stark and dangerous as she depicts in her words:

“So far, there are many attacks taken place over me. There were attempts to set me aflame. People have pelted stones over me like a rain. Once, in one of the assembly, activists of Bajrang Dal came and put sword over my neck. But I survived all these. I am not scared of this now. Now I just want to fight back. Had I been scared before, it wouldn’t have possible for me to create my independent identity. Hence I just want to fight back now.”

Her take on discourse of feminism is also very much different than that of popularist, elitist and upper caste discourse. She says:

“Struggle of upper caste women can be seen into any feminist women in the world. But struggle of Dalit feminists are three-fold. Firstly this fold is as woman, secondly as Dalit and thirdly as a Dalit woman, in which we can only see struggle to live and fight for dignity.”

Sushma has written an anthology of poetry, titled, ‘Shapit Painjan’ which is thought provocative in which she portrays the life of women from Kolhati community, their struggle to live, make livelihood and exploitation by upper caste men. Recently she has started ‘Sammyak Counselling Centre’ in which students are adopted from villages, Dalit community and responsibilities are taken of their education, and make them prepare for civil services.


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