A small, dusty study with stacks of books and periodicals, a typewriter encased in a wooden painted cabinet and a computer covered with a cloth. Other rooms in the house in Abadpura, a Dalit locality of Jalandhar, are stacked with more books, Dalit literature, copies of old newspapers and some spare copies of Bheem Patrika, the oldest and perhaps the only magazine on Ambedkarism published uninterrupted since 1958.
Seated at the ancient desk is editor and founder Lahori Ram Balley, still sharp as a whip even at 83 years. He takes a moment to assess whether we aren’t there to “waste his time”, gestures towards a sofa occupied by more books and then spends the next two hours recounting his fascinating story of how, two months “before the man died”, he came to give his word to Dr B.R. Ambedkar that he would devote his remaining life to spreading his message. Balley was then just one among the scores of Dalit volunteers who hung around Ambedkar in the 1950s: worshipping him like a God, ready to do his bidding at a glance.
The Bheem Patrika, which today is published in Hindi and English from Jalandhar, was in its early years an Urdu magazine that struggled to stay afloat under the stewardship of its impoverished editor. Balley, a matriculate, had studied Persian and Urdu and knew little Hindi and even less of English then (he later picked up both and even Russian). “During one of my numerous stints in jail, which I visited repeatedly for upholding Ambedkar’s ideology, I learnt Hindi...and in 1965 we began publishing the magazine only in Hindi, because by then there were few Urdu readers.” Unlike now, when he has scores of writers on his panel, it was hard to get material in the early days. “I and a couple of friends often wrote articles under different names, or reproduced the speeches and writings of Ambedkar in the Patrika.” It is today a magazine with a countrywide reach but modest circulation, which Balley refuses to exaggerate. The Patrika is the core around which Bheem Patrika Publications came up in 1963, publishing books on Ambedkar and making available his writings and speeches (translated into several Indian languages) for readers.
On September 30, 1956, Balley had gone to meet Ambedkar at his house on 1, Hardinge Avenue in Delhi on a day when the Dalit icon was extremely unwell. “I could see that he had only a few more days to live and there and then I promised him that I would devote the rest of my life to spreading his ideology in the world. Two months later, when he died, I resigned from my job at the government printing press, moved to Jalandhar and took up activism.”
He has joined every single campaign directed at getting more access to Ambedkar’s writings for people. He counts among his achievements the rescue and publication of scores of his speeches and writings, many previously unpublished, that were locked in six trunks and in the custody of the Bombay High Court for almost two decades after his death. “We appealed to the courts and to Ambedkar’s warring children to let us have access to those precious papers which had begun to deteriorate. The All India Samata Sainik Dal, founded by Ambedkar in 1927, had launched a movement to get his unpublished writings published and as a member of the Dal, I joined the effort. The Maharashtra government eventually published the manuscripts in 1979,” he says. But by then Bheem Patrika Publications had already brought out several translations of Ambedkar’s classic essay, Annihilation of Caste, based on his undelivered speech for the annual conference of Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore in 1936. (Ambedkar’s family filed a case against him for doing this.)
Balley and his publications have had the occasional brush with controversy too. Some of it is often provocatively anti-Hindu, and has been at the receiving end of RSS and other pro-Hindu organisations. His book, Hinduism, Dharam ya Kalank, which he claims has sold 10,000 copies in Nagpur alone, was banned by the Punjab government in 2009. This is one reason why some of Punjab’s Dalit activists, searching for a more harmonious integration of Dalits into mainstream society, disapprove of Balley’s “revolutionary ideas”. But as he puts it, “Dr Ambedkar had predicted that if India’s parliamentary democracy fails, there will be anarchy. We can see that happening in these times. With the spread of Maoism in India and the widespread appeal of their ideology among Dalits, I can foresee the Dalits being at the centrestage of the new upheaval that India is heading towards.” And his justification for this line of thought: “Ambedkar had said that if people cannot solve their problems through constitutional means, then they are at liberty to adopt unconstitutional means.” His is a diminishing tribe in the cacophony of modern-day Dalit politics, which he views with contempt for the “lip service they pay to the cause”.
Meanwhile, Bheem Patrika’s English edition was relaunched as a glossy new magazine in March this year, now reaching out to expat Dalits too, many of whom are also contributors. Though the magazine has an office in Jalandhar city and a small staff to run it, it is Balley’s book-strewn house in Abadpura which is still the nerve centre for this iconic Ambedkar journal.
Apropos Letter and Spirit, forget anything else, I am sure Bheem Patrika would not be getting advertisements from any source, not even the otherwise omnipresent government tenders or notifications.
Dalit magazine like Bheem Patrika does not receive advertisment from any source. This is a universal reality. The govt advts too are not released in dalit magazine. The Govt spend public money on advertisements. More often than not, govt advertisements are used as a favour towards many newspapers/journals on the basis of connection or influence or other extraneous factors. But the dalit have normally no such influences to exercise.
But certain percentage of public funds used for advertisements should be set apart for releasing to dalit magazines. In all public property, money or resources, dalits and tribals must have share proportionate to their population.
Argument might be advanced by anti-dalit lobby that dalit magazine does not enjoy wide readership. So public will not know the contents of advts., particularly for tenders, govt. notifications, etc. released to dalit magazines. Such logic or arguments are useless. If govt policy on release of advertisements including dalit magazines is declared and implemented uniformly the readership of dalit magazine will become a necessity for many who are particularly interested in tender notices, employment notices, gazettee notifications, land acquisition notices, etc.
The dalit magazines are unpopular among upper caste officers who enjoy powers to release advertisements. If these are dalit minister in such department, they are unable to overrule upper caste officers' logic. If at all they do so, they are accused as casteist. The mainstream newspapers would indulge in publicity against minister who would pass order as such.
The cause of unpopularity of dalit magazine is their content, style and manner of expression marked by strong feelings, anger, unrestrained accusation towards upper castes particularly against brahminical exploitation, torture, prejudice, oppression, social ostracization, etc. But that is the reality which we cannot ignore or deny. So a proportionate share of advertisement must go to dalit magazines, which are registered by Rigistrar of Newpapers of India. That shuld be the only or sole criteria for release of advts. Denial of advt to dalit magazine should be condemned strongly. Legislature or Partliament before passing budget of publicity department must obtain formal commitment regarding advt policy that will take care of release of advertisement to dalit magazine and periodicals invariably.
Govt advts are released to magazines managed by upper caste editors or management though many of them cater to obscurantism e. g. astrology, religious discourses, etc. that promote unscientific and orthodxy.
If as a policy
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