The UP Folklore and Mayawathi

Its been a point of great interest when I actually came across this particular piece in one of the news papers over here. Folk heroes / Heroines can make you win votes and seats is amazing come on you lofty politicians here is a lesson for you snatch it and keep going…..

Look at what one of my fellow blogger writes on Mayawathy’s success formula of Folk combinations….

These battles of the mind won, the BSP had another challenge. When Kanshi Ram passed the baton on to Maywati, the BSP cadres were faced with the challenge of selling a woman leader to the masses. The 1857 memories were again revived to erect statues and disseminate stories of the contribution of Mahaviridevi (popular in the Muzaffarnagar region), that of ‘Courageous Lady’ Jhalkaribai ( popular in Bundelkhand and central UP), who along with her husband Makka Pasi is said to have laid down her life in the revolt at Sikendarabagh in Lucknow. In the region touching Madhya Pradesh, the folk stories of Avantibai Lodhi have been propagated. The three women belong to different Dalit communities but the attempt has been to make them popular amongst all Dalits, and then show ‘Iron Lady’ Mayawati as coming from this rich tradition of Dalit women heroes.

Queen Avantibai

The Interview has been taken from (courtesy: Indiatimes.com)

Badri Narayan is a social historian and cultural anthropologist. He teaches at the G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. In an e-mail interview with Avijit Ghosh, he discusses the cultural assertion of Dalits in north India:

We have seen the political assertion of Dalits in UP. Is there a parallel on the cultural front?

My book, Women heroes and Dalit assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics, shows how Dalits of north India, especially of UP, are selectively retelling their traditional folk stories and how they are creating new stories. It focuses on invention, formation and reconstruction of cultural resources of Dalit communities in the new social-political condition and their use in the construction of contemporary Dalit identity by the communities themselves and by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Cultural resources in the form of myths, memories, histories and heroes are key factors in BSP’s growing electoral success. Some of the women heroes (viranganas) associated with these myths were culled out by the BSP to build up the image of their leader Mayawati. Women heroes such as Jhalkari Bai, Uda Devi, Mahaviri Devi, Avanti Bai and others were selected by BSP and used to build the image of Mayawati.
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Jhalkari Bai, a little known chapter on a woman’s courage in colonial India Click here for the story (rediff.com)

But Jhalkari Bai’s saga is a study in contrast. She was the ‘double’ of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, the legendary warrior who fought the invading British army in the first War of Independence. A little known figure in Indian history, Jhalkari Bai lives on in the folklore of the Bundelkhand region.

Laxmibai was struck by Jhalkari’s uncanny resemblance to her. After being told about her courage, she ordered Jhalkari’s induction into the Durga Dal. Jhalkari, along with the other village women, was trained in shooting and igniting the cannons at a time when the Jhansi army was being strengthened to face any British intrusion.

When Jhalkari Bai fought as Lakshmi Bai,Usha Bande

(Tribuneindia.com Click here )

One of Lakshmi Bai’s favourite female soldiers was Jhalkari Bai, the chief of Durgavahini, the women’s force. A Koree by cast, Jhalkari remained Lakshmi Bai’s close associate and helper during the battle.

Historical records reveal that an internal informer betrayed Jhalkari out of jealousy. Uncertain about her true identity, the British vacillated for a while but when convinced that the so-called ‘Rani’ was not the queen of Jhansi but a maid named Jhalkari impersonating as Lakshmi Bai, they released her. Jhalkari, it is said, lived till 1890 and became a legend in her time. Extolled for her bravery and acumen, she found place in many ballads of the time.

Big story: It lies in the small tales
(Times of India)

MYSTERIOUS GIRL!

That warrior Uda Devi joined the hallowed ranks of women revolutionists like Rani Laxmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal to free the state from the British yoke is well known.
“I’ve heard that the unknown woman soldier at Sikanderbagh has now been named as Uda Devi. But there’s no mention of anyone by this name in any of the Mutiny records that historians have looked at. On the other hand, there’s more than one account of an armed woman who was sitting in a large peepal tree in the Residency’s walled enclosure , and picking off the Highlanders as they came into the garden. When a number of bodies were observed piling up under the tree, a sergeant was ordered to shoot into the branches. This he did, and a body fell on the ground, its bodice opening to reveal a woman soldier. But she was not an Indian! In fact, the dead woman was one of Wajid Ali Shah’s Amazons – a group of African women brought in as slaves – who formed part of the Nawab’s retinue. They were dressed in men’s uniform and rode on horseback to accompany their master.”

It’s not for nothing that we Indians are called a forgiving nation ! History has many such examples according to historian Dr Yogesh Pravin, who talks of the inexplicable regard that people in Musabagh, a village near Lucknow, have for an English Captain referred to fondly as Gora baba. “The English might be despised for their years of rule here,” he recounts, “but Captain F Wales, who died fighting the mutineers in Musabagh in 1857, is actually worshipped by people around the place. The locals offer cigarettes and alcohol on his mazaar for the Baba was said to be fond of smoking and drinking. Moreover, inexplicably , people have forever believed that by offering prayers at his mazaar, their prayers would be fulfilled. All this is regardless of the fact that he was an English soldier who opposed the mutineers!”

How and why are they being viewed as symbols of Dalit assertion?

These heroes symbolise the claim of the Dalits having played a major role in the making of the Indian nation and help them prove their legitimacy to rule in the present. These stories enable them to assert that they had sacrificed more tha
n any other caste for this nation. Hence, they have more right over the welfare policies and schemes launched by the government. Through these stories they also claim that they produced brave and committed women leaders in the past and their leader Mayawati represents a continuum of that history.

What are the Dalit memories of 1857?

Dalits in their popular narratives remember 1857 more than any other phase of the national movement. They remember many histories of British oppression on Dalit villages in Avadh and between Allahabad and Kanpur. They have many touching local histories linked with trees and tunnels where they made sacrifices in the 1857 rebellion. They also claim that the 1857 rebellion was triggered by Matadin Bhangi, a Dalit in the Barrackpore cantonment, since it was he who exposed the presence of animal grease in the cartridges to Mangal Pandey.

How did BSP use historical material to expand its electoral base?

Maharashtrian heroes of Dalit movement were also renarrated in UP’s bahujan politics. But BSP laid more emphasis on the heroes who were already part of the collective memories of local Dalit societies. BSP brought these local caste heroes in the public space by installing statues at chaurahas, building memorials in the parks and organising and supporting various celebrations around these heroes. Gradually they were transformed as symbol of Dalit self-respect.

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