Baba Adhav, at 84 remains a doyen of the working class movement having organised the unorganised section of India's working class, the ragpicker, the domestic worker into what Pune and many parts of Maharashtra proudly know as the Hamal Panchayats. Hamals, mainly from backward castes, came from all over rural Maharashtra to Pune's markets, unloading heavy sacks of grain or cement on their backs all day, with barely enough time off to find food, and no house, which meant they would sleep in the same market. Today, Hamals are organised in over 35 locations of Maharashtra.
Affordable and clean food run by the cooperative efforts of the Panchayat, housing colonies owned and built by them, Adhav remains committed to the ideals of equality and non-discrimination –socialism–the ideals of the Indian freedom movement. In this special interview with Teesta Setalvad, co-editor, Communalism Combat, Adhav, analyses how caste stratification and exclusion remains the basis of India's polity and says that until a social, educational and political programme to tackle the inequities of caste is undertaken, Indian democracy will simply adjust to this system of stratification, exclusion and discrimination, not confront it.
Baba Adhav,a leading figure in the working class movement in Maharashtra, expressed,in an interview, his views on inequality within the social sphere and the path to greater political mobilization of the masses. “Awareness among those who are making demands has increased”, he said, “but economic inequalities have increased more”.
The Indian political framework is based on a foundation of inequality, Adhav said, and depends on a sense of disparity. For this, he faults the education system in the nation which does not offer an understanding of discrimination based on gender, religion or caste and therefore cannot spark a struggle against the same. An education that focuses on values is lacking and is what is required to remedy this.
Speaking of recent political trends in the nation, Adhav said that those in power today focus on a rhetoric of religious identity. To these persons, he addressed the question. “Do you value the constitution or not?” The Indian public can no longer be fooled by politicians, Adhav believes. They are an intelligent people and have courage. The situation may be difficult today but, through struggle, it can be remedied.
Adhav identified a certain political alienation with regard to the youth. Most parties have been unable to form ties with this demographic and if young people are politically active, they are allied with parties like the Shiv Sena. He sees in this a reflection of the youth’s tendency for superficial shows of involvement and a lack of willingness to truly struggle.
Speaking of his current projects, Adhav said that the natural disasters in Kashmir present an important moment in India-Kashmir relations. “If India wants Kashmir, the people of India have to stand with Kashmir now.”
The issues that plague India have not been eliminated, they have merely shifted, Adhav maintained. He began his struggle with the one village, one well campaign, and while water scarcity may no longer be what Maharashtra struggles with, issues of gender and caste remain. “Today the issue is not one of water but has become one of inter-caste marriage, for which the killing of Dalits continues.”
Returning to education, Adhav said that constitutional values must be incorporated within the body of educational material that is provided to the youth. Whether this was a task he would undertake himself remains to be seen but it remains a crucial goal nevertheless.