As one of the early readers of this work, with text by Srividya Natarajan and art by Aparajita Ninan, listed therein for my “insights, suggestions, encouragement”, most of my critique has been made and met. Some of it has been incorporated, some argued, some ignored. That’s the way Navayana seems to work, co-opting the critic.
Jotiba Phule belongs to an age when Maharashtrians threw their not-inconsiderable weight behind the ideas of social reform. With his wife Savitri, he pioneered the education of girls, accepting them without referring to their caste antecedents. In today’s world where elite schools are fighting to exclude the children of the underprivileged, that would be radical enough. In the 1840s, it was close to unthinkable.
And it was unthinkable to brahminical Hinduism. They threw stones and dirt at the Phules as they went about their noble work of educating young women. Phule returned the favour with a savage broadside, Gulamgiri, on which this work is largely based. Some of his critique seems to blur the boundary between the symbolic and the literal but there is no doubting the honest intent behind the work. (It was offered at 12 annas to the general public but at six annas to the poor and the outcaste.)
You should get yourself a copy of A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty before some right-wing militant organisation gets its dander up. Once again, as in Bhimayana, the Navayana graphic novel on the life of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, the past is conflated with the present so that Narendra Modi is shown harping while Muslims burn. Different pasts are also juxtaposed so that a line is drawn between the system of slavery and the varna system. However, Bhimayana was expensive because it was printed in colour. In order to make this book available to a wider audience, it has been published in black and white. There may be a critique in that somewhere.
By Jerry Pinto on January 05 2012 6.30pm