Too much are the miseries of the living beings/ How can one tolerate?”: Historicizing Anticaste Resistance of Bhima Bhoi
Ms Shibangi Dash
Assistant Professor of English, Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India
Unlike the popular strongholds of Dalit movements in India like Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu, Odisha has not seen a fervent protest against the caste system. But it does not rule out the fact that Odisha does not experience discrimination on the basis of caste. Religion has been the main anchor of social dominance in this coastal state. Caste has primarily been shaped by brahmanism and feudalism in Odisha. Sporadic movements have cropped up time and again to voice out the displeasures of the oppressed. A secular socio-literary movement can be stressed out in the middle of the fifteenth century when a strong social protest was made against social injustice and caste inequalities. Sarala Das and thereby the group of five comrades known as panchasakha spearheaded the movement. Subsequent to them another movement was Mahima Dharma founded by Mahima Gosain and later popularized by the kondh poet Bhima Bhoi. In this paper, I aim to interrogate the caste politics of Odisha through the lens of Mahima Dharma and particularly Bhima Bhoi. Mahima Dharma was a heterodox movement reviving the Vaishnava ethics that every human shares an equal relationship with god. For this I aim to analyze critically Bhoi’s spiritual autobiography Stuti Chintamani. I intend to outline the history of Dalit resistance in Odisha which began in the medieval period, followed by the social context which led to the rise of Mahima Dharma. I also aim to explore Bhoi’s identity as a kondh which had marginalized him, yet it is through his autobiographical work that he was able to rewrite his self and identity. He scathingly presented his social critique through his autobiographical voice and Stuti Chintamani was his tool of political resistance where an individual represented the community.
My paper further interrogates the appropriation and brahmanization of Jagannath cult and how the practice of untouchability had entered into his cult thereby inviting critique from Mahima Dharma. I also look into the politics of language in facilitating the anticaste movement of Bhoi. The propagation of the concept of Alekha which stressed on the importance accorded to the oral can be drawn sharply against the brahmanical Hinduism which was scriptural. Alongside, my effort is also to examine why Mahima Dharma could not impact society in a way so as to alter it, in spite of its alternative perceptions/visions that contained dreams and ideas based on egalitarianism and equality that contested the established order.