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Songs of the dawn: how the Bhim Yatra articulated protest and hope

SHRIYA MOHAN | Updated on: 14 April 2016, 18:02 IST

The Bhim Yatra is back in Delhi just in time for BR Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. The busful of Safai Karamchari Andolan activists have been on a 125-day tour of 500 districts across 30 states to take Ambedkar's teachings to the masses.

The journey started from Dibrugarh on 10 December

, the International Human Rights Day, and ended on April 13, the eve of Ambedkar's birth anniversary.

"What better way to celebrate Ambedkar's birthday than to take his message to the people of this country," says the national convenor of Safai Karamchari Andolan Dr Bezwada Wilson. "That is what the Bhim Yatra has done in his honour."

The overarching message of Bhim Yatra was: "stop killing us". The key demands: elimination of manual scavenging, end to deaths in sewers and septic tanks through the introduction of mechanised cleaning, fair compensation for the families of those lost to manual scavenging.

The journey itself was a source of strength, awareness, healing and coming together for the Dalit community. Each evening, after Bhim Yatris gathered with local communities to discuss issues pertaining to their rights, livelihood and justice, one of them would read poetry from Dalit poets - some famous, others relatively unknown.

Here's a sample collection of poems read during the course of Bhim Yatra.

Day 78

Robert's Ganj, Mirzapur

The pangs of pain which the clouds bear

Subside in a moment when they shed.

They wander here and there

Like a bunch of novices

Copulating with the winds.

But the mother in throes,

Her woes all over the sky,

Dimly remember the time before she conceived.

Through lanes and alleys she tramples

The bulge in her belly,

To calm her intense hunger

With a mere handful.

When labour begins, her head holds a load,

And her eyes, a shadow of anxiety for food,

Under burning skies and a hot, breathless wind

Rise the infant's first cries,

Saying: world, now I see you for myself.

Thus she delivers, and her hands

Set fiercely to work again.

Like the clouds, whose pangs

Take just a moment to subside.

- Baban Chahande

Day 81

Gandhi Maidan and Gardanibagh, Patna

Our gods do not hide

Within the Brahman

Or tell stories only

In the language known

To the few.

They enter the loose,

Betel-chewing mouth of the

Nappy-haired Thangasamy

Posses him

Jive in him

Tell signs in our language

Eat pig flesh

Drink arrack

Smoke a cigar

And settle down amongst us

In the ghettoes

Next to sewer ditches

In the no-man's land.

- ND Rajkumar 

Day 82


We are the aboriginals

This is our land

We, in any condition, will make it

Manual scavenging free.

This land is ours

We will cry for the sky too.

- Poet unknown

Day 93


Beef, Dear Me


Oh, what great savor!

I see now why in Vedic days,

They used to gulp down a piece a day in the name of yagams.

What great look!

When chopped into small pieces

And put in bubbling oil, it's so delectable

Daubing thickly chilly and salt

Spices to add to

And gulped down,

It slides down the guts, so ticklish, my brother!

When the dried piece is roasted,

It wafts around a dozen houses.

How do I tell you

If I miss it any day,

I miss myself, my brother.

- Inala Saidulu

Day 101


In Delhi, civil society members met President Pranab Mukherjee and gave him a letter to end manual scavenging, stop sewer deaths. The letter quoted the poem below and said "Prahlad Chendwankar's 'empty advice' almost matches the what we are getting from this government".

This country which demands

A pot of blood

For a swallow of water,

How can I call it mine

Though it give the world

The (empty) advice of peace?

- Prahlad Chendwankar

First published: 13 April 2016, 19:52 IST