Months after Dalit teenager Nitin Aage was allegedly murdered by upper caste men in Kharda village, Ahmednagar, a grass-root-level movement has sprung up there, to counter caste-based violence and discrimination.
Led by Dhiraj Maharaj Sharma, a traditional kirtankar (itinerant minstrel) from the same taluka, this movement uses the age-old works of sants to oppose caste violence and untouchability prevalent in the area.
Aage, a teacher, was allegedly killed by upper-caste men, in Kharda, after it was discovered that he was romantically involved with an upper-caste woman. Sporadic violence and discrimination against Dalits have been reported from various parts of the district and the state.
Sharma, a Brahmin and a member of the Varkari community, came up with the idea of using kirtans to fight caste discrimination during his studies of the sacred cantos of the Varkari sect.
“Books tell us that saints had fought against caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability. But major kirtankars today do not incorporate these issues in compositions,” he said. On an experimental basis, Sharma included such aspects in his usual repertoire of kirtan. This approach, he said, would be more helpful in fighting casteism, rather than by other means as the works of the saints are still held sacred by people. Holy literature is profuse with compositions sensitising against discrimination from the beginning, he said.
Sharma said that his father, who is a member of the Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Palkhi committee, had broached the subject during committee meetings but it failed to cut ice with other members.
With his team of 10 men, Sharma at present is holding regular kirtans in his taluka and hopes for support from the social welfare department to spread it across the state.
Citing one of his success stories, Sharma said that post a kirtan in the village of Therwadi, the sarpanch decided to start the distribution of scholarships to Dalit students which had been stopped since many years before.