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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 12, March 18, 2023

Journey from Extremist Hindu to Humanist Ambedkarite: A Conversation with Dalit Author Bhanwar Meghwanshi | Neeraj Bunkar

Saturday 18 March 2023


by Neeraj Bunkar

Abstract: In this interview, Meghwanshi recollects his experience in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his active engagement in the fact-finding group for the Gujarat riot, 2002. He characterises his book I Could Not Be Hindu as a “guide note” not only for fighting against the RSS but to show a path to Dalit youths who, knowingly and unknowingly, get caught in the trap of the Sangh Parivar organisations and their mission of hatred. His transformation from hardcore RSS member to Ambedkarite humanist is a lesson for all the people of India that hatred spares no one. He highlights the situation of the people from the Other Backward Class (OBC) community, who are living in the illusion of being superior and participating in the riots and atrocities against Dalits. He exposes the dual nature of civil society which claims to lead oppressed people but often serves its own vested interests.

Keywords: Bhanwar Meghwanshi; Gujarat; RSS; Dalit; Ambedkarite

My heartfelt desire is that there comes a day when
the words ‘love’ and ‘life’ become synonymous.
Then words like’ love jihad’ won’t even matter
(Meghwanshi 2020: 220)

Dalit [1] literature, which includes stories, poems, autobiography, and other literary genres, did not get the kind of platform it deserved. The poignancy and sincerity with which the writers coming from the Dalit community have narrated their experiences in their writings, whether in a fictional or non-fictional setting, is truly remarkable but very recently the started getting recognition in the literary spaces. However, with the rise of the Dalit Panther [2] in Maharashtra in the 1970s, Dalit literature dramatically began to make its mark in the literary world. People started writing their life stories in the form of poetry and the novel from their standpoint. They started coming together and forming literary groups. This interview is based on Bhanwar Meghwanshi’ s autobiography I Could Not Be a Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS. He is an Indian social activist, author, and journalist who was born in 1975 into a Kabirpanthi weaver family in Sirdiyas village situated in the Bhilwara District of Rajasthan, India. He studied Art and Literature at college, where he started taking an interest in journalism. He did report writing for local newspapers and then worked as an editor for (Dahakte) Angare, a fortnightly newspaper, for two years. He was active in student politics and formed an independent student organisation named Vidhyarthi Adhikar Rakshak Sangh(The Student Right Protection Group). His autobiography adds another step to the legacy of Dalit literature, his book is of a different kind as it not only highlights pitiable world of Dalit life but also exposes the unjust and caste-based hierarchical behaviour of the RSS and so-called intellectuals.

   Meghwanshi joined the RSS [3] in childhood but left after realising the reality of its activities. He also played a role in various Ambedkarite human rights organisations, participating in struggles for the constitutional rights of Dalit, tribal and nomadic communities. Knowing the importance of social media, he started engaging with it in 2011, operating and editing, before he started work with His successful operation and editing of website and YouTube channels continue till today. During this period, he received the “Best Citizen Journalist Award”, the “Bhauruka Charitable Trust Award”, the “Sarojini Naidu Award” and “International Ambedkar Award” for continuous engagement in rural journalism and with deprived sections of Indian society. In addition to journalism, he also played a role in writing and publishing. So far, he published a dozen books with Main Ek Karsevak Tha being a best seller. It’s English translation, I Could not Be Hindu, was named as a notable book in the Telegraph list of the year 2020. The book has also been published in Tamil and Marathi translations.

Ever since, he has been a prominent Dalit voice campaigning against the RSS vision of a Hindu Rashtra ‘in which the Brahmin will rule, the Dalit will serve and those of other religions will be persecuted’. It took him 10 years to unlearn what the pracharaks taught and another 10 to understand his own community, country, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s teachings and Constitution of India. His mission now is to help other Dalits find their voice and to rescue those who have been fooled into thinking that becoming RSS-approved Hindus is for Bharat’s greater good. In this interview, he pointed to the dual nature of civil society and how it works when it comes to the question of Dalits. More than 60% of India’s population belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), however, they are underrepresented in both public and private sectors, but they do not feel the urgent need for change. They are at the frontlines of Hindutva politics, which is built on the tension between Hindus and Muslims over religion. Meghwanshi freely discusses the appalling circumstances facing OBCs in the nation. He recounts an account of his life when RSS men threw away food, prepared at his home, which was a turning point in his life when he finally decided to leave the RSS. A person who was ready to do anything for the RSS, even went to jail, ran away from the home without informing the family members to demolish the Babri Masjid (Mosque), he did his best to contribute to the RSS’s agenda of making India a Hindu nation and drive the Muslims out of the country. However, when RSS members practised casteism with him, he was shattered psychologically, but he shortly found his new path, which was the path of Ambedkarism [4].

I learnt compassion from my mother,
and fearlessness from my father,

(Meghwanshi 2020: 135)

Neeraj Bunkar (NB) [5]: Hello and welcome to this discussion, Mr Meghwanshi. My first and most important question for you is, what inspired you to write about your experience with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and publish a translation under the English title I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS?

Bhanwar Meghwanshi (BM): Thank you so much. Because I am a writer by profession, I keep writing on many other subjects, but the experiences I had with the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Ram Janmabhoomi (Rama’s birthplace, as claimed by religious groups) movement urged me to express my views [6]. I wanted to write about those experiences. I have observed that Dalit autobiographies that are written in India are more of an expression of agony, problems, and mourning than a genuine attempt towards life writing. I believe that we are not only victims, but at the same time Dalits who resist injustice and oppression. It is not that Dalits have tolerated what happened and have become victims and cry for rest of their lives. In I Could not Be Hindu, I have attempted to express that whatever happened to us (Dalits) was a form of retaliation in order to expose the RSS and its casteist practices and to speak out for the Dalit community, rather than simply exposing the pitiful world of Dalits. The motive behind the book is to bring forward the voice of protest/ and resistance into Dalit autobiography. We (Dalits) are not here to garner sympathy and applause for our writing or to shed tears in front of society, but we are saying that despite what you (the RSS and Upper caste Hindus) did to us, we are resolute in our mission and will continue to raise questions without being afraid.

NB: One could say that you carried out an experiment with this book! “My desire for vengeance was slowly becoming a desire for transformation”, you write (Meghwanshi 2020: 115). What is the vision it represents?

BM: First of all, it was the incident when RSS members discriminated against me, threw away my home cooked food; if it would have been my personal pain, I would not have bothered much but this pain is not only mine, these types of experiences are also being faced and felt by millions of citizens in their daily lives. There are 25 crores people of this country who are Dalits, tribals, with most of them, this is more or less the same situation every single day. I thought about how the individual suffering could be harnessed for the transformation of the community. I thought I wouldn’t do it for personal revenge; rather, this work should be done for the sake of change, in the direction of collective change. I decided: there is the huge structure of RSS, which claims that they are the biggest organization in this country and indeed the world. They talk about Hindu fraternity and harmony. But the rot of casteism that exists among them must be exposed, and for that, I have made a concerted effort. There is no longer any desire to take personal revenge, we are followers of Dr. Ambedkar and Buddha, where there is no space for hatred and revenge. And where all the work is for positive change and not for revenge.

NB: You have also shed light on the condition of the backward class in your book, comparing them to a self-obsessed peacock who does not observe its feet while dancing. Because if he looks, the unsightliness of his feet will be unveiled, and his beauty fantasies will be shattered. Why did you choose this metaphor to represent the OBC (Other Backward Classes)? 

BM:You see, that is indeed a metaphor. The peacock is a symbol. But the fact is OBC [7], which is backward in the administrative term and in government documents, cannot be termed as truly backward classes citing social and economic privileges. They are not ready to accept the origin of their community. If we look at the four Varna system of Hindus, then they are Shudra- situated at the bottom of the social hierarchy. And still, they are not ready to accept their position in the system and they believe that people from scheduled caste (SC) or Dalits are the ones who fall under the fourth varna (Shudra). The Sanskritization [8] that has taken place or the feeling of moving upwards in the social hierarchy has increased in OBC communities, and because of all this, when they want to create association, they never want to associate themselves with Dalits. Rather they associate themselves with the Kshatriyas or Brahmins. In the present day, I would like to point out that based on data collected from all over India, we can say that most of the atrocities committed against Dalits are done by the backward classes. So, the one who is from a backward class is actually at the forefront of committing atrocities. The OBC do not consider themselves to be Shudras, nor do they consider themselves to be backward, nor do they stand with the Dalits. They emerge only at the time of political equation when votes have to be cast. I believe that they do not want to be recognized as backward just as the peacock doesn’t want to recognize his feet while dancing. The concepts of Dalit-Backward, Bahujan, Indigenous (Mulnivasi) would be successful only when their atrocities towards Dalits stop. I believe that if Brahmin, Capitalist-Baniya and Feudal-Kshatriya commit atrocities and we are against them, then I cannot turn a blind eye on a person belonging to OBC, who is known as Kamma, Gounder, Patel, Maratha, Yadav, Jaat, and Gujjar, across the country with different surnames. My concern is towards my society (Dalit community), and I don’t want to jeopardize my society for any political equation which is artificial and exists like a mirage. And I have this strong opinion and I am saying this based on data, which is related to atrocities committed against Dalits, of last two decades, in which you will find that 80 percent of the accused are from OBC; this is a serious matter, the leaders of backward class should also think about it.

NB: So, can you think of any alternatives in which the OBC community could come together and join hands with the Dalits?

BM:I believe OBC is not a class/category. There is no sense of class nor any consciousness among OBCs. On the other hand, Dalits have that sentiment. Today if we see prominent Dalit leaders whether it is Jotirao Phule, Savitri Mai, Jagdeo Prasad Kushwaha, or Lalai Singh Yadav, they all come from the OBC community, but Dalits consider all of them as their ideals. If Jotirao Phule [9] is accepted by the people of the Mali community, it is only because he belongs to the same caste, not because of his revolutionary thoughts, which he exposed in the books like Gulamgiri (Slavery), Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator’s Whipcord). As a result, we must understand that unless OBCs develop a sense of class/category, they will not realize that they are Shudras and oppressed, they will not be able to join the Dalit struggle. In today’s context, OBCs have land as their social capital, they have emerged politically stronger since the Mandal commission Report [10], their representation in the bureaucracy has increased, and they are visible in every field, be it governance or business. They have emerged as a dominant community. They are also neo-feudal, neo-brahminist and neo-capitalist. All the signs of feudalism are visible in the OBC community. I’d like to point out that the backward class (OBC) is carrying the rotten corpses of Brahmanism and Manuwad on their shoulders.

NB: In your book, you vividly describe the 2002 Gujarat riots  [11], for which you have held Narendra Modi responsible. When you went to Gujarat on a fact-finding assignment to compile a report on the Gujarat riot, you returned and wrote an article in which you compared Hindus to Talibanis. Was that a fair comparison at the time, and does it still hold true today?

BM: First, I don’t call it a riot, I call it a planned genocide. When there is a riot, one community attacks another community, some people are killed from one community and some people are killed from another community. That was not the case there; people from one specific community (Muslim) were killed with a well-planned strategy. They were murdered in a one-sided massacre. They had given freedom to people (Hindus) for 72 hours to massacre (Muslims), and the administration was supporting and acting as a mute spectator. So, the people who were in the administration at that time are chiefly responsible for this.

 It is not a matter which person was holding what position at that time and where they stand today; if Modi ji was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time, then being the CM of the state, it was his responsibility. We are not saying that he killed people with a sword, but it was his responsibility to protect the people of his state. And if he did not fulfill his responsibility and did not protect the people, then he will be targeted and accused of Gujrat riot [12].

  I was in Gujarat for one-and-a-half months after the massacre, I saw those camps, met the victims, listened to their statements — we used to listen to their statements throughout the day. It was a heart-breaking experience. Because I was staying with the People’s Tribunal at the Karnavati Club. I observed two Gujarat. In the one Gujarat, people were crying, victims have individual stories to narrate, they are living in various camps, many people lost loved ones of their family. On the other hand, there was another Gujarat (Karnavati Club) where upper-caste Gujarati people were living comfortably full of joy, having drinks, swimming, dancing, laughing.

 Hence, after returning from Gujarat in 2002, I wrote an article, Talibani Hinduo Suno Jara”(Talibani Hindus, Just Listen), in which I raised a question. There is a mythological story related to Krishna — that he knew that Devaki’s eighth son might kill him. Despite this, Krishna did not kill Devaki and her husband Vasudeva. He could have killed Kansa (Devaki’s son) in the womb itself, but he didn’t. But there were also stories of the Gujarat massacre, where pregnant women were ripped apart and their foetuses tossed into the air and cut with the sword. That’s why I asked in the article where the majority (Hindus) are going? Hindus claim that they are the most tolerant community in the world. Is this an example of a tolerant society? That’s why I called them “Talibani Hindu”.

In my opinion, the Taliban, or the ideology of extremism, also exists among the Bahujans, Sanghis, Musanghis, and Gosanghis [13], which is a very dangerous trend these days. The Taliban is a symbol of extremism and wherever it advances, civilizations, people, religions, and communities will all perish. Extremism spares no one; it is like a double-edged sword that first kills the purported enemy and then does not spare the extremist either.

NB: However, we read in your book that, while criticising civil society, you labelled it as a hypocritical sector of society. For example, you’ve been working in this field for a long time, is there any incident that inspired you to express this emotion that reveals the implication of your statement?
BM: This is not just about a single incident, and the middle-class English-speaking elite that heads civil society. The biggest hypocrisy I observe is that they have been claiming in this country for years that they are empowering the tribals, they are empowering women, they are making the Dalits capable enough so that they can raise their own voice. If we do a social audit 70 years after independence, then we will find that the tribals are in the same condition, Dalits are not speaking against injustices even today — and if the Dalits have become empowered, do civil societies have the capacity to tolerate them? That’s why I call civil society a community of hypocrites who do not maintain coherence between their words and actions. Many organizations say that they would take the poorest Dalit to the top.

   If we carefully observe these organizations and check, we will find that Dalits are employed there as a common and unrecognised worker who raises slogans, set up tents and lay mats. How many people belonging to marginalized society, including Dalit, Adivasi, nomadic, and minority women, serve as directors or represent an organization in foreign countries?
They know that going abroad requires learning the English language. They could empower them if they wanted to, but they don’t do. That’s why I call civil society the uppermost hypocritical community, on the basis of 20 years’ experience.

   I see those situations every day, they were talking about hunger 30 years ago, they are talking about hunger even today because they have vocabulary to talk about this feeling/sensation? The person who is actually enduring hunger, if s/he is taken to the stage, then s/he will not be able to express the pain of hunger in words. Because s/he doesn’t have the art that you have of presenting and demonstrating. Despite never going hungry, you can creatively express the issue of hunger so that people get emotional after listening to it. That’s why I call them hypocrites who have never suffered hunger but still talk about it. My clear-cut message to them is now you go to the side, this hungry person will talk about himself, this Dalit will speak, this Adivasi will, even if it is broken language, let them speak, do not manifest your agenda in order to make their voice heard.

  I agree that the situations are such that we are colliding on many fronts. While we have an open fight with the communal forces — RSS, right-wing organizations etc., there are many questions in the civil society and many within the Dalit-Bahujan movements with whom we are working. So, we are constantly colliding over many questions; this book only focuses on one fascist force. But I am sure now many more such things will come out.

NB: Yes, your book raises the voice of Dalits by saying this in a concrete way, and you have expressly stated your struggle in the book. Thank you so much for this fascinating discussion. I look forward to reading more of your work.


The interview first appeared on the YouTube channel Shunyakal in the Hindi language, and it was filmed and interviewed by the author. It has been translated into English by the author for this paper.


  • Phule, Jotirao. 2012a. Slavery. In Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, ed. GP Deshpande. New Delhi: Leftword Books.
  • Phule, Jotirao. 2012b. Cultivator’s Whipcord. In Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, ed. GP Deshpande. New Delhi: Leftword Books.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2015. Dangawas Dalit Sanhar. Bhilwara: Rikhiya Prakashan.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2019a. “RSS Karykarta Se Ambedkarwadi Banane Ka Safar “Main Ek KarSevak Tha”’, YouTube, October 16.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar.2019b. “2002 Gujarat Mamla Aur “Main Ek KarSevak Tha”’, YouTube, October 17.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2019c. Main Ek Karsevak Tha. New Delhi: Navarun Publication.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2020a. I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS. New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2020b. Kitni Kathputliyan. Bhilwara: Rikhiya Prakashan.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2022a. Yatrayen. Uttar Pradesh: Sambhavna Prakashan.
  • Meghwanshi, Bhanwar. 2022b. Ambedkar Ke Naam. New Delhi: Navarun Publication.
  • Majumder, Sanjoy. 2011. “Narendra Modi ‘Allowed’ Gujarat 2002 anti-Muslim Riots.” BBC News, May 3.
  • Varshney, Ashutosh. 1993. “Battling the Past, Forging a Future: Ayodhya and Beyond.” Pp.16. in India Briefing, edited by P Oldenburg. New York: Routledge.
  • Srinivas, M.N. 1995. Social Change in Modern India, New Delhi: Shiva Printers.

[1Dalit, formerly known as untouchable, are at the bottom rung of the hierarchical discriminatory caste system, in which a person’s position in the society is determined at birth. It is so intense and solidified that no one can move upward in this ladder.

[2Dalit Panther is an organization that was started by literary intellectuals including Namdeo Dhasal and JV Pawar from the Dalit community in the Indian state of Maharashtra in the 1970s. It was inspired by the Black Panther organisation, which campaigned for the rights of black people in America. Through radical poetry and literary methods of its kind which is not welcomed by the popular literary world, the Dalit Panthers were strongly opposed to the mainstream literary world, which is dominated by ‘upper’ caste people. However, at the same time, it received an overwhelming response from marginalized communities.

[3The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist organisation, formed in 1925. In his childhood, Meghwanshi started participating in the shakha (programme) organized by the RSS in his village. But after he realised his position as a Dalit in the discriminatory caste-based hierarchical society as well as in the RSS, he quit the RSS, as he recollects, “I experienced fully what it meant to be a lower caste” (Meghwanshi 2020, 83). He started engaging in the Ambedkar’s writing and with the Ambedkarite ideology, associated with the ideas offered by the Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar for the Dalit emancipation, as he notes, “It wouldn’t be too much to say that Ambedkarite, and humanist thought liberated me from mental slavery. Egalitarian thought changed the direction of my life” (Meghwanshi 2020 :117).

[4Ambedkarism is a movement prevalent among the people of Dalit-Bahujan community in India. It is named after Dr. Bhim Rao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution and a crusader of social justice. The main objective of this movement is to spread the literary works produced by Ambedkar on various issues and to follow the humanitarian path shown by him.

[5Neeraj Bunkar, PhD Scholar at the Department of English, Linguistics, and Philosophy at Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom with a specific interest in Caste, Dalit, Rajasthani folklore, Oral History and Cinema. He is researching Rajasthan Based Hindi cinema from the Dalit standpoint.

[6All these groups are in operation with the aim of protecting the Hindu religion and culture. That’s what they publicise widely. Right-wing organisations led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1992 to demolish the Babri Masjid and build the temple over the mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Kar Sevaks (Volunteer workers), backed by the BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party, a right-wing political party) marched towards the Ayodhya (A place in Uttar Pradesh where the Babri Mosque was situated) and demolished the Masque on 06 December 1992. The BJP was in the power and the Kalyan Singh was the chief minister of the state during this Ram Janmabhoomi movement, led by BJP leader L.K Advani. See, Ashutosh Varshney, “Battling the Past, Forging a Future: Ayodhya and Beyond, India Briefing,
1993, p. 16.

[7The OBC (other backward class) in Vedic scriptures falls under the fourth and last category of the Varna system as Shudra. After the establishment of the constitution, people from the Shudra varna are known as OBC. They constitute fifty per cent of the total population in India, yet are far from the reach of education, jobs, health sector etc. Even though they are backward in most areas, the people of this community never protest for their rights and instead indulge in right-wing politics of hatred and division.

[8See Srinivasan. 1995. Social Change in Modern India, New Delhi: Shiva Printers. he describes “Sanskritization [as] the process by which a ‘low’ Hindu caste, or tribal or other groups, changes its customs, ritual, ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high, and frequently, ‘twice-born’ caste” (pp.6).

[9Jyotirao Govind Rao Phule (1827—90) was a great social reformer, born in OBC community, who mostly worked for the upliftment of the marginalised section in India. Along with his wife Savitri Bai Phule — the first woman teacher in India — he opened the country’s first school for girls in 1848.

[10The Mandal Commission was a proposal for reservation for lower Shudras, Muslims, and Christians. It was headed by the Indian parliamentarian B.P. Mandal, hence its name. For the inclusion of Shudras in services and education, Ambedkarite, who were formerly known as untouchables, undertook the longest campaign of educational and political institutions. It was implemented in 1992 by giving 27 percent reservation to OBCs in the central government and public sector in jobs.

[11Gujarat is a western state in India, where current Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as a chief minister from 2001 to 2014. Meghwanshi in his book, I could not be Hindu, writes, “the incident began a targeted massacre of the Muslim minority in Gujarat, in which the Gujarat government, various organisations of the Sangh (RSS) and the state administration were involved. More than two thousand people were killed. It was not a riot, for a riot involves two sides in conflict. This was a pre-planned “saffron Taliban’s massacre”, an attempt to wipe out an entire community” (Meghwanshi 2020, 175).

[12The present Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the Gujarat riots; his tenure lasted from 2001—14. BBC News reported that Modi in a meeting after the riots had said that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson.

[13Bahujan(s) is a term to describe the oppressed unity in India including Tribes, Muslims, Dalits, Women, and OBCs; Sanghi(s) is used to refer to people associated with the RSS or the Sangh Parivar; Musanghi(s) is a term used for fundamentalist Muslim; Gosanghi(s) is a term to reefer cow protectors and cow devotees.

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