This story is part of a series on the everyday heroes of rural Maharashtra.
“Hamari takat hamari union [Our strength is our union],” recalls 64-year-old Khanderav Parit from one of their protests in the late 90s. An award-winning rural author, mill worker, and now a farmer, Khanderav’s writings reflect the everyday life of the oppressed.
“Traditionally we faced untouchability and now we are oppressed. Where is the freedom?” he asks as he shows me his next story on the life of migrant sugarcane cutters in Maharashtra.
Days as a mill worker
Khanderav managed to complete his Bachelors of Arts in Sociology from a college in Ichalkaranji. He is from the Kabnur town in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. Immediately after his graduation (in 1978), he started working as a labourer in a spinning mill because of his financial condition. “For the first two months in 1978, I was not paid even a single rupee for eight hours of work daily,” he recollects.
In 2000 when the mill shut down completely, his salary had increased to Rs 6,500 monthly. After this catastrophe, four thousand workers lost their jobs in no time. He then started working as a watchman in the 32-acre mill’s property which once employed thirty-two watchmen and now had come down to three. “From Rs 6,500 monthly, my salary now decreased to Rs 1,600,” he says. After two years, he started working as a clerk in the town of Kabnur. From 2006, he began farming on his seven gunta land (0.17 acre).
Even today, nothing much has changed for him as he asks, “Change is nature’s law, but what about the lives of the workers?” Khanderav has been vocal about the plights of workers. “I used to write a lot of articles on the life of workers during my days at the mill,” he says proudly. His articles were published in the mill’s monthly magazine and won awards as well.
In 2008, he gave a powerful speech talking to the workers about their rights in the Ichalkaranji town. On the same day, a worker committed suicide and police arrested Khanderav for the ‘provoking speech’. “This case went on for six years after which I was found not guilty,” he says. “The police kept me in jail for two days. They tried to match my handwriting with that of the suicide letter,” he adds.
During those days there were two types of workers, the permanent and the temporary ones. “The mill owners would divide and rule the workers by increasing a certain percentage of the salary of the permanent ones. Even after six years of service, a lot of workers weren’t given the permanent status,” he explains.
“Once a fellow worker had taken the mill’s plastic bag to protect himself from the rains. He was labeled a thief by the mill management and had to lose the job for a mere 10 paisa plastic bag,” he recollects. Instances like this inspired him to write about the lives of workers. “No one wants to talk about the horrible lives of workers and I wanted to bring this out with my story titled Vedna [suffering],” he says.
In Vedna, he talks about a real-life incident where a worker who was protesting against the mill owners had lost his son to an illness. “We weren’t paid on the days of the strike, and he needed some money for his son’s treatment, but there was no work,” he says. After two days of the strike, the worker returned to his home to see the dead son. “Such is the plight of workers,” he adds.
Writing and self-publishing his first book
Annabhau Sathe’s writings inspired Khanderav to pick up literature and start writing about the oppressed. Over a period of two decades, he had written several stories on the ‘waste’ pieces of papers. He takes close to three months in writing one story.
“Sometimes I would write about my characters (with a chalk) while working on the spinning mill machine,” he says smilingly. In 2014, he self-published his first book titled Sharayat [race] which is a collection of 15 real-life stories. In these stories, he talks about alcoholism, patriarchy, the plight of the workers, superstitions, old age, and how poor people are exploited. “All the characters in the book are people I know closely. Their stories had moved me,” he adds. These stories were set in the latter half of the previous century. “Nothing has changed in the society. Earlier the people in power used to kill with swords, now they kill with guns,” he says.
Of the 15 stories, Niyati [fate] is the oldest story which he wrote in 1985. “My mother was in tears when I read her this story. Those teardrops fell on my [handwritten] original copy of the story. Those tears are my biggest prize,” he says proudly. He has given a positive fictional ending to a few stories (retaining the real-life story) as he says, “I want to create hope in the minds of readers.”
Khanderav credits his mother, the late Shantabai for cultivating the art of writing stories. “My mother was a very good storyteller. She used to sing the ovis on casteism, patriarchy, god, and everyday life while working on her grind mill,” he says.
He met several people for publishing his book. “Kahini dhoka dila, kahini jhoka dila (A few people betrayed me),” he says with his wit and charm. He had saved some amount for his older days which he decided to use for self-publishing now. “My wife opposed this decision and said you had saved very little money for our old age,” he says. Self-publishing the book proved to be a nightmare for Khanderav. “I printed 1,000 books and close to 700 remain unsold even after three years,” he says. His family members are not very supportive of his love for literature. “My daughter-in-law always asks me to burn the remaining copies of the books,” he adds.
“No amount of money can give me the satisfaction which I get from writing stories. You’ve to keep fighting till the end,” he says smilingly. His wife, Kamal, 62, who Khanderav calls as ‘the first reader of his stories’, says, “I like his stories and have seen most of them myself while he was working in the mill.”
He has written 150 poems on rain, nature, life, and a few other topics but hasn’t turned it into a book yet. Currently, he is working on his next non-fiction book which is based on the everyday lives of poor people. He has won more than 12 awards for his poems and short stories to date.
Poverty and untouchability
He gets a monthly pension of Rs 982. “A lot of people have taken my books, but never paid for it,” he says. People have been asking him to sell the books for as low as Rs 10 now.
His father, the late Appasso Parit worked as an agricultural labourer and mother would perform the caste-based occupation of washing the clothes of villagers for which was paid a pittance later in her life. Earlier they were just given a sack of food grains on washing the clothes for a year. At the age of 15, he used to carry the washed clothes to the house of upper caste people. “We were not allowed to give the washed clothes directly because we were considered the untouchables. I had to throw them on a piece of white cloth after which the upper caste people would sprinkle drops of the sacred holy water before touching them,” he recollects. Khanderav was against this practice, and he finally decided to break free from the occupation in the early 1990s.
He narrates, “While I was washing the clothes with my mother, an old Harijan woman asked me to move. I didn’t move and helped her fill the vessel with the water. Back then the Harijans were also considered untouchables, but I am a man of revolutionary ideas. Immediately, after this incident, the owner of the clothes yelled at me for helping a Harijan and asked me to wash the clothes again because he considered them impure.” Left furious by this incident, Khanderav asked his mother to stop practicing this casteist occupation immediately. “No one from our caste washed his clothes then,” he says proudly.
“I looked at the problems of people, but not the arthashastra [Economics],” he says talking about the unsold books. “These [unsold] books are the plight of so many rural writers,” he adds.
He has no plans of retiring anytime soon. His elder son, Sachin passed away in 2010. His younger son, Sandeep, 32, works as a labourer. “All the literature in our family might end with him,” fears Kamal.
Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 11:58:56 IST