Conversation with Dr Manisha Bangar – Part I

Phule-Ambedkarite ideology is the only alternative for Bahujans, says Dr Manisha Bangar, National Vice President, People’s Party of India, former National Vice President, BAMCEF in conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat

(Asian Independent)- Dr Manisha Bangar is a practicing Senior Consultant Gastroenterologist and Transplant Hepatologist, with around 20 years of clinical cum research and teaching experience. In terms of her medical qualification, she completed MBBS, MD and DM. She was also a governing council member of the Indian National Association for Study of the Liver (INASL), and member of the Task Force for Hepatitis B and NASH disease of South Asian Association for Study of the Liver (SAASL). Interestingly, Dr Manisha Bangar, despite her professional occupations, has been actively engaged in social as well as political activities. She unsuccessfully contested from the Nagpur parliamentary constituency in 2019 on People’s Party of India’s ticket. She was appointed as the National Vice President of the People’s Party of India in November 2018 and is also a former National Vice President, BAMSCEF.

Though she hailed from an illustrious family of Phule-Ambedkarite in Nagpur, the journey has not been that comfortable as far as establishing herself as a leader at the top. She was born and brought up in Nagpur where she got privileged to meet senior leaders and activists because of her family background. She devoted her time to strengthening her academics but also engaged with the activities of her parents and grandparents who were dedicated Ambedkarites.

She was made President of Mulniwasi Mahila Sangh and Vice President of BAMSCEF 2007. After that she has been actively engaged in grassroot mobilisation of Bahujan women for their rights and conducted numerous workshops on women’s health and nutritious issues in various parts of the country particularly Madhya Pradesh and Western Maharashtra.

She has also spoken at various forums internationally and Established a Digital Media platform – “National India News Network” in 2017, to give voice to the issues of the indigenous population especially on gender and health. Its subscribership has exceeded one and half million, and attracts viewers from more than 30 countries. The impact of National India News in providing a platform to the voices of the indigenous peoples, women and other marginalized communities was presented in a symposium on Caste and media in Harvard University in February 2020.

It is ironic that despite all her competencies she still finds ‘resistance’ from men at the top. When she could become Vice President of BAMSECF for so long then what stops the organisations or leaders to give her the opportunity to lead the organisation. It is actually disappointing that the question here is not of ‘finding’ ‘credible’ ‘capable’ person but of looking inward and using the services of those who are already there at the helm of affairs for so long. Dr Manisha Bangar today is a well-known voice globally and her presence will only help strengthen the movement.

She inherited Ambedkarism as a way of life. Her mother was a professor at Nagpur University. Dr Ambedkar left a huge impression. ‘Ours was an open space for bidi mazdoor and working-class people’. They have been living in Indora, in Nagpur, a locality where people those times faced discrimination but they fought too. Her family was helping people in different ways. So the struggles actually shaped her identity too where she not only worked for her competence professionally but never left the cause of Ambedkarism and issues of Bahujan women.

But her family inculcated strong discipline in her as she was determined to achieve professional success and hence time management was important for her. “ I am a streamlined person and wanted to use my time in a very planned way but I did not want to waste my time in trial-and-error methods as I did not have. After marriage, I made it clear to my husband about my social commitment”. So the family understood her as she started getting engaged with people’s organisations such as BAMCEF. “ I was national vice president of the main BAMCEF. She is also a former President of Mahila Moolniwasi organisation. In 2018, she was the founding member of People’s Party of India and was made its Vice President. She contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Nagpur constituency.

She says that the issue with a number of Bahujan people is that they have not acquainted with the body of knowledge of Ambedkar Phule Periyar. They don’t have their own way of thinking. Most of the knowledge is heresy and this results in following the same prejudiced pattern. She gives her own example as why things are so clear to her and the reason is that our approach to Buddhism, the approach was rationalist and not ritualistic. Dr Ambedkar provided her the strength to understand the manifestation of the discrimination. It shows how people can actually embrace Phule Ambedkarite philosophy at the very personal level and get liberated. It is essential as people speak about Phule Ambedkarism but at the personal level all the habits and behaviour remain enslaved to Brahmanical rituals.

“There was no discrimination in my house because it was a home from the movement. If you don’t get a husband but don’t leave your jobs. Remain independent. It was not too much feminism. There was nothing about feminism. It was alien for us. Our life as Phule Ambedkiarte was much beyond feminism. My father used to do all the work when my mother was working. My aunts were very strong. Never say any domestic violence in our houses. I was always given priority over my brother.”

Dr Manisha Bangar inherited the great legacy of her maternal aunt Mrs Sulochana Bai Dongre who presided over the first women’s conference organised in Nagpur, under the auspices of All India Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942.

“My maternal aunt Sulochana Bai Dongre used to visit other district places in and around Amarawati to make women aware about their rights. My nana i.e., maternal grandfather, cooperated with her. Even during her pregnancy, she travelled and risked her life. They travelled to Pune, CP-Berar. She had an elementary knowledge of English but was very committed.”

Dr Manisha says, Gandhi was propounding Sita as a role model. Most of them had men as patrons and none of them spoke for their inheritance rights or against polygamy but in the Scheduled Caste Federation’s conference, the women were deciding factor. The women’s conference was led by women and it was they who spoke, passed resolutions and these resolutions were so powerful and remarkable as they became the basis for the Hindu Code Bill later. They spoke of Inheritance right to maternity leaves, labour leaves.

Dr Ambedkar ensured that it happened on a separate day and told them that ‘ you are going to lead it and I will just sit . It is the women who led, who spoke and passed the resolution. Dr Ambedkar just spoke at the end. The historic Women’s conference1942 was presided over by Mrs Sulochana Dongre.

Dr Manisha Bangar feel that education is the most powerful weapon for Bahujan women to protect their identity and through it they can fight their battle and would not allow themselves to be exploited by the Savarna exploiters. Many time, the issue of women’s rights with in the Dalit community is over stated by the Savarna ‘feminists’ or ‘liberals’ as most of them rarely speak about the atrocious male domination in their own spaces and families. Ambedkarites and Dalits become easy targets for them.

She says that it is a well-known fact that the Buddhist Ambedkarite community of Maharashtra has performed much better than anybody else in the last few decades. Buddhism and Ambedkarism is the most powerful tool to empower a people. When enlightening ideologies come together then the performance becomes better.

Her response to the issue of ‘Bahujan Patriarchy’ is extremely important and need to be understood. Bahujan patriarchy comes to play not at the base level. There is a big difference between Savarna patriarchy and Bahujan patriarchy. Dr Manisha explains it very well in the conversation. She paid rich tribute to author and activist Gail Omvedt who passed away recently in Kasegaon, Maharashtra. To listen to the entire conversation with Dr Manisha Bangar kindly click the link below as it gives you a glimpse of her ideals, struggles and vision for the future.

This is the first part of a conversation with Dr Manisha Bangar.