Bhalku in museum, subalterns get a chunk of history

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By: Satyakam Bharti

Heritage status to the Kalka-Shimla rail by UNESCO is being seen as a major boost to the tourism sector in the region, but little do we understand its importance as a defining moment in recognising the subaltern history of the country. Indian Railway’s decision to dedicate a museum to Bhalku, the uneducated, low caste man who is credited with guiding the British engineers in achieving this engineering feat, can be described as an emancipatry measure, even if unconscious, in undoing the hegemonistic brahamnic order of nearly 3,000 years.

The Indian history and culture, undoubtedly brahaminical in nature, have seldom given place to the dominated classes because the latter were denied access to education under Vedic injunctions. The social scientists who put an official stamp on the written history, having themselves been part of the elite all through the ages, generally tend to present a view of the social order from the top, and therefore the egalitarian history of the country has almost remained shrouded. That is how Bhalku, though very much alive in common narratives, never existed in dominant memory. The fact that Bhalku was long ago idolized by his people, with even a temple dedicated to him in his ancestral village, is proof enough that the subordinated classes hardly share the dominant ideology and history doled out by the elites. Recognising his existence a century after he walked the hills through which now a heritage train chugs is a sign of the nation coming out of the grips of class-based hegemony exploitation. Or is it just a one-off instance whereby a subaltern gets highlighted by default of being the shadow of a colonial past, as recognition for the engineering marvel that the Kalka-Shimla train is today considered, may also be a well orchestrated move to further glorify the imperialism history of the country, to which the Britishers had contributed a lot by patronizing the exploitative Brahaminical system.

The vice-like grip of the caste system continues even today, and therefore Bhalku’s history is destined to be separate from that of the mainstream. Bhalku, therefore, will remain a hero for a marginalized section, with or without a museum, just like Jotirao Phule, Iyothee Thass, Pariyar, Narayan Guru, Acchutanand and even Ambedkar.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Leave aside the caste factor, we Indians are mired down by the rich-poor and one's overall standing in the society. e.g.. Recently a brigadier and a constable in ITBP died in there course of duty in the Kabul's Indian embassy explosion. The state govt while announcing the relief announced 3 Lacs to the brigadier and 1 lac to the constable. Both were valiant sons of Himachal who chose a path in there life where supreme sacrifice is the call of duty. Why the state has discriminated against the sacrifice of constable Roop Singh is beyond any reasoning. Probably the govt thinks a constable's life carries a lesser tag.

    The govt should make sure that the children & family of late Sh Roop Singh is properly looked after. The govt needs to be a little more sensitive on this issue.

  2. "a museum to Bhalku, the uneducated, low caste man who is……………"

    I have doubts about the caste status of Baba Bhalku as narrated in the article. I have visited his home at Jhaja near Chail, which a rajput dominated village. Though his room is still kept intact but there is no temple as such. It is only in the recent past that a local fair at Chail is celebrated as "Baba Bhalku mela".

    It is learnt that Baba ji never allowed Britishers to enter his home due to his religious reservations. Terming him a weak low caste fellow is unjustified. I personally feel that there is no need to trace his caste but to remember only his intelligence which made the entire British human resource spellbound at that time.

  3. My intention was not to rake up the caste issue at all. What I wanted to highlight was that it is a rare honour for someone not from the dominating 'classes' to be recognised in the Indian society. I accept my knowledge about Bhalko is limited to readings through newspaper or some other journals, that may not have presented the right picture. I also agree with Nityn that it is more about class and not caste as is evident from the example he has given whereby the government sets a premium even on death, but the fact remains that the caste system is responsible for class disparity to a great extent.

  4. Mr. Bharati seems focusing only hatred writing against upper castes, instead of focusing to write about baba bhaklu. he could have given more about his skills & adventures, than what he he has sermoned naming a few icons being exploited for only for votes rather than for their real uplift from the povery through fulltime residential education.

  5. BHALKU, BHALKU, BHALKU…I”ve been hearing this since2003!!! It’s said ‘don’t worry about d future it comes sooon enough!” It has …d “promises” made then!? I remember interacting with d then Tourism Min who retired recently & d Secy about programmes in his honour … all they also did was 2 organise a golf tourney in Naldehra! Was it fr Baba B or r bureaucrats??? There was utter confusion on d ideas i gave 2 connect people’s transport 2 d people as 3 min’s were involved – R’way,Tourism & H.P. – as usual H.P.’s ‘voice’ is never heard!

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