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.