The Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (ABMSS), the largest annual gathering for Marathi litterateurs, has been embroiled in a controversy. Writer HM Marathe has allegedly asked for votes for the post of president of the sammelan based on his caste.
Known for his pro-Brahmin opinions and writing, Marathe wrote a letter to voters earlier this week in which he stated, “Brahmins have been the enemies of Indian society for nearly 150 years” and that it was time “for Brahmins to come together and fight the misconceptions that exist against them”. A part of the letter read, “...The Brahmin community should organise itself and raise a voice against the attempts to create an atmosphere of violence…Brahmins have been shown as enemy number one of the Indian society by several essays and books. A part of this is revealed in the narrations that Brahmins were behind the killing of Sant Tukaram and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This vengeful propaganda has to be responded to by way of reasoned argument and logic.”
His views have prompted outrage from the Marathi literary community. Aroon Tikekar, writer and president of the Asiatic Society, termed his statement “most unfortunate”. “By making this kind of a statement, it gets harder to bridge the gap between Brahmin and Dalit communities,” he said.
Pushpa Bhave, former Marathi professor at Ruia College, Matunga, said, “The sammelan brings people together for secular reasons — for the love of literature,” she says. “It is sad when a literary person brings caste into the equation.”
However, Marathe denied allegations of casteism and said his statements had been taken out of context. “I have been analysing changes in society for 65 years,” he said over the phone from his Pune residence. “Gross untruths about Brahmins have been systematically spread in our society for over a century. As a writer, I have the right to say what I feel about it.” He added that he has no ill-feelings towards members of any caste. “It is politicians who try to divide society along the lines of caste, with issues such as reservation,” he said, referring to the amendment, proposed on September 4, to promote schedule castes and scheduled tribes in government jobs on the basis of a quota.
Members of the Marathi literary community say the sammelan started off as a Brahminical institution as it was began at a time when Brahmins were the only ones producing and consuming literature. This changed, however, after the ‘50s when Dalit literature started entering the mainstream.
Representatives of the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh declined to comment on the issue till the election process was over.