Bhimayana, an award winning graphic novel on Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar illustrated by Gond artists: Storytelling at its very best

Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability
Art by Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhas Vyam | Navayana Publishing >>

Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. Graphic novelon Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar with art by award winning Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhas Vyam; story by Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand. Navayana Publishing >>

Critically acclaimed as “a magnificent work of breathtaking art that symbolises the soul-stirring biography of an exceptional leader” and “a must-read for every child and adult in the nation and a must-include in every school’s curriculum”. (Sowmya Sivakumar in The Hindu Literary Review) | Find a library copy on >>

Since January 2014, Bhimayana is being taught in classrooms. “Ambedkar is not just the answer to a quiz question. He was more than the drafter of the Constitution” […]

This year, Delhi University chucked Gone with the Wind and James Bond from its optional paper (now compulsory) on popular literature in the English undergraduate course, and included Bhimayana, a book on some of the experiences of BR Ambedkar’s early life. Probably the first graphic book to be incorporated into the syllabus of any Indian university, it has, however, raised a few questions on the way Ambedkar has made an entry into the realm of ‘popular’ culture even as he remains a diminished figure in the life of our nation, fixated as it is on Gandhi, Nehru and Patel.

So, would the inclusion of Bhimayana count as a progressive move? Its inclusion in the new syllabus has more to do with making a gesture towards Ambedkar; an attempt to “give Dalits their due”, than about a re-positioning of Ambedkar and his politics in history, say some Delhi University teachers.

Source: “Gone with the Wind, James Bond make way for Ambedkar in Delhi University” by Paramita Ghosh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Apr 14, 2014
Date visited: 20 December 2020

Introduction by John Berger:

I want to say something about the way this extraordinary book tells its story. […]

The imagined theatre has been destroyed by so-called Communication Experts, the media, politicians without a future, and a global economic system which reduces the whole of History and every horizon of life to the pursuit of profit. On the site of the stage there is today a Shopping Mall.

Yet, in fact, History continues and the struggle persists. And so we face the challenge of how to tell stories about them across the world today.

This book offers a prophetic answer and it is this: replace the stage of History with the Body of a community. A body with a long past, a present of many voices, and a vision of the future. Reading the book and following its story, we enter this body, its bloodstream, its organs, its members. […]

Stories are being told like this all over the world. They are seldom printed and published. This book has now set an example.

Let us thank everyone who contributed to it for that example. – John Berger, 26 July 2010 (Taninges, France)

John Berger, in full John Peter Berger , in full John Peter Berger (born November 5, 1926, London, England—died January 2, 2017, Antony, France), British essayist and cultural thinker as well as a prolific novelist, poet, translator, and screenwriter. He is best known for his novel G. and his book and BBC series Ways of Seeing. […] As an artist himself, Berger believed that great art should reflect society. […] In 2009 he received the Golden PEN Award, presented by English PEN to a writer whose “body of work has had a profound impact on readers.”

Source: John Berger | British essayist and cultural thinker |
Date Visited: 20 December 2020

Overall, Bhimayana shows the development of a strong collaboration and a unique narrative sensibility that fuses contemporary comics and traditional art.

Source: Review by Jeremy Stoll, Columbus College of Art & Design: “Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability: Incidents in the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar” (Journal of Folklore Research, 28 November 2012)
Date visited: 20 December 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Among the tribal populations of India there is none which rivals in numerical strength and historical importance the group of tribes known as Gonds. In the late 1970s, numbering well over four million, Gonds extend over a large part of the Deccan and constitute a prominent element in the complex ethnic pattern of the zone where Dravidian and Indo-Aryan populations overlap and dovetail. | Table of Contents >>

Source: “The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh Tradition and Change in an Indian Tribe” By Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, Elizabeth von Fürer-Haimendorf” (Routledge, December 2021)
Date Visited: 7 November 2021

Learn more about the Gond community >>

He who has not surrendered his free will and abdicated his intelligence and independent thinking, who does not blindly act on the teachings of others, who does not blindly accept anything without critically analysing and examining its veracity and usefulness, who is always prepared to protect his rights, who is not afraid of ridicule and unjust public criticism, who has a sound conscience and self-respect so as not become a tool in the hands of others, I call him a free man.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (who was more than the “drafter of the Constitution”), quoted by Goldy M George in Journal of People’s Studies (Volume 1, Issue 4 June 2016, Page v)

Note: in a modern educational context, we may think of any “free person” – including “free girls and boys” – as being meant by Ambedkar.

Tip: discover publications released by Indian publishers and institutions by typing “tribal children stories” in combination with the name of a tribal community (e.g. “Gond”, “Santal”, “Warli”), an Indian State or Union Territory (e.g. “Andaman”, “Tripura”, “Telangana”), a region (e.g. “Bastar”, “Northeast India”, “Nilgiri”), name of artist, author or publisher, and preferred language (“Tamil”, “Hindi”, “bilingual”).

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