ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Imagining Justice

Engaging Rawls and Dhasal

Theory and poetry speak to us in ways different from each other. It is in this sense that John Rawls and Namdeo Dhasal have to be understood when they speak about the idea of justice. This article engages with the theoretical schemes of Rawls's Theory of Justice built on the social contract tradition, comparing it with the revolutionary agenda of Dhasal, a peoples' poet, who seeks social justice in his brutal, fiery, yet unique poetic panache through his verse Man, You Should Explode.

In today’s scenario where impunity is enjoyed at large by the dominant elements of society, the triad of ideas that encapsulate the definition of social justice—equality, liberty and fraternity—is frequently challenged. The idea of justice has unparalleled significance in the context of Indian society that is ruptured along lines of caste, patriarchy, and communalism. These fissures in the social fabric create walls and barriers based on superiority and inferiority. This complex matrix of social relations between man and woman, rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, and upper castes and lower castes, has been often analysed through the prism of social justice and articulated using the medium of theory and literature. Justice being a multidimensional concept has interested scholars of law, philosophy and political science differently. The poetic approach to justice has given birth to the Ambedkari Jalsas; the Bidesiya tradition by Bhikari Thakur, the songs of separation sung by women who question migration, poverty, and displacement; and the Vidrohi form of poetry in India.

This article engages with the theoretical schemes of John Rawls’s Theory of Justice, built on the social contract tradition, comparing it with the revolutionary agenda of Namdeo Dhasal, a peoples’ poet, who seeks social justice in his brutal, fiery, yet unique poetic panache through his verse Man, You Should Explode from his anthology Golpitha. This article reproduces certain fragments of the poem for analysis. The connecting thread between the theorist and the poet is their conception of a “hypothetical” situation, which they use to eventually arrive at justice. Interestingly, both Rawls and Dhasal came in the limelight and became subjects of debates and discussions around the same time: early 1970s. Rawls published his Theory of Justice in 1971, and Dhasal’s Golpitha, a collection of poems, was published in 1972. While comparing their ideas on justice, this article also attempts to trace their lives, their ideological journey, and the early influences on their ideas of justice.

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