A report on the special discussion on ‘Politics of Publication and Introductory Paradoxes’ held on 28th March, 2014, inUniversity of Hyderabad

                                                                  – S Swaroop Sirapangi

Dr B R Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), University of Hyderabad organized a special discussion over Navayana’s latest volume, ‘Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition’, which also includes an introduction by Arundhati Roy entitled as ‘The Doctor and the Saint’.

The original text of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste is annotated by Anand S of Navayana and is preceded by Arundhati Roy’s introduction. This text has created a lot of stir among the dalit/dalit-bahujan intellectuals and the debate has been continuing in various forms on the ways and modes of presentation of this volume, especially over the internet on Ambedkarite sites like Round Table India, and in social media forums like http://www.facebook.com and on some other ‘mainstream’ electronic media sites too. Against this background, the present initiative of ASA should be understood as a sort of continuation of such debates. Perhaps, this could be the first organized attempt to deliberate upon the contents of this volume by the dalit-bahujan intellectuals, in a space other than social or online/electronic media!!

The inaugural launches of this volume were held at Delhi and Mumbai and though another event was supposed to be held recently at Hyderabad, it got cancelled at the last moment. It was intensely rumored that one of the prime reasons behind this cancellation at Hyderabad was due to threats from some of the dalit-bahujan groups towards this volume’s content, which is seen as negative from various vantage points. But in due course of time, it was proved that all such rumors of threats were not genuine, and were perhaps intentionally spread by some regressive elements with vested interests, who wished to portray the dalit-bahujan critique in a negative light.

ASA at University of Hyderabad has taken this initiative towards a constructive deliberation upon the content of the volume by inviting a few prominent dalit-bahujan intellectuals from Hyderabad itself.

The formal particulars of this special discussion as released by ASA can be observed from the following released poster:

asa poster on aoc

The first person to open the discussion was Dr K Y Ratnam. He saw the text both in positive and negative shades, and made objections to the negative shades, and appreciated some positive aspects. His prime objection/s arose from the comparison between Ambedkar and Gandhi – by treating the former as a wild ‘cactus grove’ and the latter as a ‘shining path’, quite in opposite ways!!

He attempted to compare both S Anand and Arundhati Roy’s views, as expressed in the volume’s ‘introduction’ and ‘conclusion’, respectively. He pointed out that in the conclusion it was mentioned that ‘Annihilation of Caste can only be possible when Ambedkar’s writing/s is taken seriously’.  But, in the introduction, Arundhati Roy raises the question: ‘can caste be annihilated?’

The annotated Annihilation of Caste section is to be considered as the main text of the volume, while Arundhati Roy’s introduction to the Annihilation of Caste under the title ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ is viewed as a sub-text. He found fundamental problem/s with the sub-text of Arundhati Roy, though due to time constraints he was unable to enlist full details at length. He found that the sub-text written by Roy, does not match the main textAnnihilation of Caste by Babasaheb.

Arundhati Roy’s introduction is a very ‘current’ text, dealing with very current issues such as the violence across the country as reflected in the Khairlanji violence against the Dalits, unemployment, the monopoly over wealth of the nation by the dominant castes, their control over the media etc. Given that context, when caste pervades Indian society Roy asks,has caste been annihilated? Has it been annhilated or does it continue to be there? She tries to say even the emergence of BSP, and its rule in states like Uttar Pradesh could not attempt to annihilate caste. 

Reading Arundhati Roy’s introduction, he felt that it was somewhat tilted towards the ‘Saint’, the ‘sainthood’ of Gandhi, while outrightly saying that the ‘Doctor’ failed.  

The sub-titles given to different parts of the introduction are also revealing, in his view. While writing on Gandhi, the title ‘shining path’ is used, and when writing on Ambedkar she titles the section ‘cactus grove’. Further, he said, while questioning ‘can caste be annihilated?’, she says Ambedkar’s western ideas are a setback. So Gandhi is more relevant, that is what she wants to convey, he felt.

While coming to the Adivasis and Untouchables – the issues of ecology, big dams etc., are all viewed within the Gandhian framework whereas Ambedkar’s views are not taken into serious consideration. In the constitution formation, Ambedkar gave a lot of importance to Dalits and tribes, he recalled.

He highlighted how the ‘Saint’ who stood against industrialization, urbanization, modernity, etc., was, paradoxically, supported by industrialists till his death! How he was looked after by the industrialists of the day like Birlas, etc!!

But, on the other hand, though Ambedkar stood for such things genuinely, he was not extended any patronage!! Further, he observed that in a way, the author (Arundhati Roy) attempted, or tries to project that Ambedkar’s western ideas pose problems, while Gandhi’s ideas have developed relevance, in the contemporary Indian discourse!!

In his opinion, both Anand and Arundhati Roy tilted towards Gandhi; they referred to Ambedkar’s limitations, while they praised Gandhi. But he felt that even though she did not criticise Ambedkar and even praised him, but she was careful in her use of words, in comparison with Gandhi who was more straightforward in his criticism of Ambedkar. On the whole he observed that the ‘Sainthood character of Gandhi’ was not reflected in the introduction, though it got highlighted in the title of the volume. He denounced Gandhi as lacking any saintly character, by pointing towards some of his most gruesome mistakes like his opposition to Ambedkar ideologically, his position towards women, his activities and characteristic positions in South Africa – like his demand for separate access to public places for Indians in South Africa while denying separate eletorates to the Dalits in India. These are questions that are not attempted to be resolved in the introduction.

The second person to share his views was Prof Kancha Ilaiah. He started his talk by questioning the audience whether anyone of them was for against this book, especially by attempting to enquire – was there anyone from the audience who attempted to protest against this book, when it was scheduled to be inaugurated in Hyderabad, recently?

B Chandrashekar Rao, faculty, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad interfered in this dialogue from the audience and observed that someone like Arundhati Roy was not required to introduce Ambedkar and everyone knows aboutAnnihilation of Caste‘s content by heart!! Prof Kancha Ilaiah initiated his discourse on this issue by taking inference from Chandrashekar’s point and observed his views from academic methodological vantage points.

He recollected his readings of the Holy Bible and Quran in different versions and annotations and felt there is nothing wrong in annotations and in-fact annotations will certainly benefit a serious scholar!! But, wondered whether any mis-annotation has taken place to this volume or not. For him, even after looking at the social background of Anand (Brahmin) there is nothing wrong if he annotated this text.

But then, he went on to put forward his other methodological observations, like:

a) No introduction should be lengthier than the book,
b) The present introduction, of this much length, is not required, and
c) Giving a different title to the sub-text, the introduction, is also a methodological problem (i.e. The Doctor and the Saint)

He found a primary problematic mismatch between the ‘title and the introduction’ and went on to argue that there is a mismatch between the actual text of Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ as annotated by Anand and Arundhati Roy’s introduction titled as ‘the Doctor and the Saint’. So, he advocated the separation of Anand’s annotations and Arundhati’s introduction. For him, Arundhati’s introduction should be brought out as a separate volume, for which there will not be a problem from his side!!

The last person to address the audience was senior lawyer Bojja Tharakam, who is also well known in Andhra Pradesh for his re-publication and distribution of ‘Annihilation of Caste’ at a very reasonable price, long ago. In fact, Bojja Tharakam was also supposed to be chairing the Hyderabad session of the book’s launch some days ago, which got cancelled.

Tharakam observed that though persons like Anand and Arundhati Roy (primarily referring to the latter) have every right to criticize Ambedkar and/or Gandhi, they cannot do such a thing by choosing to write a ‘preface’ to a volume like Annihilation of Caste!! Thus, in one way or the other he went along with Prof Kancha Ilaiah’s line of argument, and in fact, in the end, went on to openly align with Ilaiah’s side and opined that the two texts of Anand and Arundhati should be separated.

He raised serious objections over the understanding and presentation of Arundhati Roy on Ambedkar, Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste and Ambedkar’s total engagement with the caste discourse and related questions. Caste, in his opinion cannot be understood merely by reading, but it should be primarily experienced.

Prior to Ambedkar there were no intellectuals who raised their voice for annihilation of caste, though there were intellectuals who were for removal of untouchability or/and for removal of caste distinctions between or among different castes (but not for annihilation!!)So, the uniqueness of Ambedkar lies in his quest for Annihilation of Caste, which Arundhati failed to understand effectively.

He also took very serious exception to Anand’s posture in this entire discourse, from the point of lack of acknowledgement of the previous versions of this text in circulation in various forms and in various Indian languages, etc. Without such attempts of acknowledgment, he is projecting this book as the first attempt towards introduction of Ambedkar’s Annihilaton of Caste!!

He observed that it seems as if through the publication of this volume Ambedkar was sought to be minimized/undermined/criticized by highlighting Gandhi in an undue manner. He questions, why Gandhi should be brought into this discourse? In his view, Ambedkar and/or his Annihilation of Caste could have been directly introduced without any reference to Gandhi.

All the speakers opposed any ban on the book, but Prof Ilaiah and Bojja Tharakam felt the introduction should be separated from the book.

Originally Published over http://www.roundtableindia.co.in on March 31, 2014.