The question of human civilization is always about the question of power. The question of control is incomplete unless the dynamic of control of the thought processes of a society is addressed, hence the adage 'The pen is mightier than the sword'. The meaning of rights such as the right of free speech have to be seen through the prism of such controls in order to even do justice to such a right, otherwise we just reach a scenario where a tree falls in the forest and no one listens.
Freedom of speech is seen as an important right because the suppression of speech is the suppression of ideas that could really change the mindset of the populace mesmerized by the establishment. At least that is the wisdom behind the need to fight for such a right. Because if this right is not seen in the actual motivations behind its promotion, then one could as well promote the right to propaganda as a right to free speech.
It is in the purview of the paragraph above that this whole business of Arundhati Roy's introduction to the republication of Ambedkar's 'Annihilation of caste' has to be understood. India just as any other country has its thought processes controlled by the media and intelligentsia which, totally in antithesis to their very duties, are just organs of promotion of the dictates of the established power structures. The power of these organs of propaganda to divert the thinking of the population against their very interests should not be a surprise because of the numerous examples in history.
The power structures in the Indian context are explicitly as well as implicitly engaged in the business of maintaining the caste hierarchies that dominate Indian society. The explicit tactics used by these power structures can be seen for what they are and hence do not need to be worried about as much as the power structures that work under layers of sophistication that convey a feeling of being well intended towards promotion of justice to the victims of the caste order. So it is with these things in mind that some questions have to be asked: why the sudden need for the publication of a speech, that is freely available, with an introduction by an upper caste writer, by a publishing house that is owned by a brahmin? Accompanied by a flurry of advertisements of the publication through media outlets that have only been the bastions of the higher castes with no lower caste presence?
The people who promote this publication claim that it is a way to advertise Ambedkar to the higher castes. But then does this noble sounding claim have to be taken at its face value? I mean, what is the actual need for this advertisement? And does not this very advertisement, through the pen of an upper caste writer, really not translate into the message that upper castes are to be seen as the sole authority on the advertised subject matter? Especially when we take into consideration the fact that the media is in the business of promoting a specific mindset among the populace? And so when you consider these facts, does it really seem like the groups opposing this advertising are brutes?
Everyone has heard about the saying 'you repeat a lie a thousand times it becomes the truth'. The organ used for this repetition is the media. So groups opposed to this publication, heeding this saying when it comes to the construction of idols such as Arundhati Roy to represent Ambedkar's thoughts, are definitely not misplaced in their fears of the maligning of Ambedkar using the tools of a media and intelligentsia, which are very much biased against the lower castes. And hence, their motivations for questioning this publication definitely does not represent an attack on the freedom of speech. On the contrary the people bringing out the dictates of Freedom of Speech completely overlook the fact that just as with any other right, the Freedom of Speech definitely comes with the responsibility of working towards positive social change.
Advertising that alludes to an eventual re-construction of, or possibly even maligning an ideology through the medium of propaganda organs such as the media of today, definitely does not make for a responsible exercise of the right to speech. Instead of publishing a speech written for pre-independence India and commenting on the speech by bringing in another figure from the same era, Gandhi, wouldn't it have been wise to speak about the actual implications of the speech for the generation of today? How about starting with criticizing the media outlets advertising the introduction, instead of critiquing it, for the absolute lack of lower castes in journalistic and editorial capacities in their ranks, for starters?
The fact that a supposed intellectual does not even draw the right parallels of the motivations of historical figures for the times of today and is being seen as being mischievous by the groups that have been the promoters of the thoughts of the historical figure on the ground, speaks tomes about the motivations behind the promotion of these intellectuals and hence makes an interesting case for being them called as idols and goddesses. A well meaning intellectual would have easily seen through the intentions of the protestors and would have backed down understanding that the true inheritors of Ambedkar's ideology are the Dalits who have preserved and promoted his ideology and hence opposition coming from these sections would be reason enough to non-qualify one from being a representative for Ambedkar among upper castes or otherwise. The fact that the supposed intellectual is adamant to go ahead with the introduction definitely does not add to her reputation as an honest intellectual, as honesty has been the crux of the protests against the republication of the speech.
Please also read other articles on the same issue:
An Open Letter to Ms. Arundhati Roy: by Dalit Camera
The Judge, the Jury and the Goddess: by Akshay Pathak
Resisting a messiah: by Anoop Kumar
Vaibhav Wasnik is a researcher and he blogs here.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.