Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
Dalit Camera talked recently to veteran human rights activist Bojja Tharakam on the new edition of 'Ännihilation of Caste' introduced by Arundhati Roy. The text below is a transcript of the interview.
BojjaTharakam, senior advocate in the AP High Court, was the founding president of Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha, state convener of the Chunduru Struggle Committee, and as an advocate fought for the survivors of the Karamchedu massacre. In 1989, he became the founding general Secretary of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Andhra Pradesh. He is also Founding Trustee of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Memorial Trust set up in 1984 to disseminate Ambedkar's Philosophy and has been involved in the official project of translation of B.R. Ambedkar's writings into Telugu and was co-editor for volume one, four and ten. He was the editor of the dalit little magazine 'Nalupu' (1991-94) and since its foundation in 2008, of 'Neeli Jenda' (Blue Flag).
Bojja Tharakam had also been invited to converse with Arundhati Roy at the book launch function at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad, on 9th March, 2014. The event was cancelled by the publishers.
I feel there is no need to introduce the book (Annihilation of Caste) either by Arundhati Roy or by anybody else. It doesn't need any introduction at all, because it is a widely read book already. It was written in 1936, it is widely read and it had many editions. The essence (of the book) had reached the people. So there is no necessity (for an introduction) as if it was written for the first time. Therefore I feel that there is no necessity for Arundhati Roy to introduce the text.
Even if she wanted to introduce the book to the new generation she should have written about the book or the intentions of the author in writing that book. Nothing like that was done; she did not say anything about the book. She went on criticizing Ambedkar and I could say that (she had) high praise for Gandhi, though later she criticized him also. But the main purpose of her introducing that book I feel is that she wants to compare Gandhi and Ambedkar, which was not the intention of the author of the book Annihilation of Caste. He never wanted to compare (Gandhi and himself). By that time Ambedkar has had many fights with Gandhi, they were fighting inside and outside and at the Round Table Conference too, they had their bouts. There is no necessity for Arundhati Roy to write that introduction highlighting Gandhi's contribution and in a way denigrating Ambedkar. Therefore I feel there is no necessity to write that introduction and even without that introduction the book goes on and will go on (being read).
If at all she wanted to compare Gandhi and Ambedkar she could have written a different text. Because Annihilation of Caste has nothing to do with Ambedkar and Gandhi. Annihilation of Caste has something to say about caste, about its annihilation, about the purpose of annihilation of caste. It talks about why Hindus should take up the work of annihilation of caste. That is the purpose of that book. If at all she wanted to introduce that theory to readers she should have written something about annihilation of caste, the necessity of that. Even after 1936 most of the views expressed by Dr. Ambedkar still remain to be put into practice, such things could have been written by her. Therefore I feel that (the introduction is) totally without any purpose.
I feel, except to compare Gandhi and Ambedkar and put Gandhi on a high pedestal (there seems no other purpose). That is indicated in the title itself (The Doctor and the Saint). Though she now claims that it is a sarcastic expression but by giving that title to the essay, that cannot be (seen as) sarcastic. In the text she can put sarcastic words but the title is "The Doctor and the Saint". Is she denigrating both Gandhi and Ambedkar? Or denigrating only Gandhi or only Ambedkar? Sarcastic expressions are used against both or against one? If at all it is sarcasm, then why should she use sarcastic comments on Ambedkar which he doesn't deserve? Therefore I feel the very title is mischievous, misleading, denigrating and in bad taste.
Two things are there in this whole episode. One is she equates or compares Gandhi and Ambedkar. And praises Gandhi and puts Ambedkar down as she said in the letter: junior partner! Ambedkar's account here is as a junior partner in the annihilation of caste, probably.
Therefore this Navayan publishers I feel, though they are claiming they are brahmins (but) still they are not casteists. At this juncture I feel that - whom are they fooling? Where is the necessity for Anand to say that I am a brahmin but still I am praising Dr. Ambedkar; I am getting Ambedkar to the people so I am doing great service to untouchables. Being a Brahmin I am doing all these things. He wants to say that.
Arundhati Roy wants to say same thing probably. Because in the book she claims that she is a Syrian Christian. Where is the necessity to tell us that she is a Syrian Christian? Though I am a Syrian Christian I am praising Ambedkar, I am assessing Ambedkar in a great way - (all this) probably to please the untouchables or to please the dalits. Anand Navayana says though I am a brahmin I am glorifying Dr. Ambedkar by publishing his books or whatever. In a similar vein Arundhati Roy claims that though I am a Syrian Christian.. Probably, top among the Christians; probably, they are very upper caste; probably she is a brahmin convert or her ancestors were. So she wants to claim her genealogy - I am also a brahmin or upper caste but still I am writing about Dr. Ambedkar, introducing Dr. Ambedkar. Probably she wants to claim that by introducing Ambedkar she is doing great service to Ambedkar and the dalits. On the other hand, she has done great disservice to Ambedkar and dalits by writing that preface.
They are only aiming, Anand is only aiming to publish Annihilation of Caste and market it. If they just simply publish the text, "Annihilation of Caste", as it is, probably nobody would read it, he thought. There is no necessity for another publication by anyone about Annihilation of Caste so he wants to market Annihilation of Caste by getting a preface by none less than Arundhati Roy! Both Arundhati and Anand want to market the book with their introduction. There was no necessity for Arunthati Roy or Anand to write the preface and sell the book. If at all he wants to do another publication in a different way he could have done it without Arundhati Roy's preface. But he thought that without Arundhati Roy's preface he may not get sales for this book. He thought by doing this he did great service because without Arundhati Roy's introduction this book would have not got this much publicity.
That is what they are claiming. It is very unfortunate. Because of Arundhati Roy's preface only this book gained importance (that is their claim). That is trash. Without Arundhati Roy, without Anand or without Gandhi that book had its own value. And it goes (is read); as long as caste is there, the book Annihilation of Caste written by Ambedkar goes (will be read). Nobody wants anybody's introduction to sell the book. It goes, it has its own way of reaching people.
She can write, there is no second opinion about that. Anybody can write any introduction or anybody can make any comment on Ambedkar and Annihilation of Caste. Nobody can prevent it; it is about freedom of speech. But that person who is writing something, or speaking something, about Ambedkar should not denigrate Ambedkar. Should not belittle Ambedkar. If he wants to belittle Ambedkar, he can choose another platform. When Gandhi denounced his book, Ambedkar did not brush it aside. He put it in his book as an appendix. Therefore he wants the book to be read. The only way of criticizing Ambedkar - without Annihilation of Caste, they thought they will be in danger (if they criticized him)..Therefore they took the shelter of Annihilation of Caste and aired their views.
Annihilation of Caste is for Hindus as Dr. Ambedkar claimed in his book itself. It is for Indians because Indians whether they are Christians or Muslims or Sikhs or Parsis, they are still carrying the element of caste in their religion. So it is for all Indians. Mostly for Hindus, but is entirely for Indians. The book is aimed at Hindus and Indians. Dr. Ambedkar in his book itself had written how caste can be annihilated, when it could be annihilated. The solution is given, but since 1936 nobody is taking up the solution, nobody is following its prescription. Nobody, from all sections, is thinking of eradicating caste, to annihilate caste, because everybody wants caste including the last one in the ladder. Because it gives some solace in the system. Because everybody is getting some solace from this system. Not that they like it and therefore they want to retain it, but by compulsion they are retaining it. And if you want to annihilate caste you should annihilate all castes. So Caste is a symbol for castes, therefore he (Dr. Ambedkar) wanted to annihilate all castes. Therefore it is meant for all! Caste will go only when all Indians, all Hindus, take up the cause of annihilating castes. Only then castes will be annihilated in the way in which Dr. Ambedkar wanted this Caste to be annihilated.
Please also read other articles on the same issue:
Caste in the Name of Christ: An angry note on the Syrian Christian Caste: by Nidhin Shobhana
The Not-So-Intimate Enemy: The Loss and Erasure of the Self Under Casteism: by Gee Imaan Semmalar
Flaunting noble intentions, nurturing caste privileges: by Asha Kowtal
The Question of Free Speech: by Vaibhav Wasnik
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