(On 9th March, 2014, Navayana had planned to launch its 'annotated critical edition' of Dr BR Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste with an introduction by Arundhati Roy, in Hyderabad city. The event was cancelled because of distribution issues according to the publisher. But the spin put on the cancellation, especially by the corporate media, tried to pin the blame on some Dalits and others who had raised some objections to the introduction. Presented below are the reflections of the writer, who had planned to be a participant at the book launch. They follow his thoughts, on the book and its introduction, on the debates that followed in the social media, Telugu media and elsewhere, on the protests and the savarna protests against the protests. And on Arundhati Roy's seemingly endless circle of friends and supporters in the media, academia, civil society etc., who sprang up to defend her and her 'introduction')
Do not allow those that have historically oppressed and continue to oppress you today to define your history, reality and interests for you. To say this is not rocket science. Nor is it racist. It is just common sense – Runoko Rashidi
Her friends in the corporate media
Without any prejudice, I feel that there was a problem with that title, "The Doctor and The Saint". Ambedkar is addressed as Doctor by Arundhati Roy simply because he is a PhD Doctorate, and certified to be a Doctor of Philosophy. So the word Philosopher is a more suitable term to address Dr Ambedkar in Telugu; but why was Gandhi addressed as a prophet, does he have any certificate to be called a prophet (in Andhra Jyothi translation)? No. The moral here is, anything that upgrades a dominant caste person will be justified, normalized and accepted. However, upgrading the position of a marginalized caste individual is unacceptable. Andhra Jyothi proved that.
On the sixth of March, 2014, Andhra Jyothi, the Telugu daily, published an excerpt from Arundhati Roy's introduction, "The Doctor and The Saint" which was translated as "Oka Vaidyudu Oka Pravaktha", which actually means "The Medical Doctor and the Prophet".
The better translation in Telugu would have been the use of any of these words, signifying a philosopher, thinker, scholar etc: 1) Thathvavetta, (తత్వవేత్త ), 2) Darshanikudu (దార్శనికుడు ) 3. Vidwaansudu (విద్వాంసుడు). But none of these words were used while addressing Ambedkar. They took it for granted that no one would care.
However, they put in a lot of effort to upgrade Gandhi during the translation. A better word for 'saint' in Telugu would have been: 1. Muni (ముని ) 2. Sanyansi (సన్యాసి ) 3. Sadhu (సాధువు). But none of these words were used for Gandhi, they went on calling him ప్రవక్త (Prophet), which is not relevant in any sense. Why were so much extra efforts spent in upgrading Gandhi and why so much neglect for Ambedkar? A wrong word was used to reduce Ambedkar's status and another wrong word was used to upgrade Gandhi's status.
When I raised these objections, S. Anand responded and spoke to the people concerned in Andhra Jyothi. But on 7th March, they published only an explanation and not an apology. And they did not publish the corrected translation of the title in Telugu addressing Ambedkar as philosopher. On the same evening, Battula Ramprasad, a dalit activist, issued another statement demanding that the title be re-published in Telugu. Then on 8th March, Andhra Jyothi re published the title calling Ambedkar a philosopher.
Andhra Jyothi's explanation was, "Some people opined that prophet is not a suitable word for saint". How funny! When we speak facts, they turn it into our opinion, and they project their opinions as facts!
Arundhati Roy says that she addressed Gandhi as a saint, because Ambedkar also addressed him in the same way in a sarcastic manner. But why is it needed in the title itself, why compare Gandhi with Ambedkar? Gandhi is not a saint like Kabir, Ravidas, Basava, Pothuluri Veerabrahmam, Gadge Baba etc., he is more like Asharam Bapu and Nityananda Swamy. Why do the translators in the Telugu media keep on saying he is a prophet?
Arundhati Roy in her reply to Dalit Camera mentioned a message (an SMS), which was circulated among some activists asking them to protest against Arundhati Roy and S. Anand on 9th March. However, I had sent another message almost immediately, to the same set of people, to quell their misgivings, saying this: "Dear friends, our protest against Arundhati Roy and Anand Navayana is limited to questioning the commercialization of Ambedkar. We are not going to demand a ban on the book nor are we going to burn the book. We are preparing questions and we will just ask them. That is what our protest shall be". Why was this SMS not mentioned in her response? Why did she selectively mention only the first message sent by a stray mischief monger?
The Times of India reported that there "right wing activists and caste-based groups" involved in the proposed protest against Arundhati Roy and S. Anand. As there were no caste groups or right wing activists involved in the proposed protest, some friends wanted a democratic debate on the issue, how can they turn it into a right wing activity?
S Anand also explained, "We have stated clearly that "There have been some difficulties in the distribution of the book and it is not yet available, especially in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, etc. Meanwhile, acrimonious debates have been taking place without many people getting a chance to read it. The launch is therefore postponed till such a time as the book is widely available, and a more informed conversation can take place." We mentioned no rightwing or caste-based groups. We cannot help it if media distorts and misreports. Our statement is here: http://navayana.org/9-march-2014-hyderabad-launch-postponed/. I further wish to clarify that no-one from ToI called me; nor did anyone from Hindu call me when the earlier report appeared."
He also tagged me to the clarification of Lamakaan, one of the conference sites where the book was to be launched, saying "I hope you saw this clarification also by Lamakaan. Rejoinder to Press news – on Lamakaan's event cancellation of the Launch of "The Annihilation of Caste". Here's Lamakaan's rejoinder:
Lamakaan vehemently objects to the spin imparted to the postponement of an event planned at our venue, the event – the launch of "The Annihilation of Caste" was postponed by Navayana for the reasons stated in their statement appended below.
Lamakaan did not impute any further motives to any group with regards the cancellation or postponement of this event. That reporter, while speaking to Lamakaan attempted compare the cancellation of Kashmir event with current postponement. The Lamakaan representative insisted that two cannot be compared. No further categorization of the postponement was issued from our side. Lamakaan is an open cultural and political education space with the objective of engendering public debate and we stay committed to that goal.
The book launch will happen when, as the publisher statement testifies, when more people have had a chance to read the book.
So who was responsible for the news that branded Dalits as right wingers and caste groups? The Times of India reporter who filed the report said the information was given to her by the organizers.
Her friends in civil society
Here we will know a little about who could be responsible: this is a Facebook comment by Kavita Krishnan, leader of CPI(ML) Liberation:
"I was in Hyderabad recently and was seriously appalled to hear that Arundhati's piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Ambedkar and 'devoting more space to Gandhi'. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of her article, not much unlike the Hindutvavadi's misreading of Doniger "
Have the dominant caste media and intellectuals come to an understanding to brand Dalits as Hindutvavadis?
I asked her (on Facebook): "Who told you this story? Did you spoke to Anand Navayana before making this false statement comparing Dalits with Hindutvavadis? Know the facts. And don't put your opinions as facts". She comes up with this response, "Why get accusatory. I am happy to be corrected. I was misinformed; it's an honest mistake, not a falsehood being propagated".
I wrote back: "There is no accusatory (tone) in my comment just asking you to clarify before posting. But you accused us as hindutvavadis"
See... they never hesitate to call Dalits whatever they want, even if it is false - is this not caste arrogance? And power over Dalits? If Dalits are casteists, and Hindutvavadis, then show us the history, where Dalits committed atrocities and killed dominant castes.
Her friends in the academia
"Annihilation of caste" is not only a scholarly article; it is also the collective pain of a community. From 1936 till date, many people, with common concerns, emotions and a shared sense of responsibility, introduced this 60 page book to each other, without any or minimal cost.
Dalit intellectuals like Bojja Tharakam published Annihilation of Caste in Telugu and distributed the copies free of charge. However, now everyone has to buy it for Rs. 525 per copy.
People like Arundhati Roy have taken 80 years to read Dr.B.R.Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste. But now they ask protesting Dalits to read first, and speak. Is this not evidence of their power over Dalits?
Annihilation of Caste was written by Dr.B.R.Ambedkar in 1936. It is available online for free downloads. Just type the title in Google, press enter and you will get it. Ambedkar's writings are available online for free download at the Columbia university website. None of the Indian universities touched Ambedkar's writings; they do not even think of hosting them on their websites. Ambedkar is still an untouchable for Indian universities and academicians.
This spiced up text produced by these elite leftists is meant to be consumed by savarnas and white people, who are not aware of caste. Because all their show business is over now, they have to face the truth, so they have started speaking about Annihilation of Caste and Ambedkar.
Someone had written an introduction to Gandhi's Hind Swaraj, some time ago. However, they never referred to Ambedkar anywhere in the text. Why does Arundhati Roy bring in Gandhi as a Saint while introducing Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste? The title of Arundhati Roy's introduction is itself a problem. She should change the title and Gandhi should be removed from the title.
Any debate with savarna intellectuals and academicians is useless, they never agree with the truth while debating with Dalits. When we tell them that they are on the wrong side; they tell us, that they are using indicator, horn and brake! Look at any philosophical debates of savarna academicians with Dalits, you will agree with me.
Her friends in the agraharas
Actually the book "Annihilation of Caste" is directly addressed to all savarnas to change their caste mindsets. It is not addressed to Dalits. They better read the book and start practicing some morals and rationales proposed by Dr Ambedkar in the book. If one wants to write on annihilation of caste, it is better to write on the modern forms of caste and how caste still controls the life of the dominant castes, instead of writing an irrelevant introduction to Annihilation of Caste.
Dr Ambedkar's writings are willfully neglected by the savarna academia and intelligentsia. With one introduction by a savarna intellectual, the untouched Annihilation of Caste may get an entry into savarna academic agraharas. Will the readers who purchase the book for the sake of the introducer really read and understand Ambedkar's arguments on caste addressed to them? At least, now they agree that there are some people who don't want to read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste without an introduction by some savarna. This is caste, untochability and discrimination.
Ambedkar was criticized and judged in the introduction, but when Dalits criticize Arundhati Roy and S. Anand, they are branded as Hindutvavadis. So they can criticize Ambedkar but no one should criticize them - is this not caste arrogance? As they are not accepting Dr.B.R.Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste as it is, we are not going to take their introduction as it is. You will be questioned and criticized.
If they buy Annihilation of Caste just because of Arundhati Roy's introduction, what will the orthodox Brahmins do now? Will they sprinkle some gomuthra (cow urine) or ganga jal on Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Annihilation of Caste to purify it, before taking it into their homes and libraries? As it was written by an untouchable and had adorned millions of untouchable homes for the last 80 years?
Please also read other articles on the same issue:
A tale of two prefaces: by Karthick RM
Between Savior and Seller: Critiquing Preface Politics: by Praveena Thaali
A Glass Menagerie for the Bahujans—Annihilation of Caste and Gandhi's Wards: by James Michael and Akshay Pathak
Stigmatizing Dalits, From the Wadas to the Web: by Nilesh Kumar
Without Arundhati Roy and Gandhi, the book had its own value: Bojja Tharakam
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
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.