The Colonization of Ambedkar: Caste Politics behind Roy-Navayana's Appropriation of Annihilation of Caste ~ A Discussion


The Colonization of Ambedkar: Caste Politics behind Roy-Navayana's Appropriation of Annihilation of Caste ~ A Discussion

Date: 21st December, 2014

 Time: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.

 Venue: J. P. Naik Bhavan, University of Mumbai,

Kalina Campus, Santacruz (East)

Aoc Banner 1 Sanjay Vairal

Organised by ~

SC, ST, OBC Students and Teachers Association, University of Mumbai (special thanks to Sanjay Vairal, senate member, Univ. of Mumbai)


 Round Table India

All are invited


Theme of the event

The wall built around Caste is impregnable and the material, of which it is built, contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of Brahmins, who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland and you will get an idea why I think that breaking-up of Caste amongst the Hindus is well-nigh impossible.

~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, 'Annihilation of Caste'

The mischief done by the Brahmin scholars to historical research is obvious. The Brahmin scholar has a two-fold interest in the maintenance of the sanctity of this literature. In the first place being the production of his forefathers his filial duty leads him to defend it even at the cost of truth. In the second place as it supports the privileges of the Brahmins, he is careful not to do anything which would undermine its authority. The necessity of upholding the system by which he knows he stands to profit, as well as of upholding the prestige of his forefathers as the founders of the system, acts as a silent immaculate premise which is ever present in the mind of the Brahmin scholar and prevents him from reaching or preaching the truth. That is why one finds so little that is original in the field of historical research by Brahmin scholars unless it be a matter of fixing dates or tracing genealogies.

~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, 'Who were the Shudras'

Over the last half a century, Babasaheb and his words have provided constant inspiration to the oppressed communities who continue the fight to attain basic dignity in the horribly unequal country that is India. His writings, translated in many languages have been the backbone of many movements. Ambedkarites have kept his legacy alive in the many statues, songs, poetry, and literature etc., a corpus of resistance that is inarguably unparalleled in the recent history of India.

But brahminism thrives on exploiting not just people but also their hopes, their culture and anything that can give shape to the voice of the oppressed. Throughout history one can see the brutal and forcible appropriation of the culture and words of the great revolutionaries - from Buddha, Kabir and Phule to Babasaheb now.

The most recent attempt in this direction has been by a publishing house called Navayana led by S. Anand, who brought out an edition of Babasaheb's most acclaimed and significant book, Annihilation of Caste, with an introduction by the celebrity author Arundhati Roy.

As a counter to this, politically conscious Dalit-Bahujans launched a wide and in-depth critique challenging this appropriation. It was first initiated by protests on the ground in Hyderabad; several meetings took place, which were documented by Dalit Camera and RTI, and the campaign has been sustained by stimulating interventions on the internet, particularly the social media.

A diverse range of authors wrote a series of essays on the issue on Round Table India (which can be read here).

Concurrently, there have been vibrant critical debates in the Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Oriya and other Indian language media.

We aim to discuss the issues raised by these debates in the seminar. The subject of appropriation, an integral part of any hegemonic or colonizing project, is very wide; the focus of this seminar will be on this particular book and its wider implications as well as the need to present a parallel and counter view to the brahminical discourse that we are all forced to follow.

Speakers at the discussion

Dr. Suresh Mane, Advocate - Supreme Court & High Court, Ex. HoD Law Dept., University of Mumbai

Dr. Sangeeta Pawar, Assistant Professor, Department of Commerce, University of Mumbai & Co-ordinator, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Research & Training Institute (BARTI)

Anoop Kumar, Writer, activist and teacher based in Wardha, Maharashtra 

Karthik Navayan, Human rights activist, writer and researcher, Hyderabad

James Michael, Independent researcher, Mumbai

Kuffir, Contributing Editor, Round Table India


Some quotes from the debate

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.

~ Bojja Tharakam

It is not just the upper caste individuals who are under the scanner, but the system created by historical privileges which they enjoy which is the crux of the matter. It is this very Brahmanical system that has held the reins of the knowledge production through history and strives to continue to wield it, till date. Therefore, it is plain and simple that flaunting noble intentions of studying 'caste' while nurturing upper caste privileges does not work too well together.

Similarly, there is also this new danger of introductions and annotated editions of Babasaheb's writings. This morning I googled'Annihilation of Caste' and the first on the list of results was an advertisement by selling the 'Doctor and the Saint'. This is not the beginning of the conspiracy, but another cruel step in the long list of epistemic atrocities (that lead naturally to real ones eventually) that we have endured for way too long. My fears are not unreal.

~ Asha Kowtal

To understand why this book has happened now, we need to understand why Arun Shourie's book happened then. The reasons why ArunShourie wrote that book only then and not earlier. That was also a historic moment/context. If we go back a little further, Ambedkar, who lost both his health and several years of his life working on the constitution, had once said that he had done donkey's work to complete the job. But he was not awarded the Bharat Ratna then, even after making such huge sacrifices. He was not granted the honour even after he died. We will also have to understand when he was awarded the Bharat Ratna.

~ U. Sambashiva Rao

If we look at the introduction, for annihilation of caste, what should the country do, she says 'low is privileged as compared to the lower'. Meaning everyone is benefiting from the caste system, no one wants the system to go. But for us, it has to go. This caste has to go, it is caste that oppresses us, it is only our caste people who sweep the roads, it is caste that makes us do 'pakipani'. It is because of caste that we are denied education; it is because of caste, we don't have jobs; it is because of caste, we don't have 'poura' rights. All of this is experienced by us. We suffer. Whatever may be your knowledge, you could be the fifth ranking intellectual in the world, but in India, the ones experiencng caste discrimination.... to tell the world about this caste pain, you don't have the knowledge.

~ Jupaka Subhadra

It is important to ask whether Arundhati has understood that this book has had a history of its own. If this aspect is not being seen, there is no point in rejecting the criticisms raised against her. Can somebody of Arundhati's standing claim that she is oblivious to all of this? The fact that she doesn't mention anywhere in her introduction that unlike Ambedkar's other writings AoC has had a different history pushes us to think that she maintains a low opinion on this.

~ Sunny M. Kapicadu


For further information, contact: Rahul Gaikwad: 9867540884;  Gaurav Somwanshi: 9561707654

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