An Open Letter to Ms. Arundhati Roy


Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes

Dear Ms. Arundhati Roy,

We are writing this letter to clarify our position on the rumors spreading in New Delhi about the cancellation of the launch of the book, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, introduced by you and published by Navayana. The rumors claim that Dalit activists and intellectuals in Hyderabad have allegedly stalled the event of book launch. It is said that an event at EFL University and other events were cancelled because of the threats of Dalit activists. You know well that the memorial meeting (of Mudasir Kamran) at EFL University you were supposed to address was not permitted by the EFL University Vice Chancellor. The book launch events at Sundaraiah Vijnana Kendra and La Makaan were cancelled by the publisher Navayana.

We deny this well-designed false propaganda. We clarify in no uncertain terms that Dalit activists in Hyderabad were never in favor of stalling the event. The intention has always been to raise criticism of your role in the preparation of the edited book and also the contents of your introduction.  Many Dalit activists including myself are not pleased with your introduction and the planning of the event and publicity around your book and your star status. Some activists spoke to Anand and voiced their views strongly including objections to the book launch. The intention is not to stall the event or to ban your views but to make our point that you did not do justice to Annihilation of Caste.

Dalit activists have been very critical of your introduction to Annihilation of Caste. The entire debate started after excerpts from your introduction were published in Caravan and Outlook. These excerpts clearly indicate to anyone familiar with AoC, that your introduction has very little to do with Ambedkar's text. Whether it is more about Gandhi or not was never the issue, rather the content of AoC has been reduced to Gandhi and Ambedkar. The Gandhi and Ambedkar debate, you must be aware, is not part of Annihilation of Caste. But you chose to focus on the re-evaluation of Gandhi in comparison with Ambedkar. You did not contextualize and appreciate the historical significance of AoC. After reading the introduction, we feel saddened at your lack of investment in the history of the book and its circulation. For example: In Andhra Pradesh and several other regions of India, Dalit activists have translated AOC into regional languages and circulated it free of cost. Such knowledge of Dalit investment in the book is completely lacking in your introduction. Many of us strongly feel that your engagement with Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's work, or the Ambedkarite movement or even the text in question is quite minimal.

You may also be aware of the ways in which the Dalit criticism is now being variously described and derogated as "misogynist", "radical", "intolerant" etc. The mainstream media continues to display an abominable lack of knowledge or respect for Dr. Ambedkar. Take for instance: an article published in a Telugu daily about your essay had a serious problem. The Andhra Jyothy Daily (apparently unintentionally) translated the title of your introduction to describe Ambedkar as a physician (Vaidyudu), while describing Gandhi as a Prophet (Pravaktha). When SOME Dalit activists objected to this translation, the Daily promptly apologized and published a corrigendum. Later "The Hindu" described in a news item that the critics of your introduction and Navayana are "Hindu Right-Wing.". We strongly hope this rumor did not lead you to think of Dalit criticism as Hindu Right Wing reaction.

There are other serious problems we have (which have been the premise for Dalit criticism of your introduction). We took time from Anand to meet you in Hyderabad and were planning to take an interview with you. But the programme was cancelled. We were denied an opportunity to seek clarifications and raise criticisms. The following notification was released from the publisher:

"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 more informed conversations can take place."

Navayana conducted the book launch programmes at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Mumbai without the availability of the book. In the meantime, we hear that rumours are being spread among various intellectuals in New Delhi that the programme was cancelled in response to Dalit threats to stall the event.

We are not sure whether you are aware of all these 'rumours' and calls for your freedom of expression. We do hope that our sincere views and criticisms reach you when you visit Hyderabad very soon for the launch of the book and we have the opportunity to hear you in person. Enlisted below are some questions we prepared for the interview we wanted to conduct in Hyderabad. These questions are from several Dalit activists who could not meet you in Hyderabad. We will be happy if you answer them. If you ask, any mainstream paper or magazine will readily publish your reply.

Questions for Ms. Roy

1. What is your aim of writing the essay "The Doctor and the Saint'? Is this an introduction to Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste?

2. Your essay does not serve the purpose of an introduction to Ambedkar's classic text Annihilation of Caste. You did not track the publication or circulation history or even the historic role of Annihilation of Caste in Indian society. In what ways you feel that you are competent to introduce this text?

3. Do you share the view that Dalit activists and scholars are better qualified to introduce Annihilation of Caste both in terms of their engagement with Ambedkar and their life experience?

4. Have you done any research on Dalit community and its history? Have you been part of the Dalit movements? I ask this question as many dalit activists and scholars are criticizing your patronizing attitude to Ambedkar?

5. Your essay reads more like an essay on re-appraisal of Gandhi. Ambedkar is merely used to introduce Gandhi. What is your response?

6. My strong criticism is that you have done injustice to Ambedkar's text and in fact, provided scope for misreading Ambedkar on many issues?

7. Do you feel that you are an authority (in terms of your research or involvement in Dalit politics) on Ambedkar and therefore, you are competent to assess Ambedkar's position on capitalism, Adivasis, Brahmanism, caste etc?

8. How can you justify your criticisms of Ambedkar without engaging with his writings and practice in a historical manner? How can you arrive at Ambedkar's views on Capitalism and Adivasis by reading just Annihilation of Caste? Don't you think there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach?

9. Are you aware that the paradigm of representing Ambedkar along with Gandhi is a reading strategy of the elite and upper castes? Even a recent anthology of Ambedkar's writings such as The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar (edited by Valerian Rodrigues) introduces Ambedkar through Gandhi in the introduction. Why can't we read Ambedkar on his own terms?

10. What will you do to bring Annihilation of Caste and Ambedkar to the public discussion? Will you consider withdrawing this introduction and publishing it as a separate essay on Gandhi or Indian politics?

11. Dalits feel cheated that you and Navayana GOT all the media attention (The Outlook, The Hindu, Andhrajyothy etc) but the title Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is just used. Why did you use Ambedkar in this manner? Do you feel now that it is unethical?

12. One last question: The poster for the launch of the book says "In conversation with Bojja Tharakam." The focus is on your introduction, "The Doctor and the Saint." Do you need Ambedkar or any Dalit intellectual for this discussion?

Update: Please read Arundhati Roy's reply to Dalit Camera here.


Please also read other articles on the same issue:

Introducing Arundhati Roy and Friends : Karthik Navayan

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

 Arundhati Roy replies to Dalit Camera

 Vedic Chants for the 21st Century

Arundhati Roy's 'Introduction' to Ambedkar: Inside one Misogynistic & Xenophobic Dalit's mind: by Anoop Kumar

 The Judge, the Jury and the Goddess: by Akshay Pathak

 Resisting a messiah: by Anoop Kumar

 An Introduction to Anoop Kumar's "Misogynistic and Xenophobic Rants": by Vinay Bhat


Please find Dalit Camera's FB page here.


Other Related Articles

Caste and its patriarchal tamasha
Tuesday, 21 September 2021
  Dr Amritpal Kaur  Caste is a notion, as Babasaheb said but what makes it a complex phenomenon to understand is the fact that it is also a notional reality. Caste is never singular, it is... Read More...
How the caste census became a national issue and thereby a Brahmin problem
Thursday, 16 September 2021
   Neha As the 16th census of India is about to be conducted, several marginalized organizations and leaders have intensified their demand for a caste census. This is happening in the... Read More...
The Savarna Bhaskar politics
Thursday, 09 September 2021
    Deepali Salve We recently saw Swara Bhaskar's public display of 'grihapravesh' rituals following the norms and traditions of Hinduism. They were presided upon by a Brahmin priest,... Read More...
We the People: Expanding the Idea of Democracy - Part 3
Sunday, 29 August 2021
Pranav Jeevan P People normally blame democracy by saying it is not a good model of governance citing the issues that plague our country like poverty, corruption, unemployment and under-development.... Read More...
Art of the Oppressed: Politics of Existence
Saturday, 28 August 2021
  B. Prabakaran Why does Sarpatta hold an important place in Tamil film history? It not only has convincing arguments for Dalits and women but also raises questions against dominant images and... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Casteism in City Colleges and Classrooms
Saturday, 29 May 2021
Aarushi Punia It is a common myth perpetrated by upper caste faculty, students, politicians, and media that caste superiority and casteism is exercised amongst uneducated people in the villages, and... Read More...
Understanding Cultural and Social Capital of Savarnas
Thursday, 29 April 2021
Pranav Jeevan P Why is the assertion of Bahujans branded as identity politics based on caste, but the savarna assertions are termed as “culture”, “tradition” and “merit”? The dominance of... Read More...
Conceiving a New Public: Ambedkar on Universities
Saturday, 26 June 2021
Asha Singh & Nidhin Donald Dr. B.R. Ambedkar conceptualizes education as a ‘vital need’ which helps us fight notions of ‘inescapable fate’ or ‘ascriptions of caste or religion’. He... Read More...
Ram Van Gaman Path: Who are you to decide our vision for development?
Monday, 05 April 2021
Bodhi Ramteke What could be the priorities for any poorest state, where literacy rate is low, malnutrition level is high, having no proper educational & health infrastructure and other endless... Read More...
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - From Denunciation of the Vedas to the Negation of Karl Marx and Surrender to Nāstika Buddhism
Sunday, 16 May 2021
Dr Aniruddha Babar “Buddha would never allow violence, but the communists do. No doubt the communists get quick results because when you adopt the means of annihilating a man, they do not remain to... Read More...