Dalit writing doesn’t belong to trash bin– An open letter to Dr. J. Devika

 

Santhosh Kumar

SanthoshDalit writer and thinker Sunny Kapicadu's book 'Janathayum Janadhipathyavum' belongs to the garbage bin - says Dr. J. Devika, a famous public intellectual working at the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala. Sunny Kapicadu proposed a perspective different from that of Dr. J Devika regarding the recent controversial confinement of Hadiya. Enraged by a dissenting voice from Kapicadu, Dr. J Devika asked the person who sold her Kapicadu's book to take the copy away ASAP, and that she would throw the book into the trash bin otherwise.

Everyone including Dr. J Devika has the right to choose what they read and to follow intellectual traditions of their choice. I agree that the freedom to choose is fundamental to a democratic society. However, I don't understand what is so democratic in proposing to throw a book into the trash when a thinker/writer expresses an opinion different from yours on any specific issue. Janathayum Janadhipathyavum (People and their Democracy) evolved out of forty years of Kapicadu's political life as a Dalit thinker-writer-activist. The book is hailed as a milestone in the history of the Dalit movement in Kerala. In fact, the book had nothing to do with the issue regarding which he had differed. Therefore, throwing such an important and much-awaited book into the garbage for reasons other than the merit of the book is quite undemocratic and totalitarian. It reveals the hidden and suppressed intellectual arrogance and sociocultural supremacy of an upper-caste intellectual who claims to support and stand for the Dalit cause.

Dr. J. Devika's reaction to Sunny Kapicadu's differing opinion raises some important questions for her:

1. Don't you keep the writings of those who have a different opinion from yours in your personal library?

 2. How many books have been returned by you to famous and dominant publishers like DC Books, Current Books, and Mathrubhumi Books because an author expressed a different opinion from yours on a particular issue?

The upper castes have reproduced the dominant order of a brahmanical casteist society through controlling the production of, and access to, knowledge. This control over the production of a particular kind of knowledge rationalized the casteist order and the marginal position of Dalits. Babasaheb's writings and thoughts dismantled brahmanic knowledge. Those who followed Babasaheb's intellectual tradition have resisted the brahmanic order through advancing progressive anti-caste movements across India and beyond. Sunny Kapicadu is one among them. He contributed, along with many others, to the development and strengthening of Dalit movements in Kerala that became powerful in the early 1990s and 2000s. Kapicadu's intellectual interventions were crucial in developing an ideological framework for Adivasi-Dalit struggles in the last three decades. The book Dr. Devika wanted to throw in the dustbin was in fact the culmination of his painstaking engagement with Adivasi-Dalit struggles in Kerala, against all odds.

Dr. J Devika argues that 'it was a private talk which was made public' by the person who sold her Kapicadu's book. Does it mean that it is fine to acclaim Dalit writing in public and disgrace it in secret? Is it not important to uphold what you claim to stand for in public forums in private conversations also? Sunny Kapicadu may not be an academic superstar, but no academic writings have influenced as much as his writings on the Adivasi-Dalit liberation struggles in Kerala in the last few decades. It took decades for the so-called progressive thinkers in India to even recognize Babasaheb Ambedkar's contributions and writings. This history of reluctance to recognize Dalit writings can be seen all over India. The non-academic writings from 'below' are not easily recognised in the upper caste controlled academic and intellectual spaces. Adivasis and Dalits face severe challenges when they enter the world of academic and non-academic scholarship. These challenges represent the fear of the uppercastes, because it is always the knowledge from below that destroys the dominance of the uppercaste intellectuals who might claim to support the Dalit cause in public but want to throw Dalit writings into the trash bin when they get a chance.

Dr. J Devika also seems to have been caught up in this crisis to recognise Dalit writings, at least in private conversations. This is happening after she has written about Dalits, and it shows us how deep the reluctance to recognise Dalit writings is, even among 'progressive scholars'. This is exactly why the book 'Janathayum Janadhipathyavum' is also meant for such 'progressive scholars'.

The Malayalam version of this article was published in the online news portal Narada News.

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 Santhosh Kumar is Chalo Thiruvananthapuram Struggle Coordinator, and works at Keraleeyam Magazine.