Ambedkar Cartoon, Dalit Objections and Indian Left Liberals - II



Continued from here.

This is the second, concluding part of the transcript of the interview Ravi Chandran, of the video news journal 'Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes', conducted with Dr K. Satyanarayana, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U) on the recent Ambedkar cartoon controversy.

Dr K. Satyanarayana: If you take the syllabus of political science at post graduate level or at various levels, are we reading Ambedkar as a political thinker? You might have one or two articles from scholars, maybe from Gail Omvedt or Eleanor (Zelliot) or recently from Valerian Rodriques on Ambedkar's thought, or Ambedkar as an untouchable thinker, but not Ambedkar as a political theorist. Ambedkar is not centrally seen as a political thinker, not only Ambedkar, the entire generation of anti-caste intellectuals and leaders and dalit movement is not at the centre of political science today. Political science looks at dalits only in the context of elections as vote banks and this is a serious failure on the part of political science.




So when dalits are talking about representation of Ambedkar, they are talking about substantial representation of Ambedkar engaging with his intellectual and political thoughts. You may say that this is not possible in the textbook but you have to discuss about it and acknowledge that it is a complex and challenging task and it involves a lot of difficulties.


Ambedkar Cartoon, Dalit Objections and Indian Left Liberals - I



Ravi Chandran, of the video news journal 'Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes', interviewed Dr K. Satyanarayana, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U) on the recent Ambedkar cartoon controversy. Here's the first part of the transcript of the interview:

Ravi Chandran: Sir, how do you see the division between left-liberal intellectuals and Dalit intellectuals on the Dr. Ambedkar cartoon controversy in the NCERT test book?

Dr K. Satyanarayana: I have been following the discussion on this controversy. I was really surprised that there is this very sharp divide between the left-liberal intellectuals and Dalits. These two groups have taken entirely different positions on it. And if there is anything to be said about this controversy, the most striking feature is the position taken by the liberal and left intellectuals and especially those who are part of making these textbooks. It is shocking to me.




Let us outline what is the position of left-liberal intellectuals on this controversy and what are one or two Dalit intellectuals and other dalit activists are saying, what are the two different kinds of views and why there is division between the two.


Thol.Thirumaavalavan writes to Kapil Sibal and Sukhadeo Thorat


Memoranda submitted by Thol. Thirumaavalavan of the Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK) to Prof S.K.Thorat, Chairman, NCERT Review Committee and Mr Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Govt.of India, on 29.05.2012 and 30.05.2012 respectively, in New Delhi.





Mr Kapil Sibal

Honourable Minister of Human Resources Development

Government of India

New Delhi

Sub: NCERT Class XI Text book-Dr. Ambedkar Cartoon – reg.

Respected Sir

On behalf of Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK) – the only Dalit party in UPA- I want to submit the following for your kind consideration:

First of all I appreciate the UPA government for its quick action in appointing a committee to consider the apprehensions raised by me and other members in Parliament over the Ambedkar cartoon published in the NCERT class XI text book.

I also want to appreciate the efforts taken by UPA government to reform our educational system and the academics who were involved in drafting the NCF 2005 under the chairmanship of Mr Yashpal. The text books produced by NCERT are comparatively good. No doubt they are very helpful for the students in opening up their creativity. The text books were designed to change the 'banking approach 'in education and try to use classrooms to 'conscientize' not only students and also teachers.

But, these are not reasons for obstructing us from fair criticism of the text books. It is also a fact that we have no public forum to discuss about our text books. That's why the delay in finding out the 'objectionable cartoon' in the class XI text book.


The caste-neutral whip and other jokes


It is a clear visual representation of 'secular violence', which has its roots in the presentation of the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist movement as an unproblematic social organization and process, through which India gained freedom for the betterment and advance of all its 'citizens.'

- Savari, in 'Whipping up 'critical pedagogy': Uncritical defense of NCERT's violence'.


He draws a mob as big as India, adds a panch-enforcer with a whip, points to the accused, and renders mob justice.

Indian children understand mob justice quite well. They see it on the street, on television, in newspapers; its appearance now in text books, thanks to this cartoon, will take the process of normalizing it a little further. Think of thieves being beaten up. Thieves being tied and beaten up. Many of them minors. 'Bad' women being beaten up. Women practising 'witchcraft' being beaten up. Dalit women being beaten up. The children also see, hear and read about khaps.

Dalit_woman_beaten_patna_copy_copy_copy[Interspersed through this article are pictures of actual public scenes involving mobs inflicting violence on individuals. Hope they arouse some critical thinking]

Why did a substantial section of the brahminzed classes not see it that way? They didn't/don't see even Hazare, another whip wielder, that way. The Indian public sphere is still very unproblematic.

Some say Nehru was whipping the snail, not Dr Ambedkar. So what was Dr Ambedkar doing in the picture? Like the Indian mob usually does, Shankar wanted an identifiable two legged villain.


Two Lessons from Ashoka and Ambedkar

Shiva Shankar

(Talk presented at the conference on 'Dr.Ambedkar and the Modern Buddhist World', Nagaloka, Nagpur, October, 2006)

Dear Friends,

We all learn early that in 250 BC the Mauryan king Ashoka waged and won a cruel war with the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga, yet when he went to inspect his spoils, it was not triumphant glory that was his chief emotion, but a great sorrow for the misery that he had wrought on all living things. So profound, we then learn, was his compassion for people he had just earlier considered his enemies that he converted to Buddhism, promoted Buddhism as the state religion, and ushered in a graceful period of our history to go down as Ashoka, the Great King.


I wish to point out two lessons that must be learnt from this historic event on the fiftieth anniversary of the equally historic event of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's Fourth Turning of the Wheel.

One, why did Ashoka consider it necessary for himself, and for his subjects, to convert to Buddhism? Could he not have accomplished as much remaining 'Hindu'?

Clearly Ashoka himself felt that he could no longer remain in the folds of the faith he had earlier followed, given that he with missionary zeal promoted Buddhism as his State religion. This glaringly obvious message seems not to have been grasped by most Hindus however, which leads me to the second lesson:


The Cartoon, the Classroom and the Idea of India


Dr. N. Sukumar

The cartoon controversy has exposed the deeply divided faultlines in the sarkari academia which has gone into a damage control mode. A brief glance through all the news (both electronic and print), blogs, facebook chatter etc reveal the deep anguish at the frittering away of "academic freedom". One appreciates the immense labour to make social sciences textbooks more child-friendly, to inculcate critical and creative thinking rather than promote learning by rote. In this context, images play a crucial role.


However, reading against the grain, certain questions need to be pondered over. Is the dialogic space within the classroom value-free? An Emphatic No. Despite the provisions of the RTE Act, many leading public schools in Delhi refuse to admit Muslim children. How many SC/ST children are into CBSE, ISCE, International Baccalaureate, and other elite schooling systems? The documentary, 'India Untouched', reflected the state of education in Bharat. Hailing from a small village wherein caste was a lived reality, the constitutional provisions enabled me to access higher education in an 'eminent' academic institution. All sorts of 'progressive' theories were discussed from Plato, Marx to Gandhi but Ambedkar was the missing ideology. This is the academic freedom which nurtured and continues to operate in the classroom for many decades.


The cartoon controversy: Inside the mind of one 'fanatic' Dalit - I

Anoop Kumar


'I have an open mind, though not an empty mind. A person with an open mind is always the subject of congratulations. While this may be so, it must, at the same time, be realized that an open mind may also be an empty mind and that such an open mind, if it is a happy condition, is also a very dangerous condition for a man to be in. A disaster may easily overtake a man with an empty mind. Such a person is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder. It can have no direction. It may float but may also suffer a shipwreck against a rock for want of direction.' - Dr B. R. Ambedkar, while concluding the preface of his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'

It was more than a month ago that some of my Dalit friends brought this NCERT cartoon to my notice. One even sent the entire NCERT text book in PDF format through email calling the cartoon derogatory to Babasaheb Ambedkar and the need for Dalits to protest against it.

The whole issue didn't interest me at first. I had faith that people at NCERT would not do something like including a cartoon in their text books to denigrate Dr Ambedkar now, at a time when Dalit assertion is so strong and visible. So I just had a very cursory glance at the cartoon.

To be honest I didn't notice the whips. I didn't notice even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. So there was no question of reading the cartoon as 'Kashmiri Brahman whipping Dr. Ambedkar'. [There are many commentators who are mockingly suggesting that this is how Dalits who are opposing this cartoon 'misread' it. At least I didn't read it that way.]


Response to 'Notion Of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde

Vaibhav Wasnik

[The article 'Notion of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde can be found here. Vaibhav's response expresses a belief in electoral democracy and the transformative potential of the Indian constitution. Round Table India shall continue to welcome all shades of Dalit and Bahujan opinion]


The article by Mr Teltumbde starts off with genuine grievances, talking about the democratic values of ' Justice-social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation' as the advertised driving forces behind the constitution and compares that to the state of affairs in India as a nation by highlighting 'neo-liberal reforms' as the ultimate blunder.


Dalits must embrace a Metanarrative

Comments on Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (Part II)

Continued from here.

P. Dayanandan

(Paper presented on 10th April, 2012 on the occasion of the release of the Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing)


• In this Anthology M. C. Rajah makes reference to the claim that 'disabilities of 'untouchables' spring from deep-rooted social prejudices...' (p.225). But then he is writing in English, and it is not any translation of a Tamil word. (By the way, in this 175th year of Madras Christian College we may want to recall that M.C. Rajah, and another great leader recalled by Anbu Ponnoviam in this Anthology – P. M. Maduraipillai – were old students of MCC. But you may not find their names in the list that is used to boast of great alumni of the College, call it prejudice or elitism!).


Buddhism as a social, democratic doctrine: a liberation ideology

Karthik Navayan


In 1935, while addressing the Yeola Conversion Conference, Dr. BR Ambedkar declared 'I am born a Hindu. I couldn't help it, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu'. He said: 'Hindu civilsation.. is a diabolical contrivance to suppress and enslave humanity'. It was created by Brahminical parasites to enslave people and perpetuate their control over all the power and wealth of the nation. Hindu Brahmanic religion, which is responsible for the caste system of graded inequality, untouchability, exploitation and oppression, had introduced the theories of Karma and rebirth to justify them. And to perpetuate all those social evils it created the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. The Hindu religious system is continuing its repression in all fields even today.


Freedom, dignity, happiness, or simply, life!

Comments on Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (Part I)

P. Dayanandan

(Paper presented on 10th April, 2012 on the occasion of the release of the Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing)


• I congratulate Ravikumar, Azhagarsan and Mini for bringing Dalit thoughts to English language readers at large. A quick look at Ravi's writing, speaking and publishing record gives you some inkling of how Iyothee Thass must have managed his time to accomplish all his outpourings. Many folks gathered here, from the writing and publishing professions, defy time. I am grateful to all of you for this honor to receive a copy of the Anthology containing your precious writings, and make some observations on them.

• If we spend 3 minutes on each of the 78 selections it will take 4 hours. How then can we do justice to the 41 authors, translators, editors and the publisher? I will not attempt that. Neither will we discuss, at this stage, about the selection of themes nor authors, nor quality of translation and editing. I will not discuss if the segments selected from the books truly represent the whole. Plenty of that will follow as reviewers examine this Anthology.


Mayawati: Caste Anxieties and Patriarchal Fears

Continued from here.


Her roofless abode gives her a clear view of the fields and the village she guards over. She is my paternal family's deity, revered as a force of nature as are the scores of female gods of the Shudra, Atishudra and Adivasi cultures. Her free spirited nature echoes the attitude of another goddess in Siddalingaiah's narrative of village deities: one who refuses a temple with a door, saying, 'I would like to go and come as I please.' Within the timeless non-brahamincal world, female iconography is rendered in ways whereby it is 'her gaze' which is anxiously worried over, as it could mean, protection, forgiveness and peace.

From the 10th and 11th centuries AD onwards, with the onset of large scale temple building activities, female iconography begins to appear on temple panels. Here the female form is rendered through the brahmanical male gaze, though the imagery itself is not inspired by brahmin women. From Multan to Somnath, from Konark to Hoysala to Thanjavur temples, all of them bear sculptures that have been inspired by the temple-women, drawn almost exclusively from the shudra and atishudra castes. These visuals radiate the highly disciplined intellect and body literacy of these subjugated, ancestral dalitbahujan women. Throughout the ages, the collectives of temple-women were known to be rigorous knowledge producers, surpassing the productivity of the best universities, bequeathing to the subcontinent, civilization-sustaining bodies of knowledge. Yet, for us, the images are life size portrayals of women manacled by caste and patriarchy. Contemporary dalitbahujan women are often ambiguous about celebrating these images as immortal style icons of amazing grace and ability. This visual history highlights an ancient struggle in progress-- against caste, the father of all hegemonies.


Other Related Articles

Call for Papers: “Doing Ambedkarism Today: Issues of Caste, Gender and Community”
Monday, 11 December 2017
  Call for papers for workshop on: “Doing Ambedkarism Today: Issues of Caste, Gender, and Community” Dates – 19th to 22nd February 2018 Deadline for Proposals – 31st December... Read More...
Becoming Minority- An Unsettling Inquiry into a ‘Settled’ Concept
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
  Bhakti Deodhar (Book review of Becoming minority: How Discourses and Policies Produce minorities in Europe and India, edited by Jyotirmay Tripathi and Sudarshan Padmanabhan, New Delhi, Sage... Read More...
Differentiating the Hindi subject: Bhojpuri experience
Sunday, 24 September 2017
  Asha Singh Questions of linguistic autonomy and annihilation of caste-gender oppressions are crucial for the struggles of an emerging Bahujan public sphere in Bhojpuri speaking regions. Ali... Read More...
The Hollowness of Noisy Bodies and a misplaced sense of student politics
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
  Nasima Islam Through this brief venture of mine, I would like to address a crucial issue that covers one of the most significant problems of contemporary student politics in India. Given the... Read More...
Archiving the Complex Genealogies of Caste and Sexuality: An Interview with Dr. Anjali Arondekar
Saturday, 10 June 2017
  Anjali Arondekar This interview emerged as a series of email exchanges between Rohan Arthur and Dr. Anjali Arondekar who works on the Gomantak Maratha Samaj archives, following Rohan's... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Call for Papers: “Doing Ambedkarism Today: Issues of Caste, Gender and Community”
Monday, 11 December 2017
  Call for papers for workshop on: “Doing Ambedkarism Today: Issues of Caste, Gender, and Community” Dates – 19th to 22nd February 2018 Deadline for Proposals – 31st December... Read More...
Becoming Minority- An Unsettling Inquiry into a ‘Settled’ Concept
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
  Bhakti Deodhar (Book review of Becoming minority: How Discourses and Policies Produce minorities in Europe and India, edited by Jyotirmay Tripathi and Sudarshan Padmanabhan, New Delhi, Sage... Read More...