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
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
The Judge, the Jury and the Goddess: by Akshay Pathak
Resisting a messiah: by Anoop Kumar
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