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Brahmin-Savarna opportunities in a Dalit Death

Brahmin-Savarna opportunities in a Dalit Death

n shobhana

Nidhin Shobhana

n shobhanaLet me start this essay by narrating a sequence from a 1991 Malayalam feature film, titled ‘Sandesham’1. Though the sequence does not hold any direct relevance to my concerns, it will nevertheless help me introduce my key questions: 

 …Workers of two opposing dominant political parties get into a conflict in a tea shop. This conflict soon takes the form of a street fight. The fight stops abruptly when they find out that one man (not one among them) is dead. Immediately the news reaches the local political leaders. They hardly know the one who is dead (nothing about his present or past, his family or village), but they desperately want to claim him as their martyr. They run from pillar to post to get their respective flags to cover the dead body with their ‘color’. They frantically raise slogans to make the most out of this opportunity…

I have surely missed out many details from the sequence but for the purpose of this essay, let me highlight two words – ‘death’ and ‘opportunity’. Is death an ‘opportunity’? From time immemorial death has been subject to several creative and political interpretations. It is an opportunity with immense potentials. Across the world, ‘martyrdom’ as an institution is utilized to remind us of history, reinvents gendered roles and values (martyr’s mother, wife, son etc), summon anger and imagine communities. The pros and cons of such institutionalization should be evaluated in view of larger structural realities.

One should ask – Who is constructing the ‘martyr’? Why are they doing it? What are its consequences?

For example, if historically powerful groups (like the ruling elite part of dominant political parties in the movie sequence) are constructing the ‘martyr’, what would be their reasons? Would they construct the ‘martyr’ to maintain their social, economic and political power?

Let us engage with these questions in the context of Rohith Vemula’s murder, his suicide note and the subsequent literary upsurge based on his letter by powerful individuals at the behest of powerful institutions. The use of the term ‘powerful’ demands explanation. It simply means those individuals or institutions who/that predominantly ‘belong to’ the social ruling classes of India – the Brahmins and Savarnas.

The aim here is to discern the patterns and politics in these literary flare-ups and underline their consequences. The scope of the essay does not allow me to go through all the ‘resources’ comprehensively. Nevertheless, I have reviewed enough material to make certain conclusive statements.

Before taking a detailed look at the literary-flare-ups of Brahmins and Savarnas in the context of Rohith’s murder, I would try to build an operational framework to understand the historical and sociological meanings of reading and writing among Dalit-Bahujan communities. Why do we need such a framework? Well, an outline of the meanings of reading and writing among ‘unlettered’ communities is important for two reasons:

(a) To explain not just the sharp differences but also the conflicts with Brahmin and Savarna histories of reading and writing.

(b) To understand Rohith’s life and writings as an integral part of anti-caste2 legacies of reading and writing.

Ultimately, such an outline would help me clearly underline the fault lines in Brahmin and Savarna literary obsessions with Rohith’s death and suicide note.

Historical Meanings of reading and writing: Lessons from Anti-caste legacies

Reading and writing as verbs and nouns are sociological and historical. How do we historically or sociologically analyze them?

We can ask several sociological and historical questions to a piece of writing– Who wrote it? Who read it? Why and when was it written? Where was it written and read? Who were/was the intended audience? How has it been written? How was it read? In which language was it written? Who published it? Who disseminated it? Have others written similar stuff?

All these questions attempt to people and place reading and writing. They try to contextualize it with the help of past and present. In the case of literature produced in and around diverse Dalit-Bahujan mobilizations, one needs to be mindful that the ‘written word’ was/is produced by castes and communities who were viciously kept away from formal education and reins of power.

Does this mean that Dalit-Bahujans have a different history of reading and writing? Yes, indeed. Their history is sharply different (and at odds) with the history of reading and writing among Brahmins and Savarnas.

Savitribai Phule’s poem ‘Rise to learn and act3 makes this difference and conflict more than evident –

Weak and oppressed! Rise my brother

 Come out of living in slavery.

 Manu-follower Peshwas are dead and gone

 Manu’s the one who barred us from education.

 Givers of knowledge– the English have come

 Learn, you’ve had no chance in a millennium.

 We’ll teach our children and ourselves to learn

 Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.

In the above lines, Savitribai Phule historicizes the entry of alphabets in Dalit-Bahujan lives in Maharashtra with the ‘death’ of Peshwai and the coming of the ‘English’. This sense of history is a critical feature of Dalit-Bahujan reading and writing.

Let me enlist three historical and sociological meanings of Dalit-Bahujan reading and writing. The listing is in no way exhaustive or original. It can only be indicative and oft-repeated within anti-caste scholarships –

The entry of written alphabets in one’s life has meant an entry of a new, ‘modern’ political tool which allows conversation with power.

In the words of Patricia Hill Collins, written words for the oppressed have meant ‘speaking truth to power’4. Let me give you an example, Pampadi John Joseph, a Dalit Christian leader-intellectual in early 20th century Travancore writes an English letter to the ‘British Parliament’ against practices of caste in the Syrian Christian dominant parishes. The British parliament discusses the letter and seeks explanation from the King of Travancore. The King, who thrived on the blessings of the British Crown, immediately sent fabricated photographs of ‘panthibhojanam’ (inter-dining)5.

In this example, John Joseph clearly utilized his training in English to word the everyday practice of caste within the Church. He addressed it directly to the vortex of power, the British Parliament. Such a correspondence was clearly beyond the ‘control’ of the local king. One can quote several such instances from the lives of anti-caste intellectuals, where they have used the new found alphabet and language as tool and space of resistance.

Entry of alphabets also meant access to crucial integers pertaining to one’s life and community. For example, we find several instances of Dalit-Bahujan communities organizing themselves in the late 19th and early 20th century. This period is very important. G. Aloysius6 marks late 19th century for (a) the emergence of the ‘Brahminical’ against the colonial rule in the form of Indian Nationalism (b) the increasing democratization of primary education and entry of certain lower castes into British services. These markers are connected to each other. In fact, Aloysius argues that the former is a response to the latter. This period also witnessed enumeration based on ‘caste’. For the first time lower castes officially made sense of their ‘numbers’. To be enumerated for the Dalit-Bahujan also meant to be ‘accounted for’. It emerged as a modern political tool in the early 20th century, when different lower castes, like the Ahirs, formed caste-clusters to fight the upper-caste oppression and dominance. Integers are extremely important for the historically subjugated groups to continue their struggles and ‘speak the truth to power’7. They form the ‘flesh and blood’ of modern politics. Access to these numbers poses a real threat to the social ruling classes. Brahmin-Savarna resistance to caste census should also be seen in this light.

The entry of written alphabets has meant critical and thorough enquiries into one’s past and present.

The lives of almost all the anti-caste intellectuals can be listed as possible examples. Poykayil Gurudevan8 exemplifies this spirit of critical enquiry in no simple ways. He analyses the bible in every form possible. The book was handed over to him as a ‘promise to eternal freedom, salvation’. He linked the book with everyday practice, only to realize that the upper-caste Christians do not intend to change their ways. He tried to appeal to them in several ways possible. He composed songs, performed them in Christian Conventions9. Sanal Mohan critically appreciates the emancipatory import in those songs10. Finally, the deep sense of realization that bible doesn’t offer any historical explanation to the plight of Dalits, convinced him to burn the book. This act, according to me, is a pedagogical, political insight on how anti-caste intellectuals engaged with the written word. The burning of Manusmriti by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar during Mahad Satyagraha (25th December 1927) is also a result of this deep engagement with the written word. What do such ‘acts of burning’ tell us about anti-caste praxis? It tells us about the inseparability of ‘reading-writing’ and ‘living’, ‘scholarship’ and ‘society’, ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’. Anti-caste intellectuals were/are reading and writing loudly. They were living the everyday crisis of caste and making sense of their past and present.

The entry of alphabets has meant organized critique of language itself.

Anti-caste poets, writers have relentlessly tracked down Brahmanism and patriarchy infused in languages. They have questioned representations of individual and group identities. For example, Kancha Ilaiah in his book ‘Why I am not a Hindu’11 writes –

The name of Kalidasa was as alien to us as the name of Shakespeare. The only difference was that one appeared in Telugu textbooks while the other appeared in English textbooks. Perhaps for the Brahmin-Baniya students the situation was different. The language of textbooks was not the one that our communities spoke. Even the basic words were different. Textbook Telugu was Brahmin Telugu, whereas we were used to a production-based communicative Telugu. In a word, our alienation from the Telugu textbook was more or less the same as it was from the English textbook in terms of language and content. It is not merely a difference of dialect; there is difference in the very language itself.

Kancha Ilaiah’s dissection of Telugu and English reminds one of Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo’s book ‘Literacy: Reading the word and the world’12 which explains how the use of dominant language in literacy programmes weaken the possibilities of subordinate classes to confront and fight the dominant classes. They propose the use of native languages which represent the ‘word universe’ of the oppressed groups.

While deconstructing and dismantling pervasive Brahmanism in language has been one leg of their contribution, the other leg is precisely the construction of new aesthetics in reading, writing and disseminating.

Alphabets (irrespective of its oppressive syntax or history) witnessed transformation in context and meaning when the historically excluded groups claimed it as a ‘space of resistance’. Language was remade and reinvented to ‘find personal power within contexts of domination’13. The possibilities of using English or Malayalam or Marathi to develop anti-caste discourses became evident only when the Dalit-Bahujans claimed the language as authors, poets, orators, disseminators and organizers. Writing in the context of Black American’s confrontation with English, bell hooks talks about how English as a language of the white oppressor transformed into a ‘counter-language’ in the hands of the African slaves14. Similarly, language witnessed radical reworking in the hands of anti-caste intellectuals.

For example, the language and form of Jotiba Phule in ‘Gulamgiri’ clearly placed ‘Dalit-Bahujan’ audience at the centre stage. One can say that Jotiba Phule and several others achieved the dual goal of speaking truth to both power and people. Very clearly, achieving these goals in a single book. Language in Dalit-Bahujan aesthetics grew beyond accumulative monologues15. It was/is a disseminative dialogue16. The struggles for autonomous and emancipatory language/s among Dalit-Bahujan intellectuals continue. For example, anti-caste feminist scholars like Lata P.M.17 and Jenny Rowena18 underline the need for institutional and material resources and one’s own space for making sense of our lives (joys, angers and sorrows) and death. A lot of what we read as anti-caste literature today was achieved not in the comforts of central universities or other institutional arrangements aiming at ‘knowledge production’. In fact, they were achieved mostly outside of it, negotiating and fighting with material and cultural disabilities.

Literature produced by anti-caste movements brings to us numerous literary strategies to ‘name the world’ and develop a dialectical relationship with the powerful groups. This is evident not only in the content but also the in the places and processes of reading and writing. Through anti-caste intellectual productions, excluded communities approach the ‘dominant classes’ as political opponents and not as political junior partners or servants19.

Dalit-Bahujans have conceived meanings of reading and writing largely in tandem with modern values of public good, fraternity, equality and liberty. In Savitribai’s words, education is a ‘modern war cry’ for Dalit-Bahujan politics. This tradition has constructed a ‘historical individual’; an individual who is sensitive and mindful of his/her own histories and acknowledges the struggles led by his/her communities, uses numbers and alphabets as political tools and changes the rules of dominant language. This tradition is in deep conflict with ‘Brahminical modernity’ which has constructed an ‘ahistorical’ individual (who has eclipsed her/his own identities but lives them nonetheless), trying to maintain their dominance over alphabets, numbers and language with changing times.

Rohith Vemula read and wrote in solidarity with these collective history/ies and meanings. He constructed his political opposition to Brahmin Savarna systems20 within a broader idea of collective ‘association’ of subjugated groups21. His own words and associational life evidence this fact.

Drawing from the preceding paragraphs, I can now attempt to answer the following question – Why is it that Rohith’s death and his suicide note received such attention from Brahmin and Savarna authors?

In our society, death often finds more solidarities and fan following than life. Death or ‘death-like’ suffering is collectively held more meritorious and valuable. For example, our society defames women who successfully elope with their lovers. Elopement is often a survival strategy to escape the drudgery of one’s household or caste. The society prefers endurance and suffering which may lead to death and not elopement. Similarly, Dalit-Bahujan conversion to Christianity or Islam or Buddhism in order to escape death or ‘death-like’ suffering, is seen as an act of ultimate irreverence. M.K. Gandhi or his likes constantly bad-mouthed such Dalits for being misguided by an ‘appeal to stomach’ rather than ‘spiritual actualization’. They deemed it appropriate for Dalits to stay back and help ‘reform’ the in-doors and corridors of so called ‘Hinduism’ by enduring inhuman torture22. India seems to be a ‘pro-death’ order for the historically subjugated groups.

A ‘dead’ Rohith Vemula finds more space than an ‘alive’ Rohith Vemula. For example, if we were to imagine that Rohith Vemula was not murdered – and that he fought his way through PhD and found a job in a university. Would Brahmin and Savarna authors commemorate his letters and writings? The answer is a clear ‘no’. We have many examples of ‘living’ dalit men and women whose letters have hardly formed creative inspirations for the powerful. For example, Chithralekha’s letters to the Chief Minister of Kerala23. Where are the interpreters and poets and writers?

On the other hand, if Rohith would have become a university professor, Brahmin and Savarna scholars would have scoffed at him as a ‘middle-class’ Dalit!

Coming back to our question, I think one way of answering it would be by evaluating their writings and highlighting its key features. Again, such an exercise is not exhaustive but only indicative.

Let me list them down –

Mystifying Rohith: Making a ‘Saint’ out of a Political Opponent

Across the political spectrum, Brahmins and Savarnas seem happy that Rohith does not blame anyone in the suicide note. While some of them identify structural reasons of caste as responsible for murder, they still seem happy with the ‘sarcastic’ fact that Rohith does not blame anyone. This is put up as counter-evidence by BJP/ABVP and it is put up as a sign of maturity and lack of anger/ aggression/bitterness by left-liberals and gandhian scholars placed in powerful universities. In fact, you will find one author from IIT Delhi24 concluding her article with the following sentences –

Rohith’s tragic death has once again placed on our universities a long overdue civic burden – that of establishing a new era of studies situated at a socio-political “cross-roads” where Vivekananda can meet Ambedkar with vigor and without rancour.

While one respects her apparent love for democratic dialogues on campuses, the attempt to discipline such dialogues as ‘dialogues of vigor without rancour’ should be seen as a structural impossibility. Anger and bitterness are necessary and have an important function in any dialogue. Audre Lorde in her essay ‘Uses of anger’25 clearly outlines its usefulness in seeking truth. However, the author from IIT Delhi fails to recognize the ‘Dalit-Bahujan’ anger, and places it in the realm of ‘non-meritocracy’. She does not see anger in Rohith’s letter. On the contrary, she celebrates the ‘divinity’ of Rohith’s non-aggression, making him more and more ‘non-human’ and even ‘mythical’. For example, this ‘critical theorist’ compares Radhika Vemula with ‘Jabala the maid’ and Rohith with ‘Satyakama who wanted to be a Brahmachari’; both characters drawn from the Upanishads.

Another such example appeared in with the title ‘What do we owe Rohith Vemula after his death?’ Surprisingly, it has a concluding paragraph very similar to our IIT Delhi Professor’s –

By recognising the evil of caste prejudice in his message and yet forgiving its perpetrators, Vemula threw a challenge to all of us – Dalits, caste Hindus, Muslims, conscientious young men and women of all backgrounds – to put an end to this age-old scourge.

The scroll essay very clearly appreciates Rohith’s ability to ‘forgive perpetrators of caste prejudice’. In the body of the essay they glorify Rohith for not falling prey to ‘caste-hatred’ and ‘power prejudice’.

Both the articles empty out the critical anger and sarcasm from Rohith’s note ultimately denying his political opposition to Brahmin-Savarna systems.

Brahmin-Savarna dismissal of ‘numbers’

The sentence from Rohith’s letter which finds generous space in Brahmin and Savarna writings is undeniably the following –

“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind”

While Rohith’s predicament demands an independent engagement, mindful of his context, history and politics, one fails to understand the ‘joy’ of Brahmin and Savarna authors with the quoted sentence. They display no respect for any numbers or statistics pertaining to Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi majority of India. In the everyday reckoning of modern politics numbers are important. Rohith’s predicament emerges from the impossibility and humiliation involved in such a system controlled by the Brahmins and Savarnas. However, the powerful authors cannot claim shelter in Rohith’s experience. The above sentence in Rohith’s letter is often decontextualized to argue that Dalit politics has ‘come-of’ age and is ‘moving beyond the confines’ of identity.26

reading a suicide note

Reading/analysing/interpreting a suicide note

Why should one be wary of such arguments? Firstly, as mentioned above, such arguments decontextualise Rohith. Secondly, it completely fails to recognize the significance of integers in modern politics. For example, all of us need to know ‘numbers’ pertaining to employment, literacy, land-ownership, political representation etc. Dalit-Bahujan politics in and around these numbers are a response to the deep-rooted ‘identity politics’ of the Brahmins and Savarnas from time immemorial which has ensured control over knowledge and resources. Thirdly, such arguments emerge from powerful social and institutional locations with a clear view to maintain their status quo by brushing away numbers. It serves their purpose and power.

Rohith’s heroic individualism at the cost of the community

The writings univocally celebrate Rohith’s heroic individualism, without any direct or informed mention or acknowledgement of his political community. You will find similar attempts to appropriate Ambedkar without claiming or acknowledging the Ambedkarite community27. Such tendencies fall in line with the general principles of a Brahmin-supremacist patriarchal caste order, as it does not value the labour, time, energy or meanings of Dalit-Bahujan majority.

In fact, it does not stop at simple ‘invisiblization’, it takes a new turn when Brahmin and Savarna authors, as Anoop Kumar puts it, delegitimize collective struggles and histories by calling them as ‘confining’, ‘sectarian’, ‘identity-based’, ‘non-scholarly’, ‘regional’, ‘corrupt’, ‘vote-bank’ politics.

Who is the audience of the Brahmin-Savarna author?

The audiences of Brahmin and Savarna projects are essentially their own people. You find that Rohith is presented as a weak, vulnerable, tortured body with no anger or aggression or agency.

For example, let me quote from Manash Bhattacharjee’s essay titled ‘The clarity of a suicide note28

“In the middle of having contemplated his fate, having decided to end his life with his own hands, in a farewell act that will destroy his torturable body,[…]

[…] For people like him, life is “a curse”. He finds his birth a “fatal accident”…”

Or let me quote from ‘How not to read a suicide note’ by Hyderabad for Feminism29

“The sense of hopelessness that is tangible in Rohith’s letter comes from this dissonance between what he had dreamed he would become – a science writer, writing creatively and philosophically about science – and what he became – an “outcaste,” “outsider,” “out-everything” in that idealized space of higher learning and enquiry, the university. The monster is this: a human being systemically and systematically dehumanized, delegitimized, isolated, pariahed, his dreams thrust out and crushed underfoot”.

Apart from the arrogant titles, such repackaging of Rohith and his suicide note with ‘annotations’ on his body as ‘tortured/pariahed/dehumanized/delegitimized’ are attempts to convince a Brahmin-Savarna audience about the ‘gravity’ of caste-based violence. It looks as if without such explanations they would not be convinced!

Another method to ‘reach-out’ to a Brahmin-Savarna audience is by denying any historicity to Rohith’s life and annotating his suicide note with the help of kurta-clad ‘ahistorical individuals’. The Jan Natya Manch play on Rohtih’s murder is one such example. The ahistorical kurtadhari engages in a conversation with ‘death’ explaining the nuances of Rohith’s note. Hansal Mehta’s video on the suicide note is yet another example.

We face a terrible reality where even dissent is filtered for the convenience of the ‘powerful’ groups. Narratives of dissent or explanations of dissent essentially imagine a ‘tortured’ Dalit body mediated through a ‘casteless’ (read Brahmin-Savarna) narrator or writer. It completely sidesteps the anti-caste legacy of the ‘historical individual’ constantly engaged in a dialectical relationship with powerful classes.

Brahmin-Savarna guilt as a strategy

With Rohith’s murder, Brahmin-Savarna guilt has emerged as a prominent strategy to maintain status-quo. One such example is S. Anand’s write up in Outlook titled ‘How I killed Rohith Vemula’30. Among other things, the essay highlights the usefulness of guilt for a brahmin. Audre Lorde in her essay ‘Uses of Anger’ explains how an admission of guilt by powerful groups is strategy to maintain status quo. S. Anand does exactly the same, by his own admission, without any shame! He begins his essay with the following sentences –

I have no shame. I am a vulture. I am not outraged (in some of the circles I move in I pretend I am, though after reading news of your death I forgot to even skip lunch). I feed off death. I am a brahmin.

Guilt or the pretence of being guilty does not change Anand’s (or any such powerful author’s) access to resources or his ability to ‘feed off’ death. Audre Lorde argues that guilt is empty and that it ceases to exist once we start ‘acting’ on it. However, Anand’s essay does not show any such impulse.

The essay is also a classic example of how any form of ‘non-conformity’ by the social ruling classes is accommodated and celebrated within the political economy of mainstream publication. It is depicted as an act of ‘moral courage’, an act of ‘merit’ worthy of being published. By publishing it, the magazine showcases its ability to be open to its own criticism. What does it achieve? Well, it achieves an amazing feat. Guilt, conflict, conflict mitigation, reflection, critique, publication and circulation – all of this is achieved within one’s ‘own’ caste network. It is all in a family! What does it achieve for Dalit-Bahujans? Going by Audre Lorde’s explanations, a Brahmin’s guilt is of no use to the oppressed sections. It is an eye-wash.

Another such ‘guilt’ account is Apoorvanand’s ‘Jo Rohith ne nahi Kaha’ which appeared in Scroll. He writes about the ‘cowardice’ of ‘upper-castes’ without underlining any action plan for overcoming this ‘guilt’. To my mind, powerful university professors like Apoorv Anand should go on indefinite hunger strikes against SC/ST/OBC backlogs in Delhi University! Well, we do not see that coming anyway.

Thus, guilt accounts are essentially status-quoist and therefore dangerous.

In lieu of conclusion

What we saw in the preceding paragraphs is a glimpse of how Brahmin-Savarna authors and institutions have no ‘moral courage’ in dealing with their identities and histories. Instead they construct Rohith Vemula as a decontextualized martyr to maintain their power. While doing this, quite obviously, they stand in conflict with Dalit-Bahujan legacies of reading and writing. Attempts by certain powerful scholars to claim ‘left, Ambedkarite, feminist unity’ do not discuss these issues. They want solidarity without any anger or bitterness, without the troubles of statistics, representation and redistribution. Such solidarities stand on the ‘carcasses of social justice’ as Uday Kumar rightly mentions in his essay.



1. Sandhesam (English: The Message) is a 1991 Malayalam black comedy-political satire film written by Sreenivasan and directed by Sathyan Anthikkad, starring Sreenivasan, Jayaram, Thilakan, Siddique, Kaviyoor Ponnamma and Maathu in pivotal roles. Retrieved from:

 2. In this essay, Anti-caste struggles would mean struggles peopled and led by Dalit-Bahujan across religion communities by forming political or social alliances or otherwise, with an aim to radically break-down caste-system or cause ruptures.

3. Retrieved from:

 4. Patricia Hill Collins in her essay titled ‘On Intellectual Activism’ explains two moments in the literary works of Black Americans – speaking the truth to power & speaking the truth to people. See Weiner, Gaby. “Patricia Hill Collins “On intellectual activism” 2013, Temple University Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

5. Kunnikuyi S. Mani & Anirudhan P.S. , ‘Mahatma Ayyankali: Ayyankaliyude Ariyapetathu Charitram‘, DC Books: 2013

6. Aloysius G. (2010). The Brahmanical Inscribed in Body-Politic, Critical Quest: New Delhi

7. Jaffrelot, Christophe. India’s silent revolution: the rise of the lower castes in North India. Orient Blackswan, 2003.

8. Poykayil Gurudevan was one of the pioneering anti-caste intellectuals of Travancore, Kerala . He belonged to the Paraya Caste.

9. Kunnikuyi S. Mani & Anirudhan P.S. , ‘Mahatma Ayyankali: Ayyankaliyude Ariyapetathu Charitram‘, DC Books: 2013

10. Mohan Sanal. ‘Narrativizing the history of slave suffering’ in ‘No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India’ Penguin books: 2011

11. Ilaiah, Kancha. “Why I am not a Hindu: A Sudra critique of Hindutva philosophy, culture and political economy.” (2005).

12. Freire, Paulo, and Donaldo Macedo. Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Routledge, 2005.

13. Hooks, Bell. Teaching to transgress. Routledge, 2014.

14. Ibid.

15. Shailaja Paik in her book ‘Dalit women’s education in modern India: double discrimination‘ critically describes Brahminical tradition of knowledge production as ‘accumulative’ as opposed to Phule-Ambedkarite traditions of ‘dissemination’.

16. Even the salutation ‘Lal Salaam’ finds currency in certain geographies due to the relentless disseminations and dialogues of mostly Dalit-Bahujan communities, cadres and ogranizers.

17. Lata P.M. Silenced by Manu and ‘Mainstream’ Feminism: Dalit-Bahujan Women and their history, Round Table India. 2015

18. Jenny Rowena. The protests of Delhi and the Nationalist Paradigm, Savari, 2013

19. The recent attempts to subsume Phule-Ambedkarite politics under the rubric of the ‘Brahmanical’ (left-wing or right-wing) is an excellent example of how the powerful are unwilling to reckon with the political opposition of Phule-Ambedkarism. The only solution, according to them, is making Babasaheb a junior partner.

20. The coinage ‘Brahminsavarna system’ demands some explanation. In this essay it refers to the sum total of all institutions (cultural, religious, economic, educational etc. – public and private) in India which are characterized and embodied by the numerical and ideological supremacy of the Brahminsavarna minority.

21. Ajith Kumar A.S. Nithithedi Hyderabad, Uttarakalam, 2016. Retrieved from:

 22. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Christianizing India in Dr. Ambedkar on Christianity in India Ed. D.C. Ahir, Blumoon Books: New Delhi, 1995

23. Chithralekha.E. If You Can’t Help One Pulaya Woman, What of the Entire SC Community? , Savari: 2015

24. Rukmini Bhaya Nair. Analysis of Rohith Vemula’s suicide note. Retrieved from:

 25. Lorde, Audre. “The uses of anger.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 25.1/2 (1997): 278-285.

26. Aditya Nigam’s essay ‘Insurgent Ambedkar and a New Moment in Politics’, Kafila : 2016 is one such example. Without clearing any ground on already existing conflicts he writes about a ‘new moment’.

27. The book ‘Hatred in the Belly: Politics behind the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s Writings’ Shared Mirror Publication is a response to such appropriations which attempt to decontextualise anti-caste intellectuals.

28. Manash Bhattacharjee. The clarity of a suicide note. Retrieved from:

 29. Hyderabad for Feminism ‘How not to read a suicide note’. 18, 2016 / raiot collective

30. Anand S. (2016). ‘How I killed Rohith Vemula’ in Outlook Magazine: 1st February 2016

31. See the following link –



Nidhin Shobhana is an artist and writer. 

Illustration by Nidhin Shobhana.