Recently, a New Delhi based Hindi ‘feminist’ magazine ‘Streekaal’ started an award in the name of a bahujan woman and India’s first woman teacher Savitribai Phule called ‘Savitri Bai Phule Ideologue Award’. On the 2nd of January this year, the eve of Savitribai Phule’s birth anniversary, the first ‘Savitri Bai Phule Ideologue Award’ was not given to a Dalit, Adivasi or Bahujan woman but a brahmin woman, Sharmila Rege for the book ‘Against the Madness of Manu: B.R Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy’ which she had obviously not written herself, only introduced.
When asked about the authorship of the book, Sanjeev Chandan, one of the Brahmin editors of Streekal, replied by saying that Rege was given this award for her 50 page long introduction to the book which is a collection of writings by Dr. Ambedkar on Brahminical patriarchy. However the website of the magazine claims Rege as the author of the book. He further defended the decision by saying that the jury included two Dalit women. According to their website, the jury had 6 members: Archana Verma, Arvind jain, Hemlata Mahishwar, Anita Bharti, Bajrang Bihari Tiwari and Parimala Ambekar. There was no Adivasi member in the jury.
Interestingly Navayana’s blog carried a short description about this award on its website where again it claims the book as “Sharmila Rege’s Against the Madness of Manu”. The original cover of the book says “Against the Madness of Manu: B.R Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy, Selected and Introduced by Sharmila Rege”.
Amazon lists Sharmila Rege as the author
Amazon shows Sharmila Rege as the author of the book, similar to the incident where Arundhati Roy and S Anand were shown as the co-authors of Annihilation of Caste, which was later corrected as Arundhati Roy (Introduction) and S. Anand (Editor) after a campaign by Round Table India.
It is a new tradition started by the Brahmin editors at Streekal where Brahmins can become eligible to get an award just by writing an introduction. The original writings of women from Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan sections would be ignored as usual. Rege got this award posthumously. However Ambedkar hardly got any mention in the recommendation note written in the praise of Rege and her “uncomparable important contributions to feminism”.
Streekal claims Rege is the author
The note further says, “Rege had always been in solidarity with women from Dalit, Adivasi and minorities and she had been working on their rights issues.” The note justifies the decision, “Sharmila Rege’s work is a milestone in feminism and she has the first and utmost right to get the Savitri Bai Phule award 2014 started by Streekaal”. Clearly the original works of Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan women in Hindi language were not considered fit for an ‘Ideologue Award’.
Navayana brought out this book, ‘Against the Madness of Manu’, with an introduction by Rege in 2013 and the next year, in 2014, it published the ‘critical annotated version’ of Annihilation of Caste, introduced by Arundhati Roy and edited by S. Anand. To discuss issues arising from this relentless, and blatant, appropriation of Dalit bahujan scholarship, recently, the SC, ST, OBC Students and Teachers Association, University of Mumbai, and Round Table India organized a talk in December 2014, ‘The Colonization of Ambedkar: Caste Politics behind Roy-Navayana’s Appropriation of Annihilation of Caste‘.
Various speakers at the discussion talked about how in recent years Navayana has been appropriating works of Ambedkar which were then either introduced by Brahmin authors or used by them without giving any credit to Ambedkar. The books which didn’t give any credit to Ambedkar are Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand’s ‘Bhimayana’, D. N. Jha’s ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’, Dilip Menon’s ‘Blindness of Insights’, etc. Akshay Pathak and James Michael in their article ‘A Glass Menagerie for the Bahujans—Annihilation of Caste and Gandhi’s Wards‘ say,
“Navayana seemed to have perfected this technique in its earlier attempts to repackage Babasaheb’s thoughts. The exemplar in this case is The Myth of the Holy Cow by D.N. Jha, which came out in 2009, with additional material appended to it—B. R Ambedkar on beef-eating and untouchability. We would not be surprised, if the book, which is on the politics of beef-eating in India, would make one think that it is Mr Jha who discovered the politics of myth-making around the holy cow or that the Brahmins used to eat cow meat during Vedic times. On the contrary, the foundational thoughts on which Mr Jha’s arguments rest is that of Babasaheb’s. However, Mr Jha neither credits Dr Ambedkar nor cites him anywhere, including in the bibliography”
Last year, when the issue of appropriation of Dr. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste by the Brahmin duo S. Anand and Arundhati Roy was raised, the upper caste/brahminical groups came together to protect their privileges. Rohit Joshi, a Brahmin editor who runs a New Delhi based Hindi online blog, raised the question along with many others, “Can Brahmins/Upper castes not write on Dalit issues just because of their caste location?” It was an attempt to misrepresent and limit the debate to this question, oblivious to the fact that Brahmins/Upper castes have always been writing on Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan and no one could ever stop them. The debate on the Roy-Navayana project discussed the issues of appropriation, authority, misrepresentation, distortion and canonization/brahminization of the text. The mainstream Hindi media didn’t cover this issue and even the so-called critics of mainstream media such as Rohit Joshi branded the critiques of Roy-Navayana Project as ‘meaningless’ and ‘rants’.
The selection process for the Phule Ideologue Award seems fishy and pre-planned. The award was meant for a work in Hindi but an exception was made for this book as it was in English. The note expresses the disappointment over absence of Rege’s works in Hindi with the words “It has been Hindi at loss, not Rege”. Now it becomes the responsibilty of Streekal to translate the book which it has taken happily. Both Streekaal and Navayana’s blog ‘mourn’ over the ‘absence’ of feminist writings in Hindi. Navayana’s blog acknowledges the ‘trouble’ taken by the magazine, “Noting the abyssmal (sic) lack of feminist publications in Hindi that are provoking and complex, they have taken on the responsibilty (sic) of translating Rege’s book to make it eligible for the award.”
Navayana calls it ‘Sharmila Rege’s Against the Madness of Manu‘
Streekaal’s website says that they will give this award either to a relative of Rege or the department she headed in Savitribai Phule Pune University, during a proposed event on 19-20 February in Gaya, Bihar. When Sanjeev Chandan was asked about the Hindi version of the book ‘Against the Madness of Manu’, he said, “It has been sent for translation.” However, he maintained silence on the details of their deal with Navayana.
Atul Anand is currently pursuing M. A. in Media & Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org