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Roy-Navayana project: The critique so far

Roy-Navayana project: The critique so far



We have put together, for our readers’ convenience, this compilation of all the articles which have appeared on Round Table India so far (some more are yet to be published) on the Roy-Navayana project of appropriation of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste. The articles have been listed in chronological order, with short excerpts from each article. Hope this makes it easier for you to read any/all the article/s in the series ~ Round Table India.



 An Introduction to Anoop Kumar’s “Misogynistic and Xenophobic Rants”: by Vinay Bhat


Resisting a Messiah: by Anoop Kumar

In a series of facebook updates, soon after the news of the new edition of AoC was made public, Anoop Kumar summed up the politics, the intent, the history of the enterprise that brought this book out. These are compiled here in these two pieces.

I am merely resisting your messiah status now being thrust on us. Just for the simple reason that it is more difficult to dislodge a messiah, a mahatma, than to create one. We spent some seven decades and enormous efforts in dislodging one, thrust on us quite forcefully, by others who also were as persuasive as you are today in claiming that it was only in our best interests.

But the truth was, as Babasaheb put it so poignantly in his discussion with Gandhi in 1931 “history tells that mahatmas like, fleeting phantoms, raise dust but raise no level.”


The Judge, the Jury and the Goddess: by Akshay Pathak

 This essay tries to look at the hollowness of the exercise of writing the introduction to AoC. It brings up previous and current utterances by A. Roy to make a case for the sheer double standards that the publisher and writer have employed to further their own careers.

In the interview to Outlook she says, “Many Dalits and Dalit scholars have, over the decades, been very sharply critical of Gandhi and Gandhism. Having said that, if this book begins another debate, a real (emphasis mine) debate, it can only be a good thing. I think it’s high time that there was one.” So the ‘real’ debate must now begin for the ‘fake’ voices have not made the cut to this ‘premiere’ of the star-studded extravaganza?


Arundhati Roy’s “Introduction’ to Ambedkar: Inside one Misogynistic & Xenophobic Dalit’s mind: by Anoop Kumar

 In this timeless and poignant piece, the author takes the example of a village and the power dynamics inherent in that space to look at how the same plays out over and over again. How Dalits have to fight at every step to preserve their ideas, their struggles, and their identities.

The Rajputs of Baddi village know it too well. It is not the idol in the Dalit temple that they abhor, it is not the ramshackle building erected at one decimal land by Dalits that they feel insulted about and want to destroy. It is this very rejection by Dalits of everything they stand for, that scares them the most. They know Dalits staking claim on their lands, their schools, on all the village resources which they have usurped using their narratives and their deities is just a small step away. Therefore, it is not the Dalits of village Baddi, it is the Rajputs who are under permanent siege.


Vedic Chants for the 21st Century

 This compilation of some public utterances of savarna academics, journalists etc., reveals the extent of distortion that is deployed in the entire episode around this controversy.


An Open Letter to Ms. Arundhati Roy: by Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes

In this open letter, Dalit Camera poses some direct questions to Roy regarding the various issues around the introduction to AoC.

 Your essay reads more like an essay on re-appraisal of Gandhi. Ambedkar is merely used to introduce Gandhi. What is your response?


Arundhati Roy replies to Dalit Camera: by Arundhati Roy

 In this angry reply, Arundhati Roy ignores most of the questions raised by Dalit Camera and other critiques against her introduction. Her reply is peppered with casteist assertions and evades the larger questions around appropriation.

 Anyway, these are my thoughts. This is my introduction. It may not fit into your notion of what such an introduction should be. But perhaps we have different readerships in mind? I was writing for those in India,and as well as outside, who are new to the subject, for whom caste is just some exotic Hindu thing. (I saw a new line of handbags in a department store in the US called ‘Brahmin.’)


The Question of Free Speech: by Vaibhav Wasnik

 One of the baseless charges against the critique of Roy’s introduction has been that of undermining Freedom of Expression. This piece analyzes this charge and points out how this is a bogus allegation and how one could perhaps begin with looking at the number of lower caste people in the same media where Roy was being celebrated for writing this introduction.

Advertising that alludes to an eventual re-construction of, or possibly even maligning an ideology through the medium of propaganda organs such as the media of today, definitely does not make for a responsible exercise of the right to speech.


Flaunting noble intentions, nurturing caste privileges: by Asha Kowtal

 Looking at the history of Dalit struggles and how Dalits are used as samples for various studies conducted by upper caste people, this essay reveals the politics behind the intention of people like Roy to erase their own privilege while claiming to do Dalits a favour.

We want our children to know and understand Babasaheb independent of analysis by men and women who bear their own caste privileges and have no engagement with anti-caste feminist struggles. 

 We continue to fight and resist as taught to us by our foremothers and fathers.


 The Not-So-Intimate Enemy: The Loss and Erasure of the Self Under Casteism: by Gee Imaan Semmalar

This essay analyses the reply that Arundhati Roy gave to Dalit Camera when it posed some very serious questions to her. The author here rips apart her letter to reveal the extent of casteism that Roy and her publisher have been indulging in quite relentlessly.

The fact that she arrogantly says she has “taken the trouble” to read him amounts to glorification of her own privilege and is casteist. Though, how much of him she has understood, is unfortunately, questionable.


Caste in the Name of Christ: An angry note on the Syrian Christian Caste: by Nidhin Shobhana

Caste infects every single religion in our society. The author analyzes the very privileged caste of Syrian Christians that Arundhati Roy hails from. He looks at the history of caste perpetuated through this segment and questions Roy’s complete silence on the same.

If the Syrian Christian, armed with words, is waiting for the ‘Dalit Revolution’ so that she can encash it, we need to be very careful and alert to expose her. For them, ‘Dalit’ becomes an all encompassing catchword to understand caste. This should be challenged.


Without Arundhati Roy and Gandhi, the book had its own value: Bojja Tharakam

Senior Advocate and human rights activist Bojja Tharakam says it in clear words that AoC does not need any introduction. He makes it obvious that the publisher and author used AoC to further their own interests.

She can write, there is no second opinion about that. Anybody can write any introduction or anybody can make any comment on Ambedkar and Annihilation of Caste. Nobody can prevent it; it is about freedom of speech. But that person who is writing something, or speaking something, about Ambedkar should not denigrate Ambedkar.


 Stigmatizing Dalits, From the Wadas to the Web: by Nilesh Kumar

 Each time a controversy erupts around the misrepresentation of Ambedkar, the savarna media etc. launch a tirade against the entire Dalit community. In this essay, the author looks at the most recent casteist slurs that were assigned by the publisher S. Anand and his coterie of friends, who did not respond to the critique mounted at the introduction by Arundhati Roy.

It is always the Dalit who had to pay the price for being assertive, for democratic dissent. I have never seen such caste profiling happening against any upper castes. So, on this moral and ethical ground none of the upper castes have any right to further profile any Dalit and if he or she does it, it is nothing but an act of casteism.


A Glass Menagerie for the Bahujans—Annihilation of Caste and Gandhi’s Wards: by James Michael and Akshay Pathak

 This lengthy essay goes deeper into questions of caste privilege and analyzes the history of the publishing house Navayana which brought out the new edition of AoC. It also looks into the politics of the annotations and how the brahminisation of a seminal text is enabled through the machinations of the savarna nexus of academics and writers. It also draws parallels between Gandhi’s Harijan Sewak Sangh and the publishing house Navayana and thus establishes clearly that both Roy and her publisher S. Anand are Gandhian in their approach to caste.

The argument that AoC was originally written for a ‘caste Hindu’ audience is flawed, for it ignores the most crucial fact that it was to be delivered by an ‘Untouchable’. Moreover, it inadvertently places Arundhati Roy and Babasaheb on a common platform which is unacceptable on moral, intellectual, and political grounds. Let us not forget that his speech was not delivered, because Babasaheb refused to alter his speech to make it palatable to caste Hindus. In fact, the very act of re-packaging and monetizing a text under the pretext of getting it across to newer readers defies the original spirit in which it was to be delivered.


Between Savior and Seller: Critiquing Preface Politics: by Praveena Thaali

 This essay poses very pertinent questions to Arundhati Roy about her own caste privilege and her complicity in perpetuating the caste system. The essay draws upon Ambedkar’s views on those who want to work for the ‘uplift of the Untouchables’.

The “preface politics” deliberately sidelines the Annihilation of Caste, where Arundhati becomes the center point of all the discussions and thus links all this to the casteist hegemony over knowledge in India.


A tale of two prefaces: by Karthick RM

 Drawing a parallel with another contentious introduction i.e. Sartre’s introduction to Fanon’s classic ‘The wretched of the earth’, the author delves into the politics behind the brahminical assertion to have the power to define, now as before.

When a Brahmin runs a powerful publishing house that markets how Dalit thinkers should be read, is it not legitimate to think that the traditional monopoly over knowledge and meaning is being extended to assimilate even the voices that counter it?


Introducing Arundhati Roy and Friends: by Karthik Navayan

 This piece looks at the deep networks of privilege that celebrities like Arundhati Roy enjoy. And how the elite come to each other’s support when someone poses a challenge to their hypocrisies. Illustrating through actual examples of events that unfolded after the release of the Navayana edition of AoC, the author exposes the self-righteous postures of the caste elite entrenched in civil society, media and academia and their lies.

Ambedkar was criticized and judged in the introduction, but when Dalits criticize Arundhati Roy and S. Anand, they are branded as Hindutvavadis. So they can criticize Ambedkar but no one should criticize them – is this not caste arrogance? As they are not accepting Dr.B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste as it is, we are not going to take their introduction as it is. You will be questioned and criticized.

On how Arundhati Roy introduces AoC without losing her upper hand: by Murali Shanmugavelan

From complete lies to distortions in the introduction by Arundhati Roy, this essay clearly lays bare everything seriously wrong in the haloed introduction. He takes issue with the gross misrepresentation of Ambedkar’s words especially his views on Adivasis and Roy’s clubbing together of Ambedkar with fascists, both of which Arundhati Roy does with callous ease.

The author fails to understand that AoC was written to counter the range of potential pro-caste arguments that might be used, including those based on pseudo-science and race. The opportunity here to critique the severity of Brahmanical hegemony is regrettably lost by grouping Ambedkar with European fascists.


Arundhati Roy’s introduction to AoC is a tactical, brahminical trick: U Sambashiva Rao

In the first part of his speech, veteran political activist U Sambashiva Rao locates the real reasons why an introduction has appeared now and not before. He rubbishes all claims by the author and publisher as brahminical tricks.

Until now, if we look at Indian history, we see that their (Brahmins/Savarnas) revolutionary, democratic, positive, theoretical, philosophical contribution amounts to nothing.


The Brahmean Machine: Distorting Revolt into Surrender: by Shakyamuni Chandal

 In this analytical piece, the writer historicizes the entire act of appropriation which the Brahmins have been practising over the centuries. From Buddha to Kabir to even languages like Hindi etc., he looks at how appropriation is powered in newer ways as demonstrated in the Arundhati Roy/Navayana project.

A Roy deforms Babasaheb in brutal and different ways – a practice seen to be a favourite sport of the savarnas as evidenced by the plight of many statues of his. Her strategy is multi-pronged.


Mary Kom: Nation in Priyanka Chopra: by Thongam Bipin

 In this short piece, the author looks at how savarna India and its imagination requires people like Priyanka Chopra, who has nothing to do with the north-east, to align the ‘nation’ with those it tries to alienate. He extends the same analogy to Arundhati Roy who recently introduced Dr. Ambedkar’s text AoC, to make it palatable, admittedly, for caste-Hindus and white readers.

 India will read untouchable Ambedkar only after a Roy purifies him and then read him through the eyes of a Roy. In a similar fashion, Mary Kom, requires a proxy, a Chopra, to be accepted on the silver screen.


Masked Messiahs: The Politics of Comparison: by Joby Mathew

The essay analyzes the sidelining of Ayyankali at a lecture given by Arundhati Roy in Kerala in the memory of Ayyankali. Through that he looks at how people like Roy distort legacies of anti-caste leaders and instead focus more on getting attention on themselves.

In actual fact, a person like Arundhati criticizes Gandhi by using the foundation created by Ambedkarite movements. In addition, she even reduces the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate into a Gandhi-Arundhati debate by taking over Ambedkar’s thoughts.


Roy-Navayana project: Brahminic violence on Dalit intellectual challengeby Yogesh Maitreya

This essay begins with the author’ personal childhood introduction to Ambedkar and his life. He then elaborates on the relevance of Ambedkar for Dalits and underlines how the Dalit and Savarna intellectual episteme is in a constant state of conflict.

Clearly, Dr. Ambedkar needs no introduction, not even for Brahmins, if they keep their eyes and ears open to face the truth spoken by Dalits. If Columbia University can pay heed to Dr. Ambedkar’s seminal text ‘Annihilation of Caste’, then how come the Indian educated elite needs an introduction to Ambedkar’s literature, that too in 2014, as claimed by the Arundhati Roy and her publisher S. Anand of Navayana.


The battle against caste isn’t just some ideology, it’s our existence: by Gaurav Somwanshi

In this extremely well researched piece, the author brings out the real stories of anti-caste publishers in Aurangabad and how they have kept the words and thoughts of Babasaheb alive all these years. He contrasts that with the savarna ignorance of these publishers and bookstores and openly challenges the false accusations of Ambedkar’s works being ‘confined’.

So if my friends aren’t reading Babasaheb and other works of Dalit literature, it is not because it is not available to them. The Dalit bookshops are not the ones who are not ready to sell their books to savarnas, it is the savarnas who are not ready to buy these books or stop by at these bookshops and book stalls.


Does Arundhati Roy have any other qualification than her stardom? ~ Interview with Sunny M. Kapicadu

Sunny M. Kapicadu is one of the most prominent Dalit activists and intellectuals in Kerala. He has been active in all the subaltern protests in Kerala over the past few years. Here, in this interview, he talks about his objections to the Roy-Navayana project:

It is important to ask whether Arundhati has understood that this book has had a history of its own. If this aspect is not being seen, there is no point in rejecting the criticisms raised against her. Can somebody of Arundhati’s standing claim that she is oblivious to all of this? The fact that she doesn’t mention anywhere in her introduction that unlike Ambedkar’s other writings AoC has had a different history pushes us to think that she maintains a low opinion on this.


Roy-Navayana on Savarkar’s path: by Dhruwa R

Dhruwa R is a young activist based in Mumbai. He writes:

Now to this author’s mind this attempt is, at best, comparable to Savarkar’s attempt at building temples exclusively meant for untouchables.2 So in effect, Savarkar didn’t allow untouchables to get mainstreamed but under the garb of opening separate temples for untouchables ensured that principles of purity and pollution were strictly adhered to. This idea of separate temples is now re-introduced by the 21st century avatars of Savarkar- Ms. Arundhati Roy and team Navayana, where they create a new edition of an existing text. 




Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.