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Why Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s Writing Matters?

Why Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s Writing Matters?

rawat ingole


Akash Kumar Rawat & Prashant Ingole


rawat ingoleRecently, the Standing Committee for Academic Affairs of Delhi University had proposed to remove Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s books–Why I am not a Hindu: A Shudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy (2005), God as a Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism (2001) and Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution (2009)–from its political science syllabus.

If dominant forces had been successful in removing these books, it would have been a violation of freedom of expression. The University is a democratic space for the production of knowledge for debate and discussion of works, varied ideas, and different perspectives. Knowledge production takes place according to the person’s own milieu and the social environment in which he/she grows. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, in his thoughts, applies an epistemological approach to understand the lived experiences and culture of the oppressed sections of the society. Ilaiah Shepherd adopts various methodological approaches to explore the life of the Dalit-Bahujan world. Through his own approach, he tries to deconstruct modernist scholarships such as Hindu-fundamentalists, Nationalist, Marxist and Subaltern schools of thoughts. Throughout his writing, Ilaiah Shepherd has theorized terms like ‘spiritual fascism’, ‘social smugglers’, ‘buffalo nationalism’, ‘spiritual citizenship’ through which he has developed pedagogical interventions as Dalit-Bahujan knowledge production to counter the mainstream, brahmanical academia.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is perhaps the only OBC academician who is able to challenge the dominant castes through his intellectual ability, and who also believes in academic-activism. He does this in order to deconstruct the caste hegemony. If one has to understand Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s work and the pedagogical interventions he has developed, then one also needs to understand the alternative socio-political theory Phule-Ambedkar, Dalit Panther’s Movement and authors like Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt who have developed critical approaches towards the mainstream dominant society and the academia, where everyday problems of the un/touchable castes (SC, ST, OBCs, and Women) are almost invisible. In this line, we try to provide an overview of Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s pedagogical interventions in the Brahmanical academia.

Pedagogy of Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Indian society is hierarchical in nature where people are divided through the complex phenomenon called castes. The people who are on the top, their construction of consciousness comes from their accumulation of social capital and their construction of knowledge takes place through the framework of capital consciousness. The people who belong to the lower strata, their construction of consciousness takes place from all types of exclusion. Thus, their production of knowledge, their methodology is different; they come with their own vocabulary, languages (Kumar, 2017). Brahmanical spiritual theory does not recognize the activity of the productive castes. Hinduism does not consider people from productive caste as spiritual citizens thereby Bahujans cannot be priests of any prominent temples; however, he/she can be President and Prime Minister, thanks to Babasaheb Ambedkar and his efforts in providing constitutional rights to oppressed people of Indian society. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd critically observes the relationship between social smugglers and Indian economy. He writes that the economy which is based on social smuggling produces intellectuals who constantly protect that encircled border of wealth. The framework of class exploitation is not able to address this issue because the caste economy has its own borders (Ilaiah, 2017). He deconstructs Brahmanical pedagogy and provides Bahujan pedagogy as an alternative to understanding the complexities of Indian society.

Reading of Subaltern Studies–which is a critique of elite historiography such as Nationalist, Colonialist and orthodox Marxist philosophy– gives a new approach to historiography as the history of the masses, a perspective from below. However, subaltern scholars locate subaltern groups in their own domain of consciousness. Mainstream Indian academia does not take caste and untouchability seriously, it legitimizes and naturalizes the caste order. One can observe that the first five volumes of Subaltern Studies do not have any unique work on subalternity of caste and untouchability. In the sixth volume of Subaltern Studies, Partha Chatterjee, one of the eminent scholars from the group of subaltern scholars, wrote an essay entitled “Caste and Subaltern Consciousness” deriving a Marxist approach to explain subaltern consciousness among castes. He writes: “When a Marxist is confronted with the question of caste, his or her basic response is to try and conceptualize caste relations within a theoretical framework in which class is the central concept” (Chatterjee, 1989, p. 174). Marxist scholars’ explanation of caste comes into the broader framework of class. Caste is harmful institutions which always legitimizes norms and values of humiliation and discrimination in all the sphere of Bahujan life. However, caste and class have different historical evolution and features. Vivek Kumar points out:

Whether capital is going to decimate caste or is it going to be mediator in between? I find it hilarious that capital will decimate caste. Never, because caste has its own genesis in society and that is social phenomenon. Economy is capital based, driven by market. If two phenomena are driven by different origins and sources at the epistemic level, then how can one decimate the other? And that has not been experience of India. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was much richer, much educated. Jagjivan Ram was much richer, much educated. Similarly, K. R. Narayanan, and our Chief Justice of India (K. G. Balakrishnan). And yet the epithet ‘Dalit’ was used (Kumar, 2017).

 Ilaiah Shepherd argues that many academicians have no understanding that compartmentalization of caste does not allow a holistic construction of knowledge about the country (Ilaiah, 2018). In his work Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism (2004) he gives a new dimension to understand how Hinduism works as ‘spiritual fascism’ which not only ignores the contribution of Dalit-Bahujans but also creates hatred towards their production. The consciousness of the Dalit-Bahujan is blocked by spiritual fascism. He relates it to the example of buffalo and cow. Buffalo gives more milk than cow but buffalo is black in colour which does not give her a respectable place in the society. Whenever India is considered a nation of productive skills, then, it would belong to the Adivasis, Dalits and OBCs (Saroha, 2014, p. 167). Brahmins also drink the milk of the buffalo because it is white, but hates the buffalo’s colour which is black. In Indian society, the situation of Dalit-Bahujans is similar to the buffalo whose production is higher than others but has no sacred status in civil society.

Just to understand the top of twice-born nexus, we have to see their surnames such as Sharma, Shastri, Chaturvedi, Tiwari, Pandey, Upadhyay and so on adopted by them from the Sanskrit language which helps them to establish their pan Indian connectivity. Dalit-Bahujan have different caste identities for the same caste occupation in different regions, it segregates them thereby a common platform is not provided to unite. Kancha Ilaiah- Shepherd’s last name ‘shepherd’ denotes his caste occupation. Ilaiah urges that Dalit- Bahujan masses must keep their caste suffix in English which would be helpful to join the universal brotherhood/sisterhood and also be a step forward for spiritual and cultural revolution. In this process, marginalized communities can have English names such as Washerman to Fisherman. It gives global recognition, respect and dignity to productive occupations, God will love us more (Ilaiah, 2016). He gives different approaches to internationalization of caste within a relative framework of god, religion and language which would help oppressed communities to connect them at a global level.


To sum up, throughout the centuries, we continue to see that in Brahmin-Baniya society, Shudra-Atishudra have no respectable and dignified place. A similar problem is also faced by tribals too, they are left with no option except to migrate to cities and work as constructive workers, daily wages labourers etc. Hinduistic philosophy or spiritual fascism is constantly successful in marking its hegemonic presence in all spheres of life. Not only wealthy temples but even in higher in institutions, dominant castes are dominating higher positions. These Brahmin dominated institutions are producing knowledge which is just career oriented, nowhere helpful for Bahujan emancipation and in understanding their painful realities. Introduction of Yoga in the higher institutes and the public sphere is the one medium to spread right-wing ideology. All these are obstacles to making India a powerful nation. Representation and participation of the downtrodden sections through their own culture in the public and private spheres will make India a strong nation. It would also decrease the feeling of superiority and inferiority among different castes and communities. Ilaiah Shepherd’s pedagogical intervention in mainstream Indian academia represents the productivity and the culture of the oppressed castes over the dominant academic discourses.



 Chatterjee, Partha. (1989). Caste and subaltern consciousness. In Guha, R. (Eds.), Subaltern studies VI: Writings on south Asian history and society (169-209). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ilaiah, Kancha. (2017). “Social smuggling, how it works in India”, http://www.iimb.
Ilaiah, Kancha. (2018). “My Books, My Truth”, The Indian Express (27 October).
Kumar, Vivek. (2017). “I would differentiate between the Bahujan movement and Bahujan politics” Round Table India: For an Informed Ambedkar Age,
Saroha, K. (2014). “Interpreting Kancha Ilaiah’s Buffalo Nationalism”, International Journal of Innovative Research & Development, 3 (4), 167-169.
Shepherd-Ilaiah, Kancha. (2016). “The violence of caste: Why I have changed my name to Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd”., le/808890/kancha- ilaiah- explains- why- he-decided-to-add-shepherd-to-his-name



Akash Kumar Rawat is currently a doctoral research scholar in the Centre for Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He is working on the “Caste Discourse in Subaltern Studies: A Critical Analysis”.
Prashant Ingole is currently a doctoral candidate in Humanities and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. He is working on the Representation and ‘Lived’ Experiences of Dalits in Visual and Verbal Context.