ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Introducing Ambedkar

For an act of representation by savarnas to seem fair and unremarkable to dalits, we need to have achieved a society in which to be a dalit is not a stigma, and to be a savarna is not a marker of superior status. Until that day arrives in India, the dalit objection to B R Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste being introduced and annotated by savarnas will remain a worthy objection.

Arundhati Roy’s “Introduction” to Navayana’s reissue of B R Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste has evoked a spectrum of reactions, including some from dalit intellectuals and activists. The annotations to Annihilation, by S Anand, head of Navayana and, like Roy, an upper-caste person, has come in for flak as well.

Essentially, the critique by a section of the dalits may be summarised as: (a) two savarnas, one of them a world celebrity for her work as a public intellectual and novelist, fronting a classic on caste society written by the foremost leader of the dalits is yet another instance of upper-caste appropriation of dalit labour and voice; (b) given the reality of the caste society we live in, and the extraordinary influence of upper castes in representing India to itself and abroad, Ambedkar’s voice will be swamped by this “introduction” and “annotation” which will probably be read by far more people than will read Ambedkar’s own prose; (c) it is only dalits who understand the painful experience of untouchability and oppression of caste society – hence it would have been more appropriate for Navayana to have chosen those with such experience to do the introduction and annotation; (d) there are a number of dalit intellectuals or others who have paid their dues over the decades with their politics of solidarity with the credentials to write the introduction and the annotation – the choice of Roy and Anand is a slap in the face to all of them; (e) Roy’s essay focuses too much on Gandhi and his multiple foibles – and thus ends up drawing the eye away from Ambedkar and his robust critique of caste Hindu society; and (f) both the marketing strategy (choice excerpts in mainstream outlets such as Outlook, Caravan and The Hindu) and pricing (Rs 450-500) suggest that the target audience for Annihilation is savarna society and motivation is profit.

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