Ambedkar, Gandhi and the battle against caste

The Doctor and the Saint

By ARUNDHATI ROY | 1 March 2014 |  The Caravan

BR Ambedkar in Bombay

BR Ambedkar in Bombay, in 1939—three years after publishing Annihilation of Caste, his most radical text.

ANNIHILATION OF CASTE is the nearly eighty-year-old text of a speech that was never delivered.* When I first read it I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows. Reading Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar bridges the gap between what most Indians are schooled to believe in and the reality we experience every day of our lives.

My father was a Hindu, a Brahmo. I never met him until I was an adult. I grew up with my mother, in a Syrian Christian family in Ayemenem, a small village in communist-ruled Kerala. And yet all around me were the fissures and cracks of caste. Ayemenem had its own separate “Parayan” church where “Parayan” priests preached to an “untouchable” congregation. Caste was implied in peoples’ names, in the way people referred to each other, in the work they did, in the clothes they wore, in the marriages that were arranged, in the language we spoke. Even so, I never encountered the notion of caste in a single school textbook. Reading Ambedkar alerted me to a gaping hole in our pedagogical universe. Reading him also made it clear why that hole exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change.

Revolutions can, and often have, begun with reading.

Ambedkar was a prolific writer. Unfortunately his work, unlike the writings of Gandhi, Nehru or Vivekananda, does not shine out at you from the shelves of libraries and bookshops.

Of his many volumes, Annihilation of Caste is his most radical text. It is not an argument directed at Hindu fundamentalists or extremists, but at those who consider themselves moderate, those whom Ambedkar called “the best of Hindus”—and some academics call “left-wing Hindus.”1 Ambedkar’s point is that to believe in the Hindu shastras and to simultaneously think of oneself as liberal or moderate is a contradiction in terms.

When the text of Annihilation of Caste was published, the man who is often called the “greatest of Hindus”—Mahatma Gandhi—responded to Ambedkar’s provocation. Their debate was not a new one. Both men were their generation’s emissaries of a profound social, political and philosophical conflict that had begun long ago and has still by no means ended. Continue reading

Ambedkar, Gandhi’s most trenchant critic — an interview with Arundhati Roy

Outlook Magazine, Marcxh 10, 2014
Interview by Saba Naqvi

“We Need Ambedkar–Now, Urgently…”

Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author on her essay The Doctor and the Saint and more

In 1936, Dr B.R. Ambedkar was asked to deliver the annual lecture by the Hindu reformist group, the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal (Forum for Break-up of Caste) in Lahore. When the hosts received the text of the speech, they found the contents “unbearable” and withdrew the invitation. Ambedkar then printed 1,500 copies of his speech at his own expense and it was soon translated into several languages. Annihilation of Caste would go on to have a cult readership among the Dalit community, but remains largely unread by the privileged castes for whom it was written.

Ambedkar’s landmark speech has now been carefully annotated and reprinted. What will certainly draw contemporary public attention to it is the essay written as an introduction by the Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, titled The Doctor and the Saint.

Almost half of the 400-page book is Roy’s essay, the other half Annihilation of Caste. Roy writes about caste in contemporary India before getting into the Gandhi-Ambedkar stand-off. Taking off from what Ambedkar described as “the infection of imitation”, the domino effect of each caste dominating the ones lower down in the hierarchy, Roy says, “The ‘infection of imitation’, like the half-life of a radioactive atom, decays exponentially as it moves down the caste ladder, but never quite disappears. It has created what Ambedkar describes as the system of ‘graded inequality’ in which even the ‘low is privileged as compared with lower. Each class being privileged, every class is interested in maintaining the system’”.

However, the thrust of Roy’s powerful but disturbing essay deals with her exploration of the Gandhi-Ambedkar debate, and the man deified as the father of the nation does not come off well in this book. She writes: “Ambedkar was Gandhi’s most formidable adversary. He challenged him not just politically or intellectually, but also morally. To have excised Ambedkar from Gandhi’s story, which is the story we all grew up on, is a travesty. Equally, to ignore Gandhi while writing about Ambedkar is to do Ambedkar a disservice, because Gandhi loomed over Ambedkar’s world in myriad and un-wonderful ways.”

The Doctor and the Saint, your introduction to this new, annotated edition of Dr Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, is also a deeply disturbing critique of Gandhi, especially to those of us for whom Gandhi is a loved and revered figure.

Yes, I know. It wasn’t easy to write it either. But in these times, when all of us are groping in the dark, despairing, and unable to understand why things are the way they are, I think revisiting this debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar, however disturbing it may be for some people, however much it disrupts old and settled patterns of thought, will actually, in the end, help illuminate our path. I think Annihilation of Caste is absolutely essential reading. Caste is at the heart of the rot in our society. Quite apart from what it has done to the subordinated castes, it has corroded the moral core of the privileged castes. We need Ambedkar—now, urgently. Continue reading

Edward Snowden: “NSA Surveillance Is About Power, Not ‘Safety’”

By Edward Snowden

17 December, 2013
[Countercurrents.org published this note introducing Edward Snowden's open letter to the people of Brazil. "This letter was published today in the Brazilian newspaper A Folha in Portuguese and this original text was provided via the Facebook page of Glenn Greenwald's husband David Miranda."]

Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those. Continue reading

US Public Radio interview with Arundhati Roy

Smiley and West, NPR — December 13, 2013

West: From PRI, Public Radio International in Princeton I’m Cornel West.
Smiley: And in Los Angeles I’m Tavis Smiley.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

West: Brother Tavis, we are blessed to have one of the great and courageous intellectuals of our time. She is Arundhati Roy. We call her Sister Roy. Of course she’s the winner of the Booker Prize of her renowned novel The God of Small Things. She is the author of a variety of very powerful prose, non-fiction prose. She is in the process now of finishing a new text called Capitalism: A Ghost Story.
What a blessing to have you, Sister Roy.
Roy: Thank you, Dr. West.
West: Let’s start, before we get to your magnificent political activism, your visionary political activism, let’s go all the way back to your upraising, your training as an architect very much like Thomas Harding, becoming a great writer like Thomas Harding.
How do you connect your childhood with your training as an architect to your becoming a great writer?
Roy: I don’t know if I’m a great writer.
West: I can testify to that.
Roy: I’m a little embarrassed by all the good things you’re saying about me.
I grew up in south India as the child of a divorced mother which was unusual in that area. You know it’s a very parochial community called the Syrian Christians. My mother had married outside the community and then got divorced and come back to the village.
Growing up there in a very traditional space where caste was practiced, where there was all kinds of bigotry hidden and not so hidden, then growing up outside of this great Indian family unit.
I suppose it just made you look at society and wonder why it wasn’t offering you the certainties and the assurances that it offered a lot of other people from my kind of background.
I think that’s what initially made you want to explain it to yourself through writing.
The architecture was actually something that I did because I knew that I had to do something where I could earn a living very quickly so as to not be dependent on anybody because I knew that once that happened I wasn’t going to have even half a chance to write or to think or be anything other than live a very constricted, suffocating life. Continue reading

India: Revolutionary Students Challenge the Heroism of Nelson Mandela

Democratic Student Union, Jawaharlal Nehru UniversityDecember 14, 2013

Nelson Mandela: A Hero for the oppressors, A BETRAYER FOR THE OPPRESSED!

The mournings & praises from the imperialists and their agents, are Mandela’s “legacy” of brokering one of the biggest sell outs of the 20th century!

Ever since the death of Nelson Mandela on the 6th of December, the most flowery tributes have been showered on him by a wide spectrum of the ruling classes all over the world. While the face of US imperialism Barak Obama “led the world” in paying tribute to “his personal hero”, the speeches his lieutenants in Britian, much of Europe, and across the world reverberated the same. The mass murderer president of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakshe who oversaw the genocide of the people of Tamil Ealam also had tears to shed for Mandela. The Indian state also gargled the same and declared a four day long state mourning. The same waves also reached our campus. From ABVP to the parliamentary pseudo-left AISA or SFI and their likes, several organizations vied with each other in presenting their laurels to their “hero”. This spectrum is certainly striking, and may even confuse a few as to the real “legacy” of Mandela. However in reality, it is precisely this unanimity of imperialists and their agents that is most revealing. Mandela’s so called legacy is built upon on an illusion, the seeds of which were laid by Mandela himself. It is extremely important that we break this collective iconization and the illusion of Mandela’s legacy. Continue reading

“Woman Kills Three For Last X-Box at Chicago Wal-Mart”

["Some American officials are calling a trip to the mall an act of patriotism as the United States tries to rebound and rebuild." went a common news refrain after 9/11/2001.  Today, "patriotic" consumers are enlisted into the hyperbolic fray between Microsoft's X-Box One and the latest Playstation, a war on which one reporter commented: "by taking part in the rivalry, you’re doing little more than fighting on behalf of a massive corporation without benefitting at all yourself."  Black Friday sales at Walmart and Target were successfully dominated by Microsoft's X-Box One.  A satirical (Daily Currant) account of a frenzied example of  "Round One", at Walmart in Chicago, is given below, and many who have heard this story believe it, because it rings true.  Unfortunately, there are many similarly frenzied but factual accounts of intense consumer fights over meaningless junk acquisition.  --  Frontlines ed.]
November 30, 2013, The Daily Currant

Walmart_exteriorA woman was arrested today for stabbing to death three shoppers at a Chicago-area Wal-Mart in order to secure the store’s last X-Box One.

Mary Robbins, a married mother of two, reportedly wrestled her competitors to the ground before fatally wounding them with a sharpened Phillips head screwdriver. 

The victim’s names have not yet been released, but are said to include a sociology student at Northwestern University, a chemistry teacher at at local high school and a young pregnant woman buying a system for her brother. Continue reading