[In India, 2014 has brought many issues to the fore, not least of which is the rise of Narendra Modi as national leader, after securing his notoriety as the protector and defender of the anti-Moslem Gujarat Massacre over a decade ago. Modi’s rise, welcomed by Western imperialism and multi-national corporations, has brought further national centralization of the state’s brutal repression against oppressed peoples, tribals, dalits, democratic and revolutionary activists. And the 2014 Modi-India persona further disguises the official national culture — Hindutva excluvist, caste-ist, and xenophobic — by hypocritically and pretentiously claiming a humanitarian, peaceful, and moral charm or charisma by further invoking a mythologized Gandhi as the Father of Indian National Identity. In challenging this mythology, Arundhati Roy has provided an important counter-narrative, and has come under vitriolic attack from The Powers That Be. See the following video interview by Laura Flanders, and the magazine interview by Leena Chandran, for details on the struggle for clarity and truth about Mahatma Gandhi. — Frontlines ed.]
On The Laura Flanders Show: Author/activist Arundhati Roy on the Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar and the Western myth of Mahatma Gandhi
Hidden in plain sight
by Leena Chandran, Manorama Online
In July, Arundhati Roy provoked outrage from many quarters by stating that the generally accepted image of Mahatma Gandhi was a lie. Speaking at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, she also called for institutions bearing his name to be renamed. The Booker prize winning author’s comments rekindled a long-running historical argument over Gandhi’s views on caste and catapulted hot debate in Kerala media. In this exclusive interview Arundhati Roy tells Leena Chandran why she will not be changing her views on Gandhi.
The Gandhi controversy is a belated one, I feel. It should have taken place earlier this year had people closely read ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ soon after its publication. In fact, what you said in the Ayyankali memorial lecture at Department of History, Kerala University, Thiruvananthapuram is not as inflammable as the ideas you share in’The Doctor and the Saint’…
I wouldn’t go so far as to call ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ inflammable, though of course it has generated a fair amount of controversy from many quarters, even some unexpected ones. That’s to be expected, because it’s vexed territory. Yes it does question conventional ways of thinking, mostly by quoting from the lesser known writings of Gandhi. It was written as an introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste. Ambedkar’s views challenge the established order in profound and radical ways. The controversy around Gandhi’s views on race and caste started long before I wrote The Doctor and the Saint. You could say that it started with the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate. It has been debated for years in the world of Dalit politics—but that has been carefully and successfully kept out of the establishment discourse. The mayhem in the Kerala media post my Ayyankali Memorial Lecture is just noisy posturing by some people who couldn’t be bothered to read Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, or The Doctor and the Saint, or anything much else. Not even the works of Gandhi who they are so keen to defend. There are many vested interests involved in this debate. It may be too much to expect them to change. But the young will change their views. For sure.
The NGO-ization of resistance
2014-09-23, Pambazuka.org, Issue 695
A hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I’m about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course, there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.
In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India’s markets to neoliberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending.
Most large-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are, in turn, funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.
The Doctor and the Saint
By ARUNDHATI ROY | 1 March 2014 | The Caravan
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
Interview by Saba Naqvi
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
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.
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