A new book on Ambedkar challenges the savarna ‘hegemony’ sparking a very important debate on caste and intellectual oppression in which caste discourse is singularly directed and usurped by the dominant brahmanical media and writers. Writer Nabina Das reviews the book for Ourstories.
Dr. BR Ambedkar had passionately exhorted: “Educate! Agitate!! Organize!!!” Right in the beginning of this book there is an evocative cartoon by Syama Sundar Unnamati that quotes the father of the Indian Constitution. This sets the tone of Hatred in the Belly: Politics behind the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s writings. Unnamati has several more poignant illustrations and cartoons in the book alongside other artists.
One of the recent books focusing on Ambedkarite philosophy and the politics around it, Hatred in the Belly has been brought out by The Shared Mirror Collective. Tagged below the main title as “Ambedkar Age Collective”, and introduced by Anu Ramdas and Naren Bedide, the volume is a rich reservoir of Ambedkarite thoughts on the modern day challenges facing caste discourse in India. The writers are teachers, researchers, artists, activists and students.
The essays range from discussions on Ambedkar’s seminal text Annihilation of Caste (henceforth, AoC) which, since its inception, has been the greatest source of strength to dalit-bahujan-adivasi emancipation in India, to the manner in which caste discourse is singularly directed and usurped by the dominant brahmanical media and writers.
Hence, pertinent to the book’s theme of “Politics behind the appropriation of Dr. Ambedkar’s writings”, each essay/article analyses and challenges the existing power structures obstructing Dalit-Adivasi voices.
As one reads, that “power structure” refers more immediately to Navayana publication’s annotated version of AoC where writer-activist Arundhati Roy introduces the text juxtaposing Mahatma Gandhi as the other historical figure and in this context this is criticized as “unnecessary” and “misleading”.
In the year 2014, Navayana released the book Annihilation of Caste: the Annotated Critical Edition. Essentially, the 50 to 60 pages long AoC turned into a 400-plus pages-long book, an impressive volume to hold. The caveat, however, is that the “introduction” by Roy, titled The Doctor and the Saint constituted a major part of the book. Writers from The Shared Mirror are challenging this ‘hegemony’ and their discussion on social media and elsewhere sparked a very important debate on caste and intellectual oppression as they see it in the landscape of social justice against upper-caste or savarna domination. Hatred in the Belly captures the very essence of this debate.
My personal interest in the book lies in the fact that I have almost seen the nascent seed of the volume sprout into the graceful and assertive tree that it is today. After Roy “introduced” Navayana’s edition of AoC, all across the dalit-bahujan sections, there were articulations of surprise, protest and rejoinder, primarily owing to the fact that AoC did not really need an introduction as deemed by Navayana. Especially, to The Shared Mirror writers and campaigners, this was unacceptable from a writer whose position of privilege obscured the discourse long sustained by the dalit-bahujan themselves as writers, thinkers, and activists.
It is interesting to note that the essays in the book are all from writers with various backgrounds and not just dalit-bahujans. The writing itself is diverse, from commentary to criticism to literary or theoretical queries. Gurinder Azad’s poem, translated from Hindi, succinctly states:
“This movement has no short cuts,
It’s a caravan that sets its own course
as if following a law of nature.” (Confronting brahmanical complacency)
Human rights activist Bojja Tharakam — who passed away recently — says in plain terms in his article AoC does not need an introduction, “If at all she (Roy) wanted to compare Gandhi and Ambedkar, she could have written a different text. Because AoC has nothing to do with Ambedkar and Gandhi.”
This sentiment, specifically, gives rise to the book’s title “Hatred in the Belly” – translated from a Telugu phrase ” ka DupulO kasi” used by poet Joopaka Subhadra – addressing and challenging the brahmanical hegemony over knowledge, education, politics, and even the framework of anti-caste movement in the country.
This sits perfectly with what Akshay Pathak articulates in the essay The Judge, the Jury and the Goddess, “Roy points out her discomfort at Dr. Ambedkar’s views on adivasis and so one is also compelled to ask her: Does she not realize what the terrible symbolism of her coming to the ‘rescue’ of Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy means?”
An excerpt from a rather long transcription of an interview of U Sambashiva Rao by Dalit Camera (translated from Telugu by Bedide), a video campaign platform, expresses anguish:
“…post-independence history has clearly shown that there was no need to compare Ambedkar with Gandhi. It had conclusively set aside that debate. What we need to think about now is: Gandhi’s harijan-vaad is dead, Ambedkar’s philosophical theoretical alternative is now emerging as the foundation of the new social movements.” (A tactical, brahmanical trick)
The book is one of its kind because a majority of the responses are gleaned from social media discussions and debates — Facebook being a platform where both Navayana’s annotated AoC was publicized widely and where the dalit-bahujan activists aired their dissent strongly.
Murali Shanmugavelan’s statement raises pertinent points and seals the concern or the central idea of this book:
“Debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi are historic and important. These debates certainly need to be taken to today’s generations to shift perspectives on equality, non-violence and justice. Ambedkar, however, did not spend his entire life replying to Gandhi…He many not have been successful in electoral politics but today’s Dalit consciousness and assertion is unthinkable without him. Therefore, introducing the AoC text by solely comparing it with Gandhi’s politics is actually limiting Ambedkar’s significance.” (Arundhati Roy’s inquisition…)
Not only for the current dalit-bahujan movement, this book is an important signifier of social justice and the pressing thoughts around it for anyone invested in a narrative of modern India shaped by a mix of castes, religions, and languages.
(The print version of Hatred in the Belly by The Shared Mirror Collective is available on Amazon.in which also has the eBook available for readers in India and all over the world.)
*Most of the write-ups in this unique collection were first recorded on the website Round Table India before the editors took it out in print form.*