Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Hatred in the Belly" or How We Celebrate the Day We Got a Constitution

Yesterday in the post, a copy of Hatred in the Belly published by the Ambedkar Age Collective.

It's a book I've only dipped into but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the debate around the appropriation of discourse about caste. 

Okay, let me rephrase that: when Arundhati Roy wrote ... actually, what was it that she wrote? An introduction? An essay appended to the beginning of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste?

Begin again: A couple of years ago, Navayana published what it called "The Annotated Critical Edition" of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste. [I won't link to the Amazon page; you can google it for yourself and have a laugh at how A.Roy is listed as the Illustrator of the book. This after people protested how online retailers were listing Roy as the AUTHOR of the work. Can we talk about appropriation?]

Round Table India and many other dalit writers, artists, academics had lengthy critiques about this shameless appropriation [see above] and - worse - shoddy reading of Ambedkar's work which, for some mysterious reason, gave more footage to Gandhi than it did to Ambedkar.


All of that excellent material online, but nothing available to people with no knowledge about Round Table India.

So the Ambedkar Age Collective gathered and curated a lot of the material into a book that goes against the grain of what a mainstream publisher would call 'saleable'. It has illustrations, poems, essays, conversations, transcripts of social media interactions - it attempts, in fact, to bring offline, the nature of discussion and debate conducted online.

With a brief Introduction by Kuffir Nalgundwar and Anu Ramdas [who can be found on FB] that provides a context to how the book came to be, it begins with a poem that says in essence what I think the rest of the book will elaborate via different approaches:

But what I don't understand is
this one thing - 
In the name of 'solidarity'
Will you do just anything you like?
Using the parachute of your social privileges
Will you land and install yourself ahead of this caravan too?
And tell us
How to walk?
How to think?

This is especially relevant when you notice that in the wake of Rohith Vemula's death at the University of Hyderabad on the 17th, and through the subsequent protests and debates, how many articles that have appeared in the mainstream media have been by savarna journalists explaining caste to the rest of the world. [With no links, because who wants to give them more airtime, and off the top of my head, there's been Ananya Vajpeyi, Shiv Vishwanathan, Mohan Guruswamy, Manu Joseph, PB Mehta.]

Against that, there've been some great pieces by Meena Kandasamy, Yashica Dutt and her Dalit Discrimination tumblr and this especially moving piece by Rohith Vemula's transgender friend, Karthik Bittu Kondiah

Why I mention all this in the context of Hatred in the Belly is that while it may not be news to most people that discrimination and atrocities against dalits continue, it might be news that in the recent amplification of these atrocities, there is an attempt on the part of savarna 'intellectuals' to hijack the narrative and to curate the discourse about caste.

When, really, it would just be better to shut up and listen.

(As a minor aside, when I tried to make this point in the lead up to a recent poetry reading at Lamakaan - which was billed as an evening of protest poetry, coincidentally scheduled a few days after Rohith's suicide - I got caught in a hilarious but also frustrating correspondence with the manager of Lamakaan, who thought I was saying I didn't want to bring up the matter of the suicide during the reading. Nope. I was saying this was the best time for me to not read and that they should get a dalit poet to read instead. But, as I said, that is another story that shall probably never be told).

And let's not forget that today is Republic Day. Automatically a good day to think about Ambedkar, his writings, and the interpretation of it by those to whom he spoke in his lifetime.

Oh - and go get Hatred in the Belly. You're unlikely to see reviews of it in the papers or elsewhere. When I'm done reading it, I will write about it here.

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