Thursday, December 10, 2020

Annihilation of Caste

Jat-Pat Todak Mandal probably wanted to be the #DalitLivesMatter of their time. That's how they invited Ambedkar to their annual conference in 1936 to deliver a speech. Organization of conferences in that time and today have at least one thing in common - communication gaps. JPTM wanted Ambedkar to talk about abolition of caste. Like many social reformers, they wanted reforms that do not disturb the status quo. Ambedkar's speech pointed out how caste is strongly intertwined with Hinduism. If one were to agree with Ambedkar, abolishing caste would require shaking the fundamentals of Hinduism. JPTM did not let Ambedkar know that they would rather not speak logic to the Hindu elite who attend their conference. At least, not when they sent the invitation.

When the organizers saw the print of the speech to be delivered they straightened the record. Either Ambedkar can stay clear of criticizing Hinduism or they will find a way to cancel the speech. Ambedkar had by then printed a few hundred copies of the speech and was neither interested in changing the text nor in speaking at JPTM's conference. The speech, thence, became the book. Annihilation of Caste.


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Reading this book drastically changed the way I look at Indian independence movement and contemporary Indian politics. Very little of that was brought about by the content of Ambedkar's speech. The speech is a rather predictable compilation of reasons why Hinduism flares up casteism. It is well written and logical. The points Ambedkar put forward can be directly used in debates even today. The politics around the book, though, is eye-opening.

It is the same politics that made this book slip under my radar. It is why I have never asked the questions "Did Ambedkar really draft the Constitution?" or "What else did Ambedkar write?". It is the politics of caste.

Having grown up as an Indian elite, I did not (and do not) know well the politics of caste. To compensate for this elite ignorance, the book is now prefixed by Arundhati Roy's essay "The Doctor and the Saint". This essay is the red pill. If you take it you go down the rabbit hole of Indian politics.

After that it won't really matter whether you read the speech or not. Yet you will read it. Like you reached an oasis in a large desert you were thrown abruptly into.

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