An Act of Appropriation?

Book Review: Hatred in the Belly

The book Hatred in the Belly may seem like a personal critique of Arundhati Roy for her introduction (“The Doctor and the Saint”) to B R Ambedkar’s seminal text, Annihilation of Caste. But it isn’t. It is actually a critique of domination of upper castes in Indian scholarship, their caste blindness and their refusal to engage with the issues of representation. By extension this book is a critique of Brahminism itself.

Hatred in the Belly

Navayana, a self-proclaimed anti-caste publishing house run by S Anand, published an annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste in 2015 with much fanfare. Arundhati Roy’s book-length introduction which castigates M K Gandhi for his racist and casteist views was the main attraction. When the excerpts from the introduction were published in the magazines Outlook and Caravan, Roy had expected a backlash from Gandhians and right-wing nationalists. But the criticism came from an unexpected quarter—the Ambedkarites. Most of this criticism was published on the website Round Table India, an independent media outlet analysing society from caste lens, and the social media profiles of anti-caste activists. Hatred in the Belly is a collection of such critical essays, viewpoints, speeches and interviews.

The major theme that runs in the book is that of representation and appropriation. The book takes Navayana to task for not recruiting a Dalit scholar or an Ambedkarite to introduce an important text like Annihilation of Caste. The publishing house instead approached someone like Roy who had no previous engagement with either caste or Ambedkar. Roy’s privileged status as a Savarna Hindu and Syrian Christian, her larger than life persona, her superficial engagement with various movements in India also come under scrutiny in the book. She is accused of appropriating a text which is central to anti-caste struggles all over the country, a text which was translated by anti-caste volunteers in many Indian languages and published and distributed at personal costs. Roy doesn’t take the pains to engage with this illustrious history of Annihilation of Caste‘s journey since its first publication in 1936, nor does she engage with the contents of the book beyond one paragraph. Instead, most of her introduction is an engagement with Gandhi’s writings. Also, her introduction is almost three times longer than the main text!

When the Hindu reformist group Jat Pat Todak Mandal took objection to Ambedkar’s speech and asked him to alter its contents before he could deliver it as presidential address at their event, Ambedkar refused to do so (saying he “would not change a comma”); it resulted in Ambedkar’s invitation being withdrawn. Ambedkar then published the speech as a booklet and distributed it himself. A number of editions of the book are available since then at cheap rates in various Indian languages; the electronic copy of the book is available for free on the website of Columbia University. Against this backdrop, Navayana’s annotated edition seems like a commercial project catering mainly to Savarna and western readership.

Navayana calls itself “India’s first and only publishing house to focus on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective.” But James Michael and Akshay Pathak make an astounding revelation about Navayana.

Out of the list of 61 authors published by Navayana and put up on its website, we could positively identify 37 authors as belonging to privileged communities—this includes 16 Whites and 21 upper castes [of which, 16 were Brahmins] (p 161).

Karthick RM makes it clear why this is deeply problematic.

In contemporary India, take the Indian nationalists, the central committees of the various socialist parties, postcolonialists, liberals, anti-modernists, anti-Eurocentrists, anti-Enlightenmentalists, anti-Colonialists, feminists–which caste defines the ideological paradigms in any of these different political/intellectual groups?

And further asks,

When the Brahmin determines what the philosophy of oppression is, the Brahmin determines what ‘neutral’ liberalism is, and the Brahmin also determines what resistance is, where is the space to counter ideology to emerge (p 188)?

The lack of diversity in Indian scholarship requires an honest introspection. Hatred in the Belly opens the space for a discussion around this issue, and it needs to be taken forward. There is a tendency in Indian academia and media to brush off marginalised voices questioning entrenched privileges as rants, angry outbursts or intellectual bullying. It will be in everybody’s interest if we avoid taking such prejudicial view and resorting to hasty dismissal of criticism. Hatred in the Belly is an important intervention which should be a necessary reading for anyone engaging with issues of social justice from a position of privilege. It will help scholars eschew from indulging in paternalism or, worse, epistemic violence. Navayana’s annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste should serve as a cautionary tale.

***

Hatred in the belly: Politics behind the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s writings by Ambedkar Age Collective, The Shared Mirror, 2015, ₹200.

Why Are Some People Hungry When There Is Enough Food for Everybody?

A friend once told me, “Begging is the easiest job in the world.” It took me a couple of seconds to recover from the insensitivity of that statement. I was really appalled. I retorted, “If that is so, do you mind mind working as a beggar even for a day?”

People have such stinking sense of entitlement. They believe that a person can be who they want to be. It is not the system which decides our fate but we ourself. तूच तुझ्या जीवनाचा शिल्पकार! (You are the sculptor of your own life!)

People are taught to celebrate their achievements. They are told, these achievements are a result of your immense hardwork and talent. The opposite is also true: if a person fails at something, the whole onus is put on their own shoulders. As if people operate in isolation. As if external factors don’t matter at all. As if capitalism is such a fair system that it rewards people commensurate to their hardwork/ talents/ skills. This false notion which is passed on from one generation to the next and accepted as commonsense by everybody, is insidious. It makes any critique of our unjust system impossible. It pits one person in competition with the other. And it is completely devoid of empathy.

This earth has enough food, water and clothes for 7 billion of us but some people are made to beg for these basic necessities. We do not find this revolting only because of the inhumane system that we have created for ourselves and now are made to accept as normal. We spend such a vast amount of resources and human labour on completely useless things like cigarettes, gutka, soft drinks, fireworks and beauty products. We have taken such great strides in science and technology; we have been able to send robots to the outer space. But we cannot feed the hungry on this planet even when there is enough food available for everybody.

I think this is because we are made to believe that one has to work to get their food. It does not matter if the work opportunities are simply not there, or that people are not paid as much as they should be for their labour, or that their livelihood options have been snatched away from them along with their land and forests and rivers by our “benevolent” state and the multinational corporations working in collusion. I wonder what will happen if tomorrow a rule is made that one can only eat what they grow in their own backyard!

आरक्षण कशासाठी रे भाऊ?

गुजरातमधील पाटीदार/पटेल समाज आपल्या जातीचा इतर मागासवर्गीयांमध्ये समावेश व्हावा ह्या मागणीसाठी रस्त्यावर उतरला. हार्दिक पटेल या २२ वर्षीय युवकाच्या नेतृत्वाखालील ह्या आंदोलनास हजारो लोकांनी पाठिंबा दिला. परंतु, जरी हे आंदोलन “आम्हालाही उच्चशिक्षण आणि सरकारी नोकऱ्यांमध्ये आरक्षण द्या” ह्या मागणीसाठी असले, तरी त्याचे मूळ उच्चवर्णीयांमधील आरक्षणाबद्दल असलेल्या असंतोषामध्ये आहे.

गुजरातमधील पाटीदार समाजाची तुलना महाराष्टातील मराठा समाजाशी करता येईल. गुजरातमधील राजकारण आणि उद्योगधंद्यांवर (मुख्यतः हिरे आणि कापड) ह्या समाजाचे वर्चस्व आहे. भारतीय जनता पक्षाच्या १२० आमदारांपैकी ४० आमदार आणि मंत्रिमंडळातील सात मंत्री पाटीदार समाजाचे आहेत. अगदी मुख्यमंत्री आनंदीबेन पटेलही ह्याच समाजाच्या आहेत. तसेच, ह्या समाजाचा एक मोठा तबका आफ्रिका, अमेरिका आणि इंग्लंडमध्ये स्थलांतरित झाला आहे. राजकीय आणि सामाजिकदृष्ट्या पुढारलेल्या ह्या समाजाने आपला “मागास” वर्गामध्ये समावेश व्हावा अशी मागणी करणे थोडे आश्चर्याचे वाटावे. पण ह्या मागणीचे मूळ आणि तिला मिळणारा इतका प्रचंड पाठिंबा हा “आरक्षणामुळे आम्हा अनारक्षित वर्गावर अन्याय होतो” ह्या भावनेत आहे. १९८० च्या दशकात आदिवासी आणि दलित तसेच इतर मागासवर्गीयांविरुद्ध आरक्षणाला विरोध करण्याऱ्या चळवळी उभारण्यात पाटीदार समाजच सर्वात पुढे होता.

Ahmedabad: Patidar community members display placards during their Kranti Rally for reservation at GMDC Ground in Ahmedabad on Tuesday: PTI Photo.

Ahmedabad: Patidar community members display placards during their Kranti Rally for reservation at GMDC Ground in Ahmedabad on Tuesday (PTI Photo).

“एकतर आम्हाला आरक्षण द्या नाहीतर आरक्षणाचे पूर्ण धोरणच खारीज करा” हे हार्दिक पटेलचे उद्गार बोलके आहेत. जातीव्यवस्थेने शुद्र आणि दलितांना शिक्षणाचा अधिकार नाकारला होता. जातीनिहाय ठरवून दिलेल्या व्यवसायाशिवाय इतर काम करण्याचीही कोणास मुभा नव्हती. शतकांपासूनच्या ह्या अन्यायामुळे बहुजन समाज राजकीय, सामाजिक, आर्थिक आणि सांस्कृतिकदृष्ट्या खूपच मागे पडला. जरी ब्रिटीश राजवटीने तत्वतः शिक्षणाची कवाडे सर्वांसाठी खुली केली, तरी बहुजनांना त्याचा प्रत्यक्षात फायदा घेणे शक्य झाले नाही. आजही बहुजन समाज मुख्यतः खेड्यांमध्ये वसलेला आहे जिकडे गुणवत्तापूर्ण शाळा-कॉलेजांची वाणवा आहे. सरकारने नुकत्याच प्रसिद्ध केलेल्या ‘सामाजिक आर्थिक जात गणना २०११’ नुसार ग्रामीण भागातील ८८.४ कोटी लोकांपैकी फक्त ३६% लोक शिक्षित आहेत, तर फक्त ५.४% लोकांनी माध्यमिक शिक्षण पूर्ण केले आहे आणि ३.४% लोक पदवीधारक आहेत. तसेच, जरी अस्पृश्यता संपुष्टात आली असली तरी वरच्या जातीच्या लोकांकडून खालच्या जातीच्या लोकांवर होणारे अत्याचार थांबलेले नाहीत. १९९० च्या दशकात रणवीर सेना या बिहारमधील भूमिहार जातीतील जमीनमालकांच्या संघटनेने शेकडो दलितांना क्रूरपणे मारले होते. भंडारा जिल्यातील खैरलांजी येथे २००६ मध्ये एका दलित कुटुंबातील चार जणांना जमिनीच्या वादावरून कुणबी समाजातील गुन्हेगारांकडून ठार करण्यात आले. मारण्याआधी कुटुबांतील दोन महिला, सुरेखा भोतमांगे आणि प्रियांका भोतमांगे, ह्यांची नग्नावस्थेत गावातून धिंड काढण्यात आली. मागच्या वर्षी अहमदनगर जिल्ह्यातील जवखडे गावातील एका दलित घरातील तिघांचा उच्च जातीच्या लोकांकडून निर्घृण खून करण्यात आला. उदाहरणादाखल दिलेले हे तीन प्रसंग जातीव्यवस्थेचे हिडीस रूप दाखवून देण्यास पुरेसे आहेत.

जातीव्यवस्थेची उतरंड अजूनही कायम आहे. उच्च-नीच भेद अजूनही कायम आहे. आंतरजातीय विवाह अजूनही निषिद्ध मानला जातो. उच्च जातींकडून उतरंडीमध्ये खाली असलेल्यांवर अजूनही प्रत्यक्ष-अप्रत्यक्षरित्या अन्याय/अत्याचार होतो. परंतु, जातिव्यवस्थेच्या ह्या वास्तवापासून मध्यम आणि उच्चवर्गीय शहरी तरुण बऱ्यापैकी अलिप्त आहे. त्यांचा जात ह्या संकल्पनेशी संबंध पहिल्यांदा कॉलेज प्रवेशावेळी येतो. त्यामुळे, ते जातीचा केवळ आरक्षणाच्या संदर्भात विचार करतात.

आपल्या देशामध्ये कॉलेजांची वाणवा नाही; वाणवा आहे ती गुणवत्तापूर्ण कॉलेजांची. जेव्हा तरुण आरक्षणाच्या धोरणामुळे प्रवेश न मिळण्याबाबत तक्रार करतात, तेव्हा ते मुठभर नावाजलेल्या कॉलेजांबद्दल बोलत असतात. आयआयटी–आयआयएमसारख्या संस्था जिकडे थोड्या जागांसाठी हजारो मुलांचा ओढा असतो, तिकडे त्यांना आरक्षणाची झळ तीव्रतेने जाणवते. १९९० मध्ये मंडळ आयोगाच्या अंमलबजावणीनंतर ‘इतर मागासवर्गीय’ हा नवा वर्ग निर्माण करण्यात आला आणि त्यांना २७% आरक्षण देण्यात आले. ह्या निर्णयानंतर आरक्षणाचे प्रमाण २२.५ टक्क्यांवरून ४९.५ टक्क्यांवर पोहोचले. तेव्हापासून आरक्षणाविरुद्धच्या असंतोषामध्ये खूपच भर पडली आहे. खुल्या वर्गातील मुले आणि आरक्षित वर्गातील मुले ह्यांच्या गुणांमध्ये बराच फरक असतो, हे सत्य आहे. जिथे खुल्या जागांसाठी अर्धा-अर्धा गुणही महत्वाचा ठरतो, तिथे एखाद्या आरक्षित वर्गातील विद्यार्थ्याला १०% गुण कमी असूनही जागा मिळत असेल, तर ते इतरांना अन्यायकारक वाटणे साहजिक आहे. उच्चवर्णीय विद्यार्थ्यांची आणखी एक तक्रार असते कि, आरक्षित जागा पटकावणारे बरेचसे विद्यार्थी सधन कुटुंबातील, शहरांत राहणारे असतात, त्यामुळे त्यांना आरक्षणाची गरज काय?

ह्या कारणांमुळे एका बाजूला ‘गुणवत्ता घसरतेय’ अशी ओरड होते, तर दुसऱ्या बाजूला जातीनिहाय आरक्षण बंद करून आर्थिक निकषावर आरक्षण देण्यात यावे अशी मागणी केली जाते. परंतु, आरक्षणाचा उद्देश ‘गरिबी हटाव’ नसून ज्या जातींवर शेकडो वर्षे अन्याय झाला आणि अजूनही होतोय, त्यांना समान संधी मिळाव्यात आणि त्यांनाही उच्चवर्णीयांप्रमाणे मानाचे आयुष्य जगता यावे व परिणामतः जातीव्यवस्था समूळ नष्ट व्हावी हा आहे, ह्याचा बऱ्याच जणांना विसर पडतो किंवा कल्पनाच नसते. तसेच, आरक्षित वर्गातील मुले कमी गुणांवर जागा पटकावतात असे म्हणण्यापेक्षा त्यांना मूळात इतके कमी गुण का मिळतात, ह्याचा विचार केला जावा. जर आपल्या संविधान समितीने आरक्षणाचे धोरण अंगिकारले नसते तर आपल्याला आज आयआयटी-आयआयएम आणि इतर नावाजलेल्या शैक्षणिक संस्थांमध्ये/ कॉलेजांमध्ये ९५ टक्क्यांच्या वर केवळ उच्चवर्णीय विद्यार्थी दिसले असते.

Why Rural Students Find It Hard to Get a White-Collar Job

I was travelling to work last Monday with a friend. Both my friend and I have migrated to the city from our respective villages, first for higher education, and now jobs. I work in the city for five days, spend two days of the weekend in the village and then travel back to the city on Monday. But I am one of the luckiest among my peers to have a stable, fair-paying job where I have to work only for five, and not six, days. And this, the job situation and how our peers are faring in it, was the topic of discussion on our two-hours’ bus journey that day.

Many students migrate to the cities from Wada, Vikramgad and Palghar talukas every year for professional courses, especially engineering and medicine. But they find it hard to get a well-paying job after graduation. The reasons are multiple. To begin with, they cannot compete with city students for seats in eminent colleges, so they are forced to take admission in sub-standard institutions, which lack laboratories, good teachers and any extracurricular activity on campus. Therefore, even though they manage to scrape through the course and graduate, the actual learning is little. And it is too late when they realise that a degree certificate is not a passport for a job.

The lack of fluency in English, as well as communication skills in general, acts as another major hurdle towards that coveted white-collar job. But it will be quite ignorant and insensitive to blame the students here. It is not their fault, really. Corporate sector is the fiefdom (and I don’t use this term pejoratively here) of upper class/upper caste urbanites. If a village boy/girl aspires to get entry here, they have to play by the rules that are set by these upper class/upper caste urbanites. The knowledge that these corporations are run on is theirs, the language is theirs, the workplace culture is theirs; even the food is theirs!

Students cannot stay back in their villages either. There are no well-paying jobs. Agriculture is not profitable (it never was). And the contact with cities and the incessant consumption of ads through television has made them “aspirational”. So village is no more good enough for them, and cities are not very welcoming either. No wonder most of them feel frustrated and depressed in general.

The Smithy of Words

In school, whenever I read the Times of India I would come across many words that were unintelligible to me. So I would inevitably turn to my coveted bilingual (English to Marathi) dictionary that I had forced my parents to buy for me. But looking up the meaning of every difficult word slowed down my reading pace so much that I eventually gave up using the dictionary. And since then I have always found it cumbersome to search for a word in the big fat tome that a dictionary is. (Pocket dictionaries are generally useless because, to fit your pocket, they contain only the most common words.)

A friend of mine, a part-time teacher, narrated an incident that happened in her tuition class. She was teaching her students how to use a dictionary when a bright young girl asked, “Why search so much through the book? I just go on to the dictionary app on my phone and I get not only the meaning but the audio pronunciation as well.” Well, I can’t agree more with that girl’s pragmatic approach. For lazy bums like me, the dictionary app has been a real boon.

The most renowned and authoritative dictionaries in the world, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, are also available as smartphone apps. Since the first monolingual English dictionary was published in 1604 by Robert Cawdrey (containing around 2,500 entries), we have come a long way. But lexicographers have toiled for centuries for dictionaries to reach their current stage. Samuel Johnson—probably one of the two most famous lexicographers in the world (the other being Noah Webster)—took nine years to complete his dictionary, while the work on the OED’s first edition went on for 70 years. (Coincidentally, 15 April 2015 marked the 260th anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 in London.)

Dictionary-making is a dead serious business. New words are added after rigorous vetting, and sources spanning centuries are constantly checked to fix the correct etymology of words old and new. Samuel Johnson had famously defined a lexicographer as “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”

But when we unshackle the dictionary from its printed pages and put it on the World Wide Web, it has the potential to transform itself magically. Urban Dictionary, a crowd-sourced initiative which started as a fun project in 1999, is the best example. Urban Dictionary is a place where you will often find the quirkiest, funniest and sometimes very offensive definitions of words. That’s because it does not have any lexicographers, editors or any kind of gatekeepers on its staff. Word entries are submitted by the users and vetted by the users. So a neologism which may take years to appear in OED—or may never appear—can find place of pride in Urban Dictionary almost overnight. Consider these few word entries to sample the ingenuity of Urban Dictionary’s users-cum-amateur lexicographers:

  • College: an expensive daycare centre
  • Stupid: someone who has to look up “stupid” in the dictionary because they don’t know what it means
  • Tequila: a Spanish word meaning, “I don’t remember doing that…”

Aaron Peckham, the company’s founder and chief executive, told the Guardian, “Most dictionaries are objective. Urban Dictionary is completely subjective. It’s not presented as fact, (but) as opinions. I think that can be a lot more valuable.” The robustness and the tongue-in-cheek nature of a project like Urban Dictionary is possible only in the internet era.

Though the immediacy, cheekiness and exuberance of Urban Dictionary are exciting traits, they are not desirable in a standard dictionary. But that doesn’t mean standard dictionaries have not been able to “win the internet.” They are present as stand-alone websites, on social media, and in smartphones. The great thing about the Web is that dictionaries do not face space constraints, and updating old entries or adding new ones is very easy. It is possible that OED’s third edition—on which a team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working for the past 20 years—may not be printed at all. Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press, told the Telegraph as much. “The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of percent a year,” he said. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he said: “I don’t think so.”

New technology has significantly reduced the time gap between encountering a difficult word and finding its meaning. Many internet-based products and services dealing with words come with pre-installed dictionaries. Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader has a functionality which allows you to tap on a word for a few milliseconds before its dictionary definition appears. Features like this, which have their genesis in the internet age, are making reading a better experience for not just non-native English speakers but native speakers as well.

(Note: This article was first published in the journal Economic and Political Weekly in the issue dated May 16, 2015.)