This book of essays edited by K Raju is an eclectic mix of erudite scholarship stemming from a theorist’s insight into anti-caste themes with its mix of vicissitudes and conformism. Recalling the writings of BR Ambedkareach of these essays has helped me to embrace “the emotional in the intellectual”, to borrow a phrase I picked up from a thought-provoking article by the Round Table in India – an anti-caste owned and led by Ambedkarites.
This book came after about two decades of Dalit activism on social media, where uncensored platforms (due to the lack of a centralized editor) helped fuel a radical anti-caste outlook that gained momentum. scale. This collection of essays could be one of the results. It is a welcome addition to the national discourse led by Ambedkarite Dalits during the time of Rohith Vemula. The icing on the cake, this book is dedicated to two stellar poets from the Dalit community who are still unsung heroes – Gurram Joshua (1895-1971) and Boyi Bhimanna (1911-2005).
Initially, there are three aspects to this book that captivate the Ambedkarite in me. First, these essays are in-depth engagements with anti-caste themes, ranging from electoral and judicial reforms to hipper perspectives like the rise of Ambedkarite cinema and the emergence of anti-caste politics in the Indian diaspora in the West – all designed in English. for an informed reader. These are not essays where the agency of the author is severely restricted due to the intervention of a translator who may not have harnessed a political vision aligned with Ambedkarite ideals.
Second, the choice of authors to contribute to the anthology is an interesting mix of various dimensions of difference – the old school, as I understand it (like Sukdheo Thorat and Rajasekhar Vundru) and the new school (like Jignesh Mevani and Suraj Yengde). The inclusion of millennial voices like Pa Ranjith is, indeed, a breath of fresh air. While only a handful come from academia, others come from the heat and dust of campaign rallies, flashy oratories and tireless filming schedules, or jostling through bureaucracy. This creates an interesting spectrum of Dalit activism/engagement with anti-caste missions in the 21st century. The other enriching aspect is the vision towards various currents of economic emancipation for the Bahujan Dalits. On the one hand, we have an awareness of the thought represented by Mevani, who calls for a judicious blend of Marxism and Ambedkarism and, for whom, inventions such as “Dalit capitalism” may not be so acceptable. At the other end, there is an essay with a clear call for the entrepreneurship revolution among the Bahujan Dalits by Priyank Kharge and Neeraj Shetye. It is indeed a quest to understand the truth of the new India with all its diversity and inequality, albeit in the post-truth era.
This book came to me for prospective review when Mevani was languishing in jail on (false) case charges. He was released on bail later and the police were reprimanded by the Honorable Court of assam for embezzlement of the state apparatus. As expected, his essay weaves a narrative that weaves together the class and caste aspects of the larger struggle he urges us all to undertake. There haven’t been many essays like the one written by Suraj Yengde, which connect ant caste struggles to other struggles elsewhere in the world and give us insight that can transcend any geography.
Yengde’s essay lays out a model of international activism that can be carried out by anti-caste crusaders from the ramparts of their NRI status. Students graduating from tertiary institutions in India and elsewhere, who might later become globetrotters, can use this particular essay as their manifesto. His current position as a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government is undoubtedly the shattering of the glass ceiling and a beacon of light for Dalit activists of his generation.
This may be the very first comprehensive essay by RS Praveen, a former civil servant in Telangana after leaving the civil service to work on his vision of an egalitarian society. Pa Ranjith’s essay reveals the flip side of his much-vaunted success story in Tamil cinema. I’ve been following these younger cohorts on social media with great interest.
This book is the brainchild of K Raju, a former civil servant and now a politician from the main opposition party at the time. The book comes as a beacon of hope as it inextricably blends scholarship and scholarship with practice – whether in electoral politics, film, academia or poetry, making it a melting pot where perspectives of theory and practice enrich each other.
Another fascinating aspect of this book and K Raju’s well-researched introduction is that some salient features of the Congress Party’s achievements towards Ambedkarite ideals are documented. These can be very valuable ammo in an Ambedkarite’s arsenal when fighting internet sanghis/hindus.
The few flaws in this book that have crossed my mind are that although Sudha Pai is one of the authors, there is a distinct absence of an essay from an anti-caste feminist perspective. The editor could have solicited at least one essay from an Ambedkarite feminist woman or an anti-caste queer scholar and erased the void emanating from the absence of a queer scholar or intersectional feminist expressing her emancipatory vision. The northeast of our country was also missed in this otherwise commendable quest for the “truth of our nation”. This is perhaps a gap in the ideals put forward by the traditional politicians of India.
Chandramohan S is an Indian English Dalit Poet based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was a member of the IWP at the University of Iowa