The first step

I finally read Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a seminal work that must be read more widely. He wrote the text for a speech that was scheduled but never delivered; the organizers thought its content too incendiary, even if they were against caste themselves. I have always hesitated to read scholarly works, I imagine I will not be able to understand what is being said. I am now trying to rectify this somewhat erroneous belief.

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The first two hundred pages are an essay by Arundhati Roy, titled The Doctor and the Saint. It runs longer than AoC itself, and concerns itself with contrasting the ideologies of Gandhi and Ambedkar. This ‘introduction’ has come under much criticism since its publication, for repackaging one man’s political legacy, and reducing him to a counterpoint for Gandhi. Take a look at this article on Hatred In The Belly, shared with me by someone on Twitter. HITB is a collection of writing that emerged on the topic of appropriation of Ambedkar by upper caste voices.

The only thing I was taught about Ambedkar in school is that he was the Father of the Indian Constitution, when in reality, he was disappointed by it. We were not taught that his life’s work was caste – its analysis and eradication. But this should not be surprising, because we are never taught what caste is. We do not need education on this front, we live along its codes by example, we learn by instinct who to be with, what to eat, what is allowed and what is not, what is pure and by association, superior.

I cannot say I read AoC now because Arundhati Roy wrote about it. Maybe it has taken me a while to arrive here, after a journey that made me realise the numerous ways in which I was privileged, and also the ways in which I was silenced.

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5 thoughts on “The first step

  1. I agree with you that such works need to read more widely. Sadly, we Indians have a poor understanding of caste, its origins, implications, and history. Without these, our views would remain someone else’s. For us to form our own unbiased opinion and think of the way forward for the country, we need to be able to read such books and assimilate. Thank you, Anusha for sharing this. I am certainly going to read this book.

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  2. –> A highly perceptive essay based on what seems to be a thought provoking book. I will see if I can request this in our local library.

    “after a journey that made me realise the numerous ways in which I was privileged, and also the ways in which I was silenced.”

    –> I respect and admire your passion for the issue of equality. I first realized your interest in this subject and how it made you reflect, when I read your take on “My Father Baliah.” Given your passion for the subject of equality — caste, race, gender — what would be really interesting is if you were to synthesize your observations from all your readings, your introspection all into one piece — even better, write a story!

    It is a very important topic that I hope finds resonance with more people of the next generation. Entitlement of any kind is something that bothers me quite a bit. As Adam Grant writes in his book, there is a difference between taking and receiving. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, and taking time to leave a comment!
      I have believed in the same things for a long time now, but when I was younger, I would be treated in a patronizing manner. Oh how adorable, look at her saying caste shouldn’t exist, or laugh at me when I said everyone should marry outside their caste. Or like the time I said to a friend back when we were thirteen after having discovered homosexuality: people can like whoever they want to. Later, I doubted myself. I wondered if I would stick to those ideas or take an easy way out. With time, I have realised that some things change, but thankfully, some haven’t. I hope to live my life in line with my principles. I’m still trying.

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      1. Thanks for sharing those insights into your thinking and how it evolved over time. One other book that has influenced me a lot with respect to principles is Sheena Iyengar’s “Art of Choosing.” She wrote about how if we identify a core set of values and worry only about the choices that relate to these core values, it ‘frees’ us up in other ways. Because we stop worrying about things that are inconsequential (in the larger scheme of things). The one side effect of that that I have seen in my life is that people accept your principles and values even more because they see that you are being rigid / inflexible only when it comes to certain things.
        All this is to say that I agree that sticking to certain principles even if they are contrary to popular thought or societal norms makes our lives richer.
        Phew…Orey flaasafee adichitruken iniki…niruthikren :))

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