Outcastes, naxals and other asuras

When news came on 28 August of the illegal arrests and raids on the homes of writers, academics, lawyers, activists—each a public figure who speaks for justice, now branded an ‘urban naxal’—we at Navayana felt the creation of a shared universe. We had been associated, in disparate ways, with several of the figures who had been attacked: Anand Teltumbde has authored two books for us, both of which show how for the Indian state (which is at once brahmanical and neoliberal), ‘Maoism and nationalism are simply modern-day euphemisms for outcaste and caste, respectively’; Varavara Rao had spoken at the launch of Ramchandra Singh’s recently published memoir 13 Years: A Naxalite’s Prison Diary and even endorsed it; Arun Ferreira, whose struggles with lawlessness Teltumbde has documented in Republic of Caste, wrote an endorsement for Singh’s book; K. Satyanarayana has co-edited The Exercise of Freedom: An Introduction to Dalit Writing. The list of associations can go on. Umar Khalid, the much-hounded JNU research scholar on whose life an attempt was made recently in Delhi, wrote a tribute in Gauri’s book and had spoken at its launch in Delhi. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, who penned an introduction to B.R. Ambedkar’s Riddles in Hinduism: The Annotated Critical Selection and has been long associated with Navayana, has faced death threats that have been made light of by the state and the liberals. D.N. Jha, author of The Myth of the Holy Cow is a veteran of facing intolerance that comes in the face of unholy facts. Then there’s Arundhati Roy, who never shies from these battles and has consistently spoken out against every form of state and social injustice. Looming over all of us is of course Ambedkar, the militant and partisan par excellence who ushered the idea of radical equality amidst the clamour of nationalism. The recent arrests performed the function of unifying us in a formal sense. The condemnation of the state has unwittingly made our partisanship a public real.

A few days before the 28 August display of state terror, D. Ravikumar, one of the founding members of Navayana, discovered that his name figures in the list of 34 targets of the radicalized Hindus (Sanatan Sansthan) who executed Gauri Lankesh. The former MLA and general secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), is a well-known public intellectual and poet in Tamil. Amol Kale, the alleged mastermind of the killings of Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare, had also marked Ravikumar in his diary.

All of us—including those of you reading this—form an association of sorts; and here we use the term advisedly in the sense Ambedkar had invoked it. Soumyabrata Choudhury explains how in Ambedkar and Other Immortals:

“Association” was a word Ambedkar repeatedly affirmed to convey a kind of generic definition of politics as collective life of association. People enter into associational activity not because they belong to the same family, caste and nation but because they share new “common feelings” at the risk of disaffection from given forms of belonging. This disaffection is not mere wilful sedition; it is the result of encounters with others, other affections, other ideas and paradigms of thought that produce a type of fraternity with strangers. The condition for this fraternity is clearly the freedom to encounter others in their strangeness—but it is also the unforeseen contingent possibility of sharing in a common egalitarian utterance.

It is such a partisan utterance—even declaration—of fraternity with Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon by the Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University that threatened the likes of Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani, resulting in the loss of Rohith Vemula’s life. The examples are too many to bear listing but this saga is as much about those names and people we may never know, each a stranger made intimate by association. The illegal detentions of Sukalo and Kismatiya Gond may not have resonated with many, but the much-maligned Teesta Setalvad has championed the case for their freedom at Citizens for Justice and Peace. Should G.N. Saibaba in his Anda Cell in Nagpur take cold comfort in such camaraderie? Is there some perverse sense of solidarity to be gained when an algorithm tells you: ‘Those who searched for Anand Teltumbde and K. Satyanarayana also searched for…’ Is this the kind of associated mode of life Ambedkar may have sought? While those who have written books and held prestigious jobs can parade their entitlements and bemoan their treatment like ‘terrorists and criminals’ (making one wonder if it is okay for the state to treat those labelled terrorists and criminals in certain uncertain ways), what of those whose claims are beyond algorithms, whose names elude the aggregating shadows of search engines that inflect our thoughts?

On the first anniversary of Gauri Lankesh’s assassination, we are left with more questions than answers—but what is clear is that the true violence remains the one of unthought, of the disappearance and forgetfulness of thought. How many of us can truly claim to have engaged with the truth of what Gauri Lankesh said in life even as we mourn her death? Shamefully, we are left with the unfinished business of still selling copies of the first print-run of The Way I See It.

August and September witness an orgy of festivals among the Hindus. Raksha-bandhan, Janmashtami, the B.G. Tilak–fashioned tamasha and hooliganism around Ganesha pandals and so on. The Hindu calendar is rife with festivity and the unabashed celebration of weapons-wielding gods who attain godhead for their display of gratuitous violence, usually upon the asuras. Those who were asuras in mytho-history go by various names today—maoists, urban naxals, Muslims, dalits, liberals. Everyone is a suspect.


5 September 2018

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