Edition Subtraction

We are always in the midst of history. The Dalit History Month serves as a reminder of this persistence. With the 133rd Ambedkar Jayanti upon us, we see Baba’s legacy ring and ricochet in all corners against the odds. This month is a reminder of the only politics of hope that exists in the nation. It brims with meaning for all who hold Baba near and dear, and keep him and his ideas alive. Babasaheb saw change as a relentless force—‘there is nothing fixed; nothing eternal; nothing sanatan’. Much has changed since his time for better and for worse, but his razor-sharp indictment of the Hindus and their Shastras remains unmatched. It also remains an unfinished project. Which is why we turn and return to Annihilation of Caste, his clarion call issued in 1936 to an audience that found his sound and reasoned views unbearable. The Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal did the unprincipled savarna thing of disinviting him. The rest is history.

In his undelivered speech, Ambedkar draws a sharp distinction between rules and principles. Rules dictate, whereas principles guide. For him, the Hindu religion is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and social rules. It presents itself with a character of fixity and finality, to shield itself against any suggestion of reform. But change, or conversion, is necessary for the annihilation of caste. Babasaheb makes it clear: A new life cannot enter a body that is dead.

Doing what is said to be good by virtue of a rule and doing good in the light of a principle are two different things. The principle may be wrong but the act is conscious and responsible. The rule may be right but the act is mechanical. A religious act may not be a correct act but must at least be a responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be Religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act.

It has been twenty years since Navayana came into existence, and ten years since we first published Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition. The book elicited sharp critiques. It is also a certified bestseller (as far as bestsellers go at Navayana). Our new offering gets to the meat of the matter—the core text written by Ambedkar. Adorned with a striking painting by Vikrant Bhise, this elegant, affordable, accessible edition of the Annihilation of Caste is a welcoming place to start for all. In a time when principles are receding fast into oblivion, and rigid rules are taking their place, Baba breathes new life into those celebrating him and his bounty.

After all these years, he is still here, willing us to change, goading us to breed lilacs out of the dead land.