Annihilation of Caste is an audacious denunciation of Hinduism and its caste system.
In 1936, a Hindu reformist group invited Dr B.R. Ambedkar to deliver its annual lecture. When the group read an advance copy of the text of the speech, it found the contents “unbearable” and rescinded its invitation. Ambedkar published the text on his own. It offers a scholarly critique of the Vedas and shastras—scriptures the Hindus regard as sacred, scriptures that sanction the world’s most hierarchical and iniquitous social system. The world’s best known Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, responded to the provocation. The hatchet was never buried.
This extensively annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste is introduced by Arundhati Roy. Her introduction, The Doctor and the Saint, looks at the ways in which caste plays out in modern India, and how the conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi continues to resonate into the present day. It takes us to the beginning of Gandhi’s political career in South Africa, where his views on race, caste and imperialism were shaped. It tracks Ambedkar’s emergence as a major political figure in the national movement, and shows how his scholarship and intelligence illuminated a political struggle beset by sectarianism and obscurantism. Roy breathes new life into Ambedkar’s anticaste utopia, and says that without a Dalit revolution, there cannot be any other in India.
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born in 1891 into an ‘Untouchable’ family of modest means. One of India’s most radical thinkers, he transformed the social and political landscape in the struggle against British colonialism. He was a prolific writer who oversaw the drafting of the Indian Constitution and served as India’s first Law Minister. In 1935, he publicly declared that though he was born a Hindu, he would not die as one. Ambedkar eventually embraced Buddhism, a few months before his death in 1956.
Arundhati Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things. Collections of her recent political writings have been published as Listening to Grasshoppers and Broken Republic.
‘Annihilation of Caste has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism… ’
‘The caste system is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of labourers’ B.R. Ambedkar
‘Annihilation of Caste is a breach of peace’ Arundhati Roy, in the Introduction
‘This edition, with Ambedkar’s words in Nietzschean aphoristic format, is extremely useful. It helps us discover new dimensions of Ambedkar’s subversive power. The annotations—many times orthogonal and tangential—enhance the value of this book. Those who have read Annihilation of Caste many times before will still read this work for the sake of the annotations and reference-based clarifications of Ambedkar’s thoughts. This edition will foster a more critical engagement among readers’ Ayyathurai Gajendran, anthropologist
‘For the 1930s, Annihilation of Caste was a case of marvelous writing with conceptual clarity and political understanding—something the world should know about. The annotations illumine the whole book. Roy’s essay has the sharp political thrust one has come to expect from her’ Uma Chakravarti, author of Everyday Lives, Everyday Histories: Beyond the Kings and Brahmanas of ‘Ancient’ India and Pandita Ramabai: A Life and a Time
‘Arundhati Roy’s The Doctor and the Saint works both at an emotive and an argumentative level. She manages to convey an intimate and deeply felt sensitivity to the history that produced Annihilation of Caste. Her essay is both well-documented and closely argued. The annotations do an excellent job of providing supplementary information, corroboration and relevant citations… A robust edition of an under-appreciated classic’ Satish Deshpande, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University
‘S. Anand’s annotations are very thorough and on the whole based on first rate and current scholarship on South Asia and elsewhere. Their tone and style will appeal to a scholarly as well as lay audience … an important accomplishment. Arundhati Roy’s essay is punchy, eye-opening and provocative… There is very little left of the saintly stature of the Mahatma once Roy is done with him, while Ambedkar, quite rightly, is left standing as the man in full control of his senses and his very considerable intellect’ Thomas Blom Hansen, Director, Stanford’s Center for South Asia
‘This annotated edition of Annihilation of Caste was long overdue. It makes available to all a major text of Dr Ambedkar’s, where his intellectual engagement with caste is best articulated … the copious footnotes give the reader a sense of direction and all the additional information needed for making sense of the text—including the translation of the Sanskrit shlokas Ambedkar used to document his analysis. This edition is truly a remarkable achievement’ Christophe Jaffrelot, author of Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste