Namdeo Dhasal says of Ambedkar, mixing heady conviction with potent love:
You are that Sun You are that one—who belongs to us.
Earlier in this paean, he looks us in the eye and says:
Everyone is, as a matter of fact, as complete as the Sun That protects and preserves all; including the cactus; And uses the dew that forms on petals To heal all pain
And what kind of demons will such a sun slay?
The powdered bones of those afflicted with sin are being scattered from high above in the sky And they vanish; the sun is setting over the lands ruled by demons— The devils who plucked the leaves of mythology from a blossoming spring; The devils who made my throat sing songs that condemned all regions of evil.
We read these words thanks to Dilip Chitre, someone so drenched in the light shed by Namdeo’s Marathi that he became one with that light, and rendered such radiant versions in English (see A Current of Blood or read the full poem here.) What did Ambedkar do to receive such absolute love and claim a place as perennial as the sun? Ambedkar told us to annihilate caste. The blueprint for this was Annihilation of Caste, published on 15 May 1936.
Now Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition—hailed as a ‘superb, high-grade critical edition’ even by professors of ethics who find virtues in Gandhi despite him swearing by the caste-affirming Bhagvad Gita—makes its way into the world as a paperback. On its striking new cover Ambedkar pierces through the haloed image of Gandhi. (For this, as for all Navayana covers, we have the inimitable Akila Seshasayee to thank.) But wait, could Arundhati Roy have discussed Ambedkar without dwelling upon Gandhi? Could Ambedkar have critiqued caste and not discussed Hinduism, its Vedas andshastras that he said needed to be dynamited? Let’s ask questions, and answer them with more questions. If you have not yet read this antidote to Hinduism, grab AoC as part of our October-only offer where you can choose three of these four must-have books for Rs 850 (instead of Rs 1170): Annihilation of Caste, The South African Gandhi, Bhagwan Das’s In Pursuit of Ambedkar and Dhasal’s A Current of Blood.
Das, an un-acclaimed pioneer of scholarship on Ambedkar, offered a devastating critique of Gandhi in his soft-spoken way. Speaking of the connection between Hindutva and Gandhi, he did not mince words:
In my opinion, the Hindutva organisations would like to bring the dalits, who are actually not Hindus, into the Hindu fold and leave them there, at the bottom of the heap. Now, that is also what Gandhi attempted to do. He used to tell the dalits that God had created them simply to serve the so-called upper castes and that they should carry on with their caste occupations in the hope that in their next life they would be born in a higher caste. That is also what the Hindutva project is all about.
We commemorate October because this was the time when Ambedkar formally left the fold of Hinduism that he found lacking in reason, morality and love, and embraced Buddhism in 1956. In The Buddha and His Dhamma, published posthumously, he fuses the values of what’s called European Enlightenment (a blend of some of the finest ideas floating around then) with those of the antigod credo of Buddha, and charts a path out of caste. Ambedkar here collapses all difference between centres and peripheries, declaring that every periphery is at the centre of the world. Which brings to mind this recent essay that tells us how one of Europe’s key Enlightenment philosophers, David Hume, may have benefited from the work of Jesuit missionaries who carried the Buddha’s ideas to the ‘centre’ of Europe in the early 18th century. For Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher for our times, Ambedkar is a new hero, but in Agitating the Frame (Rs 250), Žižek is equally interested in the place of violence in the Buddhist system of moral conduct.
Haunted by a halo
And yes, Gandhi’s day of birth looms on the horizon, reminding us that history is often both a tragedy and a farce. The publication of The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed has caused much anxiety and grief. Unlike Rajmohan Gandhi who begins to defend his grandfather without even reading the book, Patrick French says in his review in Outlook that ‘it will no longer be possible to look at the Mahatma’s South African years without considering his role as a stretcher-bearer of Empire.’ In the days to come you will also find many excerpts, but there’s no substitute to reading the book.
But if you are tired of Gandhi, we understand. Let Dhasal, then, have the last word:
And I plunge a sharpened shovel into my own heart too; And soak the pages of your life with warm blood; And arouse the only honest thing in me.
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