Short Book Review: Castes in India and Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

 Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B. R. AmbedkarSBR: I don’t intend to analyze the theories put forward by Dr. Ambedkar in these two pieces and leave such analysis to more scholarly people. I have my own layperson’s response (some agreements and some disagreements) to the things he says, but that is not the point of reading them either. The importance of works like these lies in their having a viewpoint which a large number of us have never been exposed to. We (and that includes not just savarnas, but a large number of Dalits too who have been through the same educational and official systems) don’t even imagine while growing up that the stand of someone like Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps not good enough on caste and untouchability issues. That there had been a case for prioritizing social reforms in Hindu society over political independence from the British. And that even now we think that certain social, political or economic choices we make as a nation are obviously correct when they aren’t so as soon as we look at the point of view of people “not like us”. It is to get rid of such institutionally-propagated blindness that reading Ambedkar is important.
To read or not to read: Yes.

The Many Shades of Roy @ BYOB Party in June 2017 (Part 3)

When Amrutha showed us the book that she was reading, there was a collective gasp of excitement.

Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Amrutha is very eloquent about her admiration of this writer. For her, The God of Small Things is nothing less than a Bible, compulsory reading on days when the world ceases to make sense. And now after twenty years of monochromatic non-fiction, Roy is back, and this made her pre-order a copy.

The book is now well-known for the number of reviews it has garnered. Amrutha has no complaint about the lyricism of the book. For the first two hundred pages of the book, Anjum the transgender character occupies center stage. At some point in the novel, Amrutha says that so many characters make their presence felt that you feel you are in a train into which a stream of people continuously flows into.

Unlike the India in the books by Khushwant Singh and Salman Rushdie, Roy’s India is easy to relate to, especially to millennials as it is the India of the Maoists, Kejriwal, Kashmir, Ayodhya, corruption, Anna Hazare and this becomes the problem with Anjum’s story for Amruta. She fears that the book ends in propaganda and that Roy’s view is a little too uni-dimensional for a country as vast and complicated as India. “It was when the book stopped being fictional that I felt betrayed that she had masqueraded Anjum’s story as a fiction. If I wanted to read about the problems our country faces, I could read the newspaper!” she said.

So this is what a betrayed fan looks like.

As is the case in many BYOB Parties, readers subconsciously pick books that showcase similar authors. So Sonali got Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar with an introduction written by Roy. Unlike Amruta, Sonali is more taken by Arundhati Roy’s monochromatic non-fiction.

The Annihilation of Caste shows two contrasting leaders- one the saintly Gandhi who removes his upper garment to identify with the masses and the other the maverick Ambedkar who wears a suit to challenge casteism. Both of them believe that they have the answers about how the country is to be led and what values should constitute the Indian rubric.

The premise of the book is a story in itself. A Hindu reformist group invited Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to deliver a lecture but since they knew that the man was audacious they requested for an advanced copy. Their doubts proved true. Ambedkar had planned to use the lecture as an opportunity to denounce Hinduism and its caste system. Since this was unacceptable to them, they de-invited him and true to Ambedkar’s fiery nature, he published the speech instead. He also responded to the Mahatma’s justification of caste.

What Sonali admires about the book is the coherence of the arguments that Ambedkar presents. He provided a scholarly critique of the Shastras and disagrees with Gandhi’s sugar-coated version of casteism. Even today Ambedkar’s views remain controversial and some of his opinions border on scandalous.

Watch this video where Roy debunks what she calls the Gandhi myth.