THE WEAPON OF THE OTHER – Dalitbahujan writings and the Remaking of Indian Nationalist Thought: Kancha Ilaiah; Pearson Education, 7th Floor, Knowledge Boulevard, A-8 (A), Sector 62, Noida-201309. Rs. 695.
The meek and the weak deserve to be written about because they constitute the ‘other’ side of our society. The maturity of our democratic consciousness can be measured by how we treat, not our descendants and dependents, but members of the classes/castes other than our own.
The term ‘Dalitbahujan’ refers to and encompasses the Scheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes, the “people and castes who form the exploited and suppressed majority.” This is what Kancha Ilaiah told us in his classic Why I Am Not a Hindu (1996). Now, 14 years later, Ilaiah says there were three kinds of nationalist thought during the anti-colonial struggle. There was the Hindu nationalism of Tilak and Gandhiji, the Brahmanical communist nationalism of P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange, and Dalitbahujan nationalism of Jotirao Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar E.V. Ramasami.
Dalitbahujan writings made five contributions to Indian nationalist thought, says Ilaiah. The first is the Buddha-Ambedkar school that advocates non-violence and restricted use of weapons, for self-defence only. In contrast, the Hindu gods carry weapons —Krishna has his ‘chakra’ (wheel), Parsuram his axe, and Rama his bow and arrow.
The second contribution is the concept of equality based on communal property. The life of Dalitbahujans mostly depends on the labour power of their hands and the larger prakriti (or nature). The leisure-loving higher castes, who constitute the upper class, base their life on private property and on the labour of the other sections of society.
The third contribution is universal humanism or ‘Dalitism.’ The “egalitarian democratic-socialist baby” is growing in the womb of Dalitbahujan wadas or neighbourhoods.
The fourth relates to the democratic gender relations. Ilaiah believes that man-woman relations in the Dalitbahujan wadas are less patriarchal. In these wadas, atrocities are inflicted by husbands under the influence of brahmanical feudalism and capitalism.
And the fifth contribution concerns positive socio-economic values. The class of people who produce goods and are wrongly considered ‘polluted’ deserve to be respected, while those who produce nothing and remain mere ‘consumers’ but claim themselves to be ‘pure’ must be ‘devalued.’ “Making shoes should receive greater respect and better payment than teaching in the university.”
It is noteworthy that Ilaiah is himself a university don. Hence he merits our respect for the courage of his conviction to talk against his own interest.
Kancha Ilaiah, who has risen from a humble background, has six books to his credit, and his articles have appeared in all leading Indian journals. He has participated in the U.N. Conference on ‘Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia’ held at Durban in 2001 and has also been a postdoctoral Fellow with the Dalit Freedom Network, Denver, in 2004-05.
This book, which is rhetorical in character, is the outcome of another Fellowship, the one from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (1994-97). Ideally, such a prestigious Fellowship should have been used to offer some fresh theoretical insights.
But Ilaiah has chosen to uncritically endorse Jotirao Phule’s theory that the Aryans were invaders. Phule (1827-90) could take that position because such was the historical thinking during his time. In fact, he was only echoing what Max Mueller (1823-1900) had said. If Ambedkar (1891-1956) endorsed that line it was because his work related to public administration, not history. As for Periyar (1879-1973), the Aryan invasion theory eminently fitted into his campaign for the Dravidian cause.
One expected Ilaiah, as an academic of stature with a record of pioneering work, to have examined the issue in the light of the latest thinking in the academia. For instance, we have Romila Thapar telling us that Aryans were not a race but were people speaking Indo-Aryan group of languages. And languages get disseminated through story-tellers, pen-pushers, litterateurs, and so on.
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