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Why oppose Kancha Ilaiah’s books?

How can RSS tolerate the democratic ideology of Kancha Ilaiah? Why would they want Kancha Ilaiah’s books to equip Dalitbahujans to oppose to Hindu spiritual fascism and inspire them to challenge the building of a Brahmin State? Kanwal Bharti’s analysis

When there was no Bahujan thought in India, or to put it differently, when there was no enlightenment among Dalit-backward classes, Brahmin thought was synonymous with Indian thought. For instance, there used to be a column titled “Rashtra Chintan” (national thought) published in Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala written by a Brahmin author. This was published every Monday, until his death. The column was unbearably casteist, communal and poisonous. In those days, I was the lone Dalit writer who attacked this national thought. Neither the progressive writers nor the readers put any pressure to stop publishing the column of national thought. While such was the state of affairs in journalism, far worse was the situation in literature. The entire Hindi literature had become synonymous with Hindu literature.

Barring Premchand and one or two other progressive writers, no other writer dealt with people’s issues. Neither did their works inculcate scientific thought nor was they democratic. Their thought was only limited to Vedas and Vedic philosophy, or like Tulsi, they prostrated themselves at Ram ’s feet. The so-called “national poets” and “great poets” considered Hindutva as representative of the entire nation and proudly glorified it in Bharat Bharti, Kamayani, Ram Ki Shakti Pooja, Dwapar, Treta, and Panchavati. All these writers were born into privileged castes of Hindu society and thus never knew what exploitation, insult and caste contempt meant. Even if they did know, they would attribute them to fate. They did not have the intellect to look at the system for the causes. However, those who saw the seeds of exploitation and insult in the system rebelled against Hindutva. Such people were never considered nationalists. Nirala, Pant and Joshi, who used romanticism and mysticism as a ruse to find philosophical solace in jumbled Vedantic assertions were considered nationalists. For them, Brahma was the truth and world an illusion.

Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

The literature emerging from this Hindu thought process created an undemocratic psyche that had only Hindutva ideology at its core and nothing else. History given to them by Brahmins was their only history, vision provided by Brahmins was their vision, and the ideology prescribed by Brahmins was their single ideology. Their brains never even entertained the thought that there can be an alternative vision, history or aesthetics outside the Brahmin domain. So, when Dalit thought and literature made its mark in the decades of 1980s and 1990s, the Hindu writers, who were stuck at the same place for centuries like a bull going around an oil press, received a jolt.

They were not even ready to listen to the possibility that the caste system of their forefathers could be absurd, that Sri Ram could be unjust and Dronacharya could be sly and a harasser. These writers thus vehemently opposed Dalit literature and criticism. All boycotted it. Editors of newspapers and magazines never bothered reading such literature, let alone publish it.  They threw such works in the rubbish bin or suppressed them for years. Whenever Dalit writers tried to inquire about the status of their works by mail or by phone, the editors would wash their hands of them with answers such as “we never received it” or “we return unaccepted works ” or “we discard them”. Om Prakash Valmiki once shared such a bitter experience during a programme organized by Hans.

However, Dalit writers were also geared up to fight against mainstream literature and entered the field fully prepared. Noted Hindi scholars levelled unrestrained allegations on Dalit literature, and we Dalit writers gave comprehensive rebuttals. They complained that Dalit literature is abusive, lacks art or beauty, is casteist, is disruptive, spreads hatred against Savarnas, and much more. However, when we answered all these baseless allegations, their last weapon was: “Can only Dalits write Dalit literature? Anyone can write this!” We counter-questioned them thus: “If Savarnas could also write Dalit literature, why didn’t they do this till now? Why were works such as Joothan, Tiraskrat, and Apne Apne Pinjare written only by Dalit writers? why didn’t any Savarna writer do it?”

We asked if any Savarna writer had the experience of eating refuse, of skinning a dead animal, or of carrying scum on their heads and if so, why didn’t they write about such disgusting experiences? Moreover, if they don’t have those disgusting experiences, how can they write Dalit literature?

In this way, after an entire decade of unrelenting struggle, Dalit literature got recognition. In this struggle, we received a lot of support and complete cooperation from leftist, progressive writers. Such support and cooperation provided significant support to Dalit literature. On the other hand, reservations and student scholarships during Sukhadeo Thorat’s tenure as chairman of University Grants Commission encouraged Dalit-OBC students nationwide to pursue higher education and helped pave the way for their appointment as assistant professors.

Consequently, across universities nationwide, the pressure exerted by Dalit professors and students resulted in Dalit literature being included in the syllabus. I was also a member of the Curriculum Committee in two universities. Today, perhaps in all universities in India, Dalit literature is part of the curriculum, and many students are researching Dalit literature and Dalit leaders.

However, in the last four years, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party in power, the Hindu revivalist political atmosphere has caught on in all universities. Research seats have been reduced to discourage Dalit students. Department-wise restrictions are being imposed to reduce the number of reserved Assistant Professor seats to less than fifty percent of those earlier and most posts are being filled with Hinduvadi Savarnas. As a result, Dalit literature and ideology is slowly being removed from the curriculum.

A case in point is the recent incident in Delhi University, where the standing committee overseeing academic matters took a decision to remove three books by prominent Bahujan author Kancha Ilaiah from the syllabus of Political Science. The three books are: 1. Why I am not a Hindu? 2. Post-Hindu India and 3. Buffalo Nationalism. Telugu Desam Party MP T.G. Venkatesh had openly called for the public hanging of Kancha Ilaiah after reading Post-Hindu India. This MP had created such terror that Ilaiah underwent a self-imposed house arrest. In an interview published in the Indian Express, on 30 November 2017, Ilaiah discussed his book Post Hindu India extensively. The book was originally published in 2009. A Telugu publisher had translated and published chapters from the book as booklets. The first chapter of the book is on Adivasis, titled “Unpaid Teachers”. The second chapter is on leather-workers (chamars), titled “Scientists on the Margins”. The third chapter is on Mahars (historically untouchables who performed several jobs such as sweepers, carcass-handlers and farm-labourers.), titled “Productive Soldiers.” The next chapter is on the washer community, titled “Ignored Feminists”. One chapter is on barbers, titled “Social Doctors”. A chapter  on potters, blacksmiths and goldsmiths is titled “Unrecognized Engineers”. There is a chapter titled “Milk and Meat Economy”  and a chapter on food producers – Jats, Gujjars, and Kapus. The final chapter is on Vaishyas, titled “Social Smugglers”. The entire controversy was due to this chapter, which also appeared in the form of a booklet in Telugu. What did Ilaiah establish in “Social Smugglers”? He has clarified his stand in interviews as well: “Since the post-Gupta era, all trade has been reserved for Vaishyas due to the rigid varna (caste) system. And they cheated people during the purchase and sale of goods. History tells us that they saved their money by storing it underground, which they called “secret funds”. They never spent these funds on agricultural production. There was also no idea of charity in this culture. Inter-marriage with other castes was also not encouraged. They never mingled during festivals as well. They treated virtually all others as Untouchables. This culture has reached its zenith. Today, 46 per cent of all trade in India is controlled by the same Baniya community.” In this way, this small chapter on “Social Smugglers” explains how the state’s capital is being smuggled beyond its borders illegally. Social smuggling occurs when wealth remains within the state’s borders. However, the wealth is limited to one community, which, according to Manu’s dharma, is ordained to trade. Thus, they do not invest but only hoard their wealth. And such hoarding is not spent on any social activity.

Kancha Ilaiah’s three books which are being questioned

Kancha Ilaiah has also proved that the wealth amassed by Adani and Ambani is in no way linked to a culture of social responsibility. Their wealth has never been used for humanitarian causes, nor has a humanitarian fund been created with that capital. A community that thrived in trade never accepted the responsibility to build financial wealth for India. As early as the Middle Ages, they never advocated the development of any domestic industry. It was through the Baniya-Brahmin network that massive stores of gold were hidden in the temples.

Consequently, domestic industries were never developed. The same situation prevails today. And for this reason they refuse to give reservations in the private sector, and there are no jobs in the government sector. Therefore, Kancha Ilaiah called Vaishyas “Social Smugglers.” And in the form of Manu’s scripture, Brahmins have built fortresses for them, which is nothing but “spiritual fascism”. In the above interview, Ilaiah says, “Even today, 46 per cent of the wealth is in the hands of Baniyas. After Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014, the focus on the private sector has increased much more. If they still do not fulfil their social responsibility, farmers’ suicides cannot be curtailed.”

Kancha Ilaiah’s second important book is Why I am not a Hindu? There are two translated versions of this book in Hindi: Mukesh Manas’ and Om Prakash Valmiki’s. While I could not go through Valmiki’s translation, I would like to cite from Mukesh Manas’ version. In one section, Ilaiah writes:

“I started teaching at Osmania University. Here, I realized that even scientific education and Western influence did not transform Hindus into rational beings. Modern education could not influence them. The reason is that they were never involved in productive activities. They were never concerned with the day-to-day experience of average  Indians. That is why they do not give any weight to knowledge emanating from productive work.” (Page 57)

Six hundred years ago, Kabir said the same to Brahmins: “I am a weaver from Kasi, you  cannot appreciate my knowledge.”

Kancha Ilaiah writes in another context:

“In the cities, there were not only Brahmin, Baniya or Kamma businesses, but they also had caste streets and caste colonies. Dalit-Bahujan could enter these upper caste streets or colonies only as servants, milkmen, vegetable vendors or masons. They were selling their skills and the so-called upper castes, without skills, were purchasing their skills. Most of the Dalitbahujans were living in slums. They were not permitted to take up all those jobs that could improve their social standards or help them reach the status of Brahmin-Baniyas.” (Page 60)

Kancha Ilaiah also writes on Hindu deities:

“Hindu religion has created a social, economic and cultural structure. This structure systematically influences Dalitbahujan consciousness. The Hindu religion has designed many institutions that help establish the dominance of brahminical forces. For this, Hindutva has been adopting two strategies for years: 1. They created a structure based on consent. They keep the structure running by using various figures of deities. They have taken some figures directly from the same social classes that they intend to exploit. 2. Whenever the consent-based structure is unsuccessful, or when their hold over the masses weakens,  they resort to violence. Violence has always been the main tool of control for Hinduism. This is the reason why all Hindu deities, unlike in other religions, are fully armed. In the entire world, no other religion uses so many gods and goddesses to keep influencing masses. So, the relationship between Hindu deities and Dalitbahujans is always that of oppressor-oppressed and deceiver-deceived. Another speciality of the Hindu religion has been that it influences both the bodies and minds of the oppressed people.” (Page 65)

At the end of the book, Kancha Ilaiah emphasizes the need for Dalitization of Indian society. He states: “Indian society should learn from Dalit ideologues. Dalit consciousness is not individualistic, but collective.” (Page 106) Here, he cautioned those Hindus who talk of nationalism but whose every vein is filled with casteist poison.

In conclusion, he states, “They are screaming from their rooftops to ‘Hinduize India’. We should also shout back from palm trees, fields, treetops and Dalit colonies that India should be Dalitized.” (Page 120)

Kancha Ilaiah’s third book recommended for removal is  Buffalo Nationalism. This book is a compilation of his articles published in The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Deccan Chronicle, Hindustan Times, Mainstream and other newspapers and magazines. In this book, emphasizing the productivity of working-class people and depicting their condition, he cited the following from the verses of Telugu poet Gaddar:

‘Hey mother Lachamma, your blouse is torn,

Your hair is shabby, your saree is also torn,

You do not have money to buy a new saree.

Even in such a situation, what did you do?

You planted plants, like an ox, walking backward,

To produce food from the soil.’

In this book, Kancha Ilaiah highlights the spiritual fascism of Hindu religion by discussing the bigotry of the ruling elite, leadership of upper castes, Hindu cows, nationalist Brahmins vs communist Brahmins. According to him, “cow nationalism” has ousted “buffalo nationalism”. “Cow nationalism” is the nationalism of the upper castes, which is being implemented by RSS in a fascist manner. He compares the plight of the Dalitbahujans to that of the beautiful black buffalo that gives more, whiter milk than the Indian cow but has no sacred status in the civil society nor has any constitutional protections. Such a scenario forces us to think whose India this is. In Kancha Ilaiah’s view, there can be two possible definitions of India. One India is that which produces grains from the soil, makes clothes, wheels, shoes and statues with its skilled labour – that is the India of Adivasis, Dalits and Backward Classes. However, if India is to be defined by the shastras (from Rigveda to Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts), temples and a nation governed by such philosophical moorings, it is the India of the Brahmins. And if the definition includes the ownership of wealth, then that India belongs to the other upper castes, too. Unfortunately, India is forcibly being made a country of Brahmins and upper castes.

To understand the Brahmin India and the productively skilled India, and to know how RSS is implementing spiritual fascism, and how lethal it is to the Dalitbahujans, it is essential to read Buffalo Nationalism.

How could the RSS Hindu framework tolerate this democratic ideology? Would they ever want Kancha Ilaiah’s books to equip Dalit-Bahujans to oppose Hindu spiritual fascism and inspire them to challenge the building of a Brahmin State? Therefore, it can be expected of Delhi University’s brahminical standing committee, which doesn’t have a single democratic individual, to remove Kancha Ilaiah’s democratic thoughts from its curriculum. The committee members are not opponents of Kancha Ilaiah, but their minds are made up of Hindu literature and cannot think beyond  Brahmin, Manu, Ram, Veda, Vedanta and Purana.

However, these Manuvadis should not be left alone. A protracted battle must be waged against them. Without their destruction, true democracy cannot be established in India. The world is progressing in its thought, but India seems to be the only country where thinking is being pushed back by centuries. However, RSS can only stall literature. It cannot block thought. Bahujan ideology will always challenge Brahmanism because it is a stream that cannot be stopped.

Translation: Naveen Gara,  Copyediting: Ravinder Goel/Lokesh

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

The titles from Forward Press Books are also available on Kindle and these e-books cost less than their print versions. Browse and buy:

The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir


About The Author

Kanwal bharti

Kanwal Bharti (born February 1953) is a progressive Ambedkarite thinker and one of the most talked-about and active contemporary writers. Dalit Sahitya Kee Avdharna and Swami Achootanand Harihar Sanchayita are his key books. He was conferred with Dr Ambedkar Rashtriya Award in 1996 and Bhimratna Puraskar in 2001