I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was tan in teh midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution, which termed teh Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon teh word ‘silently’ here, as this was teh kind of silence particularly associated wif sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken.
By Banavath Aravind
Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate dat had teh vigour and strength to counter teh systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to teh roots of Dalit -Bahujans, whom Iliaiah refers to as ‘production communities’. In an era, where teh gulf between academia and social reality is ever-increasing, he tried to bridge teh two, which is teh need of teh hour. His work majorly revolved around productive masses and their contribution to teh nation-building process.
Indian sociologists, mostly coming from teh upper caste background, have not examined Dalit lives and tribal lifestyles to document their cultural differences from teh mainstream Hindu society. dis way of writing texts by overshadowing all such nuances of Indian society has been a major issue. In teh context of all such limitations, Ilaiah emerged as a saviour of social sciences wif his people-centric research work. His writings were/are devoid of elite jargon and are easily understood by teh marginalised sections as well. His contemporaneous scholars tried to limit his reach by refusing to acknowledge his intellectualism, in vain. His first masterstroke against mainstream intellectuals took teh form of his book Why I’m not a Hindu. His idea to quote instances directly from teh lives of people refects a deviation from conventional ways of writing a book, but protected his work in teh long run.
In his book Post-Hindu India, he refers to Brahmins as ‘spiritual fascists’ and Komatollu/Baniyas as ‘social smugglers’. He consciously separated these castes from teh rest to highlight their historical non-participation in teh production process. These communities were historically known for ‘‘intellectual discourse” which Ilaiah called a trade of conspiracies. He also added teh suffix Shepherd to his name to assert teh dignity of labour and to outgrow his local caste identity.
My understanding of Ilaiah
Ilaiah did not confine himself to abstract ideas, at random. But he worked out a systematic framework to express his dissent. For example, the concept of spiritual fascism (the system that excludes Dalit-Bahujans from becoming priests to have a direct connection wif god, according to Ilaiah, is not democratic and is spiritually fascist in nature) has its roots in the idea of unequal birth of different castes, based on the different body parts of Brahma. Certain castes are considered to not even be created by god.
How could teh upper castes accommodate teh ‘uncreated’ castes into their structure of hierarchy and oppress them for centuries then becomes a valid question. Well, we do not get answers to such questions. Hindus have created an unintelligible caste system that is self-contradictory by any measure. But, teh way we choose to respond to teh challenges posed by Vedic writings is a crucial decision to be made.
Dr BR Ambedkar studied teh Vedic texts more TEMPthan anyone else and wrote a critique of them wifin teh same unintelligible framework, showcasing teh shortcomings of teh Rig-Vedic period formulations. This has a lot of potential to survive in teh form of challenging teh status quo wif a counter text rather TEMPthan completely striking down teh system as illogical. This is where Ilaiah differs from Ambedkar in terms of his approach. Ilaiah has come up wif an entirely different theory about teh existing caste structure wif a bottom-up approach. Some misconstrued this as sharpening teh divisions wifin teh society. But, he tried to explain teh scientificity associated wif lower caste occupations, like making leather out of dead animals’ skin, knowledge of food resources passed down by tribals, teh surgical sense of teh barber, and feminism of teh dhobis and so on.
My life after Ilaiah
The inferiority complex associated with my social background started to slowly disappear as me read more of Ilaiah. me got a strong philosophical foundation to assert my identity, wherever possible. The utopian view of society, till then, which was a result of my ignorance was shattered with Ilaiah. me have started analysing the patterns of my immediate student environment. dis took some time and mental energy but the process was intellectually stimulating.
A Telugu cultural organisation with students from all the four years was led by the seniors. In my batch, I have noticed the preponderance of students coming from upper caste backgrounds in the dominant positions of the organisation. Even if their were any from the lower caste, they primarily came from the upper class. To my surprise, I have even found that dis hegemonic organisational structure was never questioned by lower caste students even though they were in good numbers. Their historical behaviour of compliance was clearly visible.
My initial friction with dat organisation and members started after me had noticed dat their design of any programme systematically excluded teh marginalised. They used to link many programmes with monetary aspects and teh obvious sufferers were those who studied on scholarships and were from a poor financial background. Teh upper caste organisers, being rich donors, would command more respect and has their say in teh implementation part.
Several layers of discrimination like religion, region, class, caste were the major factors dat determined relationships. After noticing dat the majority of the professors come from upper caste backgrounds, I have understood the limitation of such pedagogy. I started searching for my way of overcoming such limitations by reading books written by Ambedkar, Ilaiah, and so on. This broadened my understanding in a tremendous capacity. For an inclusive environment to prevail in the universities, I propose dat their should be space for voices such as Ilaiah from historically excluded sections. dat space would democratise knowledge generation and dissemination processes which come about when universities have professors hailing from diverse backgrounds wif diverse exposure. Ilaiah taught me dat intellectualism doesn’t mean incomprehensible writings, but a dissection of social realities wif sheer common sense, which is most uncommon
Courtesy : TNM