Headnotes to a Love Letter

1. Anu Ramdas. Founder-Editor of Round Table India. Founder member of Savari. Co-Editor of ‘Hatred in the Belly’.

2. Kuffir Nalgundwar. Also published as Naren Bedide. Founder-Editor of Round Table India. Editor of ‘Hatred in the Belly’. (This three-part interview with him is a delight to read.)

3. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. The banyan tree of intellect and activism whose roots dig deepest into savarna dirt and whose shade shelters so many blooming resistances. His almost-complete writings and speeches can be found for free, here.

4. April is Dalit History Month. It was first proposed by Ravikumar in 2003 (see chapter 6). Also: A timeline and Pardeep Attri

5. The Annihilation of Caste: B.R. Ambedkar 1936; 2nd ed. 1937; 3rd ed. 1944. The full text can be read for free here and with minimal, explanatory annotations, here. Critical Quest sells a paperback version for Rs 45 or $5.

6. ‘Hatred in the Belly: Politics behind the appropriation of Dr Ambedkar’s writings’, published by The Shared Mirror, 2015. Available in print here and as ebook here.

7. Despite being the first publication of a new publisher, with no physical distributors in bookshops, and only one online retailer, and despite receiving not a single mention in any mainstream savarna Indian media outlet, the book has, at the time of writing, gone into its 2nd reprint and been on the ‘Politics’ bestseller list at Amazon India for over three months.

8. Sangeeta Pawar in Hatred in the Belly, pg 53. Can also be read here.

9. A majority of the essays in the book were first published as part of the ongoing conversation happening on Round Table India. This index links to most of them in original form.

10. Sharankumar Limbale’s ‘Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations’ provides many building blocks upon which later writers have elaborated.

11. Praveena Thali. She is one of many student-activists who along with their critical writings, also document on social media as citizen-journalists the atrocities around them. Her recent updates from University of Hyderabad are an example of community information-sharing in the absence of (and active suppression by) mainstream savarna media.

12. Thali’s Facebook post regarding the silence of Dronacharya savarnas came in the wake of the Ekalavya Speaks testimonies started at University of Hyderabad in March 2016. This was part of what is, at the time of writing, a still-ongoing student protest against University administration brutality, callousness and casteism which caused Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder.

13. For an oppressor to love an individual they oppress is not enough to erase their culpability. On the limitations of intercaste relationships of love in the work of destroying Brahminism, read for instance T. Sowjanya, Sreebitha P. V., Sinthujan Varatharajah and Rupesh Kumar.

14. Many savarna queer narratives eulogise mythical stories like Amba/Shikhandi to locate some selfhood, ignoring the violence and erasure they contain to anyone not a Brahmin or Kshatriya. Read Akhil Kang, Living Smile Vidya, Manish Gautam, Ashley Tellis and moulee for critiques of savarna queerness.

15. Shakyamuni critiques savarna appropriation of Kabir in his essay in the book (pp 44–46). In Hindi, see Dharmvir’s books on Kabir.

16. While great minds like the Phules, Ambedkar, Periyar and Ayyankali have addressed the savarna problem of Brahminism in a large corpus of work, here are some current writers on the Brahmin Problem — Pinak Banik, Anu Ramdas, Braj Ranjan Mani, Gaurav Somwanshi and Kuffir.

17. Educate, Agitate, Organise. From B.R. Ambedkar’s 1942 speech at Nagpur.

18. Dilip C. Mandal: a senior journalist currently writing mostly on Facebook, where he has a vast and avid following.

19. Savarna Studies: offering an Ambedkarite critique on a range of cultural productions and events. See, for instance, Asha Kowtal on caste predators, Kuffir on historiography, Jenny Rowena on cinema and sexuality, Dilip Mandal on the Patel Agitation, Jyotsna Siddharth on state apathy, Sinthujan Varatharajah on anti-blackness, Minakshee Rode on beauty standards, Karthikeyan Damodaran on media, Amar Khade on advertising, Shruti Herbert on media coverage, Chandra Bhan Prasad on Brahmin merit and Nidhin Shobhana on food.

20. Gaurav Somwanshi: The battle against caste isn’t just some ideology, it’s our existence (pp 234–244).

21. Testimonies of growing up Dalit-Bahujan, collated by Yashica Dutt.

22. Ongoing settler-colonialism projects of the savarna Indian nation-state include Kashmir, Manipur, Andamans, Niyamgiri, Jharkhand just for example.

23. On Brahmanical classical arts: Sreebitha PV, A. S. Ajith Kumar, Shruti Herbert (Also: the TM Krishna Doing Things tumblr.)

24. Brahmanism: Colonization of Words and Land (pg 71). Other noteworthy critiques from Kuffir are: these three on reservations, on handloom industries and on farming.

25. The work of Dalit Camera founder Ravichandran Bathran and his team in documenting speeches, lectures, events and other oral sites of intellect articulation cannot be overstated.

26. Syama Sundar Unnamati and Nidhin Shobhana have been brilliantly illustrating Round Table India pieces for years.

27. Facebook: walled and unsearchable garden though it is, has become a sort of Begampura, where citizen-journalism, grassroots critique and community building happen simultaneously, with somewhat enforceable protection against savarna intrusions. This has been especially visible during the ongoing protests against Rohith Vemula’s death.

28. Gopal Guru. Also: here and here.

29. Translators who are wordsmiths in their own right include Anu Ramdas, James Michael, Shruti Herbert and Naren Bedide, whose body of work as a translator-poet on the Shared Mirror is stupendous.

30. The lists of local panellists at each of the city-specific book launches of Hatred in the Belly reveal how rich the network of intellectuals and activists supporting it is: Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune

31. Intellectuals worth reading from Kerala

32. On politicisation of languages: Kuffir

33. On savarna nationalisms: Gopal Guru, Rahi Gaikwad, Kuffir, Meena Kandasamy, Anoop Kumar, Cynthia Stephen, G. Aloysius

34. Anoop Kumar: Founder-editor of Insight. Founding-member of The Death of Merit series.

35. James Michael (pg 164)

36. Macroaggressions include exclusion, expulsions, labour abuses, rapes and institutional homicides.

37. Some representative testimonies of aggressions in academia, micro and macro: Nidhin Shobhana, Maneesha Mashaal, Sukhdeo Thorat, Meena Kandasamy, Ravichandran Bathran, Kshirod Nag, Nilesh Kumar, Sumit Baudh, T. Sowjanya, Ritwik Balo, Dhrubo Jyoti, Vidya Bushan Rawat, Sanket Garud and Suraj Yengde.

38. Asha Kowtal (pp 133–136). A follow-up to which is here.

39. Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra: from Hyderabad, from Odisha. Also see Dalit Mahila Garima Yatra and this interview with Asha Kowtal and Thenmozhi Soundararajan

40. A few representative interventions against savarna feminism and its failures: Anu Ramdas, Sujatha Surepally, Asha Kowtal, Jenny Rowena, Rupa Bhansode, Lata Pratibha Madhukar, Madhuri Xalxo, Cynthia Stephen

41. K. K. Baburaj: Insurgency Tourism and Simplistic Modernism (pp 56–59)

42. Dalit-Bahujan critiques of Maoism: K. K. Baburaj, Kuffir

43. There are many Ambedkarite deconstructions of the casteism inherent in Indian Marxism both academic and political.

44. The modern democratic nation-state manifests casteism at national and international levels.

45. ‘Their Eternal Pity’ One of Namdeo Dhasal’s many stinging poems, this one from the Golpitha collection (Also read Yogesh Maitreya’s essay on him).

46. Rohith Vemula.

47. Anu Ramdas, on naming caste-locations instead of pretending castelessness.

48. On the history and meaning behind the salutation coined by Babu L. N. Hardas, see this short film.

Dear Anu Didi[1] and Kuffir Bhai[2],

Jai Bhim![3] And, on this April day of Dalit History Month[4], congratulations for all your contributions that will show up in future memories!

If reading the original ‘Annihilation of Caste’[5] was like a waterfall of cold, pure truth smashing down on my head and setting my ears ringing, then reading Hatred in the Belly[6] has been like paddling in a tiny boat across a vast delta of rich riverine wit and wisdoms with the salt of an ocean of experience and knowledge flavouring the wake of each wave. So I’m thrilled your book is doing so well[7]!

When I read Sangeeta Pawar[8] asking why she should read what a savarna has written without any intellectual relevance to her, I thought that the only way I could possibly write this piece without replicating such a toxic oppressor-informant dynamic, was to figure out a way to be of some relevance to the collective you of book and web community[9]. There is little I can offer in terms of intellectual labour, or insight, because that is the work you all are doing, and I don’t meet the standards of a critic that Sharankumar Limbale[10] describes. (And while Praveena Thali[11] recently asked that Dronacharyas speak too[12], I have yet to find a way to publicly talk about my personal journey from cluelessness to guilt to attempts to self-reform in any way that is not self-indulgent handwringing)

All I can do is to bear witness — to fill the page with every last drop of wonder, joy, gratitude and respect that seeing and learning from your work has filled my heart with. Being an ardent admirer[13] does not, I admit, in any way absolve me of my own positional participation in the structural oppression that my identity as a savarna implicates me in. But for now — to make my biases explicit to the readers invited to eavesdrop on this — This is a fan letter. Perhaps a love letter even, if an Amba/Shikhandi[14] may look at Ekalavya’s heirs and express the sort of bhakti Kabir[15] sings of, for gurus beyond Brahminical[16] borders.

Thank you for your labour. Even for someone like me whose introduction to critical discourse came from the free blogging of media fan communities, the staggering diversity of unpaid, voluntary contributors to Round Table India, from whom the book’s authors are drawn, is revelatory. The quality of discourse you sustain is beyond anything the highest paid media professionals can bring to their pages. What an immense achievement it is — both the work of the writers themselves, and the work of their support structures who are educating, agitating and organising[17] on their behalf to bring them into being.

Thank you for the expertise in what Dilip Mandal[18] points out should exist as Savarna Studies[19]. Gaurav Somwanshi’s[20] immersive ethnography of the shuttered, closed doors of savarna bookstores and publishers is just one amongst many such illuminations. The expert analysis of outsiders more objectively able to assess actual impacts rather than intentions has led to so much richer an understanding of us savarnas and our myriad cultural practises of brahmannical oppressions. Beyond the shallow surface of the obviously epithet-spewing bigot, this body of thought deconstructs how brahmanism constantly adapts to keep savarnas as the subject centre position of even those discussions that are about the wrongs we are committing. That this expertise comes from painfully acquired[21] experiential study further underlines the price that survivor-scholars of oppressive systems have to pay. Stealing this knowledge for profit is appropriation and looting as grave an offence as any settler colonial[22] patenting indigenous medicines.

Ever since I’ve learned words to describe the patterns of abuse that swirl around us in domestic and intimate spaces, I’ve wanted a way to explode outwards domestic tools of coping and survival. The work in the book gives me a concrete example of that, of how to theorise when abuse is personal — to intermingle the meticulous documentation of incident with the evidence of precedent and the unburdening of storysharing alongside the theorisation of pattern-recognising. To be able to talk about abuse as larger than one actor, but to not diminish the specific harms of that specific perpetrator. It is a form of coalition-building gnosis that I have first encountered in domestic survivor spaces; to see the craft with which it is applied to the larger domicile of the abusive nation is revelatory. The untidy recursiveness of ongoing multitasking intellects addressing at once both survival and theorisation, is valuable.

So much brain-stretching joy for the polyphonic discourse format! My intellectual ears were attuned to savarna dissemination structures (Is it entirely coincidental that Brahmanic classical Indian music[23] is homophonic?) but it has made me so much better a listener to learn to pick up the different dialectic beats and melodies being expressed simultaneously in a format which emphasises the diverse labours involved in producing knowledge. As Kuffir Bhai says of Brahminnical thought, “knowledge disentangled from labour and production is about control and manipulation”[24]. Because this book contains transcribed and translated speeches, magazine columns, video interviews[25], cartoons[26], poems, and collated facebook posts[27], the arguments are embedded in the situational imperatives of where and when and how such resistance gets to be voiced. Just for instance, the way that (The!) Gopal Guru[28] appears only as a deferred-to reference in his co-panellist Dr. K. Satyanarayana’s speech, reminding me of the even wider community leaders present with whom this discussion is actually happening. Or remembering Nidhin Shobana citing Sunny M Kapidacu’s academic study as footnote when reading an interview with Kapidacu. Many academics write papers on their research into how social media conversations happen, and even the community value in them, but this book actually enacts the paying of respect to diverse labours of epistemology, showing how they contain (like brown rice!) more nutrients in their original forms.

Thank you for modelling an egalitarian praxis as alternative to hegemonic nationalism! I can’t recollect seeing a savarna collection where so many intellectuals with words of their own pitched in to translate[29] their peers. At the Delhi book launch I saw a panel of speakers switching between Hindi and English with a fine-tuned sense of both their own and their conversational partner’s comfort. In other cities, there were panellists with other languages[30]. It was a lovely demonstration of using languages as tools to connect the people who need it, without getting enmeshed in the chauvinism of Brahminical linguistic politics. It’s impossible to achieve this kind of contributor diversity (so rare even in the wealthiest publishers’ anthologies) without a culture of investment in the tireless translators of Round Table India so that those who can read, can read people writing in Malayalam[31], giving speeches in Telugu, referencing Hindi poets. The way languages have been mobilised[32] for a political project is one example of the alternative to toxic nationalisms[33] that Dalit coalitions are offering.

Thank you for the humour! Dear god, after the tedium of unfunny jokes made by oppressors of all identities parading their bigotry as ‘irony’, the genius-levels of levity from some of you punches in my gut and makes me bend over giggling in the best of simultaneous reactions. The breadth of talent and craftsmanship on display does not seem coincidental; the same crucible that forges the skill of data analysis and documentation, shapes the wit to report it stirringly. Take Anoop Kumar[34], whom I fangirl from afar because his blend of ruthless wit and laconic give-no-fucks delights the literary aesthete in me as much as it nourishes my political soul. His breathtaking writing on the real events of Baddi village is narrated like a parable, with the bone-dry sarcasm of a satirist so subtle that a shiver went down my spine as I recognised the relevance of its actual targets. In contrast to ‘witty gimmicks’ that reveal a writer’s privileged location, as James Michael[35] points out, there is so much labour being done by mockery of the unfairly sanctified.

I am so grateful for the multitude of different ways the macro[36] and microaggressions[37] of Brahminical intellectualism have been documented. Every time I think I am reading an argument I have already seen and understood, I turn the page and boom! I am slapped in the face with another truth. No, the metaphor more correctly should be — boom! I am shown another dossier of evidence of the multitude of slaps in the face that people like me have delivered each time we have spoken with no mention of the casteism we perpetuate. Asha Kowtal[38], who has been documenting and organising the Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra[39] tackles savarna feminism[40], while K. K. Baburaj[41]’s essay succinctly critiques the insurgency tourist attitude with which savarna intellectuals romanticise Maoist[42] violence at the cost of dismissing the non-violent, democratic and egalitarian modes of achieving justice advanced by Ambedkarite dalit-bahujans (As distinct from the savarna leftist Marxists[43]).

Some days ago Kuffir Bhai gently corrected me on twitter, when I unthinkingly framed him using a badly transposed Western race analogy. I love how seemingly effortless it is for you as a community to comment relevant to globalised[44] debates, without losing the centrality of the local. It is the antithesis of the way that social and financial capital remains in the control of savarnas, who strategically align themselves selectively with and against white supremacy to best profit from casteism and racism.

Thank you for the generosity. It is humbling, how even the most biting sarcasm and mocking dismissal used as shorthand to make a point when patience for idiocy is low, never dehumanise the way that savarna ‘sanatan daya’[45] does. Every Ambedkarite I’ve read has only ever referenced violence as a colourful metaphor; the book is replete with empathy with oppressors. After two thousand years of generational trauma from the cruellest dehumanisation, to witness the continual affirmation of savarna personhood by people who have every reason for vengeance is amazing. You model a relationship to humanity filled with more grace and kindness than most of us seem capable of. The intellectual fruits of such a spirit are, naturally, more wholesome and sweet than anything grown on pure veg Brahmanism diets of wretched sadism and lofty indifference.

A while ago I was sitting at a table with some relatives who started talking about Rohith Vemula[46]. One of them had tears in their eyes. And I fell over myself, talking too fast, too loud, too hasty in my need to share with them what I had learned, what I needed them to know about. I left my second (I’m now on my fourth) copy of Hatred in the Belly behind for them, telling them of James Michael’s photo of Rohith smiling, while holding his own copy.

As savarna children, we are raised on so many lies that Brahmanism and capitalist white supremacy ally together to tell us. One of most noxious ones is what James Michael refers to when he makes the distinction between “mass-produced statues and statues produced by the masses”. The lie that it is the physical bodies of ‘the masses’ that are responsible for the world’s problems, and themselves a problem to be solved, rather than that the fountainhead of human toxicity is us — the elite minorities and the way we live our lives in ideology and action. This last, most inconsequential thing I am grateful for — for giving me words and the thoughts behind them to share when I get the rare chance to talk with people who, like me, have some desire for the consequences of justice to be enforced on us[47].

Jai Bhim![48]

— Amba Azaad