Sunday, August 03, 2014

Arundhati lecture: Anti-caste publisher releases video, transcript which termed Gandhiji a "false Mahatma"

Arundhati Roy at Ayyankali memorial lecture, Kerala University
By Our Representative
Well-known writer and Booker prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has created flutter once again, this time by calling Gandhiji a “false Mahatma”. Delivered as Ayyankali Memorial lecture Kerala University, Trivandrum, on July 17, 2014, the lecture evoked such sharp reaction that Speaker of the Kerala Assembly G. Karthikeyan said Roy’s views on Gandhiji must “hurt anyone who was born in India”. Now, Navayana, which claims to be the only publishing programme “focusing on case from an anti-caste perspective programme”, has hit back: “We think many of Gandhi’s views should hurt a lot of people—irrespective of where they are born.”
Even as there are reports that the police is searching of the transcript and the video of Roy’s lecture, the Delhi-based publishing house has released both, declaring, “It’s indeed time we decided whom we celebrated as heroes.” It says, after outlining Ayyankali’s radicalism, Roy “asked people to question the political conspiracy that kept a person of Ayyankali’s stature away from the popular imagination, giving details of Gandhi’s views on Blacks and ‘bhangis’ (Dalits), and ‘cautioning against celebrating wrong heroes’.”
During the 2,900-word lecture, released by Navayana, Roy compares Ayyakali and Gandhiji saying, “In 1904, when here in Kerala there was a movement led by Ayyankali that was fighting for the rights of Dalits to be educated, the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi was in South Africa. What is the legend of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa? That he fought caste, that he fought race in South Africa…”
Saying that this type of image, which "we are taught in school and that we are made to believe is a lie and it’s time we faced up to it", Roy insists, "It is time we unveiled some real truths here because we cannot be basing our ideas of ourselves as a nation on a lie.” Reading out what Gandhiji “said about Dalit peoples in South Africa”, she quotes his views about bonded labour: “Whether they are Hindus or Mahommedans, they are absolutely without any moral or religious instruction worthy of the name. They have not learned enough to educate themselves without any outside help. Placed thus, they are apt to yield to the slightest temptation to tell a lie.”
Then, she quotes Gandhiji as objecting to being placed with the blacks in South African jail: “We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the natives seemed to be too much to put up with.” Calling the “natives” Kaffirs, Gandhiji said, “Kaffirs as a rule are uncivilized, the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, and dirty and live like animals. Then he goes on to call them savages…”
Suggesting that Gandhiji had a similar view of “bhangis”, Roy quotes from his essay “The Ideal Bhangi” (in "Harijan", 1936): “He should know how a right kind of latrine is constructed and the correct way of cleaning it. He should know how to overcome and destroy the odour of excreta and the various disinfectants to render them innocuous. He should likewise know the process of converting urine and night soil into manure. But that is not all. My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned.”
Comparing this with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's view who in 2007 said in his now withdrawn book “Karmayog”, Roy quotes Modi as saying, “I do not believe that they (Valmikis) are doing this job to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (the Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods and that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries.”
Calling Hindutva a "conspiracy" by the upper caste Hindus, who thought it would be terrible if the 40 million Dalits would convert to other religions, Roy calls Gandhiji as one a "legatee" of this "reform". Pointing out that earlier “Hindus never referred to themselves as Hindu; they used to refer themselves as only their caste names”, she insisted, “Hindu became not a religious but a political identity. They started to talk about the Hindu nation, the Hindu race and that’s how Hindutava started.”

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