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Advocates of Dalit identity are 'stigmatizing' Dalits with Dalithood mindlessly

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

Ish Kumar Gangania is an eminent Ambedkarite thinker, writer and poet who started writing nearly 20 years ago, and has till date authored over 22 books of poems, essays, analyses and Ghazals. Some of his poetry books have also been published in English. Born in Chhaprauli, now part of district Baghpat, famously known for the constituency of former Prime Minister Chaudhury Charan Singh, the family of Ish Kumar Gangania migrated to Haryana where he grew up going to school and college before settling down in Delhi. He taught in a Delhi administration school and is retired now.
He has so far published five collections of poems. The last one is “Zinda Rahna Hai Agar’, a collection of Ghazals. But the most fascinating work is his analysis on the Dalit identity question, ‘Asmitaao Ke Sangharsh Me Dalit Samaj’. He believes in the Lokayat traditions of Charvakas. He also wrote a detailed critique, ‘The challenge to Indian democracy from Anna’s movement’. He was deputy editor of the trimonthly magazine ‘Apeksha’ and editor of monthly bilingual magazine ‘Ajivak Vision’.
In a wide-ranging conversation with me, he explains that Ambedkarite literature is not really Dalit literature, as an Ambedkarite is a change maker and works on the revolutionary vision provided by Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. An Ambedkarite has to provide new thinking and create spaces for negotiations.
As an Ambedkarite he does not want to waste his energy on critiquing Brahmanism all the time. He says, most of the Dalit literature has become a ‘chargesheet’ against savarnas, and unfortunately has lost track. You cannot lead a society with a victimised mindset. The literature which carries lots of agony and pain actually does not inspire the community but is only patronised by the savarnas, who enjoy such writings. Ambedkarite writings, on the other hand, are challenging and speak up from the position of being equal partners and not as under the patron of the savarna elite.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Q: What attracted you to believe in Aajivika philosophy. What is it, and why it is essential?
A: As far as my attraction to Aajivika philosophy, it is the by-product of a meeting between Dr Dharamveer and me while an academic programme was going on at ISI Lodhi Colony, Delhi. I feel Dr Dharamveer was impressed by my writing skills while working as a sub-editor in 'Apeksha', a quarterly Hindi journal. During this meeting, he talked about Aajivika and advised me to read the book titled 'History and Doctrines of the Aajivikas' by AL Basham. At the same time, he encouraged me to work on the subject.
I got into my work, and before coming to my conclusion on the Aajivikas, I had read Acharya Anand Jha's book 'Charvaka Darshan', apart from other necessary literary material. I got well aware of its theoretical concept as well as its practical aspect suiting the contemporary world. To understand what is meant by Aajivika, it is necessary to make it clear that the followers of Lokayata and Charvaka are known as Aajivikas.
The word Aajivika means an earning of a living by hard work. The Aajivikas have been giving top priority to the human body to ensure all the activities of life, for there is no God, no soul, and no rebirth to support life. As a result, they prioritize agriculture, animal husbandry, commerce, etc., closely related to human life. At the same time, as an essential part of human life, they ensure smooth functioning of politics, that is, governance, discipline of society and maintenance of law and justice. The Aajivika philosophy has high moral ground, which is extremely rare in contemporary world.
In 2003, I reviewed Kanwal Bharti's book 'Dalit Dharma ki Avadharna and Baudha Dharma'. Here I categorically insist on coining the new term Aajivika to replace the word Dalit as the identity of the oppressed class. At the same the phrase Dalit literature may be replaced by Aajivika literature. It can eliminate all the unnecessary controversies that engross the word Dalit. Aajivika is a symbol of dignified culture and has the adequate capacity to give energy to morale self-respect of Dalits. It would not undermine and misjudge any of our icons, whether Dr Ambedkar or Buddha. As a result, there is no written and oral comment from Dr Dharamveer and Kanwal Bharati on the issue. Naturally, I kept on doing my work on Aajivika, and I got my work published in 2009.
I am not adamant about Aajivika as the only identity. I feel the Aajivika identity is an essential tool even today because it carries our legacy as aborigins of this country and the culture of Lokayata and Charvaka that has a glorious materialistic past with beautiful images. It can be an ideological and intellectual threat to Indian fundamentalist elements who challenge our identity and capability based on caste and behave maliciously. Still, I feel that any new identity must have a glorious past.
Q: You define yourself as an Ambedkarite and refuse to accept other identities. What is the reason? Why is Ambedkarite identity different from that of being a Dalit or Bahujan?
A: It is a fact that my literature till 2018 was under the banner of Ambedkarism. Following constant contemplation, I realized that creative or non-creative writing based on any 'ism' violates ideological and intellectual freedom. It not only limits the scope of thought and report but also narrows and demotes its purpose. Another reason for this is that it is openly a kind of betrayal of Buddhism and Ambedkarism because they strongly oppose the slavery of any person, book, scripture, tradition etc.
Secondly, I also believe that a person associated with Dalit society is not living on any particular island. He of she is a citizen of a diverse community, national and global village. When the philosophy of Buddha and Ambedkar is efficient, and its canvas covers everything from the local to the global brilliantly with appropriate relevance, who are we to capture it in the narrow walls of caste and Dalithood? Why don't we contemplate and write keeping in view both local and global needs?
We need a profound reflection on this perspective. It does not mean that individuals or writers must not write or speak on local burning issues related to caste, religion etc. Even though I am deeply impressed by the philosophy of Baba Saheb and Buddha, the Blessed One, still I do not believe in being labelled by anyone or labelled as part of any such group today. I must say my top priority is my ideological independence. It keeps me feel free, happy and relaxed.
As far as identities are concerned, there can be different identities of an individual, society and the nation. They can be personal or collective. It is not entirely true that I have never linked myself to any organization. In the early stages, I have been part of the Dalit Lekhak Sangh with Dr Tej Singh for four years, i.e., till the end of 2004. Even today, I sometimes have the offers to be a part of it. But I have some logical compulsions behind not being a their part.
My first objection is the name – Dalit Sahitya. We do have Amedkarvadi Lekhak Sanghs around us. These organizations do claim to be Amedkarite. There is a strange race among Dalit writers today to call themselves Ambedkarvadi and their writings as Ambedkarvadi poems, stories etc. Still, their ideology hasn't got rid of Dalitism, nor have they changed the material of the content they share. They don't even have any vocabulary to represent and justify Ambedkar and Ambedkarism as the spirit of these organizations.
The word 'Dalit' does not represent or can ever represent any dignified identity. No individual is born with caste or Dalithood. To consider a person being born and dying in caste shackles is a Brahminical conspiracy, and we keep on challenging it squarely with no end. On the same lines, the advocates of Dalit identity are stigmatizing Dalits with 'Dalithood' mindlessly from birth to death. Baba Saheb hasn't approved any such identity. He categorically stated in Volume 4 on pages 228-229 with the title 'Naamkaran' that we can use terms ‘Bahishkrit’ or ‘Asprishya’ etc. temporarily until we find a nurturing word of dignified identity.
My next disagreement is the claim that it based on the ideology of Dr Ambedkar, Buddha, Periyar, Phule and Dalit saints. I am sorry to reject it outrightly and ask, "Has Baba Saheb given his thoughts only on the subject of caste? Is he adorned to be the best among the 100 top intellectuals of the world only based on his scholarship to deal with social inequality alone, or is it because of his comprehensive philosophy?” I believe that no one can confine Baba Saheb's extensive philosophy of contemplation in Dalit literature.
As far as Periyar is concerned, he had run the Self-Respect Movement and turned down the most significant offer of politics for the purpose. Therefore, the echo of dignified identity is still present in his society. Phule launched an agitation to create a Satyashodhak Samaj with no place for inferiority complex anywhere. It is a symbol of a tremendously distinguished identity. I don't think whether Buddha and his philosophy have ever talked and given any formula to make any individual or the society to strengthen caste or Dalithood. If so, they must make it public to justify their stand as followers of Buddhism.The entire Sant Sahitya is full of agitation against caste and other social evils. All these individuals have waged war against negative identity.
I want to say with great humility: Dalit litterateurs do politics in many cases using literature and literary organizations. The concept of Bahujan in literature also gives the smell of politics, and I don't believe in politics of literature and literature of politics as a tool of social change. Therefore, the idea of being a part of any such literature and literary organization disturbs me.
To conclude, I wish to share one significant instance. There was a meeting going on under the leadership of Dr Tej Singh at my residence to make a writers’ organization. I thought as to why to name the organization Ambedkarwadi. A debate took place, and Dr Tej Singh, Dr Tek Chand and Dr Ashwani supported and Dr Mukesh Manas, Dr Sunil Mandiwal and I were against them. Ultimately, Dr Tej Singh told us to come up with alternative options in the next meeting. I must say that if Dr Tej Singh hadn't departed us so early, there might be different types of Lekhak Sanghs, and definitely I would have been an active participant in them. I regret we don't have the courage even to think that way.
Q: You have often critiqued the painful narrative of Dalit autobiographies. What is your objection to the growing narrative of victimhood?
A: I think the common motive behind writing autobiographies is to share the heights of the success that an individual has achieved by passing through rigorous struggles. It brings popularity to the individual, and this way autobiographies become a source of others' inspiration. In such autobiographies, individuality dominates, but in the case of so-called Dalit autobiographies, the society dominates. I want to underline, the possibilities of manipulation of facts in autobiographies are one of the significant realities which cannot be denied.
As far as Dalit autobiographies, Aatmavrita or self-statements are concerned, I feel it necessary to state that several Dalit writers write their Aatmavritas without touching the heights of success. In such cases, there might be a predetermined goal to achieve publicity first then to encash it through creative writings. Secondly, It is easy to record atrocities. Apart from it, some other readymade records are already available to seek help to give a new flavour to old contents.
In some Dalit autobiographies I find fabricated narration, and it hurts me a lot. We find some Hindi Dalit autobiographies following the trends of inviting empathy of readers. I see a lot of confusion here. In a hurry to gain popularity, some of our friends have given so much air to self-harassment. As a result, there was little focus on men and women, wives, mothers, sisters and families. Some of our most learned friends have also made their family failure a tool to encash sympathy. To quote Rajendra Yadav, "All the writings of Dalits are like a chargesheet against the savarnas, so-called upper castes.” One of my friends, Dr Rajesh Chauhan, sees Dalit literature as being written on the pattern of police FIRs. Dalit autobiographies/self-statements are bigger charge sheets than we have in other disciplines of this literature.
The filthy mindset of non-Dalit litterateurs is also one of the primary reasons behind the boom in Dalit autobiography writing. They showered more interest in Dalit autobiographies and deliberately preferred them over other vital issues of literature. They put up sympathy and added fuel to fire by propagating them at various forums. But when it comes to standing together on the exploitation of Dalit litterateurs, the self-proclaimed messiah of Dalits like Rajendra Yadav argue that Dalits must fight their battles on the ground on their own. He refused to become a part of the collective fight against evil.
There is no need to hide harassment in Dalit autobiographies. But instead of sensationalization of harassment, our focus should be on how intelligently should one handle the issue and pave the way for new options to prevent and get rid of it. We need to emphasize the content of our actions, not the methods of harassment.
Q: How far has Ambedkarite literature or authors influenced the political culture of our country, mainly in North India?
A: I don't think Dalit literature has influenced politics from any angle. On the contrary, politics has influenced literature and litterateurs. We have seen literature speak the language of politics. Litterateurs have been seen running after politics and are eager to hold the crutches of any ideology to enter politics. It is not fair to name here, but we have many unexpected examples where Dalit literary personalities have surrendered to their bitter ideological rivals and cheated society. In fact, Dalit literature itself is suffering from ideological crisis. How will it guide politics?
Another aspect of the same coin is that politics has no ideology. If there is an ideology that works, it is to grab power at any cost. No politics has the same ideological commitment and morality as literature ought to possess. But literature is also not far behind in compromising on its obligations. Ideals in politics act as suitable tool for misleading people and playing with their democratic rights. They are used to create an atmosphere. However, they do not seem to have anything to do with reality.
Even in Dalit politics, Buddha, the Blessed One, and Dr Ambedkar are used for sloganeering for the emotional blackmailing innocent people, not for radical changes in society and politics by accepting their philosophy of life, which was the dream of these great men. In today's opportunistic age, the degree of befooling innocent masses to climb the ladder of success is the key to success or failure. Everything else in politics is rhetoric, capricious, more so in terms of ideology or ideals.
In any case, expecting ideological commitment from today's corrupt politics is a sin. Politics can accept the pursuit or guidance of literature only when society is educated, sensible, and respects human values. I don't see anything like this possible as of today. It is clear that Dalit literature hasn't any capacity to guide, and politics seems to have no intention to inherit values. So, in the present situation, I think the idea of a unity of Dalit literature and Dalit politics is like nailing the sky.
---
*Human rights defender. Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat, twitter: @freetohumanity.

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