Why not Arundhati Roy?
Life is always hermeneutical. Reading and re-reading make our life-world more relevant and meaningful. The complexity and the density of the issues of life make our reading or re-reading critical and crucial. Hermeneutics becomes political when it purposefully tries to dismantle the hegemonic power structure that is embodied in it. Texts are not just words re-produced; rather they are engaged with, contradicted with and re-constituted with the questions that are addressed to the politicality and the poeticality of life. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste is a product of such critical engagement. Ambedkar knew that every act of annihilation of caste is a critical engagement with the casteist notions, knowledges, and practices. Ambedkar was not hesitant even to engage with the proponents of caste in order to deconstruct caste epistemologically, theologically, and politically. Annihilation of Caste bears such desires for critical dialogical engagement. For Ambedkar, writing this book was nothing but an act of political hermeneutics.
However, I don’t understand when Arundhati Roy tires to initiate a similar act of political hermeneutics with the Ambedkar’s text in the contemporary political context, why it becomes so “dangerous” and “nasty”. As a reader and as a well-acclaimed writer, it is her right to read and to write about a book which has had a significant role in constituting or reconstituting the Indian polity. What is problematic when she writes a note on it? Arundhati is not just a writer; rather she is the one who actively participates in many of the contemporary human right political engagements and social justice movements. She has already demonstrated her ideological commitment to the cause of justice and equality. She does not claim that she tries to introduce or patronize Ambedkar. She admires Ambedkar and acknowledges his efforts to the process of de-casteizing Indian society. It is the commitment to the politics of justice that brings Ambedkar and Arundhati in a same stream of social democracy which is not at all founded on any notion of hierarchy, patriarchy, and sovereignty.
Ambedkar was very clear about the nuances of the epistemology of caste which legitimates the marginalization of certain sections of peoples rendering them as less-human. For him, it was a product of the Brahmanic-Hindu hegemonic ideology and theology and it is to be encountered by the modern secular ideals of social democracy and social morality. He proposed a political philosophy that is methodologically founded on the Deweyan pragmatism, Marxian analysis, and the Buddhist philosophy. Ambedkar critically engages with all these ideologies and envisages a novel political philosophy to annihilate (not just liberation) or to deconstruct the casteist human bodies and social bodies. Body whether it is human body or social body, is to be decastiezed by denying each and every discourses of caste which is biopolitical (Michel Foucault) and necropolitical (Achille Mbembe). Ambedkar was very convinced about the intricacy of the caste which necessitates a deconstructive engagement (Derrida) of all in order to annihilate it discursively. For him, it was a site of the political engagement in which all are welcomed to deconstruct their fixed notions of social locations-the notions of self and the other--victim and subject. It is an epistemological space to which all are invited to go beyond the fixities of identity and ethnicity and envisage social agency and space. Whether it is caste or patriarchy, it is an epistemological space that necessitates critical political engagement of all in order to annihilate it permanently from our social knowledges and practices. It is in this rhetorical space in which we all are challenged to “quite” the notions of otherness and envisaged the political warmth of the “deconstructive embrace” (Spivak).
As a Dalit theologian I would love to end this note by alluding to Sathianathan Clarke, the prominent Dalit theologian who defines the ‘plasticity’ of the term Subaltern (Clarke, 2008:277). Denying the essentialist and the identitarian social location of the subaltern in the struggle for social justice and equality, Clarke signifies the role of all who epistemologically and politically participate in God’s liberative act in this world. According to Clarke, the preferential option for the subaltern is not based on any identitarian advantage; rather it is because of their unrelenting critique towards all hegemonic power structures like caste, patriarchy, and hierarchy and the uncompromising commitment to the political process of democratizing the democracy. I think, it is in this participation of counter political practice and epistemology that bring the writing of Ambedkar on Annihilation of caste and the reading of Arundhati on Ambedkar’s text (the Doctor and the Saint) together without denying their ‘irreducible singularities’.
Y. T. Vinayaraj