Recording of the session available on SoundCloud: Paul Divaker Mentors The Annihilation of Caste Reading Group
“..People sometimes ask…why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist.”
What will the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar mean to India and the world one hundred years from now? It is not uncommon or insignificant that extraordinary genius remains under-appreciated in its time, waiting in the wings as the lens of human consciousness develops the capacity to penetrate into its beckoning depths. Far ahead of its time, even in this day and age, Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste is one such exceptional tract of extraordinary human insight. Though currently undervalued, its universal frame suggests that it must eventually take its place as a guiding beacon of the Indian nation.Like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, the legacy of M.K. Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar form an essential binary. One person paves the way for immidiate change, taking into consideration current sensibilities, while the other constructs the dreams of tomorrow–shattering every rotten, but dearly held sentiment that stands in the way. Today, we understand Gandhi and Ambedkar as polarities, in time perhaps we will see that they are two essential parts of the same puzzle of India.One hundred years from now, with the distance of time, we might realize that Gandhi was but India’s pope. His complicit charisma threaded together an unlikely nation. Ambedkar is our revolutionist. He set the terms for our freedom and through his drafting of the Indian Constitution, he won a victory that Gandhi never could. Unlike Gandhi, he did not see the nation that would exist in the next year, the next decade or the next five decades. He imagined the contours of a nation that persisted beyond this century and into the next. He constructed the strong foundations necessary for such longevity. His commitment to fundamental human equality and social justice sealed the nation together in an unbreakable bond. Through his words, his deeds, and his greatest legacy to the people of the Indian nation: the Indian Constitution, he has left us the foundations for the construction of an eternal nation. He has set his legacy in the strongest of stone. How our current generation decides to engage with his legacy, will determine the fate of our own legacy, as well as the fate of our nation.
Continue reading Paul Divakar Mentors “‘The Annihilation of Caste’ Reading Group” at Columbia
Written in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Mahmood Mamdani’s 2005 book Good Muslim, BadMuslim historicizes the violence of terrorism. It extricates terrorism from the narrow morality that arises from the convergence of ethics and national interest, and instead locates terrorism “first and foremost as unfinished business of the Cold War.”1 “Good” and “bad” Muslims, terms borrowed from former U.S. President George W. Bush,2 are descriptions not of religious adherence, but of utility to U.S. foreign policy. As yesterday’s allies become today’s antagonists, the labels change to morally denigrate American foes.
Reintroducing history to the violence, the book begins by tracing the broad contours of the relationship between nation-state modernity and violence. Mamdani rejects violence as a pre-modern phenomenon, asserting instead that there is an inextricable relationship between violence and modernity.3 This is the book’s central theoretical framework: violence is political, not cultural.
The first chapter builds on this history of violence, and offers an alternative account of political Islam. It exposes the caricatures of Muslims and Islam that are deployed to provide a moral veneer for expansionist imperialism. The subsequent three chapters offer a chronological account of the violence of U.S. imperialist policies, beginning with post-Vietnam American support for anti-nationalist militancies, and through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s terrorism, the book asserts, is a direct consequence of these policies. The final chapter of the book offers closing thoughts, exhorting a review of American policies that “consistently seem to erode support and generate opposition.”4
Continue reading Good Violence, Bad Violence
These pictures were taken at the Dalit Adivasi Mahasamelanam, in November 2012, where tens of thousands of Dalits and Adivasis, including families of men, women, children, the elderly and in some cases, entire village communities, gathered together at the famous Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi in a campaign to end caste, caste discrimination, and caste atrocities. A letter reprinted below, written by Mr. G.M. Thaware, Secretary, All-India Depressed Classes Association to Mr. M.K. Gandhi regarding the condition of the ‘Depressed Classes,’ written in 1941, is telling. This letter is sourced from the National Archives of India‘s public records–Thaware forwarded a copy to the British Indian Administration for their records.
Continue reading Images from the Present and a Letter from the Past
On December 16, a 23 year-old woman was brutally gang-raped, within an inch of her life, in a public bus with an illegal license that was driving through the streets for half an hour, unnoticed. Like Khaled Mohamed Saeed and Mohammed Bouazizi, this young anonymous woman has become the emblem of an angry nation. For students in New Delhi, this was the last straw. Their anger is justified.
Their reaction is dangerous and misguided.In the past year and a half, educated Indians have been willing to come out on to the streets to demand harsher punishment and more severe laws. As a nation, we are angry. We have been angry for a terribly long time. Unfortunately, we have not directed our anger towards the construction of responsible social values. Instead, in the course of our anger, we are demanding the construction of a brutal and violent tyranny that will only continue to serve those who are in power at the cost of the powerless.
Continue reading Protests in India: Who Will be the Final Victim of this Anger?
The renowned writer, journalist, director, and producer, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas narrates an important encounter that took place between Gandhi and Hakiman, an elderly weaver woman from Panipat. The story provides important insight into the atmosphere during the fight for freedom from colonial administration that took place on the Indian sub-continent during the first half of the 20th century. Abbas’ story illustrates the function of Gandhi’s persona in South Asia during this period. In his autobiography, Abbas recounts his impressions of Gandhi’s visit to the historic town of Panipat. He notes that Gandhi travelled the country extensively. This was the primary manner in which Gandhi was able to spread his message.
Though images, newsreels, and reports of Gandhi and the freedom struggle were splashed across global media from the 1920s onwards, the British administration did their best to limit his visibility on the subcontinent due to his incredible popular appeal. In India and abroad, Gandhi’s charisma was unparalleled. His celebrity was certainly profitable for news agencies. Yet, while he became a household name abroad, in his own home all references to Gandhi in the public space were subject to absolute censorship.Even foreign films that featured Gandhi and his struggles were banned and confiscated in India by the British administration. For the common men and women of the subcontinent, Gandhi was not an image or an everyday presence, but he was a man who stood for a familiar system of values and a set of ideas.
Continue reading Gandhi: India’s Greatest Public Defender