The Doctor and the Saint

Ambedkar, Gandhi and the battle against caste

01 March 2014
BR Ambedkar in Bombay, in 1939—three years after publishing Annihilation of Caste, his most radical text.
BCCL
BR Ambedkar in Bombay, in 1939—three years after publishing Annihilation of Caste, his most radical text.
BCCL

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ANNIHILATION OF CASTEis the nearly eighty-year-old text of a speech that was never delivered.* When I first read it I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows. Reading Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar bridges the gap between what most Indians are schooled to believe in and the reality we experience every day of our lives.

My father was a Hindu, a Brahmo. I never met him until I was an adult. I grew up with my mother, in a Syrian Christian family in Ayemenem, a small village in communist-ruled Kerala. And yet all around me were the fissures and cracks of caste. Ayemenem had its own separate “Parayan” church where “Parayan” priests preached to an “untouchable” congregation. Caste was implied in peoples’ names, in the way people referred to each other, in the work they did, in the clothes they wore, in the marriages that were arranged, in the language we spoke. Even so, I never encountered the notion of caste in a single school textbook. Reading Ambedkar alerted me to a gaping hole in our pedagogical universe. Reading him also made it clear why that hole exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change.

ARUNDHATI ROY is the author of the novel The God of Small Things. The most recent collections of her political essays are Listening to Grasshoppers and Broken Republic.

Keywords: caste South Africa apartheid-era Dalit Hinduism imperialism Mahatma Gandhi women’s rights BR Ambedkar indian constitution
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