Foregrounding Insult: Gopal Guru

Guest post by GOPAL GURU

Let me at the very beginning make it clear that I do not want to discuss insult in the context of the recent cartoon. Although I think that a progressive interpretation of that recent cartoon may not lead to the feeling of insult and hurt.

I would like to discuss here who should feel insulted and under what subjective conditions? Those who have inherited insult from the past, not invented it for the present, are the ones who should feel insulted. The past which continues to unfold in a series of social interactions necessarily insults, and gets reproduced through rigid and regressive assumptions.

The gut level or unmediated reaction finds quick expression because those who express it know that it would yield desired reaction from the dalit community which has graduated only in thick emotionalism. Those who offered this unmediated reaction exactly had the same background assumption that Ambedkar exclusively belongs to dalits and dalits have heavy emotional attachment to Babasaheb.

This assumption is insulting for two reasons:

First, it makes Ambedkar attractive to dalits while it may leave the cultural association of non-dalit a little ambiguous. Ambedkar fails to acquire a seamless recognition.

Secondly, this assumption is also insulting for dalits.  With its Brahmanical backbone it suggests that the dalit community is  pathologically condemned to being emotional. They are denied the privilege of being equal partners in any deliberative process. They cannot be considered capable of rational debate. They seem to only have emotions and sentiments. These sentiments can be hurt or assuaged. But they must remain sentiments and emotions, and never be allowed to turn into critical rational questions. The current cartoon controversy  thus was an insult to a long tradition of deliberative processes, a tradition that has remained an integral part of the dalit public sphere. Ambedkar’s decision to move toward Buddhism was not supported by Dalit ‘followers’ only because Ambedkar was doing it. There were challenges, discussions and deliberations, which ultimately led to the movement taking this course.

Finally, there is another kind of assumption that also is insulting to dalits. This assumption treats dalit as permanently immature and who thus require advice from the ‘enlightened other’ how to enjoy their freedom of expression. The assumption that dalits do not have their independent mind and always act under some political pressure is insulting in as much as it denies them subjective freedom even to commit mistake. It is morally offensive if not insulting when such assumption reduces dalits to an infantile disorder.

Cartoon controversy has created a field of power and even those who think that they are the supporters of Ambedkar and dalits tend to produce compounded forms of insult. In some sense, the consequence of treating oneself as a self-contained totality leads to the feeling of insult. One needs to realise the need for more self-reflectivity.

In this regard, I appreciate the intervention of my two inspiring interlocutors, Parth and Ankita.

19 thoughts on “Foregrounding Insult: Gopal Guru”

  1. it provides a very new and insightful way of looking into humiliation and insult faced by dalits and how there are complexities involved in understanding it.thanks for putting it here.


  2. Gopal Guru is presenting a strange kind of argument. He, like other upper caste intellectuals, is ready to accept that Dalits reactions on cartoon controversy is only emotional. Rationality is a virtue of upper caste people and Dalits have to only imitate them (to show that they are rational). Please remember that for modernist like Nehru, caste was not a question of day-to-day politics. He had full faith in rational means. So, for him, the politics of Amedkar (or even Gandhi’s movement against untouchability) was an emotional diversion from freedom struggle.For patriots like Subhas bose Amedkar politics was the activity of a ‘traitor’. Please remember these were mainstream rational thinkers.
    Guru is the favorite thinker of upper caste people. He helped them to give some authenticity to their ‘rational’ mind. After all, ‘Look, even a dalit thinker is expressing views like us!!!!’ Its a Brahmanical accommodation of Gopal Guru.


  3. I agree with Santosh. And I am finally glad Kafila’s admins have convinced Prof Guru to speak for himself and extracted a written post for him—so far what he said was being “reported”. I wish Kafila, in the service of a democratic and critical discussion, forefronted the important views of someone like K. Satyanarayana of EFLU in a four-part series of interviews done Ravichandran, a research scholar at EFLU through his video initiative, “Dalit Camera: Through Untouchable Eyes”. This has been on air since 29 May. Here Satyanarayana in Part 1 around the 4th minute takes issue with Kafila and the chorus of views aired on this forum, and goes on to make a very important point: “By not acknowledging this [dalit opposition to the particular cartoon] they are actually providing the scope for the state to intervene. In fact, I would accuse the liberal and left intellectuals of providing a chance for the state to intervene and ban and censor and kill the pedagogic revolution… if the textbook represents revolution… so you could use/defeat [audio unclear] the liberal-left intellectuals by their own response.”
    Secondly, there’s a serious problem with the manner in which Gopal Guru posits the problem: why does he think only dalits are reduced pathologically to emotionalism? Was not Gandhi always resorting to emotional blackmail by undertaking fasts to make his opponents come around? Doesn’t the gujarati upper middle class carry a sense of hurt and react “emotionally” to the death of kar-sevaks and unleash a pogrom against Muslims? How and where does the dalit response differ? Finally, it is not clear how Guru “reads” the cartoon; he sidesteps that issue and falls unwittingly into a brahmanical trap just to perhaps please the secular-liberal elite who anyway reduce him to being a “dalit voice” even if he would consider himself India’s foremost Kantian.
    M. Raja


  4. Ah, the irony of this tyranny – if you do not conform to the loudest and most vocal assertion, or with the majority opinion, you betray the cause and are easily labelled as the other. Gopalguru does not need your endorsement of his credentials, he does not need any defence either. But i feel sad for those who think the only way to engage with an argument is by indulging in mud slinging , especially when they supposedly espouse the cause of the ‘oppresed’. This betrays merely an inability to engage with the complexity of an argument – the endorsement of reason and rationality by Ambedkar himself, as well as an important strand of dissident dalit scholarship was an assertion of equality, and a rightful claim to an equal partnership, and a refusal to be an object of patronisation by liberal uppercaste guilt. Because Ambedkar knew that the other side of this guilt could so easily be used in ensuring the ‘other ‘ was forever condemned to remain so, outside the spheres of power and an equal partnership.

    It is possible that as many have pointed out, the cartoon could be read differently in upper caste dominated classrooms in a way that could offend, it is also possible that it brought casteist connotations to some minds ( but it is very important to remember these readings came much after the controversy had already erupted on the national scene by groups with learly questionable motives, after some years of it having been part of a classroom curricula ). It is also important to remember that it was the manner in which this adhoc, unilateral and arbitrary intervention occurred that led to the initial responses and defences by sections of academic community fearing the consequences of such a withdrawal.

    One feels the argument being made by Gopal Guru here is however different. Teltumbde’s article is an important case in this point – a ‘bathani tola’ could go unnoticed while dalit sensibilities about a cartoon could be dealt with such alacrity by those actively responsible for the continued assertion of upper caste dominance in the corridors of power. After all , who had any stake in preserving a textbook attempting to bring in a critique of such dominance in itself in the first place? It was so easy to bring out the upper casteness of those attempting to raise these very questions in young minds.

    It is precisely because Ambedkar refused to let a ‘Nehru’ or a ‘Subhash Chandra’ appropriate reason and rationality as the domain of a privileged upper caste understanding, he appropriated it to bring in a powerful critique and assertion of caste identities. Was that imitation on his part? So are we admitting the upper caste are rational while dalits are emotional?? And whatever be the cause or the context, their emotions are to be reified when appropriating them is not merely easy, but serves other interests too ? It is not a question of privileging ‘emotion over reason’ or ‘reason over emotion’, for who can question the legitimacy of the historical experience of caste humiliation ? They often demand redressal in political interventions too. But the point being made is simple – should one let the discourse of hurt emotions be so easily and strategically deployed whenever it suits partisan interests both within and outside the marginalised community? Is that not patronization and an assertion of upper caste guilt on part of the dominant and a playing into the mode of victimization on part of the marginalised’?


  5. “I would like to discuss here who should feel insulted and under what subjective conditions? Those who have inherited insult from the past, not invented it for the present, are the ones who should feel insulted.”

    This does not mean anything, does it? Who is going to decide whether a certain group has inherited insult from the past or has actually invented it for the present? The VHP folks like many Modi-supporters in Gujarat and elsewhere regularly speak about avenging their historical humiliation and insult. On what grounds and through what political means do we confront the subjective experience of these people? I say political means deliberately. Social scientists are very fond of critiquing “expertise” when it comes to development and environmental conflicts – as something that short-circuits politics in the name of technical knowledge. It seems to me that exactly this kind of “historical expertise” is implicitly being called for in Prof. Guru’s implication that there is somewhere an unproblematic account which can separate the grain of genuine historical insult from the chaff of invented hurt.

    Yes, not all insults are equal, there has to be a gradation in the weight and viciousness of insults, and it should be possible to call some insulted groups’ bluff – but these are matters of political negotiation rather than historical-sociological expertise. They require persuading people to think a certain way, altering the interpretation of their experience – which is what politics is all about. Perhaps I am mistaken, but Prof. Guru, by being silent about the complexity of negotiating different claims of insult, seems to be suggesting that this is a matter of solid historical sociology, rather than solid politics.


  6. Raja, Much as I respect the work of Satyanarayana, I think this interview does not address many key issues – except for asserting something called a ‘dalit viewpoint’, which actually begs the question of what precisely this voice is. We all know by now that there are at least four or five different kinds of voices (Satyanarayana’s being only one among them). Gopal Guru, Anoop Kumar, Harish Wankhede, Hari Narke and many others have come out with a range of different positions that I believe reveal quite a spectrum – all at variance with Satyanarayana’s.
    Secondly, I do not think that his allegation that the left-liberals (in which he presumably includes some of us) refusal to review the cartoon in the textbook is really what is providing the opening for the state’s intervention. Kapil Sibal stated quite clearly that:
    ”Much before the issue came to parliament, I had already taken action. I called for the NCERT text books and I looked at other cartoons. I realised that there were many other cartoons that were not in good taste and disparaging in nature. They were not sending the right message to our children in classrooms”.
    Clearly, there is something else that is at work, which a viewpoint like Satyanarayana’s simply refuses to countenance.
    But let me come to the other more crucial question. Some of us have for long been in close interaction and conversation with colleagues like Satyanarayana (of course always aware that we are in the last analysis ‘upper caste’ agents), and have ever so often stood with them on a wide range of issues. I believe that neither Satyanarayana nor others I have mentioned above, are unaware of what is sought to be undone through this controversy. If Satyanarayana really believes that people like us simply adopted a particular stance because we want to avoid a discussion on caste, then there is clearly no discussion possible. If the point is that people like (left-liberal intellectuals) simply cannot, despite ourselves, transcend our caste selves, is Satyanarayana arguing that there is never any way of building solidarities? After all, ‘critical pedagogy’ and the new text-books came up in response to vigorous critiques of conventional text-books and pedagogies by dalit intellectuals themselves (among others) and frontally addressed questions of caste discrimination in class-rooms and how these may be dealt with. Show me if you can, when before this, not merely Ambedkar but also extracts from texts of dalit literature like those of Om Prakash Valmiki, Daya Pawar and so many others have been included in the textbooks.
    Clearly, if we are unable to discern precisely where the dalit movement’s own gains have made an impact on the maisntream, and just react in pre-set ways, we all deserve no better than the NDA or the UPA (Kapil Sibal)!


  7. Much needed intervention made by Prof. Guru, not only in the immediate context of the cartoon controversy but also I feel for some introspection for dalit politics also. It is extremely strange that while there are competitive claims being made over ‘Ambedkar’ and also who represents that authentic voice of/for the dalits from within and outside, the main architect of this controversy is left completely unaccountable. Why the government’s position is not being seen as patronizing/ upper caste manipulation/ Congress’s effort to get rid of critical cartoons which does not show the congress and its ‘sacrosanct’ political leaders as the saviour of Indian political history???
    Many of these textbooks with their cartoons intact have contributed to unsettle power dynamics for subaltern politics.they are crucial and important for the ‘young minds to engage’.


  8. The debate of who should feel insulted, when to feel insulted seems to me to be attaching a virtue to feeling insulted. Insults denote an incapability to digest the slur made on one. If the ‘lnsult’ is a statement of fact, then it means that the insulted person is unable to face facts. He needs to introspect and learn to face facts. If the ‘Insult’ is not a statement of fact, it can be rebutted. If the one insulting still persists, he is to be pitied as one suffering from an inferiority complex. Yes, the insulted person does feel hurt, but the sooner he heals himself, the better it is for him. Retribution or insulting back the insulter indicates an eye for an eye mentality. Facing insults boldly and digesting them, healing oneself of any hurt as quickly as possible, would lead one to maturity. The sooner, anyone persecuted in the past, heals himself, the better are his chances to cease being a Dalit. i am looking forward to a day when we no longer refer to anyone as a Dalit merely by virtue of being a member of some ethnic group. Dalits then will only be some individuals who are wrongly persecuted in the present and not on account of being born in a particular ethnic group or because of past persecutions. It is time we put a stop to this ‘Identity’ based on birth. The longer we sympathise with so called Dalits, take up cudgels on their behalf, instead of treating them in words and deeds as equals,the longer the Dalits will remain Dalits. We must stop using the term Dalit to refer to any one merely because of being born in a particular group. A Dalit should only denote one persecuted wrongly in the present. Reservations should go as soon as possible otherwise they would become counter-productive to the reason and purpose underlying them. Our effort should be more on bringing everybody at par rather than merely correcting the wrongs of the past while continuig the same wrongs in some other form. If I give a simily, we should focus more on raising production and productivity of foodgrains rather than on rationing. If the production and productivity are high, there is no need for rationing and price control. Rationing may have to be imposed in times of high prices and/or scarcity purely as a short term measure rather than as a be all and end all strategy. Let us concentrate on treating our erstwhile ‘dalits’ as our equals rather than on reservations and punishing their insulters. Let us help our friends to mature as quickly as possible. I am writing this as one who has practised what he is preaching.


  9. I find that Prof. Aditya is distorting the information from Dr. Satya’s interview. such as the point below:”Secondly, I do not think that his allegation that the left-liberals (in which he presumably includes some of us) refusal to review the cartoon in the textbook is really what is providing the opening for the state’s intervention. Kapil Sibal stated quite clearly that:” The point Dr. Satya was saying is that Dalit opposing the cartoon, has to be taken seriously and instead of Prof. Yadav resigning from the post as a protest. The whole sequence of event is really disturbing. And Kapil said there are more objectionable cartoon in the book, hence a review is order. Which i feel if Kapil was serious of the Dalits concern he could have said ambedkar cartoon will be removed (or reviewed) and the matter closes there. And if Prof. Yadav was serious atleast he could have said, yes ambedkar cartoon has to be reviewed, and i protest for removal of the complete cartoon from the text book. After all the book is written for Dalits also. And the book also clearly says that suggestion are welcome. Why didnt the prof. Yadav and other atleast rethought of the cartoon. This is what i understand from Dr. Satya’s interview, that as kapil sibal did in parliament the ‘upper-caste’ intelligentsia too doing the same.
    I am copying and giving a part of the Transcript of Dr. Satya’s video.
    “………..Ravi Chandran: You were talking about left-liberal response to this controversy, even (during) Mandal, many were against reservations and now again they are going against the concerns being raised by dalits. Every day a new article is coming from dalits trying to explain their stand, still there is no effect. Every day different person intervenes on their side but gives the same version. How do you see this?

    Dr K. Satyanarayana: During the Mandal discussions, lot of left-liberal scholars opposed it and were not willing to even discuss the issue of caste but after Mandal, there has been lots of rethinking. Many left liberals started writing about caste, discussing Ambedkar and taking on dalit questions. But still I feel there are a lot of limitations in terms of learning from dalit activists, dalit intellectuals. Their understanding is still very limited and this is what this particular cartoon controversy clearly illustrates.

    However strong supporter you are of Ambedkarite thinking and some of the dalit concerns and so on..because of your own left-liberal understanding, maybe because you all belong to upper caste background, it is very difficult to understand certain issues from a dalit perspective. They really failed to appreciate the dalit viewpoint on this and it is really shocking to me. Especially the people who have been strongly supportive of dalit causes like Aditya Nigam and so on. These are the people who were really in the forefront in advocating Dalit cause many times. Many times I have seen that Dalit viewpoint is caricatured, distorted and it is actually made to appear as part of something else and actually they don’t want to directly address the issue.

    In this controversy, what Dalits are saying — there is a cartoon and there is a problem in the cartoon. They are simply saying that Ambedkar’s contribution in making of the Constitution is not fully appreciated in this cartoon and textbook. It doesn’t represent Ambedkar properly. There is something wrong.

    The simple answer would have been, you can argue that we are properly representing and if representation is a problem we will rethink about it. But instead of that, to say that we have freedom of expression, to say that these text books are a pedagogical revolution and save the text books– this way of responding is a very typical way of silencing of caste issue, typical way of not addressing the dalit issue. Historically, not addressing of dalit issue has happened in this manner. You actually generate another discourse on the same issue.

    What is the discourse generated on this when Dalits raised this issue, you generated discourse about critical pedagogy, discourse about state censorship, discourse about autonomy of NCERT. These are all democratic issues. These are all issues where dalits have no objection. But there is a dalit objection to this particular cartoon but the left-liberals do not see this point.

    I really want to emphasize the significance of Dalit viewpoint on this cartoon issue. If you simply look at it as some dalit political party creating controversy, creating vandalism and anarchy in Pune, Mumbai or Delhi.. if that is how you see then you really fail to see the significance (of the) issue. If you think that dalit politicians and others are trying to get some mileage and dalit political parties are being used by Congress or Sibal or by the Indian state and dalits are falling into this trap and actually helping the state to ban the textbooks.. If this is the argument then you are really not able to see the dalit viewpoint and you fail to see that there are two ways of looking at any particular kind of reality.

    And there is this group of people in the public now– like dalit activists, dalit intellectuals and dalit public, they have the right to interpret this textbook you have made. You made this book for dalits and OBCs also. They have the right to raise this issue. They have the right to say it in public. They have the right to interpret it. And that point is important and you have to acknowledge it. There was objection from dalit parliamentarians but what left-liberals have failed to grasp is that this objection has now gone beyond these people and that there is a whole group of people – dalit activists, scholars, dalit intelligentsia – that is responding to this issue now. They are responding in terms of whether Ambedkar is properly represented or not so if any one looks at this cartoon they all found it objectionable for various reasons.

    It is true that you are using this cartoon just as a pedagogical tool but Ambedkar’s representation is highly loaded, politically charged in the Indian context. Historically Ambedkar was not represented, his ideas were not represented, he was completely excluded and the only way he survived was through iconisation, through statues, through various types of symbols. The dalits have, more or less, carried Ambedkar from 50s to the 90s and then because of visible dalit movement he came into the mainstream. Ambedkar is still alive through icons, not through textbooks, not through academic knowledge production, not through any other source, he is still alive and available through iconisation.

    So that’s why dalits are very angry when their icon is desecrated, when you represent Ambedkar in a don’t like. So you have to really see that when you try to represent Ambedkar, the representation is already loaded, loaded in the sense that there have been attacks on Ambedkar, like Arun Shourie wrote the book that Ambedkar did not write the constitution, Ambedkar was only a clerk who put together some documents, he had no talents.

    This view is shared by many people who are anti-dalit, anti-Ambedkar. Anyone who is aware of dalit politics since 80s, 90s must be aware of the fact that any representation of Ambedkar has to be done in a very conscious and systematic manner otherwise it is liable to be misunderstood. You are referring to Ambedkar’s role in constitution making and there is a cartoon which says that there is a delay, there is a slowing down, and Nehru had to push Ambedkar to do this, this is what you are suggesting. And on the other hand in the textbook there are no substantial arguments to suggest that Ambedkar really contributed in the making, reasons for delay. There is no substantial discussion in the textbook.

    In public domain, there is a lot of attack on Ambedkar, his statues, on his ideas and there is no public recognition on all that he has contributed, including the making of the constitution, so dalits are touchy on this kind of issues. So you know that you are attempting to represent Ambedkar in a very loaded kind of context, this textbook writers should have been aware because the cartoon is read in that context. It is going to be read in the context of Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods, in the context of non-recognition of Ambedkar’s ideas.

    Today there is a debate on NCERT. How many dalits are there in the NCERT, how many Dalits are there in the Textbook committee, the monitoring and preparation committee, except one Gopal Guru, how many dalits are there? One Gopal Guru is there and you are repeatedly saying that since Gopal Guru was there, what we have done is correct. This is not a proper argument. There is only one Gopal Guru, but structurally NCERT has remained an upper caste institution. Structurally, political science still remains an upper caste domain. Political science only discusses dalits as vote banks. Dalit political thinking is still not part of political science. In fact all the left-liberal people who have responded are mostly from political science.

    To be continued.

    Dr K.Satyanarayana, with Susie Tharu, edited the anthology of Dalit writing ‘No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South’, published by Penguin India in 2011.

    [Thanks, Anoop Kumar, Ratnesh Kumar, Manju Rao and Gurinder Azad for working on this transcript]
    Thanks (Roundtable India: For an Informed Ambedkar Age)


    1. Dear Ravichandran,
      Thanks for your response and for reproducing the verbatim extracts from the transcript. May I request you to please not use “Prof’ and other such honorifics in a pulic debate where we all there in the same capacity. I think the extract from the transcript does help clarify things to some extent – only to the extent that it brings in the context of Yogendra Yadav’s resignation etc. I am not sure however that I agree either your (and Satyanarayana’s) interpretation of the episode but I do not want to go into that matter here.
      I do want to clarify however that, personally speaking, I am not invested in that particular cartoon at all. My argument in all the interventions I have made has been along completely different lines: I have in fact argued that the question of hurt sentiments is important – especially now that a whole discourse around it is in place. However, I do not want to repeat my arguments here – they are there on kafila for those who are interested to see and read. I understand that the cost of engaging with dalit scholars and intellectuals is always to wear the badge of inauthenticity. One can only be distorting, when one is in any kind of disagreement. So as far as I am concerned, I really do not want to say anything more.


      1. I also have to admit to feeling puzzled by the turn the debate has taken. In response to Prof Satyanarayan’s nuanced and sensitive reading, just a few points.
        1. There was a chronology of events within which most of the so called ‘ left liberal’ responses were located( I really wonder who does this term applies to though – it’s a straight lift from a certain discourse within American academia) . The defence of critical pedagogy came from a need to highlight what was at stake , and in response to what was at that time perceived as an attack on ‘academic autonomy’, where it was genuinely felt dalit sensibilities were being strategically employed to undo a gain that had been made in framing and executing a different curricula, which as has been unanimously agreed, attempted to bring a questioning of caste frontally into the classroom. It was a ‘first attempt ‘ as Satyanarayan points out , but it was also a first step of its kind if not ‘revolutionary pedagogy’ both in terms of its collective nature as well as its content. Surely a fact which needed highlighting? Especially if one thought the entire process and not just one cartoon was at stake?

        2. Does it deny that a review should take place ? Or that the modalities of such a review should be discussed and debated and made more effective and inclusive? Am not aware of anybody who at any point made a case against this. The stress again and again was that this could not be imposed in an ad hoc, arbitrary and unilateral manner. Again I’m sure there is a consensus on this.

        3. Does it raise larger issues about engaging with the nature of inclusiveness of higher education institutions, including the NCERT, and existence of cultural capital in general? About the social and political realities of upper caste dominated classrooms? Should this be made an opportunity to again revisit these larger, important issues and build alliances ? Sure . But this was not the register at which the debate had occured . It was nobody’s claim that text-books were some sort of an all encompassing panacea to the structural inequalities that plague our society. These were but a beginning and a small attempt in a larger struggle. But surely they needed to be defended against the manner in which this intervention occurred ? Again one hopes there is some consensus on this issue.

        4. So the real point of ‘difference’ or ‘shock’ is this – the perception that left liberal response understood the issue merely in terms of ‘freedom of expression ( which was not the term most left liberals used), ‘critical pedagogy’ and ‘academic autonomy’ – all important issues as Satyanarayan concedes, but instrumental in silencing caste issues.
        This was an understanding of the ‘left liberal’ response as a failure to acknowledge the ‘dalit voice’ which offered a different reading of the cartoon as ‘offensive’ to its sensibilities and capable of affirming casteist prejudices and biases in classrooms dominated by upper caste students and teachers. Again there was a chronology, these voices emerged over a period of time , after the controversy had erupted in a specific manner and were out there in the public domain as part of an unfolding debate. The politics of reading is bound to be there and continues to exist. Who can deny it ? These readings remain important irrespective of their chronology in understanding other possibilities of reading an experience.

        But does that deny legitimacy to other voices which do not concur, both inside and outside the dalit community with this reading of the issue , or even of the cartoon ? ( though like Aditya Nigam, I also don’t give a damn about the cartoon , the concerns always were other ). Why then use of terms like ‘shock’, ‘distortion’, ‘brahmanical accomadation’ ,‘left liberal’ ( collapsing unproblematically very divergent voices, historical and contemporary, on a range of issues including mandal ) ? It seems like two strawmen were created over here, one of the authentic dalit voice and the other of the ‘left liberal position’ incapable of ever understanding the ‘other’.

        So while the legitimacy of the historical experience can never be denied, and the issues raised here bring in the complexities of our political engagements, it also leaves one with other questions.

        Firstly , how does one understand the emergence of an entire discourse consolidating solidarities around identification with ‘one reading’ which dominates by asserting a particular claim to the discourse of ‘hurt sentiments’ ? Those dalit voices which do not conform , then also become the ‘other’ ,” incorporated within a ‘brahminical’ , ‘mainstream’ or ‘left liberal discourse” and are denied any space within.

        Secondly , a failure to understand that perhaps the response of a large section of those labelled ‘left liberal’ did not come from an ignorance or silencing of caste in understanding the nature of this controversy. On the contrary, it came from a very considered recognition of caste and the view that the ‘discourse of hurt sentiments’ was being employed instrumentally over here as a smokescreen behind which other strategic and political battles were being fought.

        In this othering of the other then, all possibilities of empathy on part of ‘the other’ or ‘the outsider’ are denied , while any disagreement is viewed as an inherent inability on part of the other to ever transcend one’s upper casteness irrespective of contextual specificities.


  10. I like this interpretation of the cartoon from a Class 12 student, Ishaan Sharma:
    “…the snail’s hump as the Constitution and B.R. Ambedkar being the driver of the snail with Nehru to assist him in his quest…Using this very image, any student can successfully deduce the role played by Nehru and Ambedkar in the making of the Constitution.”


  11. I found Satyanarayana’s interview quite ‘reasonable’, and not (oh, horror!) ’emotional’. He makes a point which I had made in a list called Feminist India, to Nivedita, that the Knights of the std 11 and all the other text books should have accepted at least that the other reading of the controversial cartoon was valid, not merely emotional, and not necessarily ‘uneducated’, politically or in terms of the ability for visual interpretation. That it is a cartoon which could easily be ‘misinterpreted’ (from their argumentative point, not mine) and that it could be reviewed. Gopal Guru does not interpret the cartoon; but the whole point is the interpretation of the cartoon. As for no lefties coming forth with that interpretation, Gail Omvedt and D.Raja did. Others beside myself in the Feminist India list also did.
    By refusing to ‘see’ that cartoon from any point except theirs, when there was eminently reasonable cause that their reading was wrong, the authors of these text books have lost a good opportunity to discuss with students problems involved in ‘ways of seeing’. And not allowed the rest of us activists and so on to defend the rest of the text books with the govt and the parliament.


  12. Textbooks are not bibles. We were taught (or learnt ourselves) to not take textbooks as the word of God. Teachers need to teach students to question everything.

    To my mind, this particualr cartoon serves the purpose of dating the constitution-building process. It indicates what people and the press were talking about as the constitution was being written. A student may conclude (or should be allowed to conclude) that this isn’t a particularly good cartoon, or may conclude that this is in fact an excellent cartoon. The political cartoon is an important part of intellectual discourse and must be taught to students as one. A good teacher would make a connection to political commentaries made on issues regarded important today, such as cartoons on public morality of our parliamentarians that are common in our times.

    It seems to me that Dalit intellectuals want to cling on to feelings of insults. While it is a pleasurable state of mind to work yourself into state of indignation, it is not a psychologically healthy state for the community as a whole.


  13. That is the price left liberals have to pay for uncritically promoting dalit intellectuals and joining hands with them in using words like ‘upper caste’ ‘brahminical’ carelessly to abuse others. Instead of scrutinizing their work to rigorous peer review as any academic would do they promoted their writings and included them in the teaching plans and syllabi.

    Meera Nanada had the guts to knock the bottom out of the ‘arguments’ in Post Hindu India by Kancha Ilaiah
    Of course the response from Kancha Ilaiah was on expected lines. How many of the left liberals have critically examined the writings of dalit intellectuals and have challenged them in true academic spirit. One can read the review of the same book as published in Contributions to Indian Sociology to understand what an uncritical view of such a book can be. The perils of promoting identity politics and political correctness and supporting essentialism as espoused by dalit intellectuals should be obvious by now.The left liberals should learn from this controversy and should at least from now on wards stop supporting dalit intellectuals uncritically. Instead they should subject their works and views to rigorous peer review, challenge them and point out why they agree/disagree. They should make it clear that Dr.Ambedkar cannot appropriated by dalits alone and hence while what dalits say matters that cannot be elevated to the level of one and only Truth on any issue pertaining to Ambedkar.


  14. Not long ago Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai engaged in a debate in the pages of EPW and that debate touched upon issues that are relevant here. But of course that was a debate between two scholars who had the intention to really engage in a dialogue and try to understand each others views.


  15. The debate on the cartoon controversy is acquiring new dimensions and is now not simply a matter of hurt-sensibility .Who can authoritatively speak for a group and for the social cause is being opened up again through this debate .Let’s not talk about the Left-secular-intellectuals who,as the wisdom gained from the Identity politics tells us ,that how much they may invest in their arguments to make it look objective, still they would be biased ,prejudiced and phoney .But interestingly this debate , courtesy Satnaryana,Santosh and M Raja through their posts on Kafila , is now even dismissive of some of the voices from the oppressed as being inauthentic and is questioning the bonafides of people like Gopal Guru,Anand Teltudme and Prakash Ambedkar (who was among the first ones who on some News channels advocated reasoned debate before taking any decisions on cartoon controversy )as being non-representative of the Dalit sensibility because they are advocating ‘reason’ ,’argument’ and ‘debate’ as tool for the emancipatory politics of the Dalits in place of just passion ,emotions and vitriol and hence are the agents of Brahminical order and apologists of upper caste discourse .But one wonders where these champions of the Dalit cause (Satnarayana,Santosh ,M Raja ,etc.) would place Ambedkar himself within such framework ?Because even a cursory glance of the Constituent Assembly Proceedings would show that at times Ambedkar’s position on number of issues was more tempered with reason than the so called votaries of the Brahminical discourse in the assembly .Even when the provactions ran thick and fast he did not abandon the path of argument and debate .Hence it would be beneficial for many of us to know their take on Ambedkar .Would they question even his bonafides ?
    So far as the question of Gopal Guru being the favourite of Left-Liberals and falling in the trap of the Brahminical system because he authenticates their thinking and ideas by using more temperate and civil language of discourse, one wishes things were that simple and straight and the articulation of the modern agencies with the Brahminical discourse was that easy to comprehend as we are being asked to believe here ! The upper caste hegemony today requires a more pompous and intemperate discourse of the oppressed ,which should be high on invective and rhetoric and hollow on meanings and substance .A random survey of electronic media ,which is the most potent agency of the dominant classes and castes in today’s India would bear it out .Who is darling of the electronic media today -Gopal Guru or the likes of Kancha Ilaiah and Chandrabhan Prashad ?


  16. I fully agree with the comments of An Observer made in Kafila dated 10th june that the operations of the Brahminical discourse in modern settings is quite subtle and is often deceptive and that we need to go beyond appearance to see its true functioning .There are very few Dalit intellectuals and ideologues today who are alive to this fact .I also agree with the the said observer that Gopal Guru belongs to true Ambedkarite tradition in terms of his understanding of the Brahminical system and its opration in modern settings and ,his language of discourse may be temperate and rational but he hits at the core of the upper caste hegemony and knocks the bottom out of the Brahminical operative sysyem .His writings are in line with the high tradition which Ambedkar set for the oppressed .They need not to be wavering from the path of reason and argument in the journey towards emancipation .The commentor is correct in his observation that the discourse of Gopal Guru does not suit electronic media and hence is disliked by them and the reasons as to why the likes of Kancha Ilaiha and chandrabhan prashad are given privileged access on the national channels owned by all corporate houses who are real agencies of Brahminical discourse in India today .The Dalits and the oppressed have to recognise the complicity between the socalled votaries of our cause(cause of Dalits and oppressed ) and these modern agents of exploitation.One should undertake a survey to see how the intemperate and evocative but hollow and rhetorical , with negligible meanings for the cause of liberation, by some socalled public intellectuals of the Dalits are welcome and patronised by the News anchors of the well known channels and the media pundits alike ! The annonymous observer deserves our comliment for unmasking the collaborators of the system who are hiding within .


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