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.