By Hafeesha TB
Writer and social scientist Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has been at the heart of a major controversy for many weeks now. The publication of an excerpt from his Post Hindu India in Telugu, under the title Samaajika Smugglerlu Komatollu (Social Smugglers: Komatis) drew pitched protests from Arya Vysya organisations, who alleged that the title and the content of the book insulted them by caste. Peace was finally mediated between Ilaiah and representatives of these groups on Sunday by the CPI.
Ilaiah, the author of a number of books like Why I am not a Hindu, Untouchable God, and Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism is no stranger to controversy. In an interview to Hafeesha TB, Ilaiah explains his stand on the current controversy and other issues affecting the Dalit Bahujan population in India.
Members of the Vysya community were protesting against your book for many weeks. What led you to write the book Post Hindu India?
It is a sociological book about each caste’s sociological, psychological and economic character. In this book, the Vysyas figured as one chapter. They think that nobody should write about thoem, whatever culture they have is great. Whatever the culture, Sociology has to analyse it and Anthropology has to examine.
The book is a sociological study of many castes like Adivasis, Madigas, Malas, Chakkali, Mangali, and the unknown engineers, iron smiths, gold smiths, carpenters, and pot makers. And then the food producers –Kapus, Kammas and Marathas. These are called productive castes. Then it comes to unproductive castes – the Banyas and Brahmins. I have examined their sociological nature and some of the anthrpological data was brought into it. If they say nobody should write on us, then how does it work? The Social Sciences have to study every caste and every community.
You have faced trouble not only from social groups, but some days ago also faced opposition from the police. How do you feel about this?
These things are expected from conservative forces – the forces who don't want change, the forces who don't want equality. They are social forces, but they are also political forces. When these forces are doing such things, you have to fight.
For everything if we are afraid, how do we build good Social Science, good Sociology, Anthropolgy or Political Science. We have to fight with our courage otherwise tomorrow they will not allow anybody to write anything.
What do you see as the serious problems that Dalits in India are facing today?
Dalits are facing several problems today. One is their food culture problem. After the BJP came (to power), their food culture has got into a crisis, and the cow ban (cattle slaughter rules) has reduced their food availability. And leather work has gone out of the market. So, jobs are not there for them.
They (the Vysyas) have privatised all the money, they have shifted the money to banks and from there to industrialists.
Then they (Dalits) don't have jobs because there is no reservation in the private sector. So, it is a huge problem.
You have also faced controversy over the allegation that you have called Brahmins 'lazy'. What was your actual statement?
I never said that. The chapter says that the Brahmins are spiritual fascists, that they don't allow spiritualism to become democratic and that every caste in Hinduism can be equal. I am not saying 'lazy'. They are out of production. They are not in the tilling of the land, they are not in the cattle rearing, they are not in the harvesting, they are not in the vegetable production, the meat and milk economy. So they are outside production.
The Hindu text Manusmriti was burned by BR Ambedkar and it was a milestone in Dalit struggle. Do you think such a revolutionary movement is possible today
Today, they may not allow it. Beacuse the right wing and those who are opposed to equality are in power. Naturally they don't want change, they don't want equality in the society, in the government and the system. That is the reason why I am facing these problems. Ambedkar faced different kinds of problems.But at that time British were in the power. Now it is the Indian castes which are outside production which are controlling the money and the political power. So the problems for people like me are more now because the British had some kind of positive view of change, whereas these two communities don't like any change.
We constantly use terms like 'Upper caste' and 'Lower caste'. What are your thoughts on these terms?
I don't use those terms. I use Dalit-Bahujans and unproductive castes. So, they are not ‘upper’, they are unproductive. They don't produce food or anything. Dalit-Bahujans are the productive castes. So I have tried to replace these terms.
On the celebration of Deepavali, you have said that Ravana is a representative of Dalit-Bahujans and Dravidians. What are your thoughts on this?
Historically, Ravana was a Dravidian and was pro-environment. Environmental maintenance, forests and so on are a part of Dravidian life. Actually, the first major environmental figure, while building a city, was Harappa. Harappa, who built the Harappa city in the Indus valley, was a man himself because similar names still exist in Karnataka and also parts of Telangana. So there are names like Birappa – a shepherd god –, Virappa, Yallappa, Mallappa. The Appas are human beings.
So we must really see the Dravidian culture in Harappa first, more than Ravan and Narakasura. Some of them are mythological, but Harappa was a real historical figure who built a city himself. In my view a major study on Harappa has to come. I was doing that work, but meanwhile this trouble started.
Could you explain why you changed your name to Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd?
The Brahmins and the Baniyas were abusing by my (caste) name in November 2015. Then I thought I should add a name from my occupation historically. Because Harappa himself was a shepherd. Shepherd, in the sense, of cattle rearers – they take care of everything. For example, Sri Krishna, who is known as the Yadava god, is also a cattle rearer. Actually, now they are show him taking care of only cows, but he was taking care of buffaloes, cows, sheep and goats. But later some writers distorted his role. He has also been portrayed negatively, that he steals butter and has some relations with all kinds of people. That is not correct. So any shepherd or cattle rearer was demonized like this in history.
What is the relevance of Dalit-minority-Left unity in the current time?
They have to unite. We have to take up the question of abolition of untouchability and the socialisation of the means of production and the opposition of present capitalism, which has become real capitalism. In order to do that, I think a new theoretical model has to be worked out.
You have talked in many places about your mother and her struggles. How has she influenced you?
She was a big fighter. She put us in school when we were going along with sheep. She got us admitted in high school by literally putting us a the feet of a landlord in a nearby village. She died when I was in Class 9. But she was a great fighter. She died because of attacks by police patels of the village. She was the real philosophical and ideological motive and force behind my evolution and thought.
What is your view on reservation policies in India?
Reservation, at the time of Ambedkar, was only a state issue – state jobs. And there was no big private sector.So he asked for the electoral reservations and state jobs. Now state jobs are gone and electoral reservaton is there. That is the reason why Indian feudalism has shifted into Indian capitalism. So the capital, Bombay Wall Street, is fully under the control of mainly Baniya capital. In order to change that into a diversified capital, there must be reservation in the private sector. They are talking about the merit. But where is the merit in non-producers when productive castes don’t have merit? The country lives with the production and not with some book writing and all. Even if I write a book, the country will not live with that book. Anybody can write a book. So my feeling is that it is the time for fighting for reservations in private sector and English education in government schools. Then if jobs are not available here, they can go to Australia and Canada. They can become global citizens also.