Book Review – “Annihilation of Caste” by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar’s radical idea to end the evils of casteism

 

I can trace back my interest in reading the works of Dr. Ambedkar to the time when I studied civics in high school. What were the thoughts of the man who was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly which drafted India’s Constitution?

Of the many hats that Dr. Ambedkar wore, none was more prominent than when he spoke up against the evils of casteism. It only takes a mild scan of the news reports today to see the injustices meted out to those who are considered from a “lower caste” (I’m cringing with disgust at having to write this). I can only imagine how much worse it was a century ago, in Dr. Ambedkar’s time, when he had to personally suffer indignation.

Annihilation of Caste is the speech that Dr. Ambedkar was invited to give at a conference in Lahore in 1936. However, the group that had invited him, on receipt of the advance draft of his speech, felt his ideas were too radical and requested he change a portion of the text. Dr. Ambedkar refused and preferred to have the conference cancelled rather than stand down on his principles.

The speech is an insight into the practices of untouchability and violation of civil and human rights that the Scheduled Castes (as they were later called) were subjected to. It tells us of the injustices and tortures that were commonly meted out to a group of people, only because they were considered to be unclean and born into a certain caste.

Dr. Ambedkar follows this up with demolishing one-by-one the various justifications used to defend the caste system. The scholarly breadth of his defence is breathtaking: from historical and social examples ranging from various parts of the modern world, to Greek and Roman empires, to sociology and science. He liberally quotes from the French Revolution and the Irish Home Rule movement, and explains the structure of government in ancient Rome to explain how a caste system is unfair.

He then takes the flame to the religion. Dr. Ambedkar attacks Hinduism and Hindus (Brahmins in particular) who have used the system to their advantage to keep others impoverished socially, martially and economically. The Manusmriti gets special mentions for the divisions that it created in society. Dr. Ambedkar argues that the only way to get rid of this evil is to discard Hinduism in toto and throw out the scriptures that Hindus consider holy, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagawad Gita and others. (I wasn’t using the word ‘radical’ lightly when I wrote the title of this blog post.)

The book then includes Mahatma Gandhi’s response to Dr. Ambedkar’s publishing the speech and the contents thereof. Gandhiji makes a few thoughtful arguments, but I did feel that they were missing the main point of the speech. Dr. Ambedkar says as much in his response to Gandhiji’s replies. There are clearly very strong differences of opinion between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, but what is revealing (almost refreshing, given today’s times) to see how both respectfully disagree with each other and attack the topic rather than the person.

I did find myself scratching my head at times when I was reading Babasaheb’s arguments, but all in all, I finished this book a little more aware about the evils that existed and the residue of which can be seen till today. I don’t think Dr. Ambedkar had any delusions that he had found an easy solution, but in trying to explain his opposition, he gives us an idea of what it means to treat all people equally with respect.

Snippets:

  • “He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; he, who dares not, is a slave.” – Sir William Drummond
  • “To sum up, let political reformers turn in any direction they like, they will find that in the making of a constitution, they cannot ignore the problem arising out of the prevailing social order.”
  • “Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.”

Books I marked as to-read after reading this book:

Read more about ‘Annihilation of Caste’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: Annihilation of Caste

Author: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

First Published: 1936

Number of Pages: 415

Price: Paperback – Rs. 300.20 / Kindle – Rs. 363.85 (Amazon.in)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

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The 9th Kaveri Trail Marathon – 20th September 2015

“Don’t try for your personal bests here, because it most probably will not happen,” said the race co-ordinator at the start line as we waited for the half marathon to start.

“No fear of that happening,” I mumbled to myself.

I was so confident of my inability to put in my best for this run because of two reasons. First was a basic problem: I’d barely run or trained since the Cherrapunjee Marathon back in July.

The other reason why I was sceptical about being able to put my best foot forward was that I’d barely slept in the 24 hours before the race. It all began on 18th September, two days before the event, the day I flew in to Bangalore from Calcutta. I had only slept a couple of hours before the early morning flight and so, slept like a log that Friday night. Come Saturday evening, I knew I was in a bit of trouble.

I hadn’t slept throughout the day and the expectation of the event was keeping me up at night. The event itself is held at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary at Srirangapatnam, which is about 3 hours drive away from Bangalore.

I’d opted for the bus the event managers had organised which was to leave from Bangalore at 2:30 AM. I had no trouble at all in finding the bus but the drive does take too long and is tiring. In fact, I was so tired waiting for it to be 2 AM so that I could leave my friend’s house in Bangalore, that I almost contemplated not going for the event at all.

Once at the venue, I was again impressed with how smoothly everything was managed; my running bib and bag was given to me without any hassle, and I’d been a little sceptical since I was an outstation runner and could’ve collected these only on the day of the event itself. Handing over my bag at the storage area, I walked over to the starting point of the race just as dawn was breaking.

  

The half marathon started punctually at 6:30, half an hour after the full marathon had kicked off.

Like I said, I wasn’t expecting miracles to happen at this race. I was underprepared and under-trained. In my mind, I was going to use this as a starting point for my training for my first full marathon, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in January 2016.

And so, to get myself through what I thought would be (and was) a gruelling run, I set myself a mantra. I’d recently read about how repeating a mantra can be helpful, and so I decided that my mantra for the day would be “flow”.

FLOW.

The word had a magical effect on me. I usually pay a lot of attention to my form and maintain it religiously at least for the first couple of kilometres of a run, before exhaustion takes over. Somehow, repeating the mantra made me feel like NOT keeping to the form and just going through with whatever felt natural.

As a result, I was less tired by the time the first “wave” of exhaustion hit me, which usually happens around the 5-6 km mark and which is when I enter what I call my “zone”. Once inside the zone, I usually don’t need to break much either for a short walk or for water.

I don’t know whether it was purely because of the zone or because of the mantra, which by now I was repeating with every out breath, my zone lasted for about 10 kms.

Initially, I was only telling myself, my body, to flow. To not worry too much about form, to not hit the ground hard but to just “roll” along with every foot strike. But as I went along, I don’t think it was restricted to just my physical form. I could feel the breath and the energy flowing through me. And even when I did get a little tired, the stream from the Kaveri river which was gently running past me would remind me of my mantra.

It was a beautiful run, going past sylvan fields and dusty trails. I couldn’t help but smile as I’d spot a bullock cart. Although I’d initially planned on running without listening to any music, at the last minute before the run began, I switched on a classical music concert by Pandit Ravi Shankar which he had performed at the Kremlin. Listening to the strains of the sitar as I ran past the beautiful green countryside, spotting a farmer here, spotting a stray bullock there, was immensely satisfying, as it was much different than the usual runs that I go for in the traffic on city roads. I told myself that it was a good thing I didn’t back out of this run.

But eventually, the lack of training caught up with me. Around the 15-16km mark, my lower back started hurting and I could feel my right hamstring beginning to cramp. I walked till about the 17km mark, and then tried to run a bit, only to stop immediately because by now somehow both my legs had started cramping. I was hobbling along, to be honest.

Here, I must mention the excellently organised facilities. There were refreshments at regular intervals and these were well stocked with water, energy drinks, peanuts, glucose biscuits and even chips! There were also cans of pain-relief spray which helped me to get a move on and finally finish the race.

One very heartening thing to see was that most participants had taken to heart the organisers words about keeping the bird sanctuary clean; most of the cups of water were thrown away in the bins itself. This was the least we could do by way of thanking the Ranganathittu Bird Santuary officials who had agreed to allow use of the venue for the run.

We ate a good, hearty breakfast after the run and soon, the buses to Bangalore and Mysore were ready to take us back. Here’s where I encountered the toughest part of the day. Sitting in a bus, on that hot Sunday afternoon, after having run a half marathon and then walking and figuring out my way back to my friend’s place once I was dropped off in the city really got to me. I was tired and exhausted and needed to rest as quickly as possible.

I realised that the best way to participate in the Kaveri Trail Marathon is to come over a couple of days in advance and find accommodation at Srirangapatnam, or at least at Mysore. That way, the travel time before and after the run is reduced, at a maximum, to about an hour. The body can do with that kind of rest.

I finished the Kaveri Trail Half Marathon with a timing of 2 hours 40 minutes 38 seconds, which is almost exactly how much time I’d taken to finish the Cherra Marathon. Given that that was a more challenging run, what with all the uphill running, this was strictly an average performance in comparison.

But purely because I felt more connected with something inside me, thanks to the mantra, I’d rate this as a more satisfying run. 

  

Book Review – “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” edited by Sudha Murthy

Book: Something Happened On The Way To Heaven

Edited by: Sudha Murthy

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication Year: 2014

Number of Pages (Kindle): 224

Price: Rs. 200 (Flipkart) / Rs. 175 (Amazon) / Rs.  157.70 (Kindle)

My rating: 2/5

A book that I bought and persisted with since one of the twenty real-life short stories here features a friend of mine. Although she had warned me that the publishers had dumbed down the language in the book, I was taken aback with what I read. Some of the tales are really naive too, which doesn’t help either.

Avoid.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘Something Happened On The Way To Heaven’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart, Amazon.in or for your Kindle.

Book Review: One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Book: One Part Woman

Author: Perumal Murugan (translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan)

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication year: 2015 (first published 2010)

Number of pages: 256

Price: Rs. 239 (Amazon/Flipkart)

My rating: 3.5/5

Little over a month ago, I heard on the news that the Tamil author Perumal Murugan was being harassed because of “objectionable content” in his book ‘One Part Woman’. Hitherto, I hadn’t even heard of the author, let alone the book. I decided to read it for myself. Luckily, the book was still available on Amazon as a Kindle download and I purchased it right away. So much for silencing the voice of the author.

The book is set in a village in pre-Independence southern India. The story traces the lives of Kali and Ponna, a childless couple who’re regularly taunted by their relatives and village-folk for not having any children. They are constantly at the receiving end of jibes which often leave the wife, Ponna, hurting, although she doesn’t shy away from retorting to these glib remarks herself.

We are told how difficult it becomes for this couple to not worry about being childless as they are constantly humiliated by almost everyone around them. They are kept reminded of this also as people try and come up with various theories as to why they haven’t been blessed with a child; theories ranging from having displeased the Gods to ancestral wrongdoings.

As the story progresses, we are told about a local village festival in which all rules of matrimony and loyalty are relaxed for one night; a night when any two consenting adults can decide to be with each other. Some of Kali and Ponna’s relatives are of the view that Ponna should go to the festival and try to conceive a child. It is this event which tests this couple’s wish to have a child to the limit: should Kali make the difficult decision of allowing his wife to be with another man for one night to probably get the child that both he and his wife desire so eagerly?

The narrative picks up various threads from the past to help us give insights into the decisions that the couple makes. As the night of the festival approaches, there is rising tension as suspense grows over how the various individuals in the book will react.

Although this was the English translation that I was reading (wherein I did stumble a couple of times in the narrative), I could easily imagine the fondness that the author has for the countryside. His descriptions of the farmer’s daily lives, their homes and their fields provides a beautiful glimpse into village life. The book also shows how religion has been woven into the very fabric of these people’s lives as Kali and Ponna try to appease almost every God and pray at every temple they come across.

I loved the dynamics of Kali and Ponna’s relationship. This is a young, loving couple who are going through what is clearly a very testing time for both of them. And yet, both seem to have a different approach. Ponna dearly wishes to be a mother, not only because it will mean an end to the constant barbs from others but because she is genuinely fond of children. She is slowly becoming bitter at her condition and isn’t the one to not speak her mind out loud, even to her husband. Kali, though equally disgruntled about not being a father, seems to have made his peace with the current reality. By the end of the book, you’re left sympathizing both of them.

Update on 6th Aug 2015: My good friend Sudha G. has written an excellent review (much better than my own humble effort above) of the book here.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘One Part Woman’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart, Amazon.in or for your Kindle.

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)