Thursday, April 2, 2020

Being a writer in India, a risky job

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In Yavatmal, Maharashtra, India. On the central poster, the portrait of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Dalit leader whose books are still authoritative and scandalous in India today. ZUMA Wire / ZUMA / REA

His friends had warned him of the danger of such an adventure in a society as conservative as India. Former daily journalist The Hindu and to the magazine Outlook, S. Anand dropped everything at the age of 30 in 2003 to found Navayana. Located south of New Delhi, this publishing house is unique in India. It is entirely devoted to the question of castes, which continues to fracture society, and of dalits, the "untouchables" (20% of the population), kept in a situation of outcasts.

Read also this report (2014): India, mad about literature

The company of S. Anand is all the more remarkable that he himself is a Brahmin, the highest caste of India, a minority which monopolizes the key positions. He broke up with his family, his traditions, his native region and married a woman who was not of his caste. His catalog has more than sixty titles, essays, novels, poetry, with a central figure, that of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956). Little known in the West, this untouchable lawyer and politician, the main author of the Indian Constitution, is the embodiment of the Dalit movement. He devoted his life to this fight, to the point of abandoning Hinduism, too consubstantial with the caste system, to convert to Buddhism.

In 2012, S. Anand co-wrote his graphic biography, Bhimayana (MeMo, 2012), which was a great success. Two years later, he published a critical edition, prefaced by Arundhati Roy, of the Ambedkar classic, Annihilation of Caste ("The annihilation of castes", 1936, not translated). Through this figure, S. Anand does not only castigate the unequal Indian system, he also dismantles the myth of Mahatma Gandhi. "Gandhi has vehemently opposed Ambedkar. He was certainly against untouchability, but for the maintenance of caste. Gandhi is not the saint that the nationalists would like him to be. He was the defender of Aryan supremacy. He despised blacks, dalits and women. "

Being Hindu and Dalit?

Released in January, Navayana’s most recent book, I Could Not Be Hindu, by Bhanwar Meghwanshi, offers an astonishing testimony. The author is a Dalit who, at the age of 13, became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an ultranationalist organization created in 1925 to implement the ideology of the Hindutva, advocating a purely Hindu nation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several members of the government emerged from it. Bhanwar Meghwanshi portrays himself as a zealous servant of the RSS, wanting to be Hindu, serve the mother country and kill Muslims, without having understood that the RSS is also a machine against the Dalits. He discovers it when he makes up his mind to prepare a big meal for the organization in his village. His father warns him: "These people will not eat with us, they will never want to eat with a dalit. " Bhanwar: "Yes, we are all Hindus! " Father's prediction comes true. Bhanwar is broken. His world collapses, he abandons the organization, tries to commit suicide. Then reads Ambedkar and becomes an anti-RSS activist.

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