Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition

Praise for the book

Annihilation of Caste
has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism … No Hindu who prizes his faith above life itself can afford to underrate the importance of this indictment’
M.K. Gandhi

Communist Manifesto
is to the capitalist world,
Annihilation of Caste
is to caste India. Arundhati Roy’s introduction is expansive and excellent. S. Anand’s annotations have style and perfection’
Anand Teltumbde
, author of
The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders & India’s Hidden Apartheid

‘For the 1930s,
Annihilation of Caste
was a case of marvellous writing with conceptual clarity and political understanding—something the world should know about. The annotations illumine the whole book. Roy’s essay has the sharp political thrust one has come to expect from her’
Uma Chakravarti
, author of
Everyday Lives, Everyday Histories: Beyond the Kings and Brahmanas of ‘Ancient’ India
Pandita Ramabai: A Life and a Time

‘Arundhati Roy’s
The Doctor and the Saint
works both at an emotive and an argumentative level. She manages to convey an intimate and deeply felt sensitivity to the history that produced
Annihilation of Caste
. Her essay is both well documented and closely argued. The annotations do an excellent job of providing supplementary information, corroboration and relevant citations … A robust edition of an under-appreciated classic’
Satish Deshpande
, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University

‘S. Anand’s annotations are very thorough and on the whole based on first-rate and current scholarship on South Asia and elsewhere. Their tone and style will appeal to a scholarly as well as lay audience … an important accomplishment. Arundhati
Roy’s essay is punchy, eye-opening and provocative … There is very little left of the saintly stature of the Mahatma once Roy is done with him, while Ambedkar, quite rightly, is left standing as the man in full control of his senses and his very considerable intellect’
Thomas Blom Hansen
, Director, Stanford’s Center for South Asia

‘This annotated edition of
Annihilation of Caste
was long overdue. It makes available to all a major text of Dr Ambedkar’s, where his intellectual engagement with caste is best articulated … the copious footnotes give the reader a sense of direction and all the additional information needed for making sense of the text—including the translation of the Sanskrit shlokas Ambedkar used to document his analysis. This edition is truly a remarkable achievement’
Christophe Jaffrelot
, author of
Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste

‘This edition, with Ambedkar’s words in Nietzschean aphoristic format, is extremely useful. It helps us discover new dimensions of Ambedkar’s subversive power. The annotations—many times orthogonal and tangential—enhance the value of this book. Those who have read
Annihilation of Caste
many times before will still read this work for the sake of the annotations and reference-based clarifications of Ambedkar’s thoughts. This edition will foster a more critical engagement among readers’
Ayyathurai Gajendran
, anthropologist

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
was born in 1891 into an ‘Untouchable’ family of modest means. One of India’s most radical thinkers, he transformed the social and political landscape in the struggle against British colonialism. He was a prolific writer who oversaw the drafting of the Indian Constitution and served as India’s first Law Minister. In 1935, he publicly declared that though he was born a Hindu, he would not die as one. Ambedkar eventually embraced Buddhism, a few months before his death in 1956.

Arundhati Roy
is the author of the novel
The God of Small Things
. Collections of her recent political writings have been published as
Listening to Grasshoppers
Broken Republic

S. Anand
is the founder-publisher of Navayana. He is the co-author of
, a graphic biography of Ambedkar.

This edition first published in the UK, US and Canada by Verso 2014
This edition first published in India
Edition © Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd 2014
Introduction © Arundhati Roy 2014
Annotations © S. Anand 2014
Research assistance: Julia Perczel

All rights reserved

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted

UK: 6 Meard Street, London W1F 0EG
US: 20 Jay Street, Suite 1010, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Verso is the imprint of new left books

eBook ISBN: 978-1-78168-832-8 (US)
eBook ISBN: 978-1-78168-830-4 (UK)
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-78168-831-1

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the library of congress


Editor’s Note

Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s
Annihilation of Caste
is a text in search of the audience it was written for. It survived an early assassination attempt to become what it is today—a legend. When the Hindu reformist group, the
Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Forum for Break-up of Caste) of Lahore, which had invited Ambedkar to deliver its annual lecture in 1936, asked for and received the text of the speech in advance, it found the contents “unbearable”. The Mandal realised that Ambedkar intended to use its platform not merely to criticise the practice of caste, but to denounce Hinduism itself, and withdrew its invitation. In May 1936, Ambedkar printed 1,500 copies of the text of his speech at his own expense. It was soon translated into six languages. While the majority of the privileged castes are blissfully ignorant of its existence,
Annihilation of Caste
has been printed and reprinted—like most of Ambedkar’s large oeuvre—by small, mostly Dalit-owned presses, and read by mostly Dalit readers over seven decades. It now has the curious distinction of being one of the most obscure as well as one of the most widely read books in India. This in itself illuminates the iron grid of the caste system.

Annihilation of Caste
was a speech that Ambedkar wrote for a primarily privileged-caste audience. This audience has eluded it. This annotated, critical edition is an attempt to give his work the critical and scholarly attention it deserves.

As I read and reread the text, I realised how rich it was, and how much present-day readers would enjoy and learn from it if they could place it in a historical context: Who had founded the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal? Who was Sant Ram, the man who valiantly swam against the tide of the dominant
Arya Samaj opinion? What was the incident in Kavitha that Ambedkar mentions but does not elaborate upon? From where was he drawing the ideas of “social efficiency”, “associated mode of living” or “social
endosmosis”? What is the connection he suggests between the Roman
Comitia Centuriata and
the Communal Award of 1932? What is the connection between the American feminist
anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre and Ambedkar’s advocacy of direct action? To try and answer these questions, I began the task of annotating the text. In the process, I realised that by the time he published a second edition in 1937, Ambedkar had made a range of subtle and deft changes to the first edition. The second edition included his exchange with M.K. Gandhi. Ambedkar made further changes in the 1944 edition. All these are highlighted where necessary. Ambedkar’s original edition tended to use long paragraphs that sometimes ran to pages. These have been divided with appropriate breaks. While the section numbers that Ambedkar provides have been retained, the new paragraphs have been numbered. Spellings and capitalisation have been standardised.

Annihilation of Caste
is peppered with Sanskrit couplets. Ambedkar cites them with authority, never bothering to unpack them for his privileged audience. To translate these, I turned to the scholar Bibek Debroy, who responded with rare enthusiasm. He treated every verse as a puzzle.

Arundhati Roy’s introduction “The Doctor and the Saint”, is a book-length essay that familiarises the reader with caste as it plays out in contemporary India, and with the historical context of the public debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi that followed the publication of
Annihilation of Caste
. In her introduction Roy describes a little-known side of Gandhi. She shows how his disturbing views on race during his years in South Africa presaged his public pronouncements on caste. As she puts it: “Ambedkar was Gandhi’s most formidable adversary.
He challenged him not just politically or intellectually, but also morally. To have excised Ambedkar from Gandhi’s story, which is the story we all grew up on, is a travesty. Equally, to ignore Gandhi while writing about Ambedkar is to do Ambedkar a disservice, because Gandhi loomed over Ambedkar’s world in myriad and un-wonderful ways.”

The manuscript has been peer reviewed by some of the finest scholars working in this field: Christophe Jaffrelot, Thomas Blom Hansen, Ayyathurai Gajendran, Anand Teltumbde, Satish Deshpande and Uma Chakravarti. Each of them responded with empathy, diligence and care that has helped me to refine, polish and enrich the work.

S. Anand

26 January 2014

New Delhi

The Doctor and the Saint

Annihilation of Caste
is the nearly eighty-year-old text of a speech that was never delivered. When I first read it I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows. Reading Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar bridges the gap between what most Indians are schooled to believe in and the reality we experience every day of our lives.

My father was a Hindu, a
Brahmo. I never met him until I was an adult. I grew up with my mother in a
Christian family in Ayemenem, a small village in communist-ruled Kerala. And yet all around me were the fissures and cracks of caste. Ayemenem had its own separate ‘Paraiyan’ church where ‘Paraiyan’ priests preached to an ‘Untouchable’ congregation. Caste was implied in people’s names, in the way people referred to each other, in the work they did, in the clothes they wore, in the marriages that were arranged, in the language they spoke. Even so, I never encountered the notion of caste in a single school textbook. Reading Ambedkar alerted me to a gaping hole in our pedagogical universe. Reading him also made it clear why that hole exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change.

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