Published: 06th December 2017
Kancha Illaiah arrest: Right wing is dismantling intellectual discourse and freedom of speech
Dalit activist Kancha Illaiah Shepherd has been in the news over the last few days over the protests against his latest book Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu on the Arya-Vysya community
Two days ago, Dalit activist Kancha Illaiah Shepherd was detained by the police while he was making his way to the Shepherds’ Second State Conference. Police claimed that his presence would cause "trouble" and told the organises that the conference wouldn't happen if Illaiah participated. Kancha Illaiah is known for his provocative speeches but no one can deny he speaks the truth.
We revisit an interview with Kancha Illaiah when he came to speak at The New Indian Express's ThinkEdu Conclave, earlier this year.
There has probably never been an instance when Dalit intellectual and thinker, Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has spoken to an audience and not received intermittent applause. He has no qualms to tell it like it is, whether it is calling out the ABVP on its lack of intellectual debates or the imposition of Brahmin ideologies, in the form of vegetarianism, on children and the country at large.
Our disease is caste , indignity of labour, and anti-women ideas. Can anyone point out a single left-wing student who has sent rape threats to a girl for voicing her views? But Gurmehar Kaur received so many threats. This is our problem," he explained.
When questioned about his thoughts on the rising incidence of violence in campuses, even as the Dalit voices get louder, Kancha Ilaiah said that there have always been clashes between the left-wing and right-wing groups but they have not been intellectual ones. "Historically, the left-wing student groups have had the nature of writing, reading and debating. They hold discussions on wages, economic development, inequality, caste, and gender issues, but groups like the ABVP don't like to debate, they don't have the habit of writing, and they don't hold discussions on such issues. What they like to do is disrupt the left-wing meetings, they've always done it. Now, they have the backing of the State, that’s the only difference," he said.
"The ABVP, VHP, RSS and BJP, in the name of nationalism, are not just taking away freedom of speech but they are dismantling intellectual discourse, which will have far greater consequences. Be it left, right or centre, people need to discuss and debate issues either amongst themselves or in a cross-sectional manner with others as well. But the right-wing groups don't want to question untouchability, caste or inequality. Why? Because they believe in the caste system," the scholar said.
If India is, in fact, such a strong country and everything is good here, then why is it that countries like China are not challenging us, he asked. "It is because of our bodily diseases; our disease is caste, indignity of labour, and anti-women ideas. Can anyone point out a single left-wing student who has sent rape threats to a girl for voicing her views? But Gurmehar Kaur received so many threats. This is our problem," he explained.
Talking about how jobs that are done by the upper middle class have always been perceived as being far superior, Kancha Ilaiah repeatedly stressed that it's about time that children are taught the dignity of labour. "The upper caste has been part of the production process, but they have not tilled the soil, they have not done manual labour, neither have they protected our country's borders. They are somewhere in the middle, they are in our universities and our courts, pushing their ideologies onto the lower castes, like taking away eggs from the midday meal menu in government schools," he added.
He accused the government of putting school children's health in jeopardy because they are trying to impose vegetarianism on the students. "Other countries like China are doing better because their children are mentally and physically stronger as they are good meat-eaters. We, on the other hand, don't even want to give children something as basic as eggs," he retorts.
Other countries like China are doing better because their children are mentally and physically stronger as they are good meat-eaters. We, on the other hand, don't even want to give children something as basic as eggs
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Dalit rights activist
Speaking about the Dalit voices getting louder in public spaces especially social media, Kancha Ilaiah said that social media sites are giving a voice to the voiceless, "The established media doesn't recognise or propagate the views of the exploited and underprivileged but social media is bringing new voices to the public domain." But despite this, the discussion is always confined to the reservation debate. This has to change, the 64-year-old says, "Dalits should stop participating in these debates; they should expand to universal subjects like debating Hinduism, dignity of labour, women or de-gendering. On one hand, we have thinkers discussing Ambedkar, Periyar and Savitribai Phule, but we should also expand the Dalit intellectual discourse."