One has to look at the criticism directed against Arundhati from non savarna lens or framework.
For years, savarna individuals have been the magnanimous‘face’ of any adi related effort. Savarna individuals abound as leaders and chairpersons even in the most improbable (and ridiculous) places – the SC/ST commission, the human rights commission, fact finding committees about atrocities on adi people, NGOs working on ‘dalit’ issues etc.
There is an implicit and underlying premise that ‘adi people are unable to speak for themselves’. This is a self perpetuating premise because it also means that if adi people have to speak about their own issues, some spaces have to be ‘given up’ by the savarnas.
There is a lot of resistance to give up these spaces of representation by the savarna community because of the fear of loss of either funding benefits or power benefits. Many times the reasons quoted for the adi people to need a savarna representation is because the adi people themselves are somehow presented as being of an inferior quality either because they have ‘poor articulation’, ‘poor understanding’, non scientific thinking ability” and such other.
Arundhathi Roy writing about Ambedkar is not a one off behavior. The question arises that every savarna must ask oneself. The question to savarna individuals is really why would you not think or write or speak about Ambedkar before Arundhati presents him to you? So AoC became more readable because of the foreword? Question is – why was it not readable earlier? Why was it not palatable earlier?
Just as a dark skinned Dravidian model would never be used to promote beauty or its products for fear she becomes the epitome of beauty, an adi writer will never be acknowledge for the sheer beauty, audacity and content of his or her writing for fear that intelligence, wit, incisiveness begin to be associated with a adi man or woman.
What would happen to the savarna superiority complex if adi men and women, on their own merit began to represent beauty, intelligence, kindness, leadership? These are serious threats to established savarna spaces and hegemony. As long as the relationship is one of patronage there is more acceptance from the savarnas.
As long as an adi scholar is educated by a savarna, its okay. As long as funds are received by savarnas on ‘behalf’ of adi people, it is okay. As long as policies are made by savarnas ‘for’ the adi people its okay. As long as forewords are written for adi scholars by savarna intellectuals, its okay.
The method of release of AoC by Navayana and the foreword by Arundhati has ensured that more people are likely to, during their armchair discussions, say they read Arundhati’s foreword to AoC than the text itself. Arundhati’s foreword is more likely to be discussed by savarna folks because it is easier to digest, it is easier to discuss, it makes it easier for people to pretend that they care about Ambedkar or they care to annihilate caste.
Arundhati’s foreword offers a straw to the ‘intellectual’ savarna who is drowning under the impact of his or her own practices of caste while valiantly pretending not to. Her foreword makes the discussion on caste palatable.
But the truth is – the discussion can never be palatable. It is deeply nauseating. It stares at one in the face. It holds a mirror to one’s face. One rather hide behind the mirror that Arundhati holds than the one that Ambedkar holds. It would be very, very hard for a savarna to read the AoC on its own merit. That is the simple reason that Arundhati was brought in. To salvage the poor savarna sensibility – adi people and their opinions and their writings be damned.
This is why adi radicals don’t want Arundhati Roy to write about Ambedkar. One would hardly expect Mr. Shivam Vij to understand that.