Writing is the only medium that generates fear among the oppressor caste forces and can change the conditions of the oppressed Dalitbahujans, believes activist Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd.
The Dalit writer has come out with his memoirs “From a Shepherd Boy to an Intellectual” in which he also talks of the struggle for education and dignity that a great majority of Indians undergo.
“Many people from the Brahmin-Baniya castes have written about their own greatness in their autobiographies, in English and in the regional languages. But I have not seen even a single autobiography of a person born and brought up in the shepherd community,” he says.
“Writing is the only medium that can change the conditions of the oppressed Dalitbahujans. After (B R ) Ambedkar, I took up this task, and this writing has to be done on a continuous basis, generation after generation,” Ilaiah Shepherd writes in the book, brought out by Sage Publications.
“There is no doubt that such writing generates fear among the oppressor caste forces. What I have realised in my lifetime is that caste-centred change is resisted more than class-centred change. This is because caste hegemony gets into the bloodstream of people born into those castes. So also caste inferiority gets into the bloodstream of the oppressed castes,” he argues.
Class inferiority, according to him, could be easily overcome but not caste inferiority.
“That is the reason why caste struggle is more difficult than class struggle. Since caste is both cultural and economic, the fear of changing caste relations haunts much more than changing class relations. Those castes that constructed indignity of labour as spiritually so feel terrible if the changes are on the cards.”
Ilaiah Shepherd retired recently as Director, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National Urdu University. He has written books like “Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Culture, Philosophy and Political Economy”; ‘Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism; Untouchable God”; and “Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution”.
He says he never intended to write his memoirs.
“My two books ‘Why I Am Not a Hindu’ and ‘Post-Hindu India’ generated debate and controversy among the Brahmin-Baniya readership and at the same time also inspired thousands of young people coming from Dalitbahujan backgrounds,: he says.
“Given the kind of attacks that the Brahmin-Baniya communities of the Telugu region launched against me recently, I thought I should complete my memoirs as soon as possible. I have been living in an environment of attack on intellectuals fighting for equal rights of people. I have stood by the Dalitbahujan masses all my life. This led me to write it in a hurry,” he says.
The author recently added Shepherd to his name. “This is a decision I took just after the Brahmin organisations of the two Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana threatened to attack me in May 2016. Thus, my full name now is Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd.”
His name Ilaiah was given by his “illiterate shepherd parents out of a devotion to a local deity called Iloni Mallanna. He was given the name Ilaiah, “indicating the fact that the village deity was my god”.