I got an opportunity to listen to Anand Teltumbde in a talk ‘Caste in Stone?’ at Manthan, Hyderabad on 3rd May 2019. I had never read any of his articles/books and heard him before. Though, I had read quite a lot about him that he is a liberal thinker, a public intellectual and so on. I went to the talk with great expectations that I will get to hear a perspective which I have not known earlier.
My reaction after listening to him can be summed up in one word: Disillusioned. I shall elaborate.
The start of the talk
Anand Teltumbde started on a positive note. He said that India is casteist than ever before, which of course is right. He set the context about the casteism from the time of ancient India, brought it to the Muslim rule and the colonialism.
Apart from referring to Jyotiba Phule and Ambedkar, he did not attribute any other Indian to work against casteism. He said that Muslims and Britishers brought about changes in the Indian caste structure. However, he did not give any examples to corroborate his opinion. Mahatma Gandhi was of course not mentioned in any of the regards.
The reference to Marx and the jargons
Suddenly, he started referring to Marx as an influencer to remove casteism in Indian society. He informed that Marx was the first person to notice the detrimental results of castes and keeping India backward. I tried hard but was not able to connect the dots plotted in the air about Marx and castes.
Then, it was the time for the bombardment of the jargons. Neoliberals, Plutocracy, Global capital, Orthodoxy of fiscal management etc. I had tried to follow Anand Teltumbde till now, but now he was up to mischief, the oft-repeated word by him. Knowing a language does not mean that jargons are just thrown around but that is what was happening.
The dislike for the Constitution
Anand Teltumbde said that it is not the Indian Constitution but the Britishers that gave reservation to Dalits. He informed that Constituent Assembly wanted to remove untouchability but not the castes. According to him, there is a mischief in Constitution that it has given shape and form to castes and majority religion in perpetuity.
He said that including Scheduled Tribes in the reservation was mischief in the Constitution. According to him, they should have been included with Scheduled Castes to be given reservation. He said that other backward classes should not have been given reservation.
In nutshell, I understood that he wanted the reservation to be a sole domain of Scheduled Castes and that he does not like the Indian Constitution.
Quotes of the talk
There is a pact with global capital due to which Modi got power. Global capital does not like Brahminism. So, Modi is desparate. Now, who is this global capital? Who did the pact? I thought that the Indian electorate elected Narendra Modi, but I suppose I was wrong. From where did Brahminism come into the crosshair of global capital? It was supposed to be a talk on Castes and not Modi.
To annihilate caste, we should not hanker after caste and let go of caste. I suppose all of us know this. A practical or more elaboration of how to do it should have been more helpful, but I think it was beyond the scope and the intention.
I found Anand Teltumbde’s talk littered with jargons and incoherence. It was uni-dimensional. What was not expected was making sweeping statements without speaking about the evidence or making disjointed remarks here and there. It came across as a long-winded rambling.
Everything was getting attributed to Ambedkar, Muslims and Britishers, but nothing to Mahatma Gandhi, Indian reformers, Indian society, Freedom movement and such.
More worrying was that he limited the scope of casteism to Dalits, not even including Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. He suggested that we should encourage the class to get over caste. I wonder from where he got the empirical proof for this, as he likes to speak about.
An audience of 300-350 was nodding throughout the talk. I felt that I am the only person not able to make head and tail out of this all over the place verbose monologue. Then, I realized that people had actually started leaving. By the time Q&A with audience got over, about 50% of the people had left. I suppose they tried to make sense but that was about it and could not hold further.
Anand Teltumbde’s answers to questions
I did not find anything worthwhile in terms of content or research or compelling narrative or suggested solutions in his talk, but some of his answers were credible. He supports reservation, only when it is exterminated with a defined time-frame. Religious conversions do not help eradicate casteism. It is humbug that technology will remove castes. Dalits may not be the best people to help Dalits. In fact, they may be best helped by high caste people.
I felt that he can make sense if he wants to. But his incentives are otherwise.
Anand Teltumbde ticks all the right boxes. He knows English and lots of it. He can speak and keep speaking endlessly. It is necessary to oppose Hindutva forces and capitalism to be classified as a liberal and public intellectual and he does it. It is not at all necessary to make sense in what is spoken or suggested, to be bereft of responsibility, and he does it.
In nutshell, he is a liberal rebel without a cause. He knows that a lucrative career can be made out in liberal circuit by mouthing incoherently about Hindutva forces and he does it effortlessly. And he also knows it.
The audience, apart from liberals, tries to understand him but they desert him knowing in heart of their hearts that this is going nowhere. It is actually a privilege for him that Bhima Koregaon violence gets attributed to him and people like him, for I think that they are no leaders, they have no followers and they cannot get any action done from anyone, not even from their own selves.