Need to come out of victim mindset and create an Ambedkarite vision: Ish Kumar Gangania

Ish Kumar Gangania

Ish Kumar Gangania is an eminent Ambedkarite thinker, writer and poet who started writing nearly 20 years ago and has till date authored over 22 books of poems, essays, analysis and even Ghazals. Some of his poetry books have also been published in English. Born in Chhaprauli now part of district Baghpat, famously known for the constituency of former Prime Minister Chaudhury Charan Singh, the family of Ish Kumar Gangania migrated to Haryana where he grew up going to school and colleges before settling in Delhi.  He taught in Delhi administration school and has retired now.

His has so far published five collections of Poems. The last one is “ jinda Rahna hai agar’, one collections of Ghazal, one collection of short stories, one fiction : The surgical Strike but the most fascinating work in my opinion is his analysis on Dalit Identity question. He believes in Lokayat traditions of Carvak and his book ‘asmitaao ke sangharsh me dalit samaj’ is an extremely important work.  He also wrote a detailed critique of ‘The challenge to Indian democracy from Anna’s movement’. He was deputy Editor of trimonthly magazine ‘Apeksha’ and Editor of monthly bilingual magazine ‘Ajivak vision’.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, he explains that Ambedkarite literature is not really Dalit literature as an Ambedkarite is a change maker and work on the revolutionary vision provided by Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. An Ambedkarite has to provide new thinking and create spaces for negotiations too. As an Ambedkarite he does not want to waste his energy on critiquing Brahmanism all the time. He says, most of the Dalit literature has become a ‘chargesheet’ against Savarnas and unfortunately lose track later. You can not lead a society with a Victimised mindset. The literature which carry lot of agony and pains actually does not give any inspiration to the community but only patronised by the Savarnas who enjoy such writings. Ambedkarite writings are are challenging and speak up from a position of being equal partner and not as under patrons of the savarna elite.

The conversation is in Hindi and can be heard here


But this text of the interview is not really a transcription but a separate reply from Mr Gangania who found time to respond to questions send by me. Those who can understand Hindi should listen to the conversation to get more clarity.

Ish Kumar Gangania in Conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat

 What attracted you to believe in Aajivika philosophy. What is it, and why it is essential?

Rawat Ji, as far as my attraction to ‘Aajivika’ philosophy is concerned, it is the by-product of a meeting between Dr Dharamveer and me while an academic programme was going on at ISI Lodhi Colony, Delhi. I feel Dr Dharamveer was impressed by my writing skills while working as a sub-editor in ‘Apeksha’, a quarterly Hindi journal. During this meeting, he talked about ‘Aajivika’ and advised me to read the book titled ‘History and Doctrines of the ‘Aajivikas’ (A vanished Indian Religion) by A. L. Basham. At the same point, he also encouraged me to work on the subject.

I got into my work, and before coming to my conclusion on the Aajivikas, I had read Acharya Anand Jha’s book ‘Charvaka Darshan’ apart from other necessary literary material. I got well aware of its theoretical concept as well as its practical aspect suiting to the contemporary world. To understand what is meant by ‘Aajivikas’, it is necessary to make it clear that the followers of Lokayata and Charvaka are known as ‘Aajivikas’. The word ‘Aajivika’ means an earning of a living by hard work’. The Aajivikas have been giving top priority to the human body to ensure all the activities of life, for there is no God, no soul, and no rebirth to support life. As a result, they prioritize agriculture, animal husbandry, commerce, etc., closely related to human life. At the same time, they have been accepting criminal policy as an essential part of human life to ensure the smooth functioning of politics, that is, governance, the discipline of society and maintenance of law and justice. I must say that this philosophy has been peaceful and flourishing on a high moral ground, which is extremely rare in the contemporary world.

Within the short span of three months, while the third issue of Apeksha (April-June 2003) was due, I had reviewed Kanwal Bharti’s book ‘Dalit Dharma ki Avadharna and Baudha Dharma’. While concluding my review, I categorically declared, if we coin the new term ‘Aajivika’ to replace the word Dalit as the identity of the oppressed class and the same way Dalit literature may be replaced by ‘Aajivika Literature’. It can eliminate all the unnecessary controversies that engross the word ‘Dalit’. Aajivika is a symbol of a dignified culture and has the adequate capacity to give energy to the morale and self-respect of Dalits. This request would not undermine and misjudge any of our icons, may it be Dr Ambedkar or Buddha. As a result, there was no written and oral comment from Dr Dharamveer and Kanwal Bharati on the issue. Naturally, I kept on doing my work on Aajivika, and I got my work published in 2009 before Kanwal Bharti and Dr Dharamveer. As far as the issue of fake advocates Aajivika of today is concerned, they existed nowhere then.

I am not adamant about Aajivika as the only identity. I feel Aajivika identity is an essential tool even today because it carries our legacy as aboriginals of this country and the culture of Lokayata and Charvaka that has a glorious materialistic past with beautiful images. It can be an ideological and intellectual threat to Indian fundamentalist elements who challenge our identity and capability based on caste and behave maliciously. Still, I feel sure that any new identity must have a glorious past, which is no doubt before we had labels of castes and crises based on it.

 You define yourself as an Ambedkarite and refuse to accept other identities such as Dalit or others. What is the reason? Why is Ambedkarite identity different from that of being a Dalit or Bahujan?

 Rawat Ji, it is a fact that my literature till 2018 has been under the banner of Ambedkarism. Then, during constant contemplation, I realized that creative or non-creative writing based on any ‘Ism’ violates ideological and intellectual freedom. It not only limits the scope of thought and report but also narrows and demotes its purpose. Another reason for this is that it is openly a kind of betrayal of Buddhism and Ambedkarism because they strongly oppose the slavery of any person, book, scripture, tradition etc.

Secondly, I also believe that the person associated with Dalit society is not living on any particular island. He is a citizen of a diverse community, nation and global village. When the philosophy of Buddha and Ambedkar is efficient, and its canvas covers everything from the local to the global brilliantly with appropriate relevance, who are we to capture it in the narrow walls of the castes and dalithood. Therefore, why don’t we contemplate and write keeping in view both local and global needs? We need a profound reflection on this perspective. It does not mean that individuals or writers must not write or speak on local burning issues related to caste, religion etc. Even though I am deeply impressed by the philosophy of Baba Saheb and Buddha, the Blessed One, Still I do not believe in being labelled by anyone or labelled as part of any such group today. I must say My top priority is my ideological independence. It keeps me feel free, happy and relaxed.

As far as identities are concerned, there can be different identities of an individual, society and the nation. They can be personal or collective. In this context, you mean identity  as social identity and identity of Dalit writer’s organizations or associations. Rawat Ji, it is not entirely true that I have never linked myself to any organizations. In the early stages, I have been a part of the ‘Dalit Lekhak Sangh’ with Dr Tej Singh for four years, i.e., till the end of 2004. Even today, I sometimes have the offers to be a part of them. But I have some logical compulsions behind not being a part of them.

My first objection is the name of this particular literature as ‘Dalit Sahitya’. If the name is ‘Dalit Literature’, organizations will also be formed, including Dalit. We do have Amedkarvadi Lekhak Sanghs around us. These organizations seem confined to the name as Amedkarvadi’, but the rest of the things as Dalit literature, Dalit stories, Dalit poetry etc., are the same as other Dalit Lekhak Sanghs have. There is a strange race among Dalit writers today to call themselves Ambedkarvadi and their writings as Ambedkarvadi poems, story etc. Still, their ideology hasn’t get rid of the purviews of Dalitism, nor do they have any change in the material of the content they share. They don’t even have any vocabulary to represent and justify Ambedkar and Ambedkarism as the spirit of these organizations.

The following reason for my logical separation in this regard is that the word ‘Dalit’ does not represent or can ever represent any dignified identity. No individual is born with castes or dalithood. It is clear that the person born and dying in castes shackles is a Brahminical conspiracy, and we keep on challenging it squarely with no rest. On the same lines, the advocates of Dalit identity are stigmatizing Dalits with ‘Dalithood’ mindlessly from birth to death. What sense does it make I have failed to understand? Baba Saheb hasn’t approved it as an identity. He categorically stated in vol. Four on pages 228-229 with the title ‘Naamkaran’ that we can use Bahishkrit or Asprishya etc. temporarily until we find a nurturing word of dignified identity.

My next disagreement is the claim that the advocates of Dalit writings make to cover the shortcoming of Dalit is that It is based on the ideology of Dr Ambedkar, Buddha, Periyar, Phule, and Dalit saints. I am sorry to reject it outrightly and ask, “Has Baba Saheb given his thoughts only on the subject of ‘caste’? Is he adorned to be the best among the 100 top intellectuals of the world, only based on a scholar to deal with social inequality alone or based on his comprehensive philosophy? I believe that no one can confine Baba Saheb’s extensive philosophy of contemplation in Dalit literature.

As far as Periyar is concerned, he had run the ‘Self-Respect movement’ and turned down the most significant offer of politics for the purpose. Therefore, the echo of dignified identity is still present in his society. Phule launched an agitation to create a ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’ with no place for inferiority complex anywhere. It is a symbol of a tremendous distinguished identity. I don’t think whether Buddha and his philosophy have ever talked and given any formula to make any individual or the society to strengthen castes or Dalithood. If so, they must make it public to justify their stand as a follower of Buddhism.

The entire Sant Sahitya is full of agitations against castes and other social evils. All these individuals have waged war against negative identity, not to establish them. I want to say with great humility that Dalit litterateurs do politics in many cases using the literature and literary organizations. The concept of Bahujan in literature also gives the smell of politics, and I don’t believe in politics of literature and literature of politics as a tool of social change. Therefore, the idea of being a part of any such literature and literary organization disturbs me a lot. It gives me the impression of betraying my conscience, which has never been part of my personality and may never be in future.

To conclude, I wish to share one significant instance. There was a meeting going on under the leadership of Dr Tej Singh at my residence to make a writer’s organization. I thought as to why to name the organization Ambedkarwadi. A debate took place, and Dr Tej Singh, Dr Tek Chand and Dr Ashwani supported and Dr Mukesh Manas, Dr Sunil Mandiwal, and I was against them. Ultimately, Dr Tej Singh told us to come with alternative options in the next meeting. I must say that if Dr Tej Singh hadn’t departed us so early, there might be different types of Lekhak Sangh, and definitely, I would have been an active participant in this new but logically named organization. I am regretful to say that we don’t have the courage even to think that way.

 You have so far written over 20 books, including essays and poetry. When will we see your autobiography ?” 

 It has been part of my writing plan, and I had to write it after a novel. But about ten days ago, while a literary discussion was on between Mukesh Manas and me, we entered into a lengthy debate over autobiographies with no pre-plan. Your quarry has given wings to my flight, so I feel I must change the priority to work on the autobiography first, then the novel. Let’s see how much time it takes.

 You have often critiqued the ‘painful narrative’ of the Dalit ‘autobiographies’. What is your objection to the growing narrative of victimhood?

 I think the common motive behind writing autobiographies is to share the heights of the success that an individual has achieved by passing through rigorous struggles. It brings popularity to the individual, and autobiographies become a source of others’ inspiration. In such autobiographies, individuality dominates, but in the case of so-called Dalit autobiographies, society dominates. It is to mention firmly that the possibilities of the manipulation of facts in autobiographies are one of the significant realities which are beyond denial.

As far as Dalit autobiographies, Aatmvrita or self-statements, are concerned, I feel it necessary to state that several Dalit writers write their Aatmvritas without touching the heights of success. In such cases, there might be a pre-determined goal to achieve publicity first than to encash it through creative writings. Secondly, It is easy to record the atrocities. Apart from it, some other readymade records are already available to seek help to give a new flavour to the old contents. Perhaps such reason might be there for the publication of more Dalit autobiographies at early stage. It is another issue of contemplation as to how much they have inspired the readers.

In some Dalit autobiographies, I find the fabricated narration, and It hurts me a lot. We find some Hindi Dalit autobiographies following the trends of inviting empathy of readers. I see a lot of confusion here. In a hurry to gain popularity, some of our friends have given so much air to self-harassment. As a result, the storm couldn’t retain the lab on the bodies of men and women as wives, mothers, and sisters in the families. Some of our most learned friends of the groups have also made their family failure a tool to encash sympathy for Dalit Sahitya and got into the race for status. I feel to quote Rajendra Yadav to make it clear as “All the writings of Dalits are like a chargesheets against the Savarna, so called upper castes. One of my friends, Dr Rajesh Chauhan, sees Dalit literature as being written on the pattern of police FIRs. If we say, Dalit autobiographies/self-statements are bigger charge sheets than we have in other disciplines of this literature, it may be controversial but must not be far from wrong.

As far as I understand, the filthy mindset of non-Dalit litterateurs is also one of the primary reasons behind the boom in Dalit autobiography writing. They showered more interest in Dalit autobiographies and deliberately preferred them over other vital issues of the literature. They put up sympathy and added fuel to the fire by propagating them at various forums. But when it comes to standing together on the exploitation of Dalit litterateurs, the self-proclaimed Messiah of Dalits Rajendra Yadav takes himself back and argues that Dalits must fight their battles on the ground and Hans literature will raid from the air. He straightforwardly refused to become a part of the collective fight against evil.

I am not talking about exceptions here, but my outlook is that there is no need to hide harassment in Dalit autobiographies. In fact, instead of sensationalization of harassment, our focus should be on how intelligently we handled the issue and paved the way for new options to prevent and get rid of them in the future. We need to emphasize the content of our actions, not the methods of harassment. Suppose it makes our Dalit brothers feel that an over-assured description of harassment and more significant harassment of the oppressor will help us solve our problem. In that case, I’m afraid I have to disagree with it.

On the contrary, our war against harassment with the courage is to deal with it will energize the people of our society. It will help us move towards fighting and winning our battles on our own. We have to look for alternatives to extinguish the fire with water instead of using fire.

 How far has Ambedkarite literature or authors influenced the political culture of our country, mainly in North India? 

I don’t think Dalit literature has influenced politics from any angle. On the contrary, politics has undoubtedly influenced literature and litterateurs. We have seen literature speak the language of politics. Litterateurs have been seen running after politics and are eager to hold the crutches of any ideology to enter politics. It is not fair to name here, but we have many unexpected examples where Dalit literary personalities have surrendered to their bitter ideological rivals and cheated society. I want to share one aspect of the coin that Dalit literature itself is struggling with the ideological crisis; then, what will it guide politics?

Rawat Ji, another aspect of the same coin is that politics has no ideology. If there is an ideology that works, it is to grab power at any cost. No politics has the same ideological commitment and morality as literature ought to possess. But the literature is also not far behind in compromising on its obligations. Ideals in politics act as suitable tools for misleading the people and playing with their democratic rights. They are used to create an atmosphere. However, they do not seem to have anything to do with any reality. Even in Dalit politics, Buddha, the Blessed One and Dr Ambedkar are used as sloganeering for the emotional blackmailing of more or less innocent people, not for radical changes in society and politics by accepting their philosophy of life, which was the dream of those great men. In today’s opportunistic age, the degree of befooling innocent masses to climb the ladder of success is the key to success or failure. Everything else in politics is rhetoric, capricious and nothing more so in terms of ideology or ideals.

In any case, expecting an ideological commitment from today’s corrupt politics is a sin. Politics can accept the pursuit or guidance of literature only when society is educated, sensible, and respect human values. I don’t see anything like this possible shortly. It is clear that Dalit literature hasn’t any capacity to guide, and politics seems to have no intention to inherit values. So, in the present situation, I think the idea of a unity of Dalit literature and Dalit politics is like nailing the sky.

Vidyabhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity


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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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