Who Can Have Quarrel with the Feast of Truth: On Divya Dwivedi

Divya Dwivedi

Manimekalai, the ancient Buddhist poem written in Tamil says “Even the gods are ignorant of the things that people can do”. There are two interpretations of these words. The first one is that the gods are incapable of knowing the turns that the human mind can take and the second one is that they are surprised by the unethical turns of action that people resort to although the gods know very well that these are human powers. These are the two questions that are now haunting me as I think of the unthinkable threats and comments being made against Professor Divya Dwivedi. This is not even the first or second time that she has been harassed and abused for sharing the courage of her heart through the telling of a truth that has been told over and over by many great people over decades.

Are these men easily acting this way, the way they walk, eat, sleep is the same way they harass and threaten the woman who speaks the truth? Are these men, some who are hidden behind the transparent protection of political power and some behind anonymous black screen that collects the condensation of their own fear of truth, who contort their minds to come up with the worst of words which demean their speakers, but aimed at the professor, parading their unique and dark powers, shocking even the gods? May be their natures have been taken over by untruth. May be untruth is what is not visible to the gods. I am no god and I do not know.

But these questions weigh down on me as I compose these words, an apology and elegy for that for which the professor stands. My pen does not know the sharp and defined turns of language that the elite readers of The Wire are adept at tackling, instead my pen tilts and lilts with the isai and eenam of Tamil, and I ask for forgiveness for this transgression in this language.

I never met Divya Dwivedi, the professor, Divya my sister of equality, we never even spoke on the phone. But I translated a long article written by her with Shaj Mohan and J. Reghu, published in the Caravan magazine, that many now consider to be the manifesto of a new politics of equality titled “The Hindu Hoax: How upper castes invented a Hindu majority”. My translation became a little book published by Suvadu publications, Chennai. Since then it went through over six reprints. I felt admiration clawed at by a nagging worry as I watched her speak the truth of the essay I translated, this time on a French TV network called France24. She did not add anything new but spoke those truths with more directness and I worried as I watched her refuse the French journalist’s efforts to make her comment in the framework set by the ruling party, which is something like India Shining 2.0.

Then, many friends and I watched in horror as her name began to trend in social media and threats being thrown like chaff and dust into the wind, while her words were being distorted and mutilated to mislead the people by the far right media. Then, I consoled myself with the assumption that my sister the professor is living in Delhi where the media and the intellectuals usually debunk fake news, clarify contexts, defend theses and protect one another. It has been a few weeks since then, and nothing, nothing was spoken in defence of sister Divya anywhere except by the great writers and artists of Kerala. But that is Kerala. So, I have to speak now and learn to speak well enough for the world to the north of my world where I have to send these rounded circling spiralling words forged in the inimai of Tamil, where, upon reaching they may turn sour and bitter.

I have the task now to show what it is of sister Divya that rattles and riddles the Savarna groups and stuns into silence our liberal brothers and sisters up north. I want to tell them that Manimekalai asks us to “Be rid of all hatred and have a good sense of love, compassion and doing good deeds”. But that step comes after the sharing of truth. I speculate here that truth and untruth are not yet distinguished by my Savarna fraternity, not yet.

 The academic works of Divya on caste—especially the long article “The Evasive Racism of Caste—and the Homological Power of the “Aryan” Doctrine”—and the research publications for the public by her on caste oppression are more than enough to understand the theological, biological, and linguistic bases of caste discrimination and oppression in the modern period. Divya’s premises are not new at all, as she has repeatedly said, she belongs to a tradition of anti-caste thinkers who are the everyday reference for the Bahujan people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala including Mahatma Phule, Ayothi Thassar, the great Ayyankali, Periyar, Narayana Guru, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Dr Ambedkar, as she too does, many of these great thinkers did not accept the validity of the newly created Hinduism. After all, he father of the constitution had called everyone to “renounce Hinduism which is harmful to humanity and hinders the progress and development of humanity because it is based on inequality”. In the northern cities these names of the thinkers of equality and justice must have their comrades such as the great Bhagat Singh. Yet, these are not given the prestige of temples, statues, street names, museums and books that children carry to their schools. Is it that these names are feared? Or is it that they are unspeakable as in untouchable? Or, is it that these names are heard as the incantations to the forgotten and entombed gods of an older world, as was the world of the great Buddha, who may return again to favour us with an equal world? Or are they afraid of the goodness of revolution Shaj Mohan wrote about, “Revolution implies this: We must go beyond ‘resistance’ to struggle for people, without exception”. I am a man of oppressed people and I do not know.

But even still my sister Divya stands at a distance in time, of several decades and generations from those names, and therefore she is of course saying something new about these hours of our nation, and for the coming hours of our nation. What she brings as new in political discussion is this: She shows the real dividing line in politics which is between the false games of Hindu vs Hindutva, Hindu majority vs religious minorities on the one hand, and on the other hand the real quest for equality by the real majority who are the oppressed castes of India caught in the religious and social orders of the Savarna minority. She is unambiguous, there should be an equal and just India. Her academic contributions show that most academic currents served the Savarna interests and created exclusively Savarna histories of India. Divya has also written philosophical investigative reports on the effects of Indian caste system, she says it is “Aryan doctrine”, on the rest of the world.

One of the reasons why Divya is opposed by the people caught in the web of deceit of the far right and at the same time excluded by the liberal left social sphere (here I struggle to speculate on a world unknown and unknowable to me) is that she does not speak the language of their traditions in both her public and academic writings. The other reason is very important also, she is a philosopher whose academic works are very difficult to follow without some familiarity with the specialised fields in which she works including deconstruction, formal linguistics, narratology, and ontology. But this difficulty is not unusual for any specialist field. I am a specialist of Tamil literature and philosophy, and I do not know these fields of her expertise myself. Here I must quote what the experts have said about her in the Media Part news portal,

            “Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan are among the world’s most important contemporary philosophers. Dwivedi and Mohan have developed their thought beyond the “western” concept of philosophy, within a community of friendship with Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, Achille Mbembe, and Barbara Cassin. Their project with Jean-Luc Nancy is to find a new beginning for philosophy beyond the geo-politicised and “racialised” histories of philosophy.”

But not knowing in this case is not an excuse to let my sister stand without defence, especially the defence of the reeds of words stuck together to make her shield and armour against the thorns of scornful untruths of the slanderers.

If my sister did not speak in a clear language understandable by anybody she would not have faced all these fake news attacks, vitriol, and threats. Divya could have kept these truths of her research findings hidden in the academic and philosophical technicalities of alienating language. She did not hide the truths. She shared them. She never said she shared them like a politician shares his power with some people making a circle of power for himself. She said once, “I am a servant of the lower caste majority position” and she serves truth like a feast.

Truth is not something you hide like diamond heirlooms kept in the darkness of iron safes by the rich people, to be handed over to the next of generation in the dark of the night, and then only to be returned back into the darkness of the safe for another generation. This is how Brahminical rituals and chanting were handled and handed over, trained into and transmitted, and that is why they were the untruth.

Truth is not your wealth, truth is not the heirloom of the “inherited communities” as Divya wrote. Truth must be shared like a feast among equals. She is sharing the truth of Phule, Narayana Guru, Periyar, Ambedkar and many others, and the truths of her research by speaking with courage in public. My sister Divya is guilty only of this, of calling out to everyone to join the feast of truth as equals among equals, as only through this sharing caring feasting, discarding the “pure vegetarianism” of untruth, that can we become free and therefore equals. Who can have quarrel with the feast of truth!

The lesson of Manimekalai is also this, by searching and finding truth to share with everyone, in a feast of truth, “We will serve all people”. Divya is already serving the people. But what about you?

Dr. Rajesh Selvaraj is a professor of Tamil literature and philosophy and a translator.

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