It’s hard to imagine B.R. Ambedkar as a person who loved to paint and cook, who tried to play the piano. The man who headed the committee that drafted the Constitution and took an unfailingly uncompromising stand on the dignity of the individual felt the immense stress of the task he had undertaken. These are the little details that emerge from a new biography, A Part Apart, by Ashok Gopal, who speaks to multimedia artist Anurag Minus Verma for our cover this week. Ambedkar’s deep love for learning, reading and books and his understanding of its role in discovering oneself comes though and forms the idea underlying our cover spread on the new voices of Dalit expression, to mark Dalit History Month.
While Anurag discusses critical thinking and Ambedkar’s core ideas with Gopal, Dalit feminist writers Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Meena Kandasamy talk about the language of activism and taking caste to global platforms, something Ambedkar started as a student in New York in the 1910s. Dalit publisher and writer Yogesh Maitreya, who has just published his memoir, explains why it is imperative for Dalits to write their own history. Rahee Punyashloka’s art (also to be found on Instagram @artedkar) reiterates this point that Dalits engaging in knowledge creation is a step to documenting their existence.
It may seem frivolous to speak of “the life of the mind”, as Maitreya describes being a writer, when almost every other day, there is a social media post or a headline about caste violence. Overt violence is not the only form discrimination takes. Exclusion from learning means Dalits are written out of everyday existence and have no means to express their lived experience. The writers and creators who are part of our cover are the ones trying to create what Ursula K. Le Guin describes as “a middle ground between defense and attack, a ground of flexible resistance”. This is not an easy space to inhabit, as their stories reveal.
Among the other stories not to be missed in this issue are Neha Sinha’s comment on the new tiger census figures, and a visit to Bihar’s beautiful museums, which keep a record of the state’s near-forgotten Buddhist history.
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