Kancha Ilaiah is India’s most productive factory of paradigm shifts. Never has he written something which was not radically new. Even the most routine and well-worn topics become suddenly full of fresh discoveries and discussions and rethinking as soon as he tackles them.
Though his most famous book ‘Why I Am Not A Hindu‘? was reputed to be one of the most influential books of the century, this professor’s work is discussed by fellow academics only as antagonistic gossip. Academic after academic, always without so much as mentioning his name, fashion their line of argument against his or accommodating it in a less radical form, he remains an untouchable thinker within academia. That he has the most numerous devoted readership all across the country, probably without any parallel in the entire Indian academia and is one of the most translated political writer, doesn’t help him getting the academic stature he surely deserves. His retirement as a Professor of Political Science at Osmania University was a very low-key affair. Additionally, anybody from lower castes willing to attack him is sure to be over-celebrated. Strangely, those who devote years and all their elite world-class scholarly training to see endless virtues in Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj or Socialism in Nehru’s doings, disdain this man’s work for lacking in academic apparatus or writing in an activist register.
His crimes: he sees the construction called Hinduism as our biggest problem. He subjects the Hindu left’s record and ideas to the same kind of un-worshipful criticism as any other cultural phenomenon. He is an OBC person who asks the toughest questions about the status of Dalits.
Great men and women of ideas being deprived of the respect and celebration they deserve is not new. Very often their views were so visionary or radical or difficult to grasp that the just recognition has to wait until the required maturing of the intellectual community might take time. None of those are applicable in Kancha Ilaiah’s case. Clarity is not only the effect of his writings in the reader’s mind, it is also a striking quality of his expression. While less radical ones are respectfully quoted and included in the curriculum, something like a conspiracy is at work in sidelining him and being silent about his work.
My guess is that three distinct features of his work put off the largely upper-caste Hindu left, which has a monopolistic hold in the academic credential processes. Its typical attitude towards Hinduism is that it is to be assumed that they have already overcome it, repudiated it, as a one-off affair or an occasional gesture, though it takes the form of disowning an abstract ‘religion’ than specifically their Hinduism. As to the caste, the Hindu Left thinks, it is a separate problem, probably an incomparably more serious one. Kancha Ilaiah would have none of it, he thinks Caste and Hinduism are inseparable twins. You cannot fight one and forget the other. He also thinks and shows Hinduism is not a slogan or simple idea that you can repudiate once and relax once and for all. It is a life time work. Third and the most unforgivable thing about Ilaiah is his insistence that Hinduism always involved displacement and suppression of alternatives – world-views and peoples. However they never failed to spring up, never could be completely colonized: defeat of Hinduism is to be through the empowering of those people, lives and visions.
Now, with Hinduism having reached its fascist phase and winning the political power, Hindu-left led academia is increasingly coming under attack from the Hindu fascists through all its vehicles – formal, paramilitary and populist, it is high time the greatest intellectual warrior alive and active against Hinduism’s constitutive illiberal, inegalitarian and barbaric spirit is embraced in good faith and offered the honour of being subjected to direct criticism, confrontation as a worthy member of the academic community and his books be placed in the curriculum, before it is too late.
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