Let’s talk about what Arundhati Roy doesn’t want to talk about: the ‘high-caste’ appropriation of Ambedkar. Not the appropriation that the Right has been engaging in over the last several years, clumsily saffronising him amidst mockery from the Left. I mean the fervent appropriation by the Left which, from 1970 to 2000, completely ignored Ambedkar’s work. Dozens could be implicated, be it Partha Chatterjee, Ajay Skaria, Ananya Vajpeyi, Ashwarya Kumar, S. Anand...and the list goes on...from Ganguly, Sharma, Mishra, right up to Arundhati Roy (and yes, indeed, Aakash Singh Rathore).
Why refer to this lot as appropriators rather than as comrades in agitation? Because these Jai-Bhim-come-latelys publish easily with Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, or in this case Penguin, while Dalit scholars continue to search in vain for access to high-impact presses. Because this is the lot who speak at litfests, give keynotes at conferences, who earn academic distinction and authority (and pseudo ‘street cred’), while Dalit scholars continue to struggle to be regarded as suitable for hundreds of reserved academic posts lying unfilled in Indian universities. Because this is the lot for whom the question, ‘Who are you?’—a question aggressively demanded of Ambedkar, as described in his autobiography Waiting for a Visa—has never posed any problem in terms of gaining access to transport, shelter, food or water: “I went to the toll-collector’s hut and asked him if he would give us some water. ‘Who are you?’ he inquired.... They lined up in front of my room and fired a volley of questions. ‘Who are you?’…. The Karkun contemptuously asked, ‘Who are you?’ I replied, ‘Sir, I am a Harijan.’ He said, ‘Go away, stand at a distance. How dare you stand so near me!’