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Letter Leaks – Author Ananya Vajpeyi Secretly Tried to Get Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ introduced by Arundhati Roy Banned

We’ve got that e-mail.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

The Delhi Walla is in possession of a most explosive e-mail concerning author and academic Ananya Vajpeyi – she attacks author Arundhati Roy, but secretly, slyly.

Ms Vajpeyi is the Delhi-based author of Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations Of Modern India. Ms Roy is a Delhi-based writer whose works are followed by millions of readers worldwide including myself.

In March 2014, Ms Roy published The Doctor and the Saint, a long introduction to anti-caste leader Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s iconic essay The Annihilation of Caste. Next, author Akshay Pathak criticised Ms Roy’s essay on a public website in unusually harsh words. Next, Ms Vajpayei sent a confidential e-mail to Mr Pathak in which she tipped him on legal ways to ban Ms Roy’s essay. (It so happens that Ms Vajpeyi is herself working on a book on Dr Ambedkar.)

That mail by Ms Vajpeyi to Mr Pathak has somehow found its way to many inboxes in the capital, producing much outrage. It is reproduced below.

Academic Ananya Vajpeyi’s e-mail to author Akshay Pathak

On Sat, Mar 8, 2014 at 10:23 AM, Ananya Vajpeyi> wrote:

dear akshay,
i seem to have gotten on your mailing list somehow. have we met? Do we know one another? please forgive me for forgetting if we have, and remind me where and when it was.

i haven’t followed other aspects of your writing, but ambedkar is a subject of interest to me, so i did read your post on roundtable india that you passed along.

one of the things not known to many people is that the writings of phule and ambedkar are controlled and managed by an especially constituted committee with an office in mumbai. it is this committee that has brought out some 22 volumes of ambedkar’s selected works over the years. It was originally headed by the distinguished ambedkar scholar, the late vasant moon, and it has a statutory status in the government of maharashtra, department of education. it basically has all the source materials — the published and unpublished corpus of phule and ambedkar — and is responsible for bringing these out in published form at a low price affordable for a wide cross-section of readers. you may have seen the blue and white hardbound volumes of ambedkar’s selected writings produced by this committee.

it is my understanding that without explicit prior permission from this committee, no work by ambedkar may be annotated, edited (critically or otherwise), and published for profit in the public domain by any writer, editor or publisher. if anyone does so, it a violation of copyright and may attract — in fact should attract — legal action.

while most of ambedkar’s writings circulate freely on the Internet, and have circulated in print form inside the Dalit movement even before the Internet made it so easy for text to travel, the legal standing of the committee with respect to ambedkar’s works, and its right to decide what happens to those materials, is not to my knowledge in any kind of danger or dispute.

the new volume you have discussed in your article does not appear to have been prepared with the requisite prior permission of the committee. if it has, then no such permission is explicitly mentioned, nor is there any mention of who owns copyright of the original work, annihilation of caste.

to my mind, this sort of a publication is provocative because it invites legal action from the committee, but knowing full well that it would likely only benefit the book in terms of publicity and sales were such an action to be taken. at that point arguments like “ambedkar is bigger than someone or other’s copyright” and “ambedkar belongs to us all” would probably be made with much self-righteous defiance.

but the truth of the matter is, without a stable, consistent, and carefully tended corpus of source materials, not just of ambedkar’s writings but those of so many others, like gandhi, nehru, tagore and countless historically important figures, and without some checks on who can publish what and add what notes and make what editorial decisions, scholarly and historiographical work completely loses any kind of verifiable objective basis.

ambedkar is doubtless important for us all, but his works are not a free-for-all. a person who is a publisher not a scholar, and a writer who is an essayist and novelist not a scholar, arguably have little standing or authority to first of all take as their own, and then substantially meddle with, a text like annihilation of caste. without the copyright-owning committee’s express permission, their claim to be putting forth “an annotated critical edition” is further disqualified.

i am telling you this in confidence and not in a public forum because you seem to have a genuine concern for the way in which ambedkar gets appropriated and represented. i myself work on ambedkar, and so have no desire or intention to engage with other people’s illegalities and self-promotion. when i am ready with my book, it will contain everything substantive i have to argue about ambedkar’s life, work and importance to us as a nation. but perhaps you could alert activist and ideologue friends in this field that this book that you and they are so exercised about has legal and procedural issues besides having the discursive and political problems that you have so ably alluded to in your article.

let me emphasize that this is a private email to you. i have only a cursory though civil acquaintance with arundhati roy, whose writings, like you, i have followed and admired for many years. in my view, she could have published an essay on gandhi and ambedkar as a standalone long essay or short book without attaching it to an illegal edition of annihilation of caste, but i suppose she knew what she was doing and had her reasons.

in any case, the particulars of which book, which writings of ambedkar etc., and these individuals who have brought out the volume in question, are of no importance in and of themselves. the concern is that if anyone gets up and impugns the phule-ambedkar source material publication committee, genuine scholarship is going to become harder and harder to do, and the public will be distracted and confused by all kinds of jumped-up versions of texts that we really ought to treat with the greatest respect and seriousness.

better that ambedkar’s own words, un-annotated and un-edited, circulate for free or for next to no cost, without anyone pretending to promote, champion, better, or interpret them (and this has gone on now for decades, just fine), than that we have this elaborate mechanism for verification and authorization which is then openly flouted and circumvented because someone is in a hurry or imagines that he/she knows better.

besides my book, righteous republic: the political foundations of modern india (HUP 2012) which you may have seen, i have been writing on ambedkar and gandhi more or less consistently for the past few years, here is just a very select sample —

Unfinished Symphony

i have a piece forthcoming in the EPW within the month.

i hope we can be in communication on this and other matters of mutual interest. since i don’t know you at all, i’d be grateful if we kept our emails between us. maybe we get to meet soon. i live in delhi, and work at a place called CSDS. you might know my husband, he’s a journalist and writer and his name is basharat peer.

best wishes,

It’s Ambedkar’s fault, of course

30 thoughts on “Letter Leaks – Author Ananya Vajpeyi Secretly Tried to Get Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ introduced by Arundhati Roy Banned

  1. Existential question for the day: A tree falls in the forest. Has it really fallen if one opinion-maker doesn’t annotate it; another academic doesn’t try and get it banned; yet another academic doesn’t forward the whole e-mail chain all around; and the Delhi intellectual hoighty-toighty doesn’t jump up and down in outrage for the next week?

    Bonus Question: How many slimy people can you spot in this narrative?

    1. I think the entire Delhi intellectual clique is sick and unscrupulous. How disgraceful of this website and all the journalists who are circulating a private email exchange and making a trivial matter public! Slimeballs, sadists and voyeurs all of them. Yuck.

    2. OMG Aarti such a perceptive comment. Readers like you and me are here reading this out of purely good intentions no? We are not voyeurs and sadists at all, you especially.

  2. Website administrator: This is too vile a comment to be published, even if it’s excerpted from an authentic email.

  3. The Righteous Republic – a short, non-copyrighted downloadable review.

    “The Union of India’s power elites have been good at playing and securing futures. They sense the depressed castes rising. Positioning themselves are dispassionate interpreters of the lives and philosophies of those with whom the elites share no experiential commonality can be a challenge. The stakes are high and the imagined pay-offs even higher – like a raft in a turbulent ocean. However, coopting this storm won’t be easy. It has not been easy till now. But it is worth trying. Or so it seems. “

  4. It is interesting that Ananya Vajpeyi sought out Akshay Pathak and not any of the many Dalit writers at Roundtable etc who have also been making reasoned, valid criticisms of Roy’s introduction. It is also interesting that people are now attacking Saba Naqvi for the forwarded email as well as the “Brahmanical” comment, but the person who presumably first leaked a private mail goes unexamined.

    Ah, the slimy backstabbing ways of the cultural elite. So charming.

  5. All I can say is that every one of the people who has passed around these emails is culpable in some way. Every one of them is trying to pull someone else down. this is so utterly depressing. no idea how this wound up on my fb page, as know none of the names (apart from arundhati roy, of course!), but I wish like hell it had not, or I wish like hell I had not clicked on it. 🙁

  6. A fb comment i saw which was spot on “These Brahmins understand Copyright so well, having for generations sat with their big bellies on top of texts and their so-called knowledge…the prospect of knowledge circulating freely and becoming more radical with each repetition is so horrifying, they would rather that the world upheld Brahimincal-Copyrighting so that now they can ‘objectively’ tell us what to think of Ambedkar.” People like ananya vajpayee should know better than that when they seek out brahmin brothers on the sly, who’s posts on fb indicate a self aggrandising brahmin bashing breast beating which goes on in an attempt to prooving his own radicalness , by bashing everyone in a deeply reductive polemics. From akshay pathak’s comments on fb and the persistent viciousness against Roy till date in all his posts , whatever one’s views on roy’s introduction, there was an envious fascination and a need to put down another brahmin woman who could beat him in an almost flawlessly penned essay out of his own deep narcisstic egoism so perversly evident in his posts like ” she should have take note of what ” i ” said , yet she continues …” – the egoism in this is brilliant, she should take note of what he says and not the score of dalit writers engaging on this subject ! .He loves to take on everyone in a fb created fiefdom , including people who’ve done far more work than him on ground, than sit in pondicherry next to auroville farm bashing delhi elites – very proletariat neigbourhood , i must say 🙂 🙂 And then comes Ms Vajpayee, who sensing all this , chooses to think of him as a natural ally ( ego and ambition are always fodder for the sly ) , writes secret mails to him, but for oncethe tables are turned around and backstabbing happens!! Vade log, Vadi baatein !!!

    1. There is a Brahmanical attempt to discredit Suzanne DhotyRoy’s intro to Dr. Ambedkar’s Annhilation of Caste. It becomes Brahminical because Vajpeyi is a Brahmin surname, and Ms. Vajpeyi might likely have been born a Brahmin. So Ms. Naqvi is behaving like a casteist bigot of the highest order because she is describing an act of Ms Vajpeyi as Brahminical without having any personal knowledge of Ms. Vajpeyi.

      Ambedkarji up there might be shedding tears if this is the level of intellectual discourse that the current intellectual elites of Delhi have managed to achieve in the last 60 odd years.

      Each one of those “intellectuals” in that email and that post are some of the slimiest tutiyas you will ever find in India.

  7. Whole delhi intellectual/liberal/civil rights activists circle is full of begots or wana be bigots.thats why delhi needs an outsider like modi to clean it completely off bigots.

    1. In response to your comment:”There is a Brahmanical attempt to discredit Suzanne DhotyRoy’s intro to Dr. Ambedkar’s Annhilation of Caste. It becomes Brahminical because Vajpeyi is a Brahmin surname, and Ms. Vajpeyi might likely have been born a Brahmin.” Interestingly, Ananya Vajpeyi states that she is married to Basharat Peer, who bleeds for Muslim Kashmiris but not for Kashmiri Pandits (who have been expelled en masse from Kashmir by a violent segment of Kashmiri Muslims aided by terrorists invited from other countries).

      Vajpeyi has a Brahmin name. Peer has a Muslim name. Can Vajpeyi be accused of a “Brahmanical attempt”?

  8. An Open Letter re: my recent secret emails to Indian journalists, publishers, intellectuals and basically just about everyone else whose email I have.

    By Banana Bajpai

    Dear all,

    I probably haven’t met you all, in fact I’m sure of it, because – let’s face it – my life is vastly superior to yours. You may know my husband, the acclaimed journalist and writer Basharat Peer. You may also know my acclaimed book, Prettiest Pubic: The Perverse Foundations of Modern Bharat (Harvard University Press 2012), which has been hailed by several people with functioning minds, as well as Mohandas Pai.

    Sometimes down there, where you live, you may wonder what it is like up here in the rarefied circles we move in. Let me tell you it’s no cakewalk: you have no idea how much sucking up we have to do on a daily basis just to keep our spots at the summit. You may think our lives are an endless merry-go around of dum-aloo and Dom Pérignon and reclining seats in the Jaipur-London-Manhattan whirl but let me tell you something: slithering up the Oxbridge–Ivy League pole is bloody hard work. Do you know how difficult it is to plow through every book Will and Namita have ever produced – and by God do they produce them – and then compose cloying paeans of praise? Do you know how agile I have to be to willfully suppress all knowledge of PBM’s ideological flip-flops in our frequent chit-chats? Do you know how difficult it is to feign a deep interest in colonial Bengali peasantry in order to get Partha-da to launch my every stray essay with a press conference? Do you know what a stretch it is for me, back at the office, to indulge Ashish-da and Rajeev for hours on end about constitutional ethics in the 1950s or whatever without knocking their lights out with a heavy ashtray? No. You don’t.

    It’s just exhausting.

    La vie en rose. Les roses sont rouges, les violettes sont bleue. Au revoir les enfants. These are a few random sentences in French. Why are they here? Who knows? I’ll tell you. It’s my cute little way of letting you know I am your last hope. A gentle reminder that the only way we will ever create a “stable, standard corpus” of Ambedkar’s work is me. In short, should any Brahmin other than this Brahmin ever utter so much as a word about Ambedkar again, I shall hunt you down and eliminate you. Or send you an insane 6300-word email, which is roughly the same thing.

    Anyway, as to the point of this open letter. I am penning my thoughts for all you people in order to set a few things straight. You think that THESE emails establish the dog-eat-dog nature of intellectual life in Delhi? Lulz. These emails are like fucking teatime compared with what goes on in my Inbox on any given day. “But my dear Banana” some friends have said, “given your extensive and groundbreaking work on defending free speech in this country, in this region, and indeed all over the world, isn’t it a bit of a contradiction for you to try and get this book banned?” Principles-shinciples, blah blah blah. Seriously? WTF. Do you really think I got where I am by being NICE? Get with the programme little people. Guess who you are talking about right now? ME. Guess whose significant prize-winning book you are going to run out and buy right now even if just out of morbid curiosity? MINE. That’s right suckerzz.

    In other words, this too will pass. I shall still triumph. You will all be reading my every passing thought in newspapers, magazines and scholarly books produced by leading American university presses for the eternity to come. I am your nation’s intellectual sweetheart, and you had better get used to it my homies bcoz this little sweetie-pie ain’t going nowhere.

    Oh and did I mention that you may know my husband, the acclaimed journalist and writer Basharat Peer?

    Ever yrs, etc.

  9. The focus on Ananya being a Brahmin (forgetting for the moment that Anand is a Brahmin as well) and on her making her point in a private email are wholly irrelevant to the debate. The main points she makes are first, that Arundhati should have published her essay on Ambedkar and Gandhi independently rather than as part of Navayana’s unauthorised appropriation of Ambedkar; and secondly that writings of historical figures are not a free for all but in the interest of readers should be published under the editorship of recognised scholars to retain their authenticity. No authentic scholar or serious reader would take exception to such an assertion. The issues of legality and copyright are only technical aspects of this broad substantive objection.

    1. 1.) Unauthorized appropriation

      2.) writings of historical figures are not a free for all

      3.) but in the interest of readers should be published under the editorship of recognised scholars to retain their authenticity

      Okay, there is something you forgot in your painfully erudite comment. AOC is not a “scholarly text,” whatever that is supposed to to be. It was a speech intended for regular people. Besides, is it true that only scholars can engage with complex treatises? If you are unaware of the number of instances in history where writers engaged with social issues masterfully, then perhaps you are merely politically vacuous.

      In addition, you don’t seem to understand why historical texts are necessary. Texts are written to be engaged with. If a visionary speech just gathers dust in a long-forgotten department, then are we really doing it justice? Scholars alone shouldn’t engage with the texts, because they principally write for other scholars or some other select group of people. And it’s no secret that academic prose is typically unattractive to the larger public, even if most of them would understand it.

      On the last point, please employ you skills to write a critical review of Arundhati Roy’s essay, as there hasn’t been any so far – not on the essay at least; just on who she is. There you can point out how she, a non-academic, got it wrong.

      For my part, I am glad this email was revealed. It showed how people missed the bigger picture of fighting against caste and focused merely on who can write on whom. If someone criticized Roy on her facts, inferences etc., then a debate can begin.

    2. Look who is delivering pravachans on starting a debate and engaging with the essay. One, you pull off a spectacular marketing stunt by misusing a prominent text, and in the process bringing down Roy’s credibility by several notches. Then, you resort to lying and spreading rumors about criticizing publics – about some obscure SMS and dramatically calling off the book release function, and going to the town calling Dalit activists all kinds of names, including “radical”, “intolerant”, “stagnant”, “social media clicktivists” etc. Now, you leak an email sent to you in good faith to summarily divert the debate and settle personal scores. Cheap is the word for you!

    3. @IKnowWhoDidThis

      Most people in India have no knowledge of AOC and as a result miss out on Ambedkar’s incisive insights. It is by no means a “prominent text.”

      Secondly, you should perhaps stop using “you” when making accusations, and consider whether you have reasonable proof to accuse anybody of anything.

      Also, Roy and the publisher are not doing this for money. I see this charge constantly leveled at the Navayana release. You really have no idea how relatively little revenue books sales generate? You seem to think its close to what movies or mass-fiction paperbacks pull in, with or without controversy. So please check how much non-fiction books make in India and then comment.

      Even if you don’t like Roy’s involvement, please stop making it so blatant that all your arguments are based on assumptions.

    4. @Anonymous

      That very lordly attitude that AOC is not a prominent text, and somehow Navayana and Roy ought to take it upon themselves to resurrect it, is precisely what has come under scrutiny by both Dalit activists and prominent scholars in the field of Caste and Ambedkar studies. The downside of this misadventure is that it reifies a text that has deep routes in the political struggles of anti-caste publics, prominently the Dalits. The Navayana volume is more like a pop-cultural toy, displacing the history and context of the original text, as Roy and the publisher seem to accept when they argue that the book is intended at apolitical softies who’d like to buy 200 dollar handbags called Brahman. In spite of Ananya’s vile professional ego, she does have a point when she asks for the veracity of this project. The irony perhaps is that a full fledged/full time critique of the text is underway – both online and offline – but no one seems to take a note of it, definitely not the righteously indignant Saba Naqvi ji and others.

      Secondly, even though I can’t furnish figures, the ‘relative income’ generated by this volume must definitely exceed Navayana’s earlier ventures, and hence the comparision is with the precedents of the same publisher, and not, say, Half Girlfriend. And marketing stunts are not always about money. They are also about gaining professional credibility and visibility in the slimy corridors of publishing industry. If you are going to argue that a publisher has the right to make himself and his project visible, I’d agree with you. To use a text, illegal it seems, which has been hitherto preserved,guarded,translated and popularized by self-publishing Dalit movements, to serve such self-serving publicity ventures does not sit well with me. Its distasteful at best and unethical at worst.

      And the shadow boxing that is underway on this forum is nauseating!

    5. Thank you for stating your position so cleanly. It stands in stark contrast to the poorly-articulated hate pieces that dalits have been writing since the book came out.

      When I said AOC was not a prominent text, I wasn’t downplaying its importance, but only wanted to point out how little it is known to people besides dalits, academics and a few upper-caste circles. This, however, does not mean that we need Roy or anybody else has to introduce or “resurrect” the text. Roy is a polemicist. She tries to raise awareness about urgent social issues using her pen. And the majority of the more well-read masses are pitifully unaware of the festering problem of caste. If revolutionary views of Ambedkar were really more commonly known, perhaps caste wouldn’t be such a debilitating disease as it is today. I only say this because most upper-caste people I know believe caste barriers no longer exist for those lower down the social ladder. Nor are they aware of the number of crimes committed along caste lines everyday.

      The books is intended for the creamy layer and the burgeoning middle class beneath it, as their ignorance only pushes the issue of caste further away from the mainstream. As Ambedkar rightly said, we need social change before any kind of political change. And he also said that caste harms the privileged as well as the dispossessed. Is dalits and other oppressed groups knowing about the insidiousness of caste enough to create wide-spread social change? Shouldn’t the millions of privileged youth graduating every year, most of them blissfully unaware of this stiffing social hierarchy, know about it too?

      I think this is what Roy intended. And about the publisher gaining credibility, I think it could have been achieved even if Roy hadn’t introduced the text. I think he asked Roy to write it to make sure the text reached a wider mass, both nationally and internationally. And yes, gain more revenues as well. Perhaps this might support him in publishing more anti-caste books in the future. Another recurring complaint is about the price of the book, which many claim is proof of the publisher’s exploitative intentions. Considering that the target population can afford the book easily and Navayana is a just small publisher, I think the price is justified.

      Regarding what you said about a full-fledged critique being underway, I have read many of the pieces on the issue on Dalitcamera. None of them succeed in successfully criticizing Roy or her introduction. Their writings are littered with words like lies, tricks, Brahminical, etc., They seem to merely write for themselves and for those who agree with their views without the need for either reason or proof.

      For instance, this is what Akshay Pathak wrote:

      “Read the introduction and critique the essay is what one would be told. The rule of the neo-brahmin: Blame or question the shastra not the shastri? Where have we heard that before?”

      This is moronic. Roy isn’t the stereotype Brahmin. She replied to Dalit Camera when asked questions that made sense. If someone did criticize the essay, she has to reply. Pathak, on the other hand, just made a lot of vague presumptions of Roy’s intentions, going to the extent of saying that she must have have thought she is representing Dalits in writing the introduction, when Roy makes it clear on the onset who she is and what her caste is.

      This is just my opinion, and I maybe wrong. Do provide link to a good review if you know of it.

  10. Look under the word ‘brahminical’ and you will find a hard-core hindu hating bigot wearing secular clothes.

  11. Mayank Austen Soofi,
    You really have fallen from grace. I used to like your blog but you have reduced it to a gossip corner of the characters from saas bahu tv soap operas. My sincere condolences.

    Spot on. Thanks for simplifying for all these idiots who have been circulating these private emails.

  12. Guys and gals (or, Gals and guys): instead of making a mountain out of a depression, spend your time learning to solving an ordinary differential equation or two. You just might become productive then!

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