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

Dr. Rajesh Selvaraj, a professor of Tamil literature and philosophy and a translator, contemplates the significance of truth, equality, and the challenges faced by Professor Divya Dwivedi in this thought-provoking essay.
Professor Divya Dwivedi
Professor Divya Dwivedi

In the ancient Buddhist poem "Manimekalai," written in Tamil, it is said, "Even the gods are ignorant of the things that people can do." These words can be interpreted in two ways: first, that the gods cannot fathom the complexities of the human mind, and second, that they are astonished by the unethical actions people take, despite the gods' knowledge of human capabilities. These interpretations trouble me as I reflect on the disturbing threats and derogatory comments directed at Professor Divya Dwivedi. This is not the first or second time she has been subjected to harassment and abuse for fearlessly sharing her perspective, echoing the truths spoken by many great individuals over the decades.

These individuals, some hiding behind the protective veil of political power and others behind anonymous screens that shield their own fear of the truth, twist their minds to craft the most demeaning and offensive words. These words may target various speakers, but they are primarily aimed at Professor Dwivedi, showcasing the unique and dark powers of these individuals, shocking even the gods. Perhaps their nature has been overtaken by untruth, which may be invisible to the gods. I am no god, and I cannot say for certain.

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 tilts and lilts with the isai 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. I felt admiration 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. 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. 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.

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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 Dalit-Bahujan people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala including Mahatma Phule, Iothi 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, the 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 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? I am a man of oppressed people and I do not know.

But even still 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. In the words of Professor Meena Dhanda, “Divya is a bold philosopher, who has recounted with Shaj Mohan an intellectual history of a defining idea of Hinduism in a way that allows them to make explicit the work of construction that underpins it. The implication of their work is that Hinduism is not a ‘Sanatan Dharma’ and that its end can be envisaged. They also show that only a century ago the term ‘Hindu’ was not a badge of honour for many reformers.”

Divya is unambiguous, there should be an equal and just India, she said in 2019 according to the American professor Anthony Ballas, “The only relevant question today in politics is the annihilation of caste,” asking whether or not “we have the courage to make a new beginning in politics.”. Her academic contributions show that most academic currents served the Savarna interests and created 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 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. This difficulty is not unusual for any specialist field. Here I must quote what the experts have said about her in the Media Part news portal,

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“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 shared these truths instead. 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 sharing truth with everyone in a feast of truth, “We will serve all people”. Divya is already serving all people.

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Dr. Rajesh Selvaraj. The Mooknayak does not necessarily endorse or share the same viewpoints. Readers are encouraged to consider the content as the author's individual perspective and may form their own interpretations and conclusions.

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