The Supreme Court of India Refuses to Ban Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s Book
October 23, 2017
The Supreme Court of India refused to ban Samajika Smugglerlu Komatollu (Komatollu are Social Smugglers), a book by renowned dalit scholar Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd. Lawyer K V Veeranjaneyalu had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) asking the court to ban this book. The PIL argued that the book is demeaning and propagates hatred for a certain caste group. A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud rejected this PIL. The judgement stated that every author has a right to write whatever she/he wants. The bench referring to the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression stated, “we do not think that it would be appropriate under Article 32 of the Constitution of India that this Court should ban the book/books.”
Samajika Smugglerlu Komatollu is an analysis of the history of economic exploitation in India. Komatollu or Arya Vysya is a trading caste in the Hindu caste hierarchy. Historically, the Komatollu have had control over the local market and continue to have a monopoly over trading in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions. Speaking to The Wire, Kancha Ilaih Shepherd explains the concept of social smuggling that he coined in his book Post-Hindu India. Exploitation, Ilaiah explains, is being understood the way it has been understood in the western discourse; exploitation has a different historicity in India. The social and economic exploitations in the country are symbiotic. An understanding of economic exploitation without considering this symbiotic relationship does not yield a holistic understanding of the nature of economic exploitation in the country.
The trading castes in India occupy a higher status in the caste hierarchy set by the Hindu varna system. This, Ilaiah notes, also gave them an access to temples which are historically sites of wealth and gold. By adhering to notions of purity and pollution prescribed by the caste system, the trading castes exploits the lower castes. Hence, accumulation of wealth by Komatollu cannot be seen in isolation. The caste has amassed economic power through its monopoly on trading and the social privileges adorned by the caste hierarchy. In this respect, Samajika Smugglerlu Komatollu is an analysis of exploitation in India.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd was attacked by the Arya Vysya community leaders and members. He has received death threats by many. Venkatesh, MP and a prominent leader of the Arya Vysya community addressed a conference organised by the community. The MP is reported to have said that Ilaih should be hanged.
The outrage against this book in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana demonstrates the very functioning of the caste system that Kancha Ilaiah is discussing in the book. The criticisms of this book including that of Venkatesh state that, Ilaiah is trying to divide people based on caste. This is not a new argument. We have heard this even in the debates around reservations. It is argued that reservation and the concept of social justice causes caste divisions, while reservation aims in bridging the social, political and economic divide created by the caste system; and Ilaiah’s book to critically examine the divisions that the caste system has created.
This Judgement can been seen as a ray of hope for the rights of freedom of expression and speech. Censorship of writers, journalists, activists, artists and citizens who are not in agreement with this government is becoming a norm. During these times of attacks and killings of the dissenting voices, this judgement is reassuring for those who are struggling to safeguard the democratic rights granted by the Constitution of India.
Also read:Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.
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