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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 1 New Delhi December 22, 2018 [Annual Number]

The Way to Understand Kancha Ilaiah’s Works

Sunday 23 December 2018

by Bheenaveni Ram Shepherd

The meeting of the Delhi University Standing Committee for Academic Affairs was held on October 24, 2018 and it has recommended dropping edification of three books at the post-graduate level. And, those books have been in the MA Political Science’s syllabi for the past few years. The three books are: Why I am not a Hindu?—A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy; God as Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahmanism; and ‘Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution. Quite surprisingly, these three books are contributed by one author —Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, who is one among the widely cited and acknowledged intellectuals of India. Further, a member of that Committee argued that “Ilaiah’s understanding of the Hindu faith is wrong and there is no empirical data to establish his understanding;1 therefore, his works be removed from the university curricula. They also posed rhetorical and vogue contestations vis-à-vis citation and references to denigrate those works. It shows their under-training of methodology adopted by the social scientists and philosophers.

According to almost all research methodology books, research has three aims, namely, (1) Exploration, (2) Descriptive and (3) Explanatory.2 Based on these aims, a researcher will develop his/her research design. If one goes by explo-ration as an aim, the design will be known as exploratory or formulative. If it intends to be descriptive, it will be Descriptive Research Design and to draw the cause and effect relationship by conducting experimentation(s), one usually adopts Experimental Research Design. The very purpose of Exploratory Research is to formulate hypothesis only. And, this design exists when no relevant literature is available. In fact, no citation and reference is required for this kind of research process. The research questions are more imperative for it. It is noteworthy that the results or findings of the exploratory design are not to be generalised and those can be further verified by descriptive or experimental researches. However, to quote Philip Kotler, the Father of Management, “The objective of exploratory research is to gather preliminary information that will help define problems and suggest hypotheses.”3

The objective of descriptive research is to describe the characteristics of various aspects of the research phenomenon. Hypotheses are essential to experimental researches. For instance, if one wants to adopt exploratory research design, he/she is supposed to start his/her research with research question(s). For questioning, one may refer to earlier works or may not but research question must be logically constructed and it should also be verifiable by other scholars. Such research question comes from contem-plation, if it is aware by oneself, it transforms into an idea and the explained idea is a concept. And, a combination of several concepts is nothing but construct. The construct offers state-ments. In case of exploratory research design, these statements are called research questions while those are hypotheses in terms of experimental research design. The interesting fact is that formulation of a hypothesis depends on earlier research studies; hence, review of literature is a must and thereby, citation and references come into the picture.

The fact is that Kancha Ilaiah has used exploratory research design for his two books, namely, Why I am not a Hindu? and Post-Hindu India. That’s why no citation and reference mentions them. His Ph.D work, published under the title of ‘God as a Political Philosopher’, is having a lot of citations and references and its adopted methodology comes under the Descriptive Research Design. With this connotation, one can consider that the findings of Why I am not a Hindu? and Post-Hindu India are merely tentative statements. Moreover, according to thumb rules of research methodology, those are not absolute realities. It is also inevitable that upcoming research scholars would have to prove or disprove those hypotheses. Both possibilities are there to examine the social reality but truth will ultimately exist and remain in forthcoming research works. Two cannot be truths but only one. Whether Ilaiah is a Hindu or not and Post-Hindu India takes place or not.

Why I am not a Hindu? is not merely a personal question that Ilaiah raised in 1996. He became an internationally known intellectual figure, and that book was a best-seller for that year. It was listed as a millennium book by the leading Delhi based-English daily The Pioneer and has been translated into several languages, including French. Later, it was also chosen for the London Institute of South Asia (LISA) Book Award-2008. Ilaiah’s Why I am Not a Hindu?, a religio-philosophical text, that is at the same time an unusual contribution in the Indian literary ethos, has been compared with Frantz Fanon’s classic, The Wretched of the Earth. When Ilaiah published his book, which has no footnotes or references, his own colleagues and friends at Osmania University ridiculed him for writing it. Unlike other critiques of Hinduism, Ilaiah has gone to the root of the problem of production, labour, and the relationship between the divine agencies that Hinduism constructed historically and the socio-spiritual culture of the masses. This much attention was drawn by that book. Now researchers can compare Ilaiah’s Why I am not a Hindu? with Russell’s Why I am not a Christian. In case this classic work has not produced or been referred to by the universities and academic circles, how can one compare religious realities in order to advance theological epistemology and establish an egalitarian society?

For instance, when Shashi Tharoor wanted to disprove and demystify Ilaiah, he wrote Why I am a Hindu recently. The motivation to write this book is certainly Why I am not a Hindu? Otherwise, how could Shashi Tharoor formulate the assertion of being a Hindu? These two opposite works have offered different perspectives of understanding on the issues of being Hindu. When Tharoor’s book was published, Ilaiah responded by writing a serious critique entitled ‘Swamy Shashi’ in Caravan magazine stating that Tharoor’s portion was “the very opposite of mine, and not just in its title. I said I am not a Hindu because of the inequality by birth of different communities within Hinduism, as enshrined in the caste system that pervades Hindu scripture, morality, ritual, social organi-sation—really the entire Hindu worldview”. Thereby, an academic discourse was launched. As far as my knowledge goes, Shashi Tharoor never wrote a single piece of writing on Ilaiah’s works but directly came up with the book. Since Why I am not a Hindu? is a highly polemical work to the seminal work of Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu, Tharoor must have referred to but did not offer any citation even for the negation of Ilaiah’s arguments. The cover page of Why I am not a Hindu? depicts a shoemaker polishing the footwear of a spiritual elite or a capitalist in a dignified suit whereas the cover page of Tharoor’s book portrays the image of Lord Ganesha at the main door of the house. Never-theless, the cover page of Tharoor’s book is mythological, spiritually constructed; thus, it is unscientific while Ilaiah’s shoemaker image conveys production, caste hierarchy; thus, it is obviously historical and scientific social reality. Neera Chandhoke also discredited Tharoor in her review article in The Hindu:“[Tharoor] begins with the Vedas, guides us through myths and popular practices, elaborates the thoughts of prominent expounders, and tells us about his own devotion. In the second part, he chronicles the making of Hindutva. He concludes that Hindutva as politics simply does not cohere to the precepts of Hinduism.”4

In his Post-Hindu India, Ilaiah elaborately presented the evolution of tools and mechanisms used in production and called the productive communities with ‘historical productive rooted English titles’, namely, Unknown Engineers, Unpaid Workers, Meat and Milk Economists, Subaltern Scientists, Subaltern Feminists, Productive Soldiers and so on. This was a unique contribution of his 10 years of research work. Ilaiah captured massive information related to names, structure, functioning and advancement of tools used in production owing to his ‘Indianised productive methodology’. In other words, he has seen the production process as not only subsistence but as creative, highly skilful and organic. He firmly believed that people who hail from working communities can only involve and upgrade their respective professions. The people who belong to leisure communities had the right to education from the ages but did not innovate or discover any tools or equipment that is useful for production. Besides, they hated production all over history. However, by modifying and Indianising the Gramscian outlook of organic and traditional intellectuality to the Indian context, Ilaiah has ventured to draw a categorical line between productive communities and parasite communities. Conse-quently, the discrimination and exploitation throughout the history manifested all of sudden in that book in a different perspective. In fact, this is fairly embarrassing to the non-productive communities and paves the way to suckle the chains of spiritual fascism. Ilaiah also forecast a post-Hindu India by describing archetypal observations on the demise of Hinduism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That the emergence of Islam has paved the way for the gradual decline of Hinduism is also a historical fact. Moreover, he pointed to unproductive brahminic spiritual fascism which swallows the so-called Hinduism in due course. The point is that there were no studies on the theme of dignity of labour, production and scientific temperament of the lower castes of India.

How can scholars cite earlier works and gives references? What Plato did to finish his Republic, what Aristotle did to complete his Politics, the same is being adopted by Ilaiah to explore first-hand knowledge from the lives of the marginalised communities. Plato wrote in dialogue form, often with Socrates as the leading speaker, to avoid committing himself to any conclusions or dictating ex-cathedra to his readers whereas Aristotle’s philosophical methods are empirical, based on observation and analysis that are critical in nature. Here, Ilaiah does not write in dialogue form as Mahatma Phule did in his Slavery and collects primary data from his social activism, more particularly, from the Telugu-speaking regions. After making detailed observation, he would proceed to embark on categorisation and classification of facts that would be compared with productive and unpro-ductive communities. This is the basis of Ilaiah’s knowledge construction.

Adopting cent per cent Western methodology is the usual practice in natural and biological sciences as no significant variations can be seen in the testing material. In case of social science, it is very difficult to apply the Western methodology as Indian society is highly complex in terms of culture and composition. Hence, several modifications are colossal prerequisites to dwell deeper into social enquiry. In a way, it is the process of Indianising the Western methods. This is what has been exactly done by Kancha Ilaiah to offer an alternative, native and nationalistic perspective of understanding. It was not even done by Dr B.R. Ambedkar whose writings are mostly based on Indology. The quest of Ambedkar was to examine the goodness and badness that exists in ancient scripts like the Vedas, Ramayana,Mahabharata,Manusmrithi and so forth. The unusual gaps in Ambedkar’s writings are due to lack of fieldwork, disappearance of production and labour, and endless dependence on Indological scripts. Such scripts hardly recorded the lives of productive marginalised communities. How could then a scholar explore the lives of labour and experience their discrimination? This is the reason why the RSS forces are very much comfortable with Ambedkar’s writings. When it comes to Ilaiah’s question of production, they have no answer.

So the RSS and BJP wanted to impose academic death on Ilaiah’s writings by dropping his books from the university curricula. This is akin to the situation that Socrates faced in 399 BCE. Ilaiah will not be another Socrates. Let academia demand that the plural ideas should be taught at all the Universities in order to counter the ‘unacademic move’ of the BJP-RSS.



1. Malvika Singh (2018): ‘DU Recommends Removal of Dalit Writer-Activist Kancha Ilaiah’s books from Syllabus’, News Click, October 25, 2018 available at: retrieved on 30-10-2018.

2. Lawrance Nueman (2014): Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, Pearson Education India, New Delhi.

3. Philip Kotler and Gray Armstrong (2008): Principles of Marketing, Pearson Prentice Hall Publications, New Delhi.

4. Neera Chandhoke (2018): Why I am a Hindu Review: ‘The Power of Politics as Religion’, The Hindu, February 17, 2018 available at: retrieved on 03-08-2018.

Dr Bheenaveni Ram Shepherd is the Chairman, Board of Studies in Sociology, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

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