THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Mahatma Gandhi looked down upon the dalits and South African blacks, Arundhati Roy said.
“Do we need to name our universities after Gandhi, or Ayyankali?” she asked in her ‘Mahatma Ayyankali Address’ at a three-day international seminar titled ‘Re-imagining Struggles at the Margins: History of the Unconquered and Oppressed’, organised by the Mahatma Ayyankali Chair of Kerala University History Department at the Senate Hall here on Thursday.
She said that while Ayyankali initiated a movement to ensure the education of dalits in 1904, Gandhi was in South Africa bearing a condescending attitude towards the dalits and native South Africans.
As proof, she read out a text from ‘Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’, in which the Father of the Nation speaks about the Indian bonded labourers like this: “Whether they are Hindus or Mohammedans, they are absolutely without any moral or religious instruction worthy of the name. They have not learned enough to educate themselves without any outside help. Placed thus, they are apt to yield to the slightest temptation to tell a lie.”
She read out a few more excerpts in which Gandhi is indignant about a South African law which treats Indians the same as ‘kafirs’, the South African blacks.
Ayyankali’s story has everything that we could be proud of, but so little is known about a person who organised peasants even before the Russian Revolution, she said. “In India, we are not short of heroes, except that I think they are all the wrong ones,” she said.
Activist and political scientist Kancha Ilaiah said in his keynote address that Ayyankali was not as celebrated as he should be. He said that the reformer had hardly got any space in textbooks and there were no statues of him. He said that outside Kerala no one knew of Ayyankali.
Kerala University Vice-Chancellor P K Radhakrishnan inaugurated the function. He said that casteism, against which Ayyankali fought vehemently, existed to this day. A majority of those below poverty line are dalits.
KU Pro-Vice-Chancellor N Veeramanikantan, who presided over the function, said that Ayyankali wished to raise at least 10 dalit graduates. He said that today there were 10,000 of them and some like himself head various universities.