The Way to Understand Kancha Ilaiah’s Works

Written by Bheenaveni Ram Shepherd | Published on: November 2, 2018
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 Post-Graduate level.  And, those books have been in 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 to 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 to be 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, researcher will develop his/her research design.  If one goes by exploration 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 to mind that the results or findings of exploratory design are not be generalized and those can be further verified by descriptive or experimental researches.  However, to quote Philip Kotler – 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 research phenomenon.  Hypotheses are essential to experimental researches.  For instance, onewanted to adopt exploratory research design, he/she suppose to start his/her research with research question(s).  For questioning, one may refer earlier works or many not but research question must be logically constructed and it should also be verifiable my other scholars.  Such research question comes from contemplation, if it is aware by oneself, it transforms into idea and explained idea is concept.  And, combination of several concepts is nothing but construct.  The construct offers statements.  In case of exploratory research design, these statements are called as research questions while those are hypotheses in terms of experimental research design. Interesting fact is that formulation of hypothesis depends on earlier research studies, hence, review of literature is must, thereby, citation and references comes into 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 what, no citation and reference does mention in them.  His Ph.D. work published with the title of ‘God as Political Philosopher’ which is having lot of citations and references and its adopted methodology comes under Descriptive Research Design.  With this connotation, one can consider that the findings of ‘Why I am not a Hindu?’ and ‘Post-Hindu India’ are just merely tentative statements.  Moreover, according to thumb rules of research methodology those are not absolute realities.  It will also inevitable that upcoming research scholars 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 the only one. Whether Ilaiah is Hindu or not and Post-Hindu India takes place or not.

Why I am not a Hindu is not merely a personal question of Ilaiah raised in 1996 and 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 into French. Later, it was also chosen for 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 reference, 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 socio-spiritual culture of 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 of this classic work has not produced or referred by the universities and academic circles, how one can compare religious realities in order to advance theological epistemology and establish an egalitarian society?

For instance, 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 formulates the assertion of being Hindu? Those two opposite works have offered different perspectives of understanding on the issues of being Hindu.  When Tharoor’s book is published, Ilaiah responded by writing a serious critique entitled ‘Swamy Shashi’ in Caravan Magazine that “[his] 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 organization – really the entire Hindu worldview”.  Thereby, an academic discourse has been lunched.  As far as my knowledge goes, Shashi Tharoor never wrote a single piece of writing on Ilaiah’s works but directly came-up with book.  Since ‘Why I am not a Hindu?’ is highly polemical work to the seminal work of Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu, Tharoor must have referred but he did not offer any citation even for negation of Ilaiah’s arguments.  The cover page of ‘Why I am not a Hindu?’ depicts a shoemaker is polishing the footwear of a spiritual elite or a capitalist in dignified suit whereas Tharoor’s cover page portrays the image of Lord Ganesha at the main door of house. Nevertheless, cover page of Tharoor is mythological, spiritually constructed, thus, it is unscientific while Ilaiah’s shoemaker image conveys production, caste hierarchy, thus, it is obliviously historical and scientific social reality.   Neera Chandhole also discredited Tharoor in her review article in 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’ viz Unknown Engineers, Unpaid Workers, Meat and Milk Economists, Subaltern Scientists, Subaltern Feminists, Productive Soldiers and so on.   This was unique contribution of his 10 years research work.  Ilaiah captured massive information related to names, structure, functioning and advancement of tools used in production owing to his ‘indianized productive methodology’.  In other words, he has seen production process as not only subsistence but as creative, highly skillful and organic.  He firmly believed that people who hail from working communities can only involve and upgrade respective professions.  The people who belong to leisure communities have right to education from the ages did not innovate or discover any tools or equipment that is useful for the production.  Besides, they hate production all over the history.  However, by modifying and Indianizing the Gramscian’s outlook of organic and traditional intellectuality to the Indian context, Ilaiah has ventured to draw a categorical line between productive communities and parasite communities.  Consequently, the discrimination and exploitation through-out the history manifested all of sudden in that book in a different perspective.  In fact, this is fairly embarrassing to non-productive communities and paves a way to suckle the chains of spiritual fascism.  Ilaiah also forecasted Post-Hindu India by describing archetypal observations on the demise of Hinduism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  The emergence of Islam has paved a way for the gradual decline of Hinduism.  It is also a historical fact.  More of, he pointed-out unproductive brahminic spiritual fascism swallows the so-called Hinduism in due course.

The point is that there were no study on the theme of dignity of labour, production and scientific temperament of lower castes of India.  How scholars can 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 firsthand knowledge from the lives of marginalized 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 do not write in dialogue form as Mahatma Phule did in his ‘Slavery’ and collects primary data from his social activism, more particularly, from Telugu speaking regions.  After making detailed observation, he would proceed to make categorization and classification of facts that would compared with productive and unproductive communities.  This would be the basis of Ilaiah’s knowledge construction.

Adopting cent percentage of western methodology is usual practice in natural and biological sciences as no significant variation can be seen in the testing material.  In case of social science, it is very difficult to apply western methodology as it is as Indian society is highly complex in terms of culture and composition.  Hence, several modifications are colossally prerequisite to dwell deeper into the social enquiry.  In a way, it is the process of Indianizing the western methods.  This is what exactly done by Kancha Ilaiah to offer an alternative, native and nationalistic perspective of understanding.  It was not even done by Dr. BR Ambedkar as whose writings are mostly written with Indology.  The quest of Ambedkar was to examine the good and badness that exist in ancient scripts like Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmruthi and so forth.  The unusual gaps in Ambedkar writings are lack of fieldwork, disappearance of production and labour and endlessly dependence on indological scripts.  Such scripts hardly recorded the lives of productive marginalized communities, how could a scholar explores the lives of labour and discriminated in them? This is the reason why, RSS forces are very much comfortable with Ambedkar’s writings.  When it comes to Ilaiah’s question of production, they have no answer.  So RSS and BJP wanted to give academic death to Ilaiah’s writings by dropping his books from university curricula.  This is akin situation as faced by Socrates in 399 BCE.  Ilaiah will not be another Socrates.  Let academia must demand for the plural ideas should be taught at all the Universities in order to deny the ‘unacademic move’.

[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 Chandole (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, Chairman, Board of Studies in Sociology, Osmania University, Hyderabad-07. [email protected]