The attack on Professor Suhas Palshikar reeks of the intolerance that characterises our society
Kumar Ketkar, Editor, Dainik Divya Marathi
IT IS ironic that Professor Suhas Palshikar, a scholar of outstanding integrity, should suffer an attack and humiliation from the so-called Ambedkarite-activists, and that too on the issue of a cartoon published by the NCERT in a textbook six years ago. More ominous is the fact that hardly any Member of Parliament condemned the attack; most of them competed with each other to condemn the book. Fearing a Dalit backlash, the government promptly withdrew the book and announced its intent to remove political cartoons from all NCERT textbooks. The entire episode reeks of intolerance, of intellectual bankruptcy and the inability of the political class to understand socio-political processes.
What is even more mystifying is that Palshikar himself is a scholar of Ambedkar’s thought, history, as well as the politics of the underprivileged. Indeed, his specialisation is to understand the processes through which thoughts and actions evolve. He does not go by shibboleths or preconceived ideological positions. Neither is he tied down by theory or by statistics.
That is not to say he is a scholar in the wilderness. Influenced by the Marxian intellectual tradition and brought up in the socialist-Lohiaite activist school, Palshikar is a liberal and progressive scholar. That background does not act as blinkers but instead as instruments of thinking. His opennesss to ideas is what impresses his students across communities. A blend of academic equality, liberty and fraternity is his hallmark, without sounding hyperbolic in that description.
Palshikar is not someone who will shy away from expressing whatever he wants to say on any platform. He makes his point firmly and unambiguously without raising his voice.
Palshikar is reserved, engrossed in books and thought. As a trusted colleague of sociologist-turned-psephologist Yogendra Yadav, he has carried out a number of surveys on behalf of the State of Democracy in South Asia Studies (SDSA) projects. He has written and edited books on political sociology and published several monographs and articles. As a contributor to the Economic and Political Weekly, Palshikar has written on themes like Dalit politics, caste character of occupational mobility, party systems, and Hindutva politics.
It is a social and political tragedy that both Yadav and Palshikar have had to defend themselves through the media
Yadav and Palshikar were given the task of bringing out class IX to class XII political science text books by the NCERT. This was an ideal choice, because their approach in the books was to open students’ minds, make them inquisitive, generate questions and make contemporary history interesting. That such an effort, instead of receiving appreciation, should raise so much heat and dust is actually a reflection of our society’s growing intolerance. We are rapidly closing our minds, as well as those of the students.
Any MP or Dalit critic of Palshikar should have at least glanced at his academic and active contribution to Dalit politics before terming him anti-Ambedkar. It is a social and political tragedy that both Yadav and Palshikar have had to defend themselves through the media. Instead, they should have been defended, indeed publicly appreciated for the work and creativity they put in changing the boring format of textbooks. Unfortunately, the academic and intellectual atmosphere in our country is so vitiated that it has become difficult to even have a normal dialogue. Dalit leaders from south to north, who had not even noticed the “offensive” cartoons, have suddenly discovered the greatness of Ambedkar.
The liberal and true democrat that Ambedkar was, he never liked personality cults and was always critical of leader-worship. Palshikar is an academic activist and scholar-fighter for the philosophy and ideals of Ambedkar. It is a disgusting commentary on the times we live in that such a person did not receive the support, ironically, just when the Lok Sabha celebrated its 60th anniversary!