ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Invitation to Practise Social Fellowship

Against the Madness of Manu: B R Ambedkar's Writings on Brahminical Patriarchy, selected and introduced by Sharmila Rege (New Delhi: Navayana), 2013; pp 266, Rs 350.

To read this book is to mine a world of layered scholarship and the rewards are diverse and rich. For those who have followed Sharmila Rege’s work over the years, the coming together of her many concerns – a critical sociology of caste, knowledge systems produced by anti-caste movements and thinkers, the caste-gender conundrum, pedagogical practices that foreground and take seriously the life-worlds of the dis-privileged – in this single volume should prove a veritable treat. For feminists, grappling with the manner in which the axes of gender and caste intersect to constitute a system of graded inequality as well as what Rege felicitously refers to as “graded violence towards women”, her reading of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s writings on women can only be exciting and very suggestive. Anti-caste activists and thinkers who know all too well the venality and cruelty of the caste order, may find themselves surprised by how the most pernicious aspects of the caste system are also its most patriarchal.

For those of us who are familiar with the scholarship and practice of anti-brahman and anti-caste movements and ideas across this subcontinent, Ambedkar’s extremely acute observations are bound to appear at once familiar and novel. This is so because some of the questions he raised with regard to the relative status of shudras and women were also matters of concern to say, men like E V Ramasamy Periyar and the young feminists in his movement. It was novel because he identifies for us the logic that underlies “the madness of Manu”, and which render Manu’s obsession with establishing and tweaking social differences and hierarchies, his prejudicial disregard for the shudras and chandalas and his obvious misogyny, crucial and hegemonic aspects of the Hindu social order.

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